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112. Job 11:13-20, Hope For the Future

 

13 “If you direct your heart rightly,

    you will stretch out your hands toward him.

14 If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away,

    and do not let wickedness reside in your tents.

15 Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish;

    you will be secure, and will not fear.

16 You will forget your misery;

    you will remember it as waters that have passed away.

17 And your life will be brighter than the noonday;

    its darkness will be like the morning.

18 And you will have confidence, because there is hope;

    you will be protected and take your rest in safety.

19 You will lie down, and no one will make you afraid;

    many will entreat your favor.

20 But the eyes of the wicked will fail;

    all way of escape will be lost to them,

    and their hope is to breathe their last.”

                    

Job’s two other companions, Eliphaz and Bildad, have previously expressed hope for Job’s future. But both of them expressed a stylized hope, or a hope that seems to ignore the brutal realities of Job’s loss. For example, when Eliphaz talked about the blessedness of the one whom God disciplines (clearly intending Job, 5:17-27), he says: “at destruction and famine you shall laugh. . .” (5:22), which is hardly something you say to one who has just lost everything, including his children. Bildad’s hope is expressed more briefly (8:20-22) but his confidence that God will “yet fill your mouth with laughter,” isn’t exactly a balm for a hurting soul. Perhaps these references to Job’s future laughter made Job twice characterize himself as a laughingstock in 12:4. The point would be—‘You guys have it all wrong. Instead of laughing at troubles, I am being laughed at.’  

 

Zophar doesn’t use the language of laughter in his long paragraph on hope in 11:13-20, but he expresses similar optimism. His language is indebted neither to Eliphaz nor to Bildad; he will begin (and end) by using phrases that are often found other places in Scripture, but he will soon develop a unique and distinctive turns of phrase. But it will be a kind of distinctiveness without much theological or verbal depth. After several verses we will begin to tire of his new phrases, as they often seem simply to put together words that normally don’t go together, and add little more to the speech than a generic hope for Job’s blessed future. 

 

He begins in a promising enough fashion in verse 13. Specifically to be noted are the two verbs of verse 13. “If you firmly establish (kun, 219x) your heart (leb) and spread out (paras, 67x) your hands to him. . .”  Rather than just saying, like Eliphaz, “As for me, I would seek (darash) God and place my cause (sim dabar) withGod,” Zophar uses language of fixing or concentrating the heart. Psalm 10:17 also uses the phrase kun leb, “prepare/firmly establish/fix the heart” which Zophar uses here.  Yet, in Psalm 10:17 it is God who directs the heart. “Lord you have heard the desire of the humble. You will direct (kun) their heart.” Yet a different take on the phrase kun leb is present in Psalm 57:7, “My heart is steadfast (kun leb), O God, my heart is steadfast.  I will sing, and I will sing praises.” We might even look at the flow of the Psalmist’s ideas in Psalm 57 as being reflected in Zophar’s hopefulness in Job 11. In both texts there is danger, then the steadfast heart, then the awakening in thanks and praise to God. Job has faced that danger. He needs to establish his heart. Then, his life will be brighter than the noonday (11:18). Though Zophar presents a somewhat unique angle on what Job ought to do, his thoughts are therefore not unprecedented. Clines helpfully gives examples in his commentary of how the concept of “concentrating the mind” or “fixing the heart” was central to the advice given to later Jews on how to pray.  Zophar may have had a hand in this development. . .

 


The language of “spreading out” as well as “spreading out the hands” (paras kaph) is also not unique to Zophar. Many different things are “spread out” (paras) in the Bible, such as the wings of the cherubim that soar above the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:20; 37:9) or a cloth that is spread over (paras) the table in the Tabernacle (Numbers 4:7). Yet, more to the point, God can be said to spread out the divine hands to Israel. “All day long I have spread out (paras) my hands (yad in singular) to a disobedient people” (Isaiah 65:2). Isaiah can also say that even though people spread out their hands (paras kaph) to God, “I will hide my eyes from you” (Isaiah 1:15). Thus, spreading out of hands can be initiated by God or by humans; in this case Zophar urges that activity on Job. We ought to note that when Bildad urged Job to seek God, he used the verb shachar (“earnestly search”) in 8:5 rather than spreading out the hands.

 

The thought of verse 14 continues that of verse 13.  There is a gentle word play in verse 14 between the two words for “wickedness” (aven) and “unrighteousness” (avlah).These concepts “surround” the other five words in the verse, so that we have, “If wickedness is in your hand, place it far from you, and don’t let in your tent settle down unrighteousness.” His advice to Job is to ‘stretch out the hands’ (kaph, v 13), but when you do so make sure that aven isn’t in those hands (yad, v 14).’  Aven (78x), “trouble, wickedness, sorrow, iniquity” is disproportionately present in Job (13x); we have already seen it three times (4:8; 5:6; 11:11). Avlah, “injustice, unrighteousness, wrong” is even more dominant in Job (12/58x). Placing something "far away" from one is expressed through the verb rachaq. Its most powerful appearances are in the Psalms, where the Psalmist prays over and over for God not to be far (rachaq) from him (Psalm 22:11; 35:22; 38:21).