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131.  Job 13:4-12, The Attack on the Friends:  One More Essay

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?

 

With the previous essay as an introduction to this section, then, let’s look at his series of questions in verses 7-11. In verse 7 Job accuses the friends of lying on behalf of God. “Will you speak falsehoods for God? And for God will you speak deceit/treachery?” The two nouns in the questions are evel (53x) and remiyyah (15x). The meaning of the first ranges from injustice to wickedness to falsehood. The second is even a stronger word, suggesting treachery or betrayal or deceit. It occupies the same verbal space as mirmah, a word used to describe Jacob’s deceptive stealing of Esau’s birthright (Genesis 27:35), the sons of Jacob carrying out the slaughter of the men of a town (Genesis 34:13), the betrayal felt by the kings of Judah and Israel when Jehu, the usurper, lured them to their death (II Kings 9:23). Job feels his friends are not just siding with God, but that they have no qualms about lying on God’s behalf and using deceit against Job. The experience of being deceived burns a person almost like nothing else. Job is feeling that deception now. 

 

Is Job overreacting? Probably. He probably is expecting too much from the friends. Yet, the conversation is utterly realistic.  


Everything after the sharp words of verse 7 sounds mild. Verses 8-10 start and end with the same thought “Will you show partiality to God?” (literally, “Will you lift up his face?”). We might see this question as asked in a kind of mocking manner (Indeed, in the next verses he twice uses the verb for “mock”). ’Do you really think that your candle can illumine the sun?’ ‘Do you really believe that God is aided by your feeble words?’ That is the tone of Job’s questions in verses 8-10. 

 

In between these thoughts Job suggests an interesting hypothetical situation. What if the tables were turned and you were the one’s being examined by God? “Would it be a good thing if He searched (chaqar) you out?” (v 9).  Eliphaz had confidently said that they had patiently “searched out” (chaqar) the ways of God and knew what they were saying was true (5:27). Bildad had waxed eloquent on the things “searched out” (noun is cheqer, derived from chaqar) from the tradition (8:8). Zophar got into the act, too, by asking Job if he could really discover the “deep things” (cheqer, the “searched out” things) of God (11:7). Now Job turns it back on them, using the same word, chaqar.  ‘What about if God did the searching out—of you?!’ That is the tone of verse 9a. ‘All the nice and glorious talk about God’s searching out things—well, you wouldn’t feel so calm and above-it-all if God decided to raid your home!' The second question of verse 9 has led to several translation suggestions, but the most reasonable seems: “Could you deceive him as you do a mortal?” That is, Job would be making a bit of an a fortiori argument here. ‘You think you can deceive me?  No Way! How much less will you be able to fool God,’ is the tone of it.  

 

Job can almost imagine the pain the friends would feel if they were in his place. It would be a sort of delicious comeuppance for them. Then Job drops the boom on the friends in the first part of

verse 10.  But he does so by cleverly using a verb twice in verse 10 (yakach) that he has just used in verse 3 (and the noun in v 6) but in a different sense. In those earlier verses the word meant “reason”—i.e., it pointed to the beginning of a judicial process. But here the word takes on its more usual meaning of “rebuke” or “judge,” i.e., the end of the process. Job is saying in verse 10 that if God directed the divine searchlight on them, God would certainly rebuke them, find them wanting. His friends have marshaled weak arguments, and have shown partiality to God. They have “sided” with God rather than really trying to hear Job. Perhaps they do so because of their fears (Job 6:21).

 

But if God were to search out the friends, God would certainly (note the double use of yakach) rebuke them. Verse 11 is almost, then, a plaintive question of Job to his friends. Those who think they “side” with God or are in the divine camp are often smug, uncritical and lax in their thinking. Job asks them,

 

     “Wouldn’t it then be the case that the divine majesty would terrify you?  And that the divine fear      would fall upon you?”  

 

The friends are living charmed and safe lives. Job knows what that means. He lived that way for years. But now everything has been wrenched out from under him. He knows the friends’ comfort, their fears, their strategies of both trying to mollify Job but to keep a safe distance from Job so that the contagion doesn’t reach them. As a result, they really don’t know what it is like to feel the divine terror (baath, 16x, half of which are in Job). The fear (pachad, a common word) of God doesn’t really fall on them.  

 

Job then concludes in 13:12 with a proverbial-like statement about the ineffectiveness of the friends. We might wish at first that Job would forget the proverb form, since the attempts in the Book of Job to use them in 5:7 and 11:12 were anything but successful. Here we can translate it “Your memorials are proverbs of ashes; your backs/defenses are backs/defenses of clay.”  Each of the clauses presents difficulties.  The word translated “memorials” is zikkaron, rendered by others as “remembrances” or “maxims” or “platitudes” or “memorable sayings.” The word is obviously derived from the verb zakar, “to remember,” but it isn’t quite clear why their statements would be “memorials.” In any case, these “memorials” are proverbs of ashes, a clear enough statement to emphasize their worthlessness and powerlessness

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Less clear is the second part. The repeated gab, usually rendered “defenses,” are really not “defenses,” except by stretching the meaning of the word. The word gab appears a baker’s dozen times in the Bible, a majority of which are in Ezekiel. Once the word is used in Ezekiel to describe the “base” or “rims” of the altar in the new temple he contemplates in Chapters 40-48 (43:18). Twice the word is used to describe the round “rims” of the chariot wheels of Ezekiel’s vision in Chapter 1.  The other appearances of gab, outside of Job, suggest a meaning such as “back” or “rim.” But it appears once more in Job (15:26) to describe a portion of a shield, perhaps the rim or other part that aids its utility. From this scholars have posited that it must mean “defense” in 13:12. It is a decent suggestion, though a bit of a stretch.

 

It is entirely consistent with Job’s literary method to give us one relatively clear statement and then plunge us into inky darkness. I think that is what is happening here. Job criticizes the friends by talking about the worthlessness of their proverbs—they are as insubstantial as the ashes (epher) that he probably could reach down and flick in their faces. Perhaps he did so at that moment for maximum effect. But then, after the point is made clearly, he has the luxury of descending into obscurity. So, their “backs” or “rims” are “rims” of “clay.” Imagine that.