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160. Job 15:29-35, Focusing On The Wicked

 

Eliphaz isn’t quite finished yet with the wicked. Verse 29 says,

 

     “He will not be rich nor will wealth arise for him; he will not stretch out/spread his possessions on      the earth.”

 

Most translators take the middle phrase as meaning, “nor will his wealth endure” or “nor will his substance continue,” but I see it as just repeating the thought of the first clause: his wealth won’t even “get off the ground” (taking the qum in the second clause,“rise,” literally). The last word of the verse (minleh) is another hapax, and people have rendered it “gain, acquisition,” so that it stands in apposition to the first part of the verse. Some have even translated it as “perfection.” Scholars take the last phrase, literally “not bend to the earth” in different ways. While the majority of translators render the last phrase “on the earth” or “throughout the land,” Seow thinks that a reference to the underworld is indicated, and so he renders it “He should not spread possessions to the netherworld.” Suffice it to say that we are in the darkness with the wicked person. He may have just been fighting with the Almighty smeared with fat on his face in the darkness but we readers in the twenty-first century have to be content with fighting with a recalcitrant text.

 

Now that he has expressed another difficult-to-translate thought, Eliphaz will try his hand at other images in verse 30.

           

      “He shall not depart from the darkness; the flame will dry out his branches; he will depart by the       breath of his mouth.”

 

Back to scratching our heads. We begin with the observation that the same verb (sur, the common verb for “depart”) both appears near the beginning and end of the verse. At the beginning of verse 30 he is not departing from somewhere, while at the end of verse 30 he is departingwith/by the breath of his mouth. First of all, we don’t really know where he is. We thought he was going into battle with the Almighty, though we don’t know if that implied a spatial or a mental battle. We think it is some kind of actual physical battle because of the elaborate preparations he made for it. But we have no idea where he is, other than in the darkness. We are lost in translation. 


This verse (v 30) seems to imply he is in darkness, maybe the same darkness that enveloped him beginning in verse 22. Ok. Back in darkness, whatever that means. But then we have the unusual, “and the flame shall dry up the branches.” Now that is interesting. Are we to assume that the flame, which no doubt is near the wicked person, burns but sheds no light (since he still is in darkness)? Then, Milton would have more support for his brilliant notion of “darkness visible” in Book I of Paradise Lost, where flames lick but darkness prevails. I hardly think however that that great Puritan author used Eliphaz as his literary model for PL.

 

By the time we get to the end of verse 30, we have to admit defeat. We thought he wouldn’t depart from darkness. But then we have a flame burning, presumably in the darkness, since it burns up his branches.  (What, by the way, are his branches?) Finally he departs by the breath of his mouth. Is this the ancient equivalent of a broomstick—as if the spirit or breath of the mouth carries a person away from where he is? And, if he is departing, does he take the darkness with him? I guess so, because we have just learned that he doesn’t depart from the darkness. So, wherever he departs, he takes the darkness with him. You wonder how much of the torment that Job felt was related to having to listen to his friends’ words. . .not so much the derogatory or attacking words—those are easily repelled, but the seemingly endless words that make no sense. This is the kind of eloquence that  may lead a smart and sane listener to take up cliff-leaping without a parachute. You wonder that if the wicked, before being consigned to eternal destruction, were to be given a choice of either enduring excruciating pain through fire and other torture or having to make sense of Eliphaz’s oracle of judgment in the last half of Job 15, which one they might choose?