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116.  Job 12:1-6, A Laughingstock Indeed!

 

1 Then Job answered:

2 “No doubt you are the people,

    and wisdom will die with you.

3 But I have understanding as well as you;

    I am not inferior to you.

    Who does not know such things as these?

4 I am a laughingstock to my friends;

    I, who called upon God and he answered me,

    a just and blameless man, I am a laughingstock.

5 Those at ease have contempt for misfortune,

    but it is ready for those whose feet are unstable.

6 The tents of robbers are at peace,

    and those who provoke God are secure,

    who bring their god in their hands.

Job 12 may profitably be outlined as follows:

 

Job 12:1-6, A Laughingstock Indeed!

Job 12:7-12, God is Responsible for Everything, as well as My Misfortune 

Job 12:13-25, Correct Theology, Miserable Life

 

In the first section of Job 12, we have four relatively clear verses (1-4) and then two obscure verses (5-6). It matches our two-thirds to one-third ratio of clarity/unclarity suggested previously. Though I have pointed to contrastive features between the First and Second Cycles, there are many marks of continuity. The opening word of 12:2, and the thought of 12:4, is indebted an the earlier conversation. Job begins with omnam, “truly/surely,” a word that also began his last speech (9:2, “truly (omnam) I know. . .”).  Whereas I argued that the omnam in 9:2 was sincere—i.e., that Job actually did “know” the principles to which his friends were pointing, here the omnam seems to be sarcastic. The word omnam only appears 9x in the Bible, six of which are in Job. Job uses it four times (also 19:4, 5) and Elihu two.

 

Literally verse 2 can be read, “Surely it’s the case that you yourselves are people (“the people” is an almost universal translation, but the “the” is lacking in the Hebrew); and with you shall die wisdom.” The first half of the verse is sonorous, with final “m” sounds predominating: omnam kiy attem-am—“Of a truth that you are (the) people!” Perhaps Job’s exposure to the best that all three friends have to offer has resulted in the cynicism of this verse. They might be able to suggest true and even useful theological principles, but they have no ability to analyze Job’s current situation wisely in light of those principles. To be sure, they have answers, and their answers do give an explanation for Job’s suffering (God’s discipline; sins of the children; Job’s own arrogance and sin), but for some reason the comforting categories of traditional theology no longer provide Job either comfort or insight. He knows the basics, but this time it isn’t just about the basics.  

Oops, we need a little interlude. . .