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14. Job 1:20-22, Checking the Wounds
20 "Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 He said, 'Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' 22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing."
Normally when a verse contains five verbs out of a total of eleven words, we would conclude that the actor is springing into immediate and decisive, even frenetic, action. Yet though Job may be said to act with decisiveness through the five verbs in verse 20, it is anything but frenetic. We have the impression of a deeply ritualistic, but deliberate, series of actions. Job has just lost nearly everything of value to him; the spotlight is now on him and his actions.
The verbs include rising and falling and then three other activities. First he rises (qum), perhaps because, as many commentators suggest, Job received the news in a seated posture, a position of authority. Yet whatever authority he once had will now be ripped out from under him. He tore his garments (qara, 63x), an action that was first presented to us in the Bible in Genesis 37, the story of Joseph and his brothers. When father Jacob is presented with circumstantial evidence that his son Joseph has met with foul play, he tears (qara) his clothes (37:34). Five verses earlier, when Reuben had discovered Joseph’s disappearance from the pit, he likewise tore (qara) his garments. The objects of the tearing in Genesis 37 are simlah (a word describing an outer garment, v 34) and a beged (a word of general application, describing clothes from beggars to the high priest, v 29). Other passages give us yet other garments can be torn, which leads to the interesting but irrelevant question here of the types of garments worn by various Israelites throughout history. In Job 1:20, Job tears his meil, a rarer (28x) word that is usually translated “robe” but is elsewhere used to describe the garment of the high priest in Exodus 28 or of King Saul in I Samuel 24:4 or Saul’s son Jonathan in I Samuel 18:4. Certainly it is a garment befitting Job’s elevated social position.
The next verb is gazaz (15x), translated “shave” or “shear,” and in this case pointing to Job’s shaving his head. The verb usually is used to describe sheep shearers (Genesis 31:19; 38:12); four times in I Samuel 25 it describes Nabal shearing his sheep. But it also relates to cutting off human hair, though not so frequently (Jeremiah 7:29; Micah 1:16). Later Israelite law, in Deuteronomy 14:1, would forbid this activity, even though a different verb for “shave” is used (gadar). Perhaps a new verb was chosen in Deuteronomy because the practice of shaving the head in grief was too close to ritual practice of foreigners, people from whom one wanted to distinguish oneself in every possible way.
Then, Job “falls” (naphal) on his face towards the earth. It is the fifth time this common verb has appeared in Job 1. When the calamities fall, Job falls. Finally, Job “worships” (shatach).The verb for worship appears so many times in the Bible as not to need special notice here. Yet, the combination of his activities when receiving this terrible news might be compared to the verbs to describe Hezekiah’s grief in II Kings 19:1 or David’s actions upon receiving the news of his baby’s death in II Samuel 12:20. Hezekiah first tore his clothes (qara, beged),then covered himself in “sackcloth” (kasah, saq). David “arose” (qum) from the ground, then “washed” (rachats) and “anointed” (suk) himself, and then changed his garments (chalaph simlah), went (bo) into the house of God and worshiped (shatach). Even with the five verbs in Job 1:20, however, note what is not said. There is no sackcloth, no dust and ashes (yet), no lamentations or ululations, no gashes on the body. Job’s acts are conventional acts, deliberately performed. They are the acts of one deeply hurt, but also of one who is deeply faithful.