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JOB SILENCES ZOPHAR
The callous cruelty of Zophar's speech would surely cause some men to be bitterly angry, but while Job was incensed by such treatment, he did not lose his temper. He was well in control of himself in spite of so deeply feeling the anguish of his sufferings as well as the unfeeling criticism of his friends. After Job's speaking in this chapter, Zophar has nothing more to say.
THE SOLEMNITY OF DEALING WITH GOD
Rather than replying in the same controversial spirit that his friends had used, Job calmly appeals to them to consider carefully what he is saying. The fact that he controlled himself as he did ought to have impressed them sufficiently to at least give him some serious consideration. He asked them to bear with him in his speaking to them, and after he has had his say, to continue their mocking (vv.2-3). He had little hope that they would change their minds, no matter how solemnly he speaks.
He asks them, "Is my complaint against man?" Actually, his complaint was against the way God was dealing with him. But if they thought it was against man, then why should he not be impatient? (v.4). If it were men who were causing his suffering he would have had plenty of reason to complain. But it was God who was dealing with him. Were they really considering this fact? "Look at me," he says, "and be astonished, put your hand over your mouth" (v.5). They might well keep quiet, for they were not answering for God, the God who had allowed (or caused) him to be terrified and trembling (v.6). If they had been really concerned for Job, could they not have prayed to God as to how to be of help to the poor sufferer? Probably they never thought of praying for him because they were sure they had the right answers for God without need of prayer.
WHY DO THE WICKED PROSPER?
Zophar had spoken of the wicked being cut off, but Job has questions now that Zophar does not even attempt to answer. Sometimes wicked men are cut off, but some wicked men live and become old and become mighty in power above others (v.7). Why? Their children often get along well with hardly a setback (v.8). They seem to have nothing to fear and the discipline of God's government seems not to apply to them (v.9). "Their bull breeds without failure; their cow calves without miscarriage" (v.10), while often the righteous find just the opposite experience. Their children enjoy life with its music and dancing, spending their days in wealth, "and in a moment go down to the grave" (vv.11-12). In other words, they know nothing of the painful experiences of Job all through their life, then die without suffering. Asaph observed this also, as he records in Psalms 73:3-9, and added in verses 16-17, "It was too painful for me - until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end." He learned that God's accounts are not settled in this life: there is a future to be considered.
At present, such wicked men can boldly say to God, "Depart from us, for we do not desire the knowledge of Your ways. Who is the Almighty that we should serve Him?" (vv.14-15). Can we imagine that God is indulgent with such an attitude? Certainly not! He shows marvellous patience, but this does not mean indifference. Those who defy God are in a far more dangerous condition that they realise, and future judgment is infinitely more terrible than Job's few years of suffering. They consider they have no profit in praying to God. Such is the self-centred pride of man! Their object is present advantage, but in ignorance they do not realise that even in this life they may find great profit in depending on God's grace.
They may think their prosperity is in their own hands, that they have only themselves to thank for this. How false indeed! God is the Giver of every temporal thing as well as spiritual. But men do not give God the credit due to Him (v.16). No wonder Job says, "The counsel of the wicked is far from me."
THE CHILDREN OF THE WICKED
Job asks, "How often is the lamp of the wicked put out?" It is certainly not always the case in this life, in fact it is not often the case (v.17). Sometimes, in an aggravated case, destruction might overtake them, but not often. They may be like straw or chaff before the wind, and therefore carried away eventually by death, but present judgment does not seem to be often carried out (v.18). It may be rightly said, however, that "God lays up one's iniquity for his children," that is, that the children may afterward suffer for their fathers' sins, as Exodus 34:7 indicates, speaking of God "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and fourth generation." This is certainly a warning to parents that their children will suffer the consequences of their parents' wickedness. God knows how to mete out recompense in an appropriate way (v.19).
Eventually the eyes of the wicked will see his own destruction, and he will drink the wrath of God, but it is a sad comment, "what does he care about his household after him?" Such is the callous selfishness always attending a course of wickedness. Though the number of his months is cut in half, this makes no difference to him (v.21).
How foolish one is to suppose that he can teach God knowledge (v.22), since He judges those on high just as He does the lowest. Among the wicked there is such disparity that it is folly to think of judging by their experiences. Why? Because "one dies in his full strength, being wholly at rest and secure" (v.23). His possessions are kept intact and his health remains good until he dies (v.24). On the other hand, another wicked man dies in bitterness, his entire life having been deeply unpleasant. At the end "they lie down alike in the dust," that is, the end of the one is the same as the other, though their lives on earth were contrary. Who can possibly answer why? Zophar thought he had the answer to Job's troubles, but he had not considered this disparity with which Job faced him. Certainly the answer to all such questions must remain until after death.
JOB CHALLENGES HIS FRIENDS
Job strongly takes the offensive in this section. He discerns the schemes by which his friends would wrong him (v.27). For they asked, "where is the house of the prince?" - as much as to say that a person of princely character would not be reduced to dwell in the misery that Job was bearing (v.28). They thought that the dwelling place of the wicked corresponded to Job's circumstances. Had they not asked those who travelled the road of varied and contrary circumstances what was the reason for their disparity? (v.29).
Then Job speaks of what his friends had entirely missed, that is, the judgment of the future. "For the wicked are spared for the day of doom" (v.30). "Spared" is the proper translation here, indicating that God now spares them trouble in view of a later "day of doom." Though allowed to hide from present recompense, they will be brought out in the day of God's wrath.
Job then asks, "Who condemns his way to his face? and who repays him for what he has done?" (v.32). Job's friends were condemning him to his face, but there is only one answer to the two questions he asks. Only God has the right to condemn. Only God will recompense man's sin.
THE END IN DEATH
At least in death the end of a wicked man's prosperity is reached: he is brought down to the grave (v.32). His burial may be with a vigil and outward display of great honour. Large numbers may follow his coffin to the grave with such pomp and ceremony that is really only a mockery since he has actually "died without mercy. "
Job's friends certainly did not think that Job's end would be with such fanfare, but many of the wicked would end in this way. Therefore Job could rightly ask them, "How then can you comfort me with empty words, since falsehood remains in your answers?" They had compared Job to the wicked, but not to the wicked who prospered in the world: the fact of the wicked prospering they had not even considered.
At this point Job has clearly won the argument, so that the replies of Eliphaz and Bildad, while couched in impressive language, are practically empty. Eliphaz is totally unfair in his response, and Bildad's response is both brief and weak. Zophar is silenced, while Job afterward speaks with unabated vigour for six chapters.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Job 21". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20