Job 21

Job’s Reply to Zophar

In this chapter Job actually answers the ideas of all three of his friends. Here Job finds the flaw in their argument – he can point to wicked people who prosper. But whereas in the last speech, when he looked on his suffering from the perspective of his innocence, he found great faith and hope, in this chapter when he surveys the divine government of the world, he sinks to despair. The speech can be divided into five parts: he appeals for a hearing (2–6), he points out the prosperity of the wicked (7–16), he wonders exactly when the godless suffer (17–22), he shows how death levels everything (23–26), and he reveals how experience contradicts his friends’ argument (27–34).
Then Job answered:

“Listen carefully
The intensity of the appeal is again expressed by the imperative followed by the infinitive absolute for emphasis. See note on “listen carefully” in 13:17.
to my words;
let this be
The LXX negates the sentence, “that I may not have this consolation from you.”
the consolation you offer me.
The word תַּנְחוּמֹתֵיכֶם (tankhumotekhem) is literally “your consolations,” the suffix being a subjective genitive. The friends had thought they were offering Job consolation (Job 14:11), but the consolation he wants from them is that they listen to him and respond accordingly.

Bear with me
The verb נָשָׂא (nasa’) means “to lift up; to raise up”; but in this context it means “to endure; to tolerate” (see Job 7:21).
and I
The conjunction and the independent personal pronoun draw emphatic attention to the subject of the verb: “and I on my part will speak.”
will speak,
and after I have spoken
The adverbial clauses are constructed of the preposition “after” and the Piel infinitive construct with the subjective genitive suffix: “my speaking,” or “I speak.”
you may mock.
The verb is the imperfect of לָעַג (laag). The Hiphil has the same basic sense as the Qal, “to mock; to deride.” The imperfect here would be modal, expressing permission. The verb is in the singular, suggesting that Job is addressing Zophar; however, most of the versions put it into the plural. Note the singular in 16:3 between the plural in 16:1 and 16:4.

Is my
The addition of the independent pronoun at the beginning of the sentence (“Is it I / against a man / my complaint”) strengthens the pronominal suffix on “complaint” (see GKC 438 #135.f).
complaint against a man?
The point seems to be that if his complaint were merely against men he might expect sympathy from other men; but no one dares offer him sympathy when his complaint is against God. So he will give free expression to his spirit (H. H. Rowley, Job [NCBC], 147).

If so,
On disjunctive interrogatives, see GKC 475 #150.g.
why should I not be impatient?
Heb “why should my spirit/breath not be short” (see Num 21:4; Judg 16:16).

The verb פְּנוּ (penu) is from the verb “to turn,” related to the word for “face.” In calling for them to turn toward him, he is calling for them to look at him. But here it may be more in the sense of their attention rather than just a looking at him.
at me and be appalled;
put your hands over your mouths.
The idiom is “put a hand over a mouth,” the natural gesture for keeping silent and listening (cf. Job 29:9; 40:4; Mic 7:16).

For, when I think
The verb is זָכַר (zakhar, “to remember”). Here it has the sense of “to keep in memory; to meditate; to think upon.”
about this, I am terrified
The main clause is introduced here by the conjunction, following the adverbial clause of time.

and my body feels a shudder.
Some commentators take “shudder” to be the subject of the verb, “a shudder seizes my body.” But the word is feminine (and see the usage, especially in Job 9:6 and 18:20). It is the subject in Isa 21:4; Ps 55:6; and Ezek 7:18.

The Wicked Prosper

“Why do the wicked go on living,
A. B. Davidson (Job, 154) clarifies that Job’s question is of a universal scope. In the government of God, why do the wicked exist at all? The verb could be translated “continue to live.”

grow old,
The verb עָתַק (’ataq) means “to move; to proceed; to advance.” Here it is “to advance in years” or “to grow old.” This clause could serve as an independent clause, a separate sentence; but it more likely continues the question of the first colon and is parallel to the verb “live.”
even increase in power?
Their children
Heb “their seed.”
are firmly established
in their presence,
The text uses לִפְנֵיהֶם עִמָּם (lifnehem immam, “before them, with them”). Many editors think that these were alternative readings, and so omit one or the other. Dhorme moved עִמָּם (’immam) to the second half of the verse and emended it to read עֹמְדִים (’omedim, “abide”). Kissane and Gordis changed only the vowels and came up with עַמָּם (’ammam, “their kinfolk”). But Gordis thinks the presence of both of them in the line is evidence of a conflated reading (p. 229).

their offspring before their eyes.
Their houses are safe
The word שָׁלוֹם (shalom, “peace, safety”) is here a substantive after a plural subject (see GKC 452 #141.c, n. 3).
and without fear;
The form מִפָּחַד (mippakhad) is translated “without fear,” literally “from fear”; the preposition is similar to the alpha privative in Greek. The word “fear, dread” means nothing that causes fear or dread – they are peaceful, secure. See GKC 382 #119.w.

and no rod of punishment
Heb “no rod of God.” The words “punishment from” have been supplied in the translation to make the metaphor understandable for the modern reader by stating the purpose of the rod.
from God is upon them.
In 9:34 Job was complaining that there was no umpire to remove God’s rod from him, but here he observes no such rod is on the wicked.

10  Their bulls
Heb “his bull,” but it is meant to signify the bulls of the wicked.
The verb used here means “to impregnate,” and not to be confused with the verb עָבַר (’avar, “to pass over”).
without fail;
The use of the verb גָּעַר (gaar) in this place is interesting. It means “to rebuke; to abhor; to loathe.” In the causative stem it means “to occasion impurity” or “to reject as loathsome.” The rabbinic interpretation is that it does not emit semen in vain, and so the meaning is it does not fail to breed (see E. Dhorme, Job, 311; R. Gordis, Job, 229).

their cows calve and do not miscarry.
11  They allow their children to run
The verb שָׁלַח (shalakh) means “to send forth,” but in the Piel “to release; to allow to run free.” The picture of children frolicking in the fields and singing and dancing is symbolic of peaceful, prosperous times.
like a flock;
their little ones dance about.
12  They sing
The verb is simply “they take up [or lift up],” but the understood object is “their voices,” and so it means “they sing.”
to the accompaniment of tambourine and harp,
and make merry to the sound of the flute.
13  They live out
The Kethib has “they wear out” but the Qere and the versions have יְכַלּוּ (yekhallu, “bring to an end”). The verb כָּלָה (kalah) means “to finish; to complete,” and here with the object “their days,” it means that they bring their life to a (successful) conclusion. Both readings are acceptable in the context, with very little difference in the overall meaning (which according to Gordis is proof the Qere does not always correct the Kethib).
their years in prosperity
and go down
The MT has יֵחָתּוּ (yekhattu, “they are frightened [or broken]”), taking the verb from חָתַת (khatat, “be terrified”). But most would slightly repoint it to יֵחָתוּ (yekhatu), an Aramaism, “they go down,” from נָחַת (nakhat, “go down”). See Job 17:16.
to the grave
The word רֶגַע (rega’) has been interpreted as “in a moment” or “in peace” (on the basis of Arabic raja`a, “return to rest”). Gordis thinks this is a case of talhin – both meanings present in the mind of the writer.
in peace.
14  So they say to God, ‘Turn away from us!
We do not want to
The absence of the preposition before the complement adds greater vividness to the statement: “and knowing your ways – we do not desire.”
know your ways.
Contrast Ps 25:4, which affirms that walking in God’s ways means to obey God’s will – the Torah.

15  Who is the Almighty, that
The interrogative clause is followed by ki, similar to Exod 5:2, “Who is Yahweh, that I should obey him?”
we should serve him?
What would we gain
if we were to pray
The verb פָּגַע (paga’) means “to encounter; to meet,” but also “to meet with request; to intercede; to interpose.” The latter meaning is a derived meaning by usage.
to him?’
The verse is not present in the LXX. It may be that it was considered too blasphemous and therefore omitted.

16  But their prosperity is not their own doing.
Heb “is not in their hand.”
The implication of this statement is that their well-being is from God, which is the problem Job is raising in the chapter. A number of commentators make it a question, interpreting it to mean that the wicked enjoy prosperity as if it is their right. Some emend the text to say “his hands” – Gordis reads it, “Indeed, our prosperity is not in his hands.”

The counsel of the wicked is far from me!
Even though their life seems so good in contrast to his own plight, Job cannot and will not embrace their principles – “far be from me their counsel.”

How Often Do the Wicked Suffer?

17  “How often
The interrogative “How often” occurs only with the first colon; it is supplied for smoother reading in the next two.
is the lamp of the wicked extinguished?
How often does their
The pronominal suffix is objective; it re-enforces the object of the preposition, “upon them.” The verb in the clause is בּוֹא (bo’) followed by עַל (’al), “come upon [or against],” may be interpreted as meaning attack or strike.
misfortune come upon them?
How often does God apportion pain
חֲבָלִים (khavalim) can mean “ropes” or “cords,” but that would not go with the verb “apportion” in this line. The meaning of “pangs (as in “birth-pangs”) seems to fit best here. The wider meaning would be “physical agony.”
to them
The phrase “to them” is understood and thus is supplied in the translation for clarification.
in his anger?
18  How often
To retain the sense that the wicked do not suffer as others, this verse must either be taken as a question or a continuation of the question in v. 17.
are they like straw before the wind,
and like chaff swept away
The verb used actually means “rob.” It is appropriate to the image of a whirlwind suddenly taking away the wisp of straw.
by a whirlwind?
19  You may say,
These words are supplied. The verse records an idea that Job suspected they might have, namely, that if the wicked die well God will make their children pay for the sins (see Job 5:4; 20:10; as well as Exod 20:5).
‘God stores up a man’s
The text simply has אוֹנוֹ (’ono, “his iniquity”), but by usage, “the punishment for the iniquity.”
punishment for his children!’
Heb “his sons.”

Instead let him repay
The verb שָׁלַם (shalam) in the Piel has the meaning of restoring things to their normal, making whole, and so reward, repay (if for sins), or recompense in general.
the man himself
The text simply has “let him repay [to] him.”

so that
The imperfect verb after the jussive carries the meaning of a purpose clause, and so taken as a final imperfect: “in order that he may know [or realize].”
he may know it!
20  Let his own eyes see his destruction;
This word occurs only here. The word כִּיד (kid) was connected to Arabic kaid, “fraud, trickery,” or “warfare.” The word is emended by the commentators to other ideas, such as פִּיד (pid, “[his] calamity”). Dahood and others alter it to “cup”; Wright to “weapons.” A. F. L. Beeston argues for a meaning “condemnation” for the MT form, and so makes no change in the text (Mus 67 [1954]: 315-16). If the connection to Arabic “warfare” is sustained, or if such explanations of the existing MT can be sustained, then the text need not be emended. In any case, the sense of the line is clear.

let him drink of the anger of the Almighty.
21  For what is his interest
Heb “his desire.” The meaning is that after he is gone he does not care about what happens to his household (“house” meaning “family” here).
in his home
after his death,
Heb “after him,” but clearly the meaning is “after he is gone.”

when the number of his months
has been broken off?
The rare word חֻצָּצוּ (khutsatsu) is probably a cognate of hassa in Arabic, meaning “to cut off.” There is also an Akkadian word “to cut in two” and “to break.” These fit the context here rather well. The other Hebrew words that are connected to the root חָצַצ (khatsats) do not offer any help.

22  Can anyone teach
The imperfect verb in this question should be given the modal nuance of potential imperfect. The question is rhetorical – it is affirming that no one can teach God.
God knowledge,
The clause begins with the disjunctive vav (ו) and the pronoun, “and he.” This is to be subordinated as a circumstantial clause. See GKC 456 #142.d.
he judges those that are on high?
The Hebrew has רָמִים (ramim), a plural masculine participle of רוּם (rum, “to be high; to be exalted”). This is probably a reference to the angels. But M. Dahood restores an older interpretation that it refers to “the Most High” (“Some Northwest Semitic words in Job,”Bib 38 [1957]: 316-17). He would take the word as a singular form with an enclitic mem (ם). He reads the verse, “will he judge the Most High?”

Death Levels Everything

23  “One man dies in his full vigor,
The line has “in the bone of his perfection.” The word עֶצֶם (’etsem), which means “bone,” is used pronominally to express “the same, very”; here it is “in the very fullness of his strength” (see GKC 449 #139.g). The abstract תֹּם (tom) is used here in the sense of physical perfection and strengths.

completely secure and prosperous,
24  his body
The verb עָטַן (’atan) has the precise meaning of “press olives.” But because here it says “full of milk,” the derived meaning for the noun has been made to mean “breasts” or “pails” (although in later Hebrew this word occurs – but with olives, not with milk). Dhorme takes it to refer to “his sides,” and repoints the word for “milk” (חָלָב, khalav) to get “fat” (חֶלֶב, khelev) – “his sides are full of fat,” a rendering followed by NASB. However, this weakens the parallelism.
well nourished,
This interpretation, adopted by several commentaries and modern translations (cf. NAB, NIV), is a general rendering to capture the sense of the line.

and the marrow of his bones moist.
The verb שָׁקָה (shaqah) means “to water” and here “to be watered thoroughly.” The picture in the line is that of health and vigor.

25  And another man
The expression “this (v. 23)…and this” (v. 25) means “one…the other.”
dies in bitterness of soul,
The text literally has “and this [man] dies in soul of bitterness.” Some simply reverse it and translate “in the bitterness of soul.” The genitive “bitterness” may be an attribute adjective, “with a bitter soul.”

never having tasted
Heb “eaten what is good.” It means he died without having enjoyed the good life.
anything good.
26  Together they lie down in the dust,
and worms cover over them both.

Futile Words, Deceptive Answers

27  “Yes, I know what you are thinking,
The word is “your thoughts.” The word for “thoughts” (from חָצַב [khatsav, “to think; to reckon; to plan”]) has more to do with their intent than their general thoughts. He knows that when they talked about the fate of the wicked they really were talking about him.

the schemes
For the meaning of this word, and its root זָמַם (zamam), see Job 17:11. It usually means the “plans” or “schemes” that are concocted against someone.
by which you would wrong me.
E. Dhorme (Job, 321) distinguishes the verb חָמַס (khamas) from the noun for “violence.” He proposes a meaning of “think, imagine”: “and the ideas you imagined about me.”

28  For you say,
‘Where now is the nobleman’s house,
The question implies the answer will be “vanished” or “gone.”

and where are the tents in which the wicked lived?’
Heb “And where is the tent, the dwellings of the wicked.” The word “dwellings of the wicked” is in apposition to “tent.” A relative pronoun must be supplied in the translation.

29  Have you never questioned those who travel the roads?
Do you not recognize their accounts
The LXX reads, “Ask those who go by the way, and do not disown their signs.”
The idea is that the merchants who travel widely will talk about what they have seen and heard. These travelers give a different account of the wicked; they tell how he is spared. E. Dhorme (Job, 322) interprets “signs” concretely: “Their custom was to write their names and their thoughts somewhere at the main cross-roads. The main roads of Sinai are dotted with these scribblings made by such passers of a day.”

30  that the evil man is spared
from the day of his misfortune,
that he is delivered
The verb means “to be led forth.” To be “led forth in the day of trouble” means to be delivered.

from the day of God’s wrath?
31  No one denounces his conduct to his face;
no one repays him for what
The expression “and he has done” is taken here to mean “what he has done.”
he has done.
Heb “Who declares his way to his face? // Who repays him for what he has done?” These rhetorical questions, which expect a negative answer (“No one!”) have been translated as indicative statements to bring out their force clearly.

32  And when he is carried to the tombs,
and watch is kept
The verb says “he will watch.” The subject is unspecified, so the translation is passive.
over the funeral mound,
The Hebrew word refers to the tumulus, the burial mound that is erected on the spot where the person is buried.

33  The clods of the torrent valley
The clods are those that are used to make a mound over the body. And, for a burial in the valley, see Deut 34:6. The verse here sees him as participating in his funeral and enjoying it. Nothing seems to go wrong with the wicked.
are sweet to him;
behind him everybody follows in procession,
and before him goes a countless throng.
34  So how can you console me with your futile words?
Nothing is left of your answers but deception!”
The word מָעַל (maal) is used for “treachery; deception; fraud.” Here Job is saying that their way of interpreting reality is dangerously unfaithful.

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