Here’s a rough translation of Job 21 from Hebrew, with comments.

Previously:  1:1-5  |  1:6-12  |  1:13-22  |  2:1-6  |  2:7-13  |  3:1-10  |  3:11-26  |  4  |  5:1-7  |  5:8-27  |  6  |  7  |  8:1-7  |  8:8-22  |  9  |  10  |  11  |  12  |  13:1-16  |  13:17-14:22  |  15  |  16  |  17  |  18 | 19 | 20 |


1 And Job answered, and he said:

2 “Keep listening to my words!
And may it be your consolation
3 Bear with me (lit: lift me), now I will speak,
And after I speak you may mock.”

4 “[Why] should I complain to a man?
And why [should I be] not impatient (lit: short in spirit)?
5 Turn to me, and be appalled,
And place [your] hand upon [your] mouth.”

Job says to his miserable comforters: turn to me! See my scars! That’s a cry echoed in Christ and his disciples (e.g. Paul in Galatians 3:1). Speechifying when someone is suffering before your eyes: not tactful.

6 And when I remember,
Then I am dismayed;
And it seizes my flesh — horror!

7 Why do the wicked live?
They grow old, also they prevail [in] power.
8 Their offspring are established before their face with them,
And their descendants before their eyes.
9 Their houses are at peace [lit: shalom] from dread,
And [there is] no rod of God over them.
10 His bull breeds and does not fail/mess,
His cows deliver and do not miscarry.
11 They send out, like a flock, their boys; their lads dance.
12 They carry timbrel and lyre, and they rejoice to the sound of flute.

This picture of joyful praise appears in Psalm 150 – why do the wicked seem to prosper and rejoice in the blessings that God gives to his children?

13 They spend their days in prosperity,
And in peace they descend to Sheol.
14 And they say to God: “Depart from us!”
And “Knowledge of Your ways I do not delight.”
15 “What [is] Shaddai, that we should serve him?
And what [does it] profit, that we should pray to him?”

Job quotes from the wicked — they openly reject any delight in the law of the Lord (c.f. Psalm 1:1-2, see also the mention of chaff in v18 below). To them, God is a zero-sum proposition: they see no “profit”, so they will ignore him. True worship in the book of Job is the opposite, and suffering shows whether we will truly love God “for no profit” (c.f. Job 1:9).

16 Look, is it not in their hand, their wealth (i.e. goodness)?
The counsel of the wicked is far from me.
17 When (lit: as what) does the lamp of the wicked get put out,

and calamity come upon them?
18 They will be as straw before the wind;
And as chaff: a whirlwind steals it [away].

19 God hides for his [the wicked person’s] children his iniquity,
May he complete it to him,
And may he know.
20 May their eyes see his ruin,
The Almighty’s wrath may he drink.

Job wants justice, but still calls for God to deliver it.
That’s an important distinction to Zophar’s godless view from chapter 20.

21 For what is his delight in his house after him,
[When] the number of his months are cut off?
22 Who will to God teach knowledge?
[Since] he himself judges the exalted?

Job finishes his speech with two comparisons (“this one…” and “this one”) – a two ways to live riddle, as it were. Even if wicked people die, they seem to die happy. Why?

23 This one dies with his bones intact (lit: with bone of his integrity),
And all of him is at ease and secure.
24 His innards full of fat (or: “pails are full of milk”)
And marrow of his bones/self watered.
25 Yet this one dies with a bitter soul,
And does not taste goodness (or prosperity).
26 Together upon the ground they lay down, and worms cover them.

Zophar boldly proclaimed in chapter 20 that wicked people will taste the bitterness of poison. But Job’s experience doesn’t match: if he dies today, he would feel bitter and bereft of goodness.

27 Look, I know your thoughts and purposes, you will wrong me.
28 Because you say: “Where is the house of the prince?
And where is the tent of the dwelling of the wicked?
29 Have you not asked those who go through the roads?
Their testimony do you not recognise?
30 That in the day of calamity the evil one is spared,
in the day of wrath he is rescued?

31 Who declares to his face his way?
And who repays him for what he has done?
32 When he is carried to the grave, over his tomb he watches.
33 They are sweet to him, the clods of the valley, and after him all mankind follows, and [those who go] before him there is no number.
34 So how can you comfort me with emptiness (lit: hevel)?
Since your replies have left behind fraud.

Here we see the same loaded, enigmatic word in Qoholeth’s opening words in Ecclesiastes: “Hevel of hevel! All is hevel!” Is it vanity? Meaninglessness? Is it vapour? Job’s friends have been spouting out the “certainties of life” thinking they bring comfort, but it comes across as wasted breath.