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174. Job 17:2-4, A Journey into Confusion
2 Surely mockers are with me,
And my eye gazes on their provocation.
3 Lay down, now, a pledge for me with Yourself;
Who is there that will [c]be my guarantor?
4 For You have kept their heart from understanding,
Therefore You will not exalt them.
Job’s hopelessness is also captured by the other two “anchor” verses of the chapter (7, 11), but we will get to them in due course. Job now takes us on a journey of obscurity in verses 2-4. Language of pledging seems to be quite important, especially in verse 3, though it isn’t clear what is being pledged or to whom. Anderson takes these next verses (2-4) as a formal handing over of Job’s friends to God, for which Job will pledge his own life, but he neither provides a translation of how this all would work nor does he give a convincing reason for Job’s seeming act of personal desperation (pledging his life) when he is seemingly on the road to preparing a competent and convincing legal case. Seow takes verse 3 addressed to God, thus emphasizing Job’s abject aloneness. Despite Job’s immediate turn to negativity and hopelessness in these verses, I don’t see them (contra Anderson) as Job’s staking his life on anything so that the friends might be judged. I agree, with Seow, that verse 3 makes most sense if it is addressed to God. Yet, confusion still reigns.
So, let’s provide a literal rendering of verses 2-4 and see where it leads us:
“Isn’t it the case that mockers are with me? And that my eyes lodge in their provocations. I place my pledge with you; who will strike/shake hands in agreement (on the pledge)? For you have hidden understanding from their hearts; thus you will not exalt them.”
What?? We already had a rough time with the concept of mockers in 16:20, where different commentators rendered the participial form of the verb lun as either “mockers” or “interpreters.” Now, have the mockers returned, but now under the cover of a different word. To make matters words, the word normally rendered “mockers” here is the hapax hathulim. Some take it as the abstract noun “mockery;” it no doubt is derived from the 10x-appearing verb hathal, which means to mock, deride, or deceive (e.g., Genesis 31:7; Judges 16:10, 13, 15). This won’t be the end of mockery in the Book of Job, as Job himself saves his most delicious use for 21:3, where he just says to the friends, “Bear with me and I will speak; then after I have spoken, mock on” (verb there is laag).
Job says that his eyes “lodge” (the common verb lun,“to dwell”) in their provocations/rebellions (marah, 45x, “to be contentious/rebellious”). Yet, even the verb “lodge” here is reminiscent of 16:20, where its appearance was so hard to translate. Job may be mocking those of us who are trying to understand by playing with words that have been used in the previous few verses, words that themselves aren’t clear. It is almost as if he is saying, ‘I have clearly expressed both my hope for a redeemer and my abject hopelessness in the present. What more do you guys really want? I’ll mock your intelligence. . .’ Perhaps because of the translation conundrums provided by verse 2, some scholars have tried to read the lun of verse 2 as laah, to be tired. Eliphaz has already used that word twice previously. But I stay with the Masoretic Text: Job’s mockers are all around him; his eyes still “lodge” in their provocation—i.e., he is still bothered by their complaints, even though he realizes that no further help from them will be forthcoming.
A little clarity emerges if we try to connect verse 4 immediately with verse 2, leaving verse 3 to the side for a moment. This was a method that seemed to work for us with 16:19, 21, with verse 20 being an interruption in thought. So I would argue that 17:2, 4 contain a continuous thought, with verse 3 being an obscure interruption, addressed to God, about pledges. Thus, the flow of verses 2, 4 would be that mockers are around (i.e., the friends), that Job can’t really escape their continual provocations, but that God has closed their minds to understanding, which means they won’t rise up/be exalted. It isn’t a revolutionary or even particularly brilliant thought, but it does seem to explain the flow of 2, 4.
But then we have verse 3 obtruding, like an unsightly swelling of the floor in the middle of the living room. Job talks about laying down his pledge with an unspecified “you,” most likely God. Then he asks a question, “For who (else) will “shake on it” (i.e., complete or guarantee the transaction). We have no idea what Job is laying down as a pledge or why he is using pledge language, but an enticing possibility is now to read the chabal in verse 1 as “my spirit is pledged” rather than “my spirit is consumed/destroyed.” The thought would then be that Job is saying that he would take this pledge (his spirit/breath) and place it “with you” (with God), but his sadness arises because no one will be willing to be Job’s guarantor, to vouch for him, to stand up for him. No wonder he needs a witness in heaven (16:19). And, he needs to continue to speak boldly, regardless of the consequences.
My reading, then, would be analogous to my reading of the verse where Job is taking his life in his hands but then continuing to speak boldly to God (e.g., 13:14). He takes his flesh in his teeth, he places his life/breath as a pledge. Here Job is utterly spent and committed to his cause. That may be an explanation of verse 3 that not only connects it to a frequent rendering of chabal in verse 1 but also captures Job’s desperation.