(to return to Table of Contents, click here)
189. Job 19:4
4 “Even if I have truly erred,
My error lodges with me.
The constant attack of the friends has made Job consider whether he has erred, and in verse 4 he seemingly lets down his guard for a minute to speak to that issue. The first clause of verse 4 is hard to translate; literally we have, “and certainly-truly (aph-omnam) I have erred.” But every translation you read will put the phrase in the conditional, “And if I have sinned/erred. . .” Yet there really isn’t any “if” in the phrase. As the BDB says about the first word (aph), “conjunction denoting addition, especially of something greater, also, yea. . .” That is, the literal sense of the phrase is, “And in addition, truly, I have sinned.” I understand the reason for everyone’s putting it in the conditional mood, but I can’t yet get there simply on verbal grounds.
The reason a conditional reading is proposed is that a confession or admission (“I have erred”) doesn’t seem to be consistent with the way Job has presented himself previously. He has asked his friends, perhaps even baited them a bit, to show him how he had gone wrong (6:24, shagah is the same Hebrew verb in both places). He believes he has done nothing remotely deserving the kind of punishment he is enduring now. So has Job reversed his course in 19:4 and copped a plea, admitting that he has sinned in a significant way?
Some scholars try to deal with the issue by saying that the verb for “sin” here and in Job 6:24, shagah (21x), is the verb used in the Levitical law for an inadvertent and therefore more minor sin (see especially Leviticus 4:13; Numbers 15:22). The corresponding noun, shegegah (19x), seems even more focused on the concept of inadvertence. Thus, Job would be admitting a “small” sin, but not one that is deserving of great judgment. That point can’t be maintained on linguistic grounds alone; sometimes (e.g., Deuteronomy 27:18) shagah is used for a major sin.
If we maintain a more word-for-word reading of the first clause, “Certainly-truly I have erred/sinned),” we then have the second part to deal with, “But my error (the hapax meshugah, clearly derived from shagah) is lodged with me.” If Job is admitting to sin or error in the first part, he then minimizes it in the second, “the error lodges with me.”
Job’s meaning might be illustrated in two ways, one from human relationships and one from the practice of law. From human relationships Job is saying that he has strayed, but that his sin (meshugah has become a popular word in modern Hebrew to describe a crazy person) is strictly a “family matter.” It is not something that outsiders need or should pry into. The verb lun (“to lodge” or “to murmur/grumble,” 83x) is most often used in a visual way, to spend the night someplace. Thus, Job’s first answer is that his sin, which he doesn’t deny, is a “family matter,” i.e., something between him and God alone.
From a legal perspective, the distinction of a substantive and procedural fault might be useful. Though both kinds of fault can get your lawsuit thrown out of court, the latter error is usually reparable. The latter includes things like filing a paper without a requisite signature or filing it on the wrong day or wrong location. Job may be saying that the error or sin he committed is of a procedural kind, and thus is easily reparable. In no way is he throwing in the towel and admitting sin proportional to his suffering. We do him slight injustice, though, by keeping the opening words of verse 4 in the conditional mood.