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136. Job 13:20-22, Procedural Issues


20 Only grant two things to me,

    then I will not hide myself from your face:

21 withdraw your hand far from me,

    and do not let dread of you terrify me.

22 Then call, and I will answer;

    or let me speak, and you reply to me.


It would be unwise to look to American jurisprudence in order to understand the details of ancient Israelite law. Ancient Israelite law had so many conceptions that are foreign to us today (e.g., the religious calendar and covenant obligations, the concept of atonement, the method for determining guilt in cases of suspected adultery). Yet, just as understanding of how an engine works today can help clarify the problems that earlier people who invented engines were trying to figure out, so an awareness of law’s method and goals can be helpful in clarifying aspects of a legal procedure in any culture. At least it gives us a vocabulary to explain what is going on.


In this instance, I am drawing on the fundamental distinction in the American common law tradition between procedural and substantive justice. Procedural justice means that the rules of engagement are of equal importance to the substance of what is actually presented. Do both sides get to speak? Are written materials necessary?  What is the role of pre-trial depositions or other information gathering? Does the judge have to be impartial? What counts for evidence? The questions are almost endless, but they are very important questions.  


In Job 13:20-22, Job lays out his two procedural requirements in order for the encounter that he envisions to be successful. They are: 1) that God “withdraw your hand far from me” and then, 2) either speak first and let Job answer OR let Job speak, before God answers.  Each of these two requirements, as well as one preliminary issue, calls for comment.

The preliminary issue is whether Job is in any position to dictate terms of engagement with God. Well, more important than that is whether God needs to or should honor Job’s request. Should God do so? Need God do so? Should God even deign to listen to Job’s request for procedural justice? One of the questions looming over the Book of Job is that when God finally speaks in Job 38, does God actually honor Job’s request, made first here in this passage?  


We can perhaps pick up some of Job’s nervousness in making this request because of the unusual wording of verse 20. Literally, we have,


    “Only/surely don’t do two things to me/with me. Then I will not hide from your face.”


Note, again, the appearance of God’s face (also in vv 15, 16.  In v 17 Job wants his words to be “in God’s ears”). The double negative is confusing. Job will seemingly ask God not to do two things in verse 20, but then in verses 21-22 he asks God to do two things. We forgive the slip up, perhaps as an indication of Job’s extreme anxiety in approaching God in this manner.


The first thing he requests is stated in parallel form in verse 21. Literally, we have, “Your hand from upon me move far away.” He repeats this thought in verse 21b, “and don’t let your terror terrorize me.” The verb “to move far away” is rachaq (58x), which we have already seen in Zophar’s speech in 11:14. Zophar had told Job to put his sin far away from him; Job retorts here that God ought to put the divine hand far from him. It is almost as if Job is saying, ‘Thanks, Zophar, for giving me a word. I really appreciate it. . .’  But the second half of the verse is more ominous. Two words for dread or terror appear, the first of which is emah (17x, six of which are in Job) and the second is the verb baath (16x, eight of which are in Job). Job, therefore, uses familiar “Joban” terminology to make his request.

And his request is very similar to his words in 9:34. In that passage, Job had asked God to take away his staff from him, and “let not his terror (emah) terrify (baath) me.” The same two words are used in 13:21. Thus, Job is reiterating his earlier request. Though there may be no arbiter to make sure that procedure is honored, Job can still state his desires. He just wants the terrors of the night, the feeling of oppression, the divine anger, etc., to be removed from him. Give him some breathing space to make his case. It would be the equivalent in our jurisprudence to requiring the prosecution to sit down and not threaten the defendant either verbally or physically while the defendant is making his/her case. 


If God would honor Job’s request, then it really is a matter of indifference to Job how the actual proceeding would work. Verse 22 says, “Then (you/God) call (i.e., present the case first) and I will answer OR perhaps let me speak and then you will, literally, “return me” (i.e., answer).” Job doesn’t care who goes first. This procedural flow is similar to that imagined by Job in 9:34-35. If God don’t let his terror terrify Job, “then I will speak (v 35, dabar is verb).”  Earlier in Job 13 we had Job’s statement, “I will speak (dabar again) with the Almighty” (v 3). Now he repeats the verb dabar a third time. “I will speak.”


Now that Job has arranged his case, is ready for legal battle and has stipulated his rules for engagement, he is prepared to address substantive concerns (vv 23-28); i.e., the actual allegations or claims that he would bring against God. 

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