Job 21:17
How oft is the candle of the wicked put out! and how oft cometh their destruction upon them! God distributeth sorrows in his anger.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17) How oft is the candle of the wicked put out?—This and the following verse are either a concession on the part of Job, as much as to say, “I admit that it is as you say with the wicked;” or else they should be read interrogatively, “How often is it that we do see this? “

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

21:17-26 Job had described the prosperity of wicked people; in these verses he opposes this to what his friends had maintained about their certain ruin in this life. He reconciles this to the holiness and justice of God. Even while they prosper thus, they are light and worthless, of no account with God, or with wise men. In the height of their pomp and power, there is but a step between them and ruin. Job refers the difference Providence makes between one wicked man and another, into the wisdom of God. He is Judge of all the earth, and he will do right. So vast is the disproportion between time and eternity, that if hell be the lot of every sinner at last, it makes little difference if one goes singing thither, and another sighing. If one wicked man die in a palace, and another in a dungeon, the worm that dies not, and the fire that is not quenched, will be the same to them. Thus differences in this world are not worth perplexing ourselves about.How oft is the candle of the wicked put out? - Margin, "lamp." A light, or a lamp, was an image of prosperity. There is, probably, an allusion here to what had been maintained by Bildad, Job 18:5-6, that the light of the wicked would be extinguished, and their dwellings made dark; see the notes at those verses. Job replies to this by asking how often it occurred. He inquires whether it was a frequent thing. By this, he implies that it was not universal; that it was a less frequent occurrence than they supposed. The meaning is, "How often does it, in fact, happen that the light of the wicked is extinguished, and that God distributes sorrows among them in his anger? Much less frequently than you suppose, for he bestows upon many of them tokens of abundant prosperity." In this manner, by an appeal to "fact" and "observation," Job aims to convince them that their position was wrong, and that it was not true that the wicked were invariably overwhelmed with calamity, as they had maintained.

God distributeth sorrows - The word "God" here, is understood, but there can be no doubt that it is correct. Job means to ask, how often it was true in fact that God "apportioned" the sorrows which he sent on men in accordance with their character. How often, in fact, did he treat the wicked as they deserved, and overwhelm them with calamity. It was not true that he did it, by any means, as often as they maintained, or so as to make it a certain rule in judging of character.

Job 21:17-18

17. Job in this whole passage down to Job 21:21 quotes the assertion of the friends, as to the short continuance of the sinner's prosperity, not his own sentiments. In Job 21:22 he proceeds to refute them. "How oft is the candle" (lamp), &c., quoting Bildad's sentiment (Job 18:5, 6), in order to question its truth (compare Mt 25:8).

how oft—"God distributeth," &c. (alluding to Job 20:23, 29).

sorrows—Umbreit translates "snares," literally, "cords," which lightning in its twining motion resembles (Ps 11:6).

How oft! this phrase notes either,

1. The rarity and seldomness of it. This. I confess, sometimes happens, but not oft. Or rather,

2. The frequency of it. I grant that this happens oft, though not constantly, as you affirm. And this seems best to agree both with the use of this phrase in Scripture, where it notes frequency, as Psalm 78:40 Matthew 18:21 Luke 13:34, and never seldomness; and with the foregoing words, as a reason why the counsel of the wicked was far from him, because they ofttimes pay dear for it in this life, and always in the next life; and with the following verses, wherein he discourseth largely, not of the prosperity of the wicked, (as he should have done, if the sense of these words were this, that such were but seldom afflicted,) but of their calamities. The candle, or lamp, i. e. their glory and outward happiness; as Job 8:6 2 Samuel 21:17 Psalm 132:17.

God distributeth: God is manifestly understood out of the following words, this being God’s work, and proceeding from God’s anger.

How oft is the candle of the wicked put out?.... Job here returns, as Jarchi observes, to his former account of the constant and continued prosperity of wicked men; and puts questions tending to prove the same. Bildad had said, that the light and candle of the wicked would be put out, Job 18:5. Job, referring to this, asks how often this is the case; meaning, by the candle of the wicked, not his soul or spirit, which cannot be put out, or become extinct, as to be no more; nor the light of nature in his soul, though that may be put out in a great measure, and he be given up to judicial blindness and hardness of heart; but either his natural life, which, like a candle, burns for a while, and then becomes extinct, or rather his outward prosperity and happiness: if the question relates to the former, to the natural life of wicked men, it is not whether they die, that is no question; all die, good and bad; but whether they die in common sooner than others, or whether the instances of the brevity of the life of wicked men were frequent, or but seldom; or, is this always the case? it is not, it is rare, and not common; they live as long as other men, and oftentimes longer; they live and become old, as Job before observes; they prolong their days in their wickedness; or, if this refers to the latter, the prosperity of the wicked, the question is, is that for the most part a short lived prosperity? it is not, it is but rarely so; wicked men generally spend all their days in wealth, as before observed; so Ramban interprets "how oft", that is, how seldom; and to the same sense Mr. Broughton,

"not so often is the candle of the wicked put out;''

and how oft cometh their destruction upon them? not eternal, but temporal destruction, calamities and distresses; these are threatened them, but they are not executed on them immediately; and therefore their hearts are set in them to do evil: generally speaking, they have their good things here; they are filled with hidden treasure, which they enjoy while they live, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes; they are not destroyed on every side, as Job was; their substance, their cattle, their servants, their children, and their own health. Job asks how often this is their case, as had been his; and his sense is, and what experience testifies, it is but rarely the, case of wicked men; he seems to refer to what is said, Job 18:12.

God distributeth sorrows in his anger; or rather, "how oft doth he distribute sorrows in his anger?" but seldom; he is angry with the wicked every day, and reserves wrath for them, and many sorrows shall be to them, but not for the present; those are future, and even such as of a woman in travail, as the word used signifies, and which shall come upon them suddenly and certainly, and there will be no avoiding them; see Psalm 32:10; but does God frequently distribute or portion out sorrows to them now? he does not; they have their portion of good things in this life; does he usually give them sorrow of heart, his curse unto them? he does not; it is very seldom he does; they are not in trouble, nor plagued as other men; they are not men of sorrows and acquainted with griefs; they are generally strangers to them, and live merrily all their days, Job 21:12; respect seems to be had to the conclusion of Zophar's speech, Job 20:29.

How oft is the candle of the wicked put out! and how oft cometh their destruction upon them! God distributeth sorrows in his anger.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17–21. The negative side of his theme is now illustrated by Job. In Job 21:7-16 he shewed that the wicked enjoy great, life-long prosperity; now he shews that they are free from calamity; such sudden and disastrous visitations of God do not come upon them as the friends incessantly insisted on. The interrogation, How often? means, What examples can be produced of such a thing? and goes to the end of Job 21:18.

17.  How often is the lamp of the wicked put out?

And how often doth their destruction come upon them,

And God distribute sorrows in his anger?

18.  How often are they as stubble before the wind

And as chaff that the storm carrieth away?

The A. V., by making How oft! an exclamation, gives a sense the opposite of that expressed by the speaker. The question in the first clause of Job 21:17 runs athwart Bildad’s assertions ch. Job 18:5-6, The light of the wicked shall be put out; the second clause contradicts ch. Job 18:12; with the third clause compare ch. Job 20:23.

The images in Job 21:18 are familiar for utter destruction. They are taken from the threshing-floor, which was high and open that the force of the wind might be caught in winnowing, cf. Psalm 1:4; Isaiah 17:13.

Verse 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" (Psalm 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 21:1717 How rarely is the light of the wicked put out,

And their calamity breaketh in upon them,

That He distributeth snares in his wrath,

18 That they become as straw before the wind,

And as chaff which the storm sweepeth away!?

19 "Eloah layeth up his iniquity for his children!"

May He recompense it to him that he may feel it.

20 May his own eyes see his ruin,

And let him drink of the glowing wrath of the Almighty.

21 For what careth he for his house after him,

When the number of his months is cut off?

The interrogative כּמּה has here the same signification as in Psalm 78:40 : how often (comp. Job 7:19, how long? Job 13:23, how many?), but in the sense of "how seldom?!" How seldom does what the friends preach to him come to pass, that the lamp of the wicked is put out (thus Bildad, Job 13:5), and their misfortune breaks in upon them (יבא, ingruit; thus Bildad, Job 18:12 : misfortune, איד, prop. pressure of suffering, stands ready for his fall), that He distributes (comp. Zophar's "this is the portion of the wicked man," i.e., what is allotted to him, Job 20:29) snares in His wrath. Hirz., Ew., Schlottm., and others, translate הבלים, after the precedent of the Targ. (עדבין, sortes), "lots," since they understand it, after Psalm 16:6, of visitations of punishment allotted, and as it were measured out with a measuring-line; but that passage is to be translated, "the measuring-lines have fallen to me in pleasant places," and indeed חבל can signify the land that is allotted to one (Joshua 17:14, comp. Joshua 17:5); but the plural does not occur in that tropical sense, and if it were so intended here, חבליהם or חבלים להם might at least be expected. Rosenm., Ges., Vaih., and Carey transl. with lxx and Jer. (ὠδῖνες, dolores) "pains," but הבלים is the peculiar word for the writhings of those in travail (Job 39:3), which is not suited here. Schnurr. and Umbr. are nearer to the correct interpretation when they understand חבלים like פחים, Psalm 11:6, of lightning, as it were fiery strings cast down from above. If we call to mind in how many ways Bildad, Job 18:8-10, has represented the end of the godless as a divinely decreed seizure, it is certainly the most natural, with Stick. and Hahn, to translate (as if it were Arabic ḥabâ'ilin) "snares," to be understood after the idea, however, not of lightning, but generally of ensnaring destinies (e.g., חבלי עני, Job 36:8).

Both Job 21:17 with its three members and Job 21:18 with two, are under the control of כמה. The figure of straw, or rather chopped straw (Arab. tibn, tabn), occurs only here. The figure of chaff is more frequent, e.g., Psalm 1:4. Job here puts in the form of a question what Psalm 1:1-6 maintains, being urged on by Zophar's false application and superficial comprehension of the truth expressed in the opening of the Psalter. What next follows in Job 21:19 is an objection of the friends in vindication of their thesis, which he anticipates and answers; perhaps the clause is to be spoken with an interrogative accent: Eloah will - so ye object - reserve his evil for his children? אונו, not from און, strength, wealth, as Job 18:7, Job 18:12; Job 20:10; Job 40:16, but from און, wickedness (Job 11:11) and evil (Job 15:35), here (without making it clear which) of wickedness punishing itself by calamity, or of calamity which must come forth from the wickedness as a moral necessity comp. on Job 15:31. That this is really the opinion of the friends: God punishes the guilt of the godless, if not in himself, at least in his children, is seen from Job 20:10; Job 5:4. Job as little as Ezekiel, ch. 18, disputes the doctrine of retribution in itself, but that imperfect apprehension, which, in order that the necessary satisfaction may be rendered to divine justice, maintains a transfer of the punishment which is opposed to the very nature of personality and freedom: may He recompense him himself, וידע, that he may feel it, i.e., repent (which would be in Arab. in a similar sense, faja'lamu; ידע as Isaiah 9:8; Hosea 9:7; Ezekiel 25:14).

Job 21:20 continues in the same jussive forms; the ἅπ. γεγρ. כּיד signifies destruction (prop. a thrust, blow), in which sense the Arab. caid (commonly: cunning) is also sometimes used. The primary signification of the root כד, Arab. kd, is to strike, push; from this, in the stems Arab. kâd, med. Wau and med. Je, Arab. kdd, kdkd, the most diversified turns and applications are developed; from it the signif. of כּידוד, Job 41:11, כּידון, Job 39:23, and according to Fleischer (vid., supra, pp. 388) also of כּידור, are explained. Job 21:20, as Psalm 60:5; Obadiah 1:16, refers to the figure of the cup of the wrath of God which is worked out by Asaph, Psalm 75:9, and then by the prophets, and by the apocalyptic seer in the New Testament. The emphasis lies on the signs of the person in עינו (עיניו) and ישׁתּה. The rather may his own eyes see his ruin, may he himself have to drink of the divine wrath; for what is his interest (what interest has he) in his house after him? מה puts a question with a negative meaning (hence Arab. mâ is directly used as non); חפץ, prop. inclination, corresponds exactly to the word "interest" (quid ejus interest), as Job 22:3, comp. Isaiah 58:3, Isaiah 58:13 (following his own interest), without being weakened to the signification, affair, πραγμα, a meaning which does not occur in our poet or in Isaiah. JObadiah 21:21 is added as a circumstantial clause to the question in Job 21:21: while the number of his own months ... , and the predicate, as in Job 15:20 (which see), is in the plur. per attractionem. Schnurr., Hirz., Umbr., and others explain: if the number of his months is drawn by lot, i.e., is run out; but חצץ as v. denom. from חץ morf, in the signification to shake up arrows as sticks for drawing lots (Arab. sahm, an arrow and a lot, just so Persian tı̂r) in the helmet or elsewhere (comp. Ezekiel 21:26), is foreign to the usage of the Hebrew language (for מחצצים, Judges 5:11, signifies not those drawing lots, but the archers); besides, חצּץ (pass. חצּץ) would signify "to draw lots," not "to dispose of by lot," and "disposed of by lot" is an awkward metaphor for "run out." Cocceius also gives the choice of returning to חצץ, ψῆφος, in connection with this derivation: calculati sive ad calculum, i.e., pleno numero egressi, which has still less ground. Better Ges., Ew., and others: if the number of his months is distributed, i.e., to him, so that he (this is the meaning according to Ew.) can at least enjoy his prosperity undisturbed within the limit of life appointed to him. By this interpretation one misses the לו which is wanting, and an interpretation which does not require it to be supplied is therefore to be preferred. All the divers significations of the verbs חצץ (to divide, whence Proverbs 30:27, חצץ, forming divisions, i.e., in rank and file, denom. to shoot with the arrow, Talm. to distribute, to halve, to form a partition), חצה (to divide, Job 40:20; to divide in two equal parts), Arab. hṣṣ (to divide, whence Arab. hṣṣah, portio), and Arab. chṣṣ (to separate, particularize) - to which, however, Arab. chṭṭ (to draw, write), which Ew. compares here, does not belong - are referable to the primary signification scindere, to cut through, split (whence חץ, an arrow, lxx 1 Samuel 20:20, σχίζα); accordingly the present passage is to be explained: when the number of his months is cut off (Hlgst., Hahn), or cut through, i.e., when a bound is set to the course of his life at which it ends (comp. בּצּע, of the cutting off of the thread of life, Job 6:9; Job 27:8, Arab. ṣrm). Job 14:21., Ecclesiastes 3:22, are parallels to Job 21:21. Death is the end of all clear thought and perception. If therefore the godless receives the reward of his deeds, he should receive it not in his children, but in his own body during life. But this is the very thing that is too frequently found to be wanting.

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