Diverse Interpretations of Life
Job 21:1-34
But Job answered and said,…

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. (Vers. 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 Psalm 37:1; Psalm 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.


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

(1) The wicked are fortunate in their persons (ver. 7). Instead of being cut off by premature death, as Zophar had maintained, they remain in vigour to a good old age.

(2) In their families. They see their posterity flourishing before them like young scions from the old root (ver. 8).

(3) In their houses. Peace dwells there, free from alarm, and no chastising rod of Providence falls upon them (ver. 9).

(4) In their herds and flocks - the great elements of Oriental wealth (vers. 10, 11).

(5) In their merry life. Sportive throngs of children play around them, full of joyous pranks and frolic, while the sound of music charms the ear (vers. 11, 12).

(6) Their easy death. Their days are spent in comfort to the very last, quite in opposition to the gloomy pictures which the friends have drawn of their fearful and violent ends (Job 11:20; Job 18:14; Job 20:11). They disappear suddenly, painlessly, into the unseen world - theirs is a euthanasia (ver. 13)! Such a life may be lived, such a death may be met, without a spark of religion to justify or explain it (vers. 14, 15). They are men, these wicked ones, whose language to God has been, "Depart from us!" Their happiness awakens no gratitude towards its Source; they deem worship and prayer to be useless. Job proceeds with his description, and declares further, to support his position, "Lo, not in their hand stands their good." That is, not they are, but God is himself, the Author of their prosperity; and it is this which makes the problem so dark and hard to solve. "The counsel of the wicked be far from reel' (ver. 16). Here flashes out once more the true, deep faith of the patriarch. Despite all the mystery and all the temptation, he will endure to the end; never will he renounce his God (Job 1:11; Job 2:5).

2. These lessons of experience confirmed, with reference to the positions of the friends. (Vers. 17-21.) Bildad had spoken (Job 18:5, 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 (ver. 17). This doubting questioning still continues in ver. 18, "How often do they become as straw before the wind, and like chaff which the tempest carries away?" (see Job 20:8, 9). "God lays up for his children his calamity?" referring to Eliphaz's words (ver. 4) and Zophar's (Job 20:10). Job proceeds (ver. 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 (ver. 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. (Vers. 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?" (ver. 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 (vers. 23, 24). Another dies with bitterness in his soul, and has not enjoyed good (ver. 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" (ver. 26).

III. CORRECTION OF HIS FRIENDS FOR THEIR PARTIAL JUDGMENT OF THE OUTWARD CONDITION OF MEN. (Vers. 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, 21) of the overthrow of the tent of the wicked man (ver. 28). Have they, then, not asked the wanderers by the way (Lamentations 1:12; Psalm 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 (ver. 29). Then follow the summary contents of these people's experiences (ver. 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?" (ver. 31). This is Job's question. It concerns God, the unfathomably wise and mighty Author of the destinies of men. "And he" (alluding to ver. 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. Ver. 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. (Ver. 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" (Horace,'Od.,' 2:10. 10; Juvenal, 'Sat.,' 10:104, sqq. on the fate of Sojanus). 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.

Parallel Verses
KJV: But Job answered and said,

WEB: Then Job answered,

The Final Testimony Against Ungodliness
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