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134. Translating Job 13:15
Ever since the 17th century, and perhaps before, English translations of the Bible have rendered the first words of verse 15 as “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him.” These words have resonated deeply with people of faith because it seemed to focus on what was central to religious faith—an attitude of trust in God and a persistence in that trust. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” are the memorable words in Revelation 2:10. Job 13:15 seemed to fit seamlessly into that theology. But two changes dawned on the mid-late twentieth century translation community. First, the opening word hen really shouldn’t be translated as “although.” It is more of a “thus” or “lo” word, with the following words expressing the content of the “thus,” rather than the first word of a concessive (“although”) clause.
Then, the third word of the verse was increasingly read as lo and not lo. That is a bit of a joke for English speakers, kind of like saying you mean the word shi in Chinese without giving the tonal indication (and even that creates loads of different possibilities). But the first lo is the familiar “not” while the second lo is “to him.” A possible rendering of it as “to him” meant that the word was generally ignored in most English translations, since it wouldn’t make much sense. But when one reads the word as lo, “not,” meaning emerges. The following verb is yachal, which normally means “to wait” (Job 6:11; 14:14) but also in many instances means “to hope” or “to trust.” We can see how these three translations all occupy a similar verbal space, but if the word preceding the yachal is“not” and the word beginning the sentence is “thus” or “lo,” then we have, “Lo, he will kill me; I will not XXX.” Most translators, faced with this newer reading will go with, “Lo, he will kill me; I will not hope.” Or, “Lo, he will kill me; I have no hope.”
This new translation fits surprisingly well with the fear that Job has just expressed in verse 14. He knows he is taking his life in his hands, that he is treading into a sacred danger zone. He knows that God could kill him and that he really has no hope. The only difference that my translation brings out is the future, rather than conditional meaning of the first verb of verse 15 (qatal, 3x, “to slay/kill”). Job is so frightened that he just knows he will die. That is a realistic way to capture the nature of his extreme fear. Job actually and absolutely believed that he was is about to die. Job’s saying “Lo (the English word--more colloquially, “well. . .”) He will slay me, I have no hope,” captures precisely the conflicted nature of Job’s emotions at this point. He is approaching God, not with just a Moses-like complaint about how to manage the people of Israel or why God did such-and-such a thing, but with an accusation against God. Job rightly feels it very well may be all over
Then, the second half of verse 15 fits seamlessly with this translation: “Certainly (ak, a somewhat vague adverb), I will reason with him, arguing my ways to his face.” My translation is a bit pleonastic; literally we have, “my ways to his face will I prove.” We have the unexpected, but delightful, return of yanach here, a word that meant “to reason with/reasoning” in verse 3, 6 (the noun form appeared in v 6), but “rebuke” or “reprove” in its two appearances in verse 10. When Job uses it to refer to himself in Job 13, it emphasizes the initial stages of the legal confrontation—the “reasoning” or “argument” or “proving” stage. As mentioned above, it also points to the conclusion of the legal proceeding, the “rebuke” or “correct” stage. Job is saying that God will kill him, no doubt, yet/certainly he will “prove” his ways to God.
If we haven’t noticed it yet, we should be clear on the point: Job 13 drips with legal language. Not only does yanach appear more frequently in this chapter than in any other chapter in the Bible, but the noun for a legal proceeding (rib) appears in verse 6 and the verb form rib,“to have a controversy” appears in verses 8, 19. The verb tsadaq, “to be justified,” also appears in verse 18. We are warned as readers, then, to get ready for the legal show of our lives.
Having expressed the absolute terror gripping his heart in verse 15 (that he will die), Job is able to relax for a moment in verse 16. Note that he posits his salvation is not in God nor in any act of divine deliverance of the people of Israel, but that “a chaneph (hypocrite) will not come before God’s face.” The word “face” (paneh) is now liberally used (vv 15, 16) perhaps to emphasize the intimacy of the proposed encounter. Job will come before the divine face; hypocrites can’t. Little needs to be said about chaneph, a word beloved by Job (8/13 appearances are in Job). These are the “godless,” first mentioned by BIldad in 8:13, but now brought up by Job. He likes the word. They won’t have access to God, but Job knows that he isn’t among their number.
Having expended such enormous emotional energy in these verses, Job can conclude this first section of approaching God a with neat and clear statement: “Listen diligently to my speech (v 17, using millah, 34/38 of whose appearances are in Job) and to my declaration (achvah, a hapax, but no doubt derived from the 6x-appearing verb, chavah, which means “to tell").’Job will be preparing his case. It will be a unique one; even his description of it uses rather unique words. The friends are told to shut up; Job just wants to speak to God. He now will go on to express his confidence in his future vindication.