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20. Job 2:11-13  When Friends Come From Afar

 

11 "Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. 13 They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great."

 

Word of Job’s trouble gets out. The text never tells us how long it took for the news to reach the friends, or how long it took the friends to contact each other, or how long it took the friends actually to meet and make the trek to Job’s place. We are in the Land of Uz/Oz in the narratives of Job 1-2, 42 and we never get the impression of the passage of time in Uz. Job is righteous, family is harmonious, disasters happen, friends visit. The author of Job didn’t share the same concern for time as did the writer of Genesis: “In the 600th year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month. . .” (Genesis 7:11). The writer of Exodus was similar: “in the third month after the children of Israel departed Egypt, on that same day…” (Exodus 19:1). In the Book of Job friends just come from afar and appear.

 

We can divide verse 11 into three parts: the hearing of Job’s troubles, the people who come, and the meeting to travel together to see Job. The author pays close attention to language in the first part. Three friends hearing about the bad things is shema shelosheth (hearing three) and reeh raah (friends evil). Pleasantness of sound almost makes us forget that a disaster is the cause of their hearing. In addition, the disaster “came upon” (bo) him; so they decide to “come” (bo) for a visit. The neatly balanced phrases and words belie the great instability that Job experienced.  

 

Little comment is necessary on the three friends. Each comes from his place. The most we can say about any of the places (Teman, Shua, Naamah) is that the first might have been north-east of Edom, which itself was south-east of Canaan. It was supposedly renowned for wisdom, but that really tells us nothing of importance. The three men came from somewhere ‘in the east’—as did the great wind and marauding enemies of Job 1.    

 

The final part of the verse is full of verbs: four of the six words are action words. They “met together by appointment” in a euphonious way (vayivaadu yachdav), they came, and then they comforted him euphoniously (lanud lenachamo). Each of the verbs, yaad (“make an appointment”) and nud (mourn), appears fewer than 30 times in the Bible, yet they can mean so many things. Yaad carries the basic meaning of appointing or designating (as in the oldest Israelite law code—Exodus  21:8, 9), but it quickly morphed into “meet” or “summon” or “come together,” which is the meaning here. We see the verb nud  appearing for the first time in the Cain and Abel narrative, where it is twice used euphoniously with the verb nua to express the idea of wandering and being a fugitive (Genesis 4:12, 14).  But its basic meaning seems to be “to flutter” or “fly back and forth.”  By the time of Jeremiah, where 11/24 of its appearances are, nud tookon the primary meaning of “mourn,” which is its best translation in Job 2:11 and 42:11. Does the same meaning of the word in Job and Jeremiah signal that Job is also a seventh/sixth century work? Not a clue, though if one were to make a case one way or another, the use of nud would be one piece of evidence.