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Bible Commentaries

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Job 21


Job’s reply: he complaineth not to man, in whose judgment he hath most reason to grieve; but exciteth their attention to convincing and amazing truths, Job 21:1-6.

The wicked prosper till in their pride they fear not God, Job 21:7-15.

Yet he purgeth himself from their counsel, and acknowledgement that often their destruction from God is manifest, at least in their children, Job 21:16-21.

God is righteous in both cases, and both are alike in their death, Job 21:22-26.

The wicked are indeed reserved for destruction, but who dareth now withstand them? and in the grave they are at rest, whither all others follow them, Job 21:27-34.

Verse 2

Or, this shall be your consolations, i.e. I shall accept of your patient and diligent attention to me, instead of all those consolations which you owed to me in this condition, and which I expected from you.

Verse 3

Suffer me that I may speak without such interruption as you have given me, Job 20:2; and if I do not defend my cause with solid and convincing arguments, go on in your scoffs if you please.

Verse 4

To man; or, of man; for the prefix lamed commonly signifieth both to and of. And this question implies a denial, or that his complaint is not to or of man, to wit, only, but to or of God; as is here sufficiently implied, and oft elsewhere expressed by Job in this book. So the sense seems to be either,

1. This, I do not make my moan or complaint unto, or expect relief from, you, or from any men, but from God only; and therefore you have reason patiently to hear me when I am pouring forth my complaints to God. Or rather,

2. This, Do I only complain, or have I reason to complain, only of you and your unmerciful carriage to me; or of men who have dealt barbarously with me? Job 1:0; Job 30:1,Job 30:9, &c. Surely no; but, my complaint is of God, and of his hard and severe dealing with me. It is he who hath alienated my friends’ affections from me, and stirred up mine enemies against me. And though it hath been my chief care and business to please and serve him, yet he hath also set himself against me, and shot all his arrows into me. And therefore my expostulation with him (which here follows, Job 21:7) is the more reasonable; and if you will hear me calmly and patiently, you will find that I have cause of complaining. If it were so, i.e. if my complaint were only of man, I have cause to be troubled. Or, if it be so, i.e. if I do not complain of man, but of God, it is no wonder if my spirit be greatly oppressed; and you ought to allow me the liberty of easing my troubled mind, and modestly pleading my cause before God.

Be troubled, Heb. be shortened, or straitened, i.e. either grieved or vexed, as this word signifies, Exodus 6:9; Numbers 21:4; Judges 10:16; Judges 16:16 The heart is enlarged by joy, and contracted by sorrow; as appears by philosophy and experience.

Verse 5

Consider what I am about to say concerning the wonderful prosperity of the worst of men, and the intolerable pressures of some good men, such as I have manifested and shall prove that I am, and it is able to fill you that are but spectators with astonishment and horror at the strange and mysterious course of Divine Providence herein; and therefore it is no wonder if I, who suffer such things from that God whom I have so faithfully served, am overwhelmed with the sense of it.

Lay your hand upon your mouth, i.e. be silent, as this phrase is oft used, as Job 40:4; Proverbs 10:32; Micah 7:16; for shame forbear to vex me with your words: or, you will lay, &c.; the imperative being put for the future, as is usual. I am persuaded you will be silenced and convinced by what I shall say.

Verse 6

When I remember what I have partly observed and partly felt of these things. The very remembrance of what is past fills me with dread and horror.

Verse 7

He expostulates this matter partly with his friends, If things be as you say, how comes this to pass, &c? partly with God himself, Wherefore doth the righteous God distribute things so unequally?

The wicked live, to wit, long and happily; as living is oft taken, as Leviticus 18:5; 1 Samuel 10:24; 1 Samuel 25:6; Psalms 38:19; a painful and afflicted life being a kind of death, and oft so called, as Deuteronomy 30:15,Deuteronomy 30:19; Proverbs 15:10; Proverbs 19:16; 1 Corinthians 3:22; 1 Corinthians 15:31.

Become old, to wit, in their prosperous estate.

Verse 8

Their seed; either,

1. The fruits of their ground; or rather,

2. Their children; as it is explained in the next branch of the verse, the words both here and there used being commonly so understood.

Their seed is established, i.e. they multiply and prosper greatly. In their sight; which is a great addition to their happiness.

Verse 9

They neither fear nor feel any disturbance.

Verse 11

Like a flock of sheep or goats, as the word signifies; in great numbers, and with sweet concord; which is a singular delight to them and to their parents.

Verse 13

In wealth; in good, i.e. in the enjoyment of all the good things of this life, without any mixture of evil. They do not die of a lingering and tormenting disease, as I now and many other good men die, but suddenly and sweetly, like lambs; as is usually said in such cases.

Verse 14

Therefore; because of their constant prosperity. Heb. and, or yet. Though God be so gracious to them, yet they say and do thus to him.

They say; sometimes in words, but commonly in their thoughts and affections, and the language of their lives: see Psalms 14:1; Psalms 36:1,Psalms 36:2; Malachi 3:14,Malachi 3:15; Titus 1:16.

We desire not the knowledge of thy laws,

much less the practice.

Verse 15

What excellency is there in him? and what advantage have we or can we expect from him?

Verse 16

Their good is not in their hand: this seems to be an answer to the foregoing question, and a confutation of that ungodly opinion and practice, Job 21:14,Job 21:15. Wicked men (saith he) have no reason to neglect and reject God because of their prosperity, for their good, i.e. all their wealth and felicity, is not

in their hand, i.e. it neither was obtained nor can be kept by their own might, but only by God’s power and favour, upon whom they wholly depend for it. Or the sense is, Though they have riches, and power, and glory in their hands, yet their true and proper good is not in their hand, i.e. they are destitute of that in which their true happiness lies, to wit, in God’s love and favour; and all the comforts which they enjoy are attended with God’s wrath and curse, and therefore not to be envied by any man in his wits. They say to God, Depart from us, when indeed their true and only felicity consists in the enjoyment of him: compare Psalms 4:6,Psalms 4:7.

The counsel of the wicked is far from me; therefore I am far from approving their opinion, or following their course, or enjoying their prosperity, or desiring to partake of their delicates upon such terms.

Verse 17

How oft! this phrase notes either,

1. The rarity and seldomness of it. This. I confess, sometimes happens, but not oft. Or rather,

2. The frequency of it. I grant that this happens oft, though not constantly, as you affirm. And this seems best to agree both with the use of this phrase in Scripture, where it notes frequency, as Psalms 78:40; Matthew 18:21; Luke 13:34, and never seldomness; and with the foregoing words, as a reason why the counsel of the wicked was far from him, because they ofttimes pay dear for it in this life, and always in the next life; and with the following verses, wherein he discourseth largely, not of the prosperity of the wicked, (as he should have done, if the sense of these words were this, that such were but seldom afflicted,) but of their calamities. The candle, or lamp, i. e. their glory and outward happiness; as Job 8:6; 2 Samuel 21:17; Psalms 132:17.

God distributeth: God is manifestly understood out of the following words, this being God’s work, and proceeding from God’s anger.

Verse 18

i.e. Their destruction shall be speedy, and certain, and irrecoverable.

Verse 19

God layeth up, to wit, in his treasures, Romans 2:5.

His iniquity, or rather, the punishment of his iniquity, i.e. he will punish him both in his person and in his posterity.

He shall know it, i.e. he shall live to see the destruction of his children.

Verse 20

His eyes shall see his destruction, i.e. he shall be destroyed;

as to see death, is to die, Psalms 89:48; Hebrews 11:5; and to see affliction, or any kind of evil, is to feel it Psalms 90:15; Lamentations 3:1; and to see good, is to enjoy it, Job 7:7; Job 9:25; Psalms 34:12. Or this phrase may be emphatical, he shall foresee his ruin hastening towards him, and not be able to prevent or avoid it; he shall sensibly feel himself sinking and perishing; which aggravates his misery.

He shall drink; not sip or taste, but drink; which word commonly notes the abundance of the thing spoken of.

Verse 21

What pleasure hath he in his house after him? or, for what desire, or care, or study hath he for or concerning (as beth is oft used)

his house, i.e. his children? When he is dead and gone, he cares not what becomes of his children, as irreligion commonly makes men unnatural; he is not concerned nor affected with their felicity or misery. See Job 14:21. And therefore God doth punish both him and his children whilst he lives, Job 21:19,Job 21:20. Or thus, What delight can he take in the thoughts of the glory and happiness of his posterity, when he finds that he is dying a violent and untimely death? So this is a further proof that this man is neither happy in himself, nor with reference to his posterity.

When the number of his months is cut off in the midst; when that number of months, which by his constitution and the course of nature he might have lived, is diminished and cut off by the hand of violence.

Verse 22

Knowledge, i.e. discretion, or how to govern the world. For so you do, whilst you tell him that he must not sorely afflict the godly, nor give the wicked much and long prosperity here.

He judgeth those that are high; either,

1. The highest persons, whether in earth, as the greatest kings; or in heaven, as the angels: he judgeth them, i.e. he exactly knows them, and accordingly gives sentence concerning them, as he sees fit; and therefore it is great folly and presumption in us to direct or correct his judgments. Or,

2. Those things that are high, and deep, and far out of our reach, as God’s secret counsels and judgments are.

Verse 23

One, to wit, either,

1. One of these wicked men, of whose condition he is here speaking. Or,

2. Any one man, whether good or bad. In his full strength; in a state of perfect health, and strength, and prosperity; all which this phrase implies.

Verse 24

His breasts: the Hebrew word is not elsewhere used, and therefore it is diversely translated; either,

1. Breasts. But that seems very improper here, because men’s breasts do not use to be filled with milk. Or,

2. Milk-pails. But their fulness is common, and no sign of eminent plenty, which is here designed. Besides, the following branch, which in Job and elsewhere frequently explains the former, implies that it signifies some part of man’s body, as all the ancient interpreters render it; either the sides, as some of them have it; or the bowels, as others. But for the following milk they read fat; the Hebrew letters being exactly the same in both words; and the Hebrews by the name of milk do oft understand fat.

His bones are moistened with marrow; which is opposed to the dryness of the bones, Job 30:30 Psalms 102:3, which is caused by old age, or grievous distempers or calamities.

Verse 25

Another; either,

1. Another wicked man. Or,

2. Any other man promiscuously considered, either good or bad. So hereby he shows how indifferently and alike God deals the concerns of this life to one and another, to good and bad. So he shows that there is a great variety in God’s dispensations; that he distributes great prosperity to one, and great afflictions to another no worse than he, according to his wise but secret counsel.

In the bitterness of his soul, i.e. with heart-breaking pains and sorrows.

Never eateth with pleasure, i.e. hath no pleasure in his life, no, not so much as at meal-time, when men usually are most free and pleasant.

Verse 26

All these worldly differences are ended by death, and they lie in the grave without any distinction, till the time of general resurrection and judgment comes. So that no man can tell who is good, and who is bad, by any events which befall them in this life.

Verse 27

I know your thoughts; I perceive what you think, and will object, and say for your own defence.

The devices, or, evil thoughts; for so this word is oft used, as Proverbs 12:2; Proverbs 14:17; Job 24:8; Isaiah 32:7.

Wrongfully imagine, or wrest, or violently force. For they strained both Job’s words, and their own thoughts, which were biassed by their prejudice and passion against Job.

Against me; for I know very well that your discourses, though they be of wicked men in the general, yet are particularly levelled at me.

Verse 28

Ye say, to wit, in your minds. Where is the house of the prince? i.e. it is no where, it is lost and gone. This is spoken either,

1. Of Job, or his eldest son, whose house God had lately overthrown. Or rather,

2. In general of wicked princes or potentates, as the following answer showeth. So the meaning of the question is, that it was apparent from common observation, that eminent judgments, even in this life, were sooner or later the portion of all ungodly men.

Where are the dwelling-places of the wicked? which is added to limit the former expression, and to show that he spoke only of wicked princes.

Verse 29

These are the words, either,

1. Of Job’s friends, who thus continue their former discourse by a second inquiry; or rather,

2. Of Job himself, who answers one question with another. You may learn this, which is the matter of our debate, to wit, that good men are oft afflicted, and that wicked men do commonly live and die in great prosperity, and are not punished in this world, even from

them that go by the way, i.e. either from travellers, who having seen and observed many persons, and places, and events, are more capable judges of this matter; or from any person that passeth along the high-way, from every one that you meet with. It is so vulgar and trivial a thing, that no man of common sense is ignorant of it.

Their tokens, i.e. the examples, or evidences, or signs of this truth, which they that go by the way can produce. They will show here and there in divers places the goodly houses, and castles, and other monuments of power and dignity which wicked potentates have erected, and to this day do possess, and in which divers of them live and die. He alludes here to those

tokens which are set up in high-ways for the direction of those who travel in them.

Verse 30

That the wicked, & c. this is the thing which they might learn of passengers.

Reserved; or, withheld, or kept back, to wit, from falling into common calamities, though in truth he be not so much kept from evil as kept for evil; he is reserved from a less, that he may be swallowed up in a greater misery; as Pharaoh was kept from the other plagues, that he might be drowned in the sea.

They shall be brought: he speaketh of the same person; only the singular number is changed into the plural, possibly to intimate, that although for the present only some wicked men were punished, yet then all of them should suffer. Shall be brought forth, to wit, by the conduct of God’s providence and justice, as malefactors are brought forth from prison to judgment and execution, though they be brought to it slowly, and by degrees, and with some kind of pomp and state, as this word signifies.

To the day of wrath; Heb. to the day of wraths, i.e. of special and extraordinary wrath; either to some terrible and desolating judgments, which God sometimes sends upon wicked princes or people; or to the day of the last and general judgment, which is called in Scripture the day of wrath; for the day of the general resurrection and judgment was not unknown to Job and his friends, as appears from Job 19:25, &c, and other passages of this book.

Verse 31

His way, i.e. his wicked course and actions, and whither they lead him. His power and splendour is so great, that scarce any man dare reprove him for his sin, or show him his danger.

To his face, i.e. plainly, and whilst he lives, as the same phrase is used, Deuteronomy 7:10.

Who shall repay him what he hath done? no man can bring him to an account or punishment.

Verse 32

Yet, Heb. and. The pomp of his death shall be suitable to the glory of his life.

Shall he be brought, with pomp and state, as the word signifies.

To the grave, Heb. to the graves, i.e. to an honourable and eminent grave; the plural number being oft used emphatically to note eminency, as Job 40:10; Proverbs 1:20 Lamentations 3:22. He shall not die a violent, but a natural death, and shall lie in the bed of honour.

Shall remain in the tomb, Heb. shall watch (i.e. have a constant and fixed abode, as watchmen have in the watching-place) in the heap, i.e. in his grave, which is called a heap, either because the earth is there heaped up, or because it was adorned with some pyramid or other monument raised up to his honour. His body shall quietly rest in his grave or monument, where he shall be embalmed and preserved so entire and uncorrupted, that he might rather seem to be a living watchman, set there to guard the body, than to be a dead corpse.

Verse 33

Of the valley, i.e. of the grave, which is low and deep like a valley.

Shall be sweet unto him; he shall sweetly rest in his grave, free from all cares, and fears, and troubles, Job 3:17,Job 3:18.

Every man shall draw after him, Heb. he shall draw every man after him, to wit, into the grave; i.e. all that live after him, whether good or bad, shall follow him into the grave, i.e. shall die as he did. So he fares no worse herein than all mankind. He is figuratively said to draw them, because they come after him, as if they were drawn by his example.

Verse 34

Why then do you seek to comfort me with vain hopes of recovering my prosperity if I repent, seeing your grounds are manifestly false, and common experience showeth that good men are very oft in great tribulation, while the vilest of men thrive and prosper in the world?

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Job 21". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.