DON’T DENY THAT GOD AFFLICTS THE RIGHTEOUS SINCE WE CAN SEE THAT GOD ALLOWS THE WICKED TO PROSPER FOR NOW
John Hartley: Now he puts forth multiple examples of civil injustice (24:13, 9, 4–8, 10–11) and criminal injustice (24:12–17). God’s apparent indifference to human activity compounds the evil that human beings do. These injustices threaten to turn society into chaos. . .
While Job awaits God’s answer, his mind turns to the topsy-turvy affairs in the world that allow the wicked, given to self-serving, brutal deeds of violence, to oppress the weak and powerless. His own sufferings have made him more sensitive to widespread human suffering. He longs for God to rectify matters on earth. While he grieves at social evil, he remains so confident that God does eventually execute justice that he pronounces a series of curses against the wicked. Job’s concern for injustice leads him to challenge the theology of his day, but at the same time, because of his profound faith in God, his lamenting drives him to God for an answer. He is anxious that God curse the wicked, holding them accountable for their evil deeds.
Pulpit Commentary: The general subject of this chapter is the prosperity of the wicked, whose proceedings and their results are traced out in detail (vers. 2-24). A single note of perplexity (ver. 1) forms a sufficient introduction; and a single note of challenge a sufficient epilogue (ver. 25).
Thomas Constable: Job could not understand why God did not always judge overt sin quickly (24:1-12). Most people still have the same question. He mentioned three sins specifically: removing boundary landmarks and thereby appropriating someone else’s land, stealing flocks of sheep, and mistreating the weak. Job could not see why God seemingly ignored the perpetrators of these terrible sins, yet afflicted him so severely. Neither could he understand why God did not judge sinners who practiced secret atrocities, specifically: murderers, adulterers, and burglars (24:14-17). Job cited examples from both country and city life.
David Clines: His [Job’s] complaint against God in this speech [chaps. 23-24] has been twofold:
• that he cannot win from God a declaration of his innocence,
• and that God himself has given up on governing his world.
(:1) PROLOGUE – JOB’S CONUNDRUM — WHY DOES GOD NOT ADMINISTER JUSTICE ON A CONSISTENT AND TIMELY BASIS?
“Why are times not stored up by the Almighty,
And why do those who know Him not see His days?”
John Hartley: This question has a double prick. On the one hand, the wicked take advantage of the lack of times of judgment to pursue their evil designs unhindered. On the other hand, the righteous endure hardship, hopeful of God’s rectifying justice, but without ever being rewarded by God for their faithful perseverance. Consequently, God’s administration of justice seems sporadic, partial, and inconsistent.
Elmer Smick: Job begins by expressing in one bicolon (v.1) the mood that dominates here—a complaint on why God does not set straight the balance of justice. Why does not his promised retribution come at set times against all ruthless oppressors? The chapter alternates in a discursive way between a description of the criminals (vv.2–4, 9) and their victims (vv.5–8, 10–12).
This theme is an exceedingly important part of the major message of the book. Job feels God should demonstrate his justice by openly punishing the wicked. In the divine speeches God will teach him a tremendous lesson about this, which Job does not now understand. That lesson centers around the idea that the principle of retribution does not operate mechanically in this world but according to the divine will. Although God is free to do as he pleases, Job knows he does not deserve his suffering. But how then does the age-old principle of retribution fit in?
In this chapter Job presents a picture of a world that is still a deep enigma to him. His courageous honesty leads him to expound the mystery of how the wicked get by unpunished while they perform their evil deeds against the innocent. The touching pathos of these word pictures should be felt by the reader, for they give us some insight into Job’s contempt for wickedness and his ability to empathize with those in distress (cf. 31:13–22).
David Clines: In a properly governed world, there would no doubt be immediate retribution for the pious and for wrongdoers alike. Clearly God is not disposed to keep short accounts; but if he has not the inclination to mete out instant retribution, why does he at least not settle the score with humans on a regular basis, appointing assize days when he will weigh up their merits and demerits and apportion to them their rewards? Why are there no fixed “days” (as there were “Quarter Days” in England for the settling of accounts: Lady Day, Midsummer, Michaelmas, and Christmas), no days for judgment when God as a magistrate would pay a visit to outlying parts of his territories and settle outstanding cases and suits? Those who “know” God, i.e., who recognize his rights to rule, would then at least be able to look forward to justice that is not unreasonably delayed. It is an old legal principle, in England at least, that justice delayed is injustice, and Magna Carta (1215 C.E.) enshrined the principle that “To none will we sell, or deny, or delay right or justice.” And Job would play well the role of the barons attempting to wrest from the unjust and extortionate King John such a safeguard for gentry like himself and for hungry peasants alike. . .
In asking “why” God does not keep assize days, Job is not seeking a reason, but uttering a lament that he does not (cf. the “why” questions in 3:11, 12). We might have expected Job to wish that everyone, not just those who “know” God, should “see his days,” i.e., experience retribution, whether by way of reward or punishment. He would agree with that, of course, but he focuses here on the satisfaction that pious people would get from knowing that their piety is being recognized and rewarded. To “know God” is a rare expression in the wisdom literature (in Job only elsewhere at 18:21; in Psalms only at 36:11 ; 79:6; perhaps 87:4; and in Proverbs only at 2:5). It is a mainly prophetic term (see on 18:21), and it is perhaps natural that it should occur here in a passage so reminiscent of prophetic condemnation of the wicked rich. To “know” God is essentially to recognize him and his rights; it is not so much to know or acknowledge that there is a God as to esteem him as God.
Francis Andersen: The claim of the friends, that God regularly enforces justice in the world, is not borne out by facts.
Tremper Longman: However, that the wicked get away with their crimes implies that God has not kept the “times” of judgment.
I. (2-17) JOB’S COMPLAINT OVER GOD’S FAILURE TO ADMINISTER JUSTICE ON A CONSISTENT AND TIMELY BASIS
A. (:2-12) God Seems Indifferent to Blatant Crimes =
The Property Crimes and Social Crimes that Target the Poor and Vulnerable
1. (:2-4) Delineation of Property and Social Crimes
a. (:2a) Removing Landmarks
“Some remove the landmarks;”
b. (:2b) Seizing Flocks
“They seize and devour flocks.”
John Hartley: Since the day of judgment never comes, the statutes designed to protect the weak members of the community are flagrantly violated. Greed inspires the arrogant rich to exploit the poor, the weak, and the unfortunate, i.e., the orphan (yeṯômîm), the widow (ʾalmānâ; cf. 22:9), and the needy (ʾeḇyônîm). To secure property, the wicked craftily move boundary stones, the markers duly erected to delineate and protect a family’s property. In Mesopotamia some boundary markers were inscribed with specifications about the property and with reliefs of sacred objects to put the property under divine sanction. In ancient Israel, these stones were considered a sacred trust and were also never to be tampered with (cf. Deut. 19:14; Prov. 23:10). If such an inscribed stone was disturbed, the victim could lose a major portion of his property or possibly all of it. Whoever moved such a marker came under a divine curse (Deut. 27:17).
Furthermore, evildoers steal flocks and pasture the sheep openly. Driving off an entire flock, of course, wipes out a family’s or a clan’s means of support. Perhaps the evildoers are so blatant that they dare to pasture the stolen herd on the land gained by moving the boundary stones.
David Clines: Seizing flocks is a different crime; it is hardly likely to mean that the wicked steal animals and then openly pasture them on the fields they have taken possession of (as Hartley). Pasturing flocks cannot in itself of course be a crime, so it is not appropriate to translate “they seize flocks and pasture them” (as RSV, for example); it is necessary to adopt some such translation as NIV, “they pasture flocks they have stolen.” They openly pasture the stolen flocks as if they were their own (Duhm). “Flocks” or “herds” are generally sheep (e.g., Gen 29:2) and, less commonly, goats (e.g., Cant 4:1), but they may also include cattle (as Gen 32:17 ); here we have no doubt sheep (and goats) in v 2 and ass and ox in v 3.
c. (:3) Financial Exploitation or Orphans and Widows
“They drive away the donkeys of the orphans;
They take the widow’s ox for a pledge.”
David Clines: Who are being depicted in these verses as the perpetrators of crimes against the poor? They are not professional thieves or brigands who make their living from theft, for such people might do better robbing from the rich than from the poor. And they do not make off with what they have stolen, for landmarks have little resale value, and the flocks they have stolen they pasture under the noses of their victims. So they are people of the same community as the poor, people who are careless of ancestral custom, public opinion, and divine displeasure. They have the wealth to lend money at pledge, and they have the power and authority to remove landmarks. They must be the chieftains and ruling class in the kind of feudal society depicted as Job’s, “powerful and wealthy landowners” (Strahan). And the portrayal of them in these verses must be from the point of view of their victims, since they themselves would be describing their actions not as theft or oppression but as the enforcing of their legal rights (Davidson speaks of “forms of law little different from violence”). All the actions in vv 2–3 are probably to be taken as resulting from peasant debt.
d. (:4) Oppressing the Poor and Needy
“They push the needy aside from the road;
The poor of the land are made to hide themselves altogether.”
John Hartley: When the weak live during an era of oppression, they have to guard their every movement, ever conscious of protecting themselves from harm. Afraid to travel by the worn paths lest they be robbed and beaten, the poor are forced together into hiding. While the poor must move about stealthily in fear for their own safety, the rich revel in luxury at the expense of those they oppress. Although the laws and the teachings from God were formulated to prevent such social oppression, God has not called these evildoers to account for breaking his laws so contemptuously.
Tremper Longman: Next to the orphan and the widow, the poor and needy (v. 4) are the epitome of vulnerability. After mentioning the abuse that the poor and needy feel at the hands of the wicked, Job goes into a long and pitiable description of their desperation (vv. 5–8), to be followed by another statement of oppression by the wicked (v. 9) and then another description of the suffering of the oppressed (vv. 10–12).
2. (:5-8) Description of the Suffering of the Poor and Needy
“Behold, as wild donkeys in the wilderness
They go forth seeking food in their activity,
As bread for their children in the desert.
6 They harvest their fodder in the field,
And they glean the vineyard of the wicked.
7 They spend the night naked, without clothing,
And have no covering against the cold.
8 They are wet with the mountain rains,
And they hug the rock for want of a shelter.”
David Clines: The sufferings of the poor are depicted not for the sake of the poor but for the sake of Job’s theological program: their misery is the evidence he needs to show that God has abandoned the moral government of the universe.
Tremper Longman: At this point, Job goes off on an excursus to describe the horrible conditions of the poor and needy. At first he describes them as wild donkeys in the wilderness, an area with subsistence-level resources. The work of these donkeys (the poor and needy) is to do their best to forage for food for their children. Wild donkeys are ragged and desperate. Verse 6 speaks of the poor and needy finding food in fields/vineyards that are not their own.
Francis Andersen: At some point the description of the plight of the dispossessed changes to the wretchedness of overworked labourers, exploited with low wages, clad in rags, hungry for the harvest they gather for the well-fed owner. Thirsty, they tread the grapes.
3. (:9-11) Deprivation of the Poor and Needy
David Clines: Job, however, is not a prophet, inveighing against the ills of his society, or, like an Amos, announcing a forthcoming destruction because of long-standing social injustices. On the contrary, it is Job’s point that such injustices prevail and God does nothing about them, charging no one with wrongdoing (cf. NIV), and not treating the injustice as unseemly (cf. NAB). The key to the whole of his social comment is the complaint, “Why are days of assize not kept by the Almighty?” (v 1).
a. (:9) Deprived of Physical Necessities
“Others snatch the orphan from the breast,
And against the poor they take a pledge.”
b. (:10) Deprived of Clothing and Food
“They cause the poor to go about naked without clothing,
And they take away the sheaves from the hungry.”
c. (:11) Deprived of the Fruit of Their Labor
“Within the walls they produce oil;
They tread wine presses but thirst.”
John Hartley: Job shifts (though the exact place of the shift is hard to pinpoint) from the miserable conditions of the poor to the harsh working practices afforded day laborers. They are so poor they have to work without protective clothing. In v. 7 the emphasis is on the lack of clothing for warmth; in v. 10 the issue is that the laborers do not have the proper clothing to protect them from the hazards of their work.
The conditions under which they must work compound their misery. They are forced to work with the very essentials that their bodies cry out for. Famished by hard work, some have to carry sheaves all day long and yet are forbidden to eat any of the grain. Others, like beasts of burden, have to pull the heavy millstones that press out the olive oil. Others must tread the grapes in the winepresses which empty the juice into the vat (yeqeḇ). These laborers are parched with thirst while producing liquids, but they are unable to have any of the liquid to quench their thirst. Sapping a worker’s strength without giving him any nourishment or allowing him a share in the joy of his toil is the height of inhumane labor practices (cf. Jas. 5:1–6). According to the highest standards, landlords were supposed to let their workers share in the results of their labor. Note that these two verses mention the three staples, grain, wine, and oil, which represent the products of the soil which God gives to sustain human life (e.g., Hos. 2:11, 24 [Eng. 9, 22]).
4. (:12) Divine Indifference?
“From the city men groan,
And the souls of the wounded cry out;
Yet God does not pay attention to folly.”
Elmer Smick: The climax is v.12c, which returns to the theme of v.1. The great enigma is that all this is going on and God does nothing (cf. Ps 73:2–3; Hab 1:13; Mal 3:15).
David Guzik: Yet God does not charge them with wrong: This was the part that was difficult for Job to understand and accept. He knew how wicked the wicked were; what he could not comprehend was why God did not judge them as they deserved.
David Thompson: Job’s point is that God does not immediately come to the rescue of the poor, of the orphan, and of the widow, even when they cry to Him. It is almost as if the wicked are getting away totally unscathed. Remember Job’s friends are alleging that God is punishing him because he is so wicked and Job says God does not typically punish wicked people that way.
B. (:13-17) God Seems Indifferent to Secret Crimes =
The Deeds of Darkness Committed by Criminals
David Clines: The important question is: What is this picture of the enemies of the light doing in this context, where Job’s purpose is to criticize God’s failure to keep days of assize (v 1), and where his constant theme has been the victimization of the poor by the wealthy and powerful (vv 2–12)? It might be thought that these too are wrongdoers, “a new class of malefactors” (Davidson), who deserve God’s judgment but are allowed to escape by his negligence. But then there would be no connection with the preceding verses. It is preferable to translate the beginning of v 13 literally, “They are among those who rebel against the light”; the preposition beth, “in, among,” before “those who rebel” is a crucial one. The theme of this strophe is still, as it has been hitherto, the wealthy oppressors of the poor, who are now said to be fellows of those who flagrantly breach the law, the “rebels against the light.” The rich, as we have seen, are pillars of the community, who rely on social custom and law for their legitimation and would be horrified at being classed with lawbreakers. So Job’s complaint against God is, not that he does not call murderers and adulterers and thieves to account—for in most cases, he does not need to do so; society has already identified them and brought them to book—but that he does not carry out the judgments that he alone is responsible for: determining that social injustice, even when it is according to law, is an evil, and punishing those, even when they are in power in society, who take advantage of an unjust system. . .
The real enemies of the light, however, are not those who cover their crimes with darkness, but those who cover them with light: the powerful and esteemed in society, with whom this chapter has been principally concerned, who use publicly legitimated law and custom for their own aggrandizement and to the oppression of the weak.
1. (:13) Preference for Darkness over Light
“Others have been with those who rebel against the light;
They do not want to know its ways, Nor abide in its paths.”
John Hartley: Job describes the stealthy activity of those who are rebels against the light: the murderer, the thief, and the adulterer. Such criminals work at night under the protection that darkness affords their evil deeds. They do not know, i.e., willingly follow, the light, the source of life and truth. If they ever were to discover the right way, they would not have the inner strength to stay faithfully on that rugged path.
2. (:14-16) Three Categories of Criminals Who Operate in the Darkness
a. (:14a) The Murderer
“The murderer arises at dawn;
He kills the poor and the needy,”
b. (:14b) The Thief
“And at night he is as a thief.”
c. (:15) The Adulterer
“And the eye of the adulterer waits for the twilight,
Saying, ‘No eye will see me.’
And he disguises his face.”
d. (:16) Summary = They Operate in the Darkness
“In the dark they dig into houses,
They shut themselves up by day;
They do not know the light.”
Tremper Longman: While above (v. 14) Job says murderers brazenly commit their crimes during the day, here he points out that evil people are creatures of the night (vv. 16–17). They do evil during the night, and they hide themselves during the light of day. They do not know the light, but are on friendly terms with (recognize) the darkness. They feel comfortable when their acts are hidden from eyes.
3. (:17) Preference for Darkness over Light
“For the morning is the same to him as thick darkness,
For he is familiar with the terrors of thick darkness.”
John Hartley: All these criminals shut [Piel of ḥāṯam] themselves in by day. The Hebrew word ḥāṯam means literally “seal.” In their dwelling places they feel as secure as a sealed document. Never taking any risk of discovery, they do not want to know the light. Because they live by an opposite standard, their attitude to the times of the day is reversed. Morning, which fills most people with joy and expectation, is for them deep darkness (ṣalmāweṯ). Since light fills them with fear of discovery, they lay low during the day, taking their rest. But at night when the terrors of deep darkness reign, they feel at ease. Thus the wicked reject light and accept darkness as their protector and assistant.
II. (:18-24) JOB’S CERTAINTY REGARDING THE EVENTUAL PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED
Tremper Longman: Chapter 24 ends on a totally different note from how it began. After castigating the wickedness of evil people and how they get away with their oppression of the weak, Job moves to a blistering description of the horrible fate that awaits such sinners. . . On the ground that Job is against not the retribution principle in general but only its misapplication to him, I concluded that we should take this passage as part of Job’s speech rather than reassign it to one of the friends. In short, after describing the evil actions of evil people in 24:1–17, he expresses either the certainty or the hope that a bad fate will come to them.
A. (:18-20) The Destiny of the Wicked Is Cursed
John MacArthur: Again Job referred to the opinions of his counselors, saying that, if their view were correct, all the wicked should be experiencing punishment. But it is obvious they were not.
1. (:18) Regarded as Insignificant, Cursed and Unsatisfied
“They are insignificant on the surface of the water;
Their portion is cursed on the earth.
They do not turn toward the vineyards.”
2. (:19) Reduced to Nothing Like the Melting Snow
“Drought and heat consume the snow waters,
So does Sheol those who have sinned.”
3. (:20) Remembered No More
“A mother will forget him;
The worm feeds sweetly till he is remembered no more.
And wickedness will be broken like a tree.”
B. (:21-22) The Crimes of the Wicked Persist for Now
1. (:21) Mistreating the Vulnerable
“He wrongs the barren woman,
And does no good for the widow.”
John Hartley: This verse is also problematic. Perhaps it is based on the theme of retaliation in kind. The curse is that the evildoer’s lady companion might not bear. This curse is designed to leave this wicked man without heir. The second part of the curse is that his widow might not be left with any good. She is not to prosper from his evil deeds.
2. (:22) Manhandling the Valiant
“But He drags off the valiant by His power;
He rises, but no one has assurance of life.”
C. (:23-24) The Prosperity of the Wicked Is Only Temporary
1. (:23) Temporary Security before Final Judgment
“He provides them with security, and they are supported;
And His eyes are on their ways.”
Matthew Henry: He foresees their fall however, and that their death, though they die in ease and honour, will be their ruin. God’s eyes are upon their ways, v. 23. Though he keep silence, and seem to connive at them, yet he takes notice, and keeps account of all their wickedness, and will make it to appear shortly that their most secret sins, which they thought no eye should see (v. 15), were under his eye and will be called over again. Here is no mention of the punishment of these sinners in the other world, but it is intimated in the particular notice taken of the consequences of their death.
1. The consumption of the body in the grave, though common to all, yet to them is in the nature of a punishment for their sin. The grave shall consume those that have sinned; that land of darkness will be the lot of those that love darkness rather than light. The bodies they pampered shall be a feast for worms, which shall feed as sweetly on them as ever they fed on the pleasures and gains of their sins.
2. Though they thought to make themselves a great name by their wealth, and power, and mighty achievements, yet their memorial perished with them, Ps 9 6. He that made himself so much talked of shall, when he is dead, be no more remembered with honour; his name shall rot, Prov 10 7. Those that durst not give him his due character while he lived shall not spare him when he is dead; so that the womb that bore him, his own mother, shall forget him, that is, shall avoid making mention of him, and shall think that the greatest kindness she can do him, since no good can be said of him. That honour which is got by sin will soon turn into shame.
3. The wickedness they thought to establish in their families shall be broken as a tree; all their wicked projects shall be blasted, and all their wicked hopes dashed and buried with them.
4. Their pride shall be brought down and laid in the dust (v. 24); and, in mercy to the world, they shall be taken out of the way, and all their power and prosperity shall be cut off. You may seek them, and they shall not be found. Job owns that wicked people will be miserable at last, miserable on the other side death, but utterly denies what his friends asserted, that ordinarily they are miserable in this life.
2. (:24) Temporary Exaltation before Final Judgment
“They are exalted a little while, then they are gone;
Moreover, they are brought low and like everything gathered up;
Even like the heads of grain they are cut off.”
John Hartley: Job prays that God may give the wicked security on which to lean for support, while he continually keeps his eyes on their ways. But God lets them be exalted only for a brief time. Soon he judges them, and they are no more. The higher they rise, the harder they will fall. They are laid low and shrivel up like grass or wither like heads of grain beneath the scorching sun. Just as the grain is dried up before it comes to harvest, God brings them down by a miserable fate before they enjoy the fruit of their evil schemes.
(:25) EPILOGUE – JOB’S CHALLENGE = PROVE ME WRONG
“Now if it is not so, who can prove me a liar,
And make my speech worthless?”
Spurgeon: Job challenges all men to contradict what he affirms, — that the righteous may be greater sufferers, and the wicked may for awhile prosper, but that God will, in the end, overthrow the ungodly, and establish the righteous.
Elmer Smick: It is curious that in v.25 Job speaks as though he has just made an argument against the views of his friends rather than partially agreeing with them. The verse is a clue to the rhetoric of the chapter. It is not a disconnected assemblage of pieces put together by scribes who wanted to make Job sound more orthodox. An argument based on this verse can be made for literary unity in this chapter. We must go back to the nodal statement in v.1 and examine it carefully. The verb ṣāpan (GK 7621), there translated “set,” means literally “store up.” Job’s query there is, “Why is there not a storing up of judgment by the Almighty so that his friends can eventually see the day [v.2] of his wrath on the wicked?” Job is anticipating “the day of the LORD,” a theme stressed by some of the prophets (cf. Joel).
The query of v.1 fits with Job’s view that the wicked prosper. After developing a series of vignettes, with as much pathos as possible, about the deeds of the wicked and the sufferings of their victims (vv.1–17), Job finally mouths the view of his friends about God’s judgment on the wicked. Job may either be quoting them with irony or complaining that this judgment comes piecemeal, a little here and a little there (see esp. vv.23–24).
Eventually the wicked die and are forgotten; they lack security and have their day only for a little while (22:16–18)—but where are the great days of stored-up judgment so the righteous can be sure that justice for such horrors is meted out? Job is not convinced that piecemeal judgment is truly just since the righteous often suffer the same. So v.25 is not a disconnected verse. Literally it forms an inclusio with the original query in v.1. Here the book of Job again anticipates a step forward in theological understanding (cf. 14:14–15; 19:25–27). There is no direct teaching of final judgment to set right the balance of justice, but there is a concept here that anticipates the teaching that God must have his day.