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154. Job 15:10-16, You Aren’t So Special, Job, Essay Two

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!

Perhaps emboldened or encouraged by Bildad’s skillful appeal to tradition in 8:8-10, Eliphaz begins a journey in that direction in 15:10, though he never is as direct as Bildad in appealing to the past’s authority. Bildad argued that since people are simply of “yesterday and know nothing” (8:9), they need the stabilizing and instructive voice of tradition to guide them (8:10). Eliphaz matter-of-factly declares in this passage that the voice of older people is with the friends rather than with Job. Eliphaz’ strategy of argument seems to be to isolate Job in his pain by saying that Job’s words are useless and dangerous (vv 1-6), his experience isn’t unique or special (vv 7-9) and that those really in the know (the aged) are with the friends rather than Job (vv 10-13).  But since the friends and Job may have ceased their fruitful conversation by now, the argument no doubt falls on deaf ears.


Eliphaz also begins to use rare and even unclear words and thoughts in the next few verses. Maybe the author is subtly saying to the reader, ‘Enough clarity for now. Don’t get too comfortable in your understanding, readers. Back to obscurity for you!’


Verse 10 may be literally rendered,


     “Both the gray-heads (sab, 2x) and the aged (yashish, 4x) are with/among us, mightier                         (kabbir, 10x) in days than your father.”


This seems to be a retort to Job’s words in 12:12, where he asked rhetorically, “Isn’t wisdom with the aged (yashish) and understanding with the stretching out/length of days?” Eliphaz may not directly be affirming Job’s thought, but it assumes Job’s answer. ‘Yes, wisdom is with the yashish and, guess what, these yashish are banu,’ which most likely means “with us” or “in our company.”  


In order to lend a rhythmic quality to his words, Eliphaz says gam sab gam yashish at the beginning of the verse (literally, “also gray-haired also old”). Though sab seems at first glance to be rare, it is identical to sibah (19x), the typical word used to describe the “hoary head” of an older person (see, e.g., Genesis 42:38; 44:29, 31). Rather than picking up on the z-q-n stem to suggest the concept of being “older,” Eliphaz uses the k-b-r stem, “to be many, to be great.” 7/10 uses of the adjective kabbir are in Job; the one appearance of the verb kabar is also in Job (35:16). Some commentators, confused as to why Eliphaz here might appeal to older people without a direct reference to the controlling influence of tradition, suggest that Eliphaz may be referring to himself as the “gray and aged” person in Job’s midst, older even than Job’s father.


Eliphaz doesn’t make the connection between the elders of verse 10 and the consolations of God in verse 11. It would have been easy to do so. He could have said, ‘Don’t these elders and hoary-heads teach you about the consolations of God?’ But he doesn’t. He simply says, in words that are starting to slip away from us because we have a hard time understanding them,


    “Are the consolations of God a bit too small for you, as well as the word for gentleness with you?”


He seems to be asking Job why Job doesn’t find consolations and comfort in the tradition. Instead, Job only finds an occasion for conflict with God. The word tanchum (“consolations,” 5x) is derived from the familiar verb nacham, which can mean everything from giving consolation to being sorry. Its most useful parallel to 15:11 is Psalm 94:19, where the author asks, “in the multitude of my anxious thoughts, your comforts (tanchum) delight my soul.” 


Eliphaz need not mention the scope of these consolations for Job to know what they are. Anyone steeped in the traditions of Israel would know. They include promises of land, long life, happy death, progeny, wealth and safety in the land, and intimacy with God. By calling these consolations the “gentle” (at, 7x) words,” Eliphaz may even have in mind his own more gentle approach to Job in 5:17-27. Job seems to take no delight in the delightful things of God; he seems to find no comfort in the consolations of God.


And so Eliphaz asks him a question in verses 12-13 which is at best murky and at worst completely incomprehensible. Let me begin with a word-for-word rendering. Recall that Eliphaz has just asked why the consolations of God provide no comfort for Job. Now he asks,


     “What takes away your heart? And what do your eyes wink at? For your spirit turns to/against (?)        God and you make words fly out of your mouth.”  

I have translated the common verb laqach (“to take”) in the first clause as “take away” so that Eliphaz would be asking, probably in growing exasperation, ‘If the consolations of God mean nothing to you, what doessteal/influence/take away/grab your heart?’ I see the form of laqach 

(“to take”) as a 3rd person singular with a 2nd person masculine sufformative, with the next word, “your heart,” being the object or the thing that is taken away, rather than the subject of the question. “What takes you away, that is, what takes your heart away?” But most translators render the opening phrase differently.  Most translations have, for example, “Why does your heart carry you away?” even though the interrogative is the common mah, almost always translated “what?” or “how?” Seow, for example, renders this question in this way by making “heart” the subject, rather than the object, of the verb, “Why does your heart take you away?” To be said in favor of the majority approach is that “heart” and “eyes” both appear at the end of their respective clauses and would both be subjects of the thought. Yet, I think my rendering connects verse 12 more tightly to the preceding. 


If confusion attended the first question, it fully engulfs us in the second question. The verb, usually rendered “flash” or “wink at” or “blink” is the hapax razam. What could this mean? Why do your eyes “flash in anger?” We have no idea. Perhaps the winking of eyes was proverbial for something, though we know neither the proverb nor the proper translation of razam. Thus, as Eliphaz is trying to rise to the occasion to pose two questions to Job, we are somewhat confused by the first and absolutely nonplussed by the second.  


The next verse is almost as difficult, though most have rendered it,


     “that you turn against God and pour/bring such words out of your mouth.”


The only problem with this translation is that the opening phrase shub el is most naturally translated “turn to” something or incline towards something.  When God urged the people to repent and come back, He says, “turn to me” (basic words are shub el, Zechariah 1:3). Then God will “turn to you” (shub aleykem). When Malachi says that people have turned away from God (which is what most try to say is happening in Job 15:13), he uses a different expression (3:7), but then when he urges the people to “turn to God” it is shub el. . . (3:7). Eliphaz has at his disposal clear ways of saying “Turn against God” and he hasn’t chosen them. Perhaps the majority of translators are right after all, and that Eliphaz is just asking Job why he has spewed out his words against God rather than returning to God, but the language doesn’t clearly support that translation. Yet Eliphaz may realize that Job isn’t really listening to him.  When we perceive that people have “left” us, we lose our focus and our words often become muddled. That may be what is happening here.

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