21 Then Job replied:
2 “Listen carefully to my words;
let this be the consolation you give me.
3 Bear with me while I speak,
and after I have spoken, mock on.
4 “Is my complaint directed to a human being?
Why should I not be impatient?
5 Look at me and be appalled;
clap your hand over your mouth.
6 When I think about this, I am terrified;
trembling seizes my body.
In this chapter Job strikes at the heart of his friends’ assumption that the wicked are judged and the righteous are blessed. Job claims and points to evidence that this is not true, he calls for them to look at life in an objective way. The children of the wicked are established (verse 8), his house is safe (verse 9), his cattle are fruitful and give birth to offspring(verse 10). He even receives an honourable burial (verses 32-33).
Job called for his friends to be quiet and to listen to some amazing and terrifying truth (verses 1-6), namely that the wicked do prosper (verses 7-13) though they deny God (verses 14-15), and they prosper not by their doing, but by the hand of God (verse 16).
This seems to be the point where the simplistic idealism of Proverbs and the challenging of this way of thinking in Ecclesiastes meet and is unravelled.
The general truth of Proverbs is the rule of the universe and wired into the DNA of the way things work in the world but this world is broken due to the human intervention of attempting to play God in our own lives and so things don’t work in such a flawless way. Things go wrong. Variables occur.
God is sovereign and the great leveller of all things but this life and this world is under our dominion and is the limited domain of Satan. It is broken, fallen and not in a good place. When something is broken it does not work properly and is no longer fit for it’s intended purpose. It might function at some level but does not fulfil the potential that it was originally designed for. That sounds very much like the world that we live in.
Job begins to address his friends simplistic and incorrect views and judgments but his expectation is that they “Mock on”. His only appeal is that they listen and consider what he has to say.
His observation raised more questions in his mind. Job could not reconcile why the wicked might prosper and he might suffer. He wished it was as simple as that and he wouldn’t be in the situation he was in but his observation of life and his own experience led him to raise these difficult questions. Most of us have similar questions about the nature of God and suffering. It is one of the biggest questions that we bring to the table in our experience and understanding of God.
Job asserts that his complaint was not against his friends and questioned why they were so bothered by it. Job’s complaint was to God and he trusted that God would allow him to speak, though they would not. He was in some way thankful that his friends were not his judge. He knew that God was fair, and that He knew his heart. Job was satisfied that God would be his Judge. At the same time he trembled with fear at what he was bringing to God.
7 Why do the wicked live on,
growing old and increasing in power?
8 They see their children established around them,
their offspring before their eyes.
9 Their homes are safe and free from fear;
the rod of God is not on them.
10 Their bulls never fail to breed;
their cows calve and do not miscarry.
11 They send forth their children as a flock;
their little ones dance about.
12 They sing to the music of timbrel and lyre;
they make merry to the sound of the pipe.
13 They spend their years in prosperity
and go down to the grave in peace.
14 Yet they say to God, ‘Leave us alone!
We have no desire to know your ways.
15 Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him?
What would we gain by praying to him?’
16 But their prosperity is not in their own hands,
so I stand aloof from the plans of the wicked.
Job challenged the notion that evil people suffer short lives and short lived gain. His observation had led him to believe otherwise. His own conscience told him that his suffering was not a punishment for his failure to do something or his own wilful sin. The words of his friends may have included some simplistic truths but they were not absolute by an means.
Sometimes the wicked do indeed prosper. It seems unfair.
Not only are they mighty in power themselves, but they leave their power as an inheritance to their children after them (Psalm 17:14). This contradicts what Eliphaz had said (Job 15:34), what Bildad had said (Job 18:19), and what Zophar had said (Job 20:10).
In verse 9 Job states that their homes are free from fear which challenges what Zophar had just said that “a fire not blown should consume him” (Job 20:26), and Bildad in Chapter 18:15 that “destruction and brimstone would destroy the evil persons habitation.”
In verse 10 we read about the evil person’s fruitful cattle and verse 11, in striking contrast to the fate of Job’s own children, and in contradiction to what Eliphaz had said (Job 15:29-33).
Verses 13-16 bring us to the core of the theological challenge facing Job and friends. Evil people have no respect for God and no time for God, they do not see the benefit of connecting with their maker, they are too busy charting their own course, making their own life work and when things seem to go well for them and bad for those who try to do what is right is does not seem fair. This was a challenge for Job and a challenge for his friends but they were approaching it in different ways. Job was wrestling with it and his friends were judging the outcomes of people’s lives with a labelling that fit their own worldview.
How often does calamity come upon them,
the fate God allots in his anger?
18 How often are they like straw before the wind,
like chaff swept away by a gale?
19 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!
20 Let their own eyes see their destruction;
let them drink the cup of the wrath of the Almighty.
21 For what do they care about the families they leave behind
when their allotted months come to an end?
22 “Can anyone teach knowledge to God,
since he judges even the highest?
23 One person dies in full vigour,
completely secure and at ease,
24 well nourished in body,
bones rich with marrow.
25 Another dies in bitterness of soul,
never having enjoyed anything good.
26 Side by side they lie in the dust,
and worms cover them both.
Job’s wrestling with God’s justice is continued here with questions about how and when God deals with evil. He understood that there was something more beyond mortality but was unsure about how God’s justice would pan out. He knew about the death of the body but did not understand what happened to men’s spirits.
This whole section repeats the assertions of Job’s friends regarding the judgment of sinners. To refute that perspective, Job suggested that his friends were guilty of telling God how He must deal with people (verse 22).
Job struggled with the idea that the wicked were not under the same attack that he was under and questioned when justice would be delivered on them. He could not understand why they appeared to continue life as it was and he suffered intensely.
The closing verses in this section remind us that absolutes will get us nowhere. Some of the wicked live and die in prosperity and some do not. This completely nullifies all that his friends had been saying to him.
Job observed that some die from obvious sickness and some die for no obvious reason but all die. Some people live long lives full of bitterness and anguish but eventually we all become dust.
It is important and valuable to remind myself of this basic spiritual truth when things are not going the way that I want them to go or think they should go. In moments when the hand of God perplexes me to hold onto the idea that life is beyond our earthly years. There is judgment and then there is eternity.
the schemes by which you would wrong me.
28 You say, ‘Where now is the house of the great,
the tents where the wicked lived?’
29 Have you never questioned those who travel?
Have you paid no regard to their accounts—
30 that the wicked are spared from the day of calamity,
that they are delivered from the day of wrath?
31 Who denounces their conduct to their face?
Who repays them for what they have done?
32 They are carried to the grave,
and watch is kept over their tombs.
33 The soil in the valley is sweet to them;
everyone follows after them,
and a countless throng goes before them.
34 “So how can you console me with your nonsense?
Nothing is left of your answers but falsehood!”
Travellers would be story tellers and that is how people in Job’s day found out about what was going on in the world around them. Job asks his friends have you not listened to the reports of travellers? The world has not changed that much in that we hear often in the news of wicked people that get away with things they should not and live in luxury. Fraudulent bankers, money launderers, war criminals …even my own story to the casual observer it would look like I got away with my thievery and dishonesty only that does not tell the whole story.
In verse 31, Job was saying that there would be no one brave enough to go to the powerful wicked man on this earth, and accuse him to his face. Job also was explaining that it was not the place of another man to judge him, or to punish him. That should be left to God.
Back in verse 26, Job reported that an evil man’s death was very much like the death of a good man. The bodies of both men would lie next to each other in the grave. But as Job wrestled with this with some uncertainty, he also considered how their graves may be guarded, the sweet soil may be used and in fact they may be better off. This troubled him. His earlier words resonate with this thinking “He shall sweetly rest in his grave, free from all cares, and fears, and troubles” (Job 3:17-18).
Zophar expected the evil man to face an impending earthly judgment. Job proved that many wicked people have successful lives. Neither could explain the apparent injustice.
Eliphaz seems to have assumed that Job’s reasoning meant that he approved of an evil life. Eliphaz then placed that judgment on Job.