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169. Job 16:14-17, The Attack Concludes

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.


Verse 14 continues and concludes Job’s verbal barrage against God.  Now, we have a threefold breach of Job’s defenses as the divine warrior runs upon him. The incredible power of the Hebrew is communicated by the threefold use of the root p-r-ts (“to destroy/break through/burst into"). Though that 49x-occurring verb can simply mean to “spread out/grow” (Exodus 1:12), it more often refers to a breach made by attack. Psalm 60:1 captures the meaning that Job presents. “O God, you have rejected us; you have broken us (parats); you have been angry. Restore us.” The Psalmist also plaintively asks why God has “broken down” Israel’s hedges (parats is verb, Psalm 80:12) or walls (parats is verb, Psalm 89:40).  


With this background, we see that Job’s use of the verb parats in 16:14 means to destroy or break down. But rather than just saying that “God has destroyed/broken (me) down,” Job uses the noun form of the word (perets) twice in succession, to give the impression of continual assaults. “You have destroyed me with destruction after destruction” is the tone of 16:14. Continuous breaches of Job’s flimsy defenses is in view. Seow tries to capture the repeated ferocity of the divine attack on Job by repeating his words: “He breached me, breach upon breach. . .”

This attack on Job is personalized in the last three words of 16:14, where God “runs at me like a warrior/mighty man” (gibbor, 159x). We now have a complete picture in our mind of God’s vicious assaults on Job.


As Anderson has pointed out in his commentary, five pictures are in view:  1) God is like a ferocious beast who tears its prey (v 9); 2) God is a traitor handing Job over to enemies (v 11); 3) God is like a wrestler who smashes, shatters and scatters Job’s hopeless shards (v 12); 4) God is like an archer who pierces Job with arrows (v 13); 5) God is like the mighty warrior who repeatedly assaults Job (v 14), slashing his most vital parts and pouring them out on the ground. The vehemence of the five-fold divine attack has not just “wearied” Job; it has eviscerated him, skewered him, sliced and diced him without mercy.  


Verses 15-17 neatly capture Job’s reaction to the multifarious divine assaults. In few words, Job will feel not only pained in body but fully humiliated in spirit. Tears stream from his face; his gaunt body is topped by the shadow of death that now seems to hover above his eyelids. The irony of it all, however, is that Job knows he doesn’t deserve this. His prayer is pure; he has eschewed all violence. Thus, making matters most painful for Job is the absurdity of it all. He suffers for no apparent reason, and the only one who could possibly either allay his fears or lend an explanation has gone silent.  


Job’s reaction to all of this begins in verse 15.


     “I have sewed sackcloth to my skin; and have laid my horn in the dust.”


Two distinct images are presented, both of which make us pause. Normally one “wears” sackcloth in the Scripture as a sign either of personal humiliation or of repentance. Here, he “sews” sackcloth. The verb for sewing (taphar, 4x) appears once in the famous passage from Ecclesiastes 3 (a “time to tear, a time to sew”) but its most interesting usage is in Genesis 3, where our first parents, after discovering their nakedness, sewed (taphar) garments to cover themselves. Does Job specifically use this rare verb in 16:14 to hearken back to that experience of humiliation and nakedness?


But the picture created by Job’s sewing sackcloth “on his skin” (geled is a hapax which we think means “skin”) may be ghoulish and gruesome. Though one might read the words as simply saying that Job sewed sackcloth and then laid it upon his skin, it can also be read as Job’s attaching the sackcloth to his skin by sewing. His taut and gaunt skin, perhaps impervious now to perception, would be the pierced by the needle, just as God had pierced it with the arrows, and the sackcloth would now become his permanent garment. Sewing also requires repeated piercing of the skin. That may be what Job is doing here.


While we are reeling from that picture, Job tells us that his “horn” (the common word qeren) is laid in the dust. Some scholars translate the verb alal more vigorously, so that Job’s ‘horn” is thrust or buried (Seow uses “sunk”) in the dust, but the interesting part of the image here is a reference to Job’s “horn.” Humans, last time anyone checked, don’t have horns, except for the curious medieval and early modern depiction of Moses with small horns in artistic works, due to a misreading of the Hebrew text of Exodus 34:29-30. Clines translates qeren here as “glory,” relying on the image of qeren elsewhere in Scripture as a sign of power (e.g., Psalm 89:17, 24). All of Job’s power is in the dust with him, even as he is covered in humiliation.


The description of private suffering continues in verse 16, now with reference to his own body. We saw the enormous power of Job’s use of doubled words (parpar/patspats) in verse 12; now he almost does the same to describe his affected body parts. His face is “reddened.” The verb to describe that is chamar (6x),which most likely originally meant to be covered or smeared with asphalt, slime or pitch but it may also reflect the “bubbling up” of that smeared surface, just as Job’s eyes may run with or “bubble over” with tears. The imagery is difficult, to be sure, but the word in its form in 16:14 is chamarmaru, with the repeated “mar” sound perhaps also recalling the “bitterness” or “gall” that was captured in the word mererah of verse 13. To use a felicitous English word, Job's face is now "marred" beyond recognition.


Another doubled word follows. On Job’s eyelids (Hebrew is aphaph) is the shadow of death (tsalmaveth). Job loves the word tsalmaveth; 10/19 of its appearances are in Job. So far we have imagined the word tsalmaveth as denoting a place or state of mind. Job has asked that darkness and tsalmaveth claim him (3:5); he wants to go to the land of tsalmaveth (10:21, 22), a place where God will hound him no more. How can it be said that this place or state of mind is hovering on Job’s eyelids? The Psalmist might elsewhere say, “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (16:8), but Job, in contrast, keeps the shadow of death ever before him. It rests on his eyelids, reminding him that his next destination is death.


The enormous emotional weight of verses 15-16 is only intensified by Job’s claim in verse 17. All these things weigh upon him, tearing up his viscera, making him live in humiliation, causing the reality of death to be ever before his eyes, but he is the peaceful one. He is the one who offers the pure prayer. Eliphaz has just used the verb “to be violent” in 15:33 in his unclear description of the fate of the wicked person; now Job uses the noun form “violence” (chamas, 60x) to say that violence isn’t in his hand.  He will in no way be linked to the pathetic wicked person of Eliphaz’s description.

But Job also, for the first and only time in the book, uses the word “pure” (zak)  in reference to himself. The friends, as we have seen, often accuse Job of claiming personal purity (8:6; 11:4; 33:9) though Job has previously used language of uprightness and blamelessness to describe himself. Yet, here he talks about his prayer being pure (zak). Perhaps Job has decided, in his increasing alienation from his friends, to use the word that seems to stick in their craw about him. Job, then, would be saying, ‘What of it? My prayer is pure. And you guys are worthless. But, thanks for the word.’

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