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138. Job 13:24-28, Further Questions and Allegations
24 Why do you hide your face,
and count me as your enemy?
25 Will you frighten a windblown leaf
and pursue dry chaff?
26 For you write bitter things against me,
and make me reap the iniquities of my youth.
27 You put my feet in the stocks,
and watch all my paths;
you set a bound to the soles of my feet.
28 One wastes away like a rotten thing,
like a garment that is moth-eaten.
Question 2 is stated in three words: “Why do you hide your face?” The words are all very familiar to the readers of Job so far. In fact, the word for face (paneh) appears as many times in this chapter as “sin” or “reason/rebuke” (yanach). The verb for hiding is satar (80x/8x in Job). Its most recent appearance was just in 13:20 where Job requested two things that God not do so that Job won’t hide (satar) himself from God’s “face” (paneh again). This is not just verbal legerdemain; Job has stated twice, in 7:19 and 10:20, that he would like God to “cease” from him or “look away” from him. Job wanted a breather from God. But when Job says in 13:20 that he will not “hide” his face from God he is, as it were, offering an olive branch to God. Job is willing to come out of his hiding place and face God, but God, too, must not hide from him. God’s hiding from Job is to be understood in the sense of God’s unavailability or God’s unwillingness to offer an explanation of what has been happening to Job.
Job’s frustration on this issue will reach the boiling point in 23:3, “Oh that I knew where I might find him! That I might come to his seat!” Job will continue to hammer away at that point in 23:8-9 “Lo, I go to the front and he isn’t there; and I go backwards and can’t perceive him; on the left hand. . .but I can’t behold him, and He turns himself to the right and I don’t see.” Obviously, in Job 23, Job doesn’t feel that his question in 13:24 has been satisfactorily answered.
He raises his third question also in 13:24, “(Why) do you reckon yourself an enemy (oyeb) to me?” The verb I render “reckon” is chashab, a common verb (124x) which first appears in that most memorable passage in Genesis 15 where Abram “believed the Lord and it was reckoned to him or or considered (chashab) righteousness” (v 6). The verb can also mean to “consider” or “calculate” or “regard” or “work skillfully” (in the Tabernacle narrative of Exodus 25-40). A better rendering here may be, “Why do you regard me/look at me as an enemy?”
This question, of regarding Job as an enemy, hits home, if not to God than at least to Elihu. When he reviewed Job’s allegations against God in his speech in Chapter 33, before giving a convoluted but, in my judgment, ultimately insightful response to Job, Elihu says, “He considers me an enemy” (33:10; using the same phrase as in 13:24). Job, too, will return to his language or thought world of 13:24 in Job 19. In that most moving speech, Job states that God “has kindled his wrath against me and reckons me (chashab) as an adversary” (the word in 19:11 is tsarah, which only appears half as often in the Bible as the word for enemy—oyeb—but is almost as prominent in Job as is oyeb). The idea of Job's being estranged from God is clearly on Job’s mind in both places. A few verses later in Job 19 he talks sadly about how those who live in his house, and his maids, reckon (chashab) him as a stranger (19:15). Rather than Job’s sin causing a rift or enmity between him and God, Job believes that God has initiated the bad relationship, making Job the divine enemy. Why?
Question 4, in verse 25, uses terminology drawn from nature to express his point. The verse is in the form of a question but rather than it being a “why” question it is merely a “will you do XXX”-type of question. Clearly referring to himself, Job asks, “Will you make a shuddering leaf tremble? Will you pursue dry stubble?” It is a particularly powerful question because Job uses rather rare words to capture his sense of his utter vulnerability and even worthlessness. By using this kind of terminology, Job also stresses the terroristic nature of the divine attacks. There is nothing less valuable than a leaf that has fallen and is blown around by the wind. So, Job wants to know, ‘Is this what you want to do—to terrorize a leaf that is just being blown around?’ The word I translate “terrorize” is the 15x-appearing verb arats, which means to cause to tremble, or cause extreme anguish or dread. It appears together with verbs for “panic” (Deuteronomy 20:3) or “fear” (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:9).
The phrase “a driven leaf” is poignant enough, but then we realize that that precise phrase appeared in one of the great judgment oracles of Scripture, Leviticus 26, where the penalties for disobedience to the covenant are spelled out in gory detail. Though the phrase doesn’t describe the shaking or terror of the people, it describes how even something as flimsy and insubstantial as a “driven leaf” will put them to flight (Leviticus 26:36).
The word “stubble” or “chaff” (word is qash, 16x) often appears with verbs of consuming (Joel 2:5) or being blown about (Jeremiah 31:34). Stubble is worthless, and it blows about like the driven leaf. That is Job’s felt reality. God has made him tremble/has terrorized him through dreams, through his bodily and psychic debilities, through the torment of the friends. ‘Will you, God, continue to do this?’
Job then turns to his two allegations against God in verses 26-27. God ‘writes bitter things against Job and makes him inherit the sins of his youth’ (v 26). God also puts Job in the most inhumane form of confinement, and subjects Job to the most unremitting and merciless scrutiny (v 27). One commentator has called Job’s words here as “exquisitely plaintive and affecting.” Job, like the author of Psalm 25:6-7, is aware of the sins of his youth. Who isn’t, really? Who doesn’t believe that s/he has made mistakes, sometimes grievous ones, in one’s youth, or even well into one’s adulthood? In many instances those mistakes are reparable, leaving little trace other than a memory seared into the soul. In other cases a mistake is more costly, leading to ruptured relationships or even a lengthy prison sentence.
But Job’s point here is that God “writes” (the common verb kathab) bitter things against Job. Is he thinking of God’s actual scrawling these bad things against Job on a surface, something like a perverted version of the 10 Commandments? Perhaps this is God’s method of preparing the divine case against Job. Write it out. Or, does the “writing” simply mean “to ordain” or “to bring about” bitter things? The latter use of the verb “write” is evident in Isaiah 10:1 and Hoseae 8:12. But perhaps there is something going on here where Job expects God to write out the sentence of him as a condemned person, as in Jeremiah 22:30. We don’t know, but the impression given in verse 26 is that the divine allegations against Job are visible, evident. Job fears, however, that God will simply be dredging up youthful indiscretions to judge, rather than pointing to anything in this instance deserving punishment.
The language of verse 27 turns almost violent or cruel. The words are short. “Stocks” to confine a prisoner are sad in Hebrew. The English word “sad,” to describe Job’s condition, is equally applicable. God watches (the familiar shamar) all Job’s paths. Though most translations render the last phrase as ”drawing a line” or “making a limit” around his feet, so that we can imagine a person confined in the stocks, with a boundary or limit line drawn around how far his limbs can reach, I would render the verb chaqah (4x) as it is rendered in its other three appearances, “to carve” or “cut in.” Thus, the picture would be of God either carving a boundary or perhaps even carving the divine mark in Job’s feet. The latter has somewhat ghastly connotations.
A brief description of Job’s felt reality (v 28) concludes this long and affecting chapter. Clearly referring to himself, Job says, that “he” is like a rotten thing decaying/wearing out; he is like a garment eaten by the moth. Job’s vulnerability, weakness and utter lack of resources is emphasized. But, perhaps Job argues his point too vehemently. The mere fact of his eloquence and ability to arrange a cogent cases shows that the power of the passage is also in its rhetorical display. Job may feel exhausted; he may feel that he is being driven around like the wind-blown leaf or is as worthless as dry stubble, but don’t let that language fool you. He feels like that, but he uses such eloquent and moving language to express it that we know that he has hidden resources of verbal power at his disposal. He is like the middle-aged Augustine penning The Confessions. We read it as the open and honest display of a simple man--until we realize that before his conversion to Christianity Augustine was a noted professor of rhetoric.
These verbal resources on display in Job 13 will ultimately lead Job to full statement of his case, to eloquent words in his final statement (Job 29-31) and to his brief, but telling, decision in 42:6 to leave God. Returning now to the end of Job 13— if we had any doubts on Job’s eloquence, they are removed as we turn to Job 14.
One final note on Job 13. The last word of the chapter is the little word ash, “moth.” Job feels he is like a garment eaten by an ash. Earlier Eliphaz had used that word to describe the certain judgment on sinning humans: they are crushed before the moth (4:19). Now Job may be responding to Eliphaz’s unusual use of “moth” in no uncertain terms. Job’s garments and, by extension, Job himself may be devoured by moths, but he has no doubt that he will be righteous if this happens. Take that, Eliphaz!