Job 21 (NLT)
Job’s Seventh Speech: A Response to Zophar
The problem of the prosperity of the wicked:
Then Job spoke again:
2 “Listen closely to what I am saying.
That’s one consolation you can give me.
3 Bear with me, and let me speak.
After I have spoken, you may resume mocking me.
4 “My complaint is with God, not with people.
I have good reason to be so impatient.
5 Look at me and be stunned.
Put your hand over your mouth in shock.
Job enriches our language.
Here is a quotation which has become a part of our everyday speech: put your hand over your mouth.
This gesture can be both threatening or playful, depending on the context. Rescuers may sometimes use this if they have to sneak up to a friend and don’t want him/her alerting nearby foes by yelling in surprise.
6 When I think about what I am saying, I shudder.
My body trembles.
These opening verses demonstrate again that Job’s real point of crisis was his conflict with God, not with man (especially with his friends). His crisis was fundamentally spiritual in nature, much more than being a medical crisis, an economic crisis, a social crisis, or a family crisis. His struggle was against God, and he wondered where God was in the midst of this very dark time.
7 “Why do the wicked prosper,
growing old and powerful?
8 They live to see their children grow up and settle down,
and they enjoy their grandchildren.
9 Their homes are safe from every fear,
and God does not punish them.
10 Their bulls never fail to breed.
Their cows bear calves and never miscarry.
11 They let their children frisk about like lambs.
Their little ones skip and dance.
12 They sing with tambourine and harp.
They celebrate to the sound of the flute.
13 They spend their days in prosperity,
then go down to the grave in peace.
A pair of ringmasters, Messrs. Nickles or “Satan” (Bruce Alan Rauscher) and Zuss or “God” (Steve Lebens) enter the circus area and wax philosophical and theological. (American Community Theater, Arlington, VA, 2012)
Archibald MacLeish wrote J.B. — A Play in Verse and won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1959. The play is based on the story of Job and set in a modern world circus context (as in the picture above). In the “Foreward,” the author compares J.B./Job to mid-century American businessmen, and the description is not unlike Job’s description of the wicked who prosper:
“My hero, called J.B. after the current fashion in business address, bears little relation, perhaps, to that ancient owner of camels and oxen and sheep. He is not a particularly devout man. But he is, at the beginning of the play, prosperous, powerful, possessed of a lovely wife, fine children—everything the heart of man can desire—and he is aware, as he could hardly help being, that God has made “an hedge about him and about his house and about all that he hath on every side.” Not that the name of God is often in his mouth. He is one of those vastly successful American businessmen—not as numerous now as they were before the Great Depression—who, having everything, believe as a matter of course that they have a right to have everything.
“They do not believe this out of vulgarity; on the contrary, they are most often men of exuberance, of high animal spirits, of force and warmth. They believe it because they possess in large measure that characteristically American courage, which has so often entertained Asian and European visitors, the courage to believe in themselves. Which means to believe in their lives. Which means, if their tongues can shape the words, to believe in God’s goodness to them. They are not hypocritical. They do not think that they deserve more at God’s hands than others. They merely think that they have more—and that they have a right to have it.”
This play always makes me think. I highly recommend you go to your local library for a copy and read it for yourself!
14 And yet they say to God, ‘Go away.
We want no part of you and your ways.
15 Who is the Almighty, and why should we obey him?
What good will it do us to pray?’
16 (They think their prosperity is of their own doing,
but I will have nothing to do with that kind of thinking.)
The wisdom of God and the prosperity of the wicked:
17 “Yet the light of the wicked never seems to be extinguished.
Do they ever have trouble?
Does God distribute sorrows to them in anger?
18 Are they driven before the wind like straw?
Are they carried away by the storm like chaff?
Not at all!
19 “‘Well,’ you say, ‘at least God will punish their children!’
But I say he should punish the ones who sin,
so that they understand his judgment.
20 Let them see their destruction with their own eyes.
Let them drink deeply of the anger of the Almighty.
21 For they will not care what happens to their family
after they are dead.
22 “But who can teach a lesson to God,
since he judges even the most powerful?
23 One person dies in prosperity,
completely comfortable and secure,
24 the picture of good health,
vigorous and fit.
25 Another person dies in bitter poverty,
never having tasted the good life.
26 But both are buried in the same dust,
both eaten by the same maggots.
Job challenges the empty words of his friends:
27 “Look, I know what you’re thinking.
I know the schemes you plot against me.
28 You will tell me of rich and wicked people
whose houses have vanished because of their sins.
29 But ask those who have been around,
and they will tell you the truth.
30 Evil people are spared in times of calamity
and are allowed to escape disaster.
31 No one criticizes them openly
or pays them back for what they have done.
32 When they are carried to the grave,
an honor guard keeps watch at their tomb.
33 A great funeral procession goes to the cemetery.
Many pay their respects as the body is laid to rest,
and the earth gives sweet repose.
34 “How can your empty clichés comfort me?
All your explanations are lies!”
Yes, I know we all measure success by the amount of stuff acquired. And it seems irksome that jerks get more nice things than the good people. But when you come right down to it, what are all those acquisitions worth at the end? HERE is L. L. Fleming’s haunting arrangement of “Give Me Jesus,” sung by the Wheaton College Concert Choir, in Illinois. Just to remind us of what is really, truly, absolutely important.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.