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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Job 21

Verses 1-34

C. The Second Cycle of Speeches between Job and His Three Friends chs. 15-21

In the second cycle of speeches, Job’s companions did not change their minds about why Job was suffering and the larger issue of the basis of the divine-human relationship. They continued to hold the dogma of retribution: that God without exception blesses good people and punishes bad people in this life. Galatians 6:7 says, "Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap." However, it is wrong to conclude that we will inevitably reap what we sow before we die. Our final judgment will come after death. Job and his friends lacked this long view of life and focused on life before death. The spirit of Job’s "friends" did change, however, to one of greater hostility. They seem to have abandoned hope that direct appeals to Job would move him to repent, because they no longer called on him to repent. Instead they stressed the fate of the wicked and only indirectly urged him to repent. In their first speeches, their approach was more intellectual; they challenged Job to think logically. In their second speeches, their approach was more emotional; they sought to convict Job’s conscience.

"In the first [cycle of speeches] Eliphaz had emphasised [sic] the moral perfection of God, Bildad his unwavering justice, and Zophar his omniscience. Job in reply had dwelt on his own unmerited sufferings and declared his willingness to meet God face to face to argue his case. Having failed to stir his conscience, the friends see in him a menace to all true religion, and in the second cycle their rebukes are sharper than in the first, though their characters are still carefully preserved." [Note: Rowley, p. 107.]

Verses 1-6

Job’s request to be heard 21:1-6

The best consolation his friends could have provided was to listen quietly to Job’s reply. So Job requested this (Job 21:2). He reminded his companions that his complaint was with God, not people. He was impatient because God would not reply.

Verses 1-34

6. Job’s second reply to Zophar ch. 21

After the first cycle of speeches, Job responded to a point each of his friends had made, namely, that God consistently blesses the righteous and blasts the unrighteous. After this second cycle of speeches, Job again replied to a point each accuser had made: that the wicked suffer destruction in this life.

"This speech is unusual for Job on several counts. It is the only one in which he confines his remarks to his friends and does not fall into either a soliloquy or a prayer. The time has come to demolish their position. Secondly, in making this counter-attack, Job reviews a lot of the preceding discussion, so that many cross-references can be found to what has already been said. These are a valuable guide to interpretation when they can be discovered. Thirdly, by quoting their words and refuting them, Job comes nearer to formal debate. While his words are still quite emotional, there is less invective in them." [Note: Andersen, p. 198.]

Verses 7-16

The wicked person’s continued prosperity 21:7-16

Job’s friends had been selective in their observations regarding wicked people. They had pointed out only the cases in which God judged them on earth. Job now presented the other side of the story. There were many wicked who never experienced God’s judgment before they died. His words contrast especially with what Zophar had just said (ch. 20). Many people who do not know God or reject him live peaceful, pleasant lives (Job 21:14-15; cf. Job 18:21). Job 21:16 may mean that these people’s prosperity comes ultimately from God, not from themselves. Still, Job did not want his friends to understand him as supporting the wicked’s contempt for God (Job 21:16 b).

Verses 17-26

The reason the wicked die 21:17-26

Job claimed that the wicked die for the same reason the righteous die. They are sinners. They do not invariably die early because they are wicked sinners. Furthermore, God does not punish the children of the wicked who die late in life for their parents’ sins. Job said that would be no punishment on the parents since they would not be alive to witness their children’s suffering. He also pointed out that his companions were putting God in a box by not allowing Him to judge freely but requiring that He behave according to their theological conceptions (Job 21:22).

"Those who do not believe in an absolutely sovereign God cannot possibly appreciate the depth of the problem Job presented in Job 21:23-26. The answer still alludes [sic eludes] us. Even with all our additional revelation (Romans 8:28), we often stand in anguish over the apparent injustice and seeming cruelty of God’s providence." [Note: Smick, "Job," p. 950.]

"Of course, Job is talking [in Job 21:26] about the physical side of death and not the spiritual. When death comes, it obviously makes a great deal of difference in the next life whether or not the person had faith in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:27)." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 46.]

Verses 27-34

The lifelong prosperity of some wicked 21:27-34

By urging his friends to ask travelers (Job 21:29), Job was accusing them of holding a provincial viewpoint, one formed out of limited exposure to life.

"If Job’s friends inquired of well-traveled people, they would learn that in every part of the world, wicked people seem to escape the calamities that fall on the righteous." [Note: Ibid.]

Though some writers have taken Job 21:31 as a quotation of the view of Job’s friends, it is probably Job’s own view. "The day" is probably a reference to the final time God will judge the wicked.

This speech explains Job’s position, which certainly squares with reality better than the one his adversaries advocated. Frequently the wicked do prosper throughout their lives. God does not always cut off evil people prematurely. For example, even though Manasseh was Judah’s worst king, he reigned the longest. Even through Mussolini and Hitler died violent deaths, Lenin and Stalin died in their own beds as old men. Furthermore, "All that desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). Job accused his friends of being wrong.

At the end of this second cycle, the advantage in the debate was obviously with Job. Any objective observer of what was going on at that city dump would have had to admit that Job’s arguments made more sense than those of his three friends.

"If you want to be an encouragement to hurting people, try to see things through their eyes. Be humble enough to admit that there might be other points of view." [Note: Ibid., p. 47.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Job 21". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/job-21.html. 2012.