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102. Job 10: Introductory Words

 

Though many divisions of this chapter are possible, I will divide it as follows:

 

Job 10:1-9, Job’s Direct Address to God

Job 10:10-12, The Incredible Beauty of Creation

Job 10:13-17, Job’s Puzzlement

Job 10:18-22, Job’s Resignation

 

As we will soon discover, many of the ideas explored in Job 10 have already been touched upon. Job’s bitterness (10:1) has been mentioned in 7:11, for example. Resignation, which captured Job’s mood at the end of Chapter 7, returns in full force at the end of Chapter 10. Job’s carping cynicism towards God in 7:12 is matched by his criticism in 10:3. There is also some idea development. The glories of creation, twisted by God as they are in 9:4-11, are described again in 10:10-12, though here the focus is on God’s special care in making Job. In addition, whereas Job had just portrayed God as a cosmic jailer of sorts in 7:17-21, now God actually seems to be pursuing Job, as a hunter his prey (10:16-17). The cumulative effect of the speeches in 6-7 and 9-10 is to leave Job (and perhaps the reader) stunned, exhausted, and nursing an enormous grievance against God.

 

Job 10:1-9, Job’s Direct Address to God

 

1 “I loathe my life;

    I will give free utterance to my complaint;

    I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.

2 I will say to God, Do not condemn me;

    let me know why you contend against me.

3 Does it seem good to you to oppress,

    to despise the work of your hands

    and favor the schemes of the wicked?

4 Do you have eyes of flesh?

    Do you see as humans see?

5 Are your days like the days of mortals,

    or your years like human years,

6 that you seek out my iniquity

    and search for my sin,

7 although you know that I am not guilty,

    and there is no one to deliver out of your hand?

8 Your hands fashioned and made me;

    and now you turn and destroy me.

9 Remember that you fashioned me like clay;

    and will you turn me to dust again?

 

One might think that once Job has all but abandoned the hope for a mediator in 9:33-35, he might fall silent and quietly nurse his wounds. After all, his final words at the end of 9:35 are unintelligible, perhaps a sign that Job realizes he has nothing more to say. But he doesn’t stop. He decides he needs to refine his words, burnish them, tweak them in order to make sure that when he embarks on his trip to the darkness (10:21), he has said all that he wants to say.

 

Though we have two different chapters here, there is continuity between them. Job 9 just ended with Job’s frustrating words about there not being a mediator. Because there is no helper in this instance, Job now shows us how he would proceed on his own with his developing lawsuit. He would ask God three sorts of questions in these nine verses. First, he would ask about God’s apparent moral confusion—that God oppresses the work of the divine hand and shines on the wicked (v 3). Then, he would accuse God of acting like a mere mortal, pursuing him with such ferocity. Are you, God, nothing more than a such a human (vv 4-7)? Finally, he would ask God about the seeming inconsistency between the care God used to fashion him and the peremptory way God seems to want to destroy him (vv 8-9). The questions overlap and aren’t really the best questions to ask in a lawsuit, but Job is just getting the hang of how a lawsuit might work, and we can’t be too disappointed if he struggles at first.   

 

Job has said that if there were a mediator to lay hands on both parties (9:33), he then would be able to speak his case without fear (9:35). He has no mediator in Job 10, yet he still seems to speak his words without fear. The words of Job 10:1 are more difficult to render than expected. Literally, we have, “My soul loathes/is weary of my life; I will forsake upon myself my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” Job’s “soul” (nephesh) both begins (second word) and ends the thought of verse 1; in between those words are a cavalcade of emotions. First we have Job’s soul being naqat, a hapax that probably is the same word as qut, which appears about a handful of times and means “to loathe” or “to despise.” God says, about Israel, “For forty years I loathed (qut) that generation” (Psalm 95:10). Job’s loathing his life, though uniquely said here (see also 9:21, where he uses maas for “loathe"), is not an unexpected thought. The appearance of nephesh (soul) and chai (life) next to each other happened in Genesis 2:7, where God made a "living soul," but here the soul hates life. It is an interesting split of words, and of a concept, that was joined in Genesis 2.

His second thought in verse 1 is less clear at first, though all translations move in the direction of Job’s “free utterance” of his complaint. Yet the verb chosen in 10:1 is azab, a common verb (211x), whose basic meaning seems to be forsake or leave behind or abandon, though Clines argues that its more basic meaning is to “let loose.” Thus, we have the curious situation where the meaning of the verb might also embrace its opposite (a "contronym")—i.e., to forsake something generally means to leave it behind, but to let loose one’s complaint means that one holds onto it with more zeal, even as one expresses it.  Seow’s translation brings out this ambiguity: “Let me complain with abandon.” So difficult and imprecise is our understanding even of the many of the so-called “simple” words we speak! I will follow the majority here and agree that Job is not “abandoning” his complaint (he is just getting warmed up, really), but he is “letting loose” his complaint on God and the world. This complaint comes from the bitterness (mar, see 7:11) of his spirit. Job seems to have little to lose at this point. Let ‘er rip!