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183. Job 18:8-10, Multiple Kinds of Snares

 

But Bildad is just getting warmed up. His most impressive verbal display occurs in verses 8-10, where he lists six distinct words for “trap” to stress how the life of the wicked is already caught in a trap or will imminently fall into one. We can barely suppress a smile as we go through the vocabulary of traps here, for it reminds us of Eliphaz’ tortured attempt to list five kinds of lions (ari, shachal, kephir, layish, labi) that somehow related to the principle of reaping what one sows (4:11-12).  By the time we got to the end of Eliphaz’s list, however, we burst out laughing because his quest for word mastery had completely obliterated any connection with divine judgment.

 

Yet, Bildad appears to do better here than Eliphaz. He not only gives us one more word than Eliphaz (so Bildad in coming years can kick back and tell the grandkids that he even bested “uncle Eliphaz” because his “list of six” was the longest list to describe similar objects in Job) and, if we count qenets in verse 1 as a reference to a net, then he has give us seven words for these tricky and troublesome traps that snare the wicked, but he has also not strayed from the topic of judgment. 

 

The six words for trap in verses 8-10 are resheth, sebakah, pach, tsammim, chebel, malkodeth. We are a little surprised that Bildad didn’t use a more common and theologically significant word for “snare,”moqesh, 27x, which is known to the author of Job (it appears in 34:30; 40:24). The ones listed, however, provide instruction, and not a little entertainment, for us.  

 

Let’s begin our journey.  Verse 8 says, perhaps a bit more literally than eloquently,            

 

       “Because with his feet is he sent into a net (resheth); and upon a lattice-work trap (sebekah) he 

       walks back and forth.”

 

My literal translation doesn’t make sense on one level, because someone who is snared in a net isn’t in any condition to go walking back and forth over something else, but we should pause on the difficulty of the picture Bildad is giving us. There is no problem with the first part—feet caught in a net. But then, the verb for walking in the second part is in the Hithpael (the reflexive) and normally means to “walk back and forth.” It can also mean to wander or simply to walk, and meaning requires that s/he not be walking back and forth after being trapped, so let’s go with “walk upon a lattice-work trap.”

 

But this causes problems, too. In his zeal to describe the certain fate of the wicked, Bildad has people trapped by nets and then, apparently, falling into a pit over which there is some kind of (deceptively laid) lattice-work. The word for this grill or lattice is sebakah (15x), which appears 7x in I Kings 7 to describe a kind of lattice or grill work that is placed on the capitals which are themselves atop the pillars of the Solomonic Temple. No doubt it is ornamental. For Bildad, however, it appears to be some kind of attractive, even ornamental, surface on the ground which an unsuspecting person walks over (‘Hey, hon, look at this attractive ornamental lattice-work on the ground.  I think I’ll walk on it!’), but it turns out to conceal either a pit or something else that entraps. That’s the best I can do on the word sebakah here. The word “net” (resheth, 22x) can also be used to describe a “network” of bronze on the altar in the Tabernacle (e.g., Exodus 27:4, 5), but is the word beloved in the Psalms for the device that traps people (Psalm 9:15; 10:9; 25:15, etc). 

 

So, there we have the wicked in verse 8. The are, in the words of the Cowardly Lion, “trapped like mice. . .er. . .rats.” It’s a bit tough to imagine them walking back and forth on top of grill work once their feet are already in a net, but those who eagerly draw up pictures of the pains of the wicked often have inconsistent images of destruction. People just get too eager to describe pain, and so images of swords skewering people while they are being incinerated in unquenchable fire or pressed by heavy stones often run together. 

 

Well, Bildad isn’t done. We have a trapped person who, incongruously, seems to be walking and falling in verse 8.  Then, verse 9 says,

 

        “A gin/trap seizes him by the heel; and a snare lays hold of him.”


We are running out of English words to describe what is happening. The “gin/trap” is a pach (27x), a word immortalized in Psalm 124:7, where the Psalmist gleefully sings that he has “escaped like a bird from the pach of the fowler.” The word pach is then repeated in that same verse. If Bildad has this kind of pach in mind, we see that it is some kind of bird-trap. The fowler, interestingly enough, is described by the verb yaqosh, “to set a snare,” from which derives a common word for snare/trap moqesh, which is just about the only word for “trap” that Bildad doesn’t use.  

 

The image of 18:9 suggests that this bird-trap is in on the ground, for it wouldn’t make much sense for a trap to catch a person by the heel if it is six feet up in a tree, where birds normally nest. Unless, of course, our hapless traveler says to his wife, ‘Hon, I think I will climb this cedar of Lebanon. . .Drat!  caught in a pach!’ But now that the leg and heel of the wicked person is caught, s/he is pretty much immobilized, we think. Yet, the words continue. The “snare” that lays hold on him/her is the rare tsammim, which only occurs elsewhere in Job 5:5, where it is usually translated “robber,” though in that passage the tsen/tsammim alliteration may mean that all bets are off on getting to meaning. 

 

In any case, tsammim has to refer to some kind of trap in Job 18:9. This tsammim “becomes strong” or “lays hold” (the common chazak) upon him. Since no one today really knows what kind of trap the tsammim was, we can’t blanch or cower in fear upon reading the term. We don’t know if anyone has ever done that in the 2500 year history of reading this verse. Yet, Bildad no doubt wants the phrase “and a tsammim lays hold on him” to be a terrifying thing.

 

We aren’t yet done. Bildad has yet two words to go to outdo Eliphaz of 4:11-12.  Verse 10 says,

 

          “A cord/rope/noose is hidden on the earth; and his trap is on the path/way.”

 

The cord or rope is a chebel. We just ran into the verb form of this word (chabel) in 17:1, where Job said that his spirit was broken (chabel). We saw that the verb chabel had several meanings, including to corrupt/break or to pledge. In 18:10, however, we have its noun form (62x), which likewise is subject to many possible meanings, such as cord/rope or portion/lot/region or even a band/company of prophets. Welcome to Biblical Hebrew. We can assume that its use in Job 18:10 is consistent with the previous images, and so it is some kind of snare or trap. But the words “noose hidden on the earth” don’t do much for us. We usually think of a noose as something placed around one’s neck, but if it is just lying on the earth, its effect may not be as strong.  Unless, of course, our hapless traveler says to his wife, ‘Hey, honey, I think I just found a noose lying on the earth. I think I am done for!’ Perhaps the mere display of the object that leads to death is enough to evoke all kinds of fear from the one whose leg is already captured and his foot hobbled.

 

We finish up not with a blaze of glory but a whimper. Bildad’s sixth word for trap, malkodeth, is a hapax, but it derives from the common verb lakad, to “capture.” Thus, we don’t know if Bildad made up the word especially for this occasion or that it was part of the language of his contemporaries, but he definitely needed a sixth word in order to best Eliphaz and to finish his parallelism. But if it isn’t a word that is known, it might be like threatening a three year-old with a clepsydra. The three year-old might quake at the sound but have no idea what is going on.  

 

No doubt Bildad was sincere in verses 8-10, but the effect of his words 2500 years later is to make us chuckle. We wonder if his list was compiled because he, too, found a shard or tablet on which a schoolboy was scrawling synonyms for “trap.” Perhaps it was an Akkadian-Hebrew exercise, and the instructor was especially thorough and wanted to make sure the boys knew all the possible Hebrew words for “trap.” In any case, Bildad has now finished his third peril for those facing judgment, and our victim either has his foot trapped or is walking over a trap or is caught in some kind of bird trap or has a noose in front of him. You wonder if he faces all these at once? I for one am more fascinated by the words than scared by the danger.