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195. Job 19:13-15, Repulsive to Those Far and Near
13 “He has removed my brothers far from me,
And my acquaintances are completely estranged from me.
14 “My relatives have failed,
And my intimate friends have forgotten me.
15 “Those who live in my house and my maids consider me a stranger.
I am a foreigner in their sight.
As just mentioned, before exploring Job new path of faith in 19:23-27, we will look more closely at the ways in which Job feels alienated from his people in verses 13-15. Noteworthy in verse 13 is a verb that sums up Job’s entire feeling of alienation: rachaq, “to be/become far or distant.” Rachaq, like many words, appears disproportionately in Job (58x in Bible/8x in Job), but there isn’t a consistent pattern in its usages. Sometimes Job is urged to put injustice far from him; on another occasion Job pleads with God to “remove your hand far” from me (rachaq, 13:21). Consistent with 19:13 is Job’s use of rachaq in 30:10, when he speaks about people who abhor/utterly detest (taab) him and stand far off (rachaq) from him. Job also will use the verb taab in 19:19 to express a similar thought to 19:13.
We note two things about rachaq in the Psalms, where it is powerfully present (12x). First is the desperate plea, in language very similar to this section, of Psalm 88:8, 18. “You have removed (rachaq is verb) my acquaintances (same word as in Job 19:13, 14) far from me; you have made me an abomination (toebah, the noun form of taab) to them.” Then, second, in the final verse of that Psalm, where one normally expects words of hope or consolation, we have this instead, “You have removed (rachaq is verb) loved one and friend (two additional words, oheb and raa, not used in Job 19) from me. . .” The Psalm then concludes with a very Job-like thought. “My companions /acquaintances (same word as in Job 19:13, 14) are in darkness (the familiar choshek, 88:18).” Thus we see that the Psalms don’t merely provide thoughts with which Job might disagree. Often the Psalms provide him additional verbal fuel for his ideas.
If the bleakness of Job’s thought in 19:13 is matched, or even exceeded, by that of Psalm 88, we ought also not to miss the use of rachaq in several Psalms to express a desperate longing. On no fewer than five occasions the Psalmist addresses God with rachaq: “But you, O Lord, be not far off (rachaq); O you my help” (Psalm 22:19); “O Lord, be not far (rachaq) from me” (Ps 35:22) are two examples. Thus, the verb rachaq may either have spatial or spiritual connotations.
Though the cumulative weight of nine or ten words describing groups of familiar acquaintances, family members or household servants from whom Job is alienated is impressive, what also is noteworthy, beginning in 19:13, are the verbs. Along with rachaq is the verb zur (77x, “to be strange/a stranger”) in verse 13. These intimate acquaintances/brothers are far off and estranged from Job. The verb zur hits us with the relentlessness of a jackhammer in Job 19; It appears four times in the space of fifteen verses (19:13, 15, 17, 27). Others are estranged from Job; he is a stranger; his breath/spirit is even a “stranger” (i.e., offensive). Finally, in what might be not simply a confusing statement but one of profound hope, Job will see something dramatic in verse 27 that is not a stranger/is not another. But here, in verse 13, Job just emphasizes his estrangement.
Job’s thought doesn’t really “develop” as verses 13-15 unfold. It seems to swirl around, picking up new groups who feel the same way towards Job as was described in verse 13. Verse 14 describes how those “near me” (word is familiar qarob) have “ceased/stopped” (chadal, 58x, translated as “failed” in the NASB). Chadal has already appeared six times in Job, always on Job’s lips, and mostly in the sense of leaving someone alone. Job wants God to “cease” the divine attention to him (7:19) and simply leave him alone (10:20). Yet, in 19:14 this “ceasing” is seen as a tragedy; Job would rather have those “near me” stay near him, but they, too, have “ceased/stopped.” Just as 19:13 is probably not as bleak as Psalm 88:18, so 19:14 probably isn’t as hopeless as the thought expressed, using different verbs, in Psalm 41:9, where the Psalmist’s friend has actually betrayed him. Betrayal isn’t really in view in Job 19:14; cessation (of relationship) is. The second half of the verse, where “intimates” (derived from the common verb yada) “forget” him, adds little to the picture.
We continue in verse 15 with the catalogue of people who have rejected him. Now we go inside the household and discover that the “guests/sojourners in his house” as well as the maidservants treat him as a stranger (zur again). In Job 29-31 Job will sadly recount his earlier days where he was at the center of things; now he feels completely at the periphery, the verb zur, and the noun nokri (“foreigner”) emphasize that. What is intolerable for Job in verse 15, however, is the way that the upsetting of his life has led to his status categories being upended. The identical thought, with a lot of the same words, is expressed in Psalm 69:8 where the Psalmist, shamed and humiliated, says, “I have become a stranger (verb is zur) to my brothers (ach, same word as in Job 19:13) and a foreigner (nokri, as in Job 19:14) to the children of my mother.” By presenting parallel words from the Psalms, we see that Job is expressing stylized thoughts. They are no less sincere, however, for being stylized.