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185. Job 18:13-15, Terrors Six And Seven
13 “His skin is devoured by disease,
The firstborn of death devours his limbs.
14 He is torn from the security of his tent,
And they march him before the king of terrors.
15 There dwells in his tent nothing of his;
Brimstone is scattered on his habitation.
We just saw that the wicked person won’t be eating much, but verse 13 neatly turns that concept on its head by saying that the wicked person will be eaten. But the things eating him are not worms that crawl in and crawl out or maggots that share communal meals over his intimate parts, but the general terror of the past several verses. Thus, Terror 6 concerns disease. Verse 13 has,
“It (subject unspecified) shall eat up (akal) the parts of his skin/members of his body; the first- born of death shall eat his parts.”
Thus, we have gone from lights extinguished to steps straitened to traps capturing to terrors overcoming to hunger consuming and now in Terrors 6 and 7 we arrive at disease and displacement. We ought not to overlook, however, the two appearances of akal (eating) in verse 13. We have just had hunger (raeb) in verse 12, and the author is no doubt still trying to play on that theme. We also note the unusual title of the “first-born of death” in verse 13. Jacob, in his blessing to his sons, talked about the “first-born of his strength” (Genesis 49:3) but this title is unique. Perhaps we should see this macabre title as also partaking in the contrasting language of verses 12-13. We have hunger/eating; we also have birth (firstborn)/death. The image is clear even if we might not fully understand it since we are unaware of whether a richer historical or mythological background lies beyond the term “first-born of death.”
Terror 7 is impoverishment and displacement, manifest through brimstone falling on their homes (vv 14-15). We have just met the “firstborn of death” in verse 13. Now, in verse 14 we meet another unique figure: “the King of Terrors.” You wonder if they are related (“Hey Firstborn; Hey King. . .). The verbs of verse 14 are much more descriptive than the simple “eat” used twice in verse 13. Here we have something in which the wicked person trusted being “plucked/torn up” (nathaq) from his tent; we have him being “hauled (tsaad) before the king of terrors.” But it isn’t just the vividness of the verbs that ought to be noted here; Bildad again skillfully uses an infrequently-appearing verb (nathaq, 27x) that Job used to describe his forlorn state in 17:11 to turn the language of judgment back on Job. Job had said that his plans are “torn up/torn apart” (nathaq, 17:11); Bildad now warmly concurs, but suggests that the wicked person will be torn from things that provided security for him. It is as if he is saying, ‘You have the right verb, Job, but it is just that you are attributing its use to God against you as a sign of divine hatred; really you ought to look at it as a harbinger of (your own) judgment.’
The verb tsaad (8x) is also used subtly here. It means to “step or march.” The wicked person will be ‘marched’ before the king of terrors, no doubt for the richly-deserved judgment. But as shown above, Job uses the noun form of the word (also tsaad) to describe the loving care that God shows over his “steps” (31:4; 14:16). BIldad will have nothing of it. These are not glorious, oil-washed steps; they are the pathway to the King of Terrors, who will no doubt mete out a permanent judgment against Job. If we begin to read Bildad’s words in verses 5-21 as directed somewhat subtly against Job and his condition, we understand why there are no words of hope at the end of his speech. Job’s time for repentance, apparently, has passed.
Verse 15 actually speaks of impoverishment. Yet, surprisingly, it actually begins with two very reassuring words: “There shall dwell in his tent. . .” using the common verb shakan for “dwell,” a verb that can capture the divine “dwelling” amidst the people or the patriarchs and others peacefully “dwelling” in the land. But then the boom falls in the third and fourth words of verse 15: “There shall dwell in his tent—-nothing of his!” Oops. He loses everything.
The language of tents being abandoned triggers a reference in our minds to Psalm 69:22-25, where several punishments are foretold for the one who has insulted the Psalmist. Most specifically we have “in their tents (ohel) there is no one to dwell” (v 25). If we look above a few verses, we see that other things happening to the opponents are that their table before them becomes a “snare” (pach) and “their peace (shalom) a trap” (moqesh, v 22, one of the few words for “trap” that Bildad doesn’t use in Job 18). Yet, the language and concepts of Psalm 69, though sharing the same general thought world of Job 18, seems distant from it. We will, for example, have darkened eyes/blindness (Psalm 69:23) and continual shaking (the rare verb maad) limbs (v 23). We see that there are loads of useful ways in the Bible to curse your opponents.
Returning, then, to Job 18:15. The second part of the verse follows quickly, as if to complete the grim picture, “Brimstone (gophrith,7x) shall be scattered over his dwelling.” Each of the words in the second half of the verse requires comment. First, the brimstone. We met it first in the unforgettable picture of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction in Genesis 19. “Yahweh rained brimstone (gophrith) and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah out of the heavens” (Genesis 19:24). A like fate awaits the impoverished tent-dweller here. This brimstone will be “scattered,” but it isn’t the scattering of the verb puts of verse 11, which was used in a specialized sense there by Bildad in order to rebut Job’s use of the verb in Job 17. Here we have zarah, a term with an agricultural origin to describe the scattering of seed, but it is also a term that quickly takes on a more somber meaning of scattering the people of God among the nations (e.g., Leviticus 26:33).
This brimstone, then, is scattered over the wicked person’s dwelling. We now will meet, in a less ceremonious manner than in verses 8-10, several words for “house” or “dwelling." We have already had ohel (“tent”) in this verse, but now we have naveh (35x). We only see naveh in the friends’ mouths in Job (5:3, 24—Eliphaz; 8:6; 18:15—Bildad). Bildad had previously used it in the upbeat sense that God might restore Job’s “habitation,” but now (and in Eliphaz’ two usages) it is a habitation of gloom. The brimstone is going to fall on it. Make no mistake about it. The wicked person is having a terrible, horrible, really bad day, even in the Ancient Near East.