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(Job 20–21) What Christians Want to Know but Are Afraid to Ask

(Job 20–21) What Christians Want to Know but Are Afraid to Ask

Series: Sermons in Job
Ref: Job 20–21

The book of Job is so important for us because it deals with questions that we as Christians have all asked but are sometimes afraid to voice. Questions like, "If God loves me, why does He let me suffer?" Or "Is God as good as He says He is?" Join Stephen in this message as we witness Job and his three friends grapple with these issues philosophically and personally.


“What Christians Want To Know

But Are Too Afraid To Ask”

Job 20-21

A young Midwestern lawyer suffered such deep depression that his friends actually thought it best to keep all knives and razors out of his personal possession.  At age 22, his business venture failed.  He ran for state legislature and suffered defeat.  Another attempt at business failed shortly thereafter.  Then, at the age of 26, the sweetheart he had hoped to marry died unexpectedly, crushing his heart.

At the age of 27, he suffered what most believe today to have been a nervous breakdown.

Years later, he ran for Congress and was defeated.  He tried again at age 39, but was defeated again.  At age 46, he was lost a bid for a seat in the Senate and a year later lost out in an attempt to be Vice-president.  At the age of 49, he suffered another devastating loss for Senate.  It was during this time that he broke down again . . . and wrote in his private journal, “I am now the most miserable man living.  Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell.”

Steven Lawson, Holman Old Testament Commentary: Job (Holman, 2004), p. 67

Not exactly the kind of wondering you’d expect the future president of the United States to be asking, but Abraham Lincoln was submerged in grief. 

He did get better.  In fact, he was perfectly suited to lead our country during one of our darkest hours of civil war.  He had been prepared for heroic endurance as a future leader.

John Henry Jowett, who passed away in 1923, was at one time considered the most influential Bible teacher in the English speaking world.  Yet he wrote to his friend, “I wish you wouldn’t think I am such a saint.  You seem to imagine that I have no ups and downs, but just a level and lofty stretch of spiritual attainment with unbroken joy.  By no means!  I am often perfectly wretched, and everything appears most murky.”

Warren Wiersbe, Job: Be Patient (Victor Books, 1991), p. 75

F. B. Meyer, an even earlier best selling author and Bible teacher of the 1800’s; a man who was as well read by his generation as any Christian author of our generation.  However, in his private journal he poured out to God in great frustration this prayer, “Lord, why is Your hand always on the other person.”

Not exactly a spiritual sounding question.  But an honest one.

One you’ve perhaps struggled with yourself at some point in time

Lord, why have you opened the windows of blessing on everybody but me?

That’s one of the primary questions racing through the mind and heart of Job by the time you reach chapter 21.  Perhaps it’s because Zophar has just finished speaking through chapter 20 in his 2nd speech of condemnation and condescending pride.

Zophar begins to speak his mind in chapter 20 and verse 2, “Therefore my disquieting thoughts make me respond, even because of my inward agitation.  (Job) I’ve listened to the reproof which insults me and the spirit of my understanding makes me answer.

And I just want to say, “You’re insulted?!  You’re the one now agitated?”

Give me a break.

And Job even more . . . he’s the one with calloused friends; he’s the one with fresh graves nearby; he’s the one with oozing, itching skin. 

Never mind that.

Zophar has something on his mind!

And what he will do, here in chapter 20, is deliver to Job a speech that Job will, in the next chapter, pick apart.

You could easily outline Zophar’s well worn clichés with four points:

  1. The ungodly don’t live very long;

v. 4.  Do you know this from of old, from the establishment of man on earth, that the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless momentary?  Verse 8 – He flies away like a dream, and they cannot find him; even like a vision of the night he is chased away.  9.  The eye which saw him sees him no longer, and his place no longer beholds him.

Ungodly people don’t last very long.

Makes you wonder what he’d say to Noah who was ridiculed and mocked by unbelievers for 120 years (Genesis 6:3) or the fact that God gave the Canaanite nation more than 400 years before He judged them. (Genesis 15:13-16).

The truth is, what we find most troubling is not that unbelievers live a long time, but that the godly live short lives. Missionaries, authors and pioneers like Jim Elliot, Robert Murray McCheyne and David Brainerd – these men all died before the age of 30.

Zophar is convinced however of this iron-clad rule – bad people die young and good people live long.

Job will destroy that argument in a moment.

Zophar’s second point is this:

  1. The ungodly don’t enjoy anything;

Notice verse 18.  He returns what he has attained and cannot swallow it; as to the riches of his trading, he cannot even enjoy them.  Skip to verse 23.  When he fills his belly, God will send His fierce anger on him and will rain it on him while he is eating.

In other words, the wicked don’t even enjoy one meal.

If that’s true, why are there so many secular television programs on cable that do nothing more than cook.  Unbelievers evidently like food.

They enjoy their money . . .  they enjoy their entertainment.

Howard Hendricks used to say to us in class, “Don’t take that stuff away from them – it is the anesthetic that helps deaden the pain of an empty life.

They will enjoy what Bible calls, the passing pleasures of sin. (Hebrews 11:25)

  1. The ungodly don’t die happy.

Zophar says that God will see to that – verse 24.  He may flee from the iron weapon, but the bronze bow will pierce him.

In other words, God will personally hunt the unbeliever who is trying to run away and God will shoot at him with a bronze-tipped arrow that will strike him and kill him.

He will be surrounded by terror – v. 25.

Zophar ends his unfounded lecture with one more thought:

  1. The ungodly don’t leave anything behind.

Verse 28, The increase of his house will depart, His possession swill flow away in the day of God’s anger.

Evidently, Zophar had never heard of trust funds and compounded interest.

He lived before the John Rockefeller and Paris Hilton.

The truth is, unbelievers scramble all their lives to buy as much of Babylon as they can and they then leave all of it for their children to inherit which most often destroys their lives.

Job knows better than this.

While these men are spouting off clichés, Job is struggling with deeper questions. 

Real questions.  Honest questions.

Questions that only God and His word could ever answer – and job didn’t have a copy of the Law or the Prophets, or David’s Psalms or any of the New Testament.

You see, while Zophar is telling Job that the ungodly don’t live long – Job wants to know why it is exactly the opposite – they do live long lives and his godly children died young.

Zophar is pontificating that the wicked don’t enjoy their wealth and Job says, “Hello . . . have you traveled any lately?”  “Have you left your house and gone to your neighbors for a cookout?” 

What will only infuriate Zophar and Eliphaz and Bildad even further is the honest questions that Job implies in is response.

It is a classic response – much like Asaph in Psalm 73 who admitted in his journal, “I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (verse 3)

Or like David who honestly lamented in his journal the prayer, “How long O Lord will you forget me?” (Psalm 13:1)

Believers aren’t supposed to talk that way.  Good Christians don’t ask those kinds of questions, or do they?

Oh God, why is your hand of blessing always on the other person?

This is what Christians want to know but are too afraid to ask.

In fact, Job will ask 8 questions that Christians have all thought about or wanted to ask, but were too afraid to get caught having asked them, or even thinking them.

At least 8 questions are implied in Job’s response to Zophar – a response that opens up 8 honest struggles in the heart and life of Job.

1)  Question #1 could be worded this way: Why does God treat the unbeliever better than He treats me?

7.  Why do the wicked still live, continue on, also become very powerful?  Skip to verse 9.  Their houses are safe from fear, and the rod of God is not on them.

Why do I suffer discipline and heartache and my unbelieving neighbors and co-workers seem to have the blessing of God?

2)  Question #2: Why do I have financial problems that others don’t seem to have?

10. His ox mates without fail; His cow calves and does not abort.  Notice v. 13a.  They spend their days in prosperity.

Job is honestly asking, “Lord, I don’t understand why the one who never bows his knee to you . . . never saw the inside of an altar . . . why are you giving them multiplied herds and flocks when they don’t acknowledge You to begin with and I’ve faithfully sacrifice to you and look what I get?

My herds have been stolen and all my financial resources gone!

Maybe you’ve asked this 3rd question, implied in Job’s lament before an unfair God.

3)  Question #3: Why does the unbeliever have plenty of children and I can’t have one?

11.  They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children skip about.

They’re surrounded by kids . . . they are as plentiful as their flocks of sheep.

Go back up to verse 8.  Their descendants are established with them in their sight, and their offspring before their eyes,  

Not only do they have children, but they have all their children in their immediate presence.  The text says, “In their sight.”  No goodbyes . . . no long distance calls . . . no long trips over Christmas . . . they have them in their sight – their offspring are before their eyes.

Why?  We are the ones who know that children are a gift from God.  We praise the Creator who approves conception and establishes the home.

Job asks, “Why were my children taken and unbelievers around me are enjoying family feasts.”

If you think only unspiritual Christians struggle with these questions, think again. 

4)  #4: Job asks the question, Why does the unrighteous person enjoy better physical health than I do?

13. They spend their days in prosperity and suddenly go down to Sheol – In other words – they die without extended illness or trouble.

This is not a reference to some sort of quick judgment from God, but a long life and then sudden death that leaves no room for suffering or anguish or trouble.  They don’t run out of money or Medicare . . . they’ve got a great checkup with the doctor and they’ve never bothered with wheel chairs or arthritis or bad backs or failing eyes . . . strokes, surgeries, heart attacks, you name it – the wicked seem to live in one long progression of good health until they die.

Notice verse 23.  He dies in his full strength, being wholly at ease and satisfied.

In other words, the ungodly are physically strong – great check-ups . . . flying colors on the treadmill . . . no need for one-a-days or fiber or bi-focals. 

Zophar, you’re wrong . . . bad people die happy!

People deserving perdition are reveling in prosperity.   People without faith are in perfect health.  Why?

Job is actually willing to ask the question out loud. 

5.   Why do those who care nothing for God seem to live a care-free life?

12.  They sing to the timbrel and harp and rejoice at the sound of the flute.

Here I am suffering, Job says, and I am the God fearer.

They are the ones playing the music . . . non-stop.  Their lives are nothing but fun and games.

He goes on in verse 14 to say, as it were, “If you can believe it, they say to God, Depart from us!  We do not even desire the knowledge of Your ways, ‘Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him?’  And what would we gain if we entreat Him?  Behold (and look!), their prosperity is not in their hand.’  Job implies – God is the sovereign who allows them to have their prosperity. Why doesn’t God cut it off.

Asaph struggled as well in Psalm 73:5 when he said, “The wicked are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like mankind.

In other words, they are trouble free . . . care free . . . burden free.  Life seems so easy to the unbeliever when the believer is burdened down with so many struggles and trials.

Lord, why are the scales of justice reversed?!

Charles Spurgeon, preaching on this text, said, “The prosperous wicked escape the killing toils which afflict the mass of mankind.  They have no need to ask, “Where shall we get bread for our children or clothing for our little ones.”  Ordinary domestic and personal troubles do not appear to molest them.  Fierce trials do not seem to arise to assail them.  The unspiritual man is worse than other men, yet he is better off.  He deserves the hottest hell and yet he has the warmest nest.

Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Volume 2 (Kregel, Rep. 1968), p. 312

Job asks the question, “Why is it that people who don’t follow God seem to enjoy the most good?”

This is a question most Christians are afraid to ask.

6.  Question #6: Why do the ungodly get the promotions and places of power while I am ignored?

17.  How often is the lamp of the wicked put out, or does their calamity fall on them?  Skip to verse. 18.  Are they as straw before the wind, and like chaff which the storm carries away?

This rhetorical questions expects “no” for an answer. 

Why do the ungodly get the media attention.  Why aren’t the paparazzi chasing missionaries around the countryside; snapping pictures of people leaving the church grounds.

Asap put it this way, “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence.” (Psalm 73:13).

You live for God and the other guy gets the promotion.  You walk with Christ and all your friends get married and move away.

Sincerity doesn’t bring success.

Purity is not rewarded with a promotion.  Why not?!

7.  Question #7: Why doesn’t God judge the hypocrisy of sinners so their children will be warned?

19. (Zophar), You say, God stores away a man’s iniquity for his sons.’ (I say) Let God repay him so that he may know it.  20. Let his own eyes see his decay, and let him drink of the wreath of the Almighty.  21.  For what does he care for his household after him, when the number of his months is cut off?

Did you catch the implication of this text?  Why not judge the unbelieving father who is content with sin, since by his own actions he really doesn’t care about his children anyway.  So why not judge him so that his children will be warned not to follow in his footsteps?

I mean, the best thing a child could see is their father’s sin judged, right?  That would be the strongest deterrent to sin.

In early American history, thieves were publicly flogged.  Perhaps you visited Williamsburg and stepped up to that public place where criminals were placed in stocks.  You put your head through that yoke and your hands and feet through the holes and then stood there wondering what it must have been like.

I’m not suggesting we go back to public stocks; however, the absence of judgment on sin – the public silence; even further the public endorsement and approval and applause of the sinner only paves the way for the next generation to take sin even further. 

The sinners get away with their sin, boast of their sin, pursue their sin, flaunt their sin and thus communicate to the next generation that sin pays!

In the Book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.”  (Ecclesiastes 8:11)

Hey, if what people do in Vegas stays in Vegas, maybe what you do in Cary will be overlooked too.

The lie about unpunished sin is that maybe God doesn’t really see and if He does, maybe He really doesn’t care.

Job is wondering why God doesn’t judge the unbeliever but he seems to judged faithful believers – this is a question many Christians are afraid to ask.

8.  Why doesn’t God make those who belong to Him uniquely special to the rest of the world?

You go to the local elementary school play and as soon as that kid comes up on the stage dressed in his elephant costume or a big sunflower seed costume with their face poking through, a camera starts flashing and hands are waving – it’s obvious who the parents are . . . that’s our child.  We’re so proud of little Billy that even though he looks absolutely ridiculous in that costume, we’re gonna take 300 pictures.  

We are the sons and daughters of God!  And we have stepped out on the stage of life and . . .  hello? No camera . . . no special announcement . . . no obvious endorsement . . . not even protection from the school bully who tells us how dumb we looked as a sunflower.

Job says, “I don’t understand why God doesn’t make it absolutely clear that the godly are special and unique and the rest of the world unimportant.

This is Job’s problem in verse 23. One dies in his full strength, being wholly at ease and satisfied; 24. His sides are filled out with fat, and the marrow of his bones is moist, 25. While another (could even be  the godly man) dies with a bitter soul, never even tasting anything good.  Together they lie down in the dust, and worms cover them.

In other words, in the end . . . there doesn’t seem to be any difference whatsoever.  Believer, unbeliever . . . spiritual, pagan . . . we’re all lumped together in the grave yard at the end of life.

The undertaker is the great equalizer.  In the end, there is no distinction.

Ah, but the funeral isn’t the end, is it.

Job says in verse 30, “For the wicked is reserved for the day of calamity; they will be led forth at the day of fury.

In other words, they may have had a trouble free few years on earth, but now . . . eternity will be filled with fury.

Let me draw two conclusions from these two chapters:

  • God is not defeated nor disrupted by the unbelief of sinners.
  • God is not embarrassed nor embittered by the questions of believers.

Even when you wonder aloud in your Journal, “Why is the hand of God always on the someone else?”

Isn’t that what asking for wisdom is all about?  Perhaps that’s why James promised us that when we go to God and ask for wisdom we will not be reproached or rebuked. (James 1:5)

Is it because so often our requests for wisdom are preceded by questions about why and how God is operating His world and our lives.

Perhaps you noticed that as Job began to pour out his heart in asking questions we would never expect a godly person to ask – or even to admit having thought them – he began with the word “why” – verse 7.  “Why do the wicked still live – and, in effect, my family is almost all dead?”

Honest questions from a grieving man.

I have been enjoying in my study, a commentary on the Life of Job by Chuck Swindoll, president of Dallas Seminary.

In it he tells the story of a couple who lived in the same married couples apartment complex near the seminary.  Both Chuck and Dennis were seminary students there at Dallas seminary in the early 60’s. 

Dennis and Lucy became good friends with the Swindoll’s as they slugged their way through seminary.

While at Seminary, this couple had a little baby boy, whom Dennis absolutely adored.  Their little boy was nearly inseparable to Dennis.  After Dennis graduated, they moved to Los Angeles where he advanced his education with the goal of helping people who struggled through difficult childhoods move on and enjoy productive lives.

In the midst of his Ph.D. studies, their little boy stumbled into a swimming pool in a neighbor’s backyard and drowned.  They lost their precious son, which devastated them both – particularly Dennis.

Years later, Dennis admitted to Chuck how he had responded to that loss.  “I got in my car, having just lost my boy, and I grabbed that steering wheel and I drove about every freeway in Los Angeles.  During those hours I screamed out to God expressing all the grief and the anger and the sadness and the confusion from deep within my soul.”  He added, “I said things to Him in that car that I’d never said to anybody before.  I yelled it out and it wasn’t very nice.  I just vomited it out to God.”

About dawn he finally drove back into his driveway at their little home, his shirt dripping wet with sweat.  His hands were still gripping the steering wheel.  The turned the key off and dropped his head onto the steering wheel, sobbing with giant heaves.  And he said “I was comforted with this thought: God can handle it!  He can handle everything I said.”

Charles Swindoll, Job: A Man of Heroic Endurance (W Publishing, 2004), p. 70

What a great thought . . . and a humbling truth of God’s condescending grace toward His own.

We’re not condoning blasphemy . . . I’m not suggesting taking it out on your best friend.

But when you finally ask questions – even when you ask them at the top of your lungs – God is listening. 

Even when you ask those forbidden questions that Christians aren’t supposed to ask, much less think.

At the end of chapter 21, you don’t find God wielding a club and saying, “Okay, Job . . . you’ve gone too far.”

No . . . God can handle Job . . . he can handle his questions . . . he can be sovereign while at the same time his children are suffering . . . and even confused.

Let me suggest three encouragements for the believer . . . as you ask questions you were once afraid to ask:

  • Stop comparing your life with unbelievers:

-the number of children or grandchildren

-what you have in your garage; 

-your title at work

-the price of your furniture and clothing

  • Stop competing in your walk with other believers:

Most often we’re competing for temporal stuff, ignoring our shared, eternal, unending, never corroding, rusting, perishing inheritance.

The church becomes a place of competition rather than cooperation.


  • Start cherishing what God has given you today.

Job’s world didn’t change . . . Job will change.  Later on in this Book, God will inform him of everything he had that he had overlooked. 

So often we go to God and demand that He change our circumstances.  And God uses circumstances to change us.

Unanswered questions . . . honest, open, questions, have a way of developing character and trust more than quick answers and worn out clichés will ever do.

All the while, keep your eyes on Christ – who is the author and finisher of your faith; who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2)

So, stop comparing . . . stop competing . . . start cherishing what you have today, by the grace of God through your our persevering, enduring Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

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