The Book of Job - Lesson 20

Job Begins the Third Cycle (Job 21)

Job continues to wrestle with the presence of evil in the world and the apparent injustice of God. 

Duane Garrett
The Book of Job
Lesson 20
Watching Now
Job Begins the Third Cycle (Job 21)

I. Outline

A. Don’t be Stupid (2-6)

B. Look for yourselves: Wicked live long and prosper (7-16)

C. Death: they don’t die young (17-21)

C ‘. Death; it does not change unfairness of life (22-26)

B ‘. Testimony of others: Wicked live long and prosper (27-33)

A ‘. Don’t be Stupid

II. Don't Be Stupid (point A in Job's argument)

III. Job Tells His Friends to Look at the World and See What It's Like (point B in Job’s argument)

IV. The Wicked Do Not Die Young

V. Death: It Does Not Change the Unfairness of Life

VI. The Testimony of Others

VII. The Point of This Passage

  • When you see what you would describe as evil and injustice in the world, how does that affect your view of God? When someone is suffering, do you assume that it’s because they are getting what they deserve? This lecture gives you an overview of book of Job by describing his situation, how he interacts with his friends and God, and what we can learn about how God is managing the world.

  • Because there is nothing specific in the text that tells you when the book of Job was written, the sections in Job that allude to other passages of scripture give you some helpful clues. The structure of the book of Job focuses your attention on the main subject of the book which is God’s wisdom.

  • Other cultures in the ancient near east created literature with themes that are similar to the book of Job. The book of Job is unique because of his character and the answer that the book provides for the situation he is in.

  • Job is one of the wisdom books of the Old Testament. It covers more “advanced” topics than Proverbs and uses a variety of literary genres and allusions to other Biblical passages to explain and illustrate profound truths about God’s nature and his involvement in the world.

  • There is limited information in the book of Job about its geographical and historical background. However, it can be helpful to understand general information about the geography and history of the area to give you a context for reading and studying the book of Job. The author of the book of Job was a Hebrew poet who had an extensive vocabulary. Being uncertain about history and geography is good because the message is timeless.

  • Job contains literary elements that are similar to what you find in other Biblical books that are Apocalyptic. These elements include depictions of events in heaven and on earth, the emphasis on specific numbers and persevering in your faith in God, the references to mythological animals and God’s supernatural control of all events. 

  • Satan appears before God with an accusation against Job. Even though Job is described as, “upright and blameless,” Satan accuses Job of serving God only because Job is prosperous. God allows Satan to take away Job’s possessions, children and health. The remainder of the book is the dialogue of Job and his friends attempting to determine why this is happening.

  • Job curses the day he was born. When you carefully examine what he is saying, you realize that it is more intense than just saying that he wished he had never lived.

  • Eliphaz begins tactfully in his remarks to Job. He did not intend to do harm. However, he thinks God is causing Job to suffer because of a sin Job committed. He speaks accurately of the justice of God, but in Job’s case he misapplies it. He also gives a message he received from the, “night spirit.”

  • Eliphaz considers the message of the, “night spirit” a revelation from God. However, at it’s core, this message is inconsistent with God’s attitude toward Job, and creation in general.

  • Job’s theological worldview has fallen apart because he knows he doesn’t deserve to suffer. Eliphaz calls Job to repent. Job responds questioning why he is suffering, because according to his worldview, he hasn’t done anything to deserve it.   

  • Bildad is direct is his rebuke and admonition of Job. He uses metaphors to get his point across.

  • When Job’s friends describe God as all powerful in an attempt to comfort Job, he becomes terrified because he sees God as causing his suffering and there is nothing that can stop it.

  • Zophar assumes that Job is being punished because he sinned and accuses him of mocking God. Job's three friends move from tactful suggestions to open hostility. As Job is searching for answers, he becomes disappointed in his friends.

  • Job agrees with his friends that God is causing his suffering, but disagrees with them about why it’s happening. Job believes that God will eventually vindicate him.

  • Eliphaz appeals to the night spirit and the tradition of the elders to tell Job that he is a babbling and blaspheming fool.

  • Job begins by criticizing what his friends are saying to him and then professes his faith in God. Bildad responds harshly to Job.

  • Even though Job’s friends have criticized him, he has grown in his faith in God. Job is worn out and begs for compassion. When he gets nothing but contempt and hostility instead, he confesses his faith and hope in God. The messianic theology of Job is different from any other book of the Bible.  

  • Zophar uses metaphors that are found in other passages of scripture as well as Job’s own words to accuse Job of being wicked. However, Zophar made a serious error, which we need to avoid in our lives.

  • Job continues to wrestle with the presence of evil in the world and the apparent injustice of God. 

  • Eliphaz attacks Job as being wicked by twisting the meaning of what Job has said previously. The irony is that Job will be reconciled to God and will pray for Eliphaz.

  • Job wants to lay out his case before God by claiming his innocence. Job says that God is hidden and does as he chooses, but that God neither judges the guilty nor helps the righteous. Bildad responds by contrasting God’s holiness and human lowliness.

  • Job sarcastically thanks the friends for their wise words, which he doesn’t think were wise at all.

  • This is a poem about wisdom that divides the content of the book and points to a deep truth. It is inserted by the author of the book and is not attributed to Job or the friends.

  • The crisis that Job is experiencing is not just the material losses and physical suffering, but also his crisis of faith. He thought he understood what his relationship with God is all about but he feels that God has abandoned him for no apparent reason. Job laments the pain he feels from being disgraced and humiliated.

  • This is the last major statement that Job makes, other than his responses to God that come later. Job is taking a series of oaths that he has not committed any of the sins he mentions. The Bible is distinctive in declaring that all people are created equally, in the image of God. In ancient cultures, some people intrinsically have more value than others because of heritage, wealth, gender, race, etc. God looks on everyone impartially.  

  • Elihu is not mentioned either before or after his speech. He claims to be perfect in knowledge. Elihu thinks that the other three did not convince Job because they did not give a satisfactory answer, but Elihu ends up repeating what they have already said. He thinks that the doctrine of retribution is the answer to Job’s situation. Elihu is a warning to us that we don’t have all the answers.

  • The questions of the book of Job are, “How does God address the problem of evil and why do we serve God? God created a world that is stable and not chaotic. Where there was chaos, God brought in light, shape and beauty. Chaotic forces are necessary for life and God controls them.

  • People in ancient Mesopotamia lived in constant fear of the chaos, danger, ferocity of nature and they valued subduing, controlling and pushing back nature. Wilderness was something to be tamed and pushed back by civilization. In the Gilgamesh epic poem, Enkidu is transformed into a civilized man who protects the domestic animals from the wild animals. In Egypt, there were gods of the Black Land and gods of the Red Land. God sees everything in the world as entirely under his control.

  • God’s care for the animals and how this relates to the problem of Job. All of the things that we see as chaos, and out of control depend on God and thrive because he provides for them and things that he manages and glories in. God describes nature as good, unlike the night spirit that describes it with contempt and loathing. God knows how to manage the chaotic elements of creation.

  • The societies of the Ancient Near East had a high concept of justice. It was the duty of the rulers to uphold justice and protect the powerless. If you are a man who leads, you need to make sure that evil is held in check. Listen to people who come to you with a grievance. God is asking Job if he comprehends what it means to bring justice to the world. It involves both power and wisdom.

  • Behemoth is the plural form of a Hebrew word that refers to animals in general also specifically to wild animals. In Job, it’s also used as a metaphor representing the composite forces of the powers of the earth that are against God.

  • Behemoth is a dangerous power that God must reckon with. Some people think this is an allusion to animals that God created in Genesis 1:24. “Lady Wisdom” is the wisdom that God built into creation. Behemoth is dangerous and a force to be reckoned with, not the embodiment of good behavior. One aspect of principalities and powers is forces outside of the world we can see. In Revelation, God protects people from the fury and wrath of the beast, which is an oppressive power that seeks to take the place of God.  

  • Job 41 describes Leviathan. Leviathan is not a natural animal like a crocodile. Sometimes Leviathan refers to a large sea creature, and sometimes death, chaos and the embodiment of evil. Satan is present at the first of the book but he is never mentioned again. In order for God to deal with evil in the world, he must defeat Leviathan.

  • Leviathan is a ferocious creature that no human can subdue. God is saying that he is willing to oppose Leviathan and  is not frightened of Leviathan or intimidated by his boasting. God is the one who will defeat this enemy who seems unbeatable to humans. God tells Job that he will deal with Leviathan but God doesn’t tell him how he will do it. Job embraced God’s answer even though Job didn’t know how God would deal with evil.

  • Job announces that he has changed his outlook on evil, God’s governance of the world and his own suffering. Job knew that God is all-powerful. Now Job knows something more about how God uses his power. Should God be merciful to people who will still be evil? Eschatological is an event that can only happen by a work of God. Emergence of divine power within the historical context. Job admits that he didn’t understand the complexity that is involved in God conquering evil. God forgives Job’s three friends because Job interceded for them. God is showing his approval with job by publicly restoring him.

  • Job’s suffering brought him to a new understanding of who God is and what God is doing in the world. Job’s hope, and our hope, is in a heavenly redeemer that rose from the dead. Legalism comes about often when people hold to essential teachings but they don’t know God. They substitute the rules for relationship.

  • Job mentions composite animals similar to those described in other apocalyptic passages. Job had faith that God would do a work of salvation but didn’t understand everything that Jesus would do. There is a hidden plan of God to redeem people and conquer evil that is a major theme in apocryphal books and also in Job.

  • Job tells us about the heavenly mediator. Prior to his afflictions, Job’s life was almost god-like because he was relatively free of suffering. Job through his affliction, faces the problem of evil and the enormity of suffering in the human race. Even though some people commit evil and violent acts, Job describes them in pitiful terms.

  • Should virtue, or piety, be disinterested? If it’s not done for it’s own sake, is it real? Job’s love for God is not disinterested, but it is real.

If God is good and powerful, why do you see suffering in the world? Why do you serve God even when you experience suffering? How do you respond to others when they ask these questions? How have you answered them for yourself? These are such important questions that the entire book of Job is devoted discussing only these issues in the context of the perspective of the experiences of one person. 

The theme of the book of Job is timeless and singular. There are clues about its geographical and historical setting but nothing in the book itself that identifies the place or time of its writing. However, the setting is irrelevant because the questions that are addressed in the Book of Job are ones that people have asked in all cultures, throughout time. It would be distracting and even limiting to frame the dialogue in a specific time or culture. There are enough clues in the text to give you a general idea of the culture and time it was written in to help you understand the logic and metaphors used by the main characters in their dialogue. 

The complete book of Job is composed of the dialogue of Job, his friends and God regarding the issues of God's goodness, his power, and evil in the world. No historical events. No other personal, corporate or theological issues. Since these questions are central to your understanding of God's character and how he works in the world around us throughout history, the book of Job compels you to consider this question deeply and exhaustively. The point is that by the end of the book, you can understand and articulate who God is and how he works in your life and in the world. 

The value of this class is that Dr. Garrett helps you understand what the text means, the historical and theological implications, and how you apply it to your life. Dr. Garrett's knowledge of the Bible, understanding of the Hebrew language and background in Ancient Near Eastern history and culture inform his insights into the message of the book and what it means to you. He is skilled at explaining technical linguistic and theological issues in a way that helps you comprehend them and see how they apply to your life. Whether you are just beginning in your study of the Bible or you have had training at an advanced academic level, studying the Book of Job with Dr. Garrett has the potential change the way you understand God and also how you live each day. 

Recommended Books

The Book of Job: A Biblical Answer to Pain - Student Guide

The Book of Job: A Biblical Answer to Pain - Student Guide

This Student's Guide is for the class on The Book of Job in BiblicalTraining.org. It contains the outlines to the lectures, a summary of each point, and reflection...

The Book of Job: A Biblical Answer to Pain - Student Guide


We have now made it through two full cycles of debate between Job and his friends. We now begin the third cycle. And as before, Job opens it up. Chapter

I. Outline

A. Don’t be Stupid

B. Look for yourselves: Wicked live long and prosper

C. Death: they don’t die young

C’ Death: it does not change unfairness of life

B’, Testimony of others: Wicked live long and prosper

A’, Don’t be Stupid

The structure is another chiastic structure. It opens and ends with a simple appeal to the friends, “Don’t be stupid.” Job 21:2-6 and 21:34. Then B and B-prime, he says first, B: Look for yourselves. The wicked live long and prosper, verses 7-16. Then B-prime: The testimony of other people: The wicked live long and prosper. Then C: Death, they don’t die young; that is, the wicked do not die young, verses 17-21. Then C-prime, again death: It does not change the unfairness of life.

We may begin again by taking up the issue of, why does the book even continue? He has made this great confession of his eschatological redeemer who will rise against the dust. Shouldn’t that just be the end of the issue? It is not really the end of the issue because we still are wrestling with the problem of the apparent injustice of God. The doctrine of the heavenly redeemer, the eschatological redeemer, is important for Job’s notion of his final vindication and his, as we would call it, personal salvation. Because of the heavenly intercessor, he will be able to stand before God and be redeemed. As an individual, that is very important.

But we still have the problem that there is evil in the world all over the place. There is injustice everywhere. Job is going to bring our attention back to this fact with this speech and we will quickly then finish up the third cycle and move toward God’s speech, where this issue is addressed much more directly.

II. Don’t be Stupid

We begin. Verses 2-6, don’t be stupid: “Listen carefully to my words, let this be the consolation you give me. Bear with me while I speak, and after I have spoken, mock on. Is my complaint directed to a human being? Why should I not be impatient? Look at me and be appalled; clap your hand over your mouth. When I think about this, I am terrified, trembling seizes my body.”

He is telling the three they have right before them something that should frighten them to the core of their being. They need to come face to face with the facts of life and deal with it. The fact is, Job is innocent and he has been pulverized by God. And he will say, “When you look around yourself at the broad world, you discover there is injustice everywhere. Stop denying it. Stop pretending it is not there.” This is why he says, “You should be appalled. You should clap your hand over your mouth.” Because as we have observed many times, their whole theological world has collapsed. The ideology by which they have interpreted everything in life, by which they have made sense of things, by which they have answered the problems that confront them, namely again the doctrine of retribution, is shown to be false, or at least shown to be not the whole answer. He tells the friends, you are really being deliberately stupid if you refuse to look at the facts and deal with them. He picks this up again at the very end of the passage in verse 34 where he says: “So how can you console me with your nonsense? Nothing is left of your answers but falsehood!”

The three friends, as far as Job was concerned, are just babbling. They are saying nothing intelligent. None of their answers are persuasive or convincing. Job says, “Please stop saying empty-headed things. It is time to deal with the problem as it is.”

III. Job Tells His Friends to Look at the World and See What it’s Like

So we come to Job telling them to look for themselves and see what the world is really like, verses 7-16: “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? They see their children established around them, their offspring before their eyes. Their homes are safe and free from fear; the rod of God is not on them. Their bulls never fail to breed; their cows calve and do not miscarry. They send forth their children as a flock; their little ones dance about. They sing to the music of tambourine and lyre, they make merry to the sound of the pipe. They spend their youths in prosperity and then go down to the grave in peace. Yet they say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?’ But their prosperity is not in their own hands, so I stand aloof from the plans of the wicked.”

IV. The Wicked Do Not Die Young

To this point in the book, this is the boldest, the most direct, jolting statement of the problem of theodicy. He looks upon the wicked and he sees no evidence that God is punishing them. They live long. They have many children. Their livestock thrives and grows. They are rich. They celebrate, they dance, they sing. Everything goes well for them and they look at God and say, “No, I don’t really have time for you.” They are indifferent to God, uninterested in God. Yet they do really well, says Job.

We need to understand that this passage is not saying, and Job himself is not implying that this is everything. The Bible will often give in these very universal kinds of statements, statements that are actually just kind of partial observations. Job knows there are plenty of wicked people who die young. Job knows that there are wicked people who in their wickedness, perish; people who are destroyed by their enemies, who destroy themselves. It is not that Job is unaware there are wicked people who suffer. But he is facing the fact that there are wicked people who as far as he can tell, don’t suffer; wicked people who have very good lives, very prosperous lives. And when you think of the term “wicked people” of course in one sense that could mean people who do abominable things like murder people, commit massive robbery, rape or something like that. But Job really just means people who don’t care about God. Otherwise, they might be pretty decent folk. They might be people who get along with their neighbors, basically obey the laws, who live pretty decent lives; but they don’t care anything about God. They are not interested in God and they are doing just fine.

Job says, face the fact. They are out there and there are lots of them. So, if God is judge of all the earth and if God is the one who punishes those who refuse to turn to him, where is the evidence of it? So, when we saw God saying to his friends, “Don’t be stupid,” this is what he means. Stop denying the facts that are right before your eyes.

We would say that Job himself has no desire to be among the wicked. Notice again verse 16: ”Their prosperity is not in their own hands, and so I stand aloof from the plans of the wicked.” He knows that ultimately God controls all things; that the life and wealth and health of a person is ultimately in God’s hands. He has not lost his faith in God. Job says, “I do not want to be one of them, I am not one of them. However, I am honest enough to say, ‘Boy, there are a lot of them and they don’t care about God, and they are doing pretty well.’”

He then says, the wicked do not die young. Verses 17-21: “How often is the lamp of the wicked snuffed out? How often does calamity come upon them, and the fate of God allots in his anger? How often are they like straw before the wind, like chaff swept away by a gale? It is said, ‘God stores up the punishment of the wicked for their children.’ Let him repay the wicked, so they themselves may experience it! Let their own eyes see their destruction. Let them drink the cup of the wrath of the Almighty. For what do they care about the families they leave behind when their allotted months come to an end?”

Looking at this passage we see how he describes that the wicked in fact do not die young. Verse 17: “How often is the lamp of the wicked snuffed out?” In other words, obviously everyone dies sooner or later. But to have the wicked’s lamp snuffed out means they die young. He says, “Does that really happen very often? I know a lot of people who are quite old and still utterly godless.” Then he uses the metaphor of straw in verse 18: “How often are they swept away in the wind like straw?” How often does God just sweep them all away? He says, “Not that often.”

Then he deals with an answer people might give. Verse 19: “People might say, ‘You know, the wicked themselves don’t necessarily die young for their sins. They don’t have their life snuffed out or swept away. But God punishes their kids; and by punishing their kids, that brings punishment on the wicked.’” Job says, “How does that solve anything? If a person is godless and wicked, he should experience the punishment himself, it shouldn’t be given to his children. That is not an answer.” Basically, Job is calling again on the friends to look at the realities of life, admit that there are a lot of godless people who live a long time; and not to try to retreat into hollow, artificial answers, such as the idea of, well, God punishes their children. He says, “No, that doesn’t work.”

V. Death: It Does Not Change the Unfairness of Life

Verses 22-26: “Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest? One person dies in full vigor, completely secure and at ease, well-
nourished in body, bones rich with marrow. Another dies in bitterness of soul, never having enjoyed anything good. Side by side they lie in the dust and worms cover them both.”

This sounds like just kind of an abstract philosophical statement. Rich and poor, we all die. No matter how well you have lived, sooner or later you are going to die and be food for the worms; and the poorest, most miserable person is going to die and be food for the worms. Yes, everybody will acknowledge that is true. What does Job mean specifically, though, in this case? What he means is, there is a fundamental unfairness in life. There are people who have it well, who have it easy, who only suffer a little; and there are people who suffer terribly. There are people who are just and yet have horrible lives. There are people who are unjust or who are without God, who have good lives. In the end, they all die. How does that solve anything? There is no difference. There is no specific punishment for the wicked if they just all die, whether a person is good or evil.

Once again, what is Job doing here? He is talking to the friends and he is saying, “Will you please face the realities of life.”

VI. The Testimony of Others

Verses 27-33, the testimony of others. He says: “I know full well what you are thinking, the schemes by which you would wrong me. You say, ‘Where now is the house of the great, the tents where the wicked live? Have you never questioned those who travel? Have you payed no regard to their accounts – that the wicked are spared from the day of calamity, that they are delivered from the day of wrath? Who denounces their conduct to their face? Who repays them for what they have done? They are carried to the grave and watch is kept over their tombs. The soil in the valley is sweet to them; everyone follows after them and a countless throng goes before them.’”

The three have repeatedly made appeal to the wisdom of the elders. Job in turn now says, “Think about just the wide world. Go out from country to country, anyplace you want to go. Ask them what life is really like, and here is what they will tell you. They will tell you, the people on top are as crooked as they can be. They are corrupt. They are deceitful. They cheat. They do whatever it takes to hold on to power; and they just keep on prospering. They do great. They do well. They succeed and in the end when they are buried, huge honors are heaped upon them. Their tombs are set up and people gather around and praise them for having been such great people. Their tombs stand as a testimony to their lives.”

What Job is saying is, “Okay, you have appealed to the wisdom of the elders. I will appeal to what the whole world sees and will confess. You can go anywhere you want; you can talk to anyone of any nation and you will see. It is a universal truth, that there are lots of really corrupt rulers, people who control the lives of others, people who are without God and yet, everything goes well for them.”

VII. The Point of This Passage

The point of the whole passage is this: The three friends are clinging to their belief that there really is no injustice; that you never find cases where the wicked thrive, where the godless do well, because God is always punishing them, taking care of them. Job is saying, “As I look around, I just see that is not true. They do very well, they live long, they have a good time. When they die, they are buried and they are housed in great and awesome tombs and everyone praises them.” Job says this happens even though these people have no desire for God and do not turn to God. So this is the problem of theodicy, the justice of God, written in very large letters. This is the problem the rest of the book of Job is going to wrestle with and that I think we will find an answer to when we finally get to God’s speech.