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153. Job 15:7-16, You Aren’t So Special, Job, Essay One

7 “Were you the first man to be born,

    Or were you brought forth before the hills?

8  Do you hear the secret counsel of God,

    And limit wisdom to yourself?

9  What do you know that we do not know?

    Whatdo you understand that we do not?

10 Both the gray-haired and the aged are among us,

    Older than your father.

11 Are the consolations of God too small for you,

    Even the word spokengently with you?

12 Why does your heart carry you away?

    And why do your eyes flash,

13 That you should turn your spirit against God

    And allow suchwords to go out of your mouth?

14 What is man, that he should be pure,

    Or he who is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?

15 Behold, He puts no trust in His holy ones,

    And the heavens are not pure in His sight;

16 How much less one who is detestable and corrupt,

    Man, who drinks iniquity like water!

 

These ten verses may further be subdivided into verse 7-9 (You Aren’t Unique, Job); verses 10–13 (Why Are You So Obtuse?); and verses 14-16 (The Impossibility of Human Purity).  Eliphaz’s tone throughout is one of exasperation at Job.

 

Let’s first examine verses 7-9. Eliphaz’s first words of this section employ some of the same mockery that Job used against the friends and God. But he also, in verse 7, skillfully draws upon the sentiment of one of the most familiar Psalms (Psalm 90) to express the contrast between Job and God. A literal rendering of verse 7 might be,

 

     “Were you the First Adam born? And, Were you brought forth before the hills?”

 

I use the word “Adam” (untranslated) because that was the name of the first earth creature. Eliphaz is needling Job. Are you trying to say that you came before even that Adam? That Eliphaz means precisely this is confirmed by the second question—whether Job’s was birthed before the hills. The combination of the verbs “to be born” (yalad is verb, the passive yulad appears here) and “brought forth (from chul) in 15:7 precisely mirror and perhaps are meant to echo the use of the verbs in Psalm 90:2. “Before the mountains were brought forth (passive of yalad) or you had formed/brought forth (from chul) the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” 

 

By alluding to Psalm 90, Eliphaz asserts in no uncertain terms that God alone is the unique one, existing before the hills, before the First Adam. If we wanted to find a parallel thought from the wisdom tradition, we have the “Hymn to Wisdom” in Proverbs 8.  Proverbs 8:23 says, “From everlasting I was poured out/established; from the beginning, before there ever was an earth.” 

 

Two other brief points should be noted about verse 7. First, the word we rendered in a temporal sense (“before the hills”) is liphne, which normally has a spatial connotation (i.e., “in front of”). Even though we took liphne literally in Eliphiaz’s earlier speech (4:19) where people are crushed in front of moths, here it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to ask if Job was brought forth “in front of” mountains, as if Job’s mother could look on them for comfort as Job eased out of her birth canal. That is why I agree with almost all scholars in rendering it temporally here. Second, Eliphaz’s question in verse 7 will be developed in much greater detail by an unlikely source in Job—God, especially in Job 38-39. Though God’s last word regarding the friends is that they didn’t speak “right” concerning God, He does show his indebtedness to Eliphaz, at least, in framing his catechism of Job in those chapters. God doesn’t properly give footnotes in His later speech to express His indebtedness.

 

Now that Eliphaz thinks he has put Job in his place by the question of verse 7, he needles him a bit more in verse 8.

 

     “Have you listened in on the Divine Council/Counsel? Do you limit wisdom to yourself?”

 

The word for counsel or council (sod, 21x) emphasizes the intimate or most secret plans of God. Jeremiah used the word twice in 23:18-22 to express that idea. The most poignant appearance of the word is in Job 29:4, Job’s final speech, where Job ruefully recalls the days when the “counsel (sod) of God” was “over my tent.” Perhaps Job takes Eliphaz’s mocking use of the term in 15:8 and decides to “redeem” it in his own experience in 29:4, basically giving a delayed retort to Eliphaz and saying, ‘Yes, indeed, I had the counsel of God in me. . .’

 

When Eliphaz asks “Did you restrain/limit (gara,22x) wisdom to yourself?” he is picking up on the same verb he used in verse 4 to talk about how Job’s attitude “restrains” or “limits” devotion to God.Now he accuses Job of “limiting” wisdom to himself.  Eliphaz’s allegation seems to mirror Job’s charge agains the friends in 12:2, where Job had said that “wisdom will die with you.” But behind this is the allegation that Job isn’t so special; Eliphaz feels he needs to point that out.  


Verse 9 is more of the same. Eliphaz perhaps changes his tone from one of mockery to one of feeling a bit slighted or even hurt. “What do you know that we don’t know?”  This is a direct response to Job’s statement in 13:2, “What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you.” Eliphaz would be saying what friends have said to each other since time immemorial: ‘Don’t get on your high horse. We know who you are. We know what you face. You are not that different from us.’ The issue has evolved to a discussion of knowledge (yada) and understanding (bin), but this issue is always a non-starter in discussions. Claiming special knowledge or comparing the extent of one’s knowledge with a friend’s knowledge will not advance the discussion one centimeter. Perhaps that is why Eliphaz decides to change his subject in verse 10.