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130. Job 13:4-12, The Attack on the Friends Continues
4 As for you, you whitewash with lies;
all of you are worthless physicians.
5 If you would only keep silent,
that would be your wisdom!
6 Hear now my reasoning,
and listen to the pleadings of my lips.
7 Will you speak falsely for God,
and speak deceitfully for him?
8 Will you show partiality toward him,
will you plead the case for God?
9 Will it be well with you when he searches you out?
Or can you deceive him, as one person deceives another?
10 He will surely rebuke you
if in secret you show partiality.
11 Will not his majesty terrify you,
and the dread of him fall upon you?
12 Your maxims are proverbs of ashes,
your defenses are defenses of clay.
The vigor of Job’s language continues unabated. At first the opening phrase of verse 5, miy-yitten, literally “who gives?” is confusing—until, that is, we realize that we have already seen it to express a simple exclamation in 6:8, 11:5 and elsewhere. Job’s words are strong: “Oh that you would just shut up! Now that would be your wisdom.” That is the sense of Job’s words: bitter, mocking and utterly serious. You have to love some of the older translations, translations that don’t let the Bible become too “earthy. . .” ‘Oh that you would be silent. . .’ or ‘Oh that you would hold your peace. .' We smile. The double use of charash (here, “to be silent”), in the infinitive absolute and then the imperfect tense, is one of the strongest ways the Hebrew language has to express a concept.
Job wants his friends to return to their condition in 2:11-13, when they didn’t utter a word because they saw that his distress was very great. But it is not because Job just wants silence as a mental health aid in this instance. There may also be a theological reason behind the demand. Proverbs 17:28 has, “Even a foolish person is considered wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts up his lips, he is thought perceptive.” The words of the first half of Proverbse 17:28 overlap with Job 13:5. We have chakam (“wise”; chokmahin both places) and charash (“hold his peace/be silent” also in both places). If we read 13:5 in connection with Proverbs 17:28, then, we see Job not just expressing exasperation but also giving some sage advice. “Shut up—people will think you are wise.” It is similar the modern saw, ‘Better to be thought stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.’
The rest of this section consists of a statement (v 6), six questions (vv 7-11) and a final statement, framed as a proverbial utterance (v 12). In verse 3 Job had expressed his desire to “reason” (yakach) with God; now in verse 6 he asks his friends to “hear my reasoning” (towkechah is a noun derived from yakach). We note in passing that the two verbs of hearing used in 13:6 (shema; qashab) are the same two verbs used in Psalm 61:1 in the Psalmist’s prayer for God to hear him. Job tucks his unconventional thoughts into a conventional framework.
We half expect Job to give the first draft of his planned speech to God to his friends. Maybe, we think, it would be analogous to someone about to make an argument before the United States Supreme Court. Before doing so that person collects a group of supportive, and critical, hearers to listen to the argument, expose its loopholes, suggest a better approach. Lest we miss the words, Job’s neatly balances the first half of verse 6 with the second half: “give heed to the contentions (rib) of my lips.” As argued above, yakach is a broad enough verb to encompass an entire legal proceeding, from argument to decision. We are certainly at the opening stages of that argument here. He wants the friends to hear his reasoning.
But rather than honing his case against God in verses 7-11, we see Job sharpening his tongue against the friends. In a series of blistering questions, Job accuses them of lying on God’s behalf, of showing partiality to God, of “siding” with God. But he doesn’t stop there. He asks them what they think life would be like if God directed the divine searchlight against them. In one of the subtle ironies of the Book of Job, Job suggests that it might be good for them if they really feared God, if they received a dose of the divine terror. Job feels that terror at every moment. He knows that his life is insubstantial, that God could eliminate him at any moment and for almost any (or no) reason. He knows the peril of the path he has chosen. But the friends? Job sees them as easily standing with God, a safe distance from the tempest and whirlwind, and then easily and irresponsibly lobbing their ineffective bombs in his direction. It might be good for the friends, Job suggests, if they really learned what fear was.