Job 21


‘Then Job replied: “Listen carefully to my words; let this be the consolation you give me. Bear with me while I speak, and after I have spoken, mock on. “Is my complaint directed to a human being? Why should I not be impatient? Look at me and be appalled; clap your hand over your mouth. When I think about this, I am terrified; trembling seizes my body. Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? They see their children established around them, their offspring before their eyes. Their homes are safe and free from fear; the rod of God is not on them. Their bulls never fail to breed; their cows calve and do not miscarry. They send forth their children as a flock; their little ones dance about. They sing to the music of timbrel and lyre; they make merry to the sound of the pipe. They spend their years in prosperity and go down to the grave in peace. Yet they say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?’ But their prosperity is not in their own hands, so I stand aloof from the plans of the wicked.’ Job 21:1-16

Job’s Response

This is one of the shortest responses from Job where he describes how wicked people succeed and prosper. He believes if he can convince his friends why the wicked prosper for a long time, even up to death, then he will be able to make his point. If he can do that, then his friends would have other ideas as to why Job is suffering.

Job asks them to listen carefully to what he is about to say, this implies, that they haven’t really listened to anything he has said up to this point or not taken what he has said seriously.

He asks them to mock him, only after he has said everything he is about to say. Although Job would prefer to speak to God, Job 16:20, he wants them to be quiet and give a serious reflection on his points.

As Job gets into his argument, he knows that his friends have maintained that sin produces suffering, and suffering is proof of sin. If Job can show that those who openly and blatantly sin are not punished, then their argument can’t stand.

Earlier, Zophar argued that the wicked die prematurely, Job 20:11, but Job here, says that the opposite is true. He says they not only live on, but they also grow in strength.

Earlier, Bildad argued that the wicked die without children, Job 18:19, but here, Job contradicts this, demonstrating how the wicked have large and prosperous families just like anyone else.

Earlier, Eliphaz spoke about what happens to the house, or tent of the wicked, saying that it is not going to stand, Job 5:24, here, Job says the direct opposite, and he demonstrates that security also belongs to the wicked, Job 12:6.

Notice all the positive things which happen to the wicked.

1. The wicked have prosperous flocks, Job 21:10.

2. The wicked have happy, playful children, Job 21:11-12.

3. The wicked have wealth, even until death, Job 21:13.

Job also argues that positive things happen even though the wicked act arrogantly against God. If the poor pray for profit, and yet remain poor, then we assume that God didn’t answer their prayer. When the rich prosper but don’t pray, then we must assume that God isn’t blessing them.

Notice how Job uses the word, ‘wicked’ throughout his response, Job 21:7 / Job 21:16-17 / Job 21:28 / Job 21:30.

‘Yet how often is the lamp of the wicked snuffed out? How often does calamity come upon them, the fate God allots in his anger? How often are they like straw before the wind, like chaff swept away by a gale? It is said, ‘God stores up the punishment of the wicked for their children.’ Let him repay the wicked, so that they themselves will experience it! Let their own eyes see their destruction; let them drink the cup of the wrath of the Almighty. For what do they care about the families they leave behind when their allotted months come to an end?’ Job 21:17-21

Job now asks a series of questions, designed to get his friends to come up with answers. His friends have been arguing that the wicked always suffer, but Job asks them, how often have you seen this happen?

His friends have been suggesting if the wicked person doesn’t suffer for their sins, then his children will suffer, Job 5:4 / Job 20:10, but Job says that God would be unjust if He inflicted the children with the father’s sins, Exodus 20:5 / Jeremiah 31:29-30. Furthermore, what does a sinner care about what is to take place after he dies? 2 Kings 20:18-19.

The wicked care little for those who come after him, and so, punishment of the children of the wicked will have little consequence in reference to punishing the wicked.

‘Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest? One person dies in full vigour, completely secure and at ease, well-nourished in body, bones rich with marrow. Another dies in bitterness of soul, never having enjoyed anything good. Side by side they lie in the dust, and worms cover them both.’ Job 21:22-26

Job argues that instead of being unjust in His treatment of the wicked and their children, God knows exactly what He is doing when it comes to dealing with man. God will do what is right, Genesis 18:25, and He will correctly deal with the sinner, Ezekiel 18:20.

Job finishes this part of his argument by saying that no one can predict who will prosper and who will not. Death seizes both the wicked and the righteous without caring who was what.

‘I know full well what you are thinking, the schemes by which you would wrong me. You say, ‘Where now is the house of the great, the tents where the wicked lived?’ Have you never questioned those who travel? Have you paid no regard to their accounts—that the wicked are spared from the day of calamity, that they are delivered from the day of wrath? Who denounces their conduct to their face? Who repays them for what they have done? They are carried to the grave, and watch is kept over their tombs. The soil in the valley is sweet to them; everyone follows after them, and a countless throng goes before them. “So how can you console me with your nonsense? Nothing is left of your answers but falsehood!” Job 21:27-34

Job is a perfect example of someone who knows how to debate, that is, someone who knows other people’s arguments better than they do themselves.

He’s listened to his friend’s arguments, Job 18:14-18 / Job 20:26-28, they’ve all asked, ‘where is the house of the great, the tents where the wicked lived?, Bildad, Job 8:22 / Job 18:4, Eliphaz, Job 5:24, and Zophar, Job 20:26.

They believe that the wicked suffer by losing their homes, after all, Job has lost his home, and so, by default, Job is wicked, James 4:12.

Job finishes his response by asking, ‘have you never questioned those who travel? In other words, how much they have learned. He says, if they had asked them, they would have told them the opposite of what they believed.

These travellers had seen wicked men go to the grave in peace and be buried with great ceremony. Job answered all their arguments because he had directed his answers to their conclusions, which were erroneous.

Coffman, in his commentary, paraphrases these verses as follows.

‘How could you say a thing like that? Ask anyone who has travelled, and knows the way of the world, what happens to an evil ruler. The evil flatterers that surround him would not dare accuse him of any wrongdoing and when he dies, his body will be ceremoniously carried to a magnificent tomb, a monument will be erected, and an honour guard will stand by the grave!’

Go To Job 22