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Bible Commentaries
Job 21

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-34

By Chuck Smith

This time shall we turn to the book of Job, chapter 21.

Zophar has just concluded in chapter 20 his second speech in which, again, he sort of just gives some of the traditions and quotes some of the proverbs that are common, and sort of reiterating some of his accusations against Job. "Knowest not this of old, since man was placed on the earth" ( Job 20:4 ). "You see, don't you know that man has known this forever?" Going back to some of the old proverbs and so forth.

"That the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite is but for a moment?" ( Job 20:5 ) This is just some of the old proverbs. "The triumphing of the wicked is short, the joy of the hypocrite is for a moment." And then the insinuations there is that Job actually is a wicked man and that he is a hypocrite. And then he makes accusations against Job in verse Job 21:19 : "Because he has oppressed and forsaken the poor, because he has violently taken away a house which he built it not." In other words, he made a foreclosure against some poor people. And so, concluding in verse Job 21:29 : "This is the portion of a wicked man from God, and the heritage appointed unto him from God." That is the calamity and the destruction that will come upon him for doing these wicked things.

So Job answered and said, Hear diligently my speech, and let this be your consolations. And allow me that I may speak; and after I have spoken, just mock on ( Job 21:1-3 ).

Job has just really had it with these guys and he's not really very kind in his remarks to them anymore. But I can sort of understand Job's position. They just...he's looking for sympathy; he's looking for understanding. He doesn't have it. They just are convinced in their minds that Job is a wicked, ungodly man. Though they can't point it out to him, though he's challenged them to, "point out my wickedness," they can't do it. Yet they're convinced of this fact. Job cannot convince them otherwise.

And so let me speak and then after I have spoken, go ahead and mock on.

As for me, is my complaint to man? if it were so, why should not my spirit be troubled? Go ahead, mark me, be astonished, put your hand over your mouth. Even when I remember I am afraid, and trembling takes hold on my flesh ( Job 21:4-6 ).

Now, Job shows the fallacy of the whole arguments that they're putting against him, because the arguments are this: That the righteous prosper. If you're really a righteous man, you'll be prosperous, that it just follows. And that if you are wicked, then calamity is sure to come, thus any calamity that comes into your life is a sure sign of wickedness. And any prosperity is a sure sign of righteousness. This is the basic fallacious philosophy.

Now in the New Testament we find this same philosophy is spoken against. As those who think that godliness is a way to gain, or it's a way to prosperity. That is spoken of in the New Testament, it says, "from such turn away" ( 1 Timothy 6:5 ), those that say living a godly life is a way to be prosperous. So Job is putting down their whole philosophy by just pointing out basic facts, and it is this:

Why do the wicked live, become old, yea, they are mighty in power? Their seed is established in their sight with them, 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 casts not her calf. They send forth their little ones like a flock, their children dance. They take the timbrel, the harp, rejoice at the sound of the organ. They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave ( Job 21:7-13 ).

In other words, they do not have a prolonged suffering at the time of death. They live, their children are happy, their children are in the dances, and so forth. They are the wicked, they seem to be prosperous and then they die suddenly rather than having a long suffering, lingering kind of a death.

Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; we don't desire the knowledge of your ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him? ( Job 21:14-15 )

In other words, they scorn God. They shun God. They say, "Hey, why should I serve God? Look, I'm happy. I've got everything I want. Why do I need God? You know, God can take a walk as far as I'm concerned. I don't need Him. I'm doing fine." And so this is, Job pointed out, this is the way the wicked are. Now you say the wicked are cut down, the wicked are cursed, the wicked, you know, are cut off and all. But wait a minute, that's not my observation. Wicked people oftentimes prosper, prosper abundantly. In fact, in the seventy-third Psalm, this was a situation that almost caused the psalmist to stumble.

If you want to turn for a moment to Psalms 73:1-28 , you'll see that the psalmist was observing much the same things as Job here concerning the wicked, as he declares, "Truly God is good to Israel, and all those that are of a clean heart" ( Psalms 73:1 ). In other words, he starts out with a basic, foundational truth. I know this: God is good. I know that. It's important that you know that. It's important that you have certain foundational truths upon which you stand. Upon which you can fall back, because you're not going to always understand why certain things have happened to you. You're not going to understand that. So whenever you come up against something you don't understand, you must fall back on what you do understand, certain foundational truths. And this is one: God is good. I know that. But, the psalmist said, "I know God is good."

But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well-nigh slipped. I was envious of the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death: [Much the same thing, they don't go through prolonged periods of suffering before they die. They seem to die quickly without a lot of suffering.] their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than their heart could wish. They are corrupt, they speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens, their tongue walks through the earth. Therefore his people return hither: and the waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. And they said, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High? Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches ( Psalms 73:2-12 ).

Now, you see, the psalmist is observing much the same as Job. That wicked people oftentimes prosper. In fact, sometimes they prosper abundantly. Job said, "Their children grow up before them. They don't have any trouble. Their bulls gender. Their cows, you know, caste their calves and they don't die. They're prospered. They're blessed. And they're cursing God. They say, 'Why do I need God. I don't need God. I'm happy. I'm satisfied.'"

And the psalmist is observing much the same thing and he said, "It almost wiped me out. It almost caused me to trip up when I saw this." It drew him to false conclusions. He said, "I've cleansed my heart in vain. I've washed my hands in innocency. For all the time I am plagued. I'm chastened" ( Psalms 73:13-14 ).

"It doesn't pay to try and serve God. The wicked have it so good, and here I'm trying to do what's right and I'm in trouble all the time. I'm plagued. Everything's going wrong. You know, I can't pay my bills, and all. And it doesn't pay to serve God." It is really sort of the suggestion here.

"When I thought to know this," he said, "it was too painful for me. Until I went into the sanctuary of the Lord, and then I saw their end" ( Psalms 73:16-17 ). You see, our problem is that our vision oftentimes is too narrow. We see only that which is seen and it will cause you to trip up. I can't understand the disparities of life. I don't understand why wicked people oftentimes prosper and why godly people oftentimes suffer. There are disparities that I don't understand. I know that God is good. I know that God is righteous. I know that God is fair. But I don't know why good, godly people have to suffer. I don't know why ungodly people who really curse God, who want nothing to do with God, are so oftentimes very prosperous, seemingly always in excellent health, never seeming to have problems. "Until I went into the sanctuary of the Lord. I was almost wiped out. I almost... it almost caused my foot to slip. I was almost gone." What did he discover in the sanctuary of the Lord? He discovered, then, the end result. "Then I saw their end." You see, I see now on out beyond. I see the eternity and the long-term view. And when I look out beyond just today and tomorrow, and I look into eternity and I see the end of the wicked, then I am no longer envious of the wicked. How could I be envious of the wicked who are cast into hell? "Surely you have set them in slippery places," the psalmist said. "They shall go down in a moment" ( Psalms 73:18 ). So I can't be envious of them any longer when I see the end result.

Now this is what coming into the sanctuary of the God should always be, a broadening experience for you. Because we do get battered about many times in our worldly relationships, on the job, in school and so forth, and we come in dragging Sunday morning, battered and bruised by the contact with that alien world out there, because actually we are strangers and pilgrims here. We are living in an alien world. It's alien to God. Alienated from God. And if you're living a life in fellowship with God, you find yourself in an alien world. And we come into the sanctuary of God, but it should always be a place where God broadens our whole perspective. And I begin to measure things not by, "Oh, what a rough week," but I begin to measure things by eternity. It won't be long. Life is so short. I'll soon be with Him in the glories of His kingdom. Oh, how fortunate I am to know Him. How fortunate I am that He loves me and He has chosen me as His child and I am going to dwell with Him forever and ever. You see, you get the long-term; you get released from this narrow little perspective that so often develops in the world. And the broadened perspective as we come into the sanctuary of God.

So Job now is talking from the narrow perspective. We often do this when we're hurting, when we're suffering. He's looking at the wicked like the psalmist did and he sees their prosperity and it's completely putting down the arguments of his friends. He is putting them down. They are not true. The things that they are saying are not true. The hypocrite isn't cut off; the wicked aren't cast aside. They oftentimes are very prosperous indeed and seem to have no problem at all. And this is what Job is pointing out as he shows the fallacy of the arguments that these men are giving to him.

Now Job begins to look down the road, verse Job 21:17 :

How oft is the candle of the wicked put out! how oft cometh their destruction upon them! God distributeth sorrows in his anger. They are as stubble before the wind, as chaff that the storm carries away ( Job 21:17-18 ).

I wonder if, when David wrote the first Psalm, he was not acquainted with the book of Job. Do you remember what he said concerning the wicked? "Are not so, but as the chaff which the wind driveth away" ( Psalms 1:4 ). And here he's borrowing actually this phrase out of Job. David was probably very familiar with this book.

God lays up his iniquity for his children: he rewards him, and he shall know it. His eyes shall see his destruction, he shall drink of the wrath of the Almighty ( Job 21:19-20 ).

Now Job said,

Are you going to teach God knowledge? seeing he judges those that are high. One dies in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet. His breasts are full of milk, his bones are moistened with marrow. Another dies in the bitterness of his soul, and never eats with pleasure ( Job 21:22-25 ).

Now why the difference? We don't know. Why is it that some men die in fullness and some die in poverty? Some die in pain and sorrow. Some are cut off quickly. Why does that happen?

They shall lie down alike in the dust, the worms shall cover them. Behold, I know your thoughts, and devices which you wrongfully imagine against me. For you say, Where is the house of the prince? And where are the dwelling places of the wicked? Have you not asked them that go by the way? and do you not know their tokens ( Job 21:26-29 ),

He said, "You learned your philosophy from wayfarers, from strangers, from people in the streets."

That the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction? they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath ( Job 21:30 ).

In other words, God will judge them. That is true. But not necessarily in this life.

Who shall declare his way to his face? and who shall repay him for what he has done? Yet shall he be brought to the grave, he shall remain in his tomb. The clods of the valley shall be sweet unto him, and every man shall draw after him, as there are innumerable before him. How then do you comfort me in vain, seeing in your answers there's an inconsistency? ( Job 21:31-34 )

How can you comfort me with these kinds of arguments when they're not really consistent? When they're not really logical? When they don't stand up to reality? "

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Job 21". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/job-21.html. 2014.
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