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191. Job 19:7-12, How God is Responsible for Job’s Misery, Introduction

 

7 “Behold, I cry, ‘Violence!’ but I get no answer;

   I shout for help, but there is no justice.

8 He has walled up my way so that I cannot pass,

   And He has put darkness on my paths.

9 He has stripped my honor from me

   And removed the crown from my head.

10 He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone;

   And He has uprooted my hope like a tree.

11 He has also kindled His anger against me

   And considered me as His enemy.

12 His troops come together,

   And build up their way against me

   And camp around my tent.

 

In these six verses Job describes God’s relentless attack on him. The language is reminiscent of the brutal description of 16:6-17, though in Chapter 19, especially verses 7-8, Job uses language also appearing in Jeremiah and Lamentations. The two things that are overwhelmingly present in these verses are (verbal) clarity and pain. We recall that Job began his complaint in 16:6 by wondering if he should speak at all—his pain wasn’t assuaged by speaking, nor was it made better by silence. What, he asked at that point, should he do?  

 

No such hesitation grips Job in 19:7. In language that almost seems to mimic Jeremiah 20:8 (or vice-versa), Job says,

 

     “Lo, I cry out, ‘Violence!!’ but I am not answered; I scream, but there is no justice.”

 

Jeremiah said, in expressing his despair, “I cry out (Jeremiah uses zaaq; Job uses the functionally identical tsaaq), ‘Violence!’ (both use chamas) and I call ‘Destruction!’” Jeremiah will go on to say how the Word of the Lord has become his reproach (cherpah). Perhaps Jeremiah’s use of this term, rare in Job, is behind Job’s unexpected use of it in 19:5 to describe his sufferings.  

 

Whereas Jeremiah emphasized the act of crying out (calling out, “violence and destruction”), Job is more concerned with the fruitlessness of such a call—“there is no justice.” Job’s two verbs of “calling” are tsaaq and shava (21x, 8x Job). Job’s cry (shava) has already been frequent—6:29; 9:17, 22; 10:3. Yet there is no answer; no judgment; no justice. The two Joban verbs of crying out are put together in Lamentations 3:8, “Even when I cry (zaaq) and shout (shava), God stops up (satham, 15x, sometimes describing the stopping up of springs of water) my prayer.”  

 

Up until this point Job has been convinced that there really isn’t any other alternative but to wait for God’s response in order to get his questions answered, but he is deeply bothered by the divine silence. What more can Job, really, do? To be sure, there may be lessons here about waiting patiently for God to speak until God is good and ready to speak. Yet, I think there are other lessons that Job is exploring, the principal one of which is that when God leaves His children unattended for too long, then the children might go after alternative sources of comfort that may become more satisfying to them than God. This adumbrates some of my treatment of Job 38-42, but is already present here in Job’s desperate and seemingly futile cry of “Violence!”

 

Most English translations of verses 8-12 begin each verse with a dramatic verb to emphasize the vehement and merciless divine action against Job. The Hebrew is more nuanced, either beginning with a noun (vv 8-9), a verb (vv 10-11) or an adverb (v 12). Yet, the cumulative effect isn’t much different for the reader than 16:6-7; we are exhausted and not a little shaken by Job’s distress. We have to probe deeper.