Avraham ben Yaakov
JOB CHAPTER 21
Job's answer to Tzophar, contained in our present chapter, is his last speech in the second cycle of arguments and counter-arguments between Job and his companions, which began with Eliphaz' second speech contained in Chapter 15.
Ramban (on Job 21:2) explains: In his present speech in answer to Tzophar, Job emphasizes that there are wicked people who have it good in this world because of their wealth and possessions, status, children and peace of mind. Job mocks his companions for arguing that the seed of the wicked is cut off after them, seeking to demolish their claims with undeniable proofs. Earlier, he had argued with all three of his companions that he was innocent of wrongdoing, but they would not accept this on account of the fact that the suffering of the righteous is not a self-evident philosophical problem. This is because any time a person goes to ruin, it can always be said that he sinned and rebelled. The companions also argued that if one sees a wicked person who has it good, it can always be said that he will be destroyed in the end and likewise his seed after one or more generations. The companions had accused Job of hidden sins in order to establish his guilt and they warned him that the seed of the wicked will eventually be cut off.
Ramban continues: For this reason, Job now answers that he has seen with his own eyes how the wicked are successful and how their offspring and houses are tranquil in their lifetimes. If the companions argue that their descendants will be cut off after hundreds of years, how will that harm the wicked themselves and what pain will they suffer as a result? The companions must admit that the judgment is perverted and for this reason it is impossible to believe their claim that the seed of the wicked will be cut of on account of their sins. Likewise even if a righteous person like Job is destroyed today, the companions should not condemn him, because judgment is not in God's hands but is a matter of chance (see Ramban loc. cit.).
Vv 2-3: If Job's companions really want to comfort him they should have the patience to hear him out before mocking him.
V 4: "As for me, is my complaint to man? Why should I not be impatient?" - "A mortal man may not have the wisdom to answer me, but my challenge is to God, who knows everything. If He will not answer me, how could I not be impatient?" (Metzudas David).
Vv 5-6: In these verses, Job warns his companions that he is about to mention something that is truly shocking - that in fact the wicked enjoy every kind of success, as he goes on to show in vv 7ff.
V 7: "Why do the wicked live, become old, and indeed grow mighty in power?" The Talmud (Sanhedrin 108a), Midrash (Yalkut) and commentators (Rashi on Job 21:6 etc.) all see the coming verses as alluding to the generation of the Flood, who enjoyed legendary prosperity and tranquility until their destruction. Similarly the rabbis relate sections of Eliphaz' answer to Job in the chapter that follows to the generation of the Flood and the overthrow of Sodom . While to us these may seem like far-off events that took place in the remote past and which may appear irrelevant to the present, for Job and his companions, living in the time of Moses or not long afterwards, they were relatively recent cataclysms of enormous magnitude that cried out with moral lessons for future generations.
V 13: "They spend their days in wealth and in a moment descend to She'ol (=the grave)" - "After enjoying such a good life, when his day of death arrives, the wicked man dies peacefully without pain and suffering" (Rashi).
Vv 14f: "Therefore they said to God, Depart from us for we do not desire the knowledge of Your ways." If this was the motto of the generation of the Flood and the people of Sodom , it would seem also to be the motto of many of the prosperous, contented exponents of freedom and license in our time.
V 17: "How often is the candle of the wicked put out.?" Job denies his companions' argument that in the end the wicked are always destroyed, because there are numerous cases where this is manifestly not so.
Vv 19-21: Even if the offspring and house of the wicked are eventually destroyed, what does he care when he is no longer in the world?
V 22: "Shall anyone teach God knowledge, seeing that He judges those who are high?" Rashi (ad loc.) offers two interpretations of this verse: (1) Job is telling his companions that not one of them is able to explain the manifest success of the wicked or the suffering and retribution exacted from the righteous. (2) Does Job need to teach God wisdom so as to judge the world in truth when He Himself knows that this is so? But in His exalted height and greatness He passes lofty judgments without taking care to be exact. [That is to say, God is so exalted that He does not pay attention to this world with the result that the judgment comes out crooked.]
Vv 23-26: The wicked die prosperous and tranquil, while the righteous die with a bitter soul having tasted no goodness - and in the end both lie in the ground and are eaten by the worms! Where is the justice???
V 27: "Behold, I know your thoughts and the devices you wrongfully imagine against me." Metzudas David renders the end of this verse somewhat differently, "the devices you WITHHOLD from me". He explains that Job is saying that he knows not only the arguments his companions will bring against him in support of their claims but also the counterarguments that refute their views and which they seek to withhold from him and conceal.
Vv 28ff: The companions have argued that the houses of the wicked are eventually destroyed, but it is common knowledge that even when a major calamity comes to the world the wicked are often saved (Metzudas David).
Eliphaz' third and final address to Job contained in Chapter 22 begins the third and last cycle of arguments and counter-arguments between Job and the companions who came to "comfort" him in his misery. However, in this third cycle Tzophar does not speak: only Eliphaz (ch 22) and Bildad (ch 25) address Job, whose lengthy response to the latter (chs 26-31) finally silences the three companions, prior to the entry of a fourth interlocutor in Chapter 32, Elee-hu son of Barach-el.
Ramban (on Job 22:2) explains Eliphaz' intent in his present speech, stating that of the three companions, he was the greatest in wisdom, which is why the text gives him precedence. Eliphaz had inferred from Job's opening speech that he did not believe in God's watchful providence over this world. Ramban writes that the most reasonable way to understand Job's standpoint is that he did not deny God's justice in the world of the souls (after death), because if so he would have rebelled even more, yet he said "Even if He kills me, I will hope in Him" (Job 13:15). What Job could not accept was that the Tzaddik only receives his reward in the world of the souls - for why should God send harm in this world to those who perform His will, and conversely, why should He benefit those who rebel against Him? Job's main complaint thus related to the seeming lack of justice in the world of the bodies (this material world), for in Job's view the human body was no different from the body of an animal which is born under the dominion of the planets and stars and which is subject to chance, while only the soul is from God who gave it.
Ramban explains that in Eliphaz' present speech he introduces a new idea, saying that God wants man to do what is good and righteous in the eyes of God and man and to turn aside from evil only for the benefit of the created beings, and this is his proof that God wants to deal righteously with His creations and to show mercy on the work of His hands. This is why He gives them commandments and watches over them providentially. If so, Job's troubles have come upon him either because of his evil deeds - as Eliphaz specifies in his speech - or because of his denial of God's providence and his rebellion against God's testing and reproving him. Eliphaz concludes by saying that if Job will repent, God will return and benefit more in the end than at the beginning (see Ramban loc. cit.).
Vv 2-3: God gains nothing from man's service: it is man himself who benefits.
Vv 4-5: It is not through any fear of Job that God is chastising him but because of his own evil deeds. Eliphaz is not suggesting that Job was some kind of common villain. Metzudas David (ad loc.) explains that for a man on Job's great level even apparently minor deviations were very serious because others would learn from and follow him.
Vv 6-9: Metzudas David explains each of Eliphaz' accusations against Job in these verses as specifying how he must have perverted justice through abusing his own position of authority as an elder, leader and judge in his community: "For you have taken a pledge from your brother for nothing" (v 6) - "you imposed monetary fines and took pledges even when people owed you nothing." ".and you stripped off the clothes of the naked" (ibid.) - "from those who had nothing to pay as a fine, you took their garments as a pledge." "You did not give water to the weary to drink and you withheld bread from the hungry" (v 7) - "for if you had someone put in prison, he was denied bread and water." "The land belongs to the man with a strong arm." (v 8) - "while you acted cruelly to the poor, you gave honor to the wealthy and powerful", oppressing widows and orphans.
V 10f: It is because of these subtle crimes that Job's troubles have come upon him.
V 12: "Is not God in the height of the heavens." - "If indeed you committed all these crimes and yet you deny them and say that you were righteous, this is only because you think that God is so high and exalted above everything that He is remote from the earth" (Metzudas David).
Vv 13-14: Eliphaz argues that Job considers that God knows nothing of the deeds of men, as if He is separated from the world by a dark fog.
V 15: "Have you marked the old way which wicked men have trodden." As in the case of Job's speech in the previous chapter, the rabbis of the Talmud and Midrash and the later commentators saw in Eliphaz' depiction of atheistic power and pleasure-hungry villains in the following verses allusions to the generation of the Flood and the wicked men of Sodom, who were destroyed by rivers of water and fire respectively.
Vv 21ff: Eliphaz draws his discourse to a close by appealing to Job to make his peace with God so that good can come to him in the end.
Vv 27f: If Job will repent, his prayers will be answered, and "You shall decree a thing and it shall be established for you" (v 28). The true Tzaddik has the power to decree what will be through the power of his prayers (see Ta'anis 23a on this verse).
Vv29-30: God delivers the humble and innocent. Eliphaz' conclusion is that in order to be saved from his suffering, Job must repent.
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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