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Monday, June 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Job 21

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1


1. But Job answered The friends have to the last adhered to their main proposition, that the wicked are punished in this life. Job now meets it for the first time face to face; devoting the entire speech to its consideration. He more discreetly than before makes an appeal to facts, and shows that in their entire life the wicked are eminently prosperous, and that even in the article of death their lot is easier than that of the righteous. The friends have made appeal again and again to the wisdom of the ancients; he, on the other hand, summons travelers, men of wide knowledge, who testify (Job 21:28-33) that the punishment of the wicked is in the next life a truth “the friends,” in their dogmatism, have ignored; that in this life the wicked are above law and responsibility to man; and that their memory; instead of perishing, as the friends maintained, lived on in magnificent tombs and the abiding power of an evil life. In thus urging the general prosperity of the wicked, Job has pushed his plea to the extreme of dogmatism, and in argument committed an error similar to that of his opponents, thus leaving a gap in his defence which gives rise to a renewal of the controversy. It is to be remarked that the first of Job’s discourses since his triumph of faith in the nineteenth chapter, (25-27,) like the others yet to follow, is marked by calm and dispassionate argument; by a greater freedom from personalities; by a more confident view of the darkest phases of evil; and by a faith which the darkness around him has no more power to disturb than the shadow of the night has to unsettle the fastnesses of the mountain, all which is in itself an earnest of the victory soon to follow.

Verse 2

Exordium If the friends will but give him a proper hearing, Job will speak of an astounding anomaly in the moral world, the mere contemplation of which fills his soul with terror, Job 21:2-6.

2. Your consolations The consolations you give. As you have no other solace to administer, yield me what little there is in attentive listening. The best consolation is often that of silence.

Verse 3

3. Mock on Literally, thou mayest mock. He means Zophar, whose remarks were thus far the most cruel and lacerating of all. In his would-be coup-de-grace Zophar exhausted himself, and speaks no more. Job’s individualizing of Zophar here, as of Eliphaz in Job 16:3, and of Bildad in Job 26:2-4, spurs the sufferer up to the highest strains of oratory.

Verse 4

4. To man To in the sense of concerning. His complaint is not in regard to man, but God, the superhuman source of his woe.

Troubled Literally, shortened the Hebrew phrase for impatient.

Verse 5

5. Hand upon your mouth (Compare Job 40:4; Proverbs 30:32; Micah 7:16.) The Egyptian mode of indicating silence was by placing the hand on the mouth. One of their deities, Horus, is represented as a child seated on a lotus leaf with his finger on his lips. This attitude however, Wilkinson thinks, was only illustrative of his extreme youth.

Verse 6

6. Even when I remember Verily if I think upon it. The thoughts with which he is burdened arraign the administration of God, and cause him to shudder.

Verse 7



First strophe Instead of suffering punishment, as Zophar maintained, the wicked live, grow old surrounded by their families, and safe from the discipline of Heaven, Job 21:7-11.

7. Wherefore do the wicked live Zophar’s assertion (Job 20:5,) calls forth the counter thesis of this verse. The existence of evil is a mystery, among the first to perplex and the last to leave the mind. The question why the wicked live is but one of its phases, and is of personal interest, for it concerns ourselves. The question does not so often assume the form why we should live, as why others should, whom we suppose to be much more depraved than ourselves. Its solution is much simplified if we confine the thought to ourselves, for extreme wickedness is but the outgrowth of a nature that we share in common with the wicked. In such case of reflection upon ourselves and others there will readily be suggested: 1. The possibilities for good in all moral existence; 2. That the freedom of the will devolves upon the human agent the responsibility of perverted life; and, 3. Perfection of being can seemingly be secured only amid the most adverse influences of trial, for Christ himself was made “perfect through suffering,” one large element of which was meted out at the hand of the wicked. Science resolves its nebulae; but this cloud of mystery defies all resolution, and may continue so to do forever. Goethe has said profoundly, “Man is not born to solve the mystery of existence, but he must nevertheless attempt it, that he may learn to keep within the limits of the knowable.” For Plutarch’s views on the protracted life of the wicked, see Meth. Quar. Revelation, 1852, pp. 399-401; or Bib. Sacra, 1856, pp. 616-619.

Verse 8

8. Their offspring The children of the wicked live on, while his own are dead. The thought which he twice repeats in this verse, and which he resumes in the 11th, by contrast points most pathetically to the darkest phase of his inexpressible calamity, of which it is to be remarked he never directly speaks. This very silence, more eloquent than words, is the natural outgrowth of untold calamity, (Job 6:3.) The naturalness of the book, seemingly beyond the power of invention, must impress the reader at every step.

Verse 9

9. The rod of God In the sense of scourge. Same as in Job 9:34.

Verse 10

10 . Comp. Genesis 31:38; Exodus 23:26.

Verse 11

11. Like a flock His wounded heart conceives of the choicest of God’s gifts under the beautiful figure of a flock. Epiphanius has observed that in the early ages of the world the child rarely died before the parent. Hence the emphasis laid upon the death of Haran before that of his father, Terah, (Genesis 11:28,) who, he thinks, was thus punished for his idolatry. (Joshua 24:2; Joshua 24:14.) The thought of his dead family must have added to the perplexities of Job, and may account somewhat for his confusion as to the moral government of God.

Children dance וקד , jump about, ( Delitzsch,) like the young of the flocks. The children of the wicked disport themselves under the skies (this is implied by ישׁלחו , they send them forth, namely, out of doors) like the sheep of the pastures. (Umbreit.) There is no evidence that their diversion corresponded to the modern dance. The harmless frolicking of the children was simply one of the features of domestic happiness that crowned the homes of the wicked. While the passage has no bearing on the question of dancing, as such, it is not unworthy of remark that the moralist, having in view the well-being of the soul, has ever felt himself called upon to condemn dancing as practiced in modern times.

Verse 12

12. They take- Literally, They lift up (the voice) with the tabret, etc. The timbrel - Toph, (comp. Genesis 31:27,) appears to have been a small hand drum, such as was known among the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, and Hebrews. It is still in use in the East, and is called by the Arabians, doff; in Spanish, adufe. The ancient Egyptian drum, according to Engel, was from two to three feet in length, and covered with parchment, like our own, and was beaten by the hands at both ends.

The harp Kinnor, supposed by Wilkinson to have been the lyre, was probably the earliest musical instrument invented by man. Genesis 4:21. The annexed engraving is of one of the figures in an Egyptian painting discovered in a tomb at Beni-Hassan. It represents the arrival and introduction of one of a company of foreigners to the owner of the tomb, who was evidently one of the principal officers of the reigning Pharaoh. Wilkinson surmises that they may be Jews, and not improbably of the family of Jacob. All the men wear beards, contrary to the custom of the Egyptians. The last two accompany a laden ass, one of them holding a bow and club, the other (as in the engraving) a lyre, which he plays with the plectrum. ( Ancient Egyptians, ii, p. 296.) See note, Genesis 47:2. Organ עוגנ , hougab, was a perforated wind instrument of some kind, probably the pipe. (Genesis 4:21.) It seems to have been known to most ancient nations. There has been discovered in the ruins of Susa a figure in baked clay representing a female playing upon a pipe. (ENGEL, Music of Most Ancient Nations, p. 77.) Thus we have the three different representative kinds of musical instruments: first, of percussion; secondly, stringed instruments; and, thirdly, wind instruments.

Verses 12-16

Second strophe - Contrary to all desert, and defiant of God, the wicked attain to the highest earthly good, not through themselves, but by the agency of God-a divine enigma from which the soul recoils, but without suspense of faith, Job 21:12-16.

Verse 13

13. Spend their days They wear out make the most of life. “In connexion with this, one thinks of a coat which is not laid aside until it isentirely worn out.” Delitzsch.

Wealth שׂוב Septuagint, good things. Dives also had his “good things.” The life and burial of Dives have several points in common with Job’s description of the wicked rich man.

In a moment Their lot brings no grievous protracted sickness “there are no bands in their death.” Having no idea of repentance, and no sense of eternal things, they evidently esteemed sudden death desirable. Suetonius tells us that Augustus Caesar expired suddenly, dying a very easy death, and such as he himself had always wished for. (xcix.)

The grave Sheol.

Verse 14

14. Therefore Better, And yet they say unto God.

Depart from us This is the practical language of all irreligious life; the language of God at the last day is retributively the same, Depart from me. “If religion cost something, the want of it will cost infinitely more.” Lest after such a repulse even yet, in his love and mercy, he should draw nigh unto them, they say unto God: “We desire not the knowledge of thy ways.” “They seem to take as much care to guard against the inroad of ideas from that solemn quarter as the inhabitants of Holland do against the irruption of the sea… they endeavour to raise the groves of an earthly paradise to shade from sight that vista which opens to the distance of eternity.” JNO. FOSTER, Essays, iv, lect. 8.

Verse 15

15. What is the Almighty The almost identical language of Pharaoh. (Exodus 5:2.) The reason for their repulse of God is threefold and comprehensive they desire neither his knowledge, service, nor worship.

Verse 16

16. Their good This verse is parenthetical. Notwithstanding their godlessness, God gives them good. (The same word as wealth in Job 21:13.) He, not they, is the author of their happiness, which to Job is an astounding feature of moral government. Astounded at himself, he adds, The counsel of the wicked, far be it from me! (Job 22:18.) Job’s exclamation is of great moment in its bearing upon the problem of the book. (Job 1:11; Job 2:5.) Instead of repudiating God, he repudiates the entire counsel and views ( עצה ) of the wicked. Right in the midst of the whirlpool we still see the brow of the rock, and feel it is immovable.

Verse 17


First strophe Even if the pitiable pretence of the friends be true, that the children of the wicked suffer if the parent himself does not, it does not meet the difficulty, since it is no punishment for the wicked man in his supreme selfishness, Job 21:17-21.

17. How oft Bildad’s assertion. (Job 18:5-6; see note,) that the light of the wicked is put out, is answered by a question of doubt, ( How oft?) in the sense of not often, seldom. Bildad also had spoken of destruction “ready at his side.” God distributeth, etc. Better, doth he in his anger distribute sorrows?

Sorrows Delitzsch and Umbreit render snares, in allusion to the great variety of snares Bildad describes: (Job 18:8-10) but better as in the text.

Verse 18

18. As stubble To be read as a question: (how oft) are they as stubble before the wind? etc. (Compare Job 20:8-9.)

Verse 19

19. Iniquity און also signifies “calamity,” “wealth” a network of meanings exceedingly suggestive. One of the positions taken by the friends of Job was, “God layeth up the iniquity of the wicked for his children,” (Job 5:4; Job 20:10;) if he does not visit it upon the parents, he certainly does upon the children. Horace has a similar thought:

Delicta majorum immeritus lues Romane.

Thou, O Roman, innocent

Shalt suffer for the sins of thy ancestors.

Cicero, on the other hand, denounces the principle that “if a wicked man die without suffering for his crimes, the gods should inflict a punishment on his children, his children’s children, and all his posterity.” ( De Nat. Deorum, 3:38.) Job’s reply commences with the second clause, which should read: Upon him (the wicked man himself) should He (God) requite that he may know, that is, feel it the transgressor is the proper person to suffer.

Verse 20

20. His eyes shall see Better, His eyes should see… and he should drink, etc. Job is still answering the insufficient theory of substitution. It is right that the parent, not the child should see destruction.

Verse 21

21. Pleasure חפצ sometimes bears a wider meaning of “concern,” “interest,” (Job 32:3; Isaiah 58:3,) “business.” What interest has he in his house (family) after he is dead? Their misery cannot trouble him, because he knows nothing about it. (Job 14:21; Ecclesiastes 9:5.)

Is cut off… midst The root idea of חצצו is found in חצ , an arrow, and is kindred with the Arable housas, “speed,” “swiftness of course,” and here points to the completion of life; and (if) the number of his months flows away, or is completed. Zockler and Dillmann, with substantially the same idea, read: “Whilst the number of his months is allotted to him.” All he is concerned about is, that he may live out the measure of his days. A stroke of the brush depicts the supreme selfishness of the wicked.

Second strophe The unequal distribution of earthly bliss extends to the deathbed, and ceases only in the grave, without, however, furnishing any indication of moral character, Job 21:22-26.

Verse 22

22. Teach God knowledge Prescribe to God what he ought to do! (Job 20:23,) who is perfectly competent to administer his own government.

Those that are high Literally, For he judgeth the high, that is, angels. (Job 4:18; Job 15:15.)

Verse 23

23. One dieth The wicked man whose life of uninterrupted prosperity he proceeds to describe.

Verse 24

24. His breasts The Vulgate followed the Septuagint in rendering this troublesome word, עשׂין , thus: “His inwards are full of fat.” Furst and Rodwell, among others, conceive that the parallelism of the text demands some part of the human body: the former of them consequently rendering ‘ hatin “veins;” the latter, “loins.” Schlottmann, on the other hand, observes that, “In contrast to the well-watered marrow, one expects a reference to a rich, nutritious drink.” The Hebrew word occurs nowhere else in the Scriptures, and is apparently of foreign origin, perhaps kindred with the Arabic hatan, “resting places,” (for herds,) an idea which Hitzig accepts. Delitzsch, Dillmann, and Zockler read, “his troughs are full of milk.” Our Authorized Version adopts the version of the Targum, than which Tayler Lewis thinks there is nothing better.

Moistened with marrow And the marrow of his bones is well watered. The human body is likened to the soil of the field, which is not suffered to dry, but is plentifully watered and made fruitful. (Umbreit.) Comp. Isaiah 58:11.

Verse 25

25. Another The good man. Never eateth, etc. Rather, Has not enjoyed the good: the oft recurring שׂובה , that is, the so-called greatest good of life.

Verse 26

26. Alike Together, side by side. Whatever life men live, one common fate awaits all to lie down together in the dust. What, then, argues Job, becomes of the law of retribution in this present life? The same difficulty perplexed the Preacher, Ecclesiastes 2:15.

Verse 27


Strophe a If, instead of judging by appearances in this present life the friends had made more extensive research, they would have found that the wicked are held in reserve for future punishment. The element of delayed punishment not only serves to unlock the enigma of retribution, but to relieve Job from dire suspicion, since suffering here is a criterion of virtue rather than of vice, Job 21:27-30.

27. Job’s argument properly closed with the preceding verse; but having perceived (so Kitto thinks) by their interchange of looks that they were not satisfied, he resumes with, “ Behold, I know your thoughts,” and proceeds to produce a new species of testimony, which they, learned men as they were, could not deny.

Verse 28

28. The house of the prince Compare Job 15:34; Job 18:15; Job 20:6-7. His friends seem to him, in response to what they regarded as his special pleading for the wicked, to reply, Where is your own house and sumptuous pavilion? Whatever God may do with the rest of the wicked, he certainly has punished thee.

Dwellingplaces Literally, Where the tent of the dwellingplaces? Turning from the “house” of city or town to the home of the Nomad, Job naturally uses the word tent, so often occurring in the controversy, upon which he enlarges to point out the sumptuousness of the establishment he means.

Verse 29

29. Them that go by the way “Wayfaring men,” who travelled largely, probably in connexion with caravans. Such travellers became popular intelligencers, and were often sent for and consulted by kings. The routes of these caravans embraced even the homes of the patriarchs, (Genesis 37:25.) and thus became agencies for the diffusing of religious knowledge.

And do ye not know their tokens Know, נכר , signifies find strange, that is, despise, (Furst,) or to be ignorant of, (GESENIUS, Thes.,) or mistake. (Arnheim.) Either intentionally or carelessly they have misinterpreted the tokens of these travellers. These tokens were “proofs,” “arguments,” (Psalms 86:17,) according to Gesenius and Dillmann, or memorabilia, “things worthy of note.” (Zockler.) Hitzig conjectures that the word אוח , token, is used metaphorically for a kind of tessera recognised by the host. A Punic passage in the “Poenulus” of Plautus, act v, scene i, Kenrick thus reads “A sign of truth shall be the tessera of hospitality which I carry with me.” (See the comment in his “Phoenicia,” p. 181.) The report of these travellers is, that the punishment of the wicked is in the future life, you (the friends) pervert it, and say that it is always in the present life. Thus Hahn, Stickel, etc.

Verse 30

30. The wicked is reserved to the day of destruction Rosenmuller and Delitzsch, in order to harmonize the “tokens” of the wayfaring men with the argument of Job, have rendered the verb יחשׂךְ with ל , reserved to, spared in, as if the substance of this report was, that in days of calamity the wicked escaped. The grammatical construction is against such an interpretation, as Dillmann admits. A like construction of the Kal form of the verb in Job 38:23, is quite decisive, since in the latter case no other interpretation is possible. The preposition ל , to, stands on guard before both yoms, “days,” as if divinely commissioned to exclude all such parasitical intruders as from, in, or at, which the modern rendering demands. Compare Proverbs 16:4 “The wicked man for the day ( le yom) of trouble.” (See Excursus III by Tayler Lewis in Lange’s Commentary on Job.)

Brought forth Same word as in Job 21:32, which see. (Comp. the same phrase in Isaiah 53:7: יובל ל , “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter;” also Jeremiah 11:19; Hosea 10:6; Hosea 12:1, etc.) The sense of antiquity embodied in this narration of the travellers, ( 30-33 inclusive,) that the punishment of the wicked is after death, is confirmed by the most ancient memorials, as well as by divine revelation, to be a truth beyond dispute.

Verse 31

Strophe b The doom of the wicked is sure, notwithstanding that in his life he was above accountability to man, and in his death honoured with a grand funereal cortege, and with undying fame among men, Job 21:31-34.

31. His way to his face No one dares to declare to the face of the powerful wicked the way (of destruction, איד ) they pursue. Nor does any one dare confront them with their evil deeds. Yet though above all responsibility to man, they are not above responsibility to God.

Verse 32

32. The grave Like “dwelling-places” in Job 21:28, “the graves” here is an amplificative plural. (Delitzsch.)

Brought The idea of pomp, or ceremony, is involved in the word youbal. The magnificence displayed by the ancient Egyptians in the burial of their dead surpasses description. (See CAREY’S Job, p. 458.)

Shall remain in the tomb Shall watch over the tomb. Mercerus remarks: “The dead is said to watch in the sepulchre; since there he is assiduous; there assiduously remains! never thence departs.” Renan surmises that there may be an allusion to the threatening inscriptions against those who profane the abodes of the dead, (see note Job 18:16,) which will remind of Shakspeare’s curse against him who should disturb his bones. A better view is, that the wicked, instead of perishing from remembrance, as Bildad had said, (Job 18:17,) lives on either in the affection that cares for his tomb, or in the splendid memorial crowning the sepulchral height. There may be an allusion, says Hengstenberg, to the Egyptian custom of placing in the tomb an image of the dead, either as a statue or a painting on the wall.

Verse 33

33. The valley With the ancients, vallies (for instance that of Jehoshaphat) were favourite buryingplaces for the dead. It was a common wish among friends that the earth might be light upon their graves. Thus, Terra sit super ossa levis. (Catullus.) His grave shall be one of perennial freshness, and his godless life a magnetic power to draw multitudes into the way of evil.

Every man shall draw after him He has a great following, either in the common fate of mortality or in his funereal procession; or, as others say, and more properly, in his wickedness of life.

Verse 34

34. Falsehood Malice or treachery. Having subjected their consolatory speeches to the test of reason, and having eliminated that which seemed to be truth, Job declares the residuum to be solely the perfidious or malicious disposition by which they have been actuated. Comp. Job 21:27.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 21". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/job-21.html. 1874-1909.
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