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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Job 21

 

 

Verse 1

CHAP. XXI.

Job observes, that the wicked sometimes live happily, and sometimes their destruction is manifest, yet, though some lead a prosperous, and others an afflicted life, all are cut off alike by death: whence it clearly follows, that the wicked are reserved to a day of wrath.

Before Christ 1645.

Job 21:1. But Job answered and said It has been urged, and 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 the argument that he first set out with. Now supposing it to be true, that Job never mentions the resurrection in his following speeches, nor any thing alluding to it, (which, whether it be true or not, we shall see in the course of our observations,) yet 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 integrity, I suppose he had reason to think that it would be much the same if he had repeated it a second and a third time; and therefore he had no other resource left, than to follow the argument with which he had begun; i.e. to combat the false principle upon which they were so forward to condemn him: and this he does effectually throughout the present chapter, by shewing, that many wicked men live long and prosperous, and at last die in peace, and are buried with great pomp; which shews that this life is not the proper state of retribution, but that men shall be judged and recompensed hereafter. See Peters.


Verse 2

Job 21:2. And let this be your consolations And let this be the consolation you administer. Heath. Schultens renders it, And this shall be for your consolations. "What I have to say, is in return for these wonderful consolations that you bring me;" understanding the passage ironically, which very well agrees with the next verse, the last clause whereof he renders, And after I have pleaded my cause, let it be your mockery.


Verse 4

Job 21:4. And if it were so But, if it is not so, what cause is there why I should be troubled in mind? Houbigant.


Verses 5-15

Job 21:5-15. Mark me, and be admonished, &c.— The coldest reader cannot be insensible of the beauties of the poetry in this speech of Job. We will not, therefore, attempt to point them out, but attend to the thread of reasoning. 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 introduces it is inimitable: Mark me, &c.—wherefore do the wicked live, (Job 21:7.)—become old, yea, are mighty in power? As if he had said, "That thus it is, in fact, is plain: with awe and reverence I speak it; but, as for you, I am persuaded that you will never be able, upon your principles, to account for it." The description which follows, of a prosperous estate, is such as might indeed justly create envy, were a wicked man in any estate 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, and their children dance: one sees them, as it were, tripping upon the green, with the flush of health and joy in their looks: They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ; 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; according to Schultens, 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 scarcely any thing more to be admired in it, than the variety of descriptions that are given us of human life, in its most exalted prosperity on the one hand, and its deepest distresses on the other; for this is what their subject leads 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 almost every speech, 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, the religious cast thrown over them, considered as the dispensations of Providence, 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, if well considered, affords no contemptible argument of the antiquity of the book. See Peters, and the next note. Mr. Heath renders the 8th verse, Their power is established on a firm footing; their people are in their presence, and their offspring before their eyes.


Verses 16-26

Job 21:16-26. Lo, their good is not in their hand After the foregoing elegant description of the prosperity of some wicked men, 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 enough to give a wrong turn, as if he had been thereby pleading the cause of iniquity; and therefore he adds an apology for himself in the 16th verse, which is to this purpose: "I would not have you think, because I say the wicked sometimes prosper, that therefore I believe their prosperity to be owing to themselves, or in their hand, i.e. in their power; (the expression answers exactly to the Latin word proprius, as used by Terence for a thing so truly a man's own, or in his power, as that he need not fear a change; and, therefore, the commentators explain it by perpetual,) God forbid that I should give such countenance to impiety! no; though they may thus presumptuously imagine with themselves, I am not of their opinion, nor yet of their society; the council of the wicked is far from me: I know that all the happiness which 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. For instance, (Job 21:17.) How often, &c."—to the 21st verse. It is strange to observe how some learned men have been perplexed in explaining these verses, for want of attending closely to the design of Job. The whole is nothing but a concession 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 shewn, 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 and demerit. As he had introduced the foregoing particular by an easy transition at Job 21:16 so he does this by another as easy and natural at Job 21:22. Shall any teach God knowledge, seeing he judgeth those who are high? As if he had said, "You see then the method of God's providence, from what appears in part; and will you presume to censure or correct it? Will you say, 'He ought to take another method,' and prescribe laws to the Great Judge of the world? It is evident that the common observation is true, that good and evil are dispensed by Him, for the most part, without any exact regard to the good or ill deserts of persons; and this during the whole period of human life, from the cradle to the grave; for, Job 21:23. One dieth in his full strength, &c. to Job 21:26." Now one would think that the inference from all this could scarcely be missed either by Job or his friends, if we will allow them to reason at all; especially since, as Maimonides himself tells us, they all agree in these two undisputed points, that God sees and orders all things, and that there can be no iniquity with Him. If then the present irregular course of things be such as cannot possibly be reconciled with the equity of the Divine Nature, supposing this life to be the whole extent of our being, the consequence seems clear, that there must be some other state to be expected wherein these irregularities shall be fully adjusted. Had Job been silent as to this conclusion, the premises themselves would have enforced it; but, indeed, it is what himself expressly asserts in the following part of the chapter; namely, that these prosperous wicked men, who experience so much good at the hand of God, and in return disclaim, and even defy, their benefactor, and who yet, with all their impiety, are permitted to live and die like other men, shall receive a dreadful recompence in the day of future judgment; Job 21:30. See Peters, and the following note. Houbigant renders the 24th verse, When his bowels are loaden with fatness, when his bones, &c.


Verses 27-34

Job 21:27-34. Behold, I know your thoughts By the day of destruction, and the day of wrath, mentioned in the 30th verse, I believe it will appear, from the context, can be meant no other than the future day of judgment; which, to the wicked and ungodly, is every where 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, chap. 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, and the devices which you wrongfully imagine against me; i.e. "I know what you would insinuate, by the speeches which you make; such as this which follows: (Job 21:28.) Where is the house of the prince, and where are the dwelling-places of the wicked? 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 follows immediately, Job 21:29. "Ask those who go by the way, and do ye not know their tokens? that the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction, &c." Now, if this were meant of a temporal destruction, it directly confirms the insinuation of the friends; and the inference would be unavoidable; therefore Job must needs be wicked. The sense I contend for must, therefore, be the true one; in confirmation whereof I will shew how aptly it agrees with the context, and with Job's design in this speech. The great difficulty of the passage lies at the 29th verse; and commentators have been at a loss to give a satisfactory account, why the travellers, those who go by the way, should be consulted about the question here proposed, and what are the marks or tokens here referred to. The true key to it seems to be this: it was the custom of the ancients to bury near the high roads, in the most public and conspicuous places, and to erect a pillar or monument over the dead to preserve their memory. These pillars, if they had any inscription at all upon them, recorded, no doubt, the name and titles of the person, and, perhaps, some of the happiest circumstances of his life. Moreover, these inscriptions usually addressed the traveller with a Siste, viator; Stop, traveller, or to that purpose. These then, I apprehend, are the marks or tokens to which Job directs his friends, and which he would have them either to consult themselves, or to ask the travellers about; whence they would be naturally led to make the inference in the next verse. For, as they might observe several monuments among the rest, erected for such as had been notoriously wicked in their lives, yet had run out a long course of prosperity, and been buried at last with great pomp; it was with reason he bids them infer from hence, that the punishment for such as these was reserved to a more solemn season, which was the proper time of retribution, and not the mixed uncertain state of this life: "Ask the traveller (says he,) who goes by the highway, or consult the tombs and monuments there; and from thence you may learn this important lesson, That the wicked is reserved to a future day of judgment; they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath: reserved in the grave, and in שׁאול sheol, as in a prison, from whence they shall be brought forth like criminals, to receive their sentence, or be drawn to execution." The very terms plainly lead us to this sense. See Isaiah 53:7 and the note on chap. Job 19:24. Job pursues the same way of reasoning in the following part of his speech, and shews that the wicked mighty man is so far from being punished in this world, that he does what he pleases without any to controul him, or so much as to open their lips against him, Job 21:31. That, nevertheless, such a one shall at last go down to the grave in peace, and be buried with great pomp, Job 21:32. The Hebrew is emphatical, Even he shall be brought to the grave, and over the tomb he shall watch; i.e. in his statue or effigy: "A stately monument (says Bishop Patrick) shall be raised to preserve his memory, and represent him as if he were still living." It follows, Job 21:33. The clods of the valley shall be sweet unto him; and every man shall draw after him, as there are innumerable before him; i.e. according to Bishop Patrick's paraphrase, "There he lies quietly in the earth, and none disturb his ashes: he suffers nothing but what all men shall do after him, as innumerable have done before him." "See then (continues he, in the 34th verse) how ill you discharge the office of comforters, whose answers have so little truth in them; for you maintain that prosperity is the inseparable companion of piety; when every body can tell you, that none flourish more than the wicked, and that calamities are common to all mankind." Thus this passage, clearly and satisfactorily explained, affords us another plain testimony of Job's belief of a future judgment, and another state of life. See Peters, p. 241. Houbigant renders the 33rd verse, He shall suck the turf of the valley; and after him all men shall be drawn, as innumerable have been before him.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Before Job enters on the point in hand, he begs,

1. An attentive hearing, and that pride and prejudice might not reject the conviction of the truths which he urged. Hear diligently my speech, as those who desire simply to investigate the truth, and wish, if mistaken, to be undeceived; and let this be your consolations; you will yourselves find the comfort of having used all proper means of coming to the knowledge of the truth; or this is all the consolation I expect from you, a fair and candid hearing. Suffer me that I may speak, without interruption, and after that I have spoken, mock on, continue to insult me, if this be your resolution in spite of all my arguments. Note; A patient hearing, at least, is due to every man. It is high injustice to condemn without permitting the accused to speak in their own defence.

2. It was not to them that he at first complained, nor would they be his judges, and therefore they need not have taken up the matter so hardly against him. Is my complaint to man? no; but to God, who knew the bitterness of his sufferings, and from whom alone he could hope for redress; and if it were so, why should not my spirit be troubled? when all his prayers and tears had yet met no relief, but rather provoked the rash censures of his friends, who condemned him for hypocrisy. Note; If God were not kinder to us than our dearest friends, we should sometimes have hard measure.

3. He bids them behold his case; and surely it deserved their pity. Mark me, my words, my sufferings, and be astonished at the strangeness of my afflictions; and lay your hand upon your mouth, pretend not to fathom the ways of God's unsearchable providence, and forbear to judge of men's characters by their outward lot in this world. Even when I remember the days that are past, the afflictions that had befallen himself, or the instances of the prosperity of the wicked that he was about to mention, I am afraid, and trembling taketh hold on my flesh. What I feel, though it shakes not my confidence or my integrity, yet it greatly distresses me; and what I see of the ways of God's providence with the wicked, astonishes me. I wonder and adore, waiting in affecting suspense the awful issue. Note; (1.) There are mysterious dispensations of Providence, which sometimes stagger the faith and hope of good men. (2.) We must wait till the great day of God for the final vindication of his ways to man.

2nd, Job's friends had insisted upon it, that there was no such thing as prosperous iniquity; at least, that it was momentary. Experience, says Job, contradicts your assertion; the wicked live and die in ease and affluence, yea, are hardened by it; yet God often permits this, without being chargeable either with want of wisdom or justice in his government of the world.

1. He describes their prosperity, Wherefore do the wicked live, if it be as you say? how do they become old, and are not cut off with any remarkable judgments, yea, are mighty in power? so far from being destitute or desolate, they bear the sway in the world. How is this consistent with your assertions? yet there are undeniable instances of what I advance. Their families are built up, and they live to see them well settled. Their substance is protected, and no rod of affliction falls upon them. Their worldly affairs in the minutest instances prosper. Their children are numerous as a flock, their houses are full of joy and mirth, and they devote to dance and song the jocund day. The hours pass along in pleasure and sensual indulgence, and without a groan they go down to the grave, in a moment, without any of the miseries that Zophar had described; or, quietly stupid and insensible, without apparent fear or terror. Note; (1.) No man is to be judged of by his outward prosperity; we must take in eternity to make a right estimate of man's estate. (2.) Worldly wealth abused, to gratify sensual appetite, is a curse instead of a blessing.

2. He suggests the ill effects of their prosperity; it hardened their hearts against God, and led them to infidelity. Therefore, because possessed of such wealth, and living, in consequence thereof, in a round of vanity and worldly lusts, they say unto God, Depart from us; they wish to leave him far above out of their sight, that no remembrance of him should disturb their conscience, and interrupt their joys; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. The paths of godliness appear forbidding and melancholy, compared with pleasure's flowery way; and they wish for no unwelcome interruption, from grave lessons and religion's needful restraints. Their lives make it their interest that God should not interfere with the concerns of men; and therefore, though perhaps not in words expressed, the sentiments of their hearts are, What is the Almighty; or who is he, that we should serve him? Perhaps there is no God; or, if there be, he cares not about the petty affairs of men: the terrors of his arm are but the bugbears of priests, to frighten the minds of the superstitious; and what profit should we have if we pray unto him? a talk useless and unnecessary, whence nothing can be gained. So thinks the blinded sinner, lost in indulgence, and enslaved by divers foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in perdition and destruction. Note; (1.) A pleasure-loving world is ever jealous of the incroachments of religion, and wishes to be ignorant, lest, coming for a moment to the light, they should not be able, with such quietness of conscience, to return to the pursuit of their vanities. (2.) Irreligion is the parent of infidelity: we easily persuade ourselves to believe what we desire. (3.) Though a wicked and careless world sees no profit in prayer, a child of God by blessed experience finds that his richest acquisitions are made upon his knees.

3. Job puts in a caveat, not to be misinterpreted, as if in this description of the wicked he concurred with, or approved of, their ways. No; he knew their slippery steps. Lo, their good is not in their hand. They have their portion in this life alone, and no hope hereafter; but the counsel of the wicked is far from me; I neither say as they say, nor do as they do. Note; When we are speaking with those whom we know to be captious, we had need be the more explicit, that we may not be misunderstood.

3rdly, Having described the prosperity of the ungodly, he maintains,

1. The continuance of it. How oft is the candle of the wicked, his prosperity, put out? does it not often burn to the last? How oft cometh their destruction upon them? is not the very contrary seen to be very frequently the case? Doth God distribute sorrows in his anger? no; he lives at ease, and knows no affliction. How oft, as his friends had suggested, are they as stubble before the wind, and as chaff that the storm carrieth away? experience shews the reverse to be true. Note; Though many instances of God's interposition against the wicked appear,—more commonly, perhaps, they live and die undisturbed in their possessions.

2. He answers an objection, that, though themselves do not suffer, God layeth up iniquity for his children; but admitting it, that would not at all prove the conclusions which Job's friends would draw; for they require that God should reward him in this life, and he should know it. His eyes should see the destruction, and he should drink of the wrath of the Almighty, in his own person, according to their principles; for else, what pleasure, or what business hath he in his house after him? after death, when their joys or sorrows cannot affect him, when the number of his months is cut off in the midst, and he goes down to the grave.

Perhaps this whole passage may bear a different view, as a concession, that oftentimes the wicked might suffer, but it was not always the case, and that were sufficient to invalidate their arguments. Note; (1.) A wicked parent entails the curse of God upon his family. (2.) There is a cup of trembling filled with the wine of the wrath of God, which will shortly be put into the hand of the ungodly.

3. He maintains the sovereignty of God in all these dispensations. Shall any teach God knowledge? pretend to direct his procedure, seeing he judgeth those that are high, who must shortly appear at his bar, when righteous judgment will be administered. Till then it were presumption to judge of men's characters by their outward circumstances; for here men equally wicked have very different ends: one goes down to the grave in the midst of prosperity, ease, and affluence; another, after lingering long in misery. Or it may intimate the different kinds of death that men meet; some by a sudden and unexpected stroke, others wasted by sickness and long decay: but in the dust all difference will be at an end, and the worms alike cover all. Note; (1.) God is not only sovereign but just; he doth indeed what he will; but what he wills is always holy, just, and good. (2.) The strongest health is no protection from the stroke of sudden death: it becomes us every moment to be prepared. (3.) If we have ease and appetite, while others groan in pain and loath their food, let us be thankful, and improve the mercy before the evil days come. (4.) However the wicked die, they will meet in one place; whether they go from the palace or the dunghill, they will lie down in flames, and the worm that never dies shall alike prey upon them.

4thly,

1. Job intimates his thorough knowledge of his friends' design in their former speeches. He saw that they concluded him to be a hypocrite, though wrongfully, and that merely because his dwelling was desolate, as they argued was the constant case with the wicked. Note; Men's looks and inuendoes often speak as plainly as any language can.

2. He refers them to any traveller for confutation of their assertions, who could give them sure proofs and tokens that wicked men were very commonly in prosperity. This is not the place of recompence, but the next world; there they will receive according to their deeds; and every good man, a traveller to glory, would inform them, if they asked, that the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction; they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath; certain and eternal wrath is their portion hereafter, though now they are great and prosper. Here they are too high to be reproved, and too mighty to be restrained by the arm of human justice; but there they will be convicted and condemned, without the power of resistance. Here, notwithstanding their wickedness, they go in pomp to the grave; a gorgeous sepulchral monument and attendant crowds do them honour even in the dust, to make the clods of the valley sweet unto them; but they shall awake to shame and everlasting contempt. And thus, in death at least, which is the common lot, the wicked will meet their desert, and every man must draw after him, as there are innumerable before him. Note; Death is a beaten road, which, sooner or later, every man must tread. Semel calcanda est via Lethi.

3. He concludes from hence the futility and falsehood of their answers, and the vanity of their pretended consolations. They accused him as a hypocrite, and promised him comfort on his repentance, as if his sufferings, the effect of his sins, would be then removed; whereas he hath proved, that sufferings are not the necessary punishment of guilt here below, seeing that the wicked very commonly prosper; nor was he conscious of the least of those accusations which they suggested.

 


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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Job 21:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/job-21.html. 1801-1803.

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