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Bible Commentaries
Job 21

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2484. B.C. 1520.

Job’s preface to his answer, Job 21:1-6 . He describes the prosperity of wicked men, Job 21:7-13 . Hardening them in their impiety, Job 21:14-16 . He foretels their final ruin, Job 21:17-21 . He observes a great variety in the ways of God, Job 21:22-26 . He shows, that though sinners are always punished in the other world, they often escape in this, Job 21:27-34 .

Verse 1

Job 21:1. But Job answered and said It has been thought strange that Job should never resume the argument of a resurrection, which was so full of piety and conviction; but, when resuming the dispute with his friends, should stick to that he first set out with. Whether this be the case or not, we shall see in the course of our observations. But if it be, a very sufficient reason may be assigned for it. For, if one such appeal as this, made in the most solemn manner, would not convince them of his innocence, he had reason to think it would be much the same, if he had repeated it a second and a third time. He had, therefore, no other resource left, but to follow the argument with which he had begun; namely, to combat the false principle upon which they were so forward to condemn him: and this he does effectually throughout the present chapter, by showing that many wicked men live long and prosperously, and at last die in apparent peace, and are buried with great pomp; which shows that this life is not the proper state of retribution, but that men shall be judged and recompensed hereafter. See Peters and Dodd.

Verses 2-3

Job 21:2-3. Hear diligently my speech If you have no other comfort to administer, at least afford me this: be so kind, so just, as to give me a patient hearing: and let this be your consolations I shall accept of it instead of those consolations which you owed to me in this my distressed condition, and which I expected from you. And it will be a consolation to yourselves in the reflection, to have dealt tenderly with your afflicted friend. Suffer me to speak Without such interruption as you have given me. And after I have spoken, mock on If I do not defend my cause with solid and convincing arguments, go on in your scoffs.

Verse 4

Job 21:4 . Is my complaint to man? No: if it were, I see it would be to little purpose to complain. I do not make my complaint to, or expect relief from you, or from any men; but from God only. I am pouring forth my complaints to him; to him I appeal. Let him be judge between you and me. Before him we stand upon equal terms, and, therefore, I have the privilege of being heard as well as you. And if it were so If my complaint were to man; why should not my spirit be troubled? Would I not have cause to be troubled? For they would not regard, nor even rightly understand me; but my complaint is to God, who will suffer me to speak, though you will not.

Verse 5

Job 21:5. Mark me, and be astonished Consider what I am about to say, concerning the wonderful prosperity of the worst of men, and the pressures of some good men; and it will fill you with astonishment at the mysterious conduct of Divine Providence herein. And lay your hand upon your mouth Be silent: quietly wait the issue; and judge nothing before the time. God’s way is in the sea, and his path in the great waters. When we cannot account for what he doth, in suffering the wicked to prosper, and the godly to be afflicted, nor fathom the depth of those proceedings, it becomes us to sit down and admire them. Upright men shall be astonished at this, chap. Job 17:8. Be you so.

Verse 6

Job 21:6. Even when I remember I am afraid, &c. The very remembrance of what is past fills me with dread and horror. As Job well knew that the account he was about to give of the prosperity of wicked men, however necessary to his argument, would have something shocking in it to the ears of those to whom it was addressed, the delicacy with which he thus introduces it is inimitable.

Verse 7

Job 21:7. Wherefore do the wicked live? That is, long and happily: become old? Namely, in their prosperous state: yea, are mighty in power? Are preferred to places of authority and trust, and not only make a great figure, but bear a great sway? Now, if things be as you say, how comes this to pass? Wherefore does the righteous God distribute things so unequally? “The description, which follows, of a prosperous estate is such as might, indeed, justly create envy, were a wicked man, in any state, to be envied; for we have here the chief ingredients of human happiness, as it respects this life, brought together and described in terms exactly suiting the simplicity of manners, and the way of living in Job’s time and country, as, first, security and safety to themselves and families; Job 21:9. Their houses are safe from fear Of the incursions of robbers, we may suppose, or the depredations of the neighbouring clans, so usual in those ancient times, and of which Job had felt the mischievous effects. Next health, or a freedom from diseases, called in the language of that age, the rod of God. See 1 Samuel 26:10. To this is added plenty of cattle, the riches of those times; Job 21:10. Next comes a numerous and hopeful offspring; and what a rural picture has he drawn of them! Job 21:11. They send forth their little ones like a flock Of sheep or goats, as the word signifies, in great numbers, and with sweet concord, which is a singular delight to them and their parents. They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the pipe; Job 21:12. Lastly, and to crown all, after a prosperous and pleasant life comes an easy death. They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave That is, their days pass on in a continual flow of prosperity, till they drop into the grave without a groan. As every thing in this divine poem is wonderful, there is scarce any thing more to be admired in it than the variety of descriptions which are given us of human life, in its most exalted prosperity, on the one hand, and its deepest distress on the other: for this is what their subject led them to enlarge upon on both sides; with this only difference, that the three friends were for limiting prosperity to the good, whereas Job insists upon a mixed distribution of things from the hand of Providence; but as all of them, in every speech almost, enlarge upon one or other of these topics, the variety of imagery and colouring in which they paint to us these different estates, all drawn from nature, and suiting the simplicity of those ancient times, is inexpressibly amusing and entertaining: then their being considered as the dispensations of Providence, and it being represented that we can receive neither good nor evil but from God, the judge of all, a point acknowledged on both hands, is what renders these descriptions interesting and affecting to us in the highest degree; and the whole affords no contemptible argument of the antiquity of the book. See Peters and Dodd.

Verse 13

Job 21:13. They spend their days in wealth Hebrews בשׂוב , batob, in good: εν αγαθοις , LXX., in good things: in deliciis, in delights, Arab. ver: that is, in the enjoyment of all the good things of this life without any mixture of evil. And in a moment go down to the grave They do not die of a lingering disease, as many good men die, but suddenly and sweetly.

Verse 14

Job 21:14. Therefore Because of their constant prosperity, they say unto God Sometimes in words, but commonly in their thoughts and affections, and by the language of their lives, Depart from us Let us not be troubled with the apprehension of our being under God’s eye, nor be restrained by the fear of him. Or, they bid him depart as one they do not need, nor have any occasion to apply to for help or comfort. The world is the portion which they have chosen, and with which they are satisfied, and in which they think themselves happy, and while they have that they can live without God. Justly will God say to them, Depart, who have bid him depart; and justly doth he now take them at their word. We desire not the knowledge of thy ways Much less the practice of them. They that are resolved not to walk in God’s ways, desire not to know them, because their knowledge would be a continual reproach to their disobedience.

Verse 15

Job 21:15. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What is he to us? What excellence is there in him? What advantage have we, or can we expect from him? Strange that ever creatures should speak so insolently respecting their Creator, on whom they are every moment dependant for life, and breath, and all things! that ever reasonable creatures should speak so absurdly and unreasonably concerning their Redeemer and Saviour, their Governor and their Judge! The two great bonds, by which we are drawn and held to religion, are those of duty and interest; but here they endeavour to break both those bonds asunder. They will not own that they owe him any worship or service, nor will they believe that they should be a whit the better for serving him.

Verse 16

Job 21:16. Lo, their good is not in their hand These words, says Chappelow, will be more consistent with what goes before, if read with an interrogation; namely, Lo, is not their good in their hand? that is, Is not every thing in their power? Do they not enjoy whatever they desire? To this purpose, he observes, is Sol. Jarchi’s comment. Most commentators, however, read the words without an interrogation, which is certainly more agreeable to the Hebrew text. And Poole, with Henry and several others, consider them as containing an answer to the foregoing questions, and a confutation of the ungodly opinion and practice mentioned Job 21:14-15, as if he had said, Wicked men have no reason to reject God, because of their prosperity, for their wealth is not in their hand; neither obtained nor kept by their own might, but only by God’s power and favour. Therefore I am far from approving their opinion, or following their course. “After the foregoing elegant description of the prosperity of some wicked men,” says Dr. Dodd, “Job proceeds, on the other hand, to confess what was likewise apparent in the ways of Providence, that some of them were as remarkably distinguished by their wretchedness, being exposed to the most dreadful evils and calamities. He knew that while he had been recounting the prosperity of the wicked, he had touched upon a tender point, to which his adversaries would be apt to give a wrong turn, as if he had been pleading the cause of iniquity. He therefore guards against their entertaining any idea of that kind, in this verse, in which he speaks to this purpose: ‘Do not imagine that because I say the wicked sometimes prosper, therefore, I believe their prosperity to be owing to themselves, or in their own hand or power. God forbid that I should give such a countenance to impiety! No; though they may thus presumptuously imagine with themselves, I am not of their opinion, nor yet of their society; the counsel of the wicked is far from me I know that all the happiness that they can boast is merely by the will and sufferance of Almighty God, and that sometimes he is pleased to make them terrible examples of his justice.’” Of which he speaks in the following verses to Job 21:21.

Verse 17

Job 21:17. How oft is the candle of the wicked put out! Or, lamp, that is, their glory or outward happiness. I grant that this happens often, though not constantly, as you affirm. This certainly best agrees, both with the use of this phraseology in Scripture, in which it always signifies that a thing is done frequently, and never that it is done but seldom; and with the foregoing words, which contain a reason why the counsel of the wicked was far from him, namely, because they often pay dear for their wickedness in this life, and always in the life to come. This sense of the words also agrees best with the following verses, in which he discourses largely, not of the prosperity of the wicked, (as he should have done, if he had intended to say that such were but seldom afflicted,) but of their calamities.

Verse 18

Job 21:18. They are as stubble before the wind, &c. That is, their destruction shall be speedy, certain, and irrecoverable. Thus he goes on to concede to his adversaries, “that wicked men are sometimes thus severely punished, as they in their speeches had been fond of representing; but then he had before shown, that they were sometimes as remarkably prosperous; and this made way for a third particular, which is indeed his general assertion all along, and the medium by which he endeavoured to convince them of the rashness of their censures and suspicions of him; namely, that things are dealt out here promiscuously, and without any strict regard to merit or demerit.” Dodd.

Verses 19-20

Job 21:19-20. God layeth up Namely, in his treasures; his iniquity

Or rather, the punishment of his iniquity; that is, He will punish him both in his person and in his posterity. His eyes shall see his destruction That is, he shall be destroyed, as to see death, is to die, Psalms 89:48; Hebrews 11:5; and to see affliction, or any kind of evil, is to feel it, Psalms 90:15; and to see good, is to enjoy it, Job 7:7; Job 9:25. Or, this phrase may be emphatical; he shall foresee his ruin hastening toward him, and not be able to prevent or avoid it: he shall sensibly feel himself sinking and perishing, which aggravates his misery. He shall drink of the wrath of the Almighty Not sip or taste, but drink; which word commonly denotes receiving abundance of the thing spoken of.

Verse 21

Job 21:21. What pleasure hath he in his house after him? As for what befalls his children when he is dead, he concerns not himself; he is not affected with their felicity or misery, irreligion commonly making men unnatural. And therefore God punishes both him and his children while he lives, Job 21:19-20. Or, the meaning may be, what delight can he take in the thoughts of the glory and happiness of his posterity, when he finds he is dying a violent and untimely death? Thus, this is a further proof, that this man is neither happy in himself, nor with reference to his posterity. When the number, &c. When that number of months, which, by his constitution, and the course of nature, he might have lived, is diminished, and cut off by the hand of violence.

Verse 22

Job 21:22. Shall any teach God knowledge How to govern the world? For so you do while you tell him that he must not afflict the godly, nor give the wicked prosperity; that he must invariably punish the wicked, and reward the righteous in this world. No: he will act as sovereign, and with great variety in his providential dispensations. Seeing he judgeth those that are high The highest persons on earth, he exactly knows them, and gives sentence concerning them, as he sees fit. Thus, as Job had introduced the foregoing particular, namely, that wicked men are sometimes severely punished in this world, by an easy transition, at Job 21:16; so, by another as easy, he here introduces the remaining article of his discourse above mentioned, namely, that God deals out things promiscuously in this world, not according to men’s merit or demerit, which he pursues in the following verses.

Verses 23-24

Job 21:23-24. One dieth in his full strength In a state of perfect health, and strength, and prosperity; all which this phrase implies. His breasts are full of milk The Hebrew word, עשׂין , gnatin, here rendered breasts, is not elsewhere used in Scripture, and therefore is translated different ways. Houbigant renders the clause, When his bowels are loaden with fatness. Others, When his milk-pails are full of milk; or, his oil-vessels are full of fatness. And his bones are moistened with marrow Which is opposed to that dryness of the bones (Job 30:30; Psalms 102:3;) which is caused by old age or grievous distempers and calamities.

Verses 25-26

Job 21:25-26. Another dieth Another wicked man, or any other man promiscuously considered, either good or bad. In the bitterness of his soul With heart-breaking pains and sorrows; and never eateth with pleasure Hath no pleasure in his life, no, not so much as at meal-time, when men usually are most free and pleasant. So he shows there is a great variety in God’s dispensations; he distributes great prosperity to one, and great afflictions to another, according to his wise but secret counsel. They shall lie down alike in the dust All these worldly differences are ended by death, and they lie in the grave without any distinction till the time of the general resurrection. So that no man can tell who is good and who is bad, by events which befall them in this life. And if one wicked man die in a palace, and another in a dungeon, they will meet in the congregation of the dead and damned; and the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched, will be the same to both: which makes those differences inconsiderable, and not worth perplexing ourselves about.

Verses 27-28

Job 21:27-28. Behold, I know your thoughts I perceive what you think and will object for your own defence; and the devices Hebrew, ומזמות , umezimmoth, machinationes pravas, the evil thoughts, or, wicked designs and contrivances; which ye wrongfully imagine תחמסו , thachmosu, wrest, or violently force, for they strained both Job’s words and their own thoughts, which were biased by prejudice and passion; against me For I well know that your discourses, though they be concerning wicked men in the general, yet are particularly levelled at me, that is, I know what you would insinuate by the speeches which you make, such as this which follows: Where is the house of the prince? Of Job, or his eldest son, whose house God had lately overthrown; it is nowhere: it is lost and gone. And where are the dwelling-places of the wicked? רשׁעים , reshagnim, in the plural, of wicked persons in general. Are not their habitations overthrown? Do not they come to ruin? So the meaning of the question is: that it was apparent from common observation, that eminent judgments, even in this life, were sooner or later the portion of all ungodly men.

Verses 29-30

Job 21:29-30 . Have ye not asked them that go by the way? In these verses we have an answer to the preceding question; as if he had said, Even the travellers that pass along the road can inform you: it is so vulgar a thing that no man of common sense is ignorant of it. They can give you tokens, examples, or evidences of this truth. That the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction That they are not punished as they deserve in the present world, and therefore that they shall be in the next. They shall be brought forth to the day of wrath The day of future and final wrath, when God will judge the world in righteousness, and render unto every man according to his deeds, even indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil. “I believe,” says Dr. Dodd, from Peters, “that by the day of destruction and the day of wrath, mentioned in this verse, can be meant no other than the future day of judgment; which, to the wicked and ungodly, is everywhere represented in Scripture as a day of wrath, a day of destruction and perdition. See 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Peter 3:7. And it is remarkable that Job, when he declares to his friends that he had been all along withheld from sinning by a pious awe of the divine justice, (meaning, as I apprehend, the thoughts of a future judgment,) uses a like expression, Job 31:23. Destruction from God was a terror to me; איד , aid, the very same word as is used here. To understand it of a temporal destruction is to suppose Job to cut the neck of his own argument, and to fall in directly with the reasoning of his friends; for thus it would stand, (Job 21:27,) ‘Behold I know your thoughts, &c. I know what you would insinuate by the speeches which you make; such as this which follows, Job 21:28, Where is the house? &c. As if you should say, What is become of the house of Job, who lived like a prince? Or what, in general, is the portion of the wicked? Does not a great and sure destruction overtake them?’ This is evidently the meaning of the question; the answer immediately follows, Job 21:29, Ask those who go by the way, &c. Now if this were meant of a temporal destruction, it directly confirms the insinuation of his friends, and the inference would be unavoidable; therefore Job must needs be wicked. The sense I contend for, must, therefore, needs be the true one.”

Verse 31

Job 21:31. Who shall declare his way? That is, his wicked course and actions, and whither they lead him; to his face That is, plainly, and while he lives, as the same phrase is used Deuteronomy 7:10. His power and splendour are so great that scarcely any man dare reprove him for his sin, or show him his danger. And who shall repay him what he hath done? No man can bring him to an account or punishment. Job is here pursuing the same way of reasoning which he did before, and showing that the wicked mighty man is so far from being always punished in this world, that he often does what he pleases without any to control him, or so much as open their lips against him. And that such a one shall at last go down to the grave in peace, and be buried with great pomp.

Verse 32

Job 21:32. Yet Hebrew, And, the pomp of his death shall be suitable to the glory of his life; shall he be brought to the grave With pomp and state, as the word יובל , jubal, signifies. Hebrew, לקברות , likbaroth, to the graves, that is, to an honourable and eminent grave; the plural number being often used emphatically to denote eminence. He shall not die a violent, but a natural death, and shall lie in the bed of honour. And shall remain in the tomb Or, watch in the heap. His body shall quietly rest in his grave or monument, where he shall be embalmed and preserved so entire and uncorrupted that he might rather seem to be a living watchman, set there to guard the body, than to be a dead corpse. Hebrew, ישׁקוד

ועל גדישׁ , vegnal gadish jishkod, over the tomb he shall watch. “A stately monument,” says Bishop Patrick, “is raised to preserve his memory, and represent him as if he were still living.”

Verse 33

Job 21:33. The clods of the valley Or, the grave, which is low and deep like a valley; shall be sweet unto him He shall sweetly rest in his grave, free from all cares, and fears, and troubles, Job 3:17-18. Every man shall draw after him Hebrew, He shall draw every man after him, into the grave; all that live after him, whether good or bad, shall follow him to the grave, shall die as he did. So he fares no worse herein than all mankind. He is figuratively said to draw them, because they come after him, as if they were drawn by his example. “There he lies,” says Bishop Patrick, “quietly in the earth, and no one disturbs his ashes: he suffers nothing but what all men shall do after him, as innumerable have done before him.”

Verse 34

Job 21:34. How then comfort ye me in vain? See then how ill you discharge the office of comforters, whose arguments have so little truth in them. Or, Why do you seek to comfort me with vain hopes of recovering my prosperity if I repent, seeing your grounds are manifestly false, and common experience shows, what also every body can tell you, that good men are very often in great tribulation, while the vilest of men thrive and prosper in the world.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 21". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/job-21.html. 1857.
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