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197. Job 19:21-22, Have Pity on Me, a Repulsive Person

21 “Pity me, pity me, O you my friends,
For the hand of God has struck me.
22 Why do you persecute me as God does,
And are not satisfied with my flesh?

 

Having completed his description of the divine attack and his sense of human abandonment, Job unexpectedly asks for mercy from the same people who have abandoned or rejected him. But this really is no different from Job’s desperate realization in 9:15 that he might have to beg for mercy from the same Judge (same verb, chanan, is used in both places) who is oppressing him. By the time we arrive at Job 19, however, Job isn’t in a begging mood with God anymore; he has developed his case and will look forward to presenting it to God, as long as he can find God (one issue discussed in Job 23).  

 

Yet Job’s relationship with his relatives/servants/intimate companions is a bit more ambiguous. Though he and the friends have exchanged insults, he has not completely given up on them. He still talks with them. Until this chapter, we didn’t really know that he had an array of people around him who also seemingly abandoned him. It is these people to whom Job appeals in his last words before addressing God.  Verse 21 says,

 

            “Pity me, pity me (chanan twice), you my friends, because the hand of God has

            touched (naga) me.”  

 

As we know by now, the verb I rendered as “touched” (naga, 150x) can mean everything from a gentle nudge (Genesis 32:25) to striking with a plague (Genesis 12:17). Context determines meaning. I like to think here of Job using it in the “nudge” or “touch” sense, deliberately using it to function as an understatement so that Job’s hearers will draw their own conclusions and then be more willing to help. Those who come at the text of Job from a Christian perspective might hear echoes of the most famous Messianic passage in the Bible: Isaiah 53, ‘Surely he has born our diseases, and has carried our pains; but we counted him ‘touched’ (naga),struck by God and afflicted” (53:4). Job would concur that it is God’s hand here that has “touched” him.

 

We can’t get over the fact here of the deafening divine silence. It just continues and continues. One might well say that a test of faith is one’s ability to endure pain even amid the divine silence, but Job’s experience makes us think that sometimes God can stay a bit too long out of the picture, with unexpected results. At least, Job thinks, the friends or others might provide a smidgen of comfort for him.

 

But then, verse 22 takes Job out of the momentary reverie of appeal in verse 21.

 

     “Why do you persecute me as God does; and aren’t satisfied even with my flesh?”

 

It is a wonderful way to end the wistful longing of verse 21, by realizing that the human companions are no better than God in this instance. They, too, want a piece of Job’s flesh, and perhaps a bit of the estate that remains after his death. They are never satisfied (saba, 99x). We almost instinctively think of the words of Agur son of Jakeh in Proverbs 30, who tells us that “three things are never satisfied (saba); four things never say ‘Enough!’ The grave, and the barren womb; the earth that is not satisfied (saba) with water and the fire that does not say, ‘Enough!’” (Proverbs 30:15-16). Job would add one more thing to this list: the venom of his friends and companions. It won’t be satisfied.