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222. Job 21:29-34, Finishing the Chapter
29 “Have you not asked wayfaring men,
And do you not recognize their witness?
30 For the wicked is reserved for the day of calamity;
They will be led forth at the day of fury.
31 Who will confront him with his actions,
And who will repay him for what he has done?
32 While he is carried to the grave,
Men will keep watch over his tomb.
33 The clods of the valley will gently cover him;
Moreover, all men will follow after him,
While countless ones go before him.
34 “How then will you vainly comfort me,
For your answers remain full of falsehood?”
Job now turns in verse 29 to his new source or authority on the question of whether God judges the wicked in this life.
“Why don’t you ask those who pass by along the ways? Don’t you recognize
Again, the language isn’t crystalline, but its contours are clear. Job is asking the friends not simply to point to destroyed homes as signs of divine judgment but to ask those who really have their ears to the ground—those who “pass by along the way.” Lamentations 1:12 is one other place in Scripture that uses the interesting phrase abar..derek (“pass by the way”). The author of that heart-rending lamentation asks those who “pass by the way” whether there ever was sorrow like the sorrow the people of Jerusalem felt at the destruction of their temple and their land, and the exile of its people. Those who “pass by the way” are therefore seen as neutral but knowledgeable observers; they are those who can give an honest, and informed, answer to the query.
Thus, Job’s urging of the friends to question “those who pass by along the ways” should be seen in this light. They are the source of unbiased and informed knowledge on his question. They will give their “signs/testimonials/evidences” (the word is the common oth, usually translated as “sign”); why wouldn’t you recognize (the common verb nakar) these testimonials? Job is really pushing the friends to adopt this empirical method of gathering theological data.
Verse 30 has been translated in two contrary ways. The older translations, led by the KJV, generally have it that
“the wicked is reserved for the day of destruction; they shall be led out/brought out to the day of wrath.”
The KJV is followed by the New American Standard Bible in our day, as well as many other translations. If we followed this translation we would have a mini-absurdity here, because Job has not only just been arguing that gathering data from passers-by is the way to go but also that this data would show that the wicked aren’t judged in this life. If the wicked are just being saved for the day of destruction, he would be conceding to the friends that they were correct after all. Some might say, if you adopt a KJV-style translation, that the wicked still may flourish in this life but God will ultimately git ‘em, but that still doesn’t sit well with the overall point Job is making.
Thus, an alternative translation has become more popular. The translation centers on the verb chasak (27x), which means “to hold back, restrain, spare.” The wicked either are “held back for” the day of destruction (we have seen the worded, usually rendered “calamity,”already in 18:12; 21:17) or are “spared” the day of destruction. I, along with most current scholars, adopt this latter translation. It not only is a reasonable translation of chasak, but it fits the ideas that Job is developing.
Job argues, then, that the data collected from passersby affirms that the wicked are spared from calamity and from the fierce anger (the ebrah, 34x) of God.
Even if we conclude that the wicked are spared, however, we still have difficulty understanding verse 31. Literally, it is:
“Who shall declare his way to his face? Who shall repay him what he has
The point seems to be not only are the wicked actually spared from divine judgment but that no one is in a position to declare the person’s wickedness to his face or repay him for what he has done. Perhaps, Job thinks, the wicked person occupies such a powerful place in society that to do so would be suicide for the one who finds fault. Thus, the reality of life, contrary to what the friends teach, is that the wicked suffer no real judgment in this life. Even though they may be wicked, they are spared from judgment and no one either has the ability or gall to point their wickedness out to them.
Verses 32-33 point to the wicked’s pleasant death. It is a thought that fits nicely into the world of verses 7-13, where the prosperous life of the wicked was detailed. Now, in verses 32-33, we see their prosperous death. Again, the thought could be more clearly articulated (v 32):
“For he is carried to the grave; upon his tomb/sheaves shall there be a watch.”
The verb for being carried is yabal (18x/3x in Job), which we have just seen two verses ago, in verse 30. Because of our more “modern” reading of verse 30, the translation of yabal in that verse also has been changed a bit by some scholars. Normally it is put in the passive voice and means to “be led forth/carried (as in Job 10:19), but in order to keep consistent with the idea of “sparing” in verse 30, Clines renders yabal as “delivered” in verse 30, though Seow keeps more to the literal meaning by rendering it “convey.”
Yet in verse 32 it is unquestionable that the wicked is “carried” (yabal) to the grave. The second half of the verse is obscure but it need not be clear because it obviously repeats the first part—and we have seen Job’s literary method often to provide obscure words once the main point is clear. The word rendered “grave” here is gadish, whose three other appearances are all translated “sheaves.” Let’s leave that half-verse in confusion, but with the clear thought that the wicked are carried (happily) to the grave.
Verse 33 confirms this thought. Even the clods (the rare regab, only here and in Job 38:38) of the valley are sweet (mathoq, 5x) to him, and the wicked will be attended by numberless other people in his grave. The double reference to drawing others to him and then having an innumerable host with him (eyn mispar) is reminiscent of Job 3:14-19, where the kings of the earth are said to be living in pleasant and peaceful converse with others in Sheol. There is nothing bleak about the wicked’s ultimate fate for Job.
And so, armed with these thoughts, he concludes the chapter by addressing the friends in verse 34. We understand him immediately when he now says,
“How shall you comfort me? Vain thoughts. And your answers are only the only the remnants of unfaithfulness.”
The first part of the verse might also be translated as “comfort me with vain thoughts” or “comfort me in vain.” Same meaning. The friends’ words are now hollow. Not only does Job direct personal pique towards them for their judgmentalism and lack of willingness to understand his condition, but he now has a better source of theological knowledge to draw upon—the experience of those “on the streets.” The friends, rather than being paragons or exemplars of fidelity, only answer with faithlessness. Job closes with a stinging rebuke to the friends, as well as a newfound confidence because he has discovered a different source of theological knowledge.