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166. Job 16:10-14, The Attack Continues

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.


The three violent acts of God against Job in verse 9 (tearing/hating; gnashing; gazing) are mirrored in verse 10 by three hostile acts of humans against Job. We don’t know if this is just a stylized account of violence or refers to the friends or the marauders of Chapter 1. We don’t have any reason to believe that the friends physically assaulted Job. Rare verbs dominate these verses (we saw charaq—gnash—and latash—sharpen--- in v 9); here we will have paar (4x, “gape” or “laugh in mockery”), but the common verb male (“to fill”) will be used in an uncommon way (Hithpael; “to assemble/gather together”). The verbs slow us down in our reading; perhaps the intent of the author is thereby to slow down the action so that we can see it unfolding, as it were, frame by frame.


The three things that humans have done to Job in verse 10 are to paar ("gape at/laugh at in mockery") him with the mouth; to strike his cheek as a reproach/with insolence, and, literally, to “fill themselves” (i.e., mass/assemble themselves) against him. In the deep background may be the thought world of Psalm 22:5-8, where the suffering Psalmist is gazed upon/gawked at by passersby. In that passage there is also a trifecta of verbs to describe his experience: people laag (scorn/laugh him to scorn); they make their lips puff out (a rare verb patar); they wag their heads at him (using nua, which we have just seen in Job 16:4). We also may see a literary echo of Psalm 22:13, where the passersby also “gape” at the Psalmist, using the verb patsah, and then they tear him (taraph, as in Job 16:9) like a lion.  


Because of the possible parallel thought world of Ps 22:7, many scholars take the nondescript “gape/open wide” (paar) in Job 16:10 to mean “to mock/ridicule.”  If we just had “gape” without a more precise description, we might read it variously as gaping in horror, or in amazement, or surprise.  So, are they gawking or mocking? Not much rides on the answer, but that is the issue presented by the verb paar. Seow goes with “opened their mouth”; “gape” suits me fine.


In addition, they strike him on the cheek as a reproach. This same series of things also happens in Lamentations 3:30. There we have, “Let him give to the one striking (verb is nakah, as in Job 16:10), the cheek (lechi, 21x, same as in Job 16:10); and let them be full of reproach (cherpah, as in Job 16:10). Thus, at least in describing the assault against Job by people, we enter into thought worlds known by other authors of the Bible. God’s vicious attack on Job, however is unprecedented. Finally, Job’s opponents gather/mass against him (using the verb male in what the BDB calls a “special” way). If we were just to translate it literally, we would have, “they fill themselves over me”—an idea that may have more resonance, and be closer to Job’s experience than “assemble/mass.” Job might actually feel that he is being devoured.


Rare words continue in verse 11. We begin, however, with a common verb. God has “shut me up/delivered me” (sagar, a common verb meaning “to secure/shut up”) to/on evil people” (avil, a hapax, but obviously the same word as evel 53x, “the unjust/unrighteous”). “God has tossed/thrust (the rare verb yarat, 2x) me into the hands of the wicked.” The thought behind this verse is simple; God has turned Job over to the unjust in order that they would have their way with him. But the concept is said with such obscurity that we wonder.  Is this the mark of a great poet, mining the language for rare or uncommon usages? Or is it just an expression of the literary method expressed elsewhere—of sinking into unclarity once a clear point has been made?  


Though the verb sagar (91x) normally means to “shut” or “confine,” as when the Lord shut the door of the ark (Genesis 7:16), in the Hiphil it can mean “to cause to confine” or “to deliver” (see also its use in I Samuel 23:12, 20; though that narrative appears to use the Qal and Hiphil forms of sagar indiscriminately). Sagar is more powerful here than a handful of other words for “deliver” in that it carries with it the notion of secure confinement with it. Job is, as it were, placed into the tight control of the avil, “the unjust.” Again the final verb of the verse is rare, only occurring elsewhere in Numbers 22:32, and perhaps meaning “to be perverse/contrary” there. Yet, that wouldn’t work here, and so we have to come up with something parallel to “confining me into the hands of the wicked.” Turning Job over/thrusting him/tossing him all seem to work, even though the seeming confidence of translations to agree on this point is belied by the opacity of the word. Seow gives “And into the hands of the wicked he has thrown me.”

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