Job was “the greatest of all the people of the east” (Job 1:3). He was a righteous man who’d been blessed by God with incredible wealth: “he had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she-asses, and very many servants” (Job 1:3). He’d also been blessed with 10 children.
He lost it all in one day, and God did it. Well, Satan did it, but only because God allowed him to. His wife eventually urged him to “curse God, and die” (Job 2:9). In this excerpt, Job cries out to his awful friends and wonders why God seems so unjust (Job 24:1):
Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty,
and why do those who know him never see his days?
This is an eternal question. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do the righteous suffer, and the wicked prosper? Why is justice delayed? Doesn’t God see? Job knows He does. But, why won’t He act? When will He act?
Job goes on to describe the wicked (Job 24:2-4):
Men remove landmarks;
they seize flocks and pasture them.
They drive away the ass of the fatherless;
they take the widow’s ox for a pledge.
They thrust the poor off the road;
the poor of the earth all hide themselves.
Job describes the plight of the poor who are oppressed by the wicked (Job 24:5-12):
Behold, like wild asses in the desert
they go forth to their toil,
seeking prey in the wilderness
as food for their children.
They gather their fodder in the field
and they glean the vineyard of the wicked man.
They lie all night naked, without clothing,
and have no covering in the cold.
They are wet with the rain of the mountains,
and cling to the rock for want of shelter.
(There are those who snatch the fatherless child from the breast,
and take in pledge the infant of the poor.)
They go about naked, without clothing;
hungry, they carry the sheaves;
among the olive rows of the wicked they make oil;
they tread the wine presses, but suffer thirst.
From out of the city the dying groan,
and the soul of the wounded cries for help;
yet God pays no attention to their prayer.
If God hears the prayers of the righteous (and He does), and if He has the power to intervene and answer these prayers (and He does), then why won’t He? This isn’t an academic question for Job: he’s just been accused by his friends (again) of being a wicked, unrepentant sinner (see Job 22).
He continues, and describes the moral bankruptcy of the wicked (Job 24:13-17):
There are those who rebel against the light,
who are not acquainted with its ways,
and do not stay in its paths.
The murderer rises in the dark,
that he may kill the poor and needy;
and in the night he is as a thief.
The eye of the adulterer also waits for the twilight,
saying, ‘No eye will see me’;
and he disguises his face.
In the dark they dig through houses;
by day they shut themselves up;
they do not know the light.
For deep darkness is morning to all of them;
for they are friends with the terrors of deep darkness.
What a contrast; the righteous and oppressed vs. the arrogant and the wicked. Why does God allow this? Job anticipates his friends’ objections (Job 24:18-20):1
You say, ‘They are swiftly carried away upon the face of the waters;
their portion is cursed in the land;
no treader turns toward their vineyards.
Drought and heat snatch away the snow waters;
so does Sheol those who have sinned.
The squares of the town forget them;
their name is no longer remembered;
so wickedness is broken like a tree.’
Job isn’t convinced by this pat answer. His friends haven’t said this, but he suspects they would, if he’d let them open their mouths. He concludes with this reply to their imagined response (Job 24:21-25):
They feed on the barren childless woman,
and do no good to the widow.
Yet God prolongs the life of the mighty by his power;
they rise up when they despair of life.
He gives them security, and they are supported;
and his eyes are upon their ways.
They are exalted a little while, and then are gone;
they wither and fade like the mallow;
they are cut off like the heads of grain.
If it is not so, who will prove me a liar,
and show that there is nothing in what I say?”
Sure, the wicked will all die, in the end. But, what about there here and now? They oppress the vulnerable, yet God prolongs their life! He gives them security, and sustains them — all so they can continue their wicked deeds! Job is a practical man who is deeply hurt, by his circumstances and by his “friends.” He knows how the world works. He can see it. He looks around, and sees injustice in the here and now. He knows the “right answer” to this conundrum (Job 1:21-22; 2:10). So do we. But, when the “right answers” meet harsh reality, Job asks a universal question — why doesn’t God make things right — right now?
1 This section (Job 24:18-25) is notoriously difficult. This is not the place to discuss these issues. Suffice it to say that I agree with the RSV translation (which I used in this excerpt), and see vv. 18-20 as Job anticipating what his friends will say, and vv.21-25 as his response to this imaginary reply.