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218. Job 21:16, An Unclear Verse


The wicked’s self-sufficiency and blazing clarity is now too much for Job.  He has to descend into obscurity, which he kindly does for us in verse 16.  Let’s try a literal rendering and then see if meaning wants to emerge.  


            “Indeed, their good is not in their hands; the counsel of the wicked is far from me."   


The reference to “me” here is unexpected; Clines quickly decides that the clear “me” can’t mean “me” and so he changes it to “him;” Seow keeps the “me.” I concur with Seow. Though the personal reference is unexpected here, there is no reason to remove it. Some also change the first statement into a question, so that it reads, “Isn’t their prosperity/good in their hands?” But, I don’t go there. Finally, Seow sees the use of the negative (im lo) that begins the verse really as a positive and so renders it “Indeed prosperity is in their hands,” while I render it as “their good/prosperity is not in their hands.” Now that we have about a half-dozen ways of reading this verse, if you tease out the various possibilities, we probably should try to establish meaning.


In this verse I see Job taking a mental break, as it were, and adding a personal reflection in the midst of his long speech exploring the life of the wicked. This personal reflection suggests that Job does not identify with the wicked, even though he marvels at their ability to live a prosperous life without God. The first half of the verse would then be his comment that the wicked’s success is really not in their hands (despite their actions and words to the contrary); the second half would emphasize that Job really wants nothing to do with their attitude or lifestyle—“ The counsel of the wicked is far from me.” One might have received the impression that since Job was painting the life of the wicked in positive colors in verses 7-15, he might have wanted to join their company. No way. Job experience may eventually lead to his undermining important concepts of the faith of Israel, but never do we get the impression that Job wants to identify with the wicked. He “turns away from evil” in Job 1; there is nothing in the rest of the Book of Job to convince us to the contrary.

Thus, in verse 16, we have a little interlude. The wicked live an apparently charmed life, but Job really wants nothing to do with it.

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