Job had largely described the prosperity of wicked people; now, in these verses,
I. He opposes this to what his friends had maintained concerning their certain ruin in this life. “Tell me how often do you see the candle of the wicked put out? Do you not as often see it burnt down to the socket, until it goes out of itself? Job 21:17. How often do you see their destruction come upon them, or God distributing sorrows in his anger among them? Do you not as often see their mirth and prosperity continuing to the last?” Perhaps there are as many instances of notorious sinners ending their days in pomp as ending them in misery, which observation is sufficient to invalidate their arguments against Job and to show that no certain judgment can be made of men’s character by their outward condition.
II. He reconciles this to the holiness and justice of God. Though wicked people prosper thus all their days, yet we are not therefore to think that God will let their wickedness always go unpunished. No, 1. Even while they prosper thus they are as stubble and chaff before the stormy wind, Job 21:18. They are light and worthless, and of no account either with God or with wise and good men. They are fitted to destruction, and continually lie exposed to it, and in the height of their pomp and power there is but a step between them and ruin. 2. Though they spend all their days in wealth God is laying up their iniquity for their children (Job 21:19), and he will visit it upon their posterity when they are gone. The oppressor lays up his goods for his children, to make them gentlemen, but God lays up his iniquity for them, to make them beggars. He keeps an exact account of the fathers’ sins, seals them up among his treasures (Deut. 32:34), and will justly punish the children, while the riches, to which the curse cleaves, are found as assets in their hands. 3. Though they prosper in this world, yet they shall be reckoned with in another world. God rewards him according to his deeds at last (Job 21:19), though the sentence passed against his evil works be not executed speedily. Perhaps he may not now be made to fear the wrath to come, but he may flatter himself with hopes that he shall have peace though he go on; but he shall be made to feel it in the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. He shall know it (Job 21:20): His eyes shall see his destruction which he would not be persuaded to believe. They will not see, but they shall see, Isa. 26:11. The eyes that have been wilfully shut against the grace of God shall be opened to see his destruction. He shall drink of the wrath of the Almighty; that shall be the portion of his cup. Compare Ps. 11:6; Rev. 14:10. The misery of damned sinners is here set forth in a few words, but very terrible ones. They lie under the wrath of an Almighty God, who, in their destruction, both shows his wrath and makes known his power; and, if this will be his condition in the other world, what good will his prosperity in this world do him? What pleasure has he in his house after him? Job 21:21. Our Saviour has let us know how little pleasure the rich man in hell had in his house after him, when the remembrance of the good things he had received in his life-time would not cool his tongue, but added much to his misery, as did also the sorrow he was in lest his five brethren, whom he left in his house after him, should follow him to that place of torment, Luke 16:25-28. So little will the gain of the world profit him that has lost his soul.
III. He resolves this difference which Providence makes between one wicked man and another into the wisdom and sovereignty of God (Job 21:22): Shall any pretend to teach God knowledge? Dare we arraign God’s proceedings or blame his conduct? Shall we take upon us to tell God how he should govern the world, what sinner he should spare and whom he should punish? He has both authority and ability to judge those that are high. Angels in heaven, princes and magistrates on earth, are accountable to God, and must receive their doom from him. He manages them, and makes what use he pleases of them. Shall he then be accountable to us, or receive advice from us? He is the Judge of all the earth, and therefore no doubt he will do right (Gen. 18:25; Rom. 3:6), and those proceedings of his providence which seem to contradict one another he can make, not only mutually to agree, but jointly to serve his own purposes. The little difference there is between one wicked man’s dying so in pain and misery, when both will at last meet in hell, he illustrates by the little difference there is between one man’s dying suddenly and another’s dying slowly, when they will both meet shortly in the grave. So vast is the disproportion between time and eternity that, if hell be the lot of every sinner at last, it makes little difference if one goes singing thither and another sighing. See,
1. How various the circumstances of people’s dying are. There is one way into the world, we say, but many out; yet, as some are born by quick and easy labour, others by that which is hard and lingering, so dying is to some much more terrible than to others; and, since the death of the body is the birth of the soul into another world, death-bed agonies may not unfitly be compared to child-bed throes. Observe the difference. (1.) One dies suddenly, in his full strength, not weakened by age or sickness (Job 21:23), being wholly at ease and quiet, under no apprehension at all of the approach of death, nor in any fear of it; but, on the contrary, because his breasts are full of milk and his bones moistened with marrow (Job 21:24), that is, he is healthful and vigorous, and of a good constitution (like a milch cow that is fat and in good liking), he counts upon nothing but to live many years in mirth and pleasure. Thus fair does he bid for life, and yet he is cut off in a moment by the stroke of death. Note, It is a common thing for persons to be taken away by death when they are in their full strength, in the highest degree of health, when they least expect death, and think themselves best armed against it, and are ready not only to set death at a distance, but to set it at defiance. Let us therefore never be secure; for we have known many well and dead in the same week, the same day, the same hour, nay, perhaps, the same minute. Let us therefore be always ready. (2.) Another dies slowly, and with a great deal of previous pain and misery (Job 21:25), in the betterness of his soul, such as poor Job was himself now in, and never eats with pleasure, has no appetite to his food nor any relish of it, through sickness, or age, or sorrow of mind. What great reason have those to be thankful that are in health and always eat with pleasure! And what little reason have those to complain who sometimes do not eat thus, when they hear of many that never do!
2. How undiscernible this difference is in the grave. As rich and poor, so healthful and unhealthful, meet there (Job 21:26): They shall lie down alike in the dust, and the worms shall cover them, and feed sweetly on them. Thus, if one wicked man die in a palace and another in a dungeon, they will meet in the congregation of the dead and damned, and the worm that dies not, and the fire that is not quenched, will be the same to them, which makes those differences inconsiderable and not worth perplexing ourselves about.