Job 21: Lessons From Job’s Mistakes Regarding What God Desires from Believers During Trials

Introduction: This chapter ends the second of three rounds of arguments between Job and his friends. Here, Job sadly lashed out at his friends and questioned God’s fairness. God used Job’s trial to expose areas of his beliefs that needed to change. From Job’s mistakes, God reveals seven lessons for coping with trials. When you find yourself in a trial, God wants you to show: (1) forgiveness, (2) perseverance, (3) faith, (4) patience, (5) trust, (6) kindness, and (7) love.

First, Job lashed out at his friends for mocking him. But Job had also mocked his friends. His friends’ attacks were completely unjustified. Even though Job’s anger was understandable, God calls upon you to forgive those who falsely mock you and hurt you. Second, Job told his friends to be “astonished” at what God had allowed to happen to him as a faithful servant. He could not understand why God would allow a faithful believer to suffer. Many today struggle with the same question. God will not always provide the answers for your trials. But the Bible does tell us that our trials serve the important purpose of teaching us to persevere and draw closer to God. Third, Job pointed to his suffering as a righteous man and the prosperity of evil people to question his friends’ views about God. He also questioned whether God is fair. God does not want you to allow the prosperity of the wicked or the suffering of the righteous to question your faith. Fourth, Job questioned why God did not cause the light of the wicked to be extinguished or for evil to be judged. God was teaching Job to be patient and to trust in God’s timing. When you are undergoing a trial and things feel unfair, God also wants you to trust in His timing. Fifth, Job lamented that he could not understand the mysteries of God and why good and bad people appeared to suffer the same death. Job would need to learn to trust in God, even when His plans are unclear. Sixth, Job then argued with his friends in an angry tone and accused his friends of plotting against him. When confronting others, God wants you to speak with kindness and restraint. Finally, Job then responded to his friends’ attacks against him with his own insults. When you are falsely attacked, God wants you to respond to evil with God’s love.

1. Forgiveness: Forgive Those Who Falsely Mock You or Hurt You. Job 21:1-3.

  • Job accused his friends of mocking him. After Job’s friends had each blamed Job’s suffering on his alleged sins, he pleaded with his friends to let him speak before they continued to mock him: “1 Then Job responded, ‘Listen carefully to my speech, and let this be your way of consolation. Bear with me that I may speak; then after I have spoken, you may mock me.”’ (Job 21:1-3). Job wanted to prove that he had listened to his friends. Thus, much of his response is quoted from their earlier attacks against him. Yet, as much as Job hated being mocked, he had previously mocked his friends as well.

  • Job previously rebuked his friends’ for mocking him. Job had previously complained that his friends had mocked him: “Mockers are certainly with me, and my eye gazes on their provocation.” (Job 17:2). He had also rejected his friends’ advice as worthless: “miserable comforters are you all!” (Job 16:2b). “What you know I also know; I am not inferior to you.” (Job 13:2). “But you smear me with lies; you are all worthless physicians. Oh that you would be completely silent, and that it would become your wisdom!” (Job 13:4-5). His angry words were not a model for believers to follow.

Job lashed out at his friends for mocking him1

  • Job also mocked his friends with sarcasm. Job also shared in the sin of mocking by using this same tactic against them: “1 Then Job responded, ‘Truly then you are the people, and with you wisdom will die! But I have intelligence as well as you; I am not inferior to you. And who does not know such things as these?”’ (Job 12:1-3). “But come again all of you now, for I do not find a wise man among you.” (Job 17:10). When others make unfounded accusations, you are called upon to turn away instead of employing their same tactics: “Do not answer a fool according to his foolishness, or you will also be like him.” (Prov. 26:4). “Arrogant people inflame a city, but wise people turn away anger.” (Prov. 29:8). If you feel the urge to mock others, stop and restrain yourself.

  • Job’s friends had mocked his words as being no better than the wind. Job’s friends had in fact mocked him. Bildad called Job’s statements meaningless words (Job 8:2, 18:2). Eliphaz then agreed by dismissing Job’s words of despair as being no better than worthless wind (Job 15:2-3). But ob responded by alleging that it was in fact his friends who offered worthless words with their false condemnations of him (Job 16:3). Again, the mocking went both ways and was not a model for believers to emulate.

  • Job’s friends unfairly made him the object of ridicule. At a time when he needed help, his friends only gave him ridicule and shook their heads at him. He made clear that he could use the same words of condemnation if they had suffered an unexplained misfortune: “4 I too could speak like you, if only I were in your place. I could compose words against you and shake my head at you.” (Job 16:4).

  • Forgive others when they mock you. Jesus warns that you must forgive others to be able to receive God the Father’s forgiveness: “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt. 6:14-15). “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” (Mk. 11:26b). Is there anyone that you need to forgive?

  • Forgiveness should be granted liberally and often. Job could have said that his friends’ sins were too big to forgive. Yet, Jesus warned that you should grant forgiveness liberally and often: “Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” (Matt. 18:21-22). If someone has committed an unforgivable sin against you or a loved one, Jesus still calls upon you to forgive. When you forgive the unforgivable, you will also release your pent-up pain.

2. Perseverance: When You Encounter Trials, Persevere and Turn to God. Job 21:4-6.

  • Job directed his complaint directly to God. Believing that he had nothing left to lose, Job openly complained to God: “As for me, is my complaint to a mortal? Or why should I not be impatient? Look at me, and be astonished, and put your hand over your mouth. Even when I remember, I am disturbed, and horror takes hold of my flesh.” (Job 21:4-6). Job wanted his friends to “be astonished” because he unfairly lost his health, his wealth and his family. More specifically, he wanted his friends to be astonished at what he believed that God had done to a faithful servant. This was one of many times when Job complained directly to God: “11 Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. 12 Am I the sea, or the sea monster, that You set a guard over me?” (Job 7:11-12). “I am disgusted with my own life; I will express my complaint freely; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 10:1). Job sadly believed that God had treated him unfairly.

  • Job could not understand how God could allow a faithful servant to endure such pain. As one commentator observes, “Job’s complaint was directed to God, not people. Yes, Job had every reason to be ‘short of spirit’ or ‘impatient.’ He expected comfort from his friends but received only criticism, indictment, and rebuke. He was a good man, yet he was suffering, something that was not supposed to happen according to the general rules of retribution. For this gross departure from the standardized view of rewards, he wanted an explanation from God but so far had gotten none. In 17:8 Job had said that ‘upright men are [or should be] appalled at’ the sight of a man suffering as he did. The same verb translates ‘astonished’ here as Job again asked them to consider what he had been going through and to act with compassion rather than with censure.” (Robert Alden, The New American Commentary, Vol. 11, Job (B&H Publishing Group 1993) p. 221).

  • Let God use your trials to build perseverance and draw you closer to Him. God never answered Job’s questions. Instead, He tested Job so that he would have a deeper understanding and trust in Him. Job would learn that not all suffering was a punishment. Your trials should also produce perseverance and build up your faith: “And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;” (Ro. 5:3). “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (Jam. 1:2-3; 2 Cor. 1:8-10). Are you trusting Jesus to protect you during your trials?

3. Faith: Don’t Let the Success of the Wicked Cause You to Question God. Job 21:7-16.

  • Job questioned whether God is fair. Job then questioned God’s fairness for allegedly treating both good and evil people the same: “Why do the wicked still live, grow old, and also become very powerful? Their descendants endure with them in their sight, and their offspring before their eyes, their houses are safe from fear, and the rod of God is not on them. 10 His ox mates without fail; his cow calves and does not miscarry. 11 They send out their boys like the flock, and their children dance. 12 They sing with the tambourine and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the flute. 13 They spend their days in prosperity, and suddenly they go down to Sheol. 14 Yet they say to God, ‘Go away from us! We do not even desire the knowledge of Your ways. 15 Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him, and what would we gain if we plead with Him?’ 16 Behold, their prosperity is not in their hand; the advice of the wicked is far from me.” (Job 21:7-16). Job would later learn that God’s timing and His reasons are sometimes beyond our limited ability to understand. Justice will come based upon His timeline, not ours.

Job cried out in prayer to question God’s fairness2

  • Job confused the ultimate with the immediate in questioning God’s fairness. Based upon his own suffering, Job incorrectly concluded that God treated people who acted righteously and sinners the same: “22 It is all one; therefore I say, ‘He destroys the guiltless and the wicked.’ 23 If the whip kills suddenly, He mocks the despair of the innocent.’” (Job 9:22-23). Job even accused God of blinding the eyes of human judges, possibly in reference to his three friends (Job 9:24; 12:6). Thus, Job rejected the life that God had given him. God would later rebuke Job for his misguided beliefs (Job 38-41). Job was the clay who needed to learn to trust the Potter to do what is best for him (Is. 45:9). The lesson for believers is to trust God, even when His reasons are unclear.

  • Job also confronted his friends to question their own beliefs about God’s justice. Job also used his speech to point out to his friends that they were mistaken in their beliefs that God always protects the righteous from suffering and punishes the wicked. Many people today make the same mistake. As one commentator observes, “Job challenged the moral order of the universe as previously understood by Job's friends. He challenged them to see that if it was possible for a wicked man to be seemingly blessed, then perhaps also a righteous man like Job could seem to be cursed. Zophar said that the wicked die prematurely (Job 20:4-11); Job insisted that they instead live and become old . . . Bildad said that the wicked have no offspring or descendants to remember them (Job 18:19-21); Job countered that their descendants are established with them in their sight, and their offspring are before their eyes. It is impossible to miss the contrast here. All the advantages that many of the wicked seemed to have, Job was deprived of. Job was disturbed by the apparent injustice of it all.” (David Guzik on Job 21).3

  • God’s mercy in response to Job’s lack of faith. The Bible shows the heroes of the faith with their faults so that you will never feel defeated in trying to live up to their examples. For example, Moses repeatedly questioned God’s calling (Ex. 3:11; 4:10, 13). He also demanded a sign so that others would believe that God had sent him (Ex. 4:1). Gideon also failed to trust God by demanding that He produce a sign to confirm His Word (Jdgs. 6:17-24). David also felt the need for a sign of God’s confirmation: “Show me a sign for good, that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, because You, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.” (Ps. 86:17). Hezekiah also asked God to confirm His promises with a sign (2 Kgs. 20:8-11). Likewise, Thomas demanded to see the holes in Jesus’ hands to confirm that He had risen from the dead (Jo. 20:25; Mk. 16:11-14). But this does not mean that you should repeat their mistakes by doubting God (Matt. 12:39). The many fulfilled promises in the Bible are all you need to trust God’s Word.

  • Give thanks that God’s faithfulness is not dependent on your faithfulness. God could have revoked His blessings based upon Job’s lack of trust in Him. But God showed that His faithfulness is not conditioned upon our faithfulness: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13; Nu. 23:19). Have you given thanks that God will not use your sins to void any of His many promises to you?

4. Patience: Trust God to Judge Evil and Reward the Faithful in His Timing. Job 21:17-21.

  • Job questioned why God withheld judgment on the wicked. Job then pointed out that there are wicked people everywhere who seem to escape God’s judgment for their sins: “17 How often is the lamp of the wicked put out, or does their disaster fall on them? Does God apportion destruction in His anger? 18 Are they as straw before the wind, and like chaff which the storm carries away? 19 You say, ‘God saves up a person’s wrongdoing for his sons.’ Let God repay him so that he may know it. 20 Let his own eyes see his destruction, and let him drink of the wrath of the Almighty. 21 For what does he care about his household after him, when the number of his months is at an end?” (Job 21:17-21). Bildad previously proclaimed that God would extinguish the light of the wicked: “Indeed, the light of the wicked goes out, and the spark from his fire does not shine. The light in his tent is darkened, and his lamp goes out above him.” (Job 18:5-6). Job’s comments were in answer to Bildad’s charge that Job would not be experiencing torment if he were not being judged for some hidden sin against God.

Job prayed for God to judge the wicked4

  • God will one day extinguish the light of the wicked. Solomon also prophetically proclaimed: “For there will be no future for the evil person; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.” (Prov. 24:20). “The light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp of the wicked goes out.” (Prov. 13:9). But the time of final judgment is up to God.

  • God will destroy the wealth and power of the wicked. Job questioned whether the wicked will endure or be cast away as God promised: “18 Are they as straw before the wind, and like chaff which the storm carries away?” (Job 21:18). The Bible does in fact repeatedly state that God will destroy the wealth, power, and accomplishments of the wicked: “The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind blows away.” (Ps. 1:4). “Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the LORD driving them on.” (Ps. 35:5; 83:13; Is 29:5). But this will again happen in God’s timing.

  • Be patient when you are undergoing a trial. God was teaching Job to be patient: “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (Jam. 5:8). “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Lk. 21:19). God also wants you to be patient and to trust in His timing.

5. Trust: Trust in God During Your Trials, Even When His Plans are Unclear. Job 21:22-26.

  • Job lamented that God’s treatment of good and evil was beyond his comprehension. While conceding that he could not fully understand the mystery of God’s sovereignty, Job observed that good and evil people all seemed to die the same way: “22 Can anyone teach God knowledge, in that He judges those on high? 23 One dies in his full strength, being wholly undisturbed and at ease; 24 his sides are filled with fat, and the marrow of his bones is wet, 25 while another dies with a bitter soul, never even tasting anything good. 26 Together they lie down in the dust, and maggots cover them.” (Job 21:22-26). As one commentator observes: “Job admitted that his knowledge of God’s ways was defective (v. 22), but it was precisely his high view of God that had created a problem. Those who do not believe in an absolutely sovereign God cannot possibly appreciate the depth of the problem Job presented in vv. 23-26. The answer still eludes us. Even with all our additional revelation (Rom 8:28), we often stand in anguish over the apparent injustice and seeming cruelty of God’s providence.” (Frank Gaebelein, Elmer Smick, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, 1, 2 Kings, 1, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job (Zondervan Publishing House 1988) p. 950).

  • God uses His control over history to cause all things to work together for His good. God’s plans are frequently beyond our limited comprehension: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is. 55:9). “For who has known the mind of the LORD, or who became His counselor?” (Ro. 11:34). Yet, even when you lack the ability to understand the reasons for a trial or why God allows evil to happen, God wants you to have faith that He has a greater plan of you: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Ro. 8:28). When evil seems to be everywhere, do you still trust that God has a greater plan for you?

  • Through Jesus, we have seen God’s love for us. Unlike Job who did not have God’s Word, we can now see the love of God through Jesus: “For who has known the mind of the LORD, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor. 2:16). Jesus came so that we could see God the Father (Jo. 14:9). Paul later made reference to the unquantifiable ways of God to draw a picture of the incomprehensible depths of Jesus’ love for us (Eph. 3:14-19). When you feel under attack, defeated, or when things seem unfair around you, you can take comfort in Jesus’ love for you.

  • Put your trust in God, even when His plans are unknown. Job should have trusted in God, even when he struggled to understand God’s will: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5). “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:7). “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Cor. 16:13). “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the LORD.” (Ps. 31:24). “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” (Dt. 31:6). Even when it appears that evil is prevailing, you should still trust God: “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do.” (Lk. 12:4). The only person that you are to fear is God (Prov. 1:7). And the fear of the Lord is hating evil (Prov. 8:12). Even when evil seems to be prevailing everywhere, do you trust God?

6. Kindness: When Confronting Others, Speak with Kindness and Restraint. Job 21:27-33.

  • Job accused his friends of plotting against him with false claims. Job then became angry and accused his friends of conspiring to accuse him of sins based upon flawed arguments: “27 Behold, I know your thoughts, and the plots you devise against me. 28 For you say, ‘Where is the house of the nobleman, and where is the tent, the dwelling places of the wicked?’ 29 Have you not asked travelers, and do you not examine their evidence? 30 For the wicked person is spared a day of disaster; they are led away from a day of fury. 31 Who confronts him with his actions, and who repays him for what he has done? 32 When he is carried to the grave, people will keep watch over his tomb. 33 The clods of the valley will gently cover him; moreover, all mankind will follow after him, while countless others go before him.” (Job 21:27-33). Job wanted to point out that there were plenty of real life examples that conflicted with his friends’ simplistic theology. But by accusing his friends of “plotting” against him, his points become lost in their argument.

  • Job asserted that his friends’ beliefs were overly simplistic and incorrect. Job quoted from his friends’ prior statements in an attempt to show that their arguments were flawed. Bildad previously told Job: “Behold, God will not reject a person of integrity, nor will He help evildoers.” (Job 8:20). Job responded: “For the wicked person is spared a day of disaster; they are led away from a day of fury.” (Job 21:30). Job was partially correct. Sometimes sinners are spared immediate judgment. “Job realized his counselors were going to repeat the same worn-out clichés that implied he was a wicked man. They have repeatedly suggested the destruction of his house was proof of it (cf. 8:15; 15:34; 18:15, 21). He called these clichés schemes by which they wronged him (v. 27). He challenged them to investigate the total experience of people throughout the world to determine whether he was right (v. 29). He was saying that it is impossible to derive a just law of retribution from what we observe in the present world. Their simplistic view was wrong, claimed Job . . .” (Gaebelein, Smick, p. 950). But Job was also incorrect to claim that a sinner is forever spared from judgment. He confused the immediate with the ultimate.

  • Use kindness and restraint when confronting others. Job was within his right to disagree with his friends’ flawed theology. But his views were also partially flawed. Moreover, he only intensified the conflict by accusing his friends of plotting against him and rebuking them with an angry tone: “And the tongue is a fire, the very world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” (Jam. 3:6). When angry words will only incite further conflict, believers are called upon to show restraint: “When there are many words, wrongdoing is unavoidable, but one who restrains his lips is wise.” (Prov. 10:19). “One who withholds his words has knowledge, and one who has a cool spirit is a person of understanding.” (Prov. 17:27). “Do you see a person who is hasty with his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Prov. 29:20). “You know this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Now everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger;” (Jam. 1:19). When others make false statements. It is not a sin to point out the truth. But believers should speak with kindness and restraint.

7. Love: When You Are Falsely Attacked, Respond to Evil with Love. Job 21:34.

  • Job responded to his friends’ insults with his own insults. Having failed to reason with his attackers, Job then became angry and heaped scorn on his now estranged friends: “34 So how dare you give me empty comfort? For your answers remain nothing but falsehood!” (Job 21:34). As one commentator observes, this was a low point for Job: “Job concluded his sixth response with one of the most acidic criticisms found anywhere in the book. In no uncertain terms he judged their ‘comfort’ (2:11) to be ‘nonsense’ (Ecc 1:2) and their ‘answers’ to be ‘falsehood.’ This last term could be stronger: ‘treachery / fraud / perfidy.’ The possibility that Job and his friends could arrive at some understanding seems remote. Eliphaz and Bildad each spoke once more, but the rift between them and Job widened before the talks broke off altogether.” (Alden, p. 228).

  • Show love to those who persecute you. Even though Job had been treated unfairly, God wanted him to respond to his friends’ attacks with love: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt. 5:44). “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (Jo. 13:34). When you show kindness and love to your enemy or attacker, the Apostle Paul reveals that you “heap burning coals on his heads.” (Ro. 12:20). When others attack you, do you respond with Jesus’ love? Or, like Job, do you respond to another person’s insults or disrespect with your own insults and accusations?