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52. Job 6:10-13, Desiring Death
10 This would be my consolation;
I would even exult in unrelenting pain;
for I have not denied the words of the Holy One.
11 What is my strength, that I should wait?
And what is my end, that I should be patient?
12 Is my strength the strength of stones,
or is my flesh bronze?
13 In truth I have no help in me,
and any resource is driven from me.
In verse 10 Job explains why being cut off or crushed would be such a good thing for him. The verse begins and ends clearly, but the crucial middle thought is obscure. Let’s try to read the whole: “And my comfort again would be, and I would XXX in anguish he will not spare, because I haven’t hidden the words of the Holy One.” As you can see, the first and third parts seem to make sense but the linking part is obscure. Let’s begin with the final thought. Job will take consolation in his own crushing because, ultimately, he hasn’t “hid/concealed” the words of the Holy One. Kachad may mean “to destroy” or “to conceal,” and both of them may have resonance here. The thought is parallel to Psalm 40:10, where both kachad, and a synonym kasah, occur,
“I have not covered up (kasah) your righteousness within my heart; I have declared your faithfulness and salvation; I have not hidden (kachad) your lovingkindness and your truth. . .”
With the development of computer technology in the last few decades, it is easy to remember the meaning of kachad now; it is “cached.” I haven’t “stored away/cached/hidden” the words of the Holy One. Other translators render the verb kachad here as “deny” or “suppress,” though I stay with “hidden.”
Job says that his comfort (nacham) is that he hasn’t hidden these words. He has been faithful to God, and so he will die in his fidelity. That is his comfort. The verse, then, would make sense even without the middle thought. When I first memorized Job 6:10 as an eager young person, I learned the middle thought as “I would even rejoice in pain unsparing,” which is a kind of defiant thought suggesting that even as Job’s life breath is leaving him, he would be taking pleasure in his pain. Pain itself, as well as the thought of his fidelity in the midst of the pain, would be Job’s comfort.
We don’t, however, know really how to render the hapax salad in the second clause. “I would harden/rejoice/hold on to/exult…” are some choices. Both Seow and Clines go in the direction of “recoil.” The thing clung to or rejoiced in or recoiled from is chil, which is the noun form of a common verb meaning to “writhe.” So, Job would either be rejoicing in his writhing or hardening himself in his writhing or recoiling or something somewhere in between. But then the clause “let him not spare” has been variously rendered, either as the traditional “unsparing” (pain) or “anguish that did not spare” or “anguish, he (God?) will not spare” or “unrelenting pain” (Clines). I am afraid I will have to trade in the “blessing” or “comfort” I experienced for several decades thinking that this was “I would even rejoice in pain unsparing” (i.e, a species of extreme pain), and give it back to God. God now owes me another one, or maybe even two, new Scriptural insights.
Thus the thought of the first and last clause of verse 10 make sense: “I take comfort in that I haven’t hidden the words of the Holy One.” The middle clause remains opaque (and untranslated) by me.
Then, like Job 3:24, which jolts Job out of his pleasant reverie of the previous verses and returns him to reality, so Job 6:11-13 return Job to his current situation. Once he realizes he isn’t going to be crushed, he is left with the reality of life in front of him. So, he asks a series of questions, not really expecting an answer but expressing his growing frustration with not being “crushed” according to his request. Verse 11 reads, fairly literally, “What is my strength (koach) that I should continue to wait around (yachal)? What is my end that I should continue to stretch out/prolong (arak) my soul/life?” The thought of these verses is: Job’s strength is so little now that he feels that crushing is the best alternative. Yet, God doesn’t seem to honor his request. So, he complains. His strength is so small, so minimal, that it seems foolish for him to wait around. The verb translated “wait around” (yachal) is also “hope.” Later he will talk about his days and nights of meaninglessness and pain (7:3); here he adumbrates that thought by hinting at the depletion of his strength.
The second part of verse 11 gives us a visual gift through the verb arak, “to prolong”(initial letter aleph, in contrast to the arak, initial letter ayin, which we have just seen and means “to set in order” or “arrange”). What is his strength, his end (meant to be synonymous with ‘strength’) that he would want to prolong (arak) his life? It is a kind of rejoinder to Eliphaz, who hopefully said that Job would regain his prosperity (5:18-26). Nope. If there is prolongation of life, it is only for pain, with diminished strength.
Normally, arak (prolong) has such a positive ring in the Bible. We meet it in the Ten Commandments where we are told to honor father and mother, “that your days may be long/prolonged (arak) in the land” (Exodus 20:12). The verb appears 34x in the Bible, but 10 of them are in Deuteronomy, all in a similar grammatical construction. A person is to be obedient to the covenant so that one might “live long (arak) in the land” given to the people by God (example is Deuteronomy 4:40). But here the stretched-out days are testimony to prolonged agony. The blessing of prolongation, so present in the rest of the Bible, has also fled from Job. As his anger and grief deepen, Job uses rich covenantal language as his ammunition to direct against the tradition and against God.
Job’s tone changes ever so slightly in verses 12-13. Once he knows that death is his only real option, he can feel free to unleash his thoughts against friends and God. One might argue that he has already shown no reluctance to do that in Chapter 3, but in Chapter 3 his thoughts were not specifically directed against anyone; they just were the cry of an anguished heart. Now he has specific targets. It must have seemed a bit overwhelming at first to think that one could not simply approach God with a complaint but actually attack God, but Job will rapidly grow into that role. We see a hint of that in verse 12. More questions come, but now they are completely rhetorical. Using koach (“strength”) twice more, he asks, “Is my strength the strength of stones? Is my flesh bronze?”
There is the slightest tone of cynicism here, a cynicism Job will hone in 7:12 (“Am I the sea, or a sea monster, that you set a guard over me?”) and elsewhere. The question is a kind of, ‘Are you under the mistaken impression, God, that my flesh is really bronze? That must be the reason you are tormenting me so. You must think I love to live in 200 degree heat. . .’
Verse 13 continues his plaintive questions to God, “Isn’t it true/obvious that my help is not in me?” That is, Job is saying that God has discarded him and abandoned him, tormenting him through his wracking pains. But instead of bearing it with equanimity, he complains, ‘Don’t you realize, God. . .’ or ‘Isn’t it obvious, God. . .’ that there is no help in me? That is the tone of verse 13. Job knows that he can’t “solve” his problem; he is mystified as to why God, then, may be abandoning him in such a helpless state. His final thought of verse 13 may be rendered, “And sound wisdom (tushiyyah) is driven from me.” We ran into the word tushiyyah in Eliphaz’ speech in 5:12, where the wise couldn’t carry out or perform “sound wisdom/anything substantial.” As previously noted, that word is important in Proverbs to describe the thing that God “stores up” (tsaphan) for the upright (yashar) and those who are perfect (tom; Proverbs 2:7). In a word, according to the wisdom tradition, tushiyyah should belong to Job.
Rather than being stored up in Job, this “sound wisdom” is “driven away” (nadach) from him. Nadach (51x) can describe people who are “outcasts” (Isaiah 16:3, 4) or can describe the process of seduction (Deuteronomy 13), but is primary used to capture the intense human experience of being driven out, expelled, cast out, banished. The word is thrice put into the mouth of the Tekoan woman who is sent by Joab to bring David out of his funk regarding his rebellious son Absalom. The son is the “banished” one (nadach), but the king is to devise a method by which the banished one (nadach) won’t be an outcast (nadach, II Samuel 14:13, 14). We might say that its meaning is similar to the common shalach, “to send away,” only it is more pointed and violent. The thing that the Scriptures promise as a comfort for Job, tushiyyah, will now be driven away from him.