1 "Why are times not kept by the Almighty, and why do those who know him never see his days? 2 The wicked remove landmarks; they seize flocks and pasture them. 3 They drive away the donkey of the orphan; they take the widow's ox for a pledge. 4 They thrust the needy off the road; the poor of the earth all hide themselves. 5 Like wild asses in the desert they go out to their toil, scavenging in the wasteland food for their young. 6 They reap in a field not their own and they glean in the vineyard of the wicked. 7 They lie all night naked, without clothing, and have no covering in the cold. 8 They are wet with the rain of the mountains, and cling to the rock for want of shelter. 9 "There are those who snatch the orphan child from the breast, and take as a pledge the infant of the poor. 10 They go about naked, without clothing; though hungry, they carry the sheaves; 11 between their terraces they press out oil; they tread the wine presses, but suffer thirst. 12 From the city the dying groan, and the throat of the wounded cries for help; yet God pays no attention to their prayer."
A. The "big question" that drives the entire chapter is posed in v.1. State it and your interpretation of it. The word "times" may be translated many ways, but it emphasizes what one might call the "special times" of God, such as a day of judgment or trial (in the context here). You might read it in connection with Ecc.3 on the various "times" of life. What is Job's problem with God's "times"?
B. Job then lists at least four activities that the wicked pursue unhindered. What are they? What do the poor and oppressed do as a result?
C. This passage is difficult because it breaks off for an image in vv.5-8 before resuming its exposition of the acts of the oppressors in vv.9-11. The key to the image of the wild asses is to realize that they represent both the wicked and the oppressed. That is, some of the activities of the asses illustrate the way the oppressors act (plundering, for example, in v.6); some of it captures the resulting vulnerability of the poor (such as their nakedness in v.7). What is the picture you receive of these verses when you see the image functioning in this way?
D. V.12 is the culminatory [I just made up the word, but you immediately know what it means!] verse of the first part of the chapter. Professor Good translates, "From the city the dying cry out, the throats of the wounded call, but Eloah thinks nothing amiss." What is Job's stark conclusion about God's relationship to the world? Is God's powerlessness or God's indifference at issue here?
E. What would you say to Job at this point of the chapter?
13 "There are those who rebel against the light, who are not acquainted with its ways, and do not stay in its paths. 14 The murderer rises at dusk to kill the poor and needy, and in the night is like a thief. 15 The eye of the adulterer also waits for the twilight, saying, 'No eye will see me'; and he disguises his face. 16 In the dark they dig through houses; by day they shut themselves up; they do not know the light. 17 For deep darkness is morning to all of them; for they are friends with the terrors of deep darkness. 18 "Swift are they on the face of the waters; their portion in the land is cursed; no treader turns toward their vineyards. 19 Drought and heat snatch away the snow waters; so does Sheol those who have sinned. 20 The womb forgets them; the worm finds them sweet; they are no longer remembered; so wickedness is broken like a tree. 21 "They harm the childless woman, and do no good to the widow. 22 Yet God prolongs the life of the mighty by his power; they rise up when they despair of life. 23 He gives them security, and they are supported; his eyes are upon their ways. 24 They are exalted a little while, and then are gone; they wither and fade like the mallow; they are cut off like the heads of grain. 25 If it is not so, who will prove me a liar, and show that there is nothing in what I say?"
A. The flow of these verses seems to be as follows: vv.12-17 describe further the antics of the unrighteous while vv.18-25 speak of God's response to it all. But there is no express subject for the verb in v.18. The verb is singular, not plural (as in the NRSV); thus we might best translate it: "He moves swiftly on the face of the waters," and see in it a reference to God's activity in Gen. 1. With me on this?
B. The image of light and darkness reappears in 12-17. How does it function here? How is its use here similar or different to Job's appeal to light and darkness elsewhere (esp. chs 3 and 10)? Is he saying anything more than the commonplace observation that crooks generally operate at night so as not to be so easily detected?
C. How do you like that designation of the unrighteous--those who "rebel against the light?"
D. It is almost as if Job is trying to identify their fondness for nefarious activity in the darkness with a sympathy for the chaotic darkness of primeval times (v.17). Is that how you see it?
E. We then turn to God's activity in vv.18-25. In the context of God's absence, which is posited throughout the chapter, what might God's "swift moving" mean?
F. What are the results that follow upon the God's absence?
G. If vv.18-20 seem to continue the theme of absence, vv.21-24 pick up on God's strange presence and arbitrariness. It seems that some grow and some wither and no one is sure why (v.24). Is that how you read this difficult and confusing passage?
H. Job lays down a challenge in v.25, similar to the final challenge he will lay at God's door in 31:35. What is the nature of the challenge?
If you have trouble with understanding the flow of this chapter, don't worry, you are not alone. Even experienced commentators disagree among themselves about the meaning of the verses. Rather than being discouraged by this, I take it as an invitation to develop my own reading! I think in this chapter Job develops the themes hinted at in 9:22-24 and 21. He truly cannot answer the question of God's apparent absence and indifference to the suffering of the world. Can anyone?