Job 21


Job expresses himself as puzzled by the dispensations of Divine

Providence, because of the unequal distribution of temporal

goods; he shows that wicked men often live long, prosper in

their families, in their flocks, and in all their substance,

and yet live in defiance of God and sacred things, 1-16.

At other times their prosperity is suddenly blasted, and they

and their families come to ruin, 17-21.

God, however, is too wise to err; and he deals out various lots

to all according to his wisdom: some come sooner, others later,

to the grave: the strong and the weak, the prince and the

peasant, come to a similar end in this life; but the wicked

are reserved for a day of wrath, 22-33.

He charges his friends with falsehood in their pretended

attempts to comfort him, 34.


Verse 2. Let this be your consolations.]

uthehi zoth tanchumotheychem may be translated, "And let this be

your retractations." Let what I am about to say induce you to

retract what you have said, and to recall your false judgments.

nacham signifies, not only to comfort, but to change

one's mind, to repent; hence the Vulgate translates et agite

paenitentiam, "and repent," which Coverdale follows in his

version, and amende yourselves. Some suppose the verse to be

understood ironically: I am now about to give you consolations for

those you have given me. When I have done, then turn them into

mockery if you please.

Verse 4. As for me] heanochi, "Alas for me!" Is it not

with a man that I speak? And, if this be the case, why should not

my spirit be troubled? I do not reply against my Maker: I suffer

much from God and man; why then may I not have the privilege of

complaining to creatures like myself?

Verse 5. Mark me, and be astonished] Consider and compare the

state in which I was once, with that in which I am now; and be

astonished at the judgments and dispensations of God. You will

then be confounded; you will put your hands upon your mouths, and

keep silent.

Putting the hand on the mouth, or the finger on the lips, was

the token of silence. The Egyptian god Harpocrates, who was the

god of silence, is represented with his finger compressing his

upper lip.

Verse 6. I am afraid] I am about to speak of the mysterious

workings of Providence; and I tremble at the thought of entering

into a detail on such a subject; my very flesh trembles.

Verse 7. Wherefore do the wicked live] You have frequently

asserted that the wicked are invariably punished in this life; and

that the righteous are ever distinguished by the strongest marks

of God's providential kindness; how then does it come that many

wicked men live long and prosperously, and at last die in peace,

without any evidence whatever of God's displeasure? This is a fact

that is occurring daily; none can deny it; how then will you

reconcile it with your maxims?

Verse 8. Their seed is established] They see their own children

grow up, and become settled in the land; and behold their

children's children also; so that their generations are not cut

off. Even the posterity of the wicked continue.

Verse 9. Neither is the rod of God upon them.] They are not

afflicted as other men.

Verse 10. Their bull gendereth] ibbar, passes over, i.e.,

on the cow, referring to the actions of the bull when coupling

with the female. Their flocks multiply greatly, they bring forth

in time, and none of them is barren.

Verse 11. They send forth their little ones] It is not very

clear whether this refers to the young of the flocks or to their

children. The first clause may mean the former, the next clause

the latter; while the young of their cattle are in flocks, their

numerous children are healthy and vigorous, and dance for joy.

Verse 12. They take the timbrel and harp] yisu, they rise

up or lift themselves up, probably alluding to the rural exercise

of dancing.

toph, which we translate timbrel, means a sort of drum,

such as the tom-tom of the Asiatics.

kinnor may mean something of the harp kind.

ugab, organ, means nothing like the instrument now called

the organ, though thus translated both by the Septuagint and

Vulgate; it probably means the syrinx, composed of several

unequal pipes, close at the bottom, which when blown into at the

top, gives a very shrill and lively sound. To these instruments

the youth are represented as dancing joyfully. Mr. Good

translates: "They trip merrily to the sound of the pipe." And

illustrates his translation with the following verse:-

"Now pursuing, now retreating,

Now in circling troops they meet;

To brisk notes in cadence beating,

Glance their many twinkling feet."

The original is intended to convey the true notion of the gambols

of the rustic nymphs and swains on festival occasions, and let it

be observed that this is spoken of the children of those who say

unto God, "Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy

ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what

profit should we have if we pray unto him ?" Job 21:14, 15. Is it

any wonder that the children of such parents should be living to

the flesh, and serving the lusts of the flesh? for neither they

nor their parents know God, nor pray unto him.

Verse 13. They spend their days in wealth] There is a various

reading here of some importance. In the text we have yeballu,

they grow old, or wear out as with old age, terent vetustate; and

in the margin, yechallu, they consume; and the Masora

states that this is one of the eleven words which are written with

beth and must be read with caph. Several editions

have the former word in the text, and the latter in the margin;

the former being what is called the kethib, the latter keri.

yeballu, they grow old, or wear out, is the reading of the

Antwerp, Paris, and London Polyglots; yechallu, they

accomplish or spend, is the reading of the Complutensian Polyglot,

thirteen of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS., the Septuagint,

Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic. The Vulgate has ducunt, "they

lead or spend," from which our translation is borrowed. I incline

to the former, as Job's argument derives considerable strength

from this circumstance; they not only spend their days in faring

sumptuously every day; but they even wear out so as to grow old in

it; they are not cut off by any sudden judgment of God. This is

fact; therefore your doctrine, that the wicked are cut off

suddenly and have but a short time, is far from the truth.

In a moment go down to the grave.] They wear out their years in

pleasure; grow old in their gay and giddy life; and die, as in a

moment, without previous sickness; or, as Mr. Good has it, They

quietly descend into the grave.

Verse 14. They say unto God ] This is the language of their

conduct, though not directly of their lips.

Depart from us] Let us alone; we do not trouble thee. Thy ways

are painful; we do not like cross-bearing. Thy ways are spiritual;

we wish to live after the flesh. We have learned to do our own

will; we do not wish to study thine.

Verse 15. What is the Almighty] What allegiance do we owe to

him? We feel no obligation to obey him; and what profit can we

derive from prayer? We are as happy as flesh and blood can make

us: our kingdom is of this world; we wish for no other portion

than that which we have.

Those who have never prayed as they ought know nothing of the

benefits of prayer.

Verse 16. Their good is not in their hand] With all their

boasting and self-dependence, God only lends them his bounty; and

though it appears to be their own, yet it is at his disposal. Some

of the wicked he permits to live and die in affluence, provided it

be acquired in the ordinary way of his providence, by trade,

commerce, &c. Others he permits to possess it for a while only,

and then strips them of their illegally procured property.

The counsel of the wicked is far from me.] Some understand the

words thus: "Far be it from me to advocate the cause of the

wicked." I have nothing in common with them, and am not their

apologist. I state a fact: they are often found in continual

prosperity. I state another fact: they are often found in

wretchedness and misery.

Verse 17. How oft is the candle of the wicked put out?] The

candle or lamp is often used, both as the emblem of prosperity

and of posterity. Oftentimes the rejoicing of the wicked is short;

and, not unfrequently, his seed is cut off from the earth. The

root is dried up, and the branch is withered.

God distributeth sorrows in his anger.] He must be incensed

against those who refuse to know, serve, and pray unto him. In his

anger, therefore, he portions out to each his due share of misery,

vexation, and wo.

Verse 18. They are as stubble before the wind] "His fan is in

his hand; he will thoroughly cleanse his floor, and the chaff he

will burn with unquenchable fire. Therefore the wicked shall not

stand in the judgment, but shall be like the chaff which the wind

driveth away." Were not this a common thought, I should have

supposed that the author of this book borrowed it from Ps 1:4.

The original signifies that they shall be carried away by a

furious storm; and borne off as booty is by the swift-riding

robbers of the desert, who make a sudden irruption, and then set

off at full speed with their prey.

Verse 19. God layeth up his iniquity for his children] This is

according to the declaration of God, Ex 20:5: "Visiting the

iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and

fourth generation of them that hate me." This always supposes that

the children, who are thus visited, have copied their parents'

example; or that ill-gotten property is found in their hands,

which has descended to them from their wicked fathers; and of this

God, in his judgments, strips them. It is, however, very natural

to suppose that children brought up without the fear of God will

walk in the sight of their own eyes, and according to the

imaginations of their own hearts.

He rewardeth him, and he shall know it.] He shall so visit his

transgressions upon him, that he shall at last discern that it is

God who hath done it. And thus they will find that there would

have been profit in serving him, and safety in praying unto

him. But this they have neglected, and now it is too late.

Verse 20. His eyes shall see his destruction] He shall perceive

its approach, and have the double punishment of fearing and

feeling; feeling a THOUSAND deaths in fearing ONE.

He shall drink of the wrath] The cup of God's wrath, the cup of

trembling, &c., is frequently expressed or referred to in the

sacred writings, De 32:33; Isa 51:17-22; Jer 25:15;

Re 14:8. It appears to be a metaphor taken from those cups of

poison which certain criminals were obliged to drink. A cup of the

juice of hemlock was the wrath or punishment assigned by the

Athenian magistrates to the philosopher Socrates.

Verse 21. For what pleasure hath he in his house after him] What

may happen to his posterity he neither knows nor cares for, as he

is now numbered with the dead, and numbered with them before he

had lived out half his years. Some have translated the verse thus:

"Behold how speedily God destroys the house of the wicked after

him! How he shortens the number of his months!"

Verse 22. Shall any teach God knowledge?] Who among the sons of

men can pretend to teach GOD how to govern the world, who himself

teaches those that are high-the heavenly inhabitants, that excel

us infinitely both in knowledge and wisdom? Neither angels nor men

can comprehend the reasons of the Divine providence. It is a depth

known only to God.

Verse 23. One dieth in his full strength] In this and the three

following verses Job shows that the inequality of fortune, goods,

health, strength, &c., decides nothing either for or against

persons in reference to the approbation or disapprobation of God,

as these various lots are no indications of their wickedness or

innocence. One has a sudden, another a lingering death; but by

none of these can their eternal states be determined.

Verse 24. His breasts are full of milk] The word atinaiv,

which occurs nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible, is most likely an

Arabic term, but probably so provincial as to be now lost.

[Arabic] atana signifies to macerate hides so as to take off the

hair: hence Mr. Good thinks it means here, that sleekness of skin

which is the effect of fatness both in man and beast. But as the

radical idea signifies to stink, as leather does which is thus

macerated, I cannot see how this meaning can apply here. Under the

root atan, Mr. Parkhurst gives the following definitions:

" occurs, not as a verb, but as a noun masculine plural, in

construction, atiney, the bowels, intestines; once

Job 21:24,

atinaiv, his bowels or intestines, are full of, or abound with,

chalab, fat. So the LXX.: ταδεεγκατααυτουπληρηστεατος.

The VULGATE: Viscera, ejus plena sent adipe, 'his intestines are

full of fat.' May not atinim be a noun masculine plural

from atah, to involve, formed as gailyonim,

mirrors, from galah, to reveal? And may nor the intestines,

including those fatty parts, the mesentery and omentum, be so

called on account of their wonderful involutions?" I think this

conjecture to be as likely as any that has yet been formed.

Verse 26. They shall lie down alike in the dust] Death levels

all distinctions, and the grave makes all equal. There may be a

difference in the grave itself; but the human corpse is the same

in all. Splendid monuments enshrine corruption; but the sod must

lie close and heavy upon the putrefying carcass, to prevent it

from becoming the bane of the living.

Verse 27. I know your thoughts] Ye still think that, because I

am grievously afflicted, I must therefore be a felonious


Verse 28. For ye say, Where is the house of the prince?] In

order to prove your point, ye ask, Where is the house of the

tyrant and oppressor? Are they not overthrown and destroyed? And

is not this a proof that God does not permit the wicked to enjoy


Verse 29. Have ye not asked them that go by the way?] This

appears to be Job's answer. Consult travellers who have gone

through different countries; and they will tell you that they have

seen both examples-the wicked in great prosperity in some

instances, while suddenly destroyed in others. See at the end of

the chapter. See Clarke on Job 21:34.

Do ye not know their tokens] Mr. Good translates the whole verse

thus: "Surely thou canst never have inquired of men of travel; or

thou couldst not have been ignorant of their tokens. Hadst thou

made proper inquiries, thou wouldst have heard of their awful end

in a thousand instances. And also of their prosperity." See at the

end of this chapter. See Clarke on Job 21:34.

Verse 30. That the wicked is reserved to the day of

destruction?] Though every one can tell that he has seen the

wicked in prosperity, and even spend a long life in it; yet this

is no proof that God loves him, or that he shall enjoy a

prosperous lot in the next world. There, he shall meet with the

day of wrath. There, the wicked shall be punished, and the just


Verse 31. Who shall declare his way to his face?] But while the

wicked is in power, who shall dare to tell him to his face what

his true character is? or, who shall dare to repay him the evil he

has done? As such a person cannot have his punishment in this

life, he must have it in another; and for this the day of

wrath-the day of judgment, is prepared.

Verse 32. Yet shall he be brought to the grave] He shall die

like other men; and the corruption of the grave shall prey upon

him. Mr. Carlyle, in his specimens of Arabic poetry, Translations,

p. 16, quotes this verse, which he translates and paraphrases,

"He shall be brought to the grave,"

And shall watch upon the high-raised heap."

It was the opinion of the pagan Arabs, that upon the death of

any person, a bird, by them called Manah, issued from the brain,

and haunted the sepulchre of the deceased, uttering a lamentable

scream. This notion, he adds, is evidently alluded to in

Job 21:32. Thus

Abusahel, on the death of his mistress:-

"If her ghost's funereal screech

Through the earth my grave should reach,

On that voice I loved so well

My transported ghost would dwell."

Verse 33. The clods of the valley shall be sweet unto him]

Perhaps there is an allusion here to the Asiatic mode of interment

for princes, saints, and nobles: a well-watered valley was chosen

for the tomb, where a perpetual spring might be secured. This was

intended to be the emblem of a resurrection, or of a future life;

and to conceal as much as possible the disgrace of the rotting


Every man shall draw after him] There seem to be two allusions

intended here: 1. To death, the common lot of all. Millions have

gone before him to the tomb; and col adam, all men, shall

follow him: all past generations have died, all succeeding

generations shall die also. 2. To pompous funeral processions;

multitudes preceding, and multitudes following, the corpse.

Verse 34. How then comfort ye me in vain] Mr. Good translates:

"How vainly then would ye make me retract!" See the note on

Job 21:2. I cannot

retract any thing I have said, as I have proved by fact and

testimony that your positions are false and unfounded. Your

pretensions to comfort me are as hollow as the arguments you bring

in support of your exceptionable doctrines.

THIS chapter may be called Job's triumph over the insinuated

calumnies, and specious but false doctrines, of his opponents. The

irritability of his temper no longer appears: from the time he got

that glorious discovery of his Redeemer, and the JOYOUS hope of an

eternal inheritance, Job 19:25, &c., we find no more murmurings,

nor unsanctified complainings. He is now full master of himself;

and reasons conclusively, because he reasons coolly. Impassioned

transports no longer carry him away: his mind is serene; his

heart, fixed; his hope, steady; and his faith, strong. Zophar the

Naamathite is now, in his presence, as an infant in the gripe of a

mighty giant. Another of these pretended friends but real enemies

comes forward to renew the attack with virulent invective,

malevolent insinuation, and unsupported assertion. Him, Job meets,

and vanquishes by pious resignation and fervent prayer. Though, at

different times after this, Job had his buffetings from his grand

adversary, and some seasons of comparative darkness, yet his faith

is unshaken, and he stands as a beaten anvil to the stroke. He

effectually exculpates himself, and vindicates the dispensations

of his Maker.

There appears to be something in the 29th verse which requires

to be farther examined: Have ye not asked them that go by the way?

And do ye not know their tokens? It is probable that this verse

may allude to the custom of burying the dead by the way-side, and

raising up specious and descriptive monuments over them. Job

argues that the lot of outward prosperity fell alike to the just

and to the unjust, and that the sepulchral monuments by the

wayside were proofs of his assertion; for his friends, as well as

himself and others, had noted them, and asked the history of such

and such persons, from the nearest inhabitants of the place; and

the answers, in a great variety of cases, had been: "That monument

points out the place where a wicked man lies, who was all his

lifetime in prosperity and affluence, yet oppressed the poor, and

shut up the bowels of his compassion against the destitute; and

this belongs to a man who lived only to serve his God, and to do

good to man according to his power, yet had not a day of health,

nor an hour of prosperity; God having given to the former his

portion in this life, and reserved the recompense of the latter to

a future state."

The Septuagint render the verse thus:- ερωτησατεπαραπορευμενους

οδονκαιτασημειααυτωνουκαπαλλοτριωσατε, "Inquire of those

who pass by the way, and their signs [monuments] ye will not

alienate." That is, When ye hear the history of these persons, ye

will not then assert that the man who lived in prosperity was a

genuine worshipper of the true God, and therefore was blessed with

temporal good, and that he who lived in adversity was an enemy to

God and was consequently cursed with the want of secular

blessings. Of the former ye will hear a different account from

those who dare now speak the truth, because the prosperous

oppressor is no more; And of the latter ye shall learn that,

though afflicted, destitute, and distressed, he was one of those

who acknowledged God in all his ways, and never performed an act

of religious service to him in hope of secular gain; sought his

approbation only, and met death cheerfully, in the hope of being

eternally with the Lord.

Neither good nor evil can be known by the occurrences of this

life. Every thing argues the certainty of a future state, and the

necessity of a day of judgment. They who are in the habit of

marking casualties, especially if those whom they love not are the

subjects of them, as tokens of Divine displeasure, only show an

ignorance of God's dispensations, and a malevolence of mind that

would fain arm itself with the celestial thunders, in order to

transfix those whom they deem their enemies.

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