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105. Job 10:13-17, Job’s Puzzlement
13 Yet these things you hid in your heart;
I know that this was your purpose.
14 If I sin, you watch me,
and do not acquit me of my iniquity.
15 If I am wicked, woe to me!
If I am righteous, I cannot lift up my head,
for I am filled with disgrace
and look upon my affliction.
16 Bold as a lion you hunt me;
you repeat your exploits against me.
17 You renew your witnesses against me,
and increase your vexation toward me;
you bring fresh troops against me.
After hearing about God’s skill in making Job (10:10-12), one would naturally think that God would exercise the same providential care over Job. After all, in all introductory theology courses one hears about the “creation and providence” of God, as if these two words inseparably belong together. In these verses, however, Job tells us the opposite. Rather than a passage describing the comfort God brings, which we might have expected, we have five beautifully hopeless verses going into greater detail on God’s seeming merciless attack on Job. The result is a kind of dissonance for Job, an internal sense that he has to try to defend himself against the very one who has lovingly shaped him. Though there is no word for “puzzlement” in the Hebrew text, we have deep sense that God’s treatment of Job is not only painful and anger-inducing, but also more than a bit puzzling.
Verse 13 is a Janus-verse, meaning that it swings or looks both ways, both to Job 10:12 and 10:14. God’s care in making Job in 10:12, with the added context of Psalm 139, could be said to be hidden in God’s heart, that is, part of the divine plan. But the thought of 10:14, where Job feels that God has marked him for punishment was something “hidden” from Job, something that then burst upon him like the hunter in search of a lion (v 16). The verb “to hide” (tsaphan), appears in the Janus-verse, verse 13.
Tsaphan (“to hide”) in verse 13 is primarily a wisdom tradition verb. 9/31 of its appearances are in Proverbs. While it can carry the sense of “ambush” (Proverbs 1:18), its stronger meaning in Proverbs is to “treasure up.” If someone hides/lays up/treasures up the divine commandments (2:1), then that person will realize wisdom. Thus, when someone steeped in the wisdom tradition of Israel would read or hear the phrase “store up/ treasure up in his heart,” they would normally think of the commendable practice of laying up the divine commands, a prelude to life success. That God would “treasure up” in the divine heart a plan would certainly be a positive thought. “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you…” (Jeremiah 29:11). God’s hiding things in the divine heart is such a boon! The rest of the verse shows that Job knew this was the case: “I knew that this is with you”—I knew that this is what you were up to. Job had every reason to believe that good things were in store for him.
But then the shoe drops, very hard, in verses 14-15. God’s plan is to not to bless but to catch Job, to take away his future and not to grant him a future. Though the standard translation of verse 14 is given above, I want to suggest a variation, based on how we render the common verb shamar. Shamar, as we know, means to “keep” or “preserve.” In verse 12 it was a positive term; “your watchfulness/providence has preserved (shamar) my spirit.” It appears again in verse 14. Most translations render it in verse 14 as “to mark” or “to watch” (i.e., in order to catch me), but why not give it the same meaning as in verse 12? Then we would have, “If I sin, then you will preserve me, but from my guilt/sin I will not be acquitted.” Rather than reading the verse simply as expressing parallel thoughts, we would see it as a sophisticated reflection on different levels of sin and forgiveness. The secret plan of God, then, was to have a nuanced approach to Job’s sin, preserving him but still holding him responsible for his sins.
The meaning of the hidden thing (v 13) would then be that if Job were to sin, Job would still be preserved, but God wouldn’t hold Job guiltless. Then, verse 15 would follow nicely, though sadly.
“(But the case is that) if I do wrong, woe is me! and if I happen to be righteous, I can’t life up my head.”
God’s secret plan, then, would be to judge Job when he is sinful, yet still preserve him. But then, in verse 15, God already seems to have violated this secret plan by declaring that whatever Job does, God will punish him or shame him. That is Job’s felt reality.
Congruent with God’s secretly curdling milk into cheese to make Job is God’s plan to preserve Job but still hold Job responsible for his sin. Yet, things all change in verse 15. It is all woe for Job. Even if he does things right/is righteous (tsadeq, an important verb in this “pre-lawsuit” phase; see 9:2, 15, 20), he can’t lift up his head. In other Scriptures God is called “my glory and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3, using a different verb for “lift”—rum—rather than the nasa of Job 10:15). Here Job can’t even lift up his head, so shame-filled is he.
Lest we have any doubt that we are in the realm of Job’s shame in 10:15, we just have to complete the verse: “filled with shame/ignominy, and looking on my troubles.” The word for “shame” is qalon, which occupies the verbal space of “dishonor” or “disgrace” or “shame” or “ignominy.” Of its 17 appearances in the Bible, eight are in Proverbs, making it also a wisdom word. Fools are the ones who display qalon (Proverbs 3:35). The word “affliction” or “trouble" appears disproportionately in Job (6/36); twice Job uses the phrase “days of affliction” (oniy) to characterize his life (30:16, 27). Whatever God’s secret plan was for Job, it has led to this: shame and trouble.
But this doesn’t seem to be enough for God. God still has to slake His thirst for even more blood, preferably Job’s blood, which God does in verse 16. The first word is hard to translate. It is the verb gaah, appearing only 7x, but four of them are in Exodus 15, where it is translated “exalt” or “triumph.” Yet, the one other place in Job where it appears it takes on the rather neutral meaning “grow” (Job 8:11). Most render it in Job 10:16 as “If I exalted myself” but the problem is that the verb is in the 3rd person singular. This has led most scholars to suggest an emendation, making it a first person verb: “If I exalt myself, you hunt me down like a lion.” Some scholars who disagree with that approach add a word not in the text, “If my head is exalted. . .”
The danger, as I see it, with an a conditional word (“if”) and “exalt myself”-type of translation is that it seems to make God’s hunting Job down conditioned upon a prior act of Job’s “arrogance” or “self-exaltation.” Yet, the whole tenor of the argument is that no matter whether Job is righteous or sins, God is out to shame him. Thus, we are a bit miffed by the first word, veyigeh, of 10:16, and I would simply render it as “growing…” or, more probably, “held high.” So we should surely see it connected with the lion that follows. We would then have, “Growing as a lion (whatever that really means. ..), you hunt me down” or “with my head held high like a lion. . .” Perhaps this is a thought congruent with Job's words in 16:12, "I was at ease, and he shattered me."
The image of God’s pursuing Job as a hunter pursues a lion is grisly. The lion here (shachal, 7x/3x Job) is one of the five “lion words” used by Eliphaz (4:10) when he no doubt found the schoolboy’s tablet buried in the sands of Teman. Before getting to the rest of verse 16, we ought just to stop and contemplate that image. Job sees himself as a frightened lion, sought out by an unfriendly hunter who no doubt wants to “bag” him. That hunter is God. The language is frighteningly similar to that of Lamentations 3:52, where the author talks about his enemies who have hunted him down (verb is tsud, the same verb as in Job 10:16) like a bird.
Then, the final part of the verse stops us in our tracks. Using language of wonders, Job says, “You repeatedly show yourself awesome against me.” But rather than the surpassingly wonderful good things that are normally associated with pala (71x), these “wonders” (pala) are shame- and trouble-inducing wonders. Eliphaz has used the word in a positive sense (5:9), echoed by Job (9:10), but here the awesome display of divine power is to shame Job. We wonder for a moment whether Job’s final use of the term (42:3) will be in an unalloyed positive sense. . .Thus, rather than multiplying God’s positive wonders in Job, we have these marvels directed at Job. Again, Job is so skillful at subtly shifting the accepted meaning of words.
Job keeps up with the attack on God in verse 17, because God has first attacked Job. “You renew/restore witnesses against me; you multiply your anger with/against me.” Normally the verb translated “renew” (chadash, 10x) has a positive meaning in the Bible. God “renews” (chadash) the face of the ground” (Psalm 104:30); “your youth is renewed (chadash) as the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:5). But here it points to a renewed attack on Job by God. This attack is through “witnesses” (ed). Is Job thinking of the boils on his skin or other physical disfigurement? Perhaps it is the friends who want to testify against Job. We don’t know.
But Job continues: God multiplies (rabah) the divine anger (kaas). We have already seen how kaas plays an important role in Job. It was first explored by Eliphaz in 5:2, but successfully “answered” by Job in 6:2. Now God is getting into the act with this rare word for anger. The final phrase of verse 17 is hard to translate. Literally, it says, “Changes and an army/war/host are with me.” Both the words “changes” (chaliphah, from a Joban favorite verb chalaph) and “host” (tsaba) are problematic. The former as a noun usually points to a “change” of garments elsewhere in the Bible, but its verb form in Job usually has a very specific meaning, especially in Job 10-11, as “sweep by.” All of these things “sweeping by” him, through God’s action, might be a way to explain it. Yet, scholars rush in to explain, with Clines’ explanation being the most creative—taking “changes” as “release” from military service. Seow gives us the clear “You renew hardship for me,” making only a slight textual emendation and appealing to the use of chalaph (“to change”) in Isaiah 40:31; Psalm 90:5-6 as “renew.” Our two most accomplished Job interpreters, then, take this phrase is opposite directions. For Clines it is saying that “release” and “war/hard struggle” are Job’s lot. Seow sees God renewing calamities on Job. I just chalk it up to Job’s destabilizing method of speaking and lean more towards Seow’s reading, though a divine “sweeping by” with the divine “host/army” gives us a vivid enough picture. Well, this is vintage Book of Job: give us a few verses of clarity, and then plunge us into uncertainty. He knows we will come back for more.