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101. Job 9:32-35, The Glint of an Idea
32 For he is not a mortal, as I am, that I might answer him,
that we should come to trial together.
33 There is no umpire between us,
who might lay his hand on us both.
34 If he would take his rod away from me,
and not let dread of him terrify me,
35 then I would speak without fear of him,
for I know I am not what I am thought to be.
As with many verses in the Book of Job, 9:32 may be translated a few different ways, even though the general meaning is clear. The meaning will be that God does not need humans nor does He play by human rules. Thus, no sit-down session with God is assured. A few translation possibilities that I can think of are:
“Because he is not a man like I am, who answers him (and says), ‘Let’s meet together for judgment.’” OR
“For he is not a man as I am who answers him (that is, God is under no obligation to answer, though He may want to dip me in muck). Let’s come together in judgment!” OR
“For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together.”
The final three words in Hebrew, “Let us come together in judgment,” may either be a wish longingly expressed by Job or a continuation of the previous thought. In the latter case the meaning would be that because God isn’t like humans there really is no reason for God to come together in the human process of judgment. When Job speaks about “meeting together in judgment,” he is contemplating a proceeding of relative equality, where he might be able to speak and lay out his concern. But since God isn’t human, God doesn’t have to play by these rules. That seems to be a meaning that is true to the words and context.
This interpretation then sets the tone for Job’s heartfelt outburst in 9:33-35:
“Between us there is no mediator who would place his hand upon both of us! Let him (God) take away his disciplining rod from upon me. Let not his dread terrify me. Then I will speak and not fear him.”
I have left out the last few words of verse 35 from this translation because of their obscurity, though they seem to add little to the main point of verses 33-35. I will mention them briefly below.
Job already knows that God is great and that the rules of judicial interaction that guide humans with each other perhaps don’t apply to God. But that doesn’t keep him from dreaming. In these verses we have Job’s dream about what a formal encounter with God might look like. Just as 3:13-19 functioned as a sort of “reverie of escape” for Job when the depth of his pain and despair was dawning on him, so 9:33-35 gives Job another opportunity to ‘escape’ his pain.
But this time he doesn’t imagine himself lying down peacefully in Sheol, accompanied by the great worthies of the past. Instead, he imagines three things: 1) The presence of a mokiach or arbitrator/mediator (FN); 2) The role of the mokiach; 3) The freedom Job would then have to state his case. Each deserves mention.
[(FN): The KJV gives us “daysman” as a translation, a quaint and obsolete term to describe this person. That word “daysman” first appeared in the English language in William Tyndale’s 1530 translation of the Bible. Specifically, the word appeared in Ex 21:22 for Tyndale (the OED reference to the text in Exodus is incorrect). Miles Coverdale, five years later, used “daysman" to render mokiach in Job 9:33, and the KJV picked up on Coverdale’s usage. ]
1) The word mokiach derives from the 59x-appearing verb yakach, “to argue with/judge/reprove.” The “m” prefix denotes a noun, and thus it points to someone who does the judging or reproving. Yet, there is another good word for “judge” in Hebrew (shaphat); the role of actual adjudication doesn’t seem to be in view here. Rather, Job just wants someone like a referee or umpire, someone who is a neutral, who can intervene between the parties.
2) The role that Job envisions for the mokiach is to “lay/place his hand (the phrase is a common yashith yado) on both of us.” I almost envision in my mind a boxing referee who not only needs to shout, “Break!” so that the pugilists separate, but who has to get between them and pry them apart. Such a mokiach would be “laying his hands on both of us.” This hand-placing action is so that parties might not continue to struggle against each other. Verse 34 then gives some details that Job would require in this “Break!” action—Job wants assurance that the punishing rod would be removed, and Job wants God to terrorize him no more. These almost sounds like negotiation preliminaries or demands made by one of the affected parties before an international summit meeting. . . First, Job wants the shebet removed from him. Though the meaning of shebet is clear here (“rod/punishing stick”), it can also be translated as a scepter or even as a “tribe” of Israel. Then, Job also wants one other thing—that he not be “terrified” (baath) by his opponent’s “dread” (emah). Job also expresses the almost identical thought in 13:21. Emah appears 17x in the Bible, with Job having a disproportionate share of them (6x). It is the feeling that fell upon Abram after God’s appearance to him (Genesis 15:12); it is used along with pachad to describe the emotion falling on surrounding people when they heard of God’s act of burying the Egyptians in the sea (Exodus 15:16). Job wants this terror to be removed from him. We have already spoken briefly of the verb baath, “to terrify.”
3) Once this is done, Job requests that he then be allowed to speak. “I will speak and I will not fear him” (9:35). If his prior conditions were honored, Job could finally get his thoughts together and speak them without fear either of retaliation or of God’s so terrifying him that his words would come out jumbled and confused. In this brief reverie Job has devised a system by which his feels his concerns can be addressed.
But, alas! The first words of verse 33 say it all, “there is no mediator.” Job’s exercise was only for his benefit; it only served to help him escape from the relentless pain, hopelessness and futility he feels. There is no umpire! There is no mediator! The world would be much better, Job thinks, if there were such a figure.
Even though Job has dismissed the idea of a mediator in this passage, the idea sticks with him. A promising idea once lodging in the brain isn’t easily eradicated. Make no mistake about it, though. The mediator he envisions is a being different from God, and is some being who has authority to make both parties to a dispute shut up and not terrify each other. People who want to see this verse as an adumbration of or longing for a Christ-like figure need to consider that the primary function of this mediator for Job is to control the unruly and threatening behavior—of God.
The final six words of verse 35 can be dealt with more quickly. Some commentators frankly say that the words are “unintelligible.” Literally, they read, “For/because not thus I myself with me/myself.” Those who are inclined to find meaning in these words might use them to confirm what has just been said by Job in 9:33-35, i.e., that Job by himself cannot effect such a change, cannot bring about this kind of system. Because Job realizes he can’t solve his problem on his own, he needs help. Another way of rendering the words, however, is “”I am not so in myself,” which may mean nothing or may mean that “in my own consciousness I am not such that I should fear God.” I think the safer course is to claim victory with 9:33-35a and attribute verse 35b to what we now see as a common Joban device of introducing unclarity after one clear thought has been presented.