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167. Job 16:12-14, Returning to God’s Attack on Job.
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.
In verse 12-14 Job returns to the subject he initially explored in verse 9, the direct assault of God on him. Images pile up with relentless fury. God is like a powerful wrestler who breaks him in two (v 12); God’s archers tear out his entrails (v 13); God is like the giant or heroic warrior who runs upon Job (v 14). In addition to the multi-faceted divine assault on Job is a poetic beauty of rare magnitude. Verse 12 uses the endearingly euphonious parpar/patspats to express God’s shattering and scattering of Job’s pieces. Verse 14 uses a threefold repetition, in five words, of the concept of breaking or shattering (parats, perets, perets). We can just imagine the tiny shards of Job skittering and scattering over a vast landscape while the divine fury exacts its toll on Job. These verses constitute by far Job’s most direct and vehement placing of blame for his misfortunes on God.
Something else, however, may be happening here with the proliferation of verbs for smashing, breaking, scattering, skittering. Job may here be suggesting that the experience of being broken or shattered by God is the beginning of a potentially irreparable breach in Job’s faith. The kind of thought and words uttered in verses 12-14 are not something that can easily be ameliorated by a few calming words. The fabric of Job's faith may be starting to tear.
God has attacked Job physically and psychically; Job only has words with which to fight back. So, in verse 12, he writes,
“I was at ease (shalev, 8x), and he broke me (parar, 50x); he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces (puts, 67x); he set me up as a target (mattara, 16x) for him.”
Job now uses more common terms to describe the divine attack but, in fairness to Job, he no doubt had no idea that the yarat of verse 11 or the paar of v 10 would only appear very few times in what would become the Bible.
The fury of verse 12 is palpable; I even broke into tears as I read the Hebrew. Job was living his life of “ease” (shalev, 8x, is almost identical to shalah, 5x, “to be at ease,” which we saw in Job 3:26 and 12:6). Of the 13 appearances of the two almost identical words for ease in the Bible, Job has five of them. The Book of Job is about Job’s ease that was lost, and the seemingly futile attempt to restore it. Job’s life of “ease” was idyllically described in Job 1—wealth, harmonious family, religious fidelity. But God “broke him asunder” or “broke him in two” (verb is parar, 50x). The verb parar, surprisingly, doesn’t originate in the area of physical violence, but rather in breaking of a treaty (I Kings 15:19) or thwarting of the counsel of someone (II Samuel 17:14). But by far its most frequent usage in the Bible is of breaking the covenant with Yahweh. Even as early as Genesis 17, before there were very many covenants, we are told that failure to circumcise males on the eighth day after birth is an indication that one has broken (parar) the covenant. Other references to parar as breaking of the covenant include Leviticus 26:15, 44; Deuteronomy 31:16, 20; Judges 2:1.
I don’t think we should lose the covenantal flavor of the breaking of Job here. Indeed, Job thinks of himself as being set upon and physically attacked, but the use of parar, rather than any of several other terms for attack, indicates that God’s attack on Job was interpreted by Job as a covenantal breach—by God.
The form of the verb here is a fairly rare doubling of the consonants, as if the verb itself carries with it a “double force.” Parpar signifies the breaking of Job, in a covenantal sense. But that isn’t all that happens; he is also seized (the rather common achaz) by the neck (presumably by God) and shattered/smashed/scattered (puts). Puts often carries with it the notion of scattering the nation or an army after battle. But here, when combined with the “breaking” of parpar, it gives us the impression of the shattering and scattering of Job’s parts. Puts is also put in a doubled form, so we have patspats as the form of the verb. Everything, therefore, is doubled, leading to Job’s exquisite pain and alienation. Sometimes even in our day we speak of a life that is shattered or our vain hopes of reassembling the pieces of such a life. Job is describing the front end of that experience. He has lived through the breaking, both physically and perhaps covenantally; he has experienced the disorientation of being scattered—in possessions, in people, in mind.
To top things off, God has also set Job up as the divine target. We will get to the divine archers in verse 13, but before we go there we have to have some target at which they can direct their arrows. That target would be Job. The noun mattara appears 16x, 11 of which are in Jeremiah. In Jeremiah it invariably means the “guardhouse” or “prison,” but in I Samuel 20:20 and Lamentations 3:12, it is unquestionably a “target.” Lamentations 3:12 carries a similar idea to Job 16:12, though different Hebrew words are used for most things. “He has set me up (natsab, “to make something stand” in Lamentations 3:12; qum in Job 16:12) as a target (mattara in both places) for the arrow (chets, a word Job has used in 6:4 to describe the arrows of God that had penetrated him).”
We often hear uttered the quasi-proverb to the effect that it takes a long time to build a life, but that life can come crashing down in an instant. Job would have concurred. But what is most insidious about 16:12 is that part of the edifice of Job’s well-ordered life was his faith. We now see that its structure and contours are no longer secure. Along with the shattering of his physical body and familial life has come the shattering of his faith. This observation will lie behind my theory below that the witness upon whom Job will rest his hope has to be someone other than the covenantal God.