All Job’s three friends, in their last discourses, had been very copious in describing the miserable condition of a wicked man in this world. “It is true,” says Job, “remarkable judgments are sometimes brought upon notorious sinners, but not always; for we have many instances of the great and long prosperity of those that are openly and avowedly wicked; though they are hardened in their wickedness by their prosperity, yet they are still suffered to prosper.”
I. He here describes their prosperity in the height, and breadth, and length of it. “If this be true, as you say, pray tell me wherefore do the wicked live?” Job 21:7.
1. The matter of fact is taken for granted, for we see instances of it every day. (1.) They live, and are not suddenly cut off by the strokes of divine vengeance. Those yet speak who have set their mouths against the heavens. Those yet act who have stretched out their hands against God. Not only they live (that is, they are reprieved), but they live in prosperity, 1 Sam. 25:6. Nay, (2.) They become old; they have the honour, satisfaction, and advantage of living long, long enough to raise their families and estates. We read of a sinner a hundred years old, Isa. 65:20. But this is not all. (3.) They are mighty in power, are preferred to places of authority and trust, and not only make a great figure, but bear a great sway. Vivit imo, et in senatum venit—He not only lives, but appears in the senate. Now wherefore is it so? Note, It is worth while to enquire into the reasons of the outward prosperity of wicked people. It is not because God has forsaken the earth, because he does not see, or does not hate, or cannot punish their wickedness; but it is because the measure of their iniquities is not full. This is the day of God’s patience, and, in some way or other, he makes use of them and their prosperity to serve his own counsels, while it ripens them for ruin; but the chief reason is because he will make it to appear there is another world which is the world of retribution, and not this.
2. The prosperity of the wicked is here described to be,
(1.) Complete and consummate. [1.] They are multiplied, and their family is built up, and they have the satisfaction of seeing it (Job 21:8): Their seed is established in their sight. This is put first, as that which gives both a pleasant enjoyment and a pleasing prospect. [2.] They are easy and quiet, Job 21:9. Whereas Zophar had spoken of their continual frights and terrors, Job says, Their houses are safe both from danger and from the fear of it (Job 21:9), and so far are they from the killing wounds of God’s sword or arrows that they do not feel the smart of so much as the rod of God upon them. [3.] They are rich and thrive in their estates. Of this he gives only one instance, Job 21:10. Their cattle increase, and they meet with no disappointment in them; not so much as a cow casts her calf, and then their much must needs grow more. This is promised, Exod. 23:26; Deut. 7:14. [4.] They are merry and live a jovial life (Job 21:11, 12): They send forth their little ones abroad among their neighbours, like a flock, in great numbers, to sport themselves. They have their balls and music-meetings, at which their children dance; and dancing is fittest for children, who know not better how to spend their time and whose innocency guards them against the mischiefs that commonly attend it. Though the parents are not so very youthful and frolicsome as to dance themselves, yet they take the timbrel and harp; they pipe, and their children dance after their pipe, and they know no grief to put their instruments out of tune or to withhold their hearts from any joy. Some observe that this is an instance of their vanity, as well as of their prosperity. Here is none of that care taken of their children which Abraham took of his, to teach them the way of the Lord, Gen. 18:19. Their children do not pray, or say their catechism, but dance, and sing, and rejoice at the sound of the organ. Sensual pleasures are all the delights of carnal people, and as men are themselves so they breed their children.
(2.) Continuing and constant (Job 21:13): They spend their days, all their days, in wealth, and never know what it is to want—in mirth, and never know what sadness means; and at last, without any previous alarms to frighten them, without any anguish or agony, in a moment they go down to the grave, and there are no bands in their death. If there were not another life after this, it were most desirable to die by the quickest shortest strokes of death. Since we must go down to the grave, if that were the furthest of our journey, we should wish to go down in a moment, to swallow the bitter pill, and not chew it.
II. He shows how they abuse their prosperity and are confirmed and hardened by it in their impiety, Job 21:14, 15.
1. Their gold and silver serve to steel them, to make them more insolent, and more impudent, in their wickedness. Now he mentions this either, (1.) To increase the difficulty. It is strange that any wicked people should prosper thus, but especially that those should prosper who have arrived at such a pitch of wickedness as openly to bid defiance to God himself, and tell him to his face that they care not for him; nay, and that their prosperity should be continued, though they bear up themselves upon that, in their opposition to God; with that weapon they fight against him, and yet are not disarmed. Or, (2.) To lessen the difficulty. God suffers them to prosper; but let us not wonder at it, for the prosperity of fools destroys them, by hardening them in sin, Prov. 1:32; Ps. 73:7-9.
2. See how light these prospering sinners make of God and religion, as if because they have so much of this world they had no need to look after another.
(1.) See how ill affected they are to God and religion; they abandon them, and cast off the thoughts of them. [1.] They dread the presence of God; they say unto him, “Depart from us; let us never be troubled with the apprehension of our being under God’s eye nor be restrained by the fear of him.” Or they bid him depart as one they do not need, nor have any occasion to make use of. The world is the portion they have chosen, and take up with, and think themselves happy in; while they have that they can live without God. Justly will God say Depart (Matt. 25:41) to those who have bidden him depart; and justly does he now take them at their word. [2.] They dread the knowledge of God, and of his will, and of their duty to him: We desire not the knowledge of thy ways. Those that are resolved not to walk in God’s ways desire not to know them, because their knowledge will be a continual reproach to their disobedience, John 3:19.
(2.) See how they argue against God and religion (Job 21:15): What is the Almighty? Strange that ever creatures should speak so insolently, that ever reasonable creatures should speak so absurdly and unreasonably. The two great bonds by which we are drawn and held to religion are those of duty and interest; now they here endeavour to break both these bonds asunder. [1.] They will not believe it is their duty to be religious: What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? Like Pharaoh (Exod. 5:2), Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice? Observe, First, How slightly they speak of God: What is the Almighty? As if he were a mere name, a mere cipher, or one they have nothing to do with and that has nothing to do with them. Secondly, How hardly they speak of religion. They call it a service, and mean a hard service. Isa. it not enough, they think, to keep up a fair correspondence with the Almighty, but they must serve him, which they look upon as a task and drudgery. Thirdly, How highly they speak of themselves: “That we should serve him; we who are rich and mighty in power, shall we be subject and accountable to him? No, we are lords,” Jer. 2:31. [2.] They will not believe it is their interest to be religious: What profit shall we have if we pray unto him? All the world are for what they can get, and therefore wisdom’s merchandise is neglected, because they think there is nothing to be got by it. It is vain to serve God, Mal. 3:13, 14. Praying will not pay debts nor portion children; nay, perhaps serious godliness may hinder a man’s preferment and expose him to losses; and what then? Isa. nothing to be called gain but the wealth and honour of this world? If we obtain the favour of God, and spiritual and eternal blessings, we have no reason to complain of losing by our religion. But, if we have not profit by prayer, it is our own fault (Isa. 58:3, 4), it is because we ask amiss, Jas. 4:3. Religion itself is not a vain thing; if it be so to us, we may thank ourselves for resting in the outside of it, Jas. 1:26.
III. He shows their folly herein, and utterly disclaims all concurrence with them (Job 21:19): Lo, their good is not in their hand, that is, they did not get it without God, and therefore they are very ungrateful to slight him thus. It was not their might, nor the power of their hand, that got them this wealth, and therefore they ought to remember God who gave it them. Nor can they keep it without God, and therefore they are very unwise to lose their interest in him and bid him to depart from them. Some give this sense of it: “Their good is in their barns and their bags, hoarded up there; it is not in their hand, to do good to others with it; and then what good does it do them?” “Therefore,” says Job, “the counsel of the wicked is far from me. Far be it from me that I should be of their mind, say as they say, do as they do, and take my measures from them. Their posterity approve their sayings, though their way be their folly (Ps. 49:13); but I know better things than to walk in their counsel.”