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114. Job 11:18-20, Zophar’s Final Words of Hope

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.”


Zophar’s hope continues in verse 18, this time with words that are more familiar, even if one of them is rather strange here. Zophar twice uses the common verb batach, “to trust/rely on” (120x) in verse 18, though we are a bit surprised that there is no object—such as God—of the verb. Just as in verse 15 Job would “lift up his face,” but we weren’t told if that was because of a sense of victory, of forgiveness or to supplicate God, so the important verb batach is left dangling here. We have,


    “For you will trust because there is hope; and you will dig around, and in security (batach) you           shall lie down.”


Apart from Zophar’s encouragement to Job to stretch out his hands to “him” (v 13), there is no mention of God as the source of hope, the lifter of the head, the giver of clarity in the morning or the one helping one forget one’s misery.  


This adds a dimension of strangeness to Zophar’s speech. If we were to compare his words with Bildad, for example, we see that Bildad explicitly mentioned God in his final words of hope (8:20-22). God would not reject a blameless person (tam; 8:20); God would fill Job’s mouth with laughter (8:21). The same is true for Eliphaz. Job’s current situation may be an example of divine testing or correcting (5:17).  But have no fear because if God injures, God will bind up; God may wound but the divine hand will heal (5:18). The language of the other two friends drips with references to God’s centrality in restoring Job’s fortunes. Yet Zophar has nary a mention of God nor of God’s connection with terminology that the tradition easily connected with God. Proverbs 3:5, for example, speaks of “trusting” (batach) in the Lord with all your heart. The verb batach appears more than 40x in the Psalms, and in almost all of its appearances it is connected with “the Lord” (4:5 and frequently),”God’s lovingkindness” (13:5), “God’s holy name” (33:21), etc. Interestingly, of the four appearances of batach in Job, none has “God” or “the Lord” as an object.


Zophar adds that Job trusts because there will is hope (tiqvah). Neither the source or content of that hope is described.  It will only take Job a few chapters to shoot down that idea, when he says, “So you destroy human hope” (14:19).  But there is no urging of Job to affirm something like, “My hope (tiqvah) is from Him“ (Psalm 62:5). Perhaps Zophar is reluctant to tie God directly to categories like “trust” and “hope” because he is so committed to the mystery and incomprehensibility of God. A more ominous thought might be that Zophar feels Job has sunk to such a level of arrogance and boasting that he cannot really grasp divine things anymore. Zophar, then, must just use theological terms without presenting or commenting on the theological Object.  


The second half of verse 18 provides another example of Zophar’s obscurity. “You shall dig around; you shall dwell in security (batach).” Most versions render the first verb (chaphar, 22x/4x in Job) as “look around you,” but the clear import of the word is to direct the eyes downward rather than upward. Chaphar is the word used 8x in Genesis 26 to describe Isaac’s digging of wells; it describes the people of Egypt's digging around the Nile for fresh drinking water after it had been contaminated through a miracle of Moses (Exodus 7:24). It can mean “to search out/spy out” the land (Deuteronomy 1:22; Joshua 2:2-3), but this meaning seems to be far from Zophar’s intent. Whereas Job and others seemed to have a pattern of 2/3 clarity and 1/3 obscurity, with the latter usually following the former, Zophar sometimes adopts this method (see v 20 below), but also seems to have adopted the method of general clarity with frequent dropping in of strange words that don’t really fit. Listening closely to Zophar and the others might make us more sensitive to listening to how others around us really speak. You wonder if our expectation of clarity from the Biblical text really is in line with the nature of human communication in general. One suspects it isn’t. 


Zophar uses the phrase “to lie down in security” (batach and shakab are the words). Other places in Scripture use the phrase yashab batach (“to dwell in security”; Leviticus 26:5; Deuteronomy 12:10) or to “lie down in security” (batach rabats—Zophar will begin his next verse with rabats—Isaiah 14:30). He is “in the ballpark” of other Scriptural patterns of speech, even though he develops his own vocabulary of hope.


Zophar continues with his slightly off-kilter words in verse 19. “You will lie down (rabats, 30x, mostly used of animals lying down) and there will be no violent trembling (charad, 39x, mostly used to describe an extremely terrifying situation); and many will beseech (chalah, 76x, mostly meaning “to be sick,” though can mean “to entreat”) your face.”  When the Psalmist says “In peace I will both lie down and sleep,” he uses the verbs shakab, which Zophar used at the end of verse 18, and yashen, a typical verb for “sleep.” But Zophar doesn’t mention sleeping, and the lying down he mentions in verse 19 (rabats) is mostly what animals do, though the human and animal are connected in Jacob’s valedictory speech: “He lies down (rabats) as a lion (Gen 49:9).”  Other times animals lie down in their dens (Psalm 104:22). In Isaiah’s great vision of the blessed kingdom, the leopard will lie down (rabats) with the young goat (Isaiah 11:6).  The verb also appears in that most famous Psalm (23), where the Lord “makes me to lie down” (rabats) in green pastures.  Of course, the author likens himself to a sheep there.  

Perhaps Zophar used language primarily describing animals lying down because he had just used shakab in the previous verse. But Job doesn’t get a chance to sleep (yashen) even though he had been digging around during verse 18.  Job would lie down, though nothing would make him “tremble” (charad). The verb is a very visual one, forever fixed in our minds by its first appearance in the Bible, where Isaac trembled violently when surmising that he had been deceived by his son and wife (Gen 27:33). Charad describes things that violently shake (like Mount Sinai when God descended on it—Exodus 19:16, 18) or are very troubled. Then, many will “beseech” him (charah) though the idea could have been expressed in a simpler form.  But we hear the dimmest echo of a royal Psalm in the phrase charah paneh or “beseech/seek the face” when the Psalmist says that “the rich among the people will seek your face (using chalah paneh; Psalm 45:12).   


Unlike his other compatriots, Zophar doesn’t end his speech on a high note.  Whether this means that Zophar is skeptical of Job’s ability to change or reform is uncertain, but he gives us a verse laced with unexpected words in verse 20.  It is a fitting way for him to end a speech that, for the most part, is quite clear, but is filled with words that make you pause, scratch your head, and go very slow in reading.

Verse 20 may be rendered literally,


     “But the eyes of the wicked will come to an end, and fleeing shall perish from them; and their            hope will be the breathing out/drooping (death?) of the soul.”  


You wonder how seriously Zophar or anyone else took his words since so many of them are laced with uncertainty or lack the theological or literary heft of some of Job’s or Eliphaz’s words. Here we have three thoughts. Rather than the wicked facing some kind of fiery or painful judgment, they will have their eyes fail (ayin kalah). We often run into kalah in the Bible, and it means “to be complete” or “to come to an end” or “fail” as here, but it is much more eloquently used in Psalm 73:26, for example: “My flesh and my heart may fail (kalah), but God is forever the strength of my heart and my portion.”  When the Psalmist elsewhere describes his sorry state, eyes failing is one aspect of it. “I am weary with my calling out. My throat is parched, my eyes fail (kalah ayin is the phrase) while I wait for my God” (Psalm 69:3).  Perhaps the phrase stuck in Job’s mind, since later he will point to one evidence of his integrity as not causing the eyes of the widows to fail (31:16, using the same phrase as here).  


The next phrase says, literally, “and fleeing perishes from them” (nus abad). In a judgment oracle, Jeremiah uses the same phrase when he says, reversing the words, “perish flight from the shepherds. . .,” i.e., they will have nowhere to go to escape (Jeremiah 25:35). Amos has a more terrifying prophecy of judgment in Amos 2, where he says, “I am about to crush you in your place as a wagonload of sheaves crushes grain” (2:13).  Then he proceeds, “and escape will perish (abad nus) from the swift. . .” (2:14).  


Following his predecessors, where two fairly clear thoughts are first expressed, followed by an opaque idea, Zophar ends with “And their hope shall be the breathing out/drooping/giving up of the soul.” Many commentators see this as pointing to the final desperation to which the wicked are driven. Death, then, would be their only hope. Clines sees this, however, not as a description of death but of the despair of the living. Seow simply translates it as, “Their hope will expire.” The verb translated “breathing,” mappach, is a hapax; it may be derived from or related to naphach, the verb used in Genesis 2:7 to describe how God “breathed” into the nostrils of the creature so that it became a living soul. “Their hope is the drooping/breathing out” of the soul may point to the despair that the wicked will ultimately face, but it is an uncertain trumpet sound to end the chapter.

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