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Chapter 21:16b-34 (ESV)

Posted on May 30, 2023  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 21:16b-34 (ESV) - The counsel of the wicked is far from me.

“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?
That they are like straw before the wind,
    and like chaff that the storm carries away?
You say, ‘God stores up their iniquity for their children.’
    Let him pay it out to them, that they may know it.
Let their own eyes see their destruction,
    and let them drink of the wrath of the Almighty.
For what do they care for their houses after them,
    when the number of their months is cut off?
Will any teach God knowledge,
    seeing that he judges those who are on high?
One dies in his full vigor,
    being wholly at ease and secure,
his pails full of milk
    and the marrow of his bones moist.
Another dies in bitterness of soul,
    never having tasted of prosperity.
They lie down alike in the dust,
    and the worms cover them.

Behold, I know your thoughts
    and your schemes to wrong me.
For you say, ‘Where is the house of the prince?
    Where is the tent in which the wicked lived?’
Have you not asked those who travel the roads,
    and do you not accept their testimony
that the evil man is spared in the day of calamity,
    that he is rescued in the day of wrath?
Who declares his way to his face,
    and who repays him for what he has done?
When he is carried to the grave,
    watch is kept over his tomb.
The clods of the valley are sweet to him;
    all mankind follows after him,
    and those who go before him are innumerable.
How then will you comfort me with empty nothings?
    There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood.”

Question to consider: If death is the end, is there justice?

After arguing against his friends by pointing out that there are times the wicked do indeed prosper, Job pointed out that he didn’t use them as his role models. He would never follow their counsel, and yet he received calamity while they received fortune.

If they thought that maybe his example was an exception rather than the norm, Job followed up his statement by asking them when they actually saw the wicked get what they deserved? Each of his questions have an implied negative response. The wicked almost never are brought to account for their wickedness.

Of course, if that was the case, Job knew his friends would argue that judgment was surely stored up to be visited upon the next generation. The idea that judgment comes upon the sons for the sins of their fathers was still prevalent almost a thousand years later when the Lord spoke against Israel through Ezekiel. They had a popular proverb, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.” (Ezekiel 18:2) “Sour grapes” here referred to behavior that was corrupt, and teeth being set on edge was a reference to someone showing their clenched teeth out of pain or anger. God spoke directly against this idea in that chapter saying that His judgment was coming upon the individual for their own sin rather than from the sins of the previous generation. Even though Moses told Israel that God visits, “the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation,” in Exodus 34:7, it was a reference to the idea that children tend to repeat the sins of their fathers, not that they were being judged for their fathers’ sins.

Job questioned this idea by asking, "Why would the previous generation care what happened to their children if they weren’t alive to see it?" Even if they did, Job pointed out the futility of it all because regardless of whether someone dies in blessing or in bitterness, they still die. The only difference in Job’s mind was that the blessed man’s body may be treated better by the dirt he was buried in, or maybe he’d have someone to watch over his tomb, but those things were meaningless– empty nothings. The only way justice has any meaning is if there is something beyond this life. Otherwise, as Shakespeare once said of life, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (from Macbeth)


Dear heavenly Father, please help us to have an eternal perspective in regard to pain, suffering and justice. Open our eyes to the truth that all of our earthly desires and pursuits are meaningless if they are not established in Christ and for His glory. Amen.