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10. A Statement and a Challenge
The Satan's “advocacy” takes the form of a statement in verse 10 and then a challenge in verse 11. The Satan’s statement is that God has constructed as it were a hedge around Job, fencing him off from all the harmful vicissitudes of life. The actual wording in verse 10 is quite striking. Using the rare verb suk (“to build a hedge or fence”), a threefold use of the preposition baad (“in back of/for”) in order to show the ever-wider circles of divine protection, and a final sabib (“to be/go around”), the Satan is saying that God has constructed such a secure bastion about Job that nothing can touch him.
Normally when the concept of walling up or fencing in is used in Scripture, it has a negative connotation. The only other use of suk is in Hosea 2:6, where God plans to block (suk) Israel’s way with thorns and wall her in (gadar) so that she can’t find her path. Thus, suk is synonymous here with gadar. Gadar on its own also carries with it the notion of blocking or walling in, of constraint and oppression. Twice in Lamentations 3, the author says, “God has blocked (gadar) me so that I can’t get out; God has blocked my ways” (Lamentations 3:7, 9). Job himself uses gadar in this sense in 19:8, “You have fenced up my way so that I cannot pass.” When used as a noun, gadar means “mason,” or someone who spends his time making walls (II Ki 12:12; 22:6). But here the suk has a positive meaning.
The little word that ends the Satan’s brief description of Job’s protective shelter is sabib or “round about.” God has encircled Job, his house, and all that is his with this wall of protection. The word “surround” or “round about,” however, implicates another more positive meaning of the divine “surrounding.” In that most familiar verse from the Psalms, we have: “The angel of the Lord encamps around (sabib) those who fear God and delivers them” (Psalm 34:7). Thus, though we have potentially contrary and competing concepts in 1:10 (suk as constraining encirclement and sabib as welcome protection), it is the positive meaning that comes out. The Satan uses the words suk/sabib in a liberating rather than constrictive way.
As if to emphasize the liberating nature of the wall God has constructed, the Satan finishes verse 10 with the concept of blessing (barak) and increase (parats). We have already met the former in 1:5 during what I called our linguistic destabilization. Barak in 1:5 really meant “curse,” while barak in 1:10 really means “bless.” We will become completely confused by 2:9, but now barak assumes its normal usage. Leave it to the Satan to clarify our language for us.
But that blessing is explained in terms of the verb parats (translated “increase” or “spread out”). Parats (49x) is a verb that has rich covenantal associations. Twice in Genesis (28:14 and 30:42) it stresses the extent and prosperity of the patriarchal holdings. In the first, in fact, it appears on God’s lips in a blessing to Jacob. “Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth and you shall spread abroad (parats) to the west and the east and the north and the south” (28:14). The Satan’s use of parats to describe Job’s blessings is thus significant; it is as if Job is another patriarch, extending the realm of God’s people widely.
If verse 10 is the Satan’s playing “devil’s advocate” (i.e., by pointing out other reasons than disinterested love for Job’s loyalty), in verse 11 he proposes a solution to tease out the nature of Job’s true loyalty. As anyone who manages a business knows, it is great to have subordinates who play devil’s advocate, but unless they come up with true solutions they are rather worthless. The Satan comes up with a solution to uncover the true springs of Job’s loyalty. “Put forth your hand” and “touch” Job, is what the text actually says. The verb for “putting forth” is shalach (“to send/stretch forth”) which appeared in a non-ominous form in 1:4, 5. Yet here it has a note of impending trouble.
The Satan uses the verb naga to express what God ought to do to Job. The verb has the interesting feature of being able to be rendered “touch” or “smite.” Hebrew has verbs that unambiguously mean “to strike” or “smite” (such as nakah), but here the Satan cleverly uses a word with multiple associations. Well, come to think of it, all it might take is a little divine “nudge” for Job’s perfectly constructed life to come crashing down.
We are back to linguistic destabilization by the end of verse 11. If God sends out the divine hand and touches/strikes Job, then surely Job will “bless” (barak) God to God’s face. That’s what the text says. This is the third appearance of barak so far. At first it meant curse. Then it meant bless. Here it seems to mean curse again, but maybe not. Perhaps the Satan is just quoting Job’s use in 1:5. But the word barak is fundamentally not an autantonym or contronym. In English a good example of an autantonym is “sanction.” A sanction can be something that is permitted or prohibited—sometimes even the context doesn’t make it fully clear. But “bless” is not so typically used. That the Satan uses it here means that it/he/she is either just quoting Job’s use in 1:5 or that the sentence might be translated as follows: “See if he will continue to bless you…” (with “bless” used positively”). Some might say that it all amounts to the same thing—we actually have to see how Job reacts, but anyone who is interested in language and believes that language creates meaning has to be troubled here. We are being toyed with as readers on a central word in our language—the word “bless.”