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164. Job 16:6-17, God’s Savage Attack on Job, Getting Started

 

6 “If I speak, my pain is not lessened,

   And if I hold back, what has left me?

7 But now He has exhausted me;

   You have laid waste all my company.

8 You have shriveled me up,

   It has become a witness;

   And my leanness rises up against me,

   It testifies to my face.

9 His anger has torn me and hunted me down,

   He has gnashed at me with His teeth;

   My adversary glares at me.

10 They have gaped at me with their mouth,

   They have slapped me on the cheek with contempt;

   They have massed themselves against me.

11 God hands me over to ruffians

   And tosses me into the hands of the wicked.

12 I was at ease, but He shattered me,

   And He has grasped me by the neck and shaken me to pieces;

   He has also set me up as His target.

13 His arrows surround me.

   Without mercy He splits my kidneys open;

   He pours out my gall on the ground.

14 He breaks through me with breach after breach;

   He runs at me like a warrior.

15 I have sewed sackcloth over my skin

   And thrust my horn in the dust.

16 My face is flushed from weeping,

   And deep darkness is on my eyelids,

17 Although there is no violence in my hands,

   And my prayer is pure.    

 

Once he has concluded that the friends offered no help for him in his distress, Job has few other options. He could complain to himself, turning the heart in on itself and so nurse his injuries. But even though he has asked God twice to leave him alone, in Chapters 7 and 10, he realizes that the divine departure won’t provide a resolution he needs at this moment. He wants an explanation; he believes he deserves an explanation for his great distress. Friends are useless in providing such an explanation. Only God can do so.

 

Rather than honing his case, or reviewing his arguments in his mind, Job now turns to some of the most vigorous, and heart-breaking, poetry of assault in the Bible. Using language of unexampled ferocity, he will portray God as a ruthless attacker, tearing Job like an animal, setting him up as the divine target, exposing him to attacks of friends, breaking him in pieces, pouring his entrails on the ground. Ah, perhaps the reference to his liver/entrails (the word to describe this body part is a hapax in v 13) being poured on the ground is also reminiscent of the Cain/Abel narrative, where the blood of Abel, poured out on the ground, called out to God for vengeance. Job’s gore/entrails will be on the ground, and there is, like Abel, no violence on his hands (v 17). His prayer is pure. He, too, will call for vindication.  

 

We may further subdivide this section into verses 6-8, Job’s Physical Condition; verses 9-14, God’s Slashing Attack on Job; verses 15-17, Job’s Innocence Plea.  

 

First, then, Job’s physical condition (vv 6-8). We saw in Job 13 that any direct approach to God was fraught with enormous difficulties. God has all the power; Job is a mere suppliant. God could summarily eliminate Job with less effort than it takes to swat away a fly. Yet Job has nothing to lose. We might give an expanded translation of 16:6 as follows, 

 

    “If I speak, my pain/grief (keeb) isn’t assuaged/relieved/lessened (chasak); yet if I                                 refrained/remained silent, what really departs from me?” 

 

The last words are an eye-catching way to say, ‘How will my condition change?’ He uses the relatively rare verb chasak (27x) both here and in the preceding verse. He could restrain the friends, but nothing has been done to restrain his deep emotion. The word keeb (5x), variously translated as sorrow/grief/pain, is derived from the almost equally rare verb kaab, which appears in Eliphaz’s first speech (5:18). He concludes what he concluded in Chapter 13—that he gains nothing by maintaining his silence.  He might as well speak. The dawning and horrifying reality of Chapter 16 for Job is not only that God is responsible for his great distress or that God may be having a bad day or series of bad days, but that God might have an inveterate strain of unkindness and destructiveness towards His creatures. Facing this possible reality, Job will pull out all the verbal stops to express his anger, grief and anguish.

 

Yet, before doing so, he checks his body, so to speak. Like Eliphaz in 4:2-4, who gently “felt around” before giving his diagnosis of Job’s problem, so Job decides to “feel around” in verses 7-8 to see how his body is holding up before launching into the attack on God. “Certainly, you have wearied (laah, 19x) me” is how he begins. Eliphaz also used laah twice in his opening words of his first speech (4:2, 5). “Will it wear you out if I speak to you?” was the sense there. The verb laah is found most prominently (5x) in Jeremiah, and most memorably in Jeremiah 20:9, where the prophet becomes “weary” with holding in the divine word that wants to burst from his chest. Jeremiah also can’t restrain/contain his words, though he used the words lo ukal there to express the idea of his inability to contain the words.

 

Job’s weariness, then, won’t preclude his speech; it perhaps even requires it. God has exhausted him. Lest we lose that thought, Job adds that God has, literally, “made desolate/appalled/astonished (shamem, 86x) my entire congregation.” I gave the literal rendering of the word edah (149x; it is the chief word to describe the congregation of Israel in the Bible) as “congregation,” though it probably means Job’s family, servants and total estate.  We don’t use the word “desolate” or “appalled” much in English anymore; perhaps it is best to say “lay waste, destroy, ravage” here. Shamem carries the sense of extreme devastation. It debuts in Leviticus 26 (7x in that chapter), where this word is chosen to capture the penalty to be exacted on Israel for breaking its covenant with Yahweh. Complete and utter devastation (shamem). That is how Job felt here.

 

Job isn’t quite ready to describe God’s attack yet, but in verse 8 he warms up to it by using the language of witness, which neatly dovetails with the legal case he has been preparing for the past few chapters. Rather than soliciting witnesses to his condition or rightness from his friends, however he will seek that witness in his own body. Yet, the appeal to his body as a witness here is probably a double-edged sword, testifying to Job that he is innocent but to his friends, and the rest of the world, that he is guilty. 

 

       “You have shriveled me up/seized me (qamat, 2x) which is a witness (ed); my                                        leanness/gauntness (kachash, 6x) rises up against me and bears witness                                              (anah)/testifies against me/my face.”  

 

The last phrase, using the verb anah with the preposition ba, is also used by Eliphaz in 15:6. There Eliphaz only pointed to Job’s own lips testifying against him; Job will do him one better in this passage (16:8) by talking about his gaunt frame acting as an accusing witness against him.

 

If we keep focused on the fact that legal terminology is being employed here (both the concept of witness and the verb qum,“to rise up,” which probably suggests the rising up in accusation in a legal proceeding), we are not too bothered by imprecision in rendering the two other main words of verse 8: the verb qamat and the noun kachash.  Qamat only appears elsewhere in Job 22:16, where it seems to suggest a meaning such as “seize” or “snatch away,” but commentators have noted that qamat takes on the meaning in later Hebrew of “wrinkles” or “fill with wrinkles.” This understanding is then applied to its appearance in 16:8.  

 

Yet, the possible meaning of qamat as seize ought to detain us for a second. When Job turns to the multi-pronged divine assault on him, beginning in the next verse, the overriding idea is God’s “seizing” Job, by tearing him as a wild beast, by gnashing his teeth against Job, by breaking him apart. Would it be too much to see that seizing process as beginning in verse 8? As if to confirm the difficulty of rendering qamat, Clines takes it as “shrivel up” while Seow departs from everyone by rendering it “crush,” because he takes that word as related to the concept of “wrinkling” something with the fingers by force. I'll go with "seize."

 

Likewise, the noun kachash is difficult. Its five other appearances in the Bible all have to do with lying or deceit. But that won’t work here. Scholars have noted that the verb kachash (22x), also normally meaning “to deceive” or “deny,” seems to be used in the sense of “leanness” in Psalm 109:24, where the Psalmist laments that his “flesh has failed him (become lean) from (lack of) fat,” though the translation of that verse is also problematic. Because of the lengthy description of bodily debility that follows in verses 9-14, we are on good grounds for concluding that verse 8 also speaks of that subject, though, as with many things in Job, we wish it might have been a little clearer. Clines takes the word as “gauntness” while Seow renders it as “frailty.”