Job 21 – “Job’s Seventh Speech”

sheep_grazingHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Job tells his friends that wicked people live long, prosperous, and happy lives. While they ignore God, God doesn’t seem to care.

II. Photo

While the friends said that God kills the wicked along with their children, Job disagrees: “Their children are with them always, and they see their children’s children… They let their infants run loose like sheep, and their children skip about!” (vv. 8, 11)
III. Important Verses
vv. 6-9: When I think of it I am terrified; My body is seized with shuddering.
Why do the wicked live on, Prosper and grow wealthy? Their children are with them always, And they see their children’s children. Their homes are secure, without fear; They do not feel the rod of God.
vv. 14-15: They say to God, “Leave us alone, We do not want to learn Your ways; What is Shaddai that we should serve Him? What will we gain by praying to Him?”
v. 17: How seldom does the lamp of the wicked fail, Does the calamity they deserve befall them, Does He apportion [their] lot in anger!
vv. 22-26: Can God be instructed in knowledge, He who judges from such heights? One man dies in robust health, All tranquil and untroubled; His pails are full of milk; The marrow of his bones is juicy. Another dies embittered, Never having tasted happiness. They both lie in the dust And are covered with worms

IV. Outline
1. Introduction
2-6. Opening remarks
7-16. The wicked prosper
17-26. God does not punish the wicked
27-34. Proof from those who travel the world

V. Comment

Chapter 21 is Job’s final speech in the second round of discourses. Job begins with an exordium (vv. 2-6), continues with a discourse about how the wicked prosper (vv. 7-26), and ends with an appeal to reason (vv. 27-34). Clines summarizes Job’s argument as follows (p. 522): “if the wicked are not recompensed, neither are the righteous. That is the simple meaning of [Job’s] suffering: there is no meaning to it at all.” In terms of form/structure, the speech is similar to other disputation speeches in the book.

As one might expect, Job begins his speech by mentioning “words,” “speech,” or “talk”: “Listen well to what I say, And let that be your consolation. Bear with me while I speak, And after I have spoken, you may mock.” For similar verses, see 4:2, 8:2, 9:2, 11:2–3, 15:2–3, 16:2–3, 18:2, 20:2, 19:2, 32:6–33:3, 34:2, 36:2, and 38:2. His demand to be heard is similar to 15:17: “ I will hold forth; listen to me; What I have seen, I will declare…”

While the friends described the wicked’s downfall (cf. 8:8-22; 15:17-35; 18:5-21), Job describes the wicked’s pleasant and enviable lot (vv. 7-16). It is interesting that Job’s description parallels the psalmic blessings reserved for the righteous: the wicked are blessed with long life (v. 7), strength (v. 7), offspring (vv. 8, 11), security (v. 9), wealth (v. 10), music/joy (v. 12), and a peaceful death (v. 13). Indeed, it seems that the promise of prosperity that Eliphaz gave to Job in 5:19-26 has been given to the wicked.

Job mentions the thoughts of the wicked in vv. 14-15: “They say to God, ‘Leave us alone, We do not want to learn Your ways; What is Shaddai that we should serve Him? What will we gain by praying to Him?’” While it is likely that Job would agree with this statement, it is interesting to note that similar phrases occur in the book of Psalms. For example, Ps. 10:11 says, “He thinks, ‘God is not mindful, He hides His face, He never looks,’” and Ps. 53:2 says, “The benighted man thinks, ‘God does not care’…” Also see Ps. 73:11 and 14:1.

In v. 17 Job proclaims, “How seldom does the lamp of the wicked fail, Does the calamity they deserve befall them, Does He apportion [their] lot in anger!” This is a refutation of Bildad’s statement in 18:5-6: “Indeed, the light of the wicked fails; The flame of his fire does not shine. The light in his tent darkens; His lamp fails him.” Job is also refuting the wisdom statement found in Prov. 24:20: “For there is no future for the evil man; The lamp of the wicked goes out.” Clines (p. 524) makes an excellent point about the potency of Job’s argument: “The fact is, if Job is even only half right… the friends case is doomed. Even a single case of a prosperous wicked man would destroy the friends’ dogma.”

In vv. 27-34 Job tells his friends to ask the travelers for insights about the issue: “You must have consulted the wayfarers; You cannot deny their evidence.” It seems that the travelers would have seen the world and better understood the fates of men. While the wayfarers are not often appealed to in Tanakh (but see Lam. 1:12), Ben Sira 31:10-11 speaks of the wisdom one gains from travelling: “He that hath no experience knoweth little: but he that hath travelled is full of prudence. When I travelled, I saw many things; and I understand more than I can express.”

Note: While I do not usually speak about theology, Clines makes a poignant point about Job’s speech (p. 536): “No one these days wants a doctrine of retribution as simplistic as that advocated by Job’s friends, but what Job puts in its place is scary. If Job is right, there is no moral order at all and your moral behavior or otherwise will have no effect on your well-being. This is the challenge Job’s speech brings, not just to the religious believer, but to any person with moral values. Inculcated in all of us is the belief that certain behavior is not just right in itself but beneficial, and even that the rewards that certain moral behavior entails constitute some kind of authentication of the value of that behavior. If Job is correct, there is indeed a right and a wrong, but no one should imagine that doing the right and eschewing the wrong is going to yield any benefit; if anything, it is wrongdoing that yields the greatest benefit.”

VI. Works Used

(see “Commentaries” page)
Clines, Job 21-37 (Word Biblical Commentary)
Hakham, Job (Daat Mikra)

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