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113. Job 11:15-17, Job’s Hope

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.


If Job were to concentrate his mind in prayer and put wickedness away from him, then “Certainly you will lift up (nasa) your face without blemish and be steadfast and not fear” (v 15). We aren’t told what this “lifting up of the face” consists in. Is it the exultation of victory? Is it the forgiveness of sin (the verb nasa is often used in a forgiveness context). Though the general flow of this verse is clear, two unusual words give us even more reason to pause. First, there is lifting up one’s face “without blemish” (mimmum) and then there is the notion of “steadfastness” (mutsaq).  A mum (21x) is a spot, blot or blemish. An animal without blemish that will be sacrificed to the Lord is not said to be without mum but is tamim (e.g., Leviticus 1:3), a word that is nearly identical to the word describing Job’s blamelessness (tam). When the word mum appears, however, it mostly describes the physical characteristics of one who will  serve as a priest. One verse gives us the tone of its usage: “Speak to Aaron and say, ‘No one of your offspring throughout your generations who has a blemish (mum) may approach to offer the food of God” (Leviticus 21:17). Almost half of the biblical appearances of mum are in Leviticus 21-24. Thus, it is unusual that Zophar not only would use the word, but would connect it with lifting up of the face. “You will lift up your face without a blemish” is the sense. This is probably meant to address Job’s statement that he would not “lift up his head because of shame” (10:15), even though Zohpar hasn’t chosen the most eloquent way to say it.  


The second word, mutsaq, is usually translated “steadfast” or “stand firm” or “strong.” “You shall be steadfast and shall not fear.” Mutsaq is the noun form of the verb yatsaq, which means to “pour out” (a liquid) or to “cast” (objects, such as rings). Thus, it can suggest something “poured out” (and thus flowing) or something “cast” (and thus solid). You have to love words that can mean their opposite, because it allows interpreters to render things in any way they want. So, we could render it “to be flowing and not fear” or “to be steadfast and not fear.” Clines even renders it to be “firmly established,” which sounds a lot like the kun of a few verses earlier. But Zophar is exploring new worlds with mum and mutsaq.  Even if it is difficult to see exactly what he is saying, the notion is that if Job removes wickedness from his life, he will be free from fear and taint.


Zophar’s creative framing of Job’s blessed future state continues. In verse 16 Job is said both to forget and remember the same thing. “For you yourself (emphatic attah) will forget your trouble (amal, 55x, already in Job 3:10; 4:8; 5:6, 7; 7:3) and you will remember (it) as waters that pass away (abar).” This may be Zophar’s way of responding to Job’s complaint in 3:10 where he wished that trouble (amal) would be hidden from his eyes. Job will forget it. Then, he will remember it—but as waters that pass away.  By using the verb abar here (“to pass away”), Zophar may be gently nudging Job to recall how Job had combined the notion of waters and abar in his attack on the friends in 6:15. The friends, Job said, are treacherous, “like the streams of brooks that pass away (abar).” Now Zophar is saying that Job’s troubles will be forgotten like the waters that pass away (abar). Is Zophar trying to hold out an olive branch to Job?  We note also that Job had used the verb abar in frustration in 9:11 to describe the God who “passes by,” whom Job can’t perceive. Now the verb abar is used in a positive sense—denoting things not remembered. 


Verse 17 can be read to confirm the last thought from verse 16. Literally, we have, “And your life shall arise more than the noonday; though you were dark, you would become like the morning.”  The word translated “dark” (uph) here is subject to different readings.  Its more usual meaning is to “fly away,” but “darkness” seems best to fit the context, even though the KJV and many following in its wake translate the word as “shine forth.” Seow is a modern interpreter who wants to maintain the “light” or “shine forth” meaning of uph, and so he translates verse 17b as “And as for (its) flicker, it will be as morn.” We would then again have the interesting situation where the word could mean its opposite—either to give light or to be dark. 


If the second part is best translated as “darkness,” then Zophar would also be gently chiding Job here. The darkness which filled Job’s mouth and thoughts in 10:21-22 would be just a passing and not a permanent condition. But Zophar is playing with words again. Rather than simply giving us the normal word for “life” in verse 17, he chooses the rare word cheled (5x), which can either refer to the world or the duration of one’s life. Zophar is holding out a hopeful future for Job, even if our patience is fraying a bit because of his strange words. Maybe if your idea is quite simple, you have to vary your words lest everyone just ignore you. But if you vary the words too much, no one will have the patience to listen to you.

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