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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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Commentary on Job

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Commentary spanning earlier chapters

The Poetic Debate ( 3:1–42:6 )

The familiar folk-tale about a virtuous man who loses everything for no apparent reason (cf. Ezek 14:14, 20 where Job is mentioned along with Noah and Dan'el (of Ugaritic legend)) occasions a debate about the relationship between goodness and suffering. A poem about wisdom follows; then Job contrasts his glorious past with his ignoble present and utters an oath of innocence aimed at forcing God to respond (chs. 28–31 ). Instead, Elihu answers (chs. 32–7 ) but evokes silence until YHWH speaks from the whirlwind ( 38:1–42:6 ), reducing Job to two brief responses ( 40:3–5; 42:1–6 ). The poetry is some of the most difficult in the Bible, due partly to the number of rare words but also to the distinctive syntax and grammar. Multiple readings are inherently necessary, both because of the rhetorical strategy and the poetic language. Perhaps also the emotional intensity contributes to unintelligibility at crucial points (e.g. 19:25–7; 42:5–6 ).

( 3:1–26 ) Job Curses his Birthday

A lament is Job's way of opening the debate; instead of cursing God he pronounces a curse on the day of his birth and the night of his conception (the beginning and end of gestation), as if wishing it to be obliterated from the calendar. The verb for curse (g-l-l) differs from that of the prologue, where b-r-k occurs. In 3:3–10 the curse encompasses the whole creation, seeking to reverse the favourable conditions set into place by God in Gen 1:1–2:4a . A similar anticosmic description occurs in Jer 4:23–6 , where the prophet seems to behold a reversal of conditions that rendered life on earth possible, and a curse of one's birthday can be found in Jer 14:14–18 (with an allusion to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah). The reference to an infant as a geber (elsewhere used of much older boys, even a soldier) contains a pun on the word for grave, geber. Poetic parallelism between Leviathan and Yam (the Sea) favours this reading over ‘day’; in an unpointed text the Hebrew words for ‘day’ and ‘sea’ are identical. The poet echoes the myth of a chaos-dragon in the ancient Near East (Tiamat in Mesopotamia, Lotan and Yamm at Ugarit), one that was also at home in several biblical texts, where various names for the monster occur (Rahab, Leviathan, Tannin, cf. Isa 27:1; 51:9; Ps 74:14 ). Professional cursers recall Balaam (Num 22–4 ; a non-biblical text from Deir Alla mentions this prophet whose reputation became tarnished in biblical memory). In 3:12 Job alludes to a ritual by which a parent acknowledged a newborn by holding it on the knees (cf. Sir 15:2 ). The threefold use of šām (‘there’) in 3:17–19 recalls the euphemism for Sheol in 1:21 . The image of grave-robbers informs 3:20–2 , where Job ironically compares their excitement in digging for treasure, buried along with the dead, with his own fantasy of death. The word for ‘fenced in’ ( 3:23 ) differs from that in 1:10 (sûk and śûk respectively). Tenses in Hebrew are notoriously difficult, making it impossible to know whether or not Job's fear expressed in 3:24 was habitual; if the verbs designate the past, they undercut Job's extraordinary piety (Good 1990: 208). Three parallel expressions (no ease, quiet, rest) contrast grammatically with the fourth (dread) and the verb ‘come’ links this verse with the previous one. By this means the poet indicates that Job's character is more complex than the prose acknowledges.

Job's lament combines a number of grotesque images: a perpetually pregnant woman, Job's mother; a day robbed of its essence, light; two personified lovers, night and dawn, awaiting one another and condemned to an absence of sexual ecstasy; former enemies, oppressors and the oppressed, at rest together; and an instance of divine mockery, the giving of light to the blind. YHWH's speeches from the tempest will return to this notion of divine largesse; there, too, the gift does not benefit the human population.

( 4:1–5:27 ) Eliphaz Introduces the Parameters of the Debate

The only one of Job's three friends whose character is rounded, or fleshed out, Eliphaz sets forth the different arguments that will be explored in the course of the debate: you can trust in God to restore you (here Eliphaz uses two words that earlier characterized Job, ‘blameless’ and a ‘God-fearer’, 1:1, 8; 2:3 ); wickedness is punished; human beings are naturally culpable; the prosperity of the sinful will be cut short; the best course is to seek God; suffering is an indication of divine discipline; you will attain a ripe old age. Beginning on a positive note (unless 4:10 cruelly refers to the death of Job's children through the metaphor of a lion), Eliphaz mildly rebukes Job for impatience when personally victimized. The charge of duplicity weakens his positive affirmation of his friend, one who strengthened others in misery. The rich vocabulary permits the poet to use five different words for lion in 4:10–11 (cf. Joel 1:4 for similar richness). Convinced that a principle of reward and punishment governed the universe, Eliphaz is oblivious to the pain resulting from this dogma ( 4:7–9 , where a divine wind brings destruction like the tempest that killed Job's children). According to Gen 2:7 the breath of YHWH animated the first human; now that wind wields devastation.

( 4:12–5:8 )

The closest thing in wisdom literature to the mantic wisdom of the book of Daniel, a type of wisdom widespread in Mesopotamia, this section resembles a theophany, particularly the divine manifestation to Elijah in the cave at Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:11–18 ) and to Abraham in Gen 15:12–17 . Like Abraham, Eliphaz receives the divine visitation while in a deep sleep (tardēmâ). An elusive word steals past, quiet like a whisper; the prophet Elijah experienced YHWH's word as a faint echo, in contrast to the spectacular phenomena of wind, fire, and earthquake preceding it. Whereas Job felt dread as a result of the calamities that befell him, a sleeping Eliphaz encountered it when a wind (rûaḥ) glided past his face. It is not stated whether or not Abram saw the smoking fire-pot and flaming torch that passed through the severed pieces and secured the covenant with a powerful promise, but Eliphaz is said to have been unable to make out the exact appearance of the deity. He does grasp the brief word that follows an eerie silence: ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God (Eloah)?’ This reading takes into consideration the broader context where the issue becomes that of Job's claim to be pure at the same time as he indicts God for crimes against humanity. Those translators who read ‘Can a mortal be righteous before God?’ emphasize the immediate context, which stresses human vulnerability, as well as angelic fallibility. The irony of this reference to God's lack of trust in his servants is missed by Eliphaz, who does not know about the Adversary. Does Eliphaz also miss the irony of his own counsel? If humans really die without ever attaining wisdom, what does he dispense? Folly? Eliphaz appeals to consensus ( 4:7 ), expecting Job to concur in the common dogma of retribution; he also appeals to individual experience ( 4:8 , ‘As I have seen’), to special revelation ( 4:12–21 ), to collective experience ( 5:27a , ‘See, we have searched this out; it is true’), and to the obvious insights encapsulated in proverbial sayings ( 4:8 , ‘those who plough iniquity and sow trouble reap the same’; 5:2 , ‘Surely vexation kills the fool, and jealousy slays the simple’). In 5:3–5 Eliphaz's remarks border on cruelty, for Job had ‘taken root’ only to have his dwelling cursed and to discover that his children lacked safety. Does his precipitous fall mark Job as a fool like those scorned by Eliphaz? It appears that Eliphaz considers finitude a breeding-ground for trouble ( 5:7 , where the Heb. words tr. ‘sparks’ are literally ‘sons of Resheph’; in Canaanite mythology Resheph was the god of plague and pestilence). There may be a clever pun between the Hebrew words for ground (᾽ădāmâ) and mortal (᾽ādām) in 5:6–7 as in Gen 3:17 . A striking feature of 5:8 is the initial aleph (the first letter of the Heb. alphabet) in eight of the nine words; the last word breaks the pattern. In this verse, too, the reader encounters two general words for deity, ᾽ēl and ᾽ĕlōhîm.

( 5:9–13 )

Participles set this brief unit apart as a doxology, a hymn extolling God whom Job is urged to seek. The language is traditional. Beginning with a reference to innumerable wonders, the hymn then highlights an important specific action, the sending of rain, an oft-mentioned vital necessity in the ancient Near East. It moves on to consider the activity of God in exalting the lowly and bringing down wicked schemers. v. 13 , this is the only passage from Job that is cited in the NT (cf. 1 Cor 3:19 ).

( 5:14–27 )

v. 17 , two names for deity occur here, ᾽elôah (Eloah) and šadday (Shaddai). The meaning of the latter is often taken to be related to the Akkadian word for ‘mountain’ or to mean ‘destroyer’. The ideas expressed in vv. 17–18 , that God disciplines the ones he loves, are widespread in the Bible (cf. Deut 32:39; Ps 94:12; 107:42; Prov 3:11; Hos 6:1 ). A significant metaphor for YHWH in the story of the Exodus, the healer (Ex 15:26 ), informs Eliphaz's advice in v. 18 . Here, as in Exodus, this metaphor vies with its opposite, that of the warrior (Ex 15:3 ). Eliphaz understands both wounds and healing as acts of the one deity. Both parental discipline and teachers' punishment of students in Egypt and in Mesopotamia included corporal punishment. Its purpose was to instil reliable teaching in the minds of youth and thus to form character. This motive behind harsh discipline explains Eliphaz's ‘macarism’ (an expression, frequent in Psalms, that begins with ‘Happy’, Heb. ᾽ašrē), ‘Happy is the one whom God [Eloah] reproves’. v. 19 , numerical parallelism, rarely found in Mesopotamian and Egyptian literature, occurs more often in the Bible and in Ugaritic texts. Biblical usage varies, at some times referring to a total number symbolizing fullness (as in the Epic of Keret from Ugarit) but at other times actually specifying the higher number of items, with emphasis on the final number. The former occurs in Am 1:3–2:16 (‘For three…indeed for four…’) and the latter is exemplified by numerous proverbial sayings (Prov 6:16–19; 30:15–16, 18–19, 21–31 ). Eliphaz uses the numerical saying for fullness: ‘he will deliver you from every trouble’. v. 22 , the allusion to destruction may conceal a play on the divine name Shaddai. v. 23 , elsewhere the Bible does not mention a covenant with stones, but Isa 11:6–9 gives poetic form to the anticipated peaceful relationship between animals and humans. v. 25 , the usual biblical similes for Israel's countless progeny, ‘like the stars’ or ‘like the sands of the sea shore’ (cf. Gen 15:5 ), give way here to an appropriate image for a desert nomad: ‘like the grass of the earth’. v. 26 , Job does not share this comforting view of death, for in his miserable state he cannot imagine that he will reach old age. Eliphaz's prediction is precisely what happens in the epilogue. How differently the author of Ecclesiastes viewed old age and death (cf. Eccl 11:7–12:7 ).

( 6:1–7:21 ) Job's Response to Eliphaz Employs both Sarcasm and Parody

The participants in this debate seldom respond to the issues raised by the previous speaker, making it difficult to track the development of ideas. Job excuses his bold language by appealing to the deep agony enveloping him at the moment. He thinks it would outweigh the heaviest thing he can imagine: the sand of the sea. The image is striking; psychological and physical suffering in one side of the balance, all the sand of the sea in the other half of the scale. v. 4 , no evidence of poison arrows has survived in the ancient Near East, although the dipping of arrowheads in poison was known to Virgil (Aeneid, 9.773) and Ovid (Epist. ex Ponto, 1.2.17–18). The expression may be Job's rhetorical manner of emphasizing the devastating effect of the divine arsenal. Job uses familiar imagery of a divine warrior; ancient peoples, biblical and non-biblical, understood their deities as accomplished fighters. The epithet, YHWH of hosts, probably alludes to heavenly hosts who did battle at YHWH's behest, later coming to mean also Israelite soldiers. Job uses the divine name Shaddai in this instance. vv. 5–6 , two ‘difficult questions’ emphasize the appropriateness of Job's complaint. An animal does not bray when its mouth is full; Job would have no reason to complain if he were contented like well-fed oxen. Life has become for him like tasteless food; he has no more appetite for either food or life. v. 10 , following a kind of imitation prayer, the best Job can muster at the moment, he identifies the deity as the Holy One (cf. Isaiah, who often called YHWH the Holy One of Israel). In 5:1 Eliphaz had asked Job which of the holy ones he would turn to; the reader knows about one member of the divine assembly, the Adversary, who would be a poor choice indeed.

( 6:14–21 )

Job imagines a wadi in the wilderness that has so much water that caravaneers have come to rely on it. To their dismay, the stream-bed has dried up in the heat of summer, precisely when they need water most. Sixth-century texts mention traders from far-off Tema and Sheba, apparently travelling a lucrative trade route. The application of this image to Job's circumstances is obvious; he expected comfort from friends, only to get a rebuke. A pun between similar Hebrew words occurs in v. 21 , â (‘to see’) and yārē᾽ (‘to fear’).

( 6:22–30 )

vv. 22–3 , the language derives from more than one context. A gift implies that Job's deepest need is economic; bribe suggests that he is facing a judicial trial; the reference to saving him fits into a context of attack; ransom refers to a situation in which the opponents have taken Job hostage. By using these different ideas, he hopes to cover all possibilities. v. 24 , Job's appeal to be taught anticipates the divine speeches, which succeed in silencing him. An Egyptian proverb states that ‘There can be no instruction where love is absent’ (Papyrus Insinger, 8:24 ). The intent is ambiguous: love of the teacher, the student, the subject? In Job's case, the evidence persuades him that the friends do not love, for they speak dishonestly. v. 26 , the word for desperate (āš) may play on the word for humankind (᾽ĕnôš). vv. 28–9 , a rhetorical ploy aims at converting—turning around—the friends. Alternatively, Job watches as they start to walk away; concerned that he could not be vindicated in their eyes unless they remain, he appeals to them to turn back.

( 7:1–10 )

Job portrays human existence in an entirely negative manner, culminating in a graphic image of a weaver's shuttle that speedily comes to an end without hope. The Mesopotamian myth of creation, Enuma Elish, states that the gods created humankind to serve their makers. Job refers to sleepless nights occasioned by bodily sores infested with worms. The Testament of Job uses this idea to illustrate Job's complete willingness to bear his suffering patiently. In this version, he picks up a worm that has dropped to the ground and places it on his sore from which it had fallen. He rejects Eliphaz's optimistic view that hope remains for him ( 6:20 ); in doing so, Job creates a pun on the Hebrew words for hope and thread (tiqwâ). v. 8 , the one to whom Job directs these remarks is unclear, but the following verses will reveal that he has turned away from Eliphaz momentarily to address God. Job does not expect to live long.

( 7:11–21 )

Job's distress prompts him to utter bold concepts and even to parody traditional hymnody. v. 12 , unlike the monster in the myth of chaos, either Yam (the Sea) or Tannin, Job presents no threat to the deity. Why, then, does the deity find it necessary to set a guard over him? Both Yam and Tannin echo the Canaanite myth of chaotic forces that are ultimately defeated by Baal. The enemy is also called Mot; the Hebrew word for death is the same (môt, or māwet, 7:15 ). vv. 14–16 , the usual time for resting from one's labour offers no comfort to Job, whose nights are full of terrifying dreams. (The idea of psychological anxiety as punishment for sin is developed further in Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon.) Does Job refer to Eliphaz's allusion to a frightening nocturnal visitor? Breath (hebel) as a metaphor for life goes beyond the image of wind in 7:7 (rûaḥ). The author of Ecclesiastes uses hebel in this way thirty-eight times; its meaning is generally ‘futile’ or ‘absurd’, occasionally ‘ephemeral’. vv. 17–21 , these verses sound like a parody on Ps 8 . In this psalm the author expresses wonder that the majestic creator thinks so highly of humankind and watches over the vulnerable creatures with extraordinary solicitude. In contrast, Job views the divine attention as entirely unwanted, a test rather than comfort. Such divine surveillance interferes with Job's need to swallow his spittle. In v. 20 he gives voice to wholly unconventional theology: human sin does not affect God. Moreover, the epithet, ‘watcher of humanity’, contains an accusing tone, whereas traditionalists often spoke enthusiastically of YHWH's providential care, a shepherding of the people. In Job's view, the guardian has turned villainous. The last verse in this unit may contain an ironical allusion to an ancient worthy, Enoch, who is said to have walked with God and ‘was no more, because God took him’ (Gen 5:24 ). Job has suggested that God's watchful eye cannot prevent his lapsing into death ( 7:8 ); now he thinks of the deity searching for him after he has descended into Sheol.

( 8:1–22 ) Bildad Makes God's Character the Issue

The fundamental premiss of Bildad's argument is stated in the form of a rhetorical question: ‘Does God [᾽ēl] pervert justice? Or does the Almighty [šadday] pervert the right?’ (v. 3 ). Such distortion is unthinkable to Bildad, who consequently deduces that Job's children were terrible sinners and that their father's sins were less serious, since he survived divine retribution. With this cruel conclusion, Bildad actually states the central problem that will exercise the imaginations of the four friends throughout the debate: is God at fault? The reader knows that the answer to this haunting question is a resounding ‘yes’. A clearer answer can scarcely be found than the deity's concession that the Adversary had provoked him to afflict Job without cause ( 2:3 ). Lacking any knowledge of the heavenly proceedings, Bildad relies on traditional belief that one's external conditions accurately reflect inner states. Good people prosper and wicked people do not; this axiom lies behind everything he says. v. 2 , the Hebrew expression for ‘great wind’ differs from that employed by the narrator in describing the death of Job's children (rûaḥ kabbîr in v. 2 , rûaḥ gĕdôlâ in 2:19 ). v.3, the twin concepts, justice and righteousness (mišpāṭ and ṣedeq), are central to many biblical texts describing the Lord's activity. The earth is established on these two principles, as is God's throne (Ps 97:2 ). God requires these qualities of Israel (Isa 5:7 ), and the covenant is grounded in justice and righteousness (Hos 2:19 ). The prophet Amos singles out these two concepts as the Lord's requirement for Israel (Am 5:24 ). vv. 4–7 , Bildad's language implies that sinful deeds possess an inherent power to destroy those perpetrating them. Such language has led to the hypothesis that an automatic principle governed human lives, punishing the guilty and rewarding the virtuous. YHWH's only role, according to this theory, was to act as a kind of midwife assisting in the birth of disaster or its opposite (Koch 1955 ). Each of the first three verses in this unit begins with the same Hebrew particle, ᾽im (if). In its first use, the hypothetical aspect is attenuated, giving the sense of ‘although’, for Bildad has no doubt about the guilt of Job's children. Ironically, Bildad's speculations about Job correspond with reality. He does seek God, but not in the manner intended by Bildad, and is restored. Bildad's description of Job's beginning as ‘small’ hardly accords with the narrative ( 1:1–3 ) or with Job's own account of his previous fortune ( 29:1–25 ). Nevertheless, Bildad's assessment of things is not far off, for Job's possessions are doubled in the end (cf. 42:12 ). vv. 8–10 , Bildad appeals to ancient tradition, a sure corrective to individual insight. The accumulation of knowledge over the years is reliable, he thinks, and offsets human ephemerality. Whereas several psalms emphasize life's brevity as a decisive difference between humankind and deity (Ps 90:5–6; 103:14–16 ), Bildad uses the contrast to call into question knowledge acquired by a single individual. The lengthening of a shadow as the sun slowly goes down provides a vivid image of life itself. vv. 11–15 , two impossible questions (Crenshaw 1980 ) introduce the theme of this unit: just as one cannot expect papyrus to grow without marshy conditions or reeds to flourish away from water, so those who turn away from God cannot thrive. Initial promise quickly fades, as hope proves to be no more substantial than a spider's web. This difficult text is understood differently in the LXX, where ‘destiny’ replaces ‘paths’. Perhaps the author intended a wordplay between ᾽orḥôt and ᾽ǎḥĕrît (‘path’ and ‘end, destiny’). vv. 16–19 , this section can be understood in directly contrasting ways. Unlike the flimsy web of a spider, plants with roots firmly penetrating the rocky ground can endure. Alternatively, such plants do not last because the roots lack adequate nourishment. It seems that Bildad returns to his earlier remark about Job's hope and a promising latter end, the word ᾽aḥēr (behind) recalling ᾽ǎḥĕrît (another plant arises). vv. 20–2 , Bildad does not know that God has declared Job to be blameless. Ironically, Job will later reject (as) something unspecified in his second response to God ( 42:6 ). The last word of Bildad's speech and the last word in Job's previous speech are the same, except for the pronominal suffix (᾽ ēnennû/᾽ ēnennî). Bildad and his other two friends will become Job's enemies and will experience shame.

( 9:1–10:22 ) Job Wishes to Enter into a Lawsuit with God

In 9:2–4 Job either agrees with Bildad's concluding remarks or insists on the truth of the rhetorical question: ‘how can a mortal be just before God [᾽ ēl]?’ If the former, Job speaks ironically; if the latter, he emphasizes the utter impossibility of being vindicated before God. The verb ṣ-d-q carries two senses, ‘to be just’ and ‘to be legally in the right’. The prophet Jeremiah also despaired of receiving a fair trial, because YHWH acts as prosecuting attorney and judge (Jer 12:1 ). Eliphaz has asked, ‘Can a mortal be more just than Eloah’ ( 4:17a , see NRSV marg.), but Job uses different language (῾im, before). A decisive shift occurs in v. 3 , one from morality to legality. Job introduces an entirely different metaphor, of the heavenly Judge. He uses the technical word for a lawsuit (rîb) but quickly acknowledges the absurdity of such an idea. The expression ‘once in a thousand’ occurs elsewhere to imply that trustworthy men are rare and comparable women non-existent (Eccl 7:28 ), and with reference to childlessness, which Ben Sira understands as preferable to having ungodly children (Sir 16:3 ). The phrase also occurs in Egyptian wisdom literature.

( 9:5–11 )

Job employs a traditional hymn (vv. 5–10 ) and gives his own bewildered response to an invisible deity (v. 11 ). In 5:9–16 Eliphaz used hymnic material to emphasize the orderly universe and the power of its creator. In Job's deft fingers this imagery carries an opposite stamp, connoting the chaotic aspects of reality: earthquakes, a sun that does not rise, stars that exhibit no light. The claim in v. 4 that El is wise finds no support in the doxology that follows (vv. 5–7 ). The next four verses of the unit do, however, reinforce the identification of El as powerful. Job alludes to the chaos myth in which Marduk conquers Tiamat, the linguistic equivalent of the biblical tĕhôm (great deep) in Gen 1:2 . The expression, ‘trampled the waves of the sea’ derives from military combat and signifies victory over an enemy (Crenshaw 1972: 39–53). The sea is personified as in Canaanite myth. v. 9 , which refers to four constellations, resembles the doxological fragment in Am 5:8–9 , where two, possibly four, constellations are named. v. 10 , Job uses conventional views to increase the shock-value of his conclusion in vv. 11–12 . Yes, God's deeds defy understanding and cannot be counted, but this concession brings little comfort. For Moses (Ex 33:18–23 ) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:11–12 ) God's passing by was revelatory. Job experiences El as elusive and concludes that God is beyond challenge when seizing someone's possessions (v. 12 ).

( 9:12–24 )

v. 13 , Job despairs of facing an angry El who conquered the chaos-dragon, here called Rahab as in Ps 89:10 (MT 11). v. 15 , the universe is fundamentally twisted when an innocent person is obliged to appeal for mercy. v. 16 , Job does not subscribe to the traditional credo in Ex 34:6–7 ; indeed, he does not believe he could obtain a hearing even if he were successful in catching El's attention. v. 17 , the rabbis understood this verse as a foreshadowing of God's appearance to Job in a tempest (B. Bat. 16a). In the light of Job's addition of the particle ḥinnām (without cause), which functions thematically in the Prologue, some interpreters emend the Hebrew word for a tempest (ārâ) to a similar word for hair (śaarâ) and obtain a better parallel for ḥinnām. The meaning would then be that El crushes Job for a trifle and multiplies wounds gratuitously. v. 21 , confident that he is blameless, although lacking any knowledge of higher confirmation of this fact (God's, 1:8; 2:3 ; the narrator's, 1:1 ; Job's wife's, 2:9 ), Job does not recognize himself. Therefore he rejects life itself (in contrast to 7:16 , Job now supplies the object of his loathing). v. 22 , the logic of Job's reasoning leads him to reject the concept of individual retribution, the comforting belief that God rewards the virtuous and punishes the wicked. Job now believes that God makes no distinctions between the innocent and the guilty. The Mesopotamian Erra Epic, which deals with a similar collapse of the moral order, has the god of Pestilence confess: ‘The righteous and the wicked, I did not distinguish, I felled.’ vv. 23–4 , even worse, God has taken sides with the wicked, gleefully mocking the innocent when they fall and blinding judges so that they cannot distinguish between guilt and innocence. Because Job subscribes to a modified monotheism, he must attribute both good and evil to the one deity. The question in v. 24 functions rhetorically: God alone has done it.

( 9:25–35 )

For the first time, Job addresses God directly. Convinced that God would besmirch him even after his hands are washed, Job returns to the idea of a trial but imagines that he has an advocate (an arbitrator or umpire). The odiousness of divine perversity has resulted in the ridiculous notion of a neutral figure powerful enough to force God to act fairly towards Job. Such an umpire does not exist for Job, who must hope for God's partial relenting. Meanwhile, his days are swiftly running out; the three images in v. 25 from land, water, and air refer to movements of increasing swiftness.

( 10:1–7 )

v. 1 , in 9:21 Job complained that he no longer understood himself and thus loathed his life; in 10:1 he returns to the earlier conclusion, but he uses a different verb here (nqṭ or qûṭ). Because he despises life, he will speak freely to God. v. 3 , Job thinks of God's behaviour as cruel, irrational, and immoral: cruel because God enjoys oppressive conduct, irrational because God destroys what he has fashioned with care, immoral because he gives preferential treatment to the wicked. vv. 4–5 , Job underscores the absurdity of God's behaviour by implying that God has forgotten the fundamental difference between ephemeral mortals and the eternal Creator. In v. 7 Job acknowledges that God's eyes have no fleshly components that would make them fallible, so God knows that Job is innocent.

( 10:8–22 )

Returning to the idea of humans as works of God's hands (v. 3 ), Job develops this theme in some detail. He employs three basic images (a potter, a cheesemaker, the force behind gestation). According to the tradition in Gen 2:4b–3:24 , the return to dust was a result of human choice, a refusal to obey the divine command. Either Job understands the curse as unfair, or he thinks of premature death. According to v. 12 , the Creator bestowed life, compassionate love, and providential care on the finished product of the creative force (cf. 2:6 ). v. 14 , the thought of God keeping watch over newly formed humans leads Job to object that in his case the scrutiny has been oppressive, as he did at 7:20 . v. 16 , Job understands God in terms of ancient Near-Eastern concepts of royal sport. God, the King of Heaven, hunts the vulnerable lion, Job. vv. 20–2 , the dreary picture of Sheol as unrelenting gloom, chaos, and darkness concludes with an oxymoron (‘light is like darkness’) that is the mirror image of ‘That day, let there be darkness’ in 3:4a (Good 1990: 229).

( 11:1–20 ) Zophar Thinks that God is Lenient

The link between excessive talk and sin was acknowledged in a biblical proverb: ‘In a multitude of words, sin is not lacking’ (Prov 10:19 ). In v. 2 Zophar describes Job as a ‘man of lips’ (NRSV ‘one full of talk’), a person of superficial speech. Such an one, he thinks, can never be vindicated. He goes one step farther, accusing Job of mocking his friends. Clearly, Job's sarcasm and parody have not escaped Zophar's attention. Such talk falls under the category of senseless babble, Zophar believes, and deserves an answer. Although failing to recognize the real reason for Job's extreme language, Zophar does possess the ability to see what is at stake, for he returns to the theme of vindication that Job has brought into the discussion (v. 2 ). v. 4 , for Job the decisive issue was moral rectitude, and that issue applied to God as well as to him. Zophar sees things differently; he concentrates on ritual purity (cf. also v. 15 where he uses the word ‘blemish’). His inaccurate quotation of Job's words puts the emphasis on external matters rather than moral integrity. vv. 5–6 , this expression of a wish that God would answer Job is an example of literary foreshadowing, one filled with irony at Zophar's expense. God will indeed answer Job, but in a tirade of words and without divulging wisdom's hidden qualities. That topic will be addressed in a different fashion (ch. 28 ), and its meaning will be considerably less ambiguous than Zophar's comment about wisdom (cf. Sir 6:22 , ‘For wisdom is like her name; she is not readily perceived by many’). Zophar takes offence at Job's certainty that he is blameless; taking up his language of knowing, Zophar turns on him: ‘Know then that God [Eloah] exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.’ Israel's sages were reluctant to reckon with the notion of divine compassion, for it seemed to place in jeopardy their belief in a principle of moral retribution. In this scheme, an individual received the appropriate reward or punishment for conduct, and there was no place for mercy. One's destiny lay in one's own hands. Historical circumstances eventually undermined such optimism and prompted the sages to incorporate traditional teachings about divine compassion (cf. the ancient creed in Ex 34:6–7 , which occurs with some frequency in later liturgies, e.g. Neh 9:17, 31; Ps 86.15; Joel 2:13; Jon 4:2 , always in truncated form). The struggle to keep both sides of the equation, justice and mercy, in tension required constant watchfulness (Fishbane 1985: 335–50). vv. 6–12 , Zophar's attempt to match the earlier hymnic passages falls short. He does succeed in pointing to the mystery beyond human grasp, but the thoughts quickly descend to the mundane. Ironically, Zophar has just claimed to know the nature of Eloah: that God acts leniently towards Job. Now, however, Zophar implies that Job, and presumably no one else, can discover the mystery that God withholds (cf. Deut 29:29 (MT 28), ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever, to observe all the words of this law’).

The verb ḥāqar means ‘to probe deeply’, and the noun ḥeqer refers to the act of searching as well as the result, as here. Having used this nominative form of the verb for intellectual inquiry, Zophar seems at a loss for a suitable parallel to māṣā᾽ (to find), which he uses twice. v. 8 , Ben Sira makes a similar point (‘The height of heaven, the breadth of the earth, the abyss, and wisdom—who can search them out?’, Sir 1:3 ). v. 10 , the language of theophany, already used by Eliphaz and Job, appeals to Zophar also, but he places it in the context of a judicial trial. v. 12 , a proverbial impossible saying, like Ovid's remark, ‘Then will the stag fly,’ seems to accuse Job of stupidity in addition to iniquity. An echo of Gen 16:12 may be detected; there Ishmael is described as a wild ass of a man. As Zophar employs it, the proverb views ignorance rather than morality as the dividing line between humanity and deity. v. 13 , like Ps 73 , which identifies the heart (mind) as decisive in determining purity, Zophar understands Job's problem as a misdirected heart, which he can correct through prayer. v. 18 , having repented and been cleansed of impurity (v. 15 ), Job will finally have hope and confidence (a recurring theme thus far). v. 20 , Job has longed for death; Zophar threatens him with loss of an escape route and the death of hope unless his guilt is removed.

( 12:1–14:22 ) Job Reflects on the Nature of Wisdom and Life's Brevity

12:2 reeks of sarcasm as Job suggests that the total accumulation of human wisdom is concentrated in his three friends and will die along with them. 12:3 , twice in this section (cf. also 13:2 ) Job claims equality with his friends with respect to knowledge. 12:4–6 , before resuming the ideas expressed in the first three verses, Job contrasts his own situation with the divinely protected life of marauders. Although he once enjoyed a special relationship with God, one characterized by prayer followed by divine response, Job has now become an object of scorn. In this setting Job once more characterizes himself in the language of the narrator and God: a just and blameless man. The reference to a vital relationship with God stands in tension with Job's later confession that his previous knowledge of God was derivative, information based on hearing rather than sight (cf. 42:5 ), if that is what the later text implies. The meaning of v. 6 is not entirely clear. Does it refer to idolatry? Or should one understand the subject as God, who empowers egregious sinners? 12:7–9 , Israel's sages believed that the movement of heavenly bodies, the activity of the weather, and the actions of animals contained hidden knowledge about ways of coping with life. By studying these phenomena, one discovered truth that, by analogy, applied to human conduct. Job recognizes the significance of this avenue to knowledge. His use of the plural form, bĕhēmôt, anticipates the description of the partly mythic creature in 40:15–24 . Otherwise the singular bĕhēmâ would have sufficed (note the singular verb that follows). 12:9 , Job's point is that such knowledge is readily accessible, not hidden beyond human grasp. In making this point, Job uses a cliché: ‘For the hand of the LORD [YHWH] has done this’. Here alone in the poetic dialogue between Job and his three friends does the divine name YHWH appear; in some MSS it also occurs in a familiar cliché in the poem about wisdom ( 28:28 ). 12:11 emphasizes the importance of possessing powers of discrimination. As the palate distinguishes between appetizing and unappetizing foods, so the ear discriminates between wisdom and folly. 12:12 , the accepted view that only the aged possess wisdom appears here in interrogative form; Job will deny its accuracy shortly (v. 20 ).

( 12:13–25 )

In royal ideology the king was thought to have wisdom, strength, counsel, and understanding (cf. Isa 11:2 , where an additional dimension, religious devotion, occurs). Job attributes these four characteristics to God, who frustrates human efforts at being wise. Kings, counsellors, priests, judges, and elders—the entire ruling class of society—are mere pawns in a divine game aimed at exposing human stupidity. This game also involves whole nations, whose fortunes depend on God's whim, and whose leaders are reduced to staggering in darkness like drunkards.

( 13:1–3 )

vv. 1–2 , having completed his parody of the friends' claim to possess wisdom and of conventional hymnic descriptions of divine power, Job now insists on his own ability to observe reality and draw accurate conclusions on the basis of experience. The difference between Job and his friends with respect to epistemology is striking. Eliphaz relied on a revelatory disclosure; Bildad appealed to ancestral tradition; Zophar deduced the facts from a preconceived notion about divine knowledge, v. 3 , frustrated over his friends' inability to comprehend Job's viewpoint, he contemplates a bold alternative: he will argue his cause with Shaddai. The debate will take a different turn as Job gradually moves away from addressing his friends and directs his words to God, but first he will express his contempt for the way they have treated him.

( 13:4–12 )

He accuses them of hypocrisy and ineptitude; they have covered the real situation with an attractive façade and offered him worthless medicine. These are strong accusations, given the prophetic language about false prophets who whitewash their lies and the dubious status of physicians in a society that viewed sickness as divine punishment for sin (cf. Ben Sira's valiant effort to salvage the medical profession in Sir 38:1–15 ). v. 5 , in Egyptian wisdom silence was so important that the expression ‘Silent Person’ came to signify anyone who embodied the virtues. Job's use of the verb ḥāraš has a narrow sense (‘stop talking’). Elsewhere the mere withholding of one's tongue is seen for what it is, for it may be an indication of ignorance. v. 6 , he who has been called ‘a man of lips’ ( 11:2 ) proudly describes his appeal to the friends as ‘pleadings of his lips’. In vv. 7–11 Job's questions contain irony that will not become clear until the Epilogue, where the Lord rebukes the friends for failing to speak the truth about the deity.

( 13:13–19 )

Once more Job asks his friends to keep silent, and he begins to muster courage as he contemplates the consequences of taking his life in his own hands. The ambiguity of the text matches his own uncertainty. Is he essentially a Promethean rebel who shakes his fist in God's face or ‘a person wracked by the paradoxes of God’ (Newsom 1996: 435)? The body of the text has a negative in v. 15 (‘I have no hope’), but a marginal note reads differently (‘I will hope in him’). The verse can be read as determination: ‘See, he may slay me; I cannot wait, for I must argue my ways to his face.’ v. 16 , this verse focuses the dramatic action of the book: Job argues that only a virtuous person can survive a face-to-face encounter with God. If Job can appear before God and live to tell it, he will have been vindicated. That is true regardless of how 42:6 is understood. Job's use of yĕšûâ (salvation) instead of the earlier tiqwâ (hope) emphasizes the finished deed, a reality as opposed to an anticipated event. vv. 18–19 , judicial terminology abounds here: mišpāṭ, ṣedeq, and rîb. Job imagines that he will achieve vindication through litigation, acting in his own defence, and then he welcomes death.

( 13:20–7 )

Job makes an appeal to God lest divine majesty overwhelm him but concludes that he is being treated like an enemy. This allusion to an enemy may be a pun on Job's name (᾽ōyēb, enemy; ᾽îyyôb, Job). v. 20 , the prayer attributed to the foreign sage Agur (Prov 30:7–9 ) has a request that two things be granted: that deception be banished from him and he be given neither poverty nor riches. v. 23 , in the Prologue Job fretted over the possibility that his children had unconsciously sinned; here he may wonder if he himself is unaware of guilt that is obvious in God's eyes, or he challenges God to identify a single transgression. v. 26 , God was believed to have kept a ledger containing the names of virtuous people (Ex 32:32 ). Does Job imply that God also keeps a record of one's sins? Or that God jots down the punishments that will be directed against sinners?

( 13:28–14:6 )

The simile ( 13:28–14:1 ) for the brevity of life fits better with what follows than with what precedes it. Job characterizes life as both short and miserable. Youthful vigour (a flower) soon fades, and disappears like a shadow. 14:4 , Eliphaz's low estimate of mortals seems to have found a parallel in Job's ruminations about extracting something clean from an unclean thing. The Sumerian parallel to Job, A Man and his God, states that no sinless person has been born of a woman. This expression has nothing to do with any supposed taint involving the birth canal; instead, it merely means ‘everyone’.

( 14:7–17 )

Drawing on his knowledge of horticulture, Job contrasts the fate of trees and human beings. The trunk of a felled tree will sprout new growth if given adequate water, but mortals die and cease forever—just as the water in a lake or river dries up. In Job's view, death is final. Not everyone in ancient Israel shared his opinion, and gradually a belief in an afterlife emerged (cf. Isa 26:19 (collective Israel), Dan 12:2, and Ps 73:23–8 ). v. 13 , Job fantasizes about a kindly deity who would hide him in Sheol until his anger waned, a God who really longed for the work of his hands and who would not monitor his actions in search of transgressions.

( 14:18–22 )

The inevitability of death is foreshadowed by the effect of water on seemingly impenetrable rock. The mighty mountains waste away, and so do mortals. Job ascribes this destructive activity to God: ‘so [in like manner] you destroy the hope of mortals’ (v. 19 ). In Sheol the dead do not know the events transpiring on earth; here Job reverses the customary talk about remembering the dead. The isolation of the dying (v. 22 ) seems misplaced; perhaps Job uses this language to emphasize the thin line between the dying and the dead.

( 15:1–35 ) Eliphaz Defends Conventional Wisdom

Eliphaz now appears convinced that his friend is an inveterate sinner, for Job's speech confirms this conclusion. Arguing on the basis of age and consensus, Eliphaz makes two points: Job has sinned, and the punishment for sinners is certain. v. 2 , Eliphaz accuses Job of being full of hot air (which comes from the east). v. 4 , this is the only instance in the debate of anyone other than Job using this Hebrew word for meditation (śîḥâ). In Eliphaz's view there was no place for honest expression of doubt. v. 7 , Job was not the only one capable of sarcasm; Eliphaz responds to his challenge that the friends consult earth's creatures in search of knowledge by asking if Job were the firstborn of the human race. Rarely does the HB refer to the primal couple outside Genesis. A shift occurs in the early second century, for Ben Sira alludes to the story twice (Sir 25:24; 49:16 ). v. 8 , as illustrated by the Prologue, the destiny of mortals was determined by a divine council. The prophets Amos and Jeremiah claimed to have listened to YHWH's council (Am 3:7; Jer 23:21–2 ; cf. also the story about the prophet Micaiah ben Imlah preserved in 1 Kings 22:1–28 ). v. 10 , youth was generally understood as a period of immaturity and rashness (cf. 1 Kings 12:1–6 ), whereas old age was viewed as a time of wisdom. Neither Job nor Elihu accepted this understanding of things, but Eliphaz and his two companions took it for granted. Under Hellenistic influence, this traditional view changed radically (Crenshaw 1986 ). vv. 14–16 , this linking of purity and morality results in a low opinion of humankind, for Eliphaz assumes that everyone drinks iniquity like water. If he is right, Job's effort to obtain vindication does not stand a chance. vv. 17–19 , Eliphaz will give Job the benefit of his own experience, coupled with ancestral tradition. In v. 18 the Hebrew reads (nonsensically): ‘which the wise have declared and have not concealed from their ancestors’. The gift of land and an absence of foreigners (v. 19 ) confirms the sages' wisdom and goodness, in Eliphaz's logic. The desire to dwell among kindred people arose from suspicion of foreigners (cf. Joel 4:17 ). For the author of Prov 1–9 , the strange, or foreign, woman represented the greatest threat to youth. vv. 20–35 , Eliphaz uses a traditional topos about the fate of sinners, including psychological anxiety. The primary visual image is that of faded blossoms (cf. 8:12 ) and wilted plants, corresponding to human isolation (living in ruins). In vv. 31–2 a failed commercial transaction focuses the concept of futility that underlies this entire unit.

( 16:1–17:16 ) Job Identifies God as his Attacker and Abandons all Hope

Job accuses his friends of failing as comforters in the same way they did not succeed as physicians. He claims that he could do better than they, although in his present state speaking out brings no solace. He imagines that God has singled out Job as his personal target, coming against him with exceptional brutality. His archers hit their mark, and God disembowels the fallen Job. At 16:15 Job thinks of his mourning as a permanent condition, for it seems as though he has sewn sackcloth to his skin. Such material was worn during mourning and periods of grief associated with repentance and calling upon God for deliverance. 16:17 , Eliphaz's assumption that everyone carries a taint ( 15:14 ) is not shared by Job, who insists on the purity of his prayer. Not all who lifted their hands and voices in prayer could make such a claim, as various prophets recognized (cf. Isa 1:15 ). 16:18–19 , according to Gen 4:10 , the blood of an innocent victim cried out to YHWH for revenge. Job addresses the earth and asks that it leave his own blood exposed until vindication is assured. In v. 19 his imagination soars to new heights as Job envisions a heavenly vindicator—in 9:33 he had dismissed such hope as wishful thinking. Beginning with 16:22 , and ending in 17:16 , Job concentrates on the grave and the present conditions that will hasten his arrival there. Surprisingly, he thinks in terms of years instead of days or weeks; but when referring to his broken spirit, he shortens the time span to days, as if to emphasize the grave's readiness to receive him. 17:3–4 , the appeal seems to be directed to God, whom Job wants to provide surety for him. Because he attributes the friends' closed minds to divine intervention, he thinks God owes him something. 17:10 , again Job urges his friends to come back, although he believes that they will do him no good. 17:11–16 , returning to the temporal language of 16:22 and 17:1 , Job views his life as over. The description of Sheol as a house gains force when one realizes that ossuaries were shaped like houses. The other images are readily comprehensible; in death one appears to be sleeping, and the lifeless body is soon inhabited by worms. Job's fertile imagination portrays him as an intimate of the personified underworld and its denizens, personified worms. In such circumstances, he laments, hope has vanished. Hence the rhetorical question in v. 15 with its repetition of the word ‘hope’. The obvious answer to the questions in v. 16 is ‘no’. Hope will not accompany Job into Sheol, the land from which no one returns.

( 18:1–21 ) Bildad's Horrifying Description of the Fate of Sinners

The plural verbs in vv. 2–3 may be an error for the second person singular; it is much more likely that Bildad addresses job rather than his two friends. v. 4 , from Bildad's perspective, Job's demands would require the suspension of the moral order of the universe, which guarantees that the wicked are punished. Job wishes to be an exception to this rule, Bildad argues, even if it means catastrophic changes on earth. vv. 5–6 , in the Bible light often serves as a metaphor for life, as in Othello's famous speech: ‘Put out the light, and then put out the light’ (cf. the extended metaphors for death in Eccl 12:6–7 , as well as the symbolic use of light in Prov 6:23–30 , which contrasts parental teaching with lust that burns within). vv. 8–10 , Bildad thinks that an intricate network of traps has been laid out to capture the wicked who wander unsuspectingly into the snares like wild animals. v. 13 , death was frequently personified in ancient Near-Eastern literature. No record of Mot's firstborn has survived in Canaanite texts, but the Mesopotamian god of plague, Namtar, seems to have been the firstborn of Erishkigal, queen of the underworld. Bildad's meaning is unclear, but it should probably be translated ‘Death, the firstborn’. v. 15 , according to a practice mentioned by Homer (Odyssey, 22.480–1,492–4), sulphur was sprinkled over a site to purge it from contamination by corpses. In the Bible salt and sulphur were spread over a location to make it unfit for habitation (Deut 29:23 (MT 22); cf. Judg 9:45 (salt alone)). vv. 16–20 , a double merism occurs in v. 16 (above/below; branches/roots). Bildad denies that the wicked enjoy either of the two means of surviving death available in popular thought: survival in others' memory and permanence through offspring. The author of Ecclesiastes extended the argument, making it universal with respect to memory and meaningless where descendants were concerned. The reference to inhabitants of west and east may be symbolic; if so, it signifies past and future generations. v. 21 , this summary-appraisal expresses Bildad's certainty that the wicked will dwell in darkness—precisely what Job has said characterizes his own existence.

( 19:1–29 ) Job's Imagination Scales New Heights

The conviction that he is being persecuted relentlessly by God leads Job to wish the impossible: either that a redeemer would avenge his death on the basis of a permanent record or that he would actually live to behold his vindication. Here for the first time Job concludes his speech with something other than a meditation on death. In its place is a threat aimed at his friends. v. 3 , thus far the friends have spoken only five times; the reference to ten times may be taken as a round number or it may indicate Job's impression that his friends have talked excessively (cf. Gen 31:7 and Num 14:22 for references to a full quota of tests). The verb kālam (to humiliate, insult) indicates that Job thinks of his friends' words as insulting. vv. 4–6 , the conditional sentence does not implicate Job for sins of some kind; he reasons that even if such were true, the consequences would settle on him. Instead, Job argues, Eloah has perverted things and imputed the guilt to him. The image of God as a fowler hurling a net to capture prey occurs in ancient Near-Eastern political treaties as a deterrent against rebellion. vv. 7–12 , Job's innocence contrasts with Eloah's guilt. He calls for help and God pays no attention (cf. Hab 1:2 and Lam 3:8 ); instead Eloah's violent conduct towards Job escalates. The elaborate preparations to attack his tent, more appropriate for laying siege to a city, suggest the personal animus that Eloah has towards Job. The idea of a divine enclosure in v. 8 differs greatly from Satan's understanding of YHWH's protective fence around the prosperous Job. In vv. 9–10 he accuses God of stripping away his wealth and honour (the Heb. noun kābôd has both senses), removing his crown, and uprooting his hope. Unlike the earlier image of a tree-stump left in the ground and capable of regeneration, the complete removal of the roots from the source of nourishment rules out all hope. vv. 13–22 , this description of social reversals resembles a literary topos from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. An individual complains that society has been turned upside down, with slaves riding horses and nobles walking. Friends have become enemies, and no one can be trusted. Job's servants consider him a foreigner (contrast 31:13–15 ); the irony in this conception may be lost on those who do not know that most slaves were foreigners acquired through warfare or purchase. Job's loss of control over his slaves means total humiliation within the intimacy of the home. Even his wife finds his breath unpleasant; the Hebrew can also mean: ‘my spirit is alien to my wife’. The reference to ‘children of my belly’ (NRSV: ‘my own family’) in v. 17 presents difficulty, inasmuch as children would be more appropriately designated as products of his wife's womb and, moreover, Job's children are dead, according to the Prologue. Ancient sexist views may explain such language, which would assume that ownership of a wife gave Job the right to claim her belly as his own (cf. the awful punishment imagined for his wife if he were guilty of adultery, 31:10 ). Alternatively, Job may refer to his brothers, ‘my belly’ implying the one from which he emerged, that is, his mother's womb. The topsy-turvy world extends to Job's body; his bones cling to his skin and flesh, instead of the reverse (v. 20 ). Like El, the friends pursue him relentlessly. The imitatio dei is here understood as an undesirable trait; God sets a bad example for them. The simile, ‘like God [᾽ēl]’, stands out in v. 22 , as does the negated verb, ‘to satisfy’. Job has escaped with nothing (‘by the skin of my teeth’) and now his friends want more than his flesh. vv. 23–7 , Job gives voice to an impossible wish, that his words be inscribed as a perpetual testimony to his innocence (cf. Isa 30:8 ). Precisely in what medium remains unclear. He may refer to three different forms of preserving words, representing progressively more enduring media: a scroll, a lead tablet, and a stone with lead inlay, like the famous Behistun Rock on which the Persian king, Darius, boasts of his exploits. More probably, Job indicates a single medium for displaying his words, a stone with lead inlay. Textual difficulties render it impossible to interpret vv. 25–7 with any confidence, and familiarity with Handel's Messiah gives the impression that one already understands the verses. The word gō᾽ēl (‘redeemer’) derives from family law. According to Num 35:19 and Deut 19:6 this avenger of blood, the nearest male relative, would vindicate a wronged member of the family. The gō᾽ēl also redeemed property (Ruth 4:4–6; Jer 32:6–7; cf. Lev 25:25 ) that had been sold because of economic distress, recovered stolen property (Num 5:8 ), bought back a family member reduced to slavery (Lev 25:28 ), and married a childless widow to perpetuate the dead husband's name. Job's use of this term indicates that he has given up on justice and begins to hope for revenge. The idea that a redeemer could call God to account for his actions may derive from Mesopotamian religion, where one's patron deity intercedes on behalf of a person in distress, but Job seems to attribute more power to the figure of the redeemer than intercession implies. Job's cry of assurance recalls a Ugaritic text in the Baal cycle: ‘And I know that Aleyan Baal is alive’, a confession of the god's revivification according to an agricultural calendar. What does Job imply? Three possibilities present themselves: (1) a heavenly figure, like the witness ( 16:18–21 ), will champion Job's cause after his death; (2) a heavenly figure will enable him to arise from the dead, or as a disembodied shade Job will witness his vindication; and (3) vv. 25–6a refer to vindication after Job's death, but what he most desires (vv. 26b–27 ) is that this event occur prior to his demise. The threat to his existence has prompted speculation about heavenly intermediaries: an arbitrator ( 9:33 ), a witness ( 16:18 ), and a vindicator ( 19:25 ), but none of these will accomplish what he truly desires, as expressed in 13:16 . Only seeing God and surviving that experience will satisfy Job. From this point on ( 19:25 ), Job will not refer to heavenly mediators; instead, he will press his case for an audience with God.

( 20:1–29 ) Zophar's Confidence in the Moral Order

This description of the fate of the wicked corresponds to normal expectations in the psalter and in the book of Proverbs. A similar optimism characterizes one of the oldest Egyptian instructions, Ptahhotep, which observes that wickedness never brings its goods into safe harbour. Zophar thinks of a principle established in the beginning of time, one that guaranteed justice in the world. The wicked flourished only momentarily, whereas good people enjoyed lasting prosperity. v. 6 may contain an allusion to the story of the tower of Babel in Gen 11:1–9 . The idea that the wicked are obliterated like a dream also appears in Ps 73:20 . The images that Zophar uses suggest the extent to which the formerly rich have fallen: like dung, unseen, begging from those who have nothing themselves, dust. The popular idea that wickedness had a pleasant taste (cf. Prov 9:17 ) has left an impression on Zophar, but he thinks God changes the food into poison. This whole section, vv. 12–19 , resembles futility curses. The mistreatment of the poor was considered a serious offence throughout the ancient Near East, and legislation aimed at protecting marginalized citizens is widespread. The image of poison-induced vomiting and gastric illness continues in the concluding section of Zophar's speech, vv. 20–9 . Both heaven and earth turn against the wicked; their legacy is fire, darkness, and utter deprivation. This picture contrasts sharply with traditional understandings of the Lord or the land as the heritage of the faithful. Like Am 5:19 , flight from one danger leads to yet another form of death (v. 24 , where bronze bow functions as synecdoche for bow and arrow).

( 21:1–34 ) Job's View of an Immoral Universe

Job utters words that must surely have horrified his friends, for he denies the moral order of the universe, which they take for granted. In his considered opinion, the wicked enjoy the pleasant life that Job's friends believed was reserved for good people. He realizes how outrageous his remarks will sound; hence he anticipates their mockery (v. 3 ). Indeed, he urges them to use a gesture indicating shock; placing one's hand over one's mouth could also express respectful speechlessness, but Job does not hope for this type of response from his erstwhile friends. vv. 7–16 , this picture of the prosperity of the wicked contrasts with Job's own misery and serves as self-justification. The particularities of the account constitute a powerful indictment of God, who fails to act even when the wicked ignore him. They reach old age, their children thrive, their cattle multiply, the wicked rejoice. The Babylonian Theodicy has the sufferer complain that he has not profited from serving his personal god, whereas ‘those who do not seek the god go the way of prosperity while those who pray to the goddess become destitute and impoverished’. vv. 17–18 , the fourfold rhetorical question in the NRSV, ‘How often?’ is represented by a single kammâ with sequential verbs. Job asks his friends to test the traditional theory that God punishes the wicked. How often have they witnessed it? vv. 19–26 , here Job addresses a possible response: that God punishes the children of evildoers (cf. Jer 31:29 and Ezek 18:2 ). Job assumes that such scoundrels as he has been describing will lose no sleep over their children's destiny. v. 22 , beginning with a common cliché (‘Will any teach God knowledge …?’), Job proceeds to argue that God does not distinguish between good and evil people (vv. 23–6 ). In life and in death God makes no distinction. vv. 27–34 , Job urges his friends to test his theory by consulting travellers who have observed things far and near. He is certain that they will confirm his conclusion that the wicked are spared when calamity strikes the innocent. The beginning and end of this section reveals Job's distrust of his friends. The semblance of dialogue has completely vanished; insults have taken its place.

( 22:1–30 ) Eliphaz Accuses Job of Great Wickedness

Job's extreme sufferings, coupled with his intemperate language and untraditional views, convince Eliphaz that his friend is guilty of the most heinous offences imaginable. Therefore, Eliphaz calls them to mind, after first insisting that God who sits above the human scene cannot be affected by either good or evil. Eliphaz accuses Job of taking advantage of members of his family and of mistreating the naked, widows, and orphans, and (implicitly) of strengthening the hand of powerful oppressors. vv. 12–20 , Eliphaz mocks the wicked who imagine that God cannot see through the thick clouds, a motif that is also found in Psalms (Ps 10:11; 73:11; cf. Isa 29:15; Jer 23:23–4; Ezek 8:12 ). In v. 15 the Hebrew word ῾ôlām (ancient) can be pointed differently to indicate concealment, which continues the thought of the previous verse. Like those who deceive themselves that God cannot see, will you also walk along hidden paths? In v. 18a Eliphaz concedes that God bestows good gifts on the wicked, but such an admission prompts him to reject their schemes as odious, and to cast his allegiance with the righteous who laugh at the perishing wicked. vv. 21–30 , Eliphaz has not given up on his friend, whom he urges to make peace with God. The Mesopotamian parallel text, I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom, recommends correct ritual and repentance as a means to restoration. Eliphaz's promising account of what will happen if Job repents comes close to what actually occurs in the Epilogue. v. 24 is laden with wordplays: the Hebrew word for treasure resembles the word for ‘like the stones’ and that for ‘dust’ recalls the word for Ophir. v. 27 , neglecting to fulfil one's vows was considered a serious offence (cf. Eccl 5:4 and the Canaanite Epic of Keret). v. 30 , Eliphaz cannot know the irony in this statement, for he—the guilty one—will actually benefit from Job's intercessory prayer ( 42:8 ).

( 23:1–24:25 ) The Turmoil within Job's Soul

Job may have abandoned belief in a moral order, but he cannot bring himself to give up on God completely. Somehow he still thinks that the judge of all the earth would act fairly if only Job could track him down. Mistakenly, Job believes God would not argue on the basis of power. At this point he still thinks in terms of a lawsuit, despite his earlier insistence that God makes a mockery of justice.

( 23:8–9 )

In Ps 139:7–12 the psalmist takes comfort in the knowledge that one cannot wander beyond God's watchful eye. That soothing feeling is not shared by Job, who despairs of finding God anywhere. He mentions all four directions; in the Bible directions are indicated by picturing someone standing and facing the rising sun. Forward is east, backward is west; to the left is north, and to the right is south.

( 23:10–17 )

v. 10 , the understanding of suffering as a divine test was widespread; Job briefly recalls this explanation for his misery and expresses confidence that he will emerge from the smelting process as pure gold. He has no idea how accurate this assessment of things really is. Dread of God returns, along with a renewed wish to be hidden. Unlike the wicked, he knows that one cannot hide from God.

( 24:1–12 )

One can hardly imagine a more powerful indictment of God's ways than this brief section. Job begins by asking why Shaddai does not adhere to times of judgement; he proceeds by giving specific examples of dereliction in the office of judge. In a word, the offences strike at the very foundation of society, its concern for the well-being of those who were unable to fend for themselves. Crimes against widows, orphans, and the needy do not move God to action. These unfortunates are forced to eke out a living and to sleep without protection from the elements. Their clinging to a rock for shelter is Job's shattering blow against traditional belief that the Lord was a protective rock. Job portrays God as totally oblivious to such misery. Job does not stop here but goes on to describe the oppression of the poor and to finish with a rhetorical flourish (v. 12 ). The dying pray for help, but Eloah ignores the groaning.

( 24:13–27 )

Whereas the author of Ps 104:20–3 rejoices over the orderly creation in which nocturnal animals restrict their movements to the dark hours, Job describes human villains who use the darkness of night to conceal their criminal acts from others. The futility of such clandestine behaviour is proclaimed in Prov 7:6–23 .

( 24:18–20 )

The sentiments expressed here do not accord with Job's attitude and must be a caricature of his friends' view, or they represent his wish that they be punished. Contrasting images appear in v. 20 , the womb symbolizing life and the worm symbolizing death.

( 24:21–5 )

Job returns to his indictment of God for empowering the wicked to oppress the widow; he accuses God of watching over such criminals (v. 23 ). In Job's mind, providence has turned lethal. Again he wishes that God would exact judgement against such criminals (v. 24 ). Job concludes with an open challenge to his friends: ‘prove me wrong’.

( 25:1–6 ) Bildad's Low Opinion of Humanity

Several features of chs. 25–7 indicate disarray: the brevity of Bildad's third speech and the absence of Zophar's; the attribution of specific material to Job that expresses views elsewhere rejected by him but articulated by the friends; and the presence of introductory formulas for speeches different from all previous ones (‘Job again took up his discourse and said’ ( 27:1; cf. 29:1 ) as opposed to ‘Then Job answered’). In addition, the isolated nature of ch. 28 and the longer introductory formula in 29:1 suggest either an editorial hand or an effort to set apart this material for some unknown reason. It has been surmised that the author never actually completed the third cycle of speeches but merely provided provisional notes for future reference. Inasmuch as the narrator gives no clue that the friends have run out of anything to say, and nothing subsequent to this section suggests a conversion on Job's part at this stage, and arguments for an unfinished debate have little merit, the probable cause of the present disarray is textual transposition. In all likelihood, the insertion of 26:5–14 has brought about this dislocation, one accentuated by the addition of ch. 28 . In 25:1–4 Bildad stresses God's governance of the heavens, keeping that domain safe in the face of revolt (cf. 1 Enoch 6–11 and Dan 10; cf. also Isa 14:12–21 ). In Bildad's opinion, God's purity dwarfs everything, from moon and stars to those born of woman, here called maggots and worms.

( 26:1–27:23 ) Job's Integrity Compromised (?)

The mixture of untraditional views and orthodox sentiment seems to compromise Job despite his protests otherwise. Did his closing responses to Bildad and Zophar so anger readers that they replaced them with palatable views? What could he have said that went beyond the stinging indictment of God in 24:1–12 ? Clearly, his anger has reached the boiling point here, and one would expect even harsher observations to follow.

( 26:1–4 )

As usual, Job comments on his friends' failure; the remarks contain bitter sarcasm and are addressed to Bildad alone. Furthermore, the syntax permits one to take the negatives as references to Bildad: ‘How you have helped, without strength! … How you have counselled, without wisdom!’ Job even questions the divine source of such banalities, risking blasphemy.

( 26:5–14 )

This hymn has mythical elements (the reference to Abaddon, a name for the underworld probably derived from the verb ᾽-b-d, ‘to perish’; the name Zaphon, the mountain of Baal in the north similar to Mt. Olympus in Greek mythology; the chaos-monster, here identified as Sea and Rahab—cf. Isa 27:1 for a reference to the fleeing serpent, Leviathan). A naked Sheol stands exposed before God, who proceeds to cover it with the cosmic mountain and the earth. One expects it to be ‘the heavens’ that God stretches out (cf. 9:8; Ps 104:2; Isa 40:22 ). The language in v. 7 echoes the myth of creation in Gen 1:2 (tōhû, ‘formless’; belî-mâ, for nothing; bōhû, ‘waste’, ‘void’). The waters are envisioned as waterskins (v. 8 ), and the word for moon actually is pointed as ‘throne’. v. 14 , an appropriate reminder that one can only comprehend a tiny portion of God's majesty concludes this hymn. Those who proclaim the remarkable story of a cosmogonic battle and an ordering of the universe have succeeded in describing the ‘outskirts’ of his way and have heard only a ‘whisper’.

( 27:1–6 )

The new introductory formula in v. 1 uses the noun měšālô, usually translated ‘proverb’, ‘likeness’, ‘analogy’, and occasionally ‘parable’. Job swears by God, whom he has rejected, that he will not give up his integrity. The oath in the name of the deity who has demonstrated total disregard for justice, in Job's view, corresponds to Job's relentless seeking to face God in a trial, although convinced that the divine Judge twists the truth. Such inconsistency grows out of the enormity of Job's suffering and his reluctance to abandon the sole possibility for vindication. Job therefore appears as a much more complex character than his friends. Contradictions are part and parcel of daily existence. Thus Job thinks that God afflicts him on every side and pursues him relentlessly, but Job also claims that he can find God nowhere.

( 27:7–12 )

If spoken by Job, this section begins with irony and ends in insult (his friends blow wind; the noun hebel in v. 12 , as well as the verb from the same root, h-b-l, means ‘breath’, hence lit. ‘breathes a breath,’ blows wind). Between these sharp barbs rest rhetorical questions that emphasize God's arbitrary power and complete indifference to sinners by God and to God by them. There, too, is a promise to instruct the friends more fully about God's actions.

( 27:13–23 )

The opening verse, which repeats Zophar's conclusion in 20:29 , signals the imitative quality of this unit. Job appears to say that he can make Zophar's speech more effectively than the Naamathite can. In the light of the reference to the death of children by a sword and the allusion to a whirlwind (vv. 14, 20 ), this speech makes more sense when attributed to Zophar. v. 16 , the parallelism of silver and clothing is striking, as one expects the pair ‘silver’ and ‘gold’, v. 19 , the fleeting nature of wealth was a common topos in the ancient world; according to the Instruction of Amen-em-ope, it takes wings like geese and flies away (cf. Prov 23:4–5 ); Hag 1:6 mentions wages placed in a bag with holes. vv. 20–3 , the recurring theme of a wind recalls the sharp attack on the friends for producing empty wind (v. 12 , hebel and the verb hābal, ‘to become futile, ephemeral’).

( 28:1–28 ) Where Can Wisdom be Found?

This exquisite poem functions as an intermezzo, an interlude that enables readers to pause long enough to weigh the arguments on both sides of the debate and to prepare for what follows. The poem consists of two parts, vv. 1–11 and 12–27 , with a concluding statement in v. 28 . This chapter resembles the divine speech in ch. 38 , particularly the cataloguing of facts lying beyond human ken and the use of rhetorical questions (Geller 1987 ).

( 28:1–11 )

The author of this section marvels at human achievement in searching for (prospecting) and extracting (mining) precious metals from remote depths. The exact meaning of v. 4 is more hidden than the gems being sought, partly because of ignorance about ancient mining techniques and partly because of obscure language. Its central point can be captured in the expression, ‘far from’. Whatever activity is described takes place in virtual isolation.

The phrase in v. 8 , ‘children of pride’, used in 41:26 in association with Leviathan, stands as a parallel to šaḥal, which occurs elsewhere in 4:10 in parallelism with ᾽aryēh (lion). Its meaning in 4:10 is indisputable, for it represents one of five different words for lion. The reference in v. 11 to probing the sources of the rivers echoes Canaanite myth, which locates the abode of the god El ‘at the sources of the two rivers, in the midst of the channels of the two seas’. Several phrases in this section suggest cosmic activity rivalling the achievements of deity: overturning mountains by their roots ( 9:5; cf. Hab 3:6 ), opening channels in rocks (Hab 3:9; Ps 74:15 ), and exposing hidden things to light ( 12:12; Dan 2:22 ).

( 28:12–19 )

v. 12 continues the thought of v. 1 by providing its contrast; it does this by means of a sophisticated wordplay between ‘mine’ (môṣā᾽) and ‘find’ (māṣā᾽), while repeating the word ‘place’ (māqôm). The Hebrew word for wisdom, ḥokmâ, is a supernym indicating a quality of knowledge for which as many as nine nouns stand in parallel cola (bînâ as here seems to be the preferred parallel). ‘Wisdom’ is the general term; bînâ is the more specific one for intellectual discernment. Nothing in vv. 12–28 resembles the personification of ḥokmâ as depicted in Prov 8:22–31 and Sir 24:1–22 , among other texts. Four different words for ‘gold’ and seven different gems give this text a distinctive character, ‘suggesting a connoisseur's familiarity with rarities among rarities’ (Newsom 1996: 531). The negative particle lō᾽ introduces vv. 15–17, 19 ; in v. 18 it appears as the third word. The four different words for purchasing (‘weighed out’, ‘given’, ‘be paid for’, and ‘valued’) in vv. 15–17 contrast with the understatement, ‘no mention’, in v. 18 . The exceptional value placed on wisdom elevates it just as effectively as the author of Prov 8:22–31 does in quite a different way, by imagining her as pre-existent artisan or witness to the act of creation.

( 28:20–7 )

The opening verse repeats the question in v. 12 , with one change (the verb ‘come’ replaces ‘be found’). The personification of Abaddon and Death in v. 22 provides smooth transition to the emphatic ‘God’ in v. 23 (‘He’ is also in the emphatic position). According to Isa 43:13 , YHWH laid claim to the ancient epithet, hû᾽ (‘He’, ‘That One’). The personal pronoun in v. 23 may echo this tradition rooted in stories about divine self-manifestations that evoked an ecstatic shout, ‘O He’. The emphasis shifts from spatial language (v. 24 ) to temporal expressions in vv. 25–7 (‘when’ … ‘when’ … ‘then’), resembling ancient Near-Eastern stories about creation (cf. also Prov 8:24–30a ). The poem claims that Elohim recognized wisdom during an act of creativity. Educational terms describe the deity's intellectual pursuit of wisdom: ‘Then he saw it and declared it, he established it, and searched it out.’ Observation led to articulation of the facts as perceived; the positing of a theory followed, with further probing of its accuracy or inaccuracy (cf. Eccl 7:23–5; Sir 6:27 ). The conclusion of this majestic poem is something of a let-down. One expects a profound statement; instead, a cliché brings readers back to earth. Wisdom is encountered in the mundane choices one makes, specifically in religious devotion. (Using this criterion for wisdom, Job already possessed it and more, according to 1:1 and repeated citations of this fourfold description of his character.) Interpreters have expressed disdain for this formulation of things subsequent to the debate in chs. 3–27 , which surely undercuts such simple answers to complex issues, and have insisted that any resolution at this juncture is premature. The unique appearance of the name Adonai in this verse is noteworthy; in Jewish tradition this name was pronounced instead of the sacred name, the Tetragrammaton YHWH. This special name for God was left unuttered out of profound respect.

( 29:1–31:40 ) Job Challenges God

In ch. 29 Job remembers an idyllic past, contrasts it with his miserable present in ch. 30 , and pronounces an oath of innocence in ch. 31 . Much of the material in this section comes from stock expressions in the ancient world, which explains its apparent lack of fit with Job's circumstances in some instances. Reaching historical conclusions about Job's precise role in the community on the basis of this material misconstrues its typical nature. Exaggeration belongs to autobiography; so do self-exoneration and considerable fabrication. Accordingly, Job understands himself in royal categories.

( 29:1–25 )

Job begins his nostalgic reminiscence on a level of intimacy, then moves outwards from this family scene to his role in society and its rewards. When contemplating his activity as champion of the downtrodden, Job returns once more to his most intimate thoughts (vv. 18–20 ). The reference to autumn days in v. 4 (tr. as ‘my prime’ in NRSV) strikes Western readers as peculiar, but in the Near East the autumnal New Year signalled a time of regeneration after the drought of summer. The picture of divine care while Job and his entire family sat under his tent contrasts with the following image of an urban dweller (v. 7 ). The desert sheik was content with cream and oil; the city-dweller takes the leading role in judicial disputes at the gate. Job recalls that he silenced everyone (young and old, prince and nobles) because he embodied the values of the group as expressed in looking out for the interests of the weak. He overlooks none of them, for the list of persons receiving his help includes the usual categories—widows, orphans, poor, stranger—as well as the blind and lame. According to royal ideology, kings were charged with ensuring the well-being of these lowly members of society, and failure to abide by this rule was viewed as grounds for abdication of the throne in the Canaanite story of Aqhat. vv. 18–20 , the Hebrew of v. 18 reads ‘sand’, which makes sense in context and is not excluded by the earlier ‘nest’. The mixture of metaphors in this brief reflection argues against reading ‘phoenix’, for Job thinks of a bird, sand, roots, dew, and a warrior's bow. These images may be placed alongside the more familiar prophetic scene of sitting peacefully under one's vine and fig tree. With the exception of the initial metaphor (dying in one's nest), all Job's images symbolize vitality; the final one, a fresh warrior's bow, has sexual overtones in the tale of Aqhat, where the goddess Anat covets the prince's bow and offers her love in exchange for it. vv. 21–5 , unlike Job's miserable comforters, he insists that he actually brought comfort to the needy.

( 30:1–31 )

Job's description of his present circumstances comprises four sections, the first three beginning with a contrasting particle, ‘but now’, and the fourth with ‘surely’. He demonstrates his remarkable skill at insulting others (youth insult me, whose fathers are not even good enough to accompany my dogs; cowering in wadis, they bray like cattle). Such contempt for the poor contrasts with the attitude expressed in 29:12–17 and 31:16–23 , although Job's description of their feeble attempts to survive in harsh economic conditions shows that he has internalized their needs. Job acknowledges the principle that religious people tend to identify those whom God has ostracized and to count them as their enemies too (v. 11 ). In vv. 16–19 Job returns to his earlier suspicion that God personally attacks him. This unpleasant thought gives way to direct address of God for the first time since ch. 16 . He imagines that God ignores his cries for help and tosses him about on the wind (vv. 20–3 ). Job concludes this section with observations about his psychic distress. Together, chs. 29 and 30 effectively describe Job at the pinnacle of success and the nadir of his isolation from society. At one time the aged and nobles stood in awe of him; now children of a no-name mock him (cf. 30:8 , ‘senseless’, lit. children of a fool, ‘disreputable’, lit. children of a no-name). In previous days he presided over the judicial assembly; now he calls jackals and ostriches his companions. Such ostracism is aptly symbolized in the words that conclude the chapter, ‘a sound of weeping’.

( 31:1–40 )

Job's final speech in the debate takes the form of a negative confession reinforced by an oath. Similar oaths of innocence are known from ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian liturgical texts. Although the context of Job's oaths is a lawsuit, the offences listed are not subject to legal remedy. Job uses two kinds of oath, the complete oath with the consequences specified, and an abbreviated oath that stops short of mentioning any punishment. Interpreters differ in estimating the exact number of oaths and, in a few instances, their specific nature. The latter point applies to the opening reference to looking on a virgin. On the basis of Canaanite mythology of the perpetual virgin goddess Anat, some scholars think Job denies having participated in idolatrous worship. To them, this offence seems more appropriate at the head of a list of wrongs, especially since lust and adultery are treated later (vv. 9–12 ). The offence, lust (whatever its object, whether a foreign goddess or an ordinary virgin), marks this code of ethics as special, going as it does beyond the actual act to the prior intent as in Jesus' later formulation of the issue. The second and third oaths concern ethics generally—deceit and greed—while the fourth returns to sexual ethics (adultery). The oath in v. 7 refers to hands, feet, heart, and eyes, indicating that Job's total being is devoid of fault (Habel 1985: 433). The first stated punishment in v. 8 resembles a futility curse (‘let me sow and another eat’); unlike the next one (v. 10 ), it does not conceive of the punishment as an appropriate ‘fit’ to the crime. The prescribed punishment for adultery would fall on Job's wife (others would turn her into a prostitute), but that harsh treatment accorded with the ancient understanding of a wife as the husband's property. The anomaly is that sexual ethics could simultaneously generate the exalted view in v. 1 and the reprehensible attitude of v. 10 . The language describing adultery and its punishment is rich in double entendre, with ‘door’ representing the entrance to the womb and the paired verbs ‘grind’ and ‘kneel’, signifying the sex act. The next four oaths consider the matter of social ethics (vv. 13–15 , slaves; vv. 16–18 , the poor; vv. 19–20 , the needy again; vv. 21–3 , the orphan again). Job acknowledges that social distinctions between masters and slaves are human contrivances, for God created both (cf. Prov 22:2 and 29:13 for the same attitude with reference to rich and poor). In v. 22 the full form of the oath occurs for the third time; in this instance the punishment fits the crime; aggression leads to further aggression, the abusive fist to a broken and useless arm. The three oaths in vv. 24–8 deal with various forms of idolatry (gold, wealth in general, worship of heavenly bodies) but lack a specific punishment. The gesture mentioned in v. 27 , the mouth kissing the hand, may allude to a Babylonian expression for a gesture of obeisance in which the hand touches the nose. The modern ‘blown kiss’ involves a somewhat similar gesture. Two oaths in vv. 31–3 concern the obligation of providing hospitality to strangers on a journey (cf. the stories about Abraham's hospitality to the divine messengers in Gen 18:1–15 and its sequel about Lot in a similar role in 19:1–11 , as well as the scandal involving the Benjaminites living in the town of Gibeah as told in Judg 19 ). The language of v. 31 suggests homosexuality; Job denies that anyone in his tent ever abused strangers in such a manner. At this point Job utters an aside (vv. 35–7 ) in which he expresses a wish to be heard and openly challenges Shaddai. He juxtaposes the thought of his own mark over against a non-existent indictment written by his adversary. The word for ‘mark’ is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, a taw resembling an x. In Ezek 9:4, 6 , it signified persons to be spared God's judgement. Job imagines that he would wear the indictment for all to see (cf. Hab 2:2 for a prophetic message being publicly displayed). The image of a prince with an indictment for a crown corresponds to Job's ambiguous situation itself. The final oath (vv. 38–40 ) touches on his relationship with the land. The ancients viewed society and land reciprocally; crimes against one another affected the land adversely. Furthermore, respect for the land required proper treatment, including a practice of periodic release from cultivation. Job's oath seems to echo the story about unavenged blood crying out to God. The full form of the oath once again envisions an appropriate punishment, an unproductive field. The narrator enters for a brief moment to observe that Job's words have come to an end (cf. Ps 72:20 ); the verb tammû echoes the adjective describing his integrity, tām.

YHWH's Two Speeches and Job's Responses ( 38:1–42:6 )

The dramatic climax to the book of Job finally arrives, after an interminable delay, at least from Job's perspective. In a sense, his eagerly awaited audience before the Creator contains no surprise, for he expected to encounter power; still, the divine speeches do not measure up to advanced billing. Instead of resolving the matter of Job's innocence, they completely ignore the problem that has exercised Job and his four detractors for so long. Nor do the divine speeches from the whirlwind throw any light on the suffering of innocent persons. YHWH's entire discourse ignores humankind, except in mocking questions addressed to Job. Instead, YHWH expresses exhilaration over meteorological phenomena and animals that dwell outside the ordinary habitat of humans, with one notable exception, the warhorse. Most importantly, YHWH reserves pride of place for two partly mythological creatures, Behemoth and Leviathan. The two speeches ( 38:1–39:30; 40:1–41:34 (MT 26)) begin with narrative introductions ( 38:1; 40:6 ), present direct challenges to Job ( 38:2–3; 40:7–14 ), and examine specific themes already articulated in the rebuke of Job (the divine plan, 38:4–39:30 ; mišpāṭ, 40:15–41:34 (MT 26)). Each speech has two distinct parts. The first speech takes up cosmological and meteorological phenomena ( 38:4–38 ) and then discusses five pairs of animals ( 38:39–39:30 ). The second speech is limited to two special creatures. After each divine speech, Job responds ( 40:3–5 —following a specific invitation from YHWH to answer in 40:1–2 —and 42:1–6 ). The content of the divine speeches resembles the exquisite poetry of Isa 40:12–31 and Ps 104 . Readers react variously to the divine speeches; some consider them sublime irrelevance, others think they succeed in forcing a self-centred Job to take a less egocentric view of the universe, and still others discern an unpleasant fact beyond the playful(?) mockery: a world devoid of morality (Tsevat 1966: 73–106). Perhaps the poet chose the wisest course, to leave Job's problem unresolved, for no answer would have sufficed, whether spoken by YHWH or anyone else. This ambivalence suggests that the dominant genre, disputation, served the poet well, for its strength lies in its ability to present alternative viewpoints.

( 38:1–40:5 ) The Divine Plan of the Universe

YHWH's ῾ēṣâ (plan, counsel) includes the cosmos and the realm of wild animals. The initial speech focuses on these two topics, highlighting the argument with periodic questions directed at Job (‘Who? Where? On what? Have you? Can you? Where?’).

( 38:1–3 )

v. 1 derives from the narrator, who has framed the discussion thus far and made important judgements about Job's character. That the name YHWH occurs here, as in the prose framework ( 1:1–2:13; 42:7–17 ), comes as something of a surprise, for it has been avoided in the poetic discourses except for the cliché in 12:9 . This name, together with the information that YHWH speaks from a whirlwind (se῾ārâ), reintroduces the additional problems posed by the interaction between the Adversary and YHWH. Does disinterested piety exist? Will anyone serve God gratuitously, for nothing? Furthermore, the destructive power of the whirlwind, its capacity to renew Job's gut-wrenching memory of ten dead children, does not bode well for him. Biblical theophanies usually bring solace along with the inevitable sense of awe; in this instance, form and content clash (Crenshaw 1992 ). Job has his wish, but not on his own conditions. vv. 2–3 make this fact painfully clear; YHWH rejects Job's reasoning as senseless, an obfuscation of the divine plan. YHWH has no intention of capitulating before human charges of injustice; instead, he will expect far more intellectual rigour from the accuser. The initial question, ‘Who is this?’ has the tone of ‘How dare you?’ Job has demanded that God tell him the specific wrongs he has committed ( 10:2; 13:23 ), promising an answer for each breach of trust ( 13:22 ). This stance quickly becomes meaningless in the type of universe described by the divine speeches. YHWH does not encourage Job to hold on to his conviction that a moral principle governs the world. In the light of this radically different world-view, the situation has suddenly reversed. Instead of YHWH being obligated to answer Job ( 13:2 ), Job must now come up with an appropriate response to new revelations about the nature of the universe. The image, ‘Gird up your loins like a man’, probably refers to tucking the ends of one's robe into a belt to permit quick movement.

( 38:4–7 )

The creation of the earth is described as if it were a huge temple; YHWH designs and constructs the edifice, to the jubilation of interested onlookers (cf. Prov 8:22–31 , where the emphasis falls on wisdom's presence and excited reaction). The allusion to heavenly singing echoes the liturgical dedication associated with the construction of an earthly temple. The dedication of YHWH's temple evoked singing from the morning stars and divine beings. The final phrase of 38:5 , ‘surely you know!’, occurs elsewhere in the related sayings attributed to the foreign sage, Agur (Prov 30:1–14 , specifically in v. 4 ).

( 38:8–11 )

Once earth has been established, YHWH sets about to contain the boisterous sea, which represented primeval chaos in ancient Near-Eastern myths. Acting as midwife, YHWH assists in its birth and cares for the newborn infant. At the same time he provided clothing for the sea (clouds and darkness), YHWH determined its limits, here envisioned as doors imposed by divine command. The image is that of parental discipline, a prohibition aimed at the infant's well-being. Behind this language of bursting forth and containment lie numerous biblical and non-biblical stories about primordial chaos, but that hostile power is here circumscribed (cf. Ps 74:13–14; 89:10–13 (MT 9–14); Isa 51:9–10 ; Enuma Elish). The allusion to proud waves points beyond itself to an important topos in the second speech (see 40:10–14 ).

( 38:12–15 )

YHWH's description of dawn's power to renew creation each day echoes Job's earlier curse ( 3:9 ) and complaint about reversals of dawn and darkness ( 24:13–17 ). In YHWH's graphic image, a personified dawn takes hold of earth's corners like a bedsheet and shakes out the wicked like bedbugs. Their natural fondness for darkness becomes a self-fulfilling curse, light being denied them and their strength being checked ( 38:15 ). In YHWH's world, the wicked have a place just like the good, but dawn limits their destructiveness.

( 38:16–21 )

Turning to the remote regions of the universe, YHWH asks Job about the extent of his progress in reaching the deep recesses, whether above or below. The prophet Amos mentions similar remote areas, along with hiding-places closer to home and a little more distant (Am 9:1–4 , Sheol, the depths of the sea, heaven, caves on Mt. Carmel, exile). Whereas Amos emphasizes YHWH's ease in following and punishing anyone who might flee his wrath, the divine speech in Job 38:16–21 concentrates on Job's inability to make such a journey. Twice in this brief section YHWH mocks Job (vv. 18, 21 ). YHWH reminds him that his life span is but a speck on the eons of time.

( 38:22–4 )

At this point, YHWH shifts from cosmology to meteorology. At least two, possibly three, of these items cause harm (hail, east wind, lightning (?)). The use of the Hebrew word ᾽ôr (light) instead of the usual word for lightning (but see 37:11 ), and the reference to snow, suggest that the speech alludes to two positive and two negative phenomena. Only in one instance does YHWH elaborate: hail is associated with warfare (cf. Ex 9:22–6; Josh 10:11 ). Late Jewish literature describes heavenly journeys during which angels disclose esoteric knowledge to favoured individuals (cf. 1 Enoch 41:4; 60:11–12 for a journey to heavenly storehouses).

( 38:25–30 )

YHWH asks Job if he knows pertinent facts about the rain, dew, hoarfrost, and ice. According to the ancient Israelite cosmogony, the firmament was thought to resemble hard metal, hence the language of cutting channels for the rain and making openings through which lightning could pass. YHWH goes to some lengths to emphasize the divine prodigality where rain was involved (cf. Am 4:7–8 ). Twice YHWH states that rain fell where no human being lived, in the desert waste. vv. 28–9 use images of begetting and birthing; rain and dew are referred to the male act of procreation, whereas ice and hoarfrost are associated with the womb. The formation of ice is further described as water hiding on a rock (cf. Sir 43:20 , ice is viewed as a lake's breastplate).

( 38:31–3 )

Unlike the rest of the sections dealing with meteorological phenomena, this one has nothing directly to say about water. Perhaps it was thought that the movements of constellations affected what transpired on earth, even influencing rainfall. The identity of the constellations mentioned here is not certain; a case has been made for the following: Pleiades, Orion, Sirius, and Aldebaran (de Wilde 1981: 366–7). He notes that the last three in this list appear when Pleiades is ‘bound,’ i.e. hidden from sight.

( 38:34–8 )

The chapter concludes with questions about Job's ability to summon the rain and command lightning during a severe drought. YHWH asks Job if he possesses the requisite skill to handle containers holding precious water, skins and jugs. Although the Hebrew of v. 36 is difficult, it may refer to the ibis and the cock; ancient Egyptians thought the ibis announced the Nile's rising and the cock predicted the approach of rain. Divine sarcasm in v. 35 stands out above the constant ridicule of the rhetorical questions; YHWH imagines the ludicrous: lightning bolts address Job obediently, ‘Here we are.’

( 38:39–39:30 )

Beginning in v. 39 , YHWH calls Job's attention to wild animals: lion and raven, mountain goat and deer, wild ass and ox, ostrich and horse, hawk and vulture. Scenes from the ancient Near East depict kings hunting many of these wild creatures. Such royal sport contains an element of control; as lord of all creatures, the King of the Universe subjects wild animals to his wishes. Two irreconcilable symbolic gestures rest behind these descriptions; YHWH protects his kingdom from all threat posed by wild animals, and he rules over the animals' well-being. The rhetorical questions continue throughout these descriptions, with the exception of the reference to the ostrich, where one also finds God mentioned in the third person.

( 38:39–41 )

For some unknown reason the lion is paired with the raven. The terror inspired by lions prompted the prophet Amos to speak of the divine calling to prophesy as an inescapable summons, just as the roar of a lion brings terror (Am 3:8 ). YHWH asks Job if he can provide food for hungry lions and ravens when they cry out.

( 39:1–4 )

In this section YHWH recalls an earlier stage, that of gestation and birth. He asks whether or not Job could watch over these intimate moments in the lives of mountain goats and deer.

( 39:5–12 )

YHWH turns to discuss two wild animals with domesticated equivalents. The wild ass, or onager, lived in the steppe or in salt flats; its preference for living away from human presence gave rise to proverbial sayings (e.g. ‘Ishmael is a wild ass of a man’). The strength of the wild ox, possibly the extinct aurochs, was an occasion for marvel. The questions regarding this animal approach the ludicrous: will it serve you, sleep in your crib, submit to your ropes, and plow a straight furrow?

( 39:13–18 )

Like the wild ass, which laughs at noisy cities ( 39:7 ), the ostrich laughs at the horse and its rider. YHWH claims to have withheld wisdom from the ostrich, with unfortunate consequences for its offspring. In perpetuating this misconception about ostriches, YHWH gives voice to popular lore at the time of the author. In this matter, as in all others, the author faced enormous difficulty the moment he decided to allow YHWH to become one participant among several in a debate.

( 39:19–25 )

The horse is the only domesticated animal in this list of ten, but what a majestic creature! YHWH can hardly contain the excitement over the warhorse. Completely devoid of fear, the mighty horse laughs as it charges into the heat of battle. The language of a ‘warrior god’ serves to characterize this horse (might, thunder, majesty, terror; so Habel 1985: 547). The horse's desire for battle rivals the drive for water or sex (Newsom 1996: 612).

( 39:26–30 )

The final pair of animals, hawk and vulture, watch from above as a grim scene unfolds on the battlefields below. From their perspective, corpses provide food for them and their young. This section reaches a conclusion by harking back to the provision of food for the raven and its offspring. Beginning with the description of the horse in battle, YHWH views the conflict of armies from the perspective of the horse and the vulture, rather than from war's effect on human history.

( 40:1–5 )

YHWH demands that Job respond. The former critic acknowledges his lack of honour (social status) over against YHWH and gestures that he will be silent. The earlier boast that he will approach God like a prince gives way now to a numerical saying. The expected disputation has not materialized.

( 40:6–42:6 ) The Mystery of Divine Governance

The second divine speech resembles the earlier description of the war-horse, only with considerably more detail. YHWH boasts about two powerful creatures, Behemoth and Leviathan. Partly animal and partly a product of a mythical imagination, these two liminal beasts cavort on land and in water. YHWH's world makes room for such beasts, indeed he glories in their freedom and strength. Although a threat to any mortal who dared to challenge them, they, too, enjoy YHWH's protection.

( 40:6–14 )

The narrator repeats the introduction from 38:1 and the command to Job from 38:3 , while explicating the accusation of 38:2 ( 40:6–8 ). Finally, YHWH comes to the point of the debate as Job understands it. God is guilty, and Job is innocent. Instead of accepting this view of things, YHWH bristles at such impertinence. To silence Job, YHWH challenges him to perform specific tasks that fall to the deity. First, to manifest his splendour, then to overcome pride (gē᾽eh), and vanquish the wicked. If Job can successfully perform these duties, YHWH will concede. Does the poet permit YHWH to indulge in a minor confession that even the Creator finds these tasks something of a challenge? By focusing on pride as the fundamental form of rebellion, YHWH shifts the issue from the realm of legality to that of inner attitude. The question is no longer guilt or innocence, whether Job's or YHWH's, but a correct assessment of one's place. In YHWH's view, Job's helplessness when confronted with something as basic as pride renders his charges against the Creator null and void. The divine judge, as it were, has issued a verdict. YHWH, the accused, is innocent.

( 40:15–24 )

The task of overcoming pride becomes concrete in the two descriptions that follow. Both Behemoth and Leviathan demonstrate what it means to encounter pride near at hand. The word Behemoth is a plural form of the usual word for cattle; it may be a plural of majesty, representing cattle par excellence (cf. the plural form of wisdom, ḥokmôt, in Prov 9:1 ). The description of this animal suggests either the hippopotamus or the water-buffalo. In Egyptian myth, the god Horus hunts Seth in the form of a hippopotamus (Keel 1978: 138–9). Ugaritic myth mentions bull-like creatures, and the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh records an incident in which Gilgamesh and Enkidu slay a ‘Bull of Heaven’. The comparison of Behemoth's zānāb in v. 17 to a cedar derives from the role of bulls in fertility religion; the word zānāb (tail) is a euphemism for penis. This powerful creature is called ‘the first of the ways of God’; the same thing is said of Wisdom in Prov 8:22 . With slight repointing of the Hebrew consonants in v. 19b , it may be translated ‘made to dominate its companions’, in context preferable to ‘its maker approaches it with his sword’, for elsewhere the description of Behemoth has no suggestion of a struggle between gods and chaos.

( 41:1–34 (MT 40:25–41:26 ))

In contrast to Behemoth, an animal in repose, Leviathan stands before Job as a creature of violence. YHWH begins the description by posing rhetorical questions to Job that illustrate the absurdity of attempting to control this terrifying creature, visualized as part crocodile and part mythical monster ( 41:1–12 ) (MT 40:25–41:4 ). The images for hunting and fishing are not entirely clear, but the practice of controlling captured slaves by inserting a cord through the nose or cheek is mentioned in the Bible (e.g. 2 Kings 19:28; Isa 37:29 ). The idea of this powerful creature begging for mercy, or submitting to girls' play, or even providing meat for bartering tradesmen approaches the ridiculous. Even the gods dare not engage Leviathan in battle ( 41:9 (MT 41:1 )). Although difficult, vv. 10–12 (MT 2–4) may represent God's indication that none can withstand Leviathan, the creature's arrogant boast, and God's decision not to silence such boasting. Leviathan boasts only about his own domain, unlike Job.

( 41:13–24 (MT 41:5–16 ))

The description of Leviathan begins with its skin, resembling an impenetrable coat of mail, and moves from this general panoramic view to a close-up of the face, neck, and chest. Power and beauty combine to make this creature godlike; it has eyes like the dawn which emit a beam of light, and breathes fire like a dragon. The association of fire and smoke with the gods (cf. Ps 18:8 (MT 9)) is a common feature of ancient lore.

( 41:25–34 (MT 17–26))

Before this awesome creature the gods cower, especially when it surfaces so that its impenetrable shield becomes visible. Weapons of war bounce off like harmless straw (sword, spear, dart, javelin, arrows, iron and bronze clubs). Laughter links this powerful creature with the wild ass, ostrich, and warhorse, but Leviathan's ability to distance itself in raging water, disappearing in its white wake, makes it king over all the proud. In 40:11b YHWH challenged Job to ‘look on all who are proud and abase them’; here Leviathan ‘looks on all that are proud’ ( 41:34 (MT 26)).

( 42:1–6 )

The exact meaning of Job's response to YHWH's discourse is unclear, perhaps intentionally so. He certainly acknowledges YHWH's power, but that is not new. Job also quotes YHWH twice ( 42:3a , 4 ) and responds to each citation; he concedes that he has spoken without understanding, but his second concession is capable of several interpretations. In fact, even his statement in v. 5 is ambiguous. Does he say that his previous knowledge of YHWH was second-hand (obtained through a rumour) or that he has just now really listened, in obedience to the divine command to hear, so that he is prepared to understand the meaning of the theophany, a seeing also? The next verse has built-in problems. The verb mā᾽as requires an object but has none, as has occurred earlier in the book; likewise, weniḥamtî῾al may carry opposite meanings. The range of interpretation includes, among others, the following possibilities: (1) ‘Therefore I despise myself and repent upon dust and ashes’; (2) ‘Therefore I retract my words and repent of dust and ashes’; (3) ‘Therefore I reject and forswear dust and ashes’; (4) ‘Therefore I retract my words and have changed my mind concerning dust and ashes’; and (5) ‘Therefore I retract my words and I am comforted concerning dust and ashes’. The first translation implies humiliation; the second and third refer to symbols of mourning; and the fourth and fifth signify the human condition (Newsom 1996: 629). Some interpreters think the remark carries heavy irony; Job conceals his rebellion to the end. Others believe that he abandons his lawsuit, acknowledges his finitude, and finds comfort in the simple fact of having come before God and survived, his own stated condition for full vindication (cf. 13:16 ).

The Prose Epilogue ( 42:7–17 )

The conclusion consists of two parts: YHWH's rebuke of Job's three friends (vv. 7–9 ) and the restoration of Job (vv. 10–17 ). Astonishingly YHWH commends Job for speaking correctly about him. It is difficult to imagine Job's rebellious speeches struck YHWH as truth, so interpreters assume a different story, one that must have been removed to make room for the poetic debates. Moreover, the restoration of Job comes as something entirely unexpected after the poetic debate, which shattered the concept of a moral order. One could argue that the truth behind Job's remarks was his honesty and that the restoration is an act of grace, but significant problems remain. This suggests that irony lies at the heart of the book. The happy ending uses the rare Hebrew word šib῾ānâ, which the LXX takes as a doubling, to specify the number of Job's sons. If this is correct, the narrative subtly indicts YHWH for criminal action, for which twofold restoration was mandated (cf. Ex 22:4, 7, 9 (MT 3, 6, 8 )). YHWH's treatment of Job's friends on the basis of the retributive principle adds further irony. How can an arbitrary deity who treats Job in the manner described in the prose and poetry be the source of moral order? Furthermore, the happy ending confirms the truth of what Job's friends predicted. Repentance brought restoration in the end. Job completes his life surrounded by a wife, fourteen (or seven) sons, three beautiful daughters, and plenty. In favour with God and people, he lives two additional lifespans and sees four generations of descendants. Like the patriarchs, he dies ‘old and full of days’. A moral order is alive and well, at least for the author of the prose. Or is it? Those who have read the poetic debate can no longer be content with such a simple answer to life's deepest enigma. Divine mystery remains, along with a human inability to comprehend the suffering of innocents. Job has succeeded, however, in that the Deus absconditus has become the Deus revelatus (the hidden God has become manifest).

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