Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
But Job answered and said,XXI.
(1) But Job answered.—Having, in Job 19, declared his belief in a retribution to come, Job now proceeds to traverse more directly Zophar’s last contention, and to show that even in this life there is not the retribution which he maintained there was.
Hear diligently my speech, and let this be your consolations.(2) Hear diligently my speech.—“Listen to my words, and let that be the consolation you give me.”
As for me, is my complaint to man? and if it were so, why should not my spirit be troubled?(4) Is my complaint to man?—“It is not to man that I complain. I do not ask for your sympathy, and, therefore, why should ye resent an offence that is not given? If, however, I did ask it, might not my spirit with good reason be impatient? But, on the contrary, my complaint is to God; and, concerning the ways of God, I venture to ask why it is that His justice is so tardy; and this is a problem which when I remember it I am troubled, and horror taketh hold on my flesh, so difficult and arduous is it.”
Their seed is established in their sight with them, and their offspring before their eyes.(8) Their seed is established in their sight.—Not only are they mighty in power themselves, but they leave their power to their children after them (comp. Psalm 17:14). This contradicts what Eliphaz had said (Job 15:34), what Bildad had said (Job 18:19), and what Zophar had said (Job 20:10).
Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them.(9) Their houses are safe from fear.—On the contrary, Zophar had just said that “a fire not blown should consume him” (Job 20:26), and Bildad (in Job 18:15) that “destruction should dwell in his tabernacle, and brimstone be scattered on his habitation.”
They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children dance.(11, 12) They send forth their little ones . . .—In striking contrast to the fate of Job’s own children, and in contradiction to what Eliphaz had said (Job 15:29-33).
They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave.(13) In a moment.—They go down to death without being made to feel the lingering tortures that Job had to undergo.
Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.(14) Therefore they say unto God.—Should be, Yet they said unto God, Depart from us, &c.
Lo, their good is not in their hand: the counsel of the wicked is far from me.(16) Lo, their good (i.e., their prosperity) is not in their own hand.—And that constitutes the mystery of it, for it is God who gives it to them; or the words may be a hypothetical answer to his statement, thus, “Lo, thou repliest, their prosperity is not,” &c.; and then the words, “the counsel of the wicked is far from me,” are Job’s indignant repudiation of all knowledge of their reasoning.
How oft is the candle of the wicked put out! and how oft cometh their destruction upon them! God distributeth sorrows in his anger.(17) How oft is the candle of the wicked put out?—This and the following verse are either a concession on the part of Job, as much as to say, “I admit that it is as you say with the wicked;” or else they should be read interrogatively, “How often is it that we do see this? “
God layeth up his iniquity for his children: he rewardeth him, and he shall know it.(19) God layeth up his iniquity (i.e., the punishment of it) for his children, may be the hypothetical reply of the antagonists in the mouth of Job, and the second clause his own retort: “Let him repay it to himself that he may know it.”
His eyes shall see his destruction, and he shall drink of the wrath of the Almighty.(20) His eyes shall see his destruction.—This may be understood as the continuation of Job’s suggested amendment of the Divine government. “His own eyes should see his destruction, and he should drink of the wrath, &c. For what concern or interest hath he in his house after him when the number of his months is cut off, &c. “
Shall any teach God knowledge? seeing he judgeth those that are high.(22) Shall any teach God knowledge? may be regarded as the hypothetical reply of the antagonist. If the reader prefers to understand these latter verses in any other way, it is open to him to do so, but in our judgment it seems better to understand them thus. The supposed alternative hypothetical argument seems to throw much light upon them.
One dieth in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet.(23) One dieth.—Job enlarges on the inequality of human fate, showing that death is the only equaliser.
His breasts are full of milk, and his bones are moistened with marrow.(24) His breasts.—This is an uncertain word, occurring only here. Some understand it literally of milk-pails, others of the lacteals of the human body, which certainly suits the parallelism better.
They shall lie down alike in the dust, and the worms shall cover them.(26) They shall lie down alike in the dust.—Not only, therefore, is the inequality of their life a stumbling-block, but so also is the equality which obliterates all distinction between them in death.
For ye say, Where is the house of the prince? and where are the dwelling places of the wicked?(28) Of the prince—i.e., of the generous, virtuous, princely man?—the antithesis to the wicked man. “Behold I know your thoughts, for ye say, How can we tell who is virtuous and who is wicked? and consequently we know not to which catalogue you belong.” They had all along been insinuating that, though he seemed to be righteous, he was really wicked.
Have ye not asked them that go by the way? and do ye not know their tokens,(29) Their tokens—i.e., the marks and evidences of their experience, and the conclusions at which they had arrived.
That the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction? they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath.(30-33) That the wicked. . . .—These verses contain the result of their experience.
Yet shall he be brought to the grave, and shall remain in the tomb.(32) And shall remain in the tomb.—The word rendered tomb is rendered shock of corn in Job 5:26, and is not found in the sense of tomb elsewhere. It is doubtful, therefore, whether this is its meaning here. The verse may mean: “He shall be borne to the grave, and men shall watch over his sheaves,” i.e., his possessions; or “He shall be borne to the grave with as much deference as when he used to watch over his sheaves” (to protect them from robbery).
The clods of the valley shall be sweet unto him, and every man shall draw after him, as there are innumerable before him.(33) The clods of the valley shall be sweet unto him.—Death is robbed of its repulsiveness and horror, seeing that all will be glad to join in his funeral procession, and after him all men will draw (in endless procession), and before him they will be without number.
How then comfort ye me in vain, seeing in your answers there remaineth falsehood?(34) There remaineth falsehood.—Or, all that is left of them is transgression, that is to say, it is not only worthless, but yet more, it is even harmful and wrong.