Therefore do my thoughts cause me to answer, and for [this] I make haste.
Knowest thou [not] this of old, since man was placed upon earth, That the triumphing of the wicked [is] short, and the joy of the hypocrite [but] for a moment?
To be fair, there’s some beautiful imagery here; its not that I’m ragging on him for his eloquence, but it doesn’t seem to advance the plot very much. He asserts that Job has an unhealthy view of God from seeing the triumphant wicked (r@nanah rasha`) and the joyous profane (simchah chaneph), and doesn’t get that it is temporary.
Job, of course, has to get in his own rejoinder:
Suffer me that I may speak; and after that I have spoken, mock on.
At this point he has no expectation that anyone will listen to him, but he still insists on his right to speak (dabar). And this time, rather than focusing on God’s implacability or his own suffering, Job directly takes up the issue of the wicked:
Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power?
They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave. Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.
Realizing how his friends might interpret this, Job is quick to add that he doesn’t subscribe to this philosophy (`etsah):
Lo, their good [is] not in their hand: the counsel of the wicked is far from me.
At the same time, he counters Zophar’s historical depth by appealing to experiential breadth:
Have ye not asked them that go by the way? and do ye not know their tokens,
The KJV is a bit confusing here:
That the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction? they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath.
I accept the NIV interpretation that this (like the rest of the passage) actually implies that the wicked are safe, rather than doomed. Job seems to be saying that they shall die in peace:
Yet shall he be brought to the grave, and shall remain in the tomb. The clods of the valley shall be sweet unto him, and every man shall draw after him, as [there are] innumerable before him.
Job the empiricist takes on his traditionalist foes by using this fact to puncture their line of logic:
How then comfort ye me in vain, seeing in your answers there remaineth falsehood?
The word translated falsehood (ma`al) — NIV nonsense — looks pretty negative, implying deceit or treachery. I read this as Job saying: “You guys are willfully ignoring the evidence, which demonstrates your ulterior motives. Your so-called comfort (nacham) is a mirage (hebel).”
I must admit, its hard to find a happy, uplifting thought on which to end this chapter. Or even a constructive sorrow. Perhaps the best that can be said is the importance of fighting fair.
God, I confess that I have often been like Job’s comforters. I am so certain I know what the problem and the solution is, I gloss over facts that contradict my opinions. In so doing, I become insensitive to the thoughts, feelings, and viewpoint of others, and thus a vain comforter. Open my eyes and ears, Lord, that I may embrace all of reality, no matter how painful, humbling, or disconcerting. Teach me to hold my mouth, and save me from mockery. In Jesus name, Amen.