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168. Job 16:13-14, The Relentless Divine Attack on Job Continues
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 image in verse 13 changes from an attack by someone who breaks and smashes Job (verse 12) to the arrows which penetrate his inmost parts. Verse 13 may be rendered,
“His archers (rab, 2x; a rare noun derived from the equally rare verb rabab "to shoot") have surrounded me (literally “surrounded upon me”/“compassed me about”); he pierces (palach, 5x) my entrails and shows absolutely no mercy (chamal, 41x). He pours out my gall (mererah, a hapax) on the ground.”
Now we move from signs of extreme external distress to the most wrenching description of Job's inner trauma and turmoil. Images of hunters shooting at their targets are much more prevalent in the Bible than of archers piercing their targets. For example, the author of Lamentations thrice used the 19x-appearing verb tsud (“hunt”) to describe how he felt attacked (3:52 (twice); 4:18). Job has even used the verb tsud once previously to talk about God’s relentless, and hostile, search for him (10:16).
Hunters stalk and shoot, but archers pierce. That is the image in verse 13. Archers (rab) only appear elsewhere in Jeremiah 50:29, but arrows are frequently flying around in the Scripture (for example, chets and chetsi combine to appear more than 50x). One can shoot, send out, or use arrows; arrows can shatter people or drink blood; In two instances we have reference to the Lord’s arrows of victory (II Kings 13:17). Job has already told us that the arrows of the Almighty are in him (6:4). The Psalmist speaks of arrows that “go down/sink deep” (nacheth) into him (38:2).
But only here and in Proverbs 7:23 do we have the notion of arrows (or archers) penetrating through a person through use of the rare verb palach (“cleave/pierce,” 5x). Yet, only in Job 16:13 are the ghastly results of that arrow penetration described in such detail. Proverbs 7 describes the enticement of the fool by a prostitute. She makes blandishments; she finally persuades him by her “fair speech” (7:21). He goes after her immediately like an ox to the slaughter (7:22). This is further described as an “arrow penetrating (palach) his liver” or as a “bird hastening to the snare.” This foolish person doesn’t know that this was his life (i.e., it would cost him his life; 7:23).
Thus, in the only other place where palach is used with a parallel construction in the Bible, death is in view. In Proverbs the liver (kabed) is pierced. In Job 16:13, Job’s “entrails/kidneys” (kilyah) are pierced. The kilyah (31x) are centrally important in Israel’s sacrificial ritual, especially as spelled out in Leviticus 3-9. Nearly half of the Biblical appearances of kilyah appear there and describe the way that this part of the sacrificial animal shall be offered by fire to the Lord, a pleasing odor to God. Job is saying that those innermost parts of him are being pierced.
The attack on Job is without pity (chamal, 41x). It is unsparing. The most memorable use of chamal outside of Job is in Deuteronomy 13:8, where punishment is laid down for those who try to seduce the Israelites from their sole devotion to Yahweh, the covenant God. If this attempted seduction happens, “You must not yield (abah, “to consent”) to or heed (shama, “hear”) any such persons. Show them no pity (the negative of chus, “to look on with compassion”) or compassion (the negative of chamal), or conceal (kasah, “cover”) them. But you shall surely kill them.” It is this kind of unsparing attack from the divine archer(s) that Job has felt.
Finally, this attack led to pouring out of his gall on the ground. The imagery of “pouring out” (shaphak) is also drawn from the sacrificial terminology of Israel, where the priest often would pour out (shaphak) blood from the animal at the base of the altar (see, e.g., Leviticus 4:34). In this case, Job’s mererah ispoured out. Though mererah is a hapax, it is obviously derived from the verb marar, “to be bitter/embitter.” Several nouns, with slight variations of spelling but all of which have the m-r combination, also are translated “bitter.” Thus, “gall” is a reasonable rendering. Job is poured out, like a sacrificial animal; God has breached the covenant by attacking him. We are descending into language worlds of unimaginable hurt and betrayal.