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412. Job 41:6-11, More Divine Questions Posed to Job
6 “Will the traders bargain over him?
Will they divide him among the merchants?
7 Can you fill his skin with harpoons,
Or his head with fishing spears?
8 Lay your hand on him;
Remember the battle; you will not do it again!
9 Behold, your expectation is false;
Will you be laid low even at the sight of him?
10 No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him;
Who then is he that can stand before Me?
11 Who has given to Me that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.
Verses 6-7 are difficult, taking us down a road that will lead to almost complete unclarity in verses 8-11, even though the emphasis in these last verses seems to be on the formidable character of Leviathan. In a word, verse 6 seems to be about selling Leviathan and verse 7 about capturing it again. Let’s look more closely.
Verse 6 reads, literally,
“Will the partners dig upon him? Will they divide him up among the Canaanites?"
Naturally our huh?? is the only appropriate first response. The verb in the first part is the 17x-appearing karah, which everywhere else means “dig.” Proverbs tells us that those who dig (karah) pits will fall into them (26:27); the Psalms tell us that proud people “dig” (karah) pits; Genesis 26:25 tells us how Isaac dug (karah) a well, though the more frequent verb describing this activity of Isaac is chaphar. The word for “partner” is chabbar, a hapax no doubt derived from the verb chabar (28x), which means to be joined or coupled either with others in a task or, with respect to the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, for curtains to be joined together. These exiguous clues have led people to suggest that the chabbar here are business partners; since the broader context relates to drawing out Leviathan with hooks, people suggest that a fishing cooperative or partnership is in view. As with many conjectures on the Book of Job, this, too is a wonderfully imaginative one.
But then, one also has to change the meaning of “dig” to describe what business partners do. Hmm. . .what do they do? Well, they “haggle” or they “bargain.” That’s what business people do, isn’t it? So, let’s reframe the first question as a question of haggling over the captured body of Leviathan. Once they do that, then they want to “divide” (chatsah, 15x) it among the “Canaanites.” Well, this has led to massive amounts of speculation as to what it might mean. Does this mean that the partners have sliced Leviathan in pieces, then giving a segment of the severed beast to each of the partners so that they can then trade them with the “Canaanites?” We can just imagine the process of slicing up Leviathan. ‘Hey, man, I get the head. Hmm. . .but the head is worth two fins. How do you know, bro?’ We could get into Biblical fantasy writing really quickly. But who are the “Canaanites?” Because the Phoenicians and other ancient inhabitants of the land of Canaan were good merchants or tradespeople, some scholars therefore have translated the line, “Will they divide it up among the merchants?” (Clines translation). I think we are clueless, but it is wonderful to flex our literary and verbal muscles in trying to get beyond our cluelessness.
Verse 7 seems to take us back to capturing Leviathan, a subject we thought we had finished.
“Can you fill his skin with harpoons; or his head with fishing implements?”
We don’t know how to translate two of the six words here, even though the first, the hapax sukkah, probably means a spear or some kind of barb. It is derived no doubt from another hapax sek, which describes how the people left in the land after the Israelite conquest will become “pricks/barbs” in their eyes (Numbers 33:55).
The second word (tslatsal), rendered as “implements” here, is problematic. The word only appears five other places; twice it describes a whirring sound of cricket wings (Deuteronomy 28:42; Isaiah 18:1); twice it describes cymbals used in praise to God (Psalm 150:5 (twice)). Thus, we scratch our head to figure out how it can be something that “fills” Leviathan. Do these things injure Leviathan or simply subdue it? And, if we go with the image of cymbals, which almost is certainly wrong for our verse, we get the interesting picture of cymbals somehow filling up Leviathan’s head. But they are called the tslatsal of fishes, which makes our minds swim yet further.
Verses 8-11 present Leviathan’s formidable character. Well, now that we are getting confused, we have to let God bring us to deeper levels of confusion and unclarity in verses 8-11. If we can extract any meaning from these verses, it relates to the formidable nature of this creature. We have, in verse 8:
“Place your hand upon him; remember the battle; do not add.”
Ok, how can we start fudging this one? The latter two clauses might really be one—“remember the battle and don’t do it again.” Does this refer obliquely to a battle that God had with Leviathan, leading to the divine’s ability to “sport/play” with it (Psalm 104:26)? So, would God be gently chiding Job, telling him to consider the battle that God had won and warning him that Job’s putting his hand on Leviathan wouldn’t be so successful? But what about if the meaning relates to a battle Job had fought? But a battle with whom or what? Certainly not Leviathan.
That Job might place his hand on him means that Leviathan is within arm’s reach, but we aren’t told how this is possible. We are, delightfully, in a complete morass of unclarity. Verses 9-11 don’t save us. Let’s begin with verse 9:
“Thus, his hope is a lie/in vain; and will he be cast down/overwhelmed also upon seeing him?"
Whose hope are we talking about? Hope in what? The word for “hope” is rather rare (tocheleth, 6x). Some translations read it as a hope of overcoming Leviathan, so “hope” would point to Job’s expectation, but an equally possible rendering is that we are talking about Leviathan’s hope here. Might it perhaps refer to a hope of lenient treatment if Job were to capture him? If Proverbs can tell us that “hope (tocheleth) deferred makes the heart sick” (13:12), we are really sick creatures now.
The second half of the verse is likewise opaque. The verb is tul (14x), whose most frequent appearance (4x) is in Jonah 1, where Jonah is “cast/thrown” (tul) into the sea. So, the words here in verse 9 are “be cast down” and “his seeing” and “also.” The best that we can do is to say it might mean, “Shall not one be cast down at the mere sight of him?”
Verse 10-11 continue on the theme of the danger of Leviathan. Literally, we have:
“He is not cruel who dares to wake him up. Who is the one able to stand against him?"
All interpreters change the “against me” to “against him,” even though that involves a change in the text. Again, interpreters have to change the meaning of akzar (4x) from “cruel,” its usual meaning, to “fierce.” We might then have the following meaning, ‘There is none so fierce who dares rouse him, for who can stand against him?’ That is probably the meaning of the passage, though we have to do some finagling to get to it.
The same can be said about verse 11. Literally, we have:
“Who has come before me so that I would make amends/pay (him)? For everything under
heaven is mine.”
Clines takes the verbs in a completely different direction to yield the translation: “Who has attacked it and survived?” Other suggestions are:
“Who has a claim against me that I must pay?” (NIV) OR
“Who has given to me that I should repay him?” (NASV) OR
“Who can take me to court and be reconciled to me?”
If we just finish this segment agreeing that Leviathan is a fierce creature, we won’t go too far afield. Once again the Book of Job, and God in particular, emerges victorious over all interpreters.