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Bible Commentaries
Job 21

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



Job’s message here was directed particularly to Zophar; “And Job’s tone was so sharp that Zophar would not take part in the third cycle of dialogues.”(F1) “This speech is unusual for Job. It is the only one in which he confined his remarks to his friends and did not fall into either a soliloquy or a prayer. The time had now come for Job to demolish his friends arguments.”(F2) This he proceeded to do with sledge-hammer blows of truth and logic. “He attacked their position from every side; and, in the end, he left no line of their arguments unchallenged.”(F3)

The theological error of Job’s friends was simple enough. They believed that everyone in this life received exactly what he deserved. Righteous people were healthy and prosperous; the wicked suffered in illness, poverty and destitution. Supporting their foolish error was the truth that virtuous and godly lives indeed do, in many instances, tend toward blessings and happiness; and, conversely, wickedness tends in the opposite direction. Job’s friends, seeing his epic misfortunes, terrible financial reverses, and hopeless physical disease, applied their doctrine as positive and undeniable truth of Job’s gross wickedness. In the light of the real facts, Job labeled their “consolations” as outright falsehoods (Job 21:34).

When we compare Job’s position with that of his friends, “It is easy to see that both understandings are unrealistic extremes; and both betray a fundamental error.”(F4) What is that error? It is simply this that, “The rewards of either wickedness or righteousness are limited to what occurs in one’s earthly lifetime.”

Such an error is incompatible with God’s truth. As Paul put it, “If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). The unpredictably variable fortunes of both the righteous and the wicked in this life are the result of the following divinely-arranged circumstances of our earthly lives:

(1) God provided that, “Time and chance happeneth to all men” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).

(2) God endowed his human children with the freedom of the will.

(3) Our great progenitors, Adam and Eve in Eden, elected to do the will of Satan, rather than the will of God. Satan’s invariable purpose has been the total destruction of all mankind; and the bringing in of such an enemy as `the god of this world’ has produced innumerable sorrows, even death itself. That, of course, is exactly what Adam and Eve did.

(4) God cursed the ground (the earth) for Adam’s sake. The purpose of this action was that Adam’s posterity might never find their earthly existence to be free of natural impediments. Following the fall of mankind, God made it impossible for man ever to find his earthly life altogether comfortable. This not only explains the briars and thistles, but the floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, droughts, hurricanes and all other natural disasters. With a list of uncertainties like all of these things, it became a mathematical certainty that there would be unpredictable variations in the lives of all men, both of the wicked and of the righteous.

It is evident that Job had as little understanding of the whole picture’ of human suffering as did his friends. The glory of Job, however, is that in spite of everything he trusted God. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15).

Verses 1-6


“Then Job answered, and said, Hear diligently my speech; And let this be your consolations. Suffer me, and I also will speak; And after that I have spoken, mock on. As for me, is my complaint to man? And why should I not be impatient? Mark me, and be astonished, And lay your hand upon your mouth. Even when I remember, I am troubled, And horror taketh hold on my flesh.”

“Hear my speech… let this be your consolations… lay your hand on your mouth” “Job is angered by his friends’ lack of sympathy. Instead of all that talk, their silence would have been better.”(F5) “They can keep on mocking him if they wish, for that is all that their `consolations’ amount to.”(F6)

“Is my complaint to man… why should I not be impatient” Barnes gave the meaning of this. “It is not so much what you friends have said that troubles me, it is what God has done to me.”(F7)

“Mark me, and be astonished” (appalled) “What Job is about to say will astound his friends, because God’s government of the world is utterly different from what they say in their vain theorizing.”(F8)

“I am troubled, and horror takes hold on my flesh” The implications of these words apparently are: “As I am about to speak of the mysterious workings of Providence, I tremble at the thought of it; my very flesh trembles.”(F9) Barnes believed that Job here stated that, “His sufferings had overwhelmed him and filled him with horror, and that the very recollection of them caused his flesh to tremble.”(F10) Van Selms paraphrased the whole thought here as follows: “If you really took into account what has happened to me, you would realize that no words are of any help here; and you would be silent, just as you were at first. I myself do not know how I should interpret my fate; one’s soul and body shudder at the thought of God’s incomprehensible decrees.”(F11) In the light of these comments, it is apparent that we cannot be absolutely sure of what Job might have meant here. There could have been some suggestion of all of these interpretations.

Verses 7-16


Against the doctrinaire assertions of his friends, Job here opposed their arguments with the brutal truth that the facts of life do not fit their theory.

“Wherefore do the wicked live, And become old, yea, wax mighty in power? Their seed is established with them in their sight, And their offspring before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, Neither is the rod of God upon them. Their bull gendereth, and faileth not; Their cow calveth, and casteth not her calf. They send forth their little ones like a flock, And their children dance. They sing to the timbrel and the harp, And rejoice at the sound of the pipe. They spend their days in prosperity. And in a moment they go down to Sheol. And they say unto God, Depart from us; For we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. What is the Almighty that we should serve him? And what profit should we have if we pray unto him? Lo, their prosperity is not in their hand: The counsel of the wicked is far from me.”

All of his friends had been preaching to Job that the wicked never prospered, that they always died young, that their children did not live, etc., etc. Job here replies, “If that is so, why do the wicked prosper, attain mighty power, live long lives, see their children after them happy and prosperous, and their houses safe from fear”? Job’s friends had no answer. What Job said was universally known to be the truth.

We do not know the names of any of the wicked that Job might have had in mind; but there were doubtless many who exemplified the truth he stated. It has been so in all generations, even in our own. Take Joseph Stalin, for example, the notorious Communist murderer of at least forty million people. Did he prosper? Of course! Did he die young? No! On his 72nd birthday, he received seventy-two train loads of birthday presents from the peoples whom he dominated. Did he renounce God? Certainly.

“Job was correct in his insistence that his friends’ theory was based on `falsehood’ (Job 21:34), and that it is too easy to suggest that our fortunes in this life are related to our godliness. That flies in the face of all the facts.”(F12)

“Zophar said the wicked die prematurely (Job 20:11), Eliphaz and Bildad said the prosperity of the wicked was a fleeting thing that did not last (Job 15:20; Job 18:5; Job 20:5); but the truth was contrary to all that.”(F13)

“Bildad asserted that the wicked die childless (as he felt certain Job would do); but here Job pointed out the happy, prosperous, singing, and dancing children of the wicked.”(F14)

“Their bull gendereth… their cow calveth” Job’s friends had not mentioned anything like this. However, “The idea was commonplace (Deuteronomy 28:4; Deuteronomy 28:18; Psalms 144:12-15). The people whose God is the Lord were promised such blessings; but Job pointed out that the wicked received such blessings.”(F15)

“They sing… and rejoice…and in a moment… go down to Shem” Absolutely opposite to the claims of his friends, Job here said, that, “The wicked live a merry life, and die an easy death.”(F16)

“Their prosperity is not in their hand” The thought is that only God could bless the wicked so richly; their prosperity is not all due to their efforts.

“The counsel of the wicked is far from me” Scholars differ sharply on what, exactly, is meant by this. This writer’s guess is that Job meant, “I simply cannot understand all that I see.” Andersen noted that, “The meaning of this verse is unclear.”(F17) Whatever the passage may mean, it is clear that, “Job maintains his integrity; he rejects the counsel of the wicked who denounce God; and far from crying for God to depart from him, he continually desires that fellowship with God, which he feels has been denied him through no fault of his own.”(F18)

Verses 17-22


In this section, Job admitted that disasters and misfortunes sometimes befall the wicked, but he denies that such a thing is in any sense common, affirming that indeed it seldom happens.

“How oft is it that the lamp of the wicked is put out? That their calamity cometh upon them? That God distributeth sorrows in his anger? That they are as stubble before the wind, And as chaff that the storm carrieth away? Ye say, God layeth up his iniquity for his children. Let him recompense it unto himself, that he may know it. Let his own eyes see his destruction, And let him drink of the wrath of the Almighty. For what careth he for his house after him, When the number of his months is cut off?. Shall any teach God knowledge, Seeing he judgeth those that are high?”

“How oft is the lamp of the wicked put out” “Job here replied to what Bildad said (Job 18:5). He did not deny that it ever happened, but replied that it was so rare as to be insignificant.”(F20)

“You say the wicked are as stubble… as chaff” “You say that God deals with men exactly according to their character; but how often does that occur”?(F21) Job insists that, although calamity may now and then fall upon the wicked, it is such an unusual thing as to be scarcely noticeable.

As a hedge against the fact that Job stressed here, his friends had insisted that in case a wicked man got away with his wickedness unpunished, God would wreak vengeance upon his children.

“Let his own eyes see his destruction… What careth he for his house after him” Here Job skillfully turned one of his friend’s arguments into support for his own position. “Job urges that punishment inflicted on a man’s children when the man is dead cannot be justified; because, since the dead man is beyond suffering in his own person, and beyond knowing it if his children suffer, he, the guilty person, escapes, and the children, innocent ones, suffer. This supported Job’s position. It really gives an illustration of what Job has been maintaining all along, namely, that the innocent suffer and the guilty prosper.”(F22)

Verses 23-26


“One dieth in his full strength, Being fully at ease and quiet: His pails are full of milk, And the marrow of his bones is moistened. And another dieth in bitterness of soul, And never tasteth of good. They lie down alike in the dust, And the worm covereth them.”

“They lie down alike in the dust” Job here declares that as in life there is no visible separation of the wicked from the righteous in the degree of their prosperity, even so it is the same way in death. “One man dies in prosperity and another in misery; and both may be either wicked or good.”(F23)

Verses 27-34


“Behold, I know your thoughts, And the devices wherewith ye would wrong me. For ye say, Where is the house of the prince? And where is the tent wherein the wicked dwelt? Have ye not asked wayfaring men? And do ye not know their evidences, That the evil man is reserved to the day of calamity? That they are led forth to the day of wrath? Who shall declare his way to his face? And who shall repay him what he hath done? Yet shall he be borne to the grave, And men shall keep watch over the tomb. The clods of the valley shall be sweet unto him, And all men shall draw after him. How then comfort ye me in vain, Seeing in your answers there remaineth only falsehood?”

“Behold, I know your thoughts, and the devices wherewith ye would wrong me” “I see you are disposed to maintain your position… You say the wicked are overwhelmed with calamities; and, from this, you infer that I am wicked.”(F24)

“Where is the house of the prince” “The context here requires us to understand `the prince’ as a reference to a wicked ruler.”(F25) The second clause is their inference that even his palace shall be destroyed.

The next two or three verses are somewhat ambiguous, and scholars read them differently; but we paraphrase Job’s reply to his friend’s argument which he here anticipated.

How could you say a thing like that? Ask anyone who has traveled, and knows the way of the world, what happens to an evil ruler. The evil flatterers that surround him would not dare accuse him of any wrong-doing; and when he dies, his body will be ceremoniously carried to a magnificent tomb; a monument will be erected, and an honor guard will stand by the grave!

“Who shall declare his way to his face… repay him what he hath done” Job’s knowledge of what goes on in the houses of rulers was perfect. The answer to the question raised here is: “Nobody, but nobody, would dare suggest to any ancient ruler that he was anything less than absolutely perfect.” It is nothing less than astounding that Job’s friends were either ignorant of this, or pretended to be ignorant. “None would dare oppose a wicked ruler to his face for fear of the consequences.”<25a> “Wicked rulers are not only spared by God but left unrebuked by men.”(F26)

“In your answers there remaineth only falsehood” “All that Job’s friends say was but a dishonest attempt to prove him wicked.”(F27) This may appear as a harsh judgment to some; but it should never be forgotten that, in this astounding narrative, Job’s friends were cardinal agents of Satan himself, determined to destroy one of the noblest men who ever lived.

The discerning reader knows what is going on here. “Job is not wicked, or stubborn, or arrogant. He is honest and tenacious. From the very depth of a suffering body and a distressed mind, he cries out for understanding,”(F28) still trusting God, in spite of the blind stupidity and/or evil intent of his friends. Job is still perplexed by the mysteries of God’s dealing with men; “But, by now, the reader knows that such enigmas do not prevent Job from trusting in his inexplicable God.”(F29)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Job 21". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/job-21.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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