Job 9:21-22 Second Essay
Bill Long 1/20/05
The "Four Phrases" of 9:21-22
I closed the previous essay with the remark that when you are trying to "right" the overturned bark of your life, you will do so by stating something you know is incontrovertibly true. When people survive a disaster which has taken away other lives or property, their first reaction is often, "It could have been worse. I still have my life. Property can be replaced. Homes can be rebuilt. I am still alive." People frequently respond this way to disaster because the first step in trying to rebuild a life is to recognize the truth of what still exists.
Thus, when Job says, "I am blameless," he is responding in that spirit. His world has been turned topsy-turvy. He does not know how to approach the problem or God. He is in utter despair. So, he states what he knows to be true incontrovertibly: "I am blameless." He is not saying this in a defiant or querelous or questioning tone, in my judgment. He is stating it as a true observation about himself. His life has been so upended that he first needs the security of a truthful statement.
I Do Not Know Myself
This phrase, in fact, is the hardest of all to render, even though a literal translation is relatively easy to give: "I do not know my soul." But Job isn't reflecting on the state of the soul or whether he "knows himself," to use Socratic terminology. But the different translations above show that no one really knows how to take this phrase with any certainty. I would like to suggest a meaning.
The important point in determining what Job means when he says, "I do not know myself," is to link it with what follows. That next phrase is "I loathe my life" (I prefer the NRSV to Clines at this point, based on the other uses of that verb in Job and the Bible generally). Thus the phrase "I do not know myself" is somehow a "link" between "I am blameless" and "I loathe my life." But the tone of Job from "I am blameless" to "I loathe my life" has changed completely. The first is an assertion of what is true, the first step in "recovery." But the second ("I loathe my life") is a statement of such internal despair that we concluded that something important psychologically has happened to Job in the "meantime," that is in the "I do not know myself." What might it be?
What might these three liittle Hebrew words translated "I do not know myself" mean? What Job is saying, in my judgment, is that "I do not know how things work, at all," or "I simply don't understand life even in the most simple way." The despair sets in immediately because the statement "I am blameless" was at least a statement suggesting some kind of moral order in the world, but "I do not know myself" suggests that any attempt at constructing a moral order is doomed to failure.
I Loathe My Life
What has happened to Job, then, in the second phrase it the realization that he knows absolutely nothing about life. He who was the honored man, the blameless man, the guide to the weak, the one who strengthened the weak knees, the "greatest" man in the East, knows nothing. If this terrifying reality ever overtakes you, it is more than unnerving. It means that all you have done, all you have been, all you have striven for, all you believe, is air. The words are much stronger than "I do not care for myself" (Clines). Job is realizing for the first time that all of his life and knowledge and fidelity and commitment adds up to nothing. Even his blamelessness means nothing.
Now we see why he loathes his life. Once you realize you have absolutely nothing going for you in life anymore, you begin to hate yourself. You begin to hate yourself precisely because you believed in something at one time. You loathe yourself because you feel foolish that you were "hoodwinked" into resting your whole life, your whole confidence, on a system and a God who failed you. You loathe your life because you know you are now trapped intellectually as well. You have developed patterns of living which you cannot get rid of overnight. You are trapped in your past, a past that is untrue and meaningless. It adds up to nothing. What a fool I am! What an abject, utter, unforgivable fool!
A thought like this, then, is the origin of Job's self-loathing--he cannot live with himself anymore. He is utterly disgusted with his life. He can't beat himself up enough. "I loathe my life" captures the sense perfectly.
Conclusion--It is all One
Now verse 22 is easily explicable. Because Job's life has been turned upside down, he believes that this means that the universe itself lacks a moral compass. "It is all one" is the cry of a person who says, "Nothing matters anymore because all that I have lived for has come crashing down." Nothing is of any significance anymore for Job. Thus, "It is all one." And, then, in the next several verses, he attributes this attitude to God. God, he will argue, is morally indifferent to the world.
This negative thought (and I hope you agree by now that it is a negative one, even though Job thinks it is true), however, will give him considerable energy as he continues his approach to God. He will, of course, continue to reflect on his own pain, but now he is also more willing to use his pain as a window into understanding the human condition generally. Let's return to that with our next study.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long