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135. Job 13:18-19, Job’s Confidence in His Future Vindication
18 I have indeed prepared my case;
I know that I shall be vindicated.
19 Who is there that will contend with me?
For then I would be silent and die.
Job 13:18-19 is the second mini-section of Job’s approach to God in Job 13:13-28. I see 13:18 as a fulcrum in the Book of Job, that is, a verse that plays a central role in defining the direction of the book. We have already seen that Job 13 makes extensive use of judicial terminology to set its tone. Verse 18 shows us the reason why the judicial terminology has come to the fore. Job is making a case (the word is mishpat here in v 18, literally meaning “judgment”), and he knows he will be vindicated.
It’s interesting that he chooses the word mishpat to describe the case, since the word, as the BDB dictionary tells us, usually points to the “act of deciding a case.” That is, it is a word that is often used to describe the conclusion of a legal encounter or the result of some kind of other proceeding (a new regulation (Exodus 21:1) or a custom (Exodus 21:9)). If we take this dictionary meaning seriously here it is almost as if Job is confidently saying not only that he has prepared the argument he wants to use against God, but he has prepared the judicial order that settles the case. In American law, judges often ask the victorious attorney to prepare the order that reflects the judgment the judge has just rendered.
Mishpat also has a secondary meaning emphasizing a legal right or privilege, so the translation of mishpat as “case” is justified. But Job may also be expressing his utter confidence in his case: he already knows he will win. Perhaps, we think, this is just the bravado of a fighter at weigh-in, where statements of one fighter saying he will bury the other are commonplace and are meant to get a psychological advantage over the opponent.
Job chooses a fascinating verb that is normally translated “prepared” (arak) to talk about the arrangement of his case in verse 18. Arak appears 78x in the Bible, disproportionately so in Leviticus, the historical books and Job. In Leviticus it is best translated “to arrange,” as in the case of the wood or animal parts being arak (“arranged/prepared”) before sacrifice is carried out. It can refer to the furniture in the Tabernacle being arak (“set up”) according to divine prescription. Yet the Joban meaning is best understood by its use in the historical books, as well as one reference in Genesis 14:18. Arak is used to describe drawing up of an army in battle formation. When two groups of kings made war on each other, one side was said to have “set the battle in array” (arak) against the other side (Genesis 14:18). That use of arak was then picked up in more than twenty instances in the historical books, where one king or the other “arranges” (arak) his troops for battle (Judges 20:22, 33; I Samuel 4:2, etc).
That is how we are to read Job’s use of it here: Job has set himself up for battle, having meticulously prepared everything. That he prepares the “judgment” means that he has great confidence in the outcome. Perhaps also there is an echo of Job’s earlier use of the verb arak in 6:4 where he complained that the forces of God were arrayed (arak) against him. Now he has such confidence that all he thinks about are how his forces are prepared for battle against God.
Lest we had any doubts about our interpretation of the first half of 13:18, the second half confirms it: “I know (yada, common verb) I shall be justified” (tsadeq, 41x). Tsadeq can also be translated “to be vindicated/to be in the right/to be just/to be righteous.” Job uses the verb 17/41 times, lending weight to the notion that the book really is about “being right” after all. Job has come a long way in his use of tsadeq by the time we get to 13:18. He complained in 10:15 that even if he were tsadeq, he couldn’t lift his head (so overwhelmed is he by everything). Perhaps listening closely to Job’s statement of his vulnerability on this point, Zophar had said, “Can a ‘man of lips’ (a person full of talk) be justified (tsadeq, 11:2)?” Tsadeq in those passages pointed to something unattainable for Job, something beyond his reach, something that even if he had it, it would for some reason not be sufficient.
But everything has changed in 13:18. He knows he now has nothing to lose (vv 13-15). Come what may, he will make his case. With this fillip to his confidence he can then utter 13:18. It has taken Job a long time to be able to speak a sentence like this, but he is now ready for an encounter with God—on his own terms. And, that indeed may be the sticking point. God will eventually give Job an encounter (Job 38-41), but in that passage God will define the terms of the meeting. Such clashing, and incompatible, expectations for a meeting leads to a most delicious and unexpected conclusion to the book in Chapter 42.
Verse 19 continues the thought of verse 18, but it may be translated two ways. It might say, “Who is the one who contends with/against me? (If there is one), I would now shut up and die.” It might also say, “Who is the one who contends with/against me? If I shut up/hold my tongue, I would die.” The first translation emphasizes Job’s continuing vulnerability. Even though verse 18 is spoken with such seeming confidence, it might be spoken with more bravado than real confidence. Thus, verse 19 might express Job’s real fear—if someone (i.e., God) contends (rib is verb) against him, he will just fold and die. This is an inviting translation possibility, pointing to Job’s awareness of his own weakness.
But I choose the second, equally defensible, alternative. Job would then be saying that if someone contends with him, Job would certainly die if he holds his peace. This seems to be more consistent with Job’s understanding of how God has treated him so far and his determination in 13:18. God is, for Job, a terrorist, destroying his life for no reason. So far Job has just complained in anger or nursed his wounds. Now, however, he will speak, and if he is silent, then he might as well die. That is how I read this verse. Job is ready for battle, confident of the outcome. He has to speak, because if he now holds his peace, he will die. Job was quite insistent that it was time for his friends to shut up (charesh appears 4x in this chapter—twice in v 5, v 13, v 19), but if he shuts up, he will die.