Job 21:1-34

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Job replied to the words of Zophar. As in the case of his previous responses, he also included Eliphaz and Bildad in his comments. (21:1)

“Listen, listen to my words,” Job said to Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, “and let this be your consolations.” The repetition of verb forms for “listen” constituted Job’s request for the three men to listen attentively. That was the only consolation or comfort that he asked them to express toward him. The Septuagint words the thought differently. “Listen, listen, to my words, that this consolation [will] not [be] for me from you.” This rendering suggests that Job wanted his three companions to listen attentively to him so that they would stop their hurtful talk which they considered to be consolation for Job. (21:2)

Job asked his companions to “bear” with him, allowing him to speak. Then, after he had finished talking, the one whom Job specifically addressed could “mock on.” In the Hebrew text, the verb for “mock on” is singular and so may be understood as directed to Zophar who had been the last one of the three men to speak. In the Septuagint, however, Job is represented as directing his words to all three men. “Lift me up,” or bear with me, “and I will speak. Then you will not laugh me to scorn.” (21:3)

The implied answer to Job’s rhetorical question would be that his “complaint” (“refutation” or “argument” [LXX]) had not been directed to a man, an earthling, or a mortal, but to God. In view of the calamities that had befallen him and the suffering to which he had been subjected, Job asked, “Why should not my spirit” (or temper) “be short?” (“Why should I not be angry?” [LXX]) (21:4)

Job asked Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to look at him or to take notice of him in his afflicted state. Their doing so should have caused them to be appalled or horrified. The act of putting the hand on the mouth would have been an expression of astonishment and fright. It would not have been a time for opening the mouth to speak. Job’s imperative to put the hand on the mouth is expressed with a singular verb and could be understood to apply to Zophar as the one who had spoken last or could have been directed to all of them individually. In the Septuagint, the verb for “lay” is a plural participle, and the entire phrase may be translated, “laying the hand on the cheek” (not “mouth” as in the extant Hebrew text). (21:5)

When Job remembered or thought about the condition in which he found himself, he was terrified. Shuddering took hold of his “flesh” or his entire body. The Septuagint refers to “pains” as taking hold of his “flesh.” (21:6)

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had insisted that the wicked are consistently the ones who suffer, but Job had seen repeated evidence to the contrary. Therefore, he raised the rhetorical question, “Why do the wicked [impious (LXX)] live” (not dying prematurely in expression of God’s punitive judgment)? They attain old age and end up being mighty in power or prominent and influential. According to the rendering of the Septuagint, “they become old, even in wealth.” (21:7)

Among the wicked or impious, Job had observed that their children were “established” or settled securely in their presence, and “their offspring before their eyes.” They had not lost their sons and daughters like Job had. (21:8; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

Job had noticed that, among the wicked or impious, “their houses” were “safe from fear” or secure. According to the Septuagint, their houses prospered, and there was no fear anywhere. No “rod” (“whip” or “scourge”) of punishment from God had come upon them. (21:9)

Job observed that the corrupt man did well in raising livestock. His bull consistently sired, and his cow calved without experiencing loss. The Septuagint rendering indicates that the bovine did not miscarry and that the pregnant cow came through safely or well and did not “stumble” or end up with a mishap. (21:10)

Anciently, a man’s fathering many children was considered to be very desirable. Job referred to godless ones as sending forth their little ones “like a flock” or in great number. Their children danced, suggesting that they were well and happy. According to the Septuagint, impious ones were like sheep that did not age, and their children were playing before them. (21:11)

Godless ones or their children enjoyed themselves in singing to the accompaniment of tambourine and harp (stringed instrument and kithara [LXX]). They responded with rejoicing to the “sound of the pipe” or flute (psalms or songs [LXX]). (21:12)

Job observed that, even in their death, wicked ones did not suffer. They wore out or passed “their days with good” or in prosperity. As expressed in the Septuagint, they finished their life with good things. “In a moment,” they went down to Sheol, dying peacefully without suffering an extended period of painful illness. The Septuagint refers to them as falling asleep in the “rest of Hades,” that is, in a peaceful rest in the realm of the dead. (21:13)

Job noticed that the impious had no regard for God. In attitude, they said to the Almighty, “Depart from us, and we do not desire knowledge of your ways.” They wanted to be as distant as possible from God and did not want to know the ways that he approved, as they had no desire to follow them. (21:14; see the Notes section.)

Wicked ones felt that there was nothing to be gained from a relationship with God. Job represented them as saying, “What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what benefit do we get if we encounter him [with a request]?” In their estimation, they were better off without God. (21:15; see the Notes section.)

Even though Job had observed wicked ones prospering, he appears to have recognized that their “good things” were “not in their hand” or under their complete control. The thought could be that they prospered because God permitted it. As far as Job was concerned, he shunned the ways of the godless ones. Their “counsel,” purpose, or objective was far from him, totally contrary to the manner in which he chose to live his life. (21:16)

In the Septuagint, the wording differs from the extant Hebrew text. It says that the “good things” of the impious ones “were in their hands,” suggesting that they had control of their possessions. With reference to God, Job is quoted as saying, “He does not look upon the works of the impious ones,” giving no favorable attention to any of their activities or achievements. (21:16)

Although Job did not follow the ways of the wicked ones, he still recognized the reality that they often did not experience punitive judgment for their wrongdoing. He asked rhetorically, “How often is the lamp of the wicked extinguished and their calamity comes upon them?” The implication is that there are many occasions when the bright prospects and joy of the wicked do not end as when darkness or gloom replaces the light of a lamp that has been extinguished. They often escape calamity. The Hebrew text concludes with the implied thought that God does not in every case distribute “pains” to the wicked “in his anger.” (21:17; see the Notes section.)

Job continued rhetorically to make the point about the wicked continuing to prosper. He raised the question about how often the wicked are “like straw before wind” and “like chaff a storm carries away,” coming to their end like mere refuse. (21:18; see the Notes section.)

If the wicked personally do not experience punitive judgment during their lifetime, the claim might be that “God stores up” the unrequited iniquity of the wicked man “for his sons” or children. Job countered with the thought that the wicked man should be punished for his own wrongdoing. God should recompense it to him so that “he may know” or personally experience the punitive judgment. (21:19; see the Notes section.)

Job believed that the wicked one should be punished for his own vile deeds. “Let his eyes see his ruin [slaughter (LXX)], and let him drink of” or experience “the wrath of the Almighty.” The Septuagint concludes with the words, “And from the Lord, may he not escape,” indicating that he should not be delivered from having the divine punishment administered to him. (21:20)

For his offspring to suffer punishment would have no effect on the deceased wicked man. Job expressed this with the words, “For what does he care for his house” or household “after him, and the number of months is cut off?” He would have no awareness of any member of his household after he has died, and the number of the months of his allotted life has ended. (21:21; see the Notes section.)

Perhaps the thought that underlies the rhetorical question about teaching God knowledge is that this is what Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar tried to do. They considered calamities and suffering to be the divine punishment for wrongdoing, insisting that this is the way God governed the affairs of humans. In effect, they taught God that this is what they expected from him. Job’s rhetorical question did not agree with this kind of teaching. “Will anyone teach knowledge to God, and he [is the one who] judges high ones?” With God being the judge even of those occupying the most exalted position, anyone who presumed to teach knowledge to God would be presumptuous. (21:22; see the Notes section.)

Job observed that life could turn out altogether differently for one individual than for another. At the time of death, one person may still be “in his full strength” (literally, “in his full bone,” meaning either without serious illness and infirmity or in a prosperous state of well-being), “all of it at ease and in quiet,” at peace, or secure. This could denote that the person had enjoyed prosperity and good health throughout life. (21:23; see the Notes section.)

The initial phrase of verse 24 describes the man who prospered during his lifetime in terms that are of uncertain meaning. This accounts for a variety of renderings. “His pails are full of milk” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “His loins full of milk.” (NRSV) “His loins full of vigor.” (REB) “[His] thighs padded with fat.” (NJB) “His figure is full and nourished.” (NAB) The Septuagint refers to “his inwards” as being “full of fat.” Regarding the “marrow of his bones,” the Hebrew text says that it is “watered” or moist, and the corresponding word in the Septuagint may be rendered “diffused.” The basic thought of the verse appears to be that the man was not emaciated or decrepit but vigorous. (21:24)

Another man dies “bitter” with reference to his “soul” or as a person whose life was filled with hardships and suffering. He was a man who never ate, tasted, or experienced a “good thing.” (21:25)

Although the lives of people may prove to be different, death is the eventuality all of them face. Job is quoted as saying, “Together they will go down in the dust, and worms” or maggots (“decay” [LXX]) “will cover them,” feeding on their decaying corpses. (21:26)

Job understood the arguments of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They had accused him of serious wrongdoing, indicated that his calamities and suffering were the deserved punishment from God for his transgressions, and called upon him to change his ways. They, however, were wrong, and Job told them, “I know,” or understand, “your thoughts and the schemes” or means by which “you do violence against me.” They acted violently against him when they, without any proof, accused him of being a corrupt man. The Septuagint rendering indicates that Job knew them and that they were daring, reckless, or bold in their attack against him. (21:27)

Job expressed the basic contention of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar by means of a question, telling them, “For you say, Where [is] the house of the noble, and where [is] the tent — the habitations of the wicked?” The implication was that their dwelling places had ceased to exist because of their evil conduct and vile practices. Therefore, in the view of the three men, the losses and suffering Job had experienced established his guilt, for he would still have been in possession of everything if he had been guiltless. (21:28; see the Notes section.)

Job indicated that those who traveled were aware that the conclusions of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were wrong. He did so by raising the question about whether they had not asked those traveling on the roads and whether they did not acknowledge the “signs” or proofs to which these travelers could point. The Greek text of Theodotion represents Job as telling Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar not to treat the “signs” as foreign or to discount them. (21:29)

Based on their observations, travelers knew that a wicked man could end up being spared “in the day of calamity,” and the wicked could escape the “day of wrath” or the time when disaster struck.(21:30)

Job implied that no one even tells the wicked one “to his face” about “his way,” exposing it as evil and reproving him. No one repays him for what he has done. (21:31)

The wicked one’s corpse is carried to the grave, indicating that he is given an honorable burial. “Watch is kept over his tomb.” Even his dead body appears to be represented as being secure. (21:32)

With a wicked man being buried in a valley or a ravine, the clods of the valley at the burial site would be “sweet” or pleasant to him. The reference to “all men” following after him and to a countless multitude “before him” could apply to the many in the funeral procession. It is also possible that those following after him are persons who imitate his corrupt way of life, whereas the countless multitude “before him” could be the many from past generations who lived godless lives. (21:33)

The evidence that wicked ones often escape punitive judgment proved that the arguments of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were wrong. Therefore, Job could say that they offered comfort vainly, expressing nothing that consoled him in his afflicted state. Their replies to him “remained unfaithfulness,” for their comments were untrustworthy and treacherous. The concluding words of the Septuagint could be understood to indicate that Job had no rest from the three men. In view of their repeated attacks, this would certainly have been the case. (21:34)


In verse 8, the initial phrase of the Septuagint says, “Their sowing according to the soul.” This “sowing” could designate their seed or offspring, and could indicate that their offspring flourished just as the impious ones desired.

In verse 14, the Septuagint conveys the same thought as does the extant Hebrew text. The exception is that the impious one (singular) is represented as making the expression. In the Hebrew text, the words are the sentiments of the wicked ones (plural).
The words of verse 15 were not found in the Septuagint available to Origen in the third century CE. He marked them as having been added from the version of Theodotion. The Greek rendering is, “What is the Self-sufficient One, that we should serve him? And what benefit [is it], that we should encounter him [with a request]?”

In verse 17, the Septuagint rendering is in agreement with the words of Bildad. (18:6) “The lamp of the impious ones will be extinguished, and the overthrow will come upon them, and pains will seize them on account of anger.” The reference to “anger” could mean that God’s wrath would be directed against them, causing them to experience pains or suffering. According to the Hebrew text, Job disagreed with the words of Bildad. He observed that the wicked continued to prosper as if light from a lamp was shining for them, dispelling darkness or gloom in their lives.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 18 indicates that the godless ones “will be like chaff before wind or like dust that a whirlwind has taken away.”

The initial wording of verse 19 in the Septuagint differs from the extant Hebrew text. “May his possessions desert [his] sons.” The possessions of the godless one would be lost to his children. Origen, in the third century CE, marked the concluding phrase of verse 19 as having been added from the version of Theodotion. “He [God] will repay him, and he [the godless one] will know” or experience the recompense. These words were not found in the Septuagint available to Origen.

Origen, in the third century CE, did not find the words in verse 21 in the Septuagint available to him. He marked them as having been added from the version of Theodotion. The Greek text is, “For what is his desire in his house” or household “after him?” “And the numbers of his months have been allotted to him.” A dead man has no desire or will respecting his house or the members of his household. No months of his life are left remaining.

In verse 22, the Septuagint rendering represents God as the one doing the teaching. “Is it not the Lord who teaches insight and understanding? And he will judge murders [acts of murder or massacre].” The Hebrew participle for “high ones” begins with the letter resh (R), and the word meaning “murders” or “acts of murder” starts with the letter daleth (D). These two letters are easily confused, and this probably accounts for the rendering “murders” in the Septuagint.

In the third century CE, Origen did not find the words of verse 23 in the Septuagint available to him. He marked them as having been added from the version of Theodotion. The added Greek text reads, “This one shall die in the strength of his simplicity, and completely comfortable and prosperous.”

The words of the entire section from verse 28 through verse 33 were missing in the Septuagint available to Origen in the third century CE. He marked them as having been added from the version of Theodotion. The added Greek text reads much like the extant Hebrew text.