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Bible Commentaries
Job 21

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-6

My Conclusions Are the Opposite of Yours (21:1-6)

In harmony with the usual practice Job begins with a justification for his words. Everything he says points to the radical nature of the stand he is about to take. He warns the friends to be prepared for an appalling revelation which will put great strain on them (vs. 5). Even he is "dismayed" at the prospect (vs. 6). However, he justifies the extremity of his language and his position by the fact that his quarrel is not the usual complaint against man but is an extraordinary one against God (vs. 4). All this means that the friends should give the more careful consideration to what he will now say, as he asks that silence be substituted for their previous "consolation" (vs. 2). At any rate he is determined to speak, even though he anticipates nothing but mockery in return (vs. 3; "mock on" is singular, indicating that it is addressed to Zophar).

Verses 1-34

Job Speaks (21:1-34)

As at the close of the first round of discussion (chs. 12-14), so here, the author represents Job as finally coming to deal with the main point of the friends’ speeches. They have drawn in great detail the picture of the wicked man living in terror and despair, facing imminent destruction, afflicted all his days, and never really enjoying his prosperity. This picture Job now systematically destroys. He attacks it from every side and in the end leaves no line of it unchallenged. In so doing he comes close to affirming the exact opposite of the friends’ contention, and to declaring that the wicked man alone is truly prosperous, happy, and secure.

Verses 7-16

As I See It, the Wicked Are Happy (21:7-16)

Job sees quite a different picture from the one Zophar has so vividly traced. Moreover, he regards his own view as obvious, for without preliminary statement he abruptly asks why it is that the wicked live to ripe age and prosper all of their fives (vs. 7). In contrast to Zophar’s description of the transient security of the wicked, of his loneliness, of his terror and misery, Job speaks of the wicked as enjoying full and uninterrupted security, surrounded by happy, playing children. Such men are immune from the judgments of God (vs. 9) and even have a kind of automatic insurance against accidental loss (vs. 10).

Verse 13 is a summary of Job’s view; the life of the wicked is described as one of unbroken prosperity and his death as unmarked by long illness or suffering. In verses 14 and 15 Job makes it plain that he is speaking of the actively wicked. These are not the merely indifferent or careless, but are the ones who have reasoned things out and who have therefore deliberately rejected the way of righteousness and turned from the service of God as from a profitless endeavor. The three friends have insisted that prosperity is the reward which God gives to the righteous. On the contrary, says Job, the unrighteous man knows that prosperity comes only from his own evil endeavor and that righteousness gains no reward. To such men their prosperity is "in their [own] hand" rather than from God, and so they live and plan without thought of the Almighty (vs. 16, the last line of which may be translated, as in the ancient Greek version, "the counsel of the wicked is far from him")

Verses 17-34

The Life and Destiny of the Wicked Are Peaceful (21:17-34)

Job demolishes one after another of the friends’ superficial judgments about the life of unrighteous men. Bildad has said that "the light of the wicked is put out" (18:5-6), and that "calamity is ready for his stumbling" (Job 18:12); Zophar has said that "God will send his fierce anger into him" (Job 20:23). Job challenges each of these conclusions and declares that such is by no means the case (Job 21:17). A fundamental assumption of the orthodox view was that the wicked are "like chaff which the wind drives away" (Psalms 1:4). Job declares that this simply is not true in his experience or not true enough to serve as a rule of life.

In verses 19-21 Job proceeds to cut the ground from any attempt to support the popular view by an appeal to succeeding generations. Exodus 20:5 had declared that God visits "the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation," meaning that the effects and punishment of sin were long-lived and continued beyond the life of the sinner. This was taken, however, to mean that God at times postponed judgment, allowing the sinner to escape but visiting later generations with wrath. Such a view Job indignantly rejects as unrealistic and unfair. The wicked man, he declares, ought to be punished himself, for he would have no real concern for his descendants, provided he escaped in his own lifetime (see also Job 14:21-22).

Verse 22 is a break in Job’s otherwise steady argument. It may be that he is exclaiming over the inscrutable nature of God’s judgments, utterly beyond human comprehension. On the other hand, he may be longing for an opportunity to "teach God" and at least reconstruct life more nearly according to his own desires.

In verses 23-26 Job continues his theme, restating his conviction that God’s operations in the world are indiscriminate (see also Job 9:22-24). Death comes to good and bad alike, the only difference is that the wicked man has had an easy, secure, and prosperous life, and the good man has had not so much as a taste of prosperity. There is no difference in their deaths.

The thought leads Job to a final culminating illustration of his view. There is, in fact, a difference in the death of the wicked and the death of the righteous: the wicked man even has a fine funeral! The friends have spoken of the ephemeral nature of the evil man’s home and security (for example, Job 8:15-18; Job 15:34; Job 18:15; Job 20:26-27), asking in effect, "Where is the tent in which the wicked dwelt?" Job declares contemptuously that it is everywhere. They should ask people who get around, who will tell them that the facts of life point to the safety of the wicked in the day of calamity and to his immunity from all retributive justice. Particularly they will testify to the final evidence of this immunity as they describe the way the wicked man’s body is borne to its tomb, honored and respected, and accompanied by crowds of mourners. Job adds, in bitter irony, that even the clods of earth thrown on his grave are "sweet to him." This is the way life is, and the words of the friends are "empty nothings" and "falsehood."

When Job’s position is contrasted with the position of the friends, as stated for example by Zophar in chapter 20, it is easy to see that both are unrealistic extremes. Both, moreover, betray a fundamental error: that life itself furnishes incontrovertible and conclusive evidence about the workings of God. Only when life is free from bondage to sin and free from the disfiguring mark of sin — as in the Incarnate Life — can it bear unambiguous witness to God.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Job 21". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/job-21.html.
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