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165. Job 16:9-14, God’s Attack on Job, Starting with Job 16:9
9 “His anger has torn me and hunted me down,
He has gnashed at me with His teeth;
My adversary glares at me.
Students of Job have frequently noted the change of persons for the verbs, beginning in verse 7. We begin with a third person singular description (“God has wearied me”) but then quickly move to the second person (“You have devastated my entire congregation”). The second person verb continues in verse 8, but then we are back to third person singular in verse 9. We move to third person plural in verse 10, though we are never quite sure if the referent there is to the friends or to the people who devastated Job’s property and family. Then, we return to third person singular singular through verse 14. Some have taken this as a sign of unskillful joining of diverse sources; I tend to see it pointing to both Job’s boldness and reticence in approaching and accusing God of wrongdoing. Only rarely does one approach God in accusation as a “You. . .” Keep it in the third person singular. Might be a little safer.
When we move to the poetry of these verses, we, too, are devastated. Job begins in verse 9 with “his (i.e., God’s) wrath” (also can be his nose/snout), but that is only the beginning. It keeps getting better (or worse) from there. The next word captures what the divine wrath has done. It taraph,“viciously tore.” But still we have one more word to capture Job’s initial reaction. “His wrath tore me viciously and he has hated me/hunted me down” (satam, 6x). The verb taraph (25x) is usually used to describe lions or other fierce animals tearing their prey (Ezekiel 22:25; Psalm 17:12; 22:13; Genesis 37:33, etc); it can also be used of God’s having “torn” the people (Hosea 6:1), though in this last passage the divine tearing is preparatory to healing (rapha). Thus, we have an attack on Job of unparalleled divine fury.
But it isn’t just the attack that devastates; we also have the hatred. Satam only appears five other places in the Bible, and can be rendered “persecute” or “bear a grudge” or “hate.” Its most vivid and memorable appearance is in Genesis 27:41 where the verb describes Esau’s feelings, after he has been betrayed and cheated out of his inheritance by the conniving efforts of his mother, assisted by his brother Jacob. I love the way older commentators and translators render it. Esau “bore a grudge” or “cherished animosity” (an interesting way of phrasing hatred) against Jacob; a twenty-first century rendering is “despise” or “hate.”
Thus, Job’s first three words of 16:9 reflect a vehemence hitherto unexpressed by Job in holding God responsible for his condition. God has, like a ravenous lion, torn him apart. God has, like a brother deprived of his inheritance through deception, hated him. And, we are just getting started. Two other neatly balanced phrases, whose neat balance belies the ferocity of expression, then follow to complete verse 9. Literally,
“He (God) has gnashed his teeth against me; my adversary has burned his eyes into me.”
Gnashing (charaq, 5x) teeth is not a common activity in the Scripture, but it is a sign of extreme hostility or disrespect when it appears. Lamentations 2 describes the unparalleled and devastating destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. The Lord broke it down (2:6); He laid it in ruins (2:8); God has ruined and broken its bars (2:9). Weeping and lamentation punctuate the silence of the people (2:10-11). To make things worse, the passersby get into the act. They “clap their hands at you; they hiss and wag their heads” (2:15). The enemies “hiss, they gnash (charaq) their teeth.” Triumphantly they cry, “We have devoured her!” (2:16). In Job 16, God now plays the role of the critical, hissing, gaping onlookers.
God, called “my adversary,” also “sharpens” (latash,5x) the divine gaze on Job. Usually the verb latash is used in connection with judgment. “If a person doesn’t repent, God will sharpen (latash) his sword, bend his bow” (Psalm 7:12). Here, however, the divine eyes are “sharpened” on Job. In this unique phrase we get the impression of a special divine attention to Job, just the kind of attention he wanted to avoid in Job 7. God’s piercing gaze, the divine laser, is also slicing him in two.