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103. Job 10:2-9, Questioning God
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?
After a preliminary request to God in 10:2, Job then asks a number of questions in 10:3-9 that are designed to show that either that God is perverse or that God really doesn’t understand what He has done to Job. Job has already expressed his concern that God will so pervert his words that he will end up condemning (rasha) himself (9:20). Now he picks up the language of condemnation (he has also used the verb rasha in 9:29) to request that God not condemn (rasha again; 10:2). Job would like to know, however, why God is picking this fight against him (as we have already seen in 9:3, rib is a common verb for “contend” or “bring a lawsuit”). Earlier Job had said, “If someone wanted to contend (rib) with him (God), one couldn’t answer God one word in a thousand” (9:3). Since contention with God is fruitless from the human perspective, why does God seem to take such delight in picking a fight against Job? Job seems to be genuinely puzzled by God’s treatment of him.
But this generic question in verse 2 then unleashes a barrage of further specific questions in 10:3-9. The first is meant to show God’s morally perverse treatment of Job (called “the work of God’s hands”); the next two are intended to show that God really doesn’t understand the human condition.
Verse 3 may be rendered,
“Is it good for you that you oppress, that is, that you despise the work of your hands?”
We hear the cynicism of 7:17 in this question, but we also hear an echo of a verse in Proverbs (14:31) which uses the same language of oppression (ashaq, 35x), to say, “The one who oppresses (ashaq) the poor taunts/bring reproach upon his Maker.” Though Job never uses the word “poor” (dal in Proverbs 14:31) to describe himself, one wonders if a slight echo of Proverbs 14:31 is intended in Job 10:3. Job, then, would be reproaching God, taunting God for oppressing the work of the divine hands, pointing out God’s moral confusion, a confusion already mentioned in 9:22-24.
Job then enters familiar territory by speaking of God’s “despising” the work of the divine hands. The verb for “despise” is maas, which we have already seen used in this sense in 5:17, 8:20; 9:21, though it has a different sense when no object follows, as in 7:5, 16. Oppression and rejection is what Job receives from God. The final phrase: “work of your hands” is the alluring yegia kapeka, appearing also in Psalm 128:2; Genesis 31:42. Ashaq and maas together is a combination of incredible power; accusing God of oppression and despising/rejecting the divine handiwork is dramatic.
Instead of cherishing the work of the divine hands, God despises it. But it doesn’t stop there, God seems to “shine upon” (yapha) the counsel/plans of the wicked. Though yapha only appears 8x in the Bible, it is almost always used of God’s shining forth to save. God “shone forth” from Mount Paran to save the people (Deuteronomy 33:2). God “shines forth” out of Zion, the perfection of beauty (Psalm 50:2). Thus, the irony of Job’s situation is not only that he is oppressed, but that salvation seems to dawn on the wicked. We note the yagia/yapha alliteration here: “labor/light.” Job’s words in 10:3, put in a question form, are a question for which he expects no answer. God’s moral system is so inverted that the work of God’s hands is oppressed and the counsel of the wicked is approved. Note the word etseh to describe “counsel” is a common wisdom tradition word to describe one of the gifts of divine wisdom (see Proverbs 8:14).
The questions of verses 4-7, two short and one very long, really function as only one question. These verses may be rendered:
“Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you see as a human sees? Are your days as the days of humans or are your years as human days with the result that you seek out my guilt and search for my sin, even though you know that I have done no evil, and there is no way (for me) to be delivered from your hand?”
The language of verse 7 continue the thought from verse 2. In verse 2 Job asked that God not condemn (rasha) him; the reason is stated in verse 7, “because I have done no evil” (rasha). The references to God seeking out/searching for Job’s guilt or sin trigger our memory of 3:4, where God was urged not to search out the day of Job’s birth. God seems to be very diligent in the task of finding fault. Yet, for all of the intense search language in verse 6 (both baqash and darash appear as synonyms for “searching"), notable for its absence is the verb chaqar, “to investigate thoroughly.” That verb is familiar in Job (6/27 of its appearances in Job), and is also used elsewhere for a most intense divine search into human hearts (Psalm 139:1, 23). Perhaps the reason Job doesn’t explicitly use the “search” language of Psalm 139 here is that he is saving his comment on Psalm 139 to the next section, 10:10-12. We do note, however, that the language of searching (and finding), employing both baqash and darash, appears in Jeremiah 29:13, where humans are said to search for, and find, God.
The multiple references to human experience or human spans of life in 10:4-7 suggest that Job is probing God’s true understanding of the human condition. Another slightly different reading sees Job accusing God here of acting vindictively like a human, perhaps aware that God’s days, too, are numbered. I prefer to see these questions, however, as Job’s accusing God of not really understanding the nature of being human even though God seems to be acting like one. Vindictiveness is a human trait that God seems to have mastered well. The problem is, however, that God is not a human, and it is impossible for Job to be delivered from God’s hand.
One wonders for a moment if it was this kind of taunting of God, rather than some independent sovereign good pleasure, that eventually led God to think about what Christian theology will later call the Incarnation? Christians have been taught to see incarnation as a stirring, dramatic and well-planned divine gift to sinful humanity. How about seeing it as answering Job’s taunt—you really don’t understand what it is to be human! If God could fall for the Satan’s suggestion in Job 1 and 2, why not also pick up on Job’s hint here? God just might have to find out what it means to be human. Is the incarnation, then, just God's "falling for" another suggestion of the creature?
The leading idea in Job’s third question of God in verses 8-9 is the seeming contradiction between God’s gentle and careful formation and then merciless destruction of Job. Job just can’t seem to understand why God would take such special care in creating Job and then destroy him. The image of God’s special care is then drawn out in more verses 10-12, using a fairly explicit sexual image to show this divine care.
We begin with a study in hands. In verse 7, Job expressed frustration because it was impossible to be delivered or rescued from the destructive divine hand; yet the divine hands in verse 8 seem to have a more benevolent aim—to make Job. Yet that, too, is quickly nullified as Job realizes that God has created him only to swallow him.
A more careful examination of the verbs and one unusual phrase of verse 8 makes our traditional translations a bit suspect. Literally, verse 8 reads,
“You have grieved me and made me—all united, round about—and now you swallow me.”
All translations render “grieve” as “made,” so that the first part of verse 8 would emphasize God’s doubly careful making of Job (atsab/asah). Yet the verb is atsab, almost all of whose 16 other appearances in the Bible are best rendered as “grieve” or “vex” or “distort.” It is elsewhere a verb of damage rather than of creativity. Sophisticated commentators like Seow quickly point to nouns spelled similar or identical to atsab (such as etseb, “vessel,” in Jeremiah 22:28 or “image” in other places) or even one place in Jeremiah 44:19 where the verb seems to suggest “shape” or “manipulate.” There seems little doubt that its parallel construction with asah here suggests some kind of “making,” though use of a term normally rendered “grieve” or “displease” may be a kind of Joban slip or language destabilization that we have already seen. Then, the final verb is really “swallow” (bala) rather than simply “destroy.” With this in mind, we might combine the two questions in verses 7 and 8 as follows: “there is no way to be delivered from your hands—those hands that grieved me, but made me…now they swallow me.” With the presence of atsab in verse 8, we have a triad of euphonious verbs: ashaq (v 3); atsab (v 8); asah (vv 8, 9, 12), to show God’s treatment of Job.
In addition, the unusual phrase yachad sabib in the middle of verse 8 is “united/together, round/round about.” So, when Job gets around to mentioning God’s creating (asah) him, it is a kind of special creation, as if every corner and rounded surface has been made into a delightful united whole. Yet, incomprehensibly, God wants to swallow this up. The verb for swallow (bala) is not only more visual than “destroy,” but it is a favorite word for Job (7/49 biblical appearances in Job). Why would God want to do this? Verse 9 is almost a reminder to God that all the foregoing is true. “Remember” (the common zakar) begins the verse. God made Job like clay; now God returns Job to the dust, using two words (“dust,” aphar, and “return,” shub) that appeared in the eerily similar Genesis 3:19 (“dust you are and to dust you shall return”). All of this seems so utterly, and illogically, final.