Good morning! In today’s passage (Job 18-21), several of Job’s friends try to persuade him that the wicked will get their punishment in short order. Bildad starts off in chapter 18 reasserting that the ways of the wicked fail. He describes the traps, snares, frights, hunger, disease, famine, drought and infertility that await those who live without righteousness. If words were enough to accomplish a deed, Bildad would have done in the wicked several times over in this chapter of their imagined calamities.
Job will have none of this hypothesis, however. He replies to Bildad in chapter 19, first with a disclaimer that his own suffering does not prove his wickedness (even though Bildad might understandably draw the correlation). Rather, it reveals God’s determination to tear him down. Everything has gone wrong for Job, and he believes that it’s because God has levied an army of suffering against him. He describes his painful alienation from other people, including family, acquaintances, guests, servants, spouse, and of course these friends. Now Job believes that his friends are just as bad as God, pursuing him without mercy. Nevertheless, Job expresses faith at the end of the chapter with this famous passage: “I know that my Redeemer lives” and will vindicate me at the end, when my own eyes can see for themselves.
Zophar contends in chapter 20 that Job’s claim to vindication is “the exulting of the wicked” and “the joy of the godless”. But again, he’s convinced that the wicked will perish from the earth. Like Bildad, Zophar conveys terrible assertions about what will come of the wicked. For a culture that doesn’t believe in a hell of eternal suffering, this life is the only place to see the justice of God realized. That, I believe, is why these friends are so keen on the belief that the wicked will miserably perish. If the wicked prosper at all here in this life, there’s no chance to differentiate them from the righteous.
Fine theory, Job says after Zophar, but the facts betray you. The wicked don’t die early and lose power—just the opposite. They experience the inverse of what he described suffering from several chapters earlier. They have fertility, dancing children, music, prosperity, peace, levity, and freedom from fear. Job doesn’t feel drawn to the wicked—he labels them “repugnant”—yet God isn’t making it easier to be righteous, either by rewarding the righteous or punishing the wicked. God doesn’t reliably punish the wicked, or even their children. Falsehoods abound, Job says, and those who do evil still prosper by it.
The evidence of Stalin, Assad, Kim Jong Un, and other ruthless leaders who nevertheless manage to stay in power suggests to me that Job is closer to the human condition than his friends. Their repeated assertions about the failings of the wicked are too seldom realized, and the righteous don’t enjoy unmistakable rewards. The power of Job’s rhetoric may actually have had something to do with hell’s creation. Humans need to claim some place—in the afterlife if not here—where the assertions of these friends actually do come true. Just a thought on my part—I’ll appreciate reading yours as well. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Job 22-24. Thanks for reading!