Job 21 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 21. Job’s Reply to Zophar
It is part of the Poet’s art no doubt to make Job wait till all the three have spoken and fully developed their case before he replies to it. But his art is also nature. Job at the beginning of each round of speeches is too much occupied with himself, with the broad general impressions which his condition and the conduct of his friends make on him, to be able for a time to attend to their special arguments. In the earlier part of the first colloquy he is overpowered by the thought that God has become his enemy. In the beginning of the second the thought that men also have turned against him crushes him to the ground. And under the weight of these feelings he seems unable to fix his mind on mere points of argument, he only knows that his friends are arguing against him. There is much humanity in Job, and his mind moves by preference in the region of human feelings, the rights of the wretched, the claims of sentient life, the mysteries of human existence and the riddles of the world, and it is unwillingly that he descends from this region into the arena of disputation. It is only the corrosive language of Zophar that awakens him on each occasion to the particular meaning of his friends’ addresses. Both times his challenge brings Job into the field, the first time with all the bitterness of sarcasm (ch. 12), and now with the trenchant force of an argument from facts.
Zophar began his speech with the astonished query, Dost thou know this to have been from of old that the triumphing of the wicked is short? (ch. Job 20:4-5), and closed his history of the wicked man suddenly cut down in the vigour of his life ( Job 21:11) with the words, Lo! this is the portion of the wicked man from God ( Job 21:29). These words from God call up before Job’s soul the great mystery with which he is struggling. According to his own former faith as well as that of his friends this should have been a true account of God’s rule of the world. But Job’s vision had been sharpened as well as widened by his own history, and he now observed much in the world which had formerly escaped him. He saw that this was no true statement of God’s dealing with wickedness. God dealt with it quite otherwise; and the mystery overwhelms him, and instead of chiding his friends he can only appeal to them to contemplate the awful riddle of providence, at the thought of which he himself trembles ( Job 21:6).This riddle, the prosperity of the wicked in God’s hand ( Job 21:16), their peaceful death ( Job 21:13), and even the renown of their memory ( Job 21:33), he then proceeds to unfold. The passage has these parts:
First, Job 21:2-6, some words of introduction, in which Job bids his friends be silent till he unfolds before them the mystery which weighs down his own soul and the thought of which makes him tremble then they may mock if they have a mind.
Second, Job 21:7-34, the mystery itself, the prosperity of the wicked, in four turns:
Job 21:6-16. The wicked are prosperous, themselves, their children, their possessions, and they die in peace. This is an undeniable fact of experience.
Job 21:16-21. On the other side, How often is it that they are seen overwhelmed by calamity? There is no such invariable principle. They do not die sudden and violent deaths as the friends represented.
Job 21:22-26. Why then should men the friends be wiser than God? Why should they impose their petty principles on God’s providence, and prescribe methods to Him which He does not follow?
Job 21:27-34. Finally Job turns to the insinuations of his friends he knows the meaning of their indirect allusions, when they say, Where is the house of the prince ( Job 21:28)? but they only shew their ignorance of the testimony of those who have travelled ( Job 21:30), and their little sense of the unfathomableness of God’s ways, and even if possible less sense of the ways of men, who have no such horror of the wicked as the friends pretend, but who press forward in their footsteps, admiring their prosperity and forgetting their wickedness ( Job 21:34).
Ch. 21. The great Mystery of Providence, the Prosperity of the Wicked
Job 21:2-6. Job begs his friends to give audience till he speak. This is the consolation he seeks from them meantime; when he has spoken they may mock, if they are able ( Job 21:2-3). It is not of men that he complains, it is a deeper divine mystery, at which his flesh trembles when he thinks of it, and which will fill them with astonishment when he discloses it ( Job 21:4-6).
Consult other comments:
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".