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JOB 21


Job Says God Will Deal With the Wicked Job's Discourse On the Wicked Reply of Job Job Facts Give The Lie

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


 1Then Job answered,
 2"Listen carefully to my speech,
 And let this be your way of consolation.
 3Bear with me that I may speak;
 Then after I have spoken, you may mock.
 4As for me, is my complaint to man?
 And why should I not be impatient?
 5Look at me, and be astonished,
 And put your hand over your mouth.
 6Even when I remember, I am disturbed,
 And horror takes hold of my flesh.
 7Why do the wicked still live,
 Continue on, also become very powerful?
 8Their descendants are established with them in their sight,
 And their offspring before their eyes,
 9Their houses are safe from fear,
 And the rod of God is not on them.
 10His ox mates without fail;
 His cow calves and does not abort.
 11They send forth their little ones like the flock,
 And their children skip about.
 12They sing to the timbrel and harp
 And rejoice at the sound of the flute.
 13They spend their days in prosperity,
 And suddenly they go down to Sheol.
 14They say to God, ‘Depart from us!
 We do not even desire the knowledge of Your ways.
 15Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him,
 And what would we gain if we entreat Him?'
 16Behold, their prosperity is not in their hand;
 The counsel of the wicked is far from me."

21:1 "Then Job answered" Job 21 is Job's major rebuttal in the second cycle of dialogue with his friends.

21:2 "Listen carefully" Job has used the imperative of "listen" (BDB 1033, KB 1570) with the infinitive absolute of the same root before (i.e., it denotes intensity, cf. Job 13:27). He feels his three comforters are not listening to him! But they also think he is not listening to them (cf. Job 15:17). Sounds like a theological debate, doesn't it?

NASB"let this be your way of consolation"
JPSOA"let this be your consolation"
TEV"that is all the comfort I ask from you"
NJB"let this be the consolation you allow me"

The word "consolation" (BDB 637) is a rare word found only in the plural. The issue is, "whose consolation" does this refer to:

1. the three comforters (NASB)

2. Job (TEV, NJB)?

I think #2 fits the context best.

Also notice that the Qal imperfect of "to be" is translated as a jussive (i.e., "let. . .").

21:3 "Bear with me" This strophe starts off with several imperatives directed at the three comforters.

1. listen carefully, Job 21:2

2. bear, Job 21:3 – Qal imperative (BDB 669, KB 724); a common verb meaning "to lift a load"

3. look, Job 21:5 – Qal imperative (BDB 815, KB 937); literally "to turn"

4. be astonished, Job 21:5 – Hiphil imperative (BDB 1030, KB 1563); this root is used often in Job in several senses

5. put your hand over your mouth, Job 21:5 – Qal imperative (BDB 962, KB 1321); another very common verb

Job is expressing (in poetic imagery) his horror and surprise that God (Job 21:4) allows the wicked to prosper (Job 21:7) when "the two ways" demands their punishment in this world!

▣ "you may mock" The "you" is singular, which many commentators have taken to refer to Zophar's angry speech in Job 20.

21:4 "be impatient" This is literally "my spirit is short." This idiom is used twice.

1. here in the sense of impatience (NJB, "perturbed")

2. Pro. 14:29, meaning quick tempered


21:5 "put your hand over your mouth" This is an ANE idiom of shock resulting in silence (cf. Job 29:9; 40:4; Mic. 7:16). The shocking statement in Job 21:4 has Job accusing God of allowing the wicked to prosper (cf. Job 21:7-16,17-26,27-34).


NASB, REB"horror"

This rare feminine Hebrew root (BDB 814, KB 935) has three senses (NASB).

1. shudder, tremble – Job 21:6 (verb in Job 9:6)

2. horror – Ps. 55:5; Isa. 21:4; Jer. 49:16; Ezek. 7:18

3. pagan image – 1 Kgs. 15:13; 2 Chr. 15:16


21:7 "Why do the wicked still live,

  Continue on, also become very powerful?" This is the theological question! This is a rebuttal to the theology of Job 18:5-21 and 20:5-11. The wicked do prosper! This has been a source of great conflict in the OT (cf. Ps. 58:1-5; Psalm 73; Jer. 12:1-2; Mal. 3:15).

21:8 "Their descendants are established with them in their sight,

  And their offspring before their eyes" This is opposite of Job 18:19. Job is implying, in his own experience, his little ones (i.e., children) have not been protected but destroyed, but the wicked's children remain with them (Job 21:8).

21:9 "the rod of God" This is imagery of God's punishing power (cf. Job 9:34; 37:13).

21:10-13 The wicked have extraordinary fertility and prosperity in their possessions.

Job 21:10 has several words used with new meanings. Remember, this is ancient ANE poetry and parallelism. There is often imagery or connotations that do not fit our modern lexicons that are limited in the amount of ancient Semitic writings (or carvings).

1. "ox mates" – BDB 716, KB 778, Piel perfect, which usually means "pass over," "pass by," or "pass through"

2. "without fail" – BDB 171, KB 199, Hiphil imperfect, which usually means "abhor," "be loathsome"

3. "cow calves" – BDB 812, KB 930, Piel imperfect, which usually means "bring into security," "cause to escape"

Word meaning in Semitic poetry is determined by

1. context

2. parallelism

3. other cognate roots


21:13 "And suddenly they go down to Sheol" This seems to refer to a sudden death instead of a long, lingering, agonizing death (like Job's).

For "Sheol" see Special Topic: Sheol.

21:14-15 This expresses the arrogance of the wicked.

Notice how they talk to God in arrogance. They trivialize His presence! They even deny His existence!

The key thought is Job 21:15b. What advantage is there in knowing, serving, obeying God? "The two ways" theology is obviously ineffective!

21:15 "the Almighty" This is a common title for Deity in Job, Shaddai. See SPECIAL TOPIC: The Almighty (Shaddai).

▣ "And what would we gain if we entreat Him" Knowing and serving God brought true peace, happiness, and prosperity (i.e., profit, BDB 418, KB 420, Hiphil imperfect). This phrase can be a question (NJB) or it is the very charge that Satan made of Job (Job. 1:9-12).

21:16 This is a very difficult verse in the Hebrew text.

1. there is a God who is active in this world (Job 21:17-26)

2. keep these kinds of men far away from me (cf. Job 22:18)

It is a summary of Job's theology.

 17"How often is the lamp of the wicked put out,
 Or does their calamity fall on them?
 Does God apportion destruction in His anger?
 18Are they as straw before the wind,
 And like chaff which the storm carries away?
 19You say, ‘God stores away a man's iniquity for his sons.'
 Let God repay him so that he may know it.
 20Let his own eyes see his decay,
 And let him drink of the wrath of the Almighty.
 21For what does he care for his household after him,
 When the number of his months is cut off?
 22Can anyone teach God knowledge,
 In that He judges those on high?
 23One dies in his full strength,
 Being wholly at ease and satisfied;
 24His sides are filled out with fat,
 And the marrow of his bones is moist,
 25While another dies with a bitter soul,
 Never even tasting anything good.
 26Together they lie down in the dust,
 And worms cover them."

21:17-26 This strophe may be Job's affirmation that "the two ways" does work! It may be an expansion of Job 21:16a!

The problem comes when

1. "the two ways" does not affect Job's situation (suffering in innocence)

2. "the two ways" does not affect all of the wicked; some do prosper throughout life, as well as their families

It is possible that the "how often" (BDB 553, i.e., a hypothetical structure) is meant to be understood with each line of poetry. Job is stating the mystery of life and the error of the one explanation of life that "the two ways" offers!

21:17 "How often is the lamp of the wicked put out,
   Or does their calamity fall on them"
This is another rebuttal to Job 18:5-6 and 20:5.

21:17c This line could refer to God's scattering (i.e., destruction) of the wicked's seed (children, i.e., in contrast to Job 21:8 and link to 21:19).

1. "pain" (BDB 286) can refer to child birth

2. "apportion" (BDB 323, KB 322) in the Piel can mean "scatter"


21:18 This verse does not seem to fit with the question (i.e., potential action: "how often," BDB 553) of Job 21:17. Job 21:18 is not introduced as a question in the MT but many translations make it one (NASB, NRSV, TEV, NJB, REB). The JPSOA makes both Job 21:17 and 18 statements, not questions.

This strophe (Job 21:17-26) seems to affirm the prosperity of the wicked, not their destruction.

21:19 Notice the little phrase "you say" is added by the NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV, JPSOA to the Hebrew text. This is because it seems to be a quote from one of the three friends that is not recorded (or a summary of their theological thought). The theological statement that God punishes the children of a wicked man is based on Exod. 20:5-6; 34:7; Deut. 5:9. However, other parts of the Scripture react to this (cf. Deut. 24:16; Jer. 31:29-34; Ezekiel 18).

Most translations see Job 21:19b-20 as a series of jussives (let. . .). However, the form is imperfect. If Job is addressing a quote from the three comforters, these lines become prayers/curses.

21:20a The MT has a noun (BDB 475), used only here. The parallelism demands a word for "ruin" or "destruction." This involves the changing of one consonant.

1. MT – כידו

2. emendation – פידו

3. possibly similar Arabic root to #1, meaning "warfare" (NET Bible, p. 811, #26)


21:20b "The Almighty" See SPECIAL TOPIC: The Almighty (Shaddai).


NJB"cut off"
NKJV"is cut in half"
JPSOA"runs out"
REB"are numbered"

The MT has a verb (BDB 346, KB 344, Pual perfect) that means "cut in half" (NKJV). The NET Bible (p. 811, #29) mentions that this Hebrew root may be related to

1. Akkadian root – "to cut in two"

2. Arabic root – "to cut off"

It is surely imagery of the end of a long, prosperous life, not one that is cut short (cf. Job 21:7-16,23-24).

21:22 This verse seems so unconnected to the previous context that NKJV starts a new paragraph. Several translations make it the concluding statement of Job 21:17-22.

The central thought is "who can teach God that His actions toward humans is not consistent. He is the One who controls and guides the heavenly council." Neither Job, nor his three friends, can speak for, or explain, God's actions toward humans. There are some obvious "generalities" (i.e., the two ways), but there are also glaring exceptions.

1. the wicked prosper

2. the innocent suffer

3. some live long and happy lives, while others live short and miserable lives (Job. 21:21-26)

There is mystery with God. The book of Job comes to this conclusion!

21:23b The MT has a noun (BDB 1016), found only here. Most translations assume an emendation to "at ease" (BDB 983).

1. לאנןש – only here

2. אנןש – "at ease," "secure"



NASB"His sides are filled with fat"
ASV"His pails are full of milk"
NRSV"His loins full of fat"
NJB"thighs padded with fat"
REB"loins full of vigor"

The NKJV reflects the MT, while NASB reflects the LXX. Job 21:24 is an explanation and extension of 21:23 (cf. REB).

1. in strength (i.e., vigor)

2. wholly at ease

3. satisfied with life

Note that Job 21:23-24 is in contrast to the person described in 21:25. But one fate/outcome waits for both—the grave!

The word "sides" (NASB), "pails" (MT) occurs only here. The ancient versions assumed it refers to some part of the body (AB, p. 146). In context, possibly "breasts" (i.e., imagery of a full life), because of the use of "milk" (BDB 316, NKJV). The same consonants for "milk" also mean "fat" with different vowels (NASB, NRSV, NJB).

21:24b "the marrow of his bones is moist" This is a biblical metaphor for health and prosperity (cf. Pro. 3:8).

21:25 Job is making the assertion that some people have good lives and some bad lives, but this seems unrelated to "the two ways." There is mystery in the destinies of different individuals, unrelated to their faith or godliness. This is what causes theological problems for Job's three friends (Job 21:27)! Job's life has experienced both options without divine explanation.

21:26 "they lie down in the dust

  And worms cover them" Life is unexplainable; death is the great certainty and leveler for all humans (cf. Eccl. 2:14-16; 3:19-20; 8:14; 9:2,11).

The term "dust" (BDB 779) is often used as a euphemism of the grave (cf. Job 7:21; 17:16; 20:11; 21:26; Ps. 22:15,29; 30:9; Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2). This follows the imagery of the dead being in the ground.

1. Gen. 3:19 – from dust back to dust

2. Exod. 15:12; Num. 16:30,32,34; 26:10; Deut. 11:6; Ps. 106:17 – people swallowed up

3. Pro. 1:12 – imagery for Sheol


 27"Behold, I know your thoughts,
 And the plans by which you would wrong me.
 28For you say, ‘Where is the house of the nobleman,
 And where is the tent, the dwelling places of the wicked?'
 29Have you not asked wayfaring men,
 And do you not recognize their witness?
 30For the wicked is reserved for the day of calamity;
 They will be led forth at the day of fury.
 31Who will confront him with his actions,
 And who will repay him for what he has done?
 32While he is carried to the grave,
 Men will keep watch over his tomb.
 33The clods of the valley will gently cover him;
 Moreover, all men will follow after him,
 While countless ones go before him.
 34How then will you vainly comfort me,
 For your answers remain full of falsehood?"

21:27-31 Job addresses his three comforters. They have described how God treats the righteous and the wicked. He claims to be innocent but look where he lives (i.e., ash heap). He must be a sinner. Everyone knows about "the two ways" (i.e., "the wayfaring men," those who have been many places and seen life, i.e., "common knowledge"). God punishes the wicked, not the righteous!

21:31 This verse is hard to interpret. Andersen, in the OT Tyndale Commentary (p. 201), suggests that the interrogative (BDB 566) be interpreted as "no one," instead of "who." This follows the NEB, TEV, LB.

21:32-34 But wait! Look what often happens to the wicked.

1. fancy funeral

2. guarded tomb

3. beautiful burial

4. big, long funeral procession

If this is so, the three friends' theology is bad (i.e., vain, BDB 210)! They cannot offer any faithful (BDB 591, lit. "faithlessness"; see Robert B. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the OT, p. 82) counsel. They have no word from God.

21:32 Another good example of a word being used in an unusual sense is the word (BDB 155) translated "grave," which usually means "a stack of grain" in Job 5:26, where it is parallel to "grave" (BDB 868). Words have meaning only in context! Job has so many unique and rare words used in surprising parallel lines of poetry.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is Job 21:4 significant"

2. Is Job 21:6 what disturbs and horrifies Job?

3. Is Job 21:13 a positive or negative statement?

4. Why is Job 21:14-15 so shocking?

5. Does the Bible teach that the sin of parents affects the children or not?

6. Who does God judge in Job 21:22b?

7. How does Job 21:23-26 relate to "the two ways"?

8. How is the theology of the three comforters "falsehood"?


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