New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Job 21:1 Then Job answered- I have consistently noted how Job actually engages with the words of the friends, whereas they pay little attention to his words and attack him in terms of the straw man they have created. See on :2.

Job 21:2 Listen diligently to my speech. Let this be your consolation-
As noted on :1, Job engages with what the friends have said, whereas they attack him in terms of vague generalities without such specific engagement with his words. In this chapter he specifically answers what Zophar has said in Job 20. He argues that (contrary to what Zophar has just claimed in the previous speech) in fact the wicked are rarely cut down in this life, instead they prosper (:17,18). And their children often don't suffer for the sins of the parents but instead profit from them (:19-21). 

Job 21:3 Allow me, and I also will speak; after I have spoken, mock on-
This may be an invitation to them to hear what he has actually said and only then "mock on", rather than continually attacking the straw man image of him they had created in their minds (see on :1,2). "Mock" is the word for "scorn" used of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus, the suffering servant based upon Job (Ps. 22:7). The application to Hezekiah's time is that the people of Judah were likewise scorned by their enemies (Is. 37:22); and to the exiles in that they too were mocked by the opponents to the rebuilding by men who came from the same ethnic background as the three friends (s.w. Neh. 2:19; 4:1).

Job 21:4 As for me, is my complaint to man? Why shouldn’t I be impatient?-
Job fell into the trap of thinking that his terrible situation somehow allowed him to speak whatever words came into his head. Job felt he hadn’t been ‘fed’ and so he was entitled to “bray” and “low” over his misfortune (Job 6:5). Because of the weight of his sufferings, he thereby justified the fact that "Therefore have my words been rash (Job 6:3). Likewise “Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit” (Job 7:11). “I will give free course to my complaint. I will speak in the bitterness of my soul” (Job 10:1 RV). Zophar criticizes Job being “full of talk” and speaking “the multitude of words”, “for thou sayest, my doctrine is pure” (Job 11:1-4)- as if Job felt that because he held true doctrine he was justified in pouring out words as he did. “Why should I not be impatient?” (Job 21:4 RV). “Today is my complaint bitter. My stroke is heavier than my groaning” (Job 23:2)- i.e. his complaining was due to his sufferings. “If I hold my peace, I shall give up the spirit” (Job 13:19 RVmg.). Job felt that the situation he was in forced him to use the words he did, and certainly justified it [we may well have used this reasoning ourselves when justifying the use of bad language]. But in the end, Elihu on God’s behalf rebuked him for his wrong words. And Job himself recognized: “I am vile. I will lay mine hand upon my mouth” in regret of his words (Job 40:4). “Wherefore I loathe my words and repent” (Job 42:6 RVmg.). He realized his mistake: he had thought that the situation justified his words. Now he hung his head and admitted that there was no justification for speaking in the way he had. Especially in the matter of the tongue, we can so easily justify ourselves; ‘I only said / did it [or didn’t do it] because…’. And it is all so child-like. Once we leave off all attempts at self-justification, we will face up to our sins.

Job 21:5 Look at me, and be astonished. Lay your hand on your mouth-
When Job finally lays his hand upon his own mouth (Job 40:4), he is only doing what he had earlier told the friends to do in recognition of their folly (Job 13:5; 21:5). Through the pain and irritation of their speeches, Job came to value and appreciate the need for silence before God. But it was only when personally confronted by God at the end that he realizes that he too had spoken too much and he repents of that in silence.

Job 21:6 When I remember, I am troubled. Horror takes hold of my flesh-
This horror was at the thought that although the wicked were not judged in this life, they would face a terrible future condemnation, and despite his own desperate illness and situation, he looked out of himself as did the Lord on the way to the cross, to deeply mourn the future judgment of the wicked at the last day. Here we have a wonderful window onto Job's basic loving, saving concern for others. No wonder he was the one chosen to be their representative saviour, suffering the judgment of their sins, and then invited to pray and sacrifice to bring about the salvation of the friends and his own family who had rejected him. If we too have a heart that bleeds for the condemnation of others, we will be used to save them. This is the prime qualification for all evangelism. It is this which God will use, rather than having apparently persuasive technique and evangelism materials.

Job 21:7 Why do the wicked live, become old, yes, and grow mighty in power?-
The answer to this question is what had made Job shudder in :6. The answer is that they will come to their judgment at the last day, as they clearly don't face it in this life.

Job 21:8 Their child is established with them in their sight, their offspring before their eyes-
In contrast to Job's children who were dead. The point is that Job is answering Zophar's claims that the wicked are punished through the suffering of their children, but Job is saying that this simply doesn't correspond to observable reality. Note that he engages with the words of the friends, whereas they largely ignore his words. See on See on :1,2,17.


Job 21:9 Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them-
Their houses compare with Job's, which fell down as a result of the Angel-satan whirlwind. Earlier in Job 9:34 Job pleaded: "Let Him take His rod away from me, and let not His fear terrify me". He felt he was suffering the punishment of the wicked in this life, and therefore he was drawn towards the conclusion that he would not therefore suffer it at the last day- but rather then be saved.

Job 21:10 Their bulls breed without fail. Their cows calve, and don’t miscarry-
Miscarriage was understood as a Divine curse (s.w. Gen. 31:38; Jer. 15:7; Hos. 9:14; Mal. 3:11). It had come upon Job, but apparently not upon "the wicked". But the references just quoted in the prophets show that it was to come upon the apostate people of God. And this is Job's point. Judgment doesn't immediately come, but it will. And he was suffering those judgments because he was representative of sinners whilst himself innocent, in the spirit of the future Lord Jesus.

Job 21:11 They send forth their little ones like a flock. Their children dance-
Again Job is answering Zophar's claim that the children of the wicked are punished, just as Job's children had been. But as noted on :1,2,8,17, Job is saying that this is just not true according to observed reality. There is a longer term Divine game plan here and Job is ever more clearly seeing it.

Job 21:12 They sing to the tambourine and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the pipe-
This is the language of partying. Job's children had partied regularly like this, and the fire of God had consumed them in judgment. This could be a tacit recognition from Job that his children had indeed sinned, his sin offerings for them had not of themselves been efficacious, his children had been slain "in an instant" (:13); but there still remained the mystery, that the same sin leads to immediate judgment for some, but not for others. He could even be implying that because his children had suffered it in this life, there would be future hope for their salvation. And this connects with the possibility that his slain children were resurrected, thanks to his being their sin bearer in his own body, when all things in his life are restored at the end. See on Job 42:13.

Job 21:13 They spend their days in prosperity. In an instant they go down to Sheol-
The idea is that they die an easy, quick and painless death. Job was dying a hard and slow death, inching ever closer to sheol rather than going there "in an instant".

Job 21:14 They tell God, ‘Depart from us, for we don’t want to know about Your ways-
Again as noted on :12, Job may be admitting that his children had indeed cursed God in their hearts, renouncing Him (Job 1:5). For he seems to be saying that his children had been judged in this life for their sins, but those who did the same as they had but who avoided such judgment would be judged and condemned at the last day. There may be in 1 Tim. 5:24 the idea that if we are judged for our sins in this life, we shall not be in the last day; and the reverse is true. This again could support the possibility discussed on Job 42:3 that Job's slain children were resurrected when he was restored. See on :23. His sin offerings for them couldn't achieve this of themselves; but his representative suffering for them could. And this of course looks ahead to the work of the Lord Jesus, saving those whom Mosaic sacrifices of themselves couldn't save.

Job 21:15 What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? What profit should we have, if we pray to Him?’-
Note the parallel between praying to God and serving Him. Those who feel incapacitate to physically serve God can take comfort from the fact that the Bible presents prayer as serving God. Again as noted on :14, Job may be admitting that his children had indeed cursed God in their hearts, renouncing Him (Job 1:5). These words are misquoted by Elihu in Job 35:3 as if Job has said this about himself and about there being no profit in serving or praying to God. Yet Elihu claims to speak on God's behalf. We can however understand Elihu as merely reiterating the position of the friends, as a kind of summary at the end of their dialogues; and at the same time giving a foretaste of the speeches of God which are to come. He therefore serves as a literary device in the story, particularly required for an illiterate audience hearing or viewing the drama presented, and having inevitably forgotten the details of all the positions previously presented.

The idols and the Gentile nations amongst whom the exiles lived would not "profit" them (Is. 30:5,6; 44:9,10); but as the book of Esther makes clear, they were profiting well, apparently, from remaining amongst them. But the only real "profit" would be if they quit all that and returned to Zion (Is. 48:17 s.w.). But they saw no "profit" in being forgiven and restored as God's people (s.w. Job 35:3). Rather they considered the temporal "profit" of life in Babylon as far greater profit.

Job 21:16 Behold, their prosperity is not in their hand. The counsel of the wicked is far from me-
The idea may be as GNB "They claim they succeed by their own strength, but their way of thinking I can't accept". Job is saying that citing the various calamities of the wicked, as Zophar has just done, is not relevant to him personally as he doesn't act and think as the wicked to.

Job 21:17 How often is it that the lamp of the wicked is put out, that their calamity comes on them, that God distributes sorrows to them in His anger?-
The answer of course is intended to be 'Not often!'. He argues (contrary to what Zophar has just claimed in the previous speech) that in fact the wicked are rarely cut down in this life, instead they prosper (:17,18). And their children often don't suffer for the sins of the parents but instead profit from them (:19-21). We again must note how Job actually engages with the words of the friends, whereas they increasingly ignore his words and attack the image of "Job" which they have falsely created in their own minds. See on :1,2,8.

Job 21:18 How often is it that they are as stubble before the wind, as chaff that the storm carries away?-
This is the language of the latter day destruction of the wicked at judgment day (Is. 17:13; Dan. 2:35). Job is saying that they do not have their judgment in this life, unlike his sinful children who did have it in this life; but they will be judged at the last day. He is driven towards his understanding of the last day by his own experience of injustice and the very differing judgment which sinners experience. All our struggles with the injustice of life today are designed to bring us to a similar focus- upon the return of the Lord Jesus as the just judge, and the establishment of eternal justice.

Job 21:19 You say, ‘God lays up his iniquity for his children’. Let him recompense it to himself, that he may know it-
GNB "You claim God punishes a child for the sins of his father. No! Let God punish the sinners themselves; let him show that he does it because of their sins". This was particularly relevant to the exiles, who considered they were unjustly suffering for their fathers' sins, and whose arguments are likewise challenged in Ez. 18. And in Job's immediate context, he is tacitly admitting that his children had indeed sinned and been punished- but not for his sins, but for their own sins, which he clearly was not involved in.

Job 21:20 Let his own eyes see his destruction. Let him drink of the wrath of the Almighty-
GNB "Let sinners bear their own punishment; let them feel the wrath of Almighty God". See on :19.

Job 21:21 For what does he care for his house after him, when the number of his months is cut off?-
The idea is that in fact the wickedness of the sinner is often not visited upon their children. Job argues (contrary to what Zophar has just claimed in the previous speech) that in fact the wicked are rarely cut down in this life, instead they prosper (:17,18). And their children often don't suffer for the sins of the parents but instead profit from them (:19-21). We again must note how Job actually engages with the words of the friends, whereas they increasingly ignore his words and attack the image of "Job" which they have falsely created in their own minds. See on :1,2.

Job 21:22 Shall any teach God knowledge, since He judges those who are high?-
"Even those in high places" (GNB). The three friends have similarities with the Jewish system. When Job speaks of "the wicked" he is digging at the friends, as they do at him when they speak of the wicked. Thus he implies here that they were trying to "teach God knowledge" - alluded to in Rom. 11:34 and 1 Cor. 2:16, where the Jews are mocked for thinking they can instruct God and be "His counsellor", thus linking the friends with the Jews. As Job suffered the judgments for their sins and finally redeemed them, so the Lord Jesus did for Israel.

Job 21:23 One dies in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet-
The idea is that "one sinner" has an easy death, whereas others have Divine judgment in this life (:25). Job has earlier accused the friends of those being "at ease" (s.w. Job 12:5). He sees them as therefore being liable to future judgment, seeing they were not receiving judgment in this life. Job had earlier lived a "quiet" life (s.w. Job 16:12). But now that had been interrupted; he was experiencing judgment now, so that he would not face it in the last day. And earlier in this chapter it seems that he considered that this is what his sinful children had experienced when God slew them, paving the way for the idea that in fact they were resurrected thanks to his restoration- see on Job 42:3. 

Job 21:24 His pails are full of milk. The marrow of his bones is moistened-
Job's bones are often mentioned as suffering; he was receiving judgment in this life so he didn't have to face it at the last day (as in 1 Tim. 5:24). The satan had been given specific authority to see Job's bones suffer (Job 2:5). His suffering of the condemnation of the wicked, whose bones were to suffer, was allowed on the specific understanding that God considered him righteous and not a sinner. This had been completely and willfully forgotten by the friends, who were the "sons of God" party to those initial discussions with God in the prologue. 

Job 21:25 Another dies in bitterness of soul, and never tastes of good-
"Bitterness of soul" is the very phrase Job uses about himself (Job 3:20; 7:11; 10:1). He clearly has himself in view. His idea is that some get their judgment in this life, as he was; and he contrasts himself with those like the friends who don't have their judgment now, but shall have it in the last day.

Job 21:26 They lie down alike in the dust. The worm covers them-
The implication of Job's argument, as noted on :6, is that indeed all experience death, but the difference will be at the future judgment. Job's belief in the mortality of man and death as an unconscious state is hereby revealed, and it likely stood in contrast to the majority views of the time.

Job 21:27 Behold, I know your thoughts, the devices with which you would wrong me-
The friends are accused of 'wronging' Job by wicked "devices"; of actually planning wrong against him. 'Wronging' is the same word as "shake off" in Job 15:33. Eliphaz was so convinced that God would do Job 'wrong' that he developed to the point of actually devising to do wrong to Job, thus confirming the sense that the friends became the 'Satan' figure and actually did the evil to Job which he initially wanted done.

Job 21:28 For you say, ‘Where is the house of the prince? Where is the tent in which the wicked lived?’-
"The [wicked] prince" clearly refers to Job. The friends have not exactly aid these words, but Job as it were places the implication of their positions in inverted commas, as if they had really said this in so many words- when actually they had only implied it. So again we see how dialogue goes so wrong, when parties become sure that the implication of others' positions is what they have actually said- when they haven't. The friends do the same to Job, but we can say that Job does so more accurately and fairly than they do to him.


Job 21:29 Haven’t you asked wayfaring men? Don’t you know their evidences-
The friends constantly appeal to the wisdom of the sages and of previous generations. Job now appeals to the general knowledge and observations of the ordinary people, the "wayfaring men". He is saying that observed reality simply differs to what the sages are saying.

Job 21:30 that the evil man is reserved to the day of calamity, that they are led forth to the day of wrath?-
Job is arguing that the way the wicked prosper means that they must face a future "day of wrath", and that this has been figured out by ordinary "wayfaring" people (:29) because it is so obvious. God confirms this view, by saying that He has "reserved" final judgment, although He has created the things He will use in that judgment and "reserved" them until then (Job 38:23 s.w.).

Job 21:31 Who shall declare his way to his face? Who shall repay him what he has done?-
GNB "There is no one to accuse the wicked or pay them back for all they have done". The answer of course is that there is no such ultimate judgment or moral ombudsman in this life. Yet justice and judgment must be done- and there must therefore be a future day of judgment when God shall do this. Job is driven relentlessly towards a focus upon the last day, just as we are by our experiences of injustice. And the appearance of God in judgment at the end is a vindication of Job's desire.

Job 21:32 Yet he will be carried to the grave. Men shall keep watch over the tomb-
The wicked are carried to peaceful graves without having faced judgment (:31). But therefore, the very peacefulness of their graves is a strong argument for belief in a future day of judgment, and their resurrection to face it.

Job 21:33 The clods of the valley shall be sweet to him. All men shall draw after him, as there were innumerable before him-
As noted on :32, the apparent sweetness of the death and burial of the wicked, going on generation after generation, is a powerful argument that in fact there must be a day of resurrection to judgment yet to come. Or we can read with GNB "Thousands join the funeral procession, and even the earth lies gently on their bodies".

Job 21:34 So how can you comfort me with nonsense, because in your answers there remains only falsehood?
- LXX "I have no rest from your molestation". If this reading is correct, we have more evidence that the friends were in fact the Satan, bringing the judgments upon Job. The friends initially came to "comfort" Job. But their refusal to engage with him as a person and his actual situation and words (see on :1,2) leads them to do the very opposite. And so we see how initially well meaning dialogue turns to be destructive and the reverse of "comfort". The restoration prophets announced "Comfort" to God's people who were feeling and suffering as Job (Is. 40:1; 66:13); Job's lack of comforters thereby makes him representative of the exiles.