27 September – 3 October 2015.

Job 21:1–21 (click to read).

In chapter 20, Job’s friend Zophar tries a second time to explain why suffering exists. His views are very similar to Job’s other friend, Eliphaz. For Zophar, the law of God is simple: God will always punish the wicked, and he will always reward the righteous. For Zophar, this is certain, ancient wisdom (20:4–5), wisdom we see even in the Book of Proverbs.

But we know that Proverbs gives simple answers, and doesn’t always reflect the complicated nature of real life. In the real world, the wicked often succeed and lead happy lives, and the righteous often suffer terrible things. That’s why, in chapter 21, Job strongly criticizes Zophar’s so-called ancient wisdom.

For Job, the horror of his own life is proof that suffering isn’t limited to the wicked. Today we have seen so many good, innocent people suffer that we too can’t agree with Zophar’s childlike idea of punishment only for the wicked and rewards only for the good.

Job finds this situation deeply unfair, and in vv. 6–18 he wonders how it can be that the wicked have no interest in God and yet lead wonderful, happy lives. Some Jews tried to solve this problem by arguing that “God stores up the punishment of the wicked for their children” (20:19). Even Moses argued that God punishes the children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of the wicked (Exodus 20:5).

But Job rightly sees that this isn’t fair. The wicked should experience their own punishments and not be able to escape so easily (20:19–20)! And, as Job mentions in v. 21, what do the wicked care if their children suffer? All they care about is their own happiness!

This unfairness led ancient believers to realize that if God really is just, then there must be some kind of judgement after life. In this life, the good suffer and the evil are happy. But that can’t be right. That’s why Jesus and Paul tell us that in the life to come, God will finally set things right. Evil and its results will be dealt with, and goodness, love, and compassion will finally be rewarded.

Pastor Stephen Lakkis