corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible
Job 21



Verse 2

Hear diligently - Hebrew “Hearing hear” - that is, hear attentively. What he was about to say was worthy of their solemn consideration.

And let this be your consolations - That is, “You came to me for the professed purpose of giving “me” consolation. In that you have wholly failed. You have done nothing to sustain or comfort me; but all that you have said has only tended to exasperate me, and to increase my sorrow. If you will now hear me attentively, I will take that as a consolation, and it shall be in the place of what I had a right to expect from you. It will be “some” comfort if I am permitted to express my sentiments without interruption, and I will accept it as a proof of kindness on your part.”

Verse 3

Suffer me that I may speak - Allow me to speak without interruption, or bear with me while I freely express my sentiments - it is all that I now ask.

And after that I have spoken, mock on - Resume your reproaches, if you will, when I am done. I ask only the privilege of expressing my thoughts on a very important point, and when that is done, I will allow you to resume your remarks as you have done before, and you may utter your sentiments without interruption. Or it may be, that Job utters this in a kind of triumph, and that he feels that what he was about to say was so important that it would end the “argument;” and that all they could say after that would be mere mockery and reviling. The word rendered “mock on” (לעג lâ‛ag ) means, originally, “to stammer, to speak unintelligibly” - then, “to speak in a barbarous or foreign language” - then, “to deride or to mock, to ridicule or insult.” The idea is, that they might mock his woes, and torture his feelings as they had done, if they would only allow him to express his sentiments.

Verse 4

As for me, is my complaint to man? - There is some difficulty in the interpretation of this verse, and considerable variety of explanation may be seen among expositors. The “object” of the verse is plain. It is to state a reason why they should hear him with patience and without interruption. The meaning of this part of the verse probably is, that his principal difficulty was not with his friends, but with God. It was not so much what they had said, that gave him trouble, as it was what God had done. Severe and cutting as were their rebukes, yet it was far more trying to him to be treated as he had been by God, “as if” he were a great sinner. That was what he could not understand. Perplexed and troubled, therefore, by the mysteriousness of the divine dealings, his friends ought to be willing to listen patiently to what he had to say; and in his anxiety to find out “why” God had treated him so, they ought not at once to infer that he was a wicked man, and to overwhelm him with increased anguish of spirit.

It will be recollected that Job repeatedly expressed the wish to be permitted to carry his cause at once up to God, and to have his adjudication on it. See Job 13:3, note; Job 13:18, notes. It is that to which he refers when he says here, that he wished to have the cause before God, and not before man. It was a matter which he wished to refer to the Almighty, and he ought to be allowed to express his sentiments with entire freedom. One of the difficulties in understanding this verse arises from the word “complaint.” We use it in the sense of “murmuring,” or “repining;” but this, I think, is not its meaning here. It is used rather in the sense of “cause, argument, reasoning, or reflections.” The Hebrew word שׂיח śı̂yı̂ch means, properly, that which is “brought out” - from שׂיח śı̂yach “to bring out, to put forth, to produce” - as buds, leaves, flowers; and then it means “words” - as brought out, or spoken; and then, meditations, reflections, discourses, speeches; and then it “may” mean “complaint.” But there is no evidence that the word is used in that sense here. It means his reflections, or arguments. They were not to man. He wished to carry them at once before God, and he ought, therefore, to be allowed to speak freely. Jerome renders it, “disputatio mea.” The Septuagint, ἔλεγξις elengcis - used here, probably, in the sense of “an argument to produce conviction,” as it is often.

And if it were so, why should not my spirit be troubled? - Margin, “shortened,” meaning the same as troubled, afflicted, or impatient. A more literal translation will better express the idea which is now lost sight of, “And if so, why should not my spirit be distressed?” That is, since my cause is with God - since my difficulty is in understanding his dealings with me - since I have carried my cause up to him, and all now depends on him, why should I not be allowed to have solicitude in regard to the result? If I manifest anxiety, who can blame me? Who would not, when his all was at stake, and when the divine dealings toward him were so mysterious?

Verse 5

Mark me - Margin, “look unto.” Literally, “Look upon me. That is, attentively look on me, on my sufferings, on my disease, and my losses. See if I am a proper object of repreach and mockery - see if I have not abundant reason to be in deep distress when God has afflicted me in a manner so unusual and mysterious.

And be astonished - Silent astonishment should be evinced instead of censure. You should wonder that a man whose life has been a life of piety, should exhibit the spectacle which you now behold, while so many proud contemners of God are permitted to live in affluence and ease.

And lay your hand upon your mouth - As a token of silence and wonder. So Plutarch, de Iside et Osiride, “Wherefore, he had laid his finger on his mouth as a symbol of silence and admiration - ἐχεμυθίας καὶ σιωπῆς σύμβολον echemuthias kai siōpēs sumbolon f0.”

Verse 6

Even when I remember, I am afraid - I have an internal shuddering and horror when I recall the scenes through which I have passed. I am myself utterly overwhelmed at the magnitude of my own sufferings, and they are such as should excite commiseration in your hearts. Some, however, have connected this with the following verse, supposing the idea to be, that he was horror-stricken when he contemplated the prosperity of wicked people. But there seems to me to be no reason for this interpretation. His object is undoubtedly to show them that there was enough in his ease to awe them into silence; and he says, in order to show that, that the recollection of his sufferings perfectly overwhelmed “him,” and filled him with horror. They who have passed through scenes of special danger, or of great bodily suffering, can easily sympathize with Job here. The very recollection will make the flesh tremble.

Verse 7

Wherefore do the wicked live? - Job comes now to the main design of his argument in this chapter, to show that it is a fact, that the wicked often have great prosperity; that they are not treated in this life according to their character; and that it is not a fact that men of eminent wickedness, as his friends maintained, would meet, in this life, with proportionate sufferings. He says, that the fact is, that they enjoy great prosperity; that they live to a great age; and that they are surrounded with the comforts of life in an eminent degree. The meaning is, “If you are positive that the wicked are treated according to their character in this life - that great wickedness is followed by great judgments, how is it to be accounted for that they live, and grow old, and are mighty in power?” Job assumes the fact to be so, and proceeds to argue as if that were indisputable. It is remarkable, that the fact was not adverted to at an earlier period of the debate. It would have done much to settle the controversy. The “question,” “Why do the wicked live?” is one of great importance at all times, and one which it is natural to ask, but which it is not even yet always easy to answer. “Some” points are clear, and may be easily suggested. They are such as these - They live

(1) to show the forbearance and long suffering of God;

(2) to furnish a full illustration of the character of the human heart;

(3) to afford them ample space for repentance, so that there shall not be the semblance of a ground of complaint when they are called before God, and are condemned;

(4) because God intends to make some of them the monuments of his mercy, and more fully to display the riches of his grace in their conversion, as he did in the case of Paul, Augustine, John Bunyan, and John Newton;

(5) they may be preserved to be the instruments of his executing some important purpose by them, as was the case with Pharaoh, Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar; or,

(6) he keeps them, that the great interests of society may be carried on; that the affairs of the commercial and the political world may be forwarded by their skill and talent.

For some, or all of these purposes, it may be, the wicked are kept in the land of the living, and are favored with great external prosperity, while many a Christian is oppressed, afflicted, and crushed to the dust. Of the “fact,” there can be no doubt; of the “reasons” for the fact, there will be a fuller development in the future world than there can be now.

Become old - The friends of Job had maintained that the wicked would be cut off. Job, on the other hand, affirms that they live on to old age. The “fact” is, that many of the wicked are cut off for their sins in early life, but that some live on to an extreme old age. The argument of Job is founded on the fact, that “any” should live to old age, as, according to the principles of his friends, “all” were treated in this life according to their character.

Yea, are mighty in power - Or, rather, “in wealth” - חיל chayı̂l Jerome, “Are comforted in riches” - ”confortatique divitiis.” So the Septuagint, ἐν πλούτῳ en ploutō The idea is, that they become very rich.

Verse 8

Their seed - Their children - their posterity.

Is established in their sight - Around them, where they may often see them - where they may enjoy their society. The friends of Job had maintained, with great positiveness and earnestness, that the children of wicked people would be cut off. See Job 18:19; Job 20:28. This position Job now directly controverts, and says that it is a fact, that so far from being cut off, they are often established in the very presence of their ungodly parents, and live and prosper. How, he asks, is this consistent with the position, that God deals with people in this life according to their character?

Verse 9

Their houses are safe from fear - Margin, “peace from.” The friends of Job had maintained just the contrary; see Job 20:27-28; Job 15:21-24. Their idea was, that the wicked man would never be free from alarms. Job says, that they lived in security and peace, and that their houses are preserved from the intrusions of evil-minded people.

Neither is the rod of God upon them - The “rod” is an emblem of punishment. The idea is, that they were free from the chastisements which their sins deserved. There can be no doubt that there are cases enough in which the wicked live in security, to justify Job in all that he here affirms, as there are instances enough in which the wicked are cut off for their sins. to make what his friends said plausible. The truth is, good and evil are intermingled. There is a “general” course of events by which the wicked are involved in calamity in this life, and the righteous are prospered; but still, there are so many exceptions as to show the necessity of a future state of rewards and punishments. To us, who look to that future world, all is clear. But that view of the future state of retribution was not possessed by Job and his friends.

Verse 10

Their bull gendereth - See Rosenmuller and Lee on this verse; comp Bochart, Hieroz. P. 1, Lib. ii. c. xxx. The general idea is, that the wicked were prospered as well as the pious. God did not interpose by a miracle to cut off their cattle, and to prevent their becoming rich.

Verse 11

They send forth their little ones - Their numerous and happy children they send forth to plays and pastimes.

Like a flock - In great numbers. This is an exquisitely beautiful image of prosperity. What can be more so than a group of happy children around a man‘s dwelling?

And their children dance - Dance for joy. They are playful and sportive, like the lambs of the flock. It is the skip of playfulness and exultation that is referred to here, and not the set and formal dance where children are instructed in the art; the sportiveness of children in the fields, the woods, and on the lawn, and not the set step taught in the dancing-school. The word used here (רקד râqad ), means “to leap, to skip” - as from joy, and then to dance. Jerome has well rendered it, “exultant lusibus” - “they leap about in their plays.” So the Septuagint, προσπαίζουσιν prospaizousin - “they frolic” or “play.” There is no evidence here that Job meant to say that they taught their children to dance; that they caused them to be trained in anything that now corresponds to dancing-schools; and that he meant to say that such a training was improper and tended to exclude God from the heart.

The image is one simply of health, abundance, exuberance of feeling, cheerfulness, prosperity. The houses were free from alarms; the fields were filled with herds and flocks, and their families of happy and playful children were around them. The object of Job was not to say that all this was in itself wrong, but that it was a plain matter of fact that God did not take away the comforts of all the wicked and overwhelm them with calamity. Of the impropriety of training children in a dancing-school, there ought to be but one opinion among the friends of religion (see National Preacher for January 1844), but there is no evidence that Job referred to any such training here, “and” this passage should not be adduced to prove that dancing is wrong. It refers to the playfulness and the cheerful sports of children, and God has made them so that they “will” find pleasure in such sports, and so that they are benefited by them. There is not a more lovely picture of happiness and of the benevolence of God any where on earth than in such groups of children, and in their sportiveness and playfulness there is no more that is wrong than there is in the gambols of the lambs of the flock.

Verse 12

They take the timbrel - They have instruments of cheerful music in their dwellings; and this is an evidence that they are not treated as the friends of Job had maintained. Instead of being, as they asserted, overwhelmed with calamity, they are actually happy. They have all that can make them cheerful, and their houses exhibit all that is usually the emblem of contentment and peace. Rosenmuller and Noyes suppose this to mean, “They sing to the timbrel and harp;” that is, “they raise up” (ישׂאו yı̂s'û ) “the voice” to accompany the timbrel. Dr. Good renders it, “They rise up to the tabor and harp, and trip merrily to the sound of the pipe.” So Wemyss. It is literally, “They rise up with the tabor;” and the word “voice” may be understood, and the meaning may be that they accompany the timbrel with the voice. The Vulgate and the Septuagint, however, render it, they “Take up the timbrel.” Dr. Good supposes that the allusion is to the modes of dancing; to their raising themselves in an erect position, and then changing their position - advancing and retreating as in alternate dances, and quotes the following exquisite piece of poetry as illustrating it:

“Now pursuing, now retreating,

Now in circling troops they meet;

To brisk notes, in cadence meeting.

Glance their many-twinkling feet.”

Still, it seems to me, that the exact idea has not been expressed. It is this, “They raise, or elevate (ישׂאו yı̂s'û ) scil. themselves;” that is, they become exhilarated and excited at the sound of music. It is in their dwellings, and it is one of the indications of joy. Instead of lamentations and wo, as his friends said there would be in such dwellings, Job says that there was there the sound of music and mirth; that they exhilarated themselves, and were happy. On the word rendered “timbrel” (תף tôph ) and the word “harp” (כנור kı̂nnôr ), see the notes at Isaiah 5:12.

At the sound of the organ - The word “organ” we now apply to an instrument of music which was wholly unknown in the time of Job. With us it denotes an instrument consisting of pipes, which are filled with wind, and of stops touched by the fingers. It is the largest and most harmonious of the wind instruments, and is blown by bellows. That such an instrument was known in the time of Job, is wholly improbable, and it is not probable that it would be used for the purposes here referred to if it were known. Jerome renders it, “organ;” the Septuagint, ψαλμοῦ psalmou “the sound of a song;” Noyes, “pipe;” Lee, “lyre;” Good and Wemyss, “pipe.” The Hebrew word (עוּגב ‛ûgâb ) is derived from עגב ‛âgab - to breathe, to blow; and it is manifest that the reference is to some wind instrument. Various forms of wind instruments were early invented, and this is expressly mentioned as having been early in use. Thus, it is said of Jubal Genesis 4:21, “He was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ” - עוּגב ‛ûgâb It was probably at first a rude reed or pipe, which came ultimately to be changed to the fife and flute. It is here mentioned merely as an instrument exciting hilarity, and in the mere use of such an instrument there can be nothing improper. Job does not mean, evidently, to complain of it as wrong. He is simply showing that the wicked live in ease and prosperity, and are not subjected to trials and calamities as his friends maintained.

Verse 13

They spend their days in wealth - Margin, or, “mirth.” Literally, “they wear out their days in good” - בטוב baṭôb Vulgate “in bonis.” Septuagint, ἐν ἀγαθοῖς en agathois - “in good things;” in the enjoyment of good. They are not oppressed with the evils of poverty and want, but they have abundance of “the good things” of life.

And in a moment go down to the grave - Hebrew to שׁאול she'ôl - but here meaning evidently the grave. The idea is, that when they die they are not afflicted with lingering disease, and great bodily pain, but having lived to an old age in the midst of comforts, they drop off suddenly and quietly, and sleep in the grave. God gives them prosperity while they live, and when they come to die he does not come forth with the severe expressions of his displeasure, and oppress them with long and lingering sickness. The author of Psalm 73:3-4.

All that Job says here is predicated on the supposition that such a sudden removal is preferable to death accompanied with long and lingering illness. The idea is, that it is in itself “desirable” to live in tranquility; to reach an honorable old age surrounded by children and friends, and then quietly and suddenly to drop into the grave without being a burden to friends. The wicked, he says, often live such a life, and he infers, therefore, that it is not a fact that God deals with people according to their character in this life, and that it is not right to draw an inference respecting their moral character from his dealings with them in this world. There are instances enough occurring in every age like those supposed here by Job, to justify the conclusion which he draws.

Verse 14

Therefore - This would seem to indicate that the “result” of their living in this manner was that they rejected God, or that one of the consequences of their being prospered would be that they would cast off his government and authority; that they renounced him “because” they were thus prosperous, or because they wished to train up their children in merriment and dancing. All this may be true in itself, but that idea is not in the Hebrew. That is simply “and they say” - ויאמרו vayo'âmarû So the Vulgate; the Septuagint; the Chaldee - ואמרו; and the Syriac. The word “therefore” should not have been inserted. Job is not affirming that their mode of life is a “reason” why they reject the claims of God, but that it is a simple “fact” that they “do” live, even in this prosperity, in the neglect of God. This is the gist of what he is saying, that being thus wicked they were in fact prospered, and not punished as his friends had maintained.

They say unto God - This is the language of their conduct. Men do not often formally and openly say this; but it is the language of their deportment.

Depart from us - This is about all that the wicked say of God. “They wish him to let them alone.” They do not desire that he would come into their habitations; they would be glad never more to hear his name. Yet what a state of mind is this! What must be the condition and character of the human heart when this desire is felt?

We desire not the knowledge of thy ways - We have no wish to become acquainted with God. His “ways” here mean his government, his law, his claims - whatever God does. Never was there a better description of the feelings of the human heart than is here expressed. The ways of God are displeasing to people, and they seek to crowd from their minds all respect to his commandments and claims. Yet, if this is the character of man, assuredly he is very far from being a holy being. What higher proof of depravity can there be, than that a man has no desire to know anything about a pure and holy God; no pleasure in becoming acquainted with his Maker!

Verse 15

What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? - compare for similar expressions, Exodus 5:2; Proverbs 30:9. The meaning here is, “What claim has the Almighty, or who is he, that we should be bound to obey and worship him? What authority has he over us? Why should we yield our will to his, and why submit to his claims?” This is the language of the human heart everywhere. Man seeks to deny the authority of God over him, and to feel that he has no claim to his service. He desires to be independent. He would cast off the claims of God. Forgetful that he made, and that he sustains him; regardless of his infinite perfections and of the fact that he is dependent on him every moment, he asks with contempt, what right God has to set up a dominion over him. Such is man - a creature of a day - dependent for every breath he draws on that Great Being, whose government and authority he so contemptuously disowns and rejects!

And what profit should we have, if we pray unto him? - What advantage would it be to us should we worship him? Men still ask this question, or, if not openly asked, they “feel” the force of it in their hearts. Learn hence,

(1) That wicked people are influenced by a regard to “self” in the inquiry about God, and in meeting his claims. They do not ask what is “right,” but what “advantage” will accrue to them.

(2) If they see no immediate benefit arising from worshipping God, they will not do it. Multitudes abstain from prayer, and from the house of God, because they cannot see how their self-interest would be promoted by it.

(3) Men “ought” to serve God, without respect to the immediate, selfish, and personal good that may follow to themselves. It is a good in itself to worship God. It is what is “right;” what the conscience says “ought” to be done yet

(4) It is not difficult to answer the question which the sinner puts. There is an advantage in calling upon God. There is

(a) the possibility of obtaining the pardon of sin by prayer - an immense and unspeakable “profit” to a dying and guilty man;

(b) a peace which this world cannot furnish - worth more than all that it costs to obtain it;

(c) support in trial in answer to prayer - in a world of suffering of more value than silver and gold;

(d) the salvation of friends in answer to prayer - an object that should be one of intense interest to those who love their friends:

(e) eternal life - the “profit” of which who can estimate? What are the few sacrifices which religion requires, compared with the infinite and immortal blessings which may be obtained by “asking” for them? ‹Profit! ‹ What can be done by man that will be turned to so good an account as to pray? Where can man make so good an investment of time and strength as by calling on God to save his soul, and to bless his friends and the world?

Verse 16

Lo, their good is not in their hand - Schultens, Rosenmuller, and Noyes, suppose, I think, correctly, that this is to be understood ironically, or as referring to what “they” had maintained. “Lo! you say, that their good is not in their hand! They do not enjoy prosperity, do they? They are soon overwhelmed with calamity, are they? How often have I seen it otherwise! How often is it a fact that they continue to enjoy prosperity, and live and die in peace!” The common interpretation, which Prof. Lee has adopted, seems to me to be much less probable. According to that it means that “their prosperity was not brought about or preserved by their own power. It was by the power of God, and was under his control. An inscrutable Providence governs all things.” But the true sense is, that Job is replying to the arguments which they had advanced, and one of those was, that whatever prosperity they had was not at all secure, but that in a moment it might be, and often was, wrested from them. Job maintains the contrary, and affirms that it was a somewhat unusual occurrence Job 21:17, that the wicked were plunged into sudden calamity. The phrase “in their hand” means “in their power,” or under their control, and at their disposal.

The counsel of the wicked is far from me - Or, rather, “far be it from me!” Perhaps the meaning is this, “Do not misunderstand me. I maintain that the wicked are often prospered, and that God does not in this life deal with them according to their deserts. They have life, and health, and property. But do not suppose that I am their advocate. Far be it from me to defend them. Far from me be their counsels and their plans. I have no sympathy with them. But I maintain merely that your position is not correct that they are always subjected to calamity, and that the character of people can always be known by the dealings of Providence toward them.” Or, it may mean, that he was not disposed to be united with them. They were, in fact, prospered; but though they were prospered, he wished to have no part in their plans and counsels. He would prefer a holy life with all the ills that might attend it.

Verse 17

How oft is the candle of the wicked put out? - Margin, “lamp.” A light, or a lamp, was an image of prosperity. There is, probably, an allusion here to what had been maintained by Bildad, Job 18:5-6, that the light of the wicked would be extinguished, and their dwellings made dark; see the notes at those verses. Job replies to this by asking how often it occurred. He inquires whether it was a frequent thing. By this, he implies that it was not universal; that it was a less frequent occurrence than they supposed. The meaning is, “How often does it, in fact, happen that the light of the wicked is extinguished, and that God distributes sorrows among them in his anger? Much less frequently than you suppose, for he bestows upon many of them tokens of abundant prosperity.” In this manner, by an appeal to “fact” and “observation,” Job aims to convince them that their position was wrong, and that it was not true that the wicked were invariably overwhelmed with calamity, as they had maintained.

God distributeth sorrows - The word “God” here, is understood, but there can be no doubt that it is correct. Job means to ask, how often it was true in fact that God “apportioned” the sorrows which he sent on men in accordance with their character. How often, in fact, did he treat the wicked as they deserved, and overwhelm them with calamity. It was not true that he did it, by any means, as often as they maintained, or so as to make it a certain rule in judging of character.

Verse 18

They are as stubble before the wind - According to the interpretation proposed of the previous verse, this may be read as a question, “How often is it that the wicked are made like stubble? You say that God deals with people exactly according to their characters, and that the wicked are certainly subjected to calamities; but how often does this, in fact, occur? Is it a uniform law? Do they not, in fact, live in prosperity, and arrive at a good old age?” It is not uncommon in the Scriptures to compare the wicked with stubble, and to affirm that they shall be driven away, as the chaff is driven by the wind; see the notes at Isaiah 17:13.

The storm carrieth away - Margin, “stealeth away.” This is a literal translation of the Hebrew. The idea is that of stealing away before one is aware, as a thief carries off spoil.

Verse 19

God layeth up his iniquity for his children - Margin, that is, “the punishment of iniquity.” This is a reference evidently to the opinion which “they” had maintained. It may be rendered, “You say that God layeth up iniquity,” etc. They had affirmed that not only did God, as a great law, punish the wicked in this life, but that the consequences of their sins passed over to their posterity; or, if “they” were not punished, yet the calamity would certainly come on their descendants; see Job 18:19-20; Job 20:10, Job 20:28. This is the objection which Job now adverts to. The statement of the objection, it seems to me, continues to Job 21:22, where Job says, that no one can teach God knowledge, or prescribe to him what he should do, and then goes on to say, that the “fact” was far different from what they maintained; that there was no such exact distribution of punishments; but that one died in full strength, and another in the bitterness of his soul, and both laid down in the dust, together. This view seems to me to give better sense than any other interpretation which I have seen proposed.

He rewardeth him, and he shall know it - That is, you maintain that God will certainly reward him in this life, and that his dealings with him shall so exactly express the divine view of his conduct, that he shall certainly know what God thinks of his character. This opinion they had maintained throughout the argument, and this Job as constantly called in question.

Verse 20

His eyes shall see his destruction - That is, his own eyes shall see his destruction, or the calamities that shall come upon him. That is, “You maintain that, or this is the position which you defend.” Job designs to meet this, and to show that it is not always so.

And he shall drink of the wrath of the Almighty - Wrath is often represented as a cup which the wicked are compelled to drink. See the notes, Isaiah 51:17.

Verse 21

For what pleasure hath he … - That is, what happiness shall he have in his family? This, it seems to me, is designed to be a reference to their sentiments, or a statement by Job of what “they” maintained. They held, that a man who was wicked, could have none of the comfort which he anticipated in his children, for he would himself be cut off in the midst of life, and taken away.

When the number of his months is cut off in the midst? - When his “life” is cut off - the word “months” here being used in the sense of “life,” or “years.” This they had maintained, that a wicked man would be punished, by being cut off in the midst of his way; compare Job 14:21.

Verse 22

Shall any teach God knowledge? - This commences the reply of Job to the sentiments of his friends to which he had just adverted. The substance of the reply is, that no one could prescribe to God how he should deal with people, and that it; was not a FACT that people were treated as they had supposed. Instead of its being true, as they maintained, that wicked people would all be cut down in some fearful and violent manner, as a punishment for their sins, Job goes on Job 21:23-26 to show that they died in a great variety of ways - one in full age and prosperity, and another in another manner. This, he says, God directs as he pleases. No one can teach him knowledge; no one can tell him what he ought to do. The reasoning of his friends, Job seems to imply, had been rather an attempt to teach God how he “ought” to deal with people, than a patient and candid inquiry into the “facts” in the case, and he says the facts were not as they supposed they ought to be.

Seeing he judgeth those that are high - Or rather, he judges “among the things” that are high. He rules over the great affairs of the universe, and it is presumptuous in us to attempt to prescribe to him how he shall govern the world. The design of this and the following verses is to show, that, from the manner in which people actually die, no argument can be derived to determine what was their religious condition, or their real character. Nothing is more fallacious than that kind of reasoning.

Verse 23

One dieth in his full strength - Margin, “very perfection,” or, “in the strength of his perfection.” The meaning is, that he dies in the very prime and vigor of life, surrounded with everything that can contribute to comfort. Of the truth of this position, no one can doubt; and the wonder is, that the friends of Job had not seen or admitted it.

Being wholly at ease and quiet - That is, having everything to make them happy, so far as external circumstances are concerned. He is borne down by no calamities; he is overwhelmed by no sudden and heavy judgments. The phrase in this verse rendered “full strength” (תמו בעצם be‛etsem tômô ), is literally, “in the bone of his perfection.” It means full prosperity.

Verse 24

His breasts - Margin, “milk pails.” The marginal translation is much the most correct, and it is difficult to understand why so improbable a statement has been introduced into our common version. But there has been great variety in the translation. The Vulgate renders it, Viscera ejus plena sunt adipe - “his viscera are full of fat.” So the Septuagint, τὰ ἔγκατα ἀυτοῦ πλήρη στέατος ta engkata autou plērē steatos The Syraic, “his sides;” Prof. Lee, “his bottles;” Noyes, “his sides;” Luther, “sein milkfass” - “his milk-pail;” Wemyss, “the stations of his cattle;” Good, “his sleek skin.” In this variety of rendering, what hope is there of ascertaining the meaning of the word? It is not easy to account for this variety, though it is clear that Jerome and the Septuagint followed a different reading from the present, and instead of עטיניו ‛ăṭı̂ynāyv they read בטיניו baṭı̂ynāyv - from בטן beṭen - “the belly;” and that instead of the word חלב châlâb as at present pointed, meaning “milk,” they understood it as if it were pointed חלב cheleb - meaning “fat” - the same letters, but different vowels.

The word which is rendered “breast” (עטין ‛ăṭı̂yn ) occurs nowhere else in the Hebrew Scriptures. It has become necessary, therefore, to seek its meaning in the ancient versions, and in the cognate languages. For a full examination of the word, the reader may consult Bochart, Hieroz. P. 1, Lib. ii. c. xliv., pp. 455,458; or Rosenmuller, where the remarks of Bochart are abridged; or Lee on Job, “in loc.” The Chaldee renders it ביזיו, “his breasts.” So Junius et Tre. Piscator, and others. Among the rabbis, Moses Bar Nackman, Levi, and others, render it as denoting the breasts, or “mulctralia” - “milk-vessels,” denoting, as some have supposed, “the lacteals.” This idea would admirably suit the connection, but it is doubtful whether it can be maintained; and the presumption is, that it would be in advance of the knowledge of physiology in the times of Job. Aben Ezra explains it of the places where camels lie down to drink - an idea which is found in the Arabic, and which will well suit the connection.

According to this, the sense would be, that those places abounded with milk - that is, that he was prospered and happy. The Hebrew word עטין ‛ăṭı̂yn as has been observed, occurs nowhere else. It is supposed to be derived from an obsolete root, the same as the Arabic “atana to lie down around water, as cattle do;” and then the derivative denotes a place where cattle and flocks lie down around water; and then the passage would mean, “the resting places of his herds are full, or abound with milk.” Yet the primary idea, according to Castell, Golius, and Lee, is that of saturating with water; softening, “scil.” a skin with water, or dressing a skin, for the purpose of using it as a bottle. Perhaps the word was used with reference to the place where camels came to drink, because it was a place that was “saturated” with water, or that abounded with water. The Arabic verb, also, according to Castell, is used in the sense of freeing a skin from wool and hairs - a lana pilisve levari pellem - so that it might be dressed for use.

From this reference to a “skin” thus dressed, Prof. Lee supposes that the word here means “a bottle,” arid that the sense is, that his bottles were full of milk; that is, that he had great prosperity and abundance. But it is very doubtful whether the word will bear this meaning, and whether it is ever used in this sense. In the instances adduced by Castell, Schultens, and even of Prof. Lee, of the use of the word, I find no one where it means “a skin,” or denotes a bottle made of a skin. The application of the “verb” to a skin is only in the sense of saturating and dressing it. The leading idea in all the forms of the word, and its common use in Arabic, is “that of a place where cattle kneel down for the purpose of drinking,” and then a place well watered, where a man might lead his camels and flocks to water. The noun would then come to mean a watering place - a place that would be of great value, and which a man who had large flocks and herds would greatly prize. The thought here is, therefore, that the places of this kind, in the possession of the man referred to, would abound with milk - that is, he would have abundance.

Are full of milk - Milk, butter and honey, are, in the Scriptures, the emblems of plenty and prosperity. Many of the versions, however, here render this “fat.” The change is only in the pointing of the Hebrew word. But, if the interpretation above given be correct, then the word here means “milk.”

And his bones are moistened with marrow - From the belief, that bones full of marrow are an indication of health and vigor.

Verse 26

They shall lie down alike in the dust - The emphasis here is on the word “alike” - יחד yachad The idea is, that they should die “in a similar manner.” There would be no such difference in the mode of their death as to determine anything about their character or to show that one was the friend of God, and that the other was not. The friends of Job had maintained, that that could be certainly known by the divine dealings with people, either in their life, or in their death. Job combats this opinion, and says, that there is no such marked distinction in their life, nor is there any certain indication of their character in their death. Prosperity often attends the wicked as well as the righteous, and the death of the righteous and the wicked resemble each other.

And the worms shall cover them - Cover them “both.” They shall alike moulder back to dust. There is no distinction in the grave. There is no difference in the manner in which they moulder back to dust. No argument can be drawn respecting their character from the divine dealings toward them when in life - none from the manner of their death - none from the mode in which they moulder back to dust. On the reference to the “worm” here, see the notes at Job 14:11.

Verse 27

Behold, I know your thoughts - That is, “I see that you are not satisfied, and that you are disposed still to maintain your former position. You will be ready to ask, Where “are” the proofs of the prosperity of the wicked? Where “are” the palaces of the mighty? Where “are” the dwelling places of ungodly men!”

And the devices which ye wrongfully imagine against me - The course of sophistical argument which you pursue, the tendency and design of which is to prove that I am a wicked man. You artfully lay down the position, that the wicked must be, and are in fact, overwhelmed with calamities, and then you infer, that because “I” am overwhelmed in this manner, I “must be” a wicked man.

Verse 28

For ye say, Where is the house of the prince? - That is, you maintain that the house of the wicked man, in a high station, will be certainly over thrown. The parallelism, as well as the whole connection, requires us to understand the word “prince” here as referring to a “wicked” ruler. The word used (נדיב nâdı̂yb ) properly means, one willing, voluntary, prompt; then, one who is liberal, generous, noble; then, one of noble birth, or of elevated rank; and then, as princes often had that character, it is used in a bad sense, and means a “tyrant.” See Isaiah 13:2.

And where are the dwelling places of the wicked - Margin, “tent of the tabernacles.” The Hebrew is, “The tent of the dwelling places.” The dwelling place was usually a “tent.” The meaning is, that such dwelling places would be certainly destroyed, as an expression of the divine displeasure.

Verse 29

Have ye not asked them that go by the way? - Travelers, who have passed into other countries, and who have had an opportunity of making observations, and of learning the opinions of those residing there. The idea of Job is, that they might have learned from such travelers that such people were “reserved” for future destruction, and that calamity did not immediately overtake them. Information was obtained in ancient times by careful observation, and by traveling, and they who had gone into other countries would be highly regarded concerning point like this. They could speak of what they had observed of the actual dealings of God there, and of the sentiments of sages there. The idea is, that “they” would confirm the truth of what Job had said, that the wicked were often prosperous and happy.

And do ye not know their tokens - The signs, or intimations which they have given of the actual state of things in other countries, perhaps by the inscriptions, records, and proverbs, by which they had “signified” the result of their inquiries.

Verse 30

That the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction? - He is not punished, as you maintain, at once. He is “kept” with a view to future punishment; and though calamity will certainly overtake him at some time, yet it is not immediate. This was Job‘s doctrine in opposition to theirs, and in this he was undoubtedly correct. The only wonder is, that they had not at all seen it sooner, and that it should have been necessary to make this appeal to the testimony of travelers. Rosenmuller, Noyes, and Schultens, understand it as meaning that the wicked are “spared” in the day of destruction, that is, in the day when destruction comes upon other people. This accords well with the argument which Job is maintaining. Yet the word (חשׂך châśak ) rather means, especially when followed by ל l hold back, reserve, or retain “for” something future; and this is the sentiment which Job was maintaining, that the wicked were not cut off at once, or suddenly overwhelmed with punishment. He did not deny that they would be punished at some period; and that exact justice would be done them. The point of the controversy turned upon the inquiry whether this would come “at once,” or wheather the wicked might not live long in prosperity.

They shall be brought forth - יובלו yûbālû They shall be led or conducted - as one is to execution. This appears as if Job held to the doctrine of “future” retribution. But when that time would be, or what were his exact views in reference to the future judgment, is not certainly intimated. It is clear, however, from this discussion, that he supposed it would be “beyond” death, for he says that the wicked are prospered in this life: that they go down to the grave and sleep in the tomb; that the clods of the valley are sweet unto them, Job 21:32-33, yet that the judgment, the just retribution, would certainly come. This passage, therefore, seems to be decisive to prove that he held to a state of retribution beyond the grave, where the inequalities of the present life would be corrected, and where people, though prospered here, would be treated as they deserved. This, he says, was the current opinion.

It was that which was brought by travelers, who had gone into other lands. What impropriety is there in supposing that he may refer to some travelers who had gone into the country where Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob had lived, or then lived, and that they had brought this back as the prevalent belief there? To this current faith in that foreign land, he may now appeal as deserving the attention of his friends, and as meeting all that they had said. It “would” meet all that they said. It was the exact truth. It accorded with the course of events. And sustained, as Job says it was, by the prevailing opinion in foreign lands, it was regarded by him as settling the controversy. It is as true now as it was then; and this solution, which could come only from revelation, settles all inquiries about; the rectitude of the divine administration in the dispensation of rewards and punishments. It answers the question,” How is it consistent for God to bestow so many blessings on the wicked, while his own people are so much afflicted?” The answer is, they have “their” good things in this life, and in the future world all these inequalities will be rectified.

Day of wrath - Margin, as in Hebrew “wraths.” The plural form here is probably employed to denote emphasis, and means the same as “fierce wrath.”

Verse 31

Who shall declare his way to his face? - That is, the face of the wicked. Who shall dare to rise up and openly charge him with his guilt? The idea is, that none would dare to do it, and that, therefore, the wicked man was not punished according to his character here, and was reserved to a day of future wrath.

And who shall repay him what he hath done? - The meaning is, that many wicked people lived without being punished for their sins. No one was able to recompense them for the evil which they had done, and consequently they lived in security and prosperity. Such were the tyrants and conquerors, who had made the world desolate.

Verse 32

Yet shall he be brought to the grave - Margin, “graves.” That is, he is brought with honor and prosperity to the grave. He is not cut down by manifest divine displeasure for his sins. He is conducted to the grave as other people are, not withstanding his enormous wickedness. The “object” of this is clearly to state that he would not be overwhelmed with calamity, as the friends of Job had maintained, and that nothing could be determined in regard to his character from the divine dealings toward him in this life.

And shall remain in the tomb - Margin, “watch in the heap.” The marginal reading does not make sense, though it seems to be an exact translation of the Hebrew. Noyes renders it, “Yet he still survives upon his tomb.” Prof. Lee, “For the tomb was he watchful;” that is, his anxiety was to have an honored and a splendid burial. Wemyss, “They watch over his tomb;” that is, he is honored in his death, and his friends visit his tomb with affectionate solicitude, and keep watch over his grave. So Dr. Good renders it. Jerome translates it; “et in congerie mortuorum vigilabit.” The Septuagint, “And he shall be borne to the graves, and he shall watch over the tombs;” or, he shall cause a watch to be kept over his tomb - ἐπὶ σωρῶν ἠγρύπνησεν epi sōrōn ēgrupnēsen Amidst this variety of interpretation, it is not easy to determine the true sense of the passage. The “general” meaning is not difficult.

It is, that he should be honored even in his death; that he would live in prosperity, and be buried with magnificence. There would be nothing in his death or burial which would certainly show that God regarded him as a wicked man. But there is considerable difficulty in determining the exact sense of the original words. The word rendered “tomb” in the text and “heap” in the margin (גדישׁ gâdı̂ysh ) occurs only in the following places, Exodus 22:6; Job 5:26; Judges 15:5, where it is rendered “a shock of corn,” and in this place. The “verb” in the Syriac, Arabic, and in Chaldee, means “to heap up” (see Castell), and the noun may denote, therefore, a stack, or a heap, of grain, or a tomb, that was made by a pile of earth, or stones. The ancient “tumuli” were there heaps of earth or stone, and probably such a pile was made usually over a grave as a monument. On the meaning of the word used here, the reader may consult Bochart, Hieroz. P. i.

L. iii. c. xiii. p. 853. There can be little doubt that it here means a tomb, or a monument raised over a tomb. There is more difficulty about the word rendered “shall remain” (ישׁקוד yı̂shqôd ). This properly means, to wake, to be watchful, to be sleepless. So the Chaldee שקד, and the Arabic “dakash ” The verb is commonly rendered in the Scriptures, “watch,” or “waketh.” See Psalm 127:1; Psalm 102:7; Jeremiah 31:28; Jeremiah 1:12; Jeremiah 5:6; Jeremiah 44:27; Isaiah 29:20; Ezra 8:29; Daniel 9:14. There is usually in the word the notion of “watching,” with a view to guarding, or protecting, as when one watches a vineyard, a house, or other property. The sense here is, probably, that his tomb should be carefully “watched” by friends, and the verb is probably taken impersonally, or used to denote that “someone” would watch over his grave. This might be either as a proof of affection, or to keep it in repair. One of the most painful ideas might have been then, as it is now among American savages (Bancroft‘s History of the United States, vol. iii. p. 299), that of having the grave left or violated, and it may have been regarded as a special honor to have had friends, who would come and watch over their sepulchre.

According to this view, the meaning is, that the wicked man was often honorably buried; that a monument was reared to his memory; and that every mark of attention was paid to him after he was dead. Numbers followed him to his burial, and friends came and wept with affection around his tomb. The argument of Job is, that there was no such distinction between the lives and death of the righteous and the wicked as to make it possible to determine the character; and is it not so still? The wicked man often dies in a palace, and with all the comforts that every clime can furnish to alleviate his pain, and to soothe him in his dying moments. He lies upon a bed of down; friends attend him with unwearied care; the skill of medicine is exhausted to restore him, and there is every indication of grief at his death. So, in the place of his burial, a monument of finest marble, sculptured with all the skill of art, is reared over his grave. An inscription, beautiful as taste can make it, proclaims his virtues to the traveler and the stranger. Friends go and plant roses over his grave, that breathe forth their odors around the spot where he lies. Who, from the dying scene, the funeral, the monument, the attendants, would suppose that he was a man whom God abhorred, and whose soul was already in hell? This is the argument of Job, and of its solidity no one can doubt.

Verse 33

The clods of the valley shall be sweet unto him - That is, he shall lie as calmly as others in the grave. The language here is taken from that delusion of which we all partake when we reflect on death. We think of “ourselves” in the grave, and it is almost impossible to divest our minds of the idea, that we shall be conscious there, and be capable of understanding our condition. The idea here is, that the person who was thus buried, might be sensible of the quiet of his abode, and enjoy, in some measure, the honors of the beautiful or splendid tomb, in which he was buried, and the anxious care of his friends. So we “think” of our friends, though we do not often “express” it. The dear child that is placed in the dark vault, or that is covered up in the ground - we feel as if we could not have him there. We insensibly shudder, as if “he” might be conscious of the darkness and chilliness, and “a part” of our trial arises from this delusion. So felt the American savage - expressing the emotions of the heart, which, in other cases, are often concealed. “At the bottom of a grave, the melting snows had left a little water; and the sight of it chilled and saddened his imagination. ‹You have no compassion for my poor brother‘ - such was the reproach of an Algonquin - ‹the air is pleasant, and the sun so cheering, and yet you do not remove the snow from the grave, to warm him a little,‘ and he knew no contentment until it was done.” - Bancroft‘s History, U. S. iii. 294,295. The same feeling is expressed by Fingal over the grave of Gaul:

Prepare, ye children of musical strings,

The bed of Gaul, and his sun-beam by him;

Where may be seen his resting place from afar

Which branches high overshadow,

Under the wing of the oak of greenest flourish,

Of quickest growth, and most durable form,

Which will shoot forth its leaves to the breeze of the shower,

While the heath around is still withered.

Its leaves, from the extremity of the land,

Shall be seen by the birds in Summer;

And each bird shall perch, as it arrives,

On a sprig of its verdant branch;

Gaul in this mist shall hear the cheerful note,

While the virgins are singing of Evirchoma.

Thus, also, Knolles (History of the Turks, p. 332) remarks of the Sultan Muted II, that “after his death, his son raised the siege, and returned back to Adrianople. He caused the dead to be buried with great solemnity in the Western suburbs of Broosa, in a chapel without a roof, in accordance with the express desire of the Sultan, in order that the mercy and blessing of God might descend on him, that the sun and the moon might shine on his grave, and the rain and the dew of heaven fall upon it.” Rosenmuller‘s Alte u. neue Morgenland, “in loc.” The word “clods” here, is rendered “stones” by Prof. Lee, but the more general interpretation is that of “sods,” or “clods.” The word is used only here, and in Job 38:38, where it is also rendered clods. The word “valley” (נחל nachal ) means usually a stream, brook, or rivulet, and then a valley where such a brook runs. Notes Job 6:15. It is not improbable that such valleys were chosen as burial places, from the custom of planting shrubs and flowers around a grave, because they would flourish best there. The valley of Jehoshaphat, near Jerusalem, was long occupied as a burial place.

And every man shall draw after him - Some suppose that this means, that he shall share the common lot of mortals - that innumerable multitudes have gone there before him - and that succeeding generations shall follow to the same place appointed for all the living. “Noyes.” Others, however, suppose that this refers to a funeral procession and that the meaning is, that all the world is drawn out after him, and that an innumerable multitude precedes him when he is buried. Others, again, suppose it means, that his example shall attract many to follow and adopt his practices, as many have done before him in imitating similar characters. “Lee.” It is clear, that there is some notion of honor, respect, or pomp in the language; and it seems to me more likely that the meaning is, that he would draw out every body to go to the place where he was buried, that they might look on it, and thus honor him. What multitudes would go to look on the grave of Alexander the Great! How many have gone to look on the place where Caesar fell! How many have gone, and will go, to look on the place where Nelson or Napoleon is buried! This, I think, is the idea here, that the man who should thus die, would draw great numbers to the place where he was buried, and that before him, or in his presence, there was an innumerable multitude, so greatly would he be honored.

Verse 34

How then comfort ye me in vain … - That is, how can you be qualified to give me consolation in my trials, who have such erroneous views of the government and dealings of God? True consolation could be founded only on correct views of the divine government; but such views, Job says, they had not. With their conceptions of the divine administration, they could not administer to him any real consolation. We may learn hence,

(1) That all real consolation in trial must be based on correct apprehensions of the divine character and plans. Falsehood, delusion, error, can give no permanent comfort.

(2) They whose office it is to administer consolation to the afflicted, should seek after the “truth” about God and his government.

They should endeavor to learn why he afflicts people, what purpose he proposes to accomplish, and what are the proper ends of trial. They should have an unwavering conviction that he is right, and should see as far as possible “why” he is right, before they attempt to comfort others. Their own souls should be imbued with the fullest conviction that all the ways of God are holy, and then they should go and endeavor to pour their convictions into other hearts, and make them feel so too. A minister of the gospel, who has unsettled, erroneous, or false views of the character and government of God, is poorly qualified for his station, and will be a “miserable comforter” to those who are in trial. Truth alone sustains the soul in affliction. Truth only can inspire confidence in God. Truth only can break the force of sorrow, and enable the sufferer to look up to God and to heaven with confidence and joy.

(The end of Part One of the Commentary on Job)


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Job 21:4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology