Job 21 Commentary

Job 21 Commentary

Let’s look together at Job, chapter 21 for this Job 21 commentary.

Last time in chapter 20 we had a strange speech from Zophar. He seemed to be preoccupied with food as he described what he believed happens to all wicked men.

And what Zophar described matches the system of theology that he and his two buddies – and even Job up to this point – have believed. And that is the idea that wicked men are punished right away in this life. In contrast, righteous men are rewarded right away in this life.

This is what we’ve labeled “Retribution Theology.”

Everyone believes it in the book of Job. That is, up to this point.

But something really interesting happens in this chapter – chapter 21.

Job starts articulating the ways in which this theology is wrong. We haven’t seen him do this yet. Job has mostly defended himself to his friends by pleading his innocence – by expressing bewilderment as to why he’s suffering – and by sometimes flatly accusing God of not doing things right. There have also been times where Job’s faith shines through the darkness of his own spiritual turmoil.

But never before have we seen Job make an attack directed squarely at the faulty assumptions of Retribution Theology.

That is, until now.

So, as we enter into this last cycle of speeches between Job and his friends – we’ll see Job developing in his understanding of reality. We’ll see him questioning his man-made theology.

Job 21 Commentary: Please listen to me

And so, Job has something substantial to say to these three friends of his right now. And so, he starts this chapter in verses 1-4 by demanding that these men listen to him.

KJV Job 21:1 But Job answered and said,

2 [Hear diligently/Listen carefully to] my [speech/words],
and let this be your consolations [i.e., that you offer me…].

So, he says “You want to console me? That’s why you came here? Well, then do just this one thing for me – listen to me!!!

3 [Suffer/Bear with] me [that/and] I may speak;
and after that I have spoken, mock on.

So, you can sense the sarcasm. He’s telling them that they can wait just a little while so that he can speak. And then after he speaks, he gives them permission to continue to mock him.

Obviously, Job doesn’t want them continuing to mock him. And so a command like this is to be taken as sarcasm. And that’s partly because these friends certainly wouldn’t think that what they were doing could be considered mocking. After all, they came to console. Not to mock.

And yet, their consolations to Job have been so pathetic that he declares that what they’re doing is nothing more than mocking.

Job 21 Commentary: I am complaining to God

And one thing that Job wants to remind these men of is that his complaint is not against them. It’s against God.

4 As for me, is my complaint [to/again a] man?
[and if it were so/and why/if so], why should [not my spirit/I not] be [troubled/impatient]?

And I don’t know about you, but when someone under my authority complains about something – really, anything – a strange thing can happen. I can assume that that person is complaining about me.

She could be complaining about anything – even something that has nothing to do with me. And yet, when there’s a complaint, I can easily think that the complaint is directed against me.

And I wonder if that’s what Job is getting at here. He’s wanting to assure his friends that his complaint is not at all against them – or, at least it wasn’t originally. The friends aren’t Job’s real problem. Job’s problem is with God himself.

So, Job is trying to assure the friends that this is nothing personal against them. He’s having problems figuring out why God is seeming to punish him even though he’s righteous.

So, in other words, he’s telling the friends to back off. Job’s complaint and impatience is directed against the Lord.

Job 21 Commentary: An astonishing reality

And so, now Job is going to lay out that complaint against the Lord.

Job – all his life, apparently – has believed the Retribution principle of how God works in this world. Wicked men are punished in this life. Righteous men are rewarded in this life. That’s just how God works – at least, from what we can see in this world

But through his suffering, Job has been brought to a place where he now understands that God doesn’t do this.

Sometimes God punishes the righteous. I mean, after all, Job knows himself to be righteous. And yet – to Job – it’s like God has gone haywire and is now actually punishing him rather than rewarding him.

And so, now Job looks at what the friends have been telling him over and over again about how the wicked man is punished in this life and how his life is so hard and how God gets him right away… And Job is looking at that and he’s now going to say, “That’s just not the way God works.

Job 21 Commentary: Preparing for that reality

But this kind of startling revelation takes some preparation to receive. And so, Job starts this section that spans from verse 5 to the very end of this chapter by warning his friends to prepare themselves for what he’s about to say in verses 5 and 6.

5 [Mark/Look at] me, and be [astonished/appalled],
and [lay/put] your hand [upon/over] your mouth.

6 [Even/For] when I [remember/think about this] I am [afraid/disturbed/terrified],
and [trembling/horror/a shudder] [taketh hold on/is felt by] my [flesh/body].

And Job will now get in to what makes him afraid and causes trembling to take hold on this flesh.

Job 21 Commentary: The wicked do well

But first, I want to say that in this chapter we’re going to see Job doing a little too much idealizing of the life of the wicked. We know that the life of the wicked is not as great as Job is going to say here.

But I think that Job is looking at a composite picture of the typical wicked man’s life. He’s looking “from the other side of the fence” where he notices that it seems like “the grass is greener on the other side.”

And Job is especially looking at the lives of wicked men and comparing their lives to his – and then he’s also comparing what he sees in the lives of wicked men to what these three friends of his are asserting. And it’s just not lining up.

And so, Job is reacting to two things as he gives this idealized portrait of the wicked man’s life – to his own calamitous existence and to the gross overstatements of his misguided friends.

Job 21 Commentary: Longevity and quality of life

OK, so Job begins to reveal this shocking reality – that the wicked actually do well in this life – by noticing the longevity and quality of their lives in verse 7. And he states this in the form of a question.

7 Wherefore do the wicked [live/keep living/go on living],
[become old/continue on/grow old], [yea/also/even], [are mighty/increase] in power?

So, the wicked live. No – they don’t just live. They continue or grow old. Wait a second – they don’t just grow old, they actually increase in their might and power.

So, not only do wicked men sometimes not just die as a punishment from God. Sometimes they do very well in this life and live for a long time!

Job 21 Commentary: Longevity and safety of progeny

And not only do wicked people live a long time. So do their offspring. And so, Job turns to the matter of the longevity and safety of the children of wicked men in verse 8.

8 Their [seed/children] [is/are] [i.e., firmly…] established in their sight with them,
and their offspring before their eyes.

So, unlike Job’s kids, the kids of wicked people often live a safe and long life. That in contrast to a few things we’ve heard from these friends – and even from Job himself – to the effect that the children of wicked men always meet with calamity. That simply is not the case – at least it doesn’t always happen.

Job 21 Commentary: No reason to fear God

And so, because of these realities – long life and safety and prosperity for both them and their children – the wicked have absolutely no reason to fear God according to verse 9.

9 Their houses are safe [from/and without] fear,
neither is the rod [i.e., of punishment…] of God upon them.

So, there’s not just “no fear of God” – but really, no reason to fear God. His chastening rod is not after them. They’re safe with nothing to disturb them.

This is in contrast to the picture that these men have constantly been painting – that the wicked are harried at every turn by God. That their houses are destroyed and cast into darkness, etc.

It just doesn’t happen like that, Job is now recognizing.

Job 21 Commentary: Unimaginable agricultural success

In fact, it’s not just that the wicked fear nothing negative happening to them. The converse is true – according to verse 10, they so often meet with unimaginable agricultural success.

10 Their bull [gendereth/mates/breeds], [and faileth not/without fail];
their cow calveth, and [casteth not her calf/does not miscarry].

So, bovines provided men with food and with power to plow their fields and do other manual work. In some ways they could even assist with some form of transportation.

To have these creatures mate successfully was key to the success of a farmer.

And I’m not a farmer and most of you aren’t either. So, let me try to bring this into our world.

Bulls mating and cows having calves would be like you making a box of noodles – and suddenly another box magically takes its place! Or when your car finally bites the dust, you’re not bothered because actually you have a few more cars in fine shape just parked in your back yard.

So, bulls and cows reproducing is so key to the success of a farmer. And Job is now recognizing that this happens to the wicked. According to his former theology – wicked men’s cows should always be barren or birthing stillborn calves. But they don’t.

And Job is now going so far as to say that sometimes their bovines are 100% successful in mating.

Job 21 Commentary: Fruitful and joyful domestic life

And, in addition – not only are the agricultural pursuits of the wicked fruitful and joyful. So is the domestic life of these wicked men, according to verse 11.

11 They send forth their little ones like a flock,
and their children dance.

The friends make it sound like the families of wicked men are full of misery.

Not so – Job says. They have abundant children – like flocks. And these little ones are happy and dancing, often.

Job 21 Commentary: Joyful existence all-around

And it’s not just the children of the wicked who are joyful – these wicked men themselves can oftentimes have an all-around joyful existence, according to verse 12!

12 They take the timbrel and harp,
and rejoice at the sound of the [organ/flute].

And no wonder they are so filled with joy. Just look at how their lives are characterized by Job!

Job 21 Commentary: Perfect life and death

And yet, death will come – even to these wicked men whose lives are so seemingly perfect. And yet, Job is going to assert in verse 13 that both the life and even the death of these men is just perfectly pleasant.

13 They [spend their days/live out their years] in [wealth/prosperity],
and [in a moment/suddenly/peacefully] go down to the grave.

So, in life, the wicked man is wealthy and prosperous. And he deserves a really horrible and prolonged death. But that’s not what he gets. His death is sudden and peaceful.

Job 21 Commentary: Defiance to God’s face

And because of all of this, the wicked man defies God to his face, according to verses 14 and 15.

14 [Therefore/So] they say unto God,

Depart from us;
for we [desire not the knowledge of/don’t want to know] thy ways.

15 [What/Who] is the Almighty, that we should serve him?
and what [profit should we have/would we gain], if we pray unto him?

And they have a point. What’s the use of praying to God when a person has everything he wants? That’s the way the natural mind thinks.

And yet, here we have Job. A man who will serve God “for nothing” – as we heard in the first two chapters of this book.

But he’s a rare case. Most people – as Satan noted in those first two chapters – serve God for the stuff he gives. As long as he gives the stuff, we follow. The moment he stops giving the stuff, we forsake him.

But not so with Job. And that shouldn’t be the case for us either.

Brethren – are you prepared to follow God even if he makes your life miserable? Are you prepared to Trust God’s Wisdom, even if you can’t Understand His Ways?

When we’re gathered together to Jesus Christ, I guarantee that you and I and our brother Job will find it completely worth-it that we followed the Lord – even if and when he took all of our stuff away. So, let’s live like that’s the case right now.

Job 21 Commentary: This, despite God’s blessings

Well, Job had just declared that the wicked don’t serve or pray to God because they have everything they want already.

And yet, the ironic part of the whole matter is that it’s God himself that has actually given the wicked everything that they have – according to verse 16.

16 [Lo/But], their [good/prosperity] is not [in their hand/of their own doing]:

the counsel of the wicked is far from me.

So, Job reviews these things and declares that – contrary to what his friends say – Job is not wicked. And further, he has absolutely no desire to share the activities, heart attitudes, or words of these men. Their counsel and advice is far from Job, he says.

Job 21 Commentary: Questioning the wicked man’s demise

Well, next, Job asks five questions in verses 17 and 18 – all of which are intended to cast doubt on the assumptions of his friends regarding what the life of the wicked man is really like.

17 How oft is the [candle/lamp] of the wicked [put out!/extinguished?]
and how oft cometh their [destruction/calamity/misfortune] upon them[!/?]
[i.e., How often does…] God [distributeth/apportions] [sorrows/destruction/pain] [i.e., to them…] in his anger[./?]

18 [They are/Are they/How often are they] [as/like] [stubble/straw] before the wind[,/?]
and [as/like] chaff that the storm carrieth away[./?]

So, Job is saying – does what you guys are saying really happen?

And Job has come to the conclusion that – no – the lamp of the wicked is not put out and their destruction often does not come and God doesn’t give them sorrow and they’re not like stubble or chaff.

Their lives are far from being short and sad. This is in direct contradiction to their Retribution Theology-understanding of the way that God works in this world.

Job 21 Commentary: Questioning God’s delayed justice

Ah – but Job’s friends might reply something like this to what Job just said… “Yes, Job, perhaps sometimes God doesn’t punish the wicked man directly. But at least God will be sure to punish his children!

And Job takes issue with that in verses 19 through 21.

19 [i.e., You may say, “…] God [layeth/stores] up his [iniquity/punishment] for his children:

So, yeah, that’s how this could work. God could possibly be saving his wrath for the children of the wicked man. But Job doesn’t like that arrangement at all…

[he rewardeth him/Let God repay him/Instead let him repay the man himself], [and/so that] he [shall/may] know it.

20 [His eyes shall/Let his own eyes] see his [destruction/decay],
and [he shall/let him] drink of the wrath of the Almighty.

So, why would God wait to punish the wicked man’s kids? What good does that do? How does that hurt the wicked man at all? That’s what Job asks in verse 21.

21 For what [pleasure hath he in/does he care for/is his interest in] his [house/household/home] after [him/his death],
when the number of his months [is cut off in the midst/is cut off/has been broken off]?

Job 21 Commentary: But I shouldn’t be questioning God

And I think we need to catch what we just witnessed in those last few verses. Job is confronting – not just his friends and their faulty assumptions – but he’s really questioning why God is doing things the way he does them – or at least, the way that these men are thinking God works.

And that realization – that Job is directly questioning the way God runs this world – causes Job to step back a bit and acknowledge that he’s on shaky ground. Because – as he says in verse 22…

22 [Shall any/Can anyone] teach God knowledge?
[seeing/since] he judgeth those that are high.

Job 21 Commentary: The seeming randomness of death

And yet, Job isn’t going to stop questioning the way that God works in this world any time soon.

And so, Job continues into verses 23-26 by declaring the seeming randomness of death.

23 One [i.e., man…] dieth in his full [strength/vigor],
[being wholly/completely] [at ease/secure] and [quiet/satisfied/prosperous].

24 His [breasts/sides/body] are [full/filled out] [of milk/with fat] [i.e., well nourished…],
and his bones are moistened with marrow.

So, that’s the fortunate guy – the one whose death is sudden and whose life has been just great.

Then there’s the other kind of guy – the one that Job more closely resembles these days…

25 [And/While] another dieth in the bitterness of his soul,
and never [eateth with pleasure/having tasted anything good].

And they both share the same fate…

26 They shall lie down [alike/together] in the dust,
and the worms shall cover them.

And that’s not right! That’s not the way that God should work – according to Retribution Theology. The first guy – whose life and death are pleasant – should always be the righteous guy. And the one who dies in bitterness after a bitter life should always be the wicked guy. But that’s just not how God works in this world.

By the way, this sounds a lot like a few arguments made in the book of Ecclesiastes – don’t you think?

Job 21 Commentary: Job’s friends are thinking wrong

And with this mention of death – which Job very well might consider to be imminent for himself – Job seems to recoil at the thought that his friends probably think that if he dies in the state that he’s currently in – that that proves that he’s wicked.

27 [Behold/Yes], I know [your thoughts/what you are thinking],
and the [devices/plans/schemes] which ye wrongfully imagine against me [i.e., by which you would wrong me…].

Job 21 Commentary: Questioning the friends’ assumptions

And while Job is attacking his friends for assuming that his death would prove their point, he now is going to attack their assumptions about the fate of the wicked elite of society starting in verse 28.

28 For ye say,

Where is the house of the [prince/nobleman]?
and where are the dwelling places of the wicked?

So, Job is saying that these friends of his are assuming the quick demise of wicked men – especially wicked men in power – princes or noblemen.

Job 21 Commentary: They’re obviously wrong

But Job wants to state that these friends are obviously wrong in their assuming that the powerful wicked of the world meet their demise quickly in this life. And everyone knows it – verse 29.

29 Have ye not asked [them that go by the way/wayfaring men/those who travel the roads]?
and do ye not [know/recognize] their [tokens/witness/accounts],

And Job’s intention is that if these friends had asked anyone that sees what’s happening in the world, they would know that what they’re thinking regarding the wicked is totally absurd and indefensible.

Job 21 Commentary: The wicked avoids punishment in this life

And what these travelers who know what’s happening in this world would tell these friends is that the wicked avoids punishment in this life – according to verses 30 and 31.

30 That the wicked is [reserved to/spared from] the day of [destruction/calamity/destruction]?
they [shall be brought forth to/he is delivered from] the day of wrath.

31 Who [shall declare/will confront/will denounce] his [way/actions/conduct] to his face?
and who shall repay him what he hath done?

And the answer to he questions in verse 31 in Job’s mind is “Nobody!” No one is going to denounce the wicked in this life. No one will repay him for what he’s done in this life.

And I think that at this point, Job is getting so exasperated with his suffering and his friends’ wrong answers – that Job might even be starting to question whether the wicked ever gets what’s coming to him – even after this life!

Of course, we know from the Scripture that there is a punishment for the wicked – at the very least, after this life. And so, if Job is questioning that, he’s wrong.

Job 21 Commentary: The death of the wicked is sweet

And yet, what Job asserts next is right – at least some of the times. And that is, that the death of the wicked is sweet – according to verses 32 and 33.

32 Yet shall he [be brought/is carried] to the grave,
and [shall remain/watch is kept] [in the/over his] tomb.

33 The clods of the valley shall be sweet unto him,
and [every man/all men/everybody] shall [draw/follow] after him [i.e., in procession…],
as there are [innumerable/a countless throng] before him.

So, the wicked is oftentimes honored in his death. He’s not vilified as he ought to be. No – he’s honored.

Job 21 Commentary: The friends’ counsel from wrong assumptions can’t help Job

And so, what these friends are telling Job just can’t be trusted. They’re speaking falsehood and lies to him. And so, Job ends his speech to them in verse 34 by asserting that their counsel which is based on wrong assumptions cannot help him at all.

34 How then [comfort/console] ye me [in vain/with futile words],
seeing in your answers there [remaineth/is nothing but] falsehood?

And yet – despite this warning from Job – the sad reality is that next time in chapter 22 – Eliphaz is going to once again accuse Job of being wicked. We’ll see that next time.


  1. Bill Kennedy says:

    This has been really helpful in my bible study preparation. There have been some “WOW”God moments here.

    Thank you


  2. Chelsea Nettles says:

    I personally am going through some hardships with someone that is highly narcissistic. After doing much research on the topic, I discovered my characteristics falls in the category of an empath. I’ve been mistreated and the narcissist has caused me a great deal of pain and emotional suffering. I came across a video pertaining to the topic ” Narcissism ” and the therapist was talking about this topic from a spiritual perspective. She suggested her viewers read Job 21, so here I am in search of answers. I wanted to get some clarity from a biblical standpoint on what happens to the wicked and how is God going to deal with them. Like Job I wonder ! I understand in this life even the good has endured some suffering, but it seems as though the wicked prosper and those who are humble and upright endure and deal with a lot of suffering.


  3. Judith says:

    On point as usually…clear enough..


  4. grcea says:

    bless you for sharing your understanding of the this chapter especially in your very engaging way.

    i have never heard of the “retribution theory.” it sounds like the “karma” teaching of the hindus. though jesus taught that we reap what we sow, this covers the “beyond this life” portion of existence, that is, the totality of our existence. that is why the retribution theory is wrong because it only deals with this life when what each will fully reap will be evident only at the last judgment.


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