Lecture 20: Job begins the 3rd cycle
Course: The Book of Job
Lecture: Job begins the 3rd cycle
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
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.