In the previous 20 chapters of the book of Job, Job’s three friends have argued that Job is being punished for sins he has committed. Their theology is simple: God always and immediately punishes the wicked and always and immediately blesses the righteous.
In chapter 20, Zophar summarizes this theology: “Surely you know how it has been from of old, ever since mankind was placed on the earth, that the mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment.”
In chapter 21, Job answers Zophar. He starts in verses 1-3 by begging his “friends” to listen to him. Job requests that they stop mocking him for a moment and pay attention to what he has to say.
In verses 4-16, Job reminds his friends, first, of the horrible condition he is in. Then he begins to dismantle their faulty theology. Job points out several facts about the wicked. The wicked live to a ripe old age with their children. Their houses are secure, seemingly with no judgment from God. The livestock of the wicked prosper, the wicked enjoy music, and the wicked even die in comfort. To top it off, they tell God to leave them alone! Contrary to Zophar’s theology, justice is not always and immediately meted out. Often the godless prosper and the godly perish.
On to verses 17-21. To Bildad’s claim that “the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out” (18:5) in death and that calamity and disaster are ready to overtake him (18:12), Job asks how often (three times in 21:17–18) do these things really happen? Theologian Roy Zuck, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, notes, “This so-called fate allotted by God’s anger to the wicked hardly fits the facts. Sinners are seldom blown away suddenly and easily like straw or chaff.”
In verses 22-26, Job reminds us that one man dies having lived a full and vigorous life, while another man dies having lived a life of bitterness and deprivation. Yet both men end up in the same place after they die. Zuck reminds us,
Wealth or health are not ways by which to judge a person’s character. One may be wicked, and die either young or old; or he may be godly, and die either young or old. These facts obviously conform more to reality than did the rigid view of Job’s three prattling prosecutors.
In verses 27-34, Job wonders how it is that his friends are unaware of these facts. Do they not speak to travelers who can tell them numerous stories about how the wicked never face justice for their crimes? No, the wicked are often carried to their grave by a massive funeral procession, and given great honor, because no one dare challenge them while they are alive. Job’s friends are fools and their theology is bogus.