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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Job 21

 

 

Verses 1-34

EXPOSITION

Job 21:1-34

Job answers Zophar, as he had answered Bildad, in a single not very lengthy chapter. After a few caustic introductory remarks (verses 2-4), he takes up the challenge which Zophar had thrown out, respecting the certain punishment, in this life, of the wicked (Job 20:4-29), and maintains, "in language of unparalleled boldness'' (Cook), the converse of the proposition. The wicked, he says, live, grow old, attain to great power, have a numerous and flourishing offspring, prosper, grow rich, spend their time in feasting and jollity—nay, openly renounce God and decline to pray to him—yet suffer no harm, and when they die, go down to the grave without suffering, "in a moment" (verses 5-15). To the suggestion that from time to time they are cut off suddenly in a signal way, he answers, "How often is this?" or rather, "How seldom!" (verses 17, 18). To the further suggestion that they are punished in their children he replies, "How much better if they were punished in their own persons!" (verses 19-21). As it is, he argues, one event happens to all (verses 23-26). In conclusion, he observes that common opinion supports his view (verses 29-33), and denounces as futile the attempts of his comforters to convince him, since his views and theirs respecting the facts of God's government are diametrically opposed to each other (verse 34).

Job 21:1, Job 21:2

But Job answered and said, Hear diligently my speech, and let this be your consolations. As ye have no other consolation to offer me, at least attend diligently to what I say. That will be some comfort to me, and I will accept it in lieu of the consolations which I might have looked for at your hands.

Job 21:3

Suffer me that I may speak; or, suffer me, and I also will speak. There is an emphasis on the "I" ( אנכי). Job implies that his opponents are not allowing him his fair share of the argument, which is an accusation that can scarcely be justified. Since the dialogue opened, Job's speeches have occupied eleven chapters, those of his "comforters" seven only. But a controversialist who has much to say is apt to think that sufficient time is not allowed him. And after that I have spoken, mock on. Job does not hope to convince, or silence, or shame the other interlocutors. When he has said his say, all that he expects is mockery and derision.

Job 21:4

As for me, is my complaint to man? Do I address myself to man, pour out my complaint to him, and expect him to redress my wrongs? No; far otherwise. I address myself to God, from whom alone I can look for effectual assistance. And if it were so; rather, and if so, if this is the case, if my appeal is to God, and he makes me no answer, then why should not my spirit be troubled? or, Why should I not be impatient? (Revised Version). Job thinks that he has a right to be impatient, if God does not vouchsafe him an answer.

Job 21:5, Job 21:6

Here we have an abrupt transition. Job is about to controvert Zophar's theory of the certain retribution that overtakes the wicked man in this life, and to maintain that, on the contrary, he usually prospers (verses 7-18). Knowing that, in thus running counter to the general religious teaching, he will arouse much horror and indignation on the part of those who hear him, he prefaces his remarks with a notice that they will cause astonishment, and an acknowledgment that he himself cannot reflect upon the subject without a feeling of alarm and dismay. He thus hopes partially to disarm his opponents.

Job 21:5

Mark me; literally, look to me; i.e. "attend to me," for I am about to say something well worth attention. And be astonished. Prepare yourselves, i.e; for something that will astonish you. And lay your hand upon your mouth. Harpocrates, the Egyptian god of silence, was often represented with his finger on his lips. The symbolism is almost universal. Job begs his auditors to "refrain their lips," and, however much astonished, to keep silence until he has concluded.

Job 21:6

Even when I remember; i.e. "when I think upon the subject." I am afraid, and trembling taketh held on my flesh. A shudder runs through his whole frame. His words will, he knows, seem to verge upon impiety.

Job 21:7

Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power? Job asks for an explanation of the facts which his own experience has impressed upon him. He has seen that "the wicked live" quite as long as the righteous, that in many cases they attain to a ripe old age, and become among the powerful of the earth. The great "pyramid kings" of Egypt, whose cruel oppressions were remembered down to the time of Herodotus (Herod; 2.124-128), reigned respectively, according to Egyptian tradition, sixty-three and sixty-six years(Manetho ap. Euseb; 'Chronicles Can.,' pars 2.). Rameses II; the cruel oppressor of the Jews, and the Pharaoh from whom Moses fled, had a reign of sixty-seven years.

Job 21:8

Their seed is established in their sight with them (comp. Psalms 17:14; and see below, Job 27:14). It could scarcely be doubted that the wicked had as many children as the righteous, and often established them in posts of honour and emolument. And their offspring before their eyes. A pleonastic repetition.

Job 21:9

Their houses are safe from fear; literally, their houses are in peace, without fear. Neither is the rod of God upon them. So Asaph, "They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men" (Psalms 73:5). The chastening rod of God does not seem to smite them.

Job 21:10

Their bull gendereth, and faileth not; rather, their cow conceiveth Shor ( שׁוֹר), which is of both genders, must here be taken as feminine. Their cow (rather, their heifer) calveth, and casteth not her calf. Both conception and birth are prosperous; there is neither barrenness nor abortion.

Job 21:11

They send forth their little ones like a flock. Free, i.e. joyful and frolicsome, to disport themselves as they please. The picture is charmingly idyllic. And their children dance. Frisk, i.e. "and skip, and leap," like the young of cattle full of health, and in the enjoyment of plenty" (Lee).

Job 21:12

They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ. The "timbrel" ( תף) is probably the tambourine, an instrument used from a remote antiquity by the Orientals. It consisted of a round hoop of wood, into which were sometimes inserted jingling rings of metal, and upon which was stretched at one end a sheet of parchment. It is represented on the monuments both of Egypt and Phoenicia. The harp ( כִנּוֹר) was, in the early times, a very simple instrument, consisting of a framework of wood, across which were stretched from four to seven strings, which were of catgut and of different lengths, and were sounded either with the hand or with a plectrum. The "organ" ( עוּנָב) was, of course, not an organ in the modem sense of the word. It was either a pan's pipe, which is a very primitive instrument, or more probably a double reed blown from the end, like a flageolet, examples of which are found in the remains both of Egypt and Phoenicia.

Job 21:13

They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave. They die, i.e.' without suffering from any prolonged or severe illness, such as that grievous affliction from which Job himself was suffering. Probably Job does not mean to maintain all this absolutely, or as universally the case, but he wishes to force his friends to acknowledge that there are many exceptions to their universal law, that wickedness is always visited in this world with condign punishment, and he wants them to account for them exceptions (see verse 7).

Job 21:14

Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us. It is this impunity which leads the wicked to renounce God altogether. They think that they get on very well without God, and consequently have no need to serve him. Job puts their thoughts into words (verses 14, 15), and thus very graphically represents their tone of feeling. For we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. The wicked feel no interest in God; they do not trouble themselves about him; his ways are "far above out of their sight," and they do not care to know them.

Job 21:15

What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? "Who is Jehovah," said Pharaoh to Moses, "that I should obey his voice? I know not Jehovah" (Exodus 5:2). So the ungodly in Job's time. They pretend to have no knowledge of God, no sense of his claims upon them, no internal consciousness that they are bound to worship and obey him. They are agnostics of a pronounced type, or at least they profess to be such. What profit, they ask, should we have, if we pray to him? Expediency is everything with them. Will serving God do them any good? Will it advance their worldly interests? Persuade them of that, and they will be willing to pay him, at any rate, a lip-service. But, having prospered so long and so greatly without making any religious profession, they see no reason to believe that they would prosper more if they made one.

Job 21:16

Lo, their good is not in their hand; i.e. their prosperity is not in their own power, not the result of their own efforts. God's providence is, at least, one element in it, since he exalts men and abases them, he casteth down and lifteth up. Hence it would seem to follow that they are his favourites. Shall Job therefore cast in his lot with them? No, he says, a thousand times, No! The counsel of the wicked is far from me; or better, be the counsel of the wicked far from me! I will have nothing to do with it. I will cling to God. I will maintain my integrity. Satan had charged Job with serving God for the sake of temporal reward. Job had disproved the charge by still clinging to God, notwithstanding all his afflictions. Now he goes further, and declines to throw in his lot with the wicked, even although it should appear that the balance of prosperity is with them.

Job 21:17

How oft is the candle of the wicked put out? This is not an exclamation, but a question, and is well rendered in the Revised Version, "How oft is it that the lamp of the wicked is put out?" Is not the signal downfall of the wicked prosperous man a comparatively rare occur-fence? How oft cometh their destruction upon them! When the problem here propounded came before Asaph, he seems to have solved it by the supposition that in all cases retribution visited the wicked in this life, and that they were cast down from their prosperity. "I went," he says, "into the sanctuary of God; then understood I the end of these men. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image" (Psalms 73:17-20). Job maintains that such a catastrophe happens but seldom, and that for the most part the wicked go down to the grave in peace. God distributeth sorrows in his anger. This is hot an independent clause. The sense runs on: How off is it that the candle of the wicked is put out, and that destruction cometh upon them' and God showers sorrows upon them in his anger? (compare the comment on the next verse).

Job 21:18

They are as stubble before the wind, and as chaff that the storm carrieth away; rather, How oft is it that they are as stubble before the wind, and as chaff, etc.? The construction begun in the first clause of Job 21:17 is carried on to the end of Job 21:18. "Stubble" and "chaff" are ordinary figures for foolish and ungodly men, whom the blast of God's anger swoops away to destruction (comp. Exodus 15:7; Psalms 1:4; Psalms 35:5; Psalms 83:13; Isaiah 27:13; Isaiah 29:5; Isaiah 41:2, etc.).

Job 21:19

God layeth up his iniquity for his children. Job supposes his opponents to make this answer to his arguments. "God," they may say, "punishes the wicked man in his children" (comp. Exodus 20:5). Job does not deny that he may do so, but suggests a better course in the next sentence. He rewardeth him; rather, let him recompense it on himself—let him make the wicked man himself suffer, and then he shall know it. He shall perceive and know that he is receiving the due reward of his wickedness.

Job 21:20

His eyes shall see his destruction (or, let his own eyes see his destruction), and he shall drink (or, let him drink) of the wrath of the Almighty. It will impress him far more with a sense of his wickedness, and of his guilt in God's sight, if he receives punishment in his own person, than if he merely suffers vicariously through his children.

Job 21:21

For what pleasure hath he in his house after him? What does he care, ordinarily, about the happiness of his children and descendants? "Apres moi le deluge" is the selfish thought of bad men generally, when they cast a glance at the times which are to follow their decease. The fate of those whom they leave behind them troubles them but little. It would scarcely cause them a pang to know that their posterity would soon be "clean put out." When the number of his months is cut off in the midst; i.e. when his appointed time is come, and he knows that "the number of his months' is accomplished.

Job 21:22

Shall any teach God knowledge? Job has been searching the "deep things of God," speculating upon the method of the Divine government of the world, he has perhaps rashly ventured to "rush in where angels fear to tread." Now, however, he cheeks himself with the confession that God's ways are inscrutable, his knowledge far beyond any knowledge possessed by man. Men must not presume to judge him; it is for him to judge them. Seeing he judgeth those that are high. None so exalted, none so advanced in wisdom and knowledge, none so venturesome in sounding depths that they cannot fathom, but God is above them, judges them, knows their hearts, and, according to his infallible wisdom, condemns or approves them. This is a chastening thought, and its effect on Job is to make him contract his sails, and, leaving the empyrean, content himself with s lower flight. Previously he has maintained, as if he were admitted to the Divine counsels, that the prosperity of the wicked was a rule of God's government. Now he goes no further than to say that there is no rule discoverable. Happiness and misery are dispensed—as far as man can see—on no definite principle, and, at the end, one lot happens to all: all go down into the tomb, and lie in the dust, and the worms devour them (verses 23-26).

Job 21:23

One dieth in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet. Some continue healthy and vigorous in body, peaceful and satisfied in mind, up to the very moment of their departure (comp. Job 21:13, "They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave").

Job 21:24

His breasts are full of milk; rather, his milk-pails, as in the margin. The main wealth of the time being cattle, the man whose milk-pails are always full is the prosperous man. And his bones are moistened with marrow. Being thus wealthy and prosperous, his body is fat and well nourished.

Job 21:24

And another dieth in the bitterness of his soul. Others have to suffer terribly before death comes to them. Their whole life is wretched, and their spirit is embittered by their misfortunes. And never eateth with pleasure; rather, and never tasteth of good (see the Revised Version).

Job 21:26

They shall lie down alike in the dust, and the worms shall cover them. However different the circumstances of their life, men are alike in their death. One event happens to all. All die, are laid in the dust, and become the prey of worms.

Job 21:27

Behold, I know your thoughts, and the devices (or, surmisings) which ye wrongfully imagine against me. I know, i.e.' what you think of me. I am quite aware that you regard me as having brought my afflictions upon myself by wicked deeds, which I have succeeded in keeping secret. You have not openly stated your surmises. but it has been easy for me to "read between the lines," and understand the true meaning of your insinuations, which are all wrongful and unjust.

Job 21:28

For ye say, Where is the house of the prince? i.e. "What has become of the house of the powerful man (Job himself)? How is it fallen and gone to decay!" And where are the dwelling-places (literally, the tent of the habitations) of the wicked! Again Job is intended, although the insult is veiled by the plural form being used. Job supposes that his opponents will meet his statement, that the righteous are afflicted and the wicked prosper, by pointing to his own case as one in which wickedness has been punished.

Job 21:29

Have ye not asked them that go by the way? Job refers his opponents to the first comer ( τὸν ἐπιόντα)—the merest passer-by. Let them ask his opinion, and see if he does not consider that, as a general rule, the wicked prosper. And do ye not know their tokens? or, their observations; i.e. the conclusions to which they have come upon the subject from their own observation and experience.

Job 21:30

These conclusions are now set forth. They are, that the wicked is reserved for (or rather, spared in) the day of destruction, and that they shall be brought forth to (rather, removed out of the way in) the day of wrath. This, according to Job, was the popular sentiment of his time; and, no doubt, there is in all ages a large mass of fleeting opinion to the same effect. Striking examples of wickedness in high places draw attention, and provoke indignation, and are much talked about; whence arises an idea that such eases are common, and ultimately, by an unscientific generalization in the vulgar mind, that they form the rule, and not the exception to the rule. It requires some power of intellect to take a broad and comprehensive view over the whole of human life, and fairly to strike the balance. Such a view seems to have been taken by Bishop Butler (among others); and the conclusion, reached by calm investigation and philosophic thought, is that, on the whole, ever in this life, the balance of advantage rests with the virtuous, who really prosper more than the wicked, have greater and higher satisfactions, escape numerous forms of suffering, and approach more nearly to happiness. An exact apportionment of happiness and misery to desert is a thing that certainly in this life does not take place; but the tendency of virtue to accumulate to itself other goods is clear; and Job's pessimistic view is certainly an untrue one, which we may suspect that he maintained, rather from a love of paradox, and from a desire to puzzle and confuse his friends, than from any conviction of its absolute truth.

Job 21:31

Who shall declare his way to his face? rather, Who shall denounce? i.e. Who will be bold enough to tell the rich and powerful man that he is wicked? that his "way," or course of life, is altogether wrong? And who shall repay him what he hath done? Still less will any one be found who will take upon him to attack such a one, to prosecute him in courts or otherwise bring him to condign punishment. Thus, being castigated neither by God nor man, he enjoys complete impunity.

Job 21:32

Yet shall he be brought to the grave; rather, he moreover is borne (in pomp) to the grave. Even in death the advantage is still with the wicked man. He is borne in procession to the grave—a mausoleum or a family vault—by a long train of mourners, who weep and lament for him, and pay him funeral honours. The poor virtuous man, on the other hand, is hastily thrust under the soil. And shall remain in in the tomb; or shall keep watch over his tomb. The allusion is probably to the custom, common certainly in Egypt and Phoenicia, of carving a figure of the deceased on the lid of his sarcophagus, to keep as it were watch over the remains deposited within. The figure was sometimes accompanied by an inscription, denouncing curses on those who should dare to violate the tomb or disturb the remains.

Job 21:33

The clods of the valley shall be sweet unto him. In his mausoleum, by the side of the running stream, the very clods of the valley, wherein his tomb is placed, shall be sweet and pleasant to him—death thus losing half its terrors. And all men shall draw after him. Some explain this of the lengthy funeral procession which follows his corpse to the grave, and take the next clause of the multitude, not forming part of the procession, who gather together at the tomb beforehand, waiting to see the obsequies; but, as Rosenmuller remarks, this explanation seems precluded by the previous mention of the funeral procession (Job 21:32), besides being otherwise unsatisfactory. The real reference is probably to the common topic of consolation implied in the "Omnes eodem cogimur" of Horace. He is happy in his death, or at any rate not unhappy, seeing that he only suffers the common fate. He will draw after him all future men, who will likewise inevitably perish, just as there are innumerable before him, who have travelled the same read and reached the same resting-place.

Job 21:34

How then comfort ye me in vain, seeing in your answers there remaineth falsehood? Your position, that the godly always prosper, while the wicked are afflicted and brought low, being an absolutely false one, your attempts to console and comfort me are wholly vain and futile. Why continue them?

Most commentators consider the second colloquy here to end, and a pause to occur, before Eliphaz resumes the argument.

HOMILETICS

Job 21:1-34

Job to Zophar: Audi alteram partem.

I. THE SPIRIT OF JOB'S REPLY.

1. Intense earnestness. Indicated by the respectful invitation addressed to his friends to attend to his discourse, the nervous reduplication of the verb "hear," and the assurance that such behaviour on their part would more effectually console him than all their eloquent and laboured harangues. Job's character of eminent sanctity, Job's condition of extreme wretchedness, and Job's condemnation by the three friends, all entitled him to receive from them a generous and patient hearing. Good men and great sufferers are usually in earnest when they do speak, especially when justifying the ways of God to man, and are well worthy of being listened to for both their own sakes and their subject's. It is one of a saint's sweetest consolations to be allowed to vindicate the cause of God and truth.

2. Absolute confidence. So satisfied did Job feel that what he was about to advance was in perfect accord with truth and right, that he was completely indifferent to all personal considerations in the declaration of it. It might expose him to further ridicule and calumnious animadversion, might intensify the suspicions already existing against him, and even lead to angrier and more direct accusations. He was prepared to meet these for the sake of liberty to publish what in his inmost conscience he believed to be the truth. Job's example is well worthy of imitation. First, let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind that what he purposes to speak is true, and then let him manifest the courage of his convictions by suffering for them if need be.

3. Self-justification. Job vindicates himself against the oft-repeated charge of impatience.

4. Profound reverence. Job could not contemplate the awful problem to which he alluded without trembling and bewilderment, The prosperity of the wicked was a theme that filled him with silent astonishment, that dazed his intellect the more he reflected on it, that seized his spirit with a sort of stupefaction—seeming as it did on the one hand (i.e. on the theory of the friends) to suggest blasphemous thoughts of God, and on the other hand (i.e. on the hypothesis advanced by him) to foreshadow appalling woes for the wicked. Job, who was not terrified by Eliphaz's spectre, who was not moved by the prospect of Hades, was overpowered with consternation at what appeared to tarnish the Divine glory or to impair the happiness of man. So Abraham was jealous of the Divine honour (Genesis 18:25), and David was afraid of the Divine judgments upon the wicked (Psalms 119:20). So by all men, and in particular by all saints, should God's Person be held in reverence (Psalms 89:7), and God's Word be listened to with awe (Isaiah 66:2), and God's works and ways in both the Church and the world be studied with silent wonder (Psalms 46:10; Habakkuk 2:20; Zephaniah 1:7; Zechariah 2:13).

II. THE ARGUMENT OF JOB'S REPLY. The dogma of Zophar and his companions was contradicted by:

1. The facts of experience. (Verses 7-21.) In enlarging upon these, Job draws attention to three points.

(a) Long-continued, "the wicked" being permitted "to live and become old" (verse 7). Eliphaz had affirmed that the ungodly transgressor should die before his time (Job 15:20, Job 15:32), and Zophar had declared that the joy of the hypocrite was but for a moment (Job 20:5). These statements, Job asserts, were notoriously incorrect.

(b) Greatly augmented, "the wicked' not simply living long and happily, but, as if once more to confute Eliphaz (Job 15:29) and Zophar (Job 20:15), becoming "mighty in power, "attaining to vast wealth, and therefore to what wealth represents—influence, honour, pleasure—the three principal ingredients in the world's cup of felicity,

(c) Firmly established, the good fortunes of the wicked descending to their families, who, in express contradiction to the teaching of Eliphaz (Job 15:34), Bildad (Job 18:19), and Zophar (Job 20:10), grow up to manhood and womanhood, and permanently settle beside the patriarchal tents—one of the best and most highly valued blessings a parent can enjoy, as Job formerly knew from personal experience (Job 1:4, Job 1:5).

(d) Perfectly secured, their houses being safe from fear, or "in peace, without alarm," and having no rod of God upon them (verse 9), as his had when attacked by Chaldean robbers, and desolated by Divine judgments—again in flagrant antithesis to Eliphaz (Job 15:34), Bildad (Job 18:15), and Zophar (Job 20:26).

(e) Richly varied, consisting of material increase (verse 10), in opposition to Eliphaz (Job 15:29) and Zophar (Job 20:28); family enlargement (verse 11), against Bildad (Job 18:19); and social felicity (verse 12), instead of the lifelong misery awarded to them by Eliphaz (Job 15:20), Bildad (Job 18:11-14), and Zophar (Job 20:18).

(f) Absolutely uninterrupted, their affluence and ease never ceasing throughout life, but attending them to the grave's mouth, into which they quietly and quickly drop without experiencing either physical disease or mental misery (verse 13), thus attaining to the very culmination of mundane felicity—a picture widely different from that sketched by Eliphaz (Job 15:24), Bildad (Job 18:18), and Zophar (Job 20:11).

(g) Divinely bestowed, Job adding (verse 16) that the true source of all the felicity and prosperity enjoyed by the wicked, though not recognized as such by them, was the hand of God, who is the primal Fountain of every benefit conferred on man, whether temporal or eternal, material or spiritual (James 1:17), who makes his sun to shine upon the evil and the good (Matthew 5:45), and who so deals with the ungodly to lead them to repentance (Romans 2:4).

(a) The strangeness of it. On the theory of the friends, these favourites of fortune ought to have been good; "and yet" (verse 14) they were the opposite. Though designed to engender piety in the heart, material prosperity, in point of fact, seldom does. Yet God's goodness to the sinner is an aggravation of the sinner's criminality against God.

(b) The wickedness of it. The prosperous say to God, "Depart from us," not as Peter said to Christ (Luke 5:8), but rather as the Gadarenes besought him (Luke 8:37), desiring that God would leave them to the enjoyment of their lusts, as these latter wished to have their swine, not troubling them with either the reproofs of conscience, the checks of Providence, the precepts of his Law, or the prickings of his Spirit. What the sinner most fears the saint most desires—the presence and fellowship of God. What makes the wicked man's hell constitutes the good man's heaven.

(c) The foolishness of it. The arguments adduced in its support are three: that the ways of God are undesirable—which was not the opinion of Enoch (Genesis 5:21-24), or of Noah (Genesis 6:9), of David (Psalms 138:5), of Solomon (Proverbs 3:17), of Isaiah, (Isaiah 55:2), of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:12-14), of St. Paul (Philippians 4:4), of St. Peter (1 Peter 1:8), or of St. John (1 John 5:3), and certainly not of Christ (Matthew 11:28-30); that the service of God is unreasonable—which it cannot be, considering who God is, Elohim, Jehovah, Shaddai, the All-powerful, All-sufficient, Self-existent, wonder-working Supreme, and the relations he sustains to man as Creator, Preserver, Redeemer, Judge; that the worship of God is unprofitable—which it is not, since, besides having the promise which belongs to godliness generally (1 Timothy 4:8), prayer has the special guarantee that its desires shall be fulfilled (Matthew 7:7; John 15:7), while it is inconceivable that a creature could commune with his Creator, or a saint hold fellowship with his Saviour, without experiencing therefrom, in continually augmenting measure, peace, joy, illumination, holiness, everything comprehended in what is styled "growth in grace."

(d) The repulsiveness of it. The counsel of the wicked Job regards with abhorrence (verse 16); and so do all truly pious souls.

2. The plan of providence. (Verses 22-26.) This Job characterizes as

3. The testimony of ordinary men. (Verses 27-33.) The "tokens" of "them that go by the way," i.e. the observations made by them, abundantly declared six things concerning the ungodly, viz.

III. THE APPLICATION OF JOB'S REPLY.

1. The consolation of his friends was vain.

2. The answers of his friends were wicked.

Learn:

1. That a good man should never weary in contending for the cause of God and truth.

2. That a man who has God and truth upon his side has the best possible allies in debate.

3. That they who have no difficulties in their creeds are not the most likely to be possessed of truth.

4. That the best souls on earth are not necessarily those who have no hard problems to solve.

5. That on the whole continuous prosperity is less desirable as an earthly portion than perpetual adversity.

6. That God confers many of his best gifts upon the worst of men—families and flocks upon tyrants, Christ and salvation upon sinners.

7. That great wealth is prone to separate the soul from God.

8. That God's people should shun the counsel, avoid the company, and abhor the conduct of wicked men.

9. That wicked men's "Depart from us," will yet be answered by Christ's "Depart from me."

10. That it is better to be God's wheat than the devil's chaff, since though the former may be bruised, the latter shall be blown away.

11. That the God who is able to judge angels is not likely to prove incapable of judging men.

12. That the wicked man's glory upon earth is little better than the paraphernalia of a funeral procession.

13. That God's ever-watchful eye is a better guardian of a saint's dust than gilded mausoleums and monumental columns.

HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON

Job 21:1-34

Diverse interpretations of life.

The friends of Job remain entrenched in the one firm position, as they think it, which they have from the first taken up. No appeals on his part have availed to soften their hearts, or induce a reconsideration of the rigid theory of suffering which they have adopted. But he now, no longer confining himself to the assertion of his personal innocence, makes an attack upon their position. He dwells upon the great enigma of life—the prosperity of the wicked through the whole of life, in contrast to the misery and persecution which often fall to the lot of the righteous. In face of these contradictions, it is wrong and malicious of his friends to desire to fix guilt upon him because he suffers.

I. INTRODUCTORY ADDRESS TO THE FRIENDS. (Verses 1-6.) He asks for a patient hearing, because he is not about to complain of man, but of a terrible enigma which may well excite the amazement, the dread wonder of men, as being beyond their power to unravel. He speaks as one the very foundations of whose faith are shaken, as he thinks of this painful and Perplexing "riddle of the earth." "Because reason cannot comprehend the mystery of the crees, and why nod deals often so hardly with his children, bitter thoughts will arise from time to time in devout hearts, and cause them to tremble in great dismay" (Zeyss). (See Psalms 37:1; Psalms 73:12; Jeremiah 12:1.) The solid columns of our reason, so to speak, are shaken by doubts of the justice of God's government of the world.

II. APPEAL TO EXPERIENCE: THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED, CONTRASTED WITH THE AFFLICTIONS OF THE RIGHTEOUS, IN THIS LIFE. (Verses 7-26.)

1. Traits of godless prosperity. (Verses 7-16.)

2. These lessons of experience confirmed, with reference to the positions of the friends. (Verses 17-21.) Bildad had spoken (Job 18:5, Job 18:12) of the quenching of the light of the wicked man and of his sudden overthrow. Job questions the universal application of this. "How often," etc.? is here equivalent to "How seldom," etc.! How often does God distribute sorrows in his anger? with allusion to Job 20:23 (Job 20:17). This doubting questioning still continues in Job 20:18, "How often do they become as straw before the wind, and like chaff which the tempest carries away?" (see Job 20:8, Job 20:9). "God lays up for his children his calamity?" referring to Eliphaz's words (Job 20:4) and Zophar's (Job 20:10). Job proceeds (verse 20) to refute this theory of satisfaction by substitution. "Let his eyes see his destruction; and of the fiery wrath of the Almighty let him drink!" The allusion is to Zophar (Job 20:23). And further, against this theory (verse 21); in his dull insensibility the wicked man cares nought for the fate of his posterity. "For what pleasure is his house after him?"—what interest or concern has the selfish egotist in the sufferings of his descendants after he is dead and gone? And if this be so, how can it be alleged that the wicked man is punished in his posterity? "If the number of his moons is allotted to him." The thought is that the selfish, pleasure-seeking bad man is content, if only he lives out the full measure of his days. What amidst these perplexities can keep the soul true to God and steadfast in the pursuit of goodness? Experience suggests these doubts; and a larger experience must solve them. The Christian knows that in God's ordering of life the outward prosperity is often unrelated to moral worth. The good things of this world cannot satisfy; without a good conscience earthly happiness is impossible. Often the worldly prosperity enjoyed by the bad man is the means of his destruction. This is not the scene of final recompense and retribution. Doubtless God, whose counsels are inscrutable, will indemnify pious sufferers for these earthly privations.

3. Restatement of the enigma. (Verses 22-26.) The contrast in men's destinies to our expectations involves a Divine counsel which we may not presume to understand. "Shall one teach God knowledge, who judges those that are high?" (verse 22). The friends had brought this thought forward (Job 4:18; Job 15:15) with the view of supporting their narrow theory of retribution. Conversely, Job would refute by the same means this short-sighted view, pointing to the unfathomable depth and mystery of the counsels and laws of God for the government of the world. Two examples illustrate this. One man dies in bodily ease and comfort—his troughs full of milk, strong and vigorous to the marrow of his bones (verses 23, 24). Another dies with bitterness in his soul, and has not enjoyed good (verse 25).And yet they are united in one common fate, though their moral worth is so different and so contrasted. "With one another they lie on the dust of the grave, and the worms cover them." "Both, heirs to some six feet of clod, are equal in the earth at last" (verse 26).

III. CORRECTION OF HIS FRIENDS FOR THEIR PARTIAL JUDGMENT OF THE OUTWARD CONDITION OF MEN. (Verses 27-34.) He knows their thoughts, and the malice with which they ill-treat him, with the object of proving him by any means, fair or unfair, a hypocrite. "Where," they say, "is the house of the tyrant? and where the tent inhabited by wicked men?" Job alludes still to the repeated descriptions of Eliphaz and Bildad (Job 15:34; Job 18:15, Job 18:21) of the overthrow of the tent of the wicked man (verse 28). Have they, then, not asked the wanderers by the way (Lamentations 1:12; Psalms 80:12), and will they mistake their tokens? The instances of prosperous bad men and unhappy good men which these persons can produce—they must not misunderstand nor reject them. The "tokens" are the memorable and wonderful events of this kind (verse 29). Then follow the summary contents of these people's experiences (verse 30): "That on the day of destruction the wicked is spared, on the day of wrath they are led away" from its devastating fury, so that they suffer nothing. "Who will show him his way to his face? and if he has acted, who will repay it to him?" (verse 31). This is Job's question. It concerns God, the unfathomably wise and mighty Author of the destinies of men. "And he" (alluding to verse 30) "is brought to burial" in honour and pomp, "and on a mound he keeps watch," like one immortalized in a statue or tomb. His tumulus remains to record his name and memory, while Bildad had described the memory of the wicked as perishing from the earth, his name being forgotten. Verse 33, "The clods of the valley lie softly upon him"—the valleys being the favourite burying-places in the East—"and all the world draws after him," treading the same path which multitudes have done before.

CONCLUSION. (Verse 34.) "How will you now so vainly comfort me?" Falsehood only remains from their replies. There is some truth both in Zophar's and in Job's speeches. But both represent one side only of the truth. The end of the wicked man is that which Zophar depicts. Yet the temporal prosperity of the wicked, lasting to the latest hour of life, is often seen. Job cannot deny the facts of Zophar; but neither can Zophar deny the exceptions pointed out by Job. The friends are blind to these, because the admission of them would overthrow the whole battery of their attack. Job remains nearer to the truth than Zophar (Delitzsch). The godless are often greatly exalted, to fall the more deeply afterwards. "Raised up on high to be hurled down below" (Shakespeare). "Lofty towers have the heavier fall". But it is the belief in a future judgment and a future life which can alone give patience under the anomalies and contradictions of the present. The God who is "upright, true, and all-disposing" hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness, and "reward every man according to his works." "This is certain, that God is infinitely just; whether or not we apprehend him, he is so. When we think his ways are imperfect, we should remember that the imperfection is only in our understanding. It is not the ground or the trees that turn round; but the truth is, we are giddy, and think so Because I cannot see the light, shall I say that the sun does not shine? There may be many reasons that may hinder me. Something may cover the eye, or the clouds may cover the sun, or it may be in another horizon, as in the night; but it is impossible for the sun, so long as it is a sun, not to shine It was not for Job's sin that God afflicted him, but because he was freely pleased to do so; yet there was a reason for this pleasure which was to discover that grace of patience given him by God, to the astonishment of the world and the confutation of the devil" (South).—J.

HOMILIES BY R. GREEN

Job 21:7-15

The perverse misapplication of the Divine goodness.

Job is ready with his answer. Although Zophar has correctly represented the judgments that come upon the wicked, and the evils to which wickedness not unfrequently lead, yet many cases of departure from this rule are to be observed. Job therefore proposes a counter-question," Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power? "He then depicts the prosperity which again and again marks the career of the wicked, to whom the Divine bounty is shown

This mystery Job does not instantly unravel But what is the effect of all this prosperity on the wicked? It does not humble him nor make him thankful As an uneven glass distorts the fairest image, so their impure and ill-regulated minds turn the goodness of God into an occasion of impious rejection. "Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us." The distortions of the evil mind pervert the goodness of God into—

I. AN OCCASION OF IMPIOUS DESPIAL OF THE DIVINE NAME. They refuse to know God. They shut out the knowledge of God from their hearts. With a wicked "Depart!" they resist the Holy One. They have no aspiration after a holy corn reunion, or the vision of the pure. The Lord is abhorrent to them. Their tastes are corrupt; their preferences are for evil. Truly they pervert and reverse all good things. They put darkness for light, and light for darkness. They put bitter for sweet, and sweet for hitter. The very call to adoration and praise they turn into an occasion of despisal and rejection.

II. In their perversions they make the Divine goodness AN OCCASION FOR A DESPISAL OF THE DIVINE WAYS. This is always the danger of them who have abundance and yet lack the fear of God. This is the basis of a teaching long afterwards touchingly taught concerning the rich, to whom it is so "hard" to "enter into the kingdom of heaven." The satisfied man becomes the self-satisfied, even though indebted to another for his possessions. Then the spirit of independence becomes a spirit of revulsion against all authority that might be raised over it. So they who "spend their days in wealth" say," We desire not the knowledge of thy ways."

III. This same spirit ripens into AN ABSOLUTE REFUSAL TO SUBMIT TO THE DIVINE AUTHORITY. "What is the Almighty, that we should serve him?" So far is the goodness of God from leading him to repentance who is evil in spirit. Wickedness is the fruit of an ill-directed judgment, and it tends to impair the judgment more and more. It distorts all the moral sensibilities, and therefore all the moral processes. If the judgment were accurately to decide in favour of the Divine Law and its obligatory character, the perverted preferences of the mind would reject the testimony, and by a rude rebellion within would prevent a right decision from being arrived at. Even the check and restraint of the enlightened judgment becomes a signal for resistance. Its goad is kicked against; its repressions refused; its warning unheeded; its plain path, narrow and difficult to follow, is rejected, and a broad and easy way, in which the foolish heart finds its pleasure, chosen in preference. So the Divine authority is rejected and despised.

The ill effects of rejecting the Divine authority are seen:

1. In the loss of the guidance of the supreme wisdom.

2. In the inevitable injuries resulting from following a false and erroneous judgment.

3. In the demoralization of the life.

4. In the final vindication of the Divine authority.—R.G.

Job 21:30

The reservation of the Divine judgment.

The expositions of these verses are various, and all true homiletics must be based on true exposition. But there is no diversity of opinion amongst expositors as to the final judgment of the wicked. Whatever, therefore, may be the aspect in which it is viewed by the argument of this chapter, it cannot be too loudly declared that judgment upon the wicked is reserved. That a final day of adjudication will come has its aspect of warning to the wrong-doer who temporarily escapes punishment, and its aspect of encouragement to the patient doer of that which is good, who is nevertheless called upon to suffer affliction. The reservation of the Divine judgment—

I. A WARNING TO THE WICKED NOT TO PRESUME ON A PRESENT EXEMPTION FROM CALAMITY. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." Thus is man perverse, blind, foolish. The declaration of a final, inevitable judgment is the effectual check upon foolish presumption. The wicked man is a weak man, whose own conscience makes a coward of him. The appeal to his fear and dread is the effectual check upon his carelessness.

II. In the reservation of the Divine judgment, THE OPPRESSED RIGHTEOUS ONES MAY FIND A TRUE GROUND OF CONSOLATION. Revenge is not a pious sentiment. To desire punishment upon the wicked from vindictive feelings is far from the pure mind; but he that is unjustly traduced may abide in hope that one day a Divine judgment will bring hidden things to light, and make the righteousness of the falsely accused shine as the light. The Divine judgments being always wise and good and just—the judgments of the loving God—they will find their echo of approval in the heart of every wise and just man. The final Divine judgments will commend themselves to the utmost tenderness of the human heart; for their absolute rightness will be apparent.

III. The reservation of the Divine judgment against wickedness WILL AFFORD OPPORTUNITY FOR THE FINAL VINDICATION OF THE DIVINE WAYS. In his great condescension it may please God to vindicate his dealings with the sons of men, when each will have evidence of the righteousness of his doings. Clouds and darkness may now hide the Divine purpose and the Divine methods of procedure; but all will be clearly revealed, and hidden iniquity be exposed and oppressed goodness vindicated and the Divine ways justified. The certainty, the strictness, the equity, the unbiassed rectitude of the Divine judgment, are causes for dreading it. A lowly, reverent, obedient spirit is the true preparation for the final award. Judgment, though delayed, will not be forgotten. "God shall judge the righteous and the wicked."—R.G.

HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY

Job 21:3

The right of reply.

I. THE RIGHT OF REPLY IS JUSTLY CLAIMED. Job has heard enough from his friends. He is impatient to answer them. Surely they should allow him to do so.

1. This right is conceded law. The worst criminal may be defended by counsel, may call witnesses in his favour, may make his own statement. In civil eases both sides are heard before judgment is pronounced.

2. This right should be allowed in social life. It is not just to condemn any one unheard. There may come to us a damaging tale concerning a person; it is our duty to suspend our judgment till he has given his explanation.

3. This right ought to be permitted in theology. It was a theological as well as a personal discussion that Job was carrying on with his friends. But in theology people are most impatient of hearing anything contrary to their own views. Yet it is not just to condemn those who differ from us until we have heard what they have to say on their side of a question.

II. THE RIGHT OF REPLY IS HELPFUL IN THE INTERESTS OF TRUTH. We are all tempted to take partial, one-sided views of things. It is only By bringing light from all quarters that we can see the rounded totality of truth. Therefore discussion helps truth. At first, indeed, it may not seem to do so, and, indeed, there seems to be a certain irony in it, for the most eager combatants are usually furthest from a just con-caption of what they are contending for. But after the discussion is over, those who look on are better able to understand the whole subject. Thus the discussion of Job and his friends throws light on the mystery of Providence. The creeds of Christendom were forged in the fires of controversy. Theology is a result of discussion. The right of reply has given breadth, depth, and definiteness to it. Truth is not helped by the persecution of error.

III. THE RIGHT OF REPLY IS A CONSOLATION TO THE MISJUDGED. Job only asks for this. When he has spoken his friends may mock on. There is some humour in his tone, or perhaps a bitter scorn. Truth is strong. Only let it shine out in its native strength, and calumny must wither before it. Any unjust accusations will then only break themselves like waves that are dashed to pieces on the crags. We can afford to be indifferent to falsehood and error if we can speak out and let the truth be fairly seen.

IV. THE RIGHT OF REPLY WILL BE GIVEN ULTIMATELY TO ALL, It will be of little use to those who are in the wrong. To be able to stand up in the searching light of eternity and reply for a bad case is no desirable privilege. Rather than attempt to reply, the self-convicted sinner will call on the mountains and hills to cover him. But those who are honestly endeavouring to make the truth manifest in face of great opposition and gross misapprehension may learn to possess their souls in patience if they will come to understand that the oppression and injustice are but temporary. Though silenced for a season, ultimately truth will speak out with a trumpet-voice.

In conclusion, let us remember that God has a right of redly to all man's foolish sophistry, to all his shuffling excuses. All error and pretence will be pulverized annihilated when God speaks his great answer to cavillers, unbelievers, and opponents of every kind.—W.F.A.

Job 21:4

The complaint that goes beyond man.

I. THE COMPLAINT THAT IS OF MORE THAN MAN'S DOINGS. Job does not only complain of man's injustice. That would be hard to bear; and yet a strong soul should be able to withstand it, trusting in a higher justice that will set all right at last. But the mystery, the horror, the agony, of Job's complaint, spring from the persuasion that his troubles are to be attributed to a more than earthly origin. They are so huge and terrible that he cannot but ascribe them to a superhuman source. This fact intensifies the complaint in many respects.

1. The mystery of the supernatural. Man quails before it. The bravest hero who is not afraid of any human strength trembles at the thought of the unseen.

2. The power of the Divine. Job can resist man, but he cannot stand out against God. It is not mortal frailty, but immortal Omnipotence, that assails him. The contest is unequal.

3. The apparent injustice of the Just One. This is hardest of all. It would be possible to bear the lower injustice if assured of the impartiality and triumph of the higher justice. But when Job looks up for justice to its great central throne, even there he seems to see wrong, misapprehension, and unfair treatment. It is not that Job directly charges God with injustice; but there is in his heart an all-perplexing, baffling thought, discouraging confidence. Though we may not doubt God, it is hard to bear his hand when he seems to go against justice and love. Here is the great test of faith.

II. THE COMPLAINT THAT GOES BEYOND MAN'S EARS. As Job complains of what is done by more than man, so he cries to a power above the human. The sublimity of the drama is seen in its relations with the unseen world. It assumes more than heroic proportions. It is concerned with God as well as man.

1. The complaining cry. Job continually lifts up his voice to God. We have to learn to look above the earth. It is foolish to complain of God, but it is natural to complain to God. If we even think hard thoughts of God, it is not necessary for us to bury them in the secrecy of our own breasts. There they will only burn as hidden fires, and consume all faith and hope. It is far better to be courageous, and confess them frankly to God himself. He can understand them, judge them fairly, and see the sorrow and perplexity from which they have sprung. And it is he who can dissipate them.

2. The merciful Heaven. God hears every cry of his children, and when faith is mixed with fear he accepts the faith and dispels the fear. Men judge their fellows harshly for their complaining utterances. God is like the patient mother who soothes her fretful child. Though the cry is wrung from the heart in an agony of dismay, so that no hope of relief is visible through the blinding veil of tears, God does not fling it back with angered dignity; he treats it with pitying mercy. If only the soul will give itself utterly up to him, even in its darkness and despair, he will hear and save.—W.F.A.

Job 21:7-21

The prosperity of the wicked.

Job here gives his version of the old familiar theme. It is not as the three friends supposed. These neat maxims do not fit in with the facts of life as Job has seen them. The prosperity of the wicked is a real though a mysterious fact, one that cannot be gainsaid.

I. THE FACTS AS WITNESSED IN LIFE.

1. An established family. Job's home is desolate. The seed of the wicked is established in their sight. They have their children about them.

2. Security. (Verse 8.) "Their houses are safe from fear." They are not haunted by the alarms of guilt. On the contrary, they are very comfortable and self-satisfied (verse 9).

3. Freedom from chastisement. The rod of God is not upon them. The righteous man is chastised; the godless man is spared (verse 9).

4. Good fortune. Their cattle breed successfully (verse 10). The mishaps which fall to the lot of others avoid them. A certain good fortune follows them, even into those chances of life which are beyond human control.

5. Pleasure. These wicked people are not troubled by their sins. They have no puritanical scruples to sour them. They spend their days in gaiety (verses 11, 12).

6. Prosperity lasting till death. (Verse 13.) They do not have the reverse of fortune which the three moralizers assumed to be their lot. A long life of wealth and ease is followed by a quick and almost painless death. Here is unmitigated prosperity from the cradle to the grave.

II. THE DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES OF THESE FACTS. Because they are so prosperous the wicked harden themselves against God.

1. Dispensing with God. (Verse 14.) They think they can do very well without God. This world's goods satisfy them, and of this world's goods they have a sufficiency. They have no need to cry to God for help for they are not in trouble. They see no reason for prayer, for they have all they want without it.

2. Rejecting God. (Verse 15.) These prosperous wicked people go further than to live without God. They actually rebel against him. Being self-sufficient, they decline to admit that they are under any obligation to serve God. Thus their very prosperity increases their sin.

III. THE GREAT MYSTERY OF THESE FACTS. This is inexplicable from the standpoint of Job's friends. If suffering is only the punishment of sin, the wicked must suffer, or there is no just Judge over all. By pointing to the plain facts of life Job is able to refute the pedantic dogmas of his critics. Theology that will not stand the test of life is worthless. But graver questions are at issue than those that merely concern the correctness of orthodox notions. Where is the justice of facts as Job sets them forth? To him all is a profound mystery. Now, it is something to be brought to this point. There is a mystery in the course of life which we cannot fathom. Then let us not attempt to judge, but confess our ignorance. Still, if there is to be an outlook towards the light, we must seek it in two directions.

1. In the prospect of a future life. There God will rectify the inequalities of this life.

2. In attaching less weight to outward circumstances. Prosperity is not the greatest good. On both sides, among the disappointed good as well as among the fortunate wicked, too much is made of external things. True prosperity is soul-prosperity. "The life is more than meat" etc.—W.F.A.

Job 21:22

Teaching God.

Job has already warned his friends that their advocacy of a cruel creed was speaking wickedly for God (Job 13:7). The presumption of the foolish advocates of an effete orthodoxy now reaches a greater height, and they virtually assume to teach God. Their dogma is above Divine revelation. If the two differ, so much the worse for the revelation. Let us see how this same error may be found in other branches of life and thought.

I. IN AUTHORITATIVE ORTHODOXY. It cannot be said that the mere act of calling in the aid of authority to establish and support what we believe to be the truth implies a disposition to assume to be the teachers of God. But there is a tendency in absolute reliance on authority to move towards that absurdity which reaches its climax in the folly that Job ascribes to his friends. The tendency is to think the settled opinion of our party or section of the Church a certain and infallible truth. Thus people are urged to submit to such settled opinion without inquiry. Though God may have given teaching available to all in nature and in the Scriptures, though he may be speaking in the hearts of his children by the voice of his Spirit, all these Divine communications are set aside in favour of the one human authoritative utterance. Instead of this being subject to the test of nature, Scripture, and conscience, God's voice in those three channels is translated and often distorted into accordance with the dogma of authority.

II. IN PRIVATE JUDGMENT. The same error may be seen in the opposite direction, in a sort of ultra-Protestant employment of the right of freedom of thought. The individual man asserts his opinion as infallible, regardless of the ideas of all other people. He poses as "Athanasius contra mundum," without possessing the title to independence which was earned by the hero of Nicaea. The mischief is not that he is independent—surely everybody should think for himself; it is that he rejects all external aids to knowledge, and sets up his own reason, or often his own prejudice, as the standard of truth. He rejects the Pope of Rome that he may be his own pope. Even the Divine revelation in the Bible must be interpreted so as to agree with his opinions. Instead of going to the Scriptures as a humble learner seeking light, he approaches them as one who has made up his mind, and who mast now get the Bible to echo his notions. The same mistake is made by those who presume to judge nature or providence, thinking they would have done better if they had been in God's place.

III. IN PRAYER. Is it not very common for people to pray as though they were instructing God? They inform him of what he already knows far better than they know it themselves. God invites our confidence and confession; but this is that we may put ourselves into right relations with him, not that we may tell him anything of which he would be ignorant but for our prayer. Or people go further, and offer instructions to God as to the way in which he should act. Prayer, instead of being a supplication, becomes a dictating to God. Entreaty is virtually converted into a demand. We have to learn to submit to the higher knowledge as well as the higher authority of God. Prayer needs to be more simply the trusting of ourselves to God for him to do with us just what he knows to be best.—W.F.A.

Job 21:23-26

The common fate.

Job has pointed out that the wicked are not always punished in this life with external trouble; on the contrary, they often flourish to the end in unbroken prosperity (verse 7, etc.). He next proceeds to show that the end of the happy and the sorrowful is the same. The prosperous had man does not meet with a reverse of fortune at last, nor does the afflicted righteous man find an earthly reward in his later days. Both go down to death without a sign of the reversal of their condition which justice would seem to demand.

I. DEATH HAPPENS ALIKE TO ALL. As Shakespeare puts it, this may be said of all of us—

"Nothing can we call our own, but death:

And that small model of the barren earth,

That serves as paste and cover to our bones."

The "great leveller" should not only humble pride, but also teach us more bureau brotherhood. If we are brothers' in death, should we not he brothers also in life? The deepest facts of life are common to all men. Our differences of state and rank only affect what is superficial.

II. DEATH IS NOT FELT TO BE THE SAME BY ALL. Our feelings are affected by contrasts and changes, not by our absolute condition at any moment. The candle-light that looks brilliant to the prisoner in a dungeon, is most gloomy to a man who has just come from the sunshine. Death is all loss and darkness to one who is suddenly snatched away from earthly enjoyment, but it is a haven of rest to the storm-tossed soul. The same death has very different meanings according to our spiritual condition. In sin and worldliness and heathenish ignorance, death is a going out into the darkness. To the Christian it is falling asleep in Christ.

III. THESE IS NO EARTHLY ADJUSTMENT OF LOTS. Job is quite right. It is vain to expect it. If it has not come yet, we have no reason to believe that it will come later on, even at the last. There is nothing in experience to warrant us in the hope that it will come at all. In many respects, no doubts moral causes work out visible effects on earth. But this is by no means universal, nor are the effects always adequate to the requirements of justice.

IV. THERE MUST BE A FUTURE LIFE. The story is not complete on earth. It breaks off suddenly without any kind of finish. This abruptness of the visible ending of life points to a continuance beyond the grave. Justice requires that the unfinished life should have its appropriate conclusion. Not from necessity of nature, but from moral considerations, we conclude that the broken threads must be picked up and drawn together again to make the perfect pattern.

V. THE SPIRITUAL LIFE IS INFINITELY SUPERIOR TO THE MATERIAL. It looks as though the differences of external fortune could be treated with contempt. The good have misfortune, the bad have prosperity. These are slight matters in the eyes of Providence, because real prosperity, is spiritual prosperity, and that is only possible to those who live a right life.—W.F.A.

Job 21:34

Vain comfort.

The three bungling comforters are wasting their efforts, because they are not speaking the truth. Their misapprehension and misrepresentation vitiate all their good intentions.

I. WE MUST UNDERSTAND THOSE WHOM WE WOULD HELP.

1. By mixing with them. Job's friends took the first step. They travelled from their remote homes across the desert and came to see him. We can only help the miserable if we first go among them and see them with our own eyes. Much philanthropy fails by reason of distance and separation. We cannot know people till we are with them. Christ came down from heaven and lived among men.

2. By freedom from prejudice. Job's friends came with fixed notions. They only looked at Job through their coloured spectacles. We can never understand people till we throw aside all our preconceived notions about them and look at them as they are.

3. By sympathy. This must be insisted on over and over again. The lack of it was the chief cause of the failure of Job's friends. The presence of it is the first essential for understanding people.

II. TRUTH IS A PRIMARY CONDITION OF CONSOLATION.

1. In regard to the sufferer. It is useless to ignore his sufferings, or to try to reason him into the belief that they do not exist. The attempt to help will be spoilt if we argue that what he knows to be undeserved is really his due. Any view that does not regard him as he is spoils all efforts to console.

2. In regard to the remedy. It is worse than useless to offer wrong remedies. The trite commonplaces of consolation are only irritants. Some of them are known to be false in fact. Others have not the ring of sincerity about them when repeated by the comforting friend. However true they have been once, they have ceased to bear any meaning that people believe in.

III. SPIRITUAL CONSOLATION IS CONDITIONED BY SPIRITUAL TRUTH.

1. In thought. We cannot console others with dogmas that we do not believe in ourselves. If we have no faith in Christ we cannot use the Name of Christ to heal the wounds of others. Unless we look forward to a future life it is vain for us to talk about the "many mansions" when we are trying to console others. There is a foolish notion that we should talk up to the maximum of orthodoxy, even though we do not live and think up to it. But this notion is only an excuse for cant, and nothing is more vexing to the sufferer than to be treated with cant. Let us say only what we believe.

2. In fact. Delusions cannot afford permanent consolations, They may soothe pain and alarm for the moment; but they cannot endure, and when the mistake of them is discovered the result will be a deeper despair than ever. If, however, we could succeed in lulling all distress on earth by means of a false hope, the consolation itself would be a most terrible calamity. The soul needs truth more than comfort. It is better to hear the painful truth now than at the great judgment. But there is another truth, one which gives real consolation—the truth of the gospel of Christ.—W.F.A.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Job 21:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/job-21.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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