17 “How often is it that the lamp of the wicked is put out?
That their calamity comes upon them?
That God distributes pains in his anger?
18 That they are like straw before the wind,
and like chaff that the storm carries away?
19 You say, ‘God stores up their iniquity for their children.’
Let him pay it out to them, that they may know it.
20 Let their own eyes see their destruction,
and let them drink of the wrath of the Almighty.
21 For what do they care for their houses after them,
when the number of their months is cut off?
22 Will any teach God knowledge,
seeing that he judges those who are on high?
23 One dies in his full vigor,
being wholly at ease and secure,
24 his pails full of milk
and the marrow of his bones moist.
25 Another dies in bitterness of soul,
never having tasted of prosperity.
26 They lie down alike in the dust,
and the worms cover them.
27 “Behold, I know your thoughts
and your schemes to wrong me.
28 For you say, ‘Where is the house of the prince?
Where is the tent in which the wicked lived?’
29 Have you not asked those who travel the roads,
and do you not accept their testimony
30 that the evil man is spared in the day of calamity,
that he is rescued in the day of wrath?
31 Who declares his way to his face,
and who repays him for what he has done?
32 When he is carried to the grave,
watch is kept over his tomb.
33 The clods of the valley are sweet to him;
all mankind follows after him,
and those who go before him are innumerable.
34 How then will you comfort me with empty nothings?
There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood.” – Job 21:17-34 ESV
Job continues to confront the overly simplistic and theologically stilted reasonings of his three friends. He argues that their assessment of his situation was based on faulty conclusions that fail to line up with reality. If God is punishing Job for his wickedness, why doesn’t that kind of judgment seem to happen more often? Why don’t more wicked people endure the same kind of debilitating losses that Job did? His argument is that the facts don’t support their conclusion.
“…the light of the wicked never seems to be extinguished.
Do they ever have trouble?
Does God distribute sorrows to them in anger?
Are they driven before the wind like straw?
Are they carried away by the storm like chaff?
Not at all!” – Job 21:17-18 NLT
Job could provide case study after case study to disprove his friends’ faulty thesis. The entire basis of their prosecution of him was based on a house of cards. It failed to stand up under cross-examination because it simply wasn’t true.
And, perceiving the counter-argument his friends will submit, Job immediately debunks the idea that God sometimes allows the wicked to prosper but pours out his judgment on their heirs.
“‘Well,’ you say, ‘at least God will punish their children!’
But I say he should punish the ones who sin,
so that they understand his judgment.
Let them see their destruction with their own eyes.
Let them drink deeply of the anger of the Almighty.
For they will not care what happens to their family
after they are dead.” – Job 21:19-21 NLT
Job knew his friends well and could easily guess the strategy they would use in their counterargument. They couldn’t refute the evidence that Job raised, so they would be forced to make slight alterations to their position, in a stubborn attempt to save face and to keep from admitting they were wrong.
One of the concepts Job keeps returning to is the sovereignty of God. He believes that God is in control of all things and nothing escapes His divine will or authority. For Job, the day-to-day events that make up human life are the purview of God Almighty. He alone can determine the fate of humanity and manage the occurrence and outcome of every event. From our limited perspective, it all appears so haphazard and random.
“One person dies in prosperity,
completely comfortable and secure,
the picture of good health,
vigorous and fit.
Another person dies in bitter poverty,
never having tasted the good life.
But both are buried in the same dust,
both eaten by the same maggots.” – Job 21:23-26 NLT
Yet, Job would argue that God is behind it all, and we have no right to judge Him or to accuse Him of the mismanagement of our affairs. Without realizing it, Job was expressing the opinion of God as recorded by the prophet Isaiah.
“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” – Isaiah 45:9 NLT
“Do you question what I do for my children?
Do you give me orders about the work of my hands?
I am the one who made the earth
and created people to live on it.
With my hands I stretched out the heavens.
All the stars are at my command.” – Job 21:11-12 NLT
The apostle Paul borrowed from the writings of Isaiah to drive home the concept of God’s sovereignty to the believers living in Rome.
Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. – Romans 9:20-22 NLT
As finite human beings, it is impossible for us to fully grasp the ways of God. Because we can’t see the bigger picture, we view everything from our myopic perspective and end up drawing faulty conclusions that fail to take into account the power and providence of God. Job’s friends were making false assumptions based on a flawed understanding of God’s sovereignty. Without knowing it, they had diminished God’s glory by placing Him in a simplistic box of their own making. In their arrogance and eagerness to explain the inexplicable, they had recreated the Creator in their own image. In their effort to explain Job’s circumstances, they had unwittingly extinguished God’s glory.
The following quote from J.C. Ryle, the great 19th-century author and pastor, provides a timely warning against remaking God in our own image.
“Beware of manufacturing a God of your own: a God who is all mercy, but not just; a God who is all love, but not holy; a God who as a heaven for every body, but a hell for none; a God who can allow good and bad to be side by side in time, but will make no distinction between good and broad in eternity. Such a God is an idol of your own, as truly an idol as any snake or crocodile in an Egyptian temple. The hands of your own fancy and sentimentality have made him. He is not the God of the Bible, and beside the God of the Bible there is no God at all.” – Rev. J.C. Ryle. “For Those Who Are Not Christ’s”
Job somehow knew that his friends were misinterpreting the facts and drawing inaccurate conclusions because they misunderstood the ways of God. He wasn’t claiming to have all the answers or boasting about his superior understanding of God. He just knew better than to question how God works. He might not like how things turn out in this life but he was willing to accept the fact that God was in control. And from what he could tell, things weren’t always black and white or cut and dried.
“Evil people are spared in times of calamity
and are allowed to escape disaster.
No one criticizes them openly
or pays them back for what they have done.” – Job 21:30-31 NLT
So, what right did his friends have to bombard him with their “empty clichés” (Job 21:34 NLT) and pious-sounding platitudes about God’s judgment? They had no idea what they were talking about. Job had witnessed the funerals of countless individuals whose lives were marked by wickedness, but their memorials were still well-attended and filled with statements of praise and condolences. So, he was not willing to accept his friends’ over-simplistic explanation of his suffering because it oversimplified the glory and goodness of God.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.