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203. Job 19:28-29, An Anticlimactic Conclusion

28 “If you say, ‘How shall we persecute him?’
And ‘What pretext for a case against him can we find?’
29 “Then be afraid of the sword for yourselves,
For wrath brings the punishment of the sword,
So that you may know there is judgment.”

 

After this enormously impressive vision, Job then turns to his friends. We don’t know how long the afterglow of the previous section stays with Job, but we can say that these two verses are not only unexpected, but they are difficult to translate and even more difficult to understand.  Let me take a stab at translation. First, verse 28.  

 

            "If you say, ‘How shall we pursue him!’ (it can also be a question). And/but  the root of the                   matter is found in me.”  

 

This verse might mean that Job is attributing the thought to the friends, and it is a thought that shows the friends’ hesitation and even budding self-awareness, as if they decide to pursue or persecute him but then have second thoughts.The reading then would be, ‘How shall we pursue him!? (But we/I recognize that) the root of the matter is found in me.’ The point of this reading would be that the friends would be having a moment of hesitation because they realize that the “root of the matter” (which also is rendered “the root of the trouble”) would be in them—i.e., they might be at fault. 

 

Or, as many scholars have done, one might change the final “me” to “him” because it makes more sense (this is what Clines does, even though the text  clearly says “me”), so that the statement would be just a confirmation of the friends’ attitudes. . .”The root of the trouble is found in him (Job).” See what fun it is to read a text with iMaGiNaTioN? 

 

Or, one might read the first clause as a question, expressing the hesitation of the friends. Then we might have, “If/Because you say, ‘How shall we persecute/pursue him?’. . .”  Their hesitation might arise from the awareness that they, really, are the source of the problem (“the root of the matter is in me. . .”).  I am sure there are other ways of reading verse 28, none of which is very satisfactory and all of which are unexpected. The words in verse 28 seem like the words spoken by one in delirium who is just slowly “returning” to the reality before him. Dream-words and delirium-induced words can be revealing, but only after lots of patient investigation. Job doesn’t give us that opportunity for patient questioning, as he just finishes with an equally obscure verse 29.

 

One (more literal) way to render verse 29 is:

            

            “Sojourn from before the sword because wrath is the punishment of the sword/wrath

           brings the punishments of the sword, so that you might know there is a judgment.”

 

Well, what can we say? The first verb really destabilizes our understanding. It is the common verb gur (98x) which almost invariably means “to sojourn” or “to reside,” but occasionally can mean “to be afraid” (see, e.g., Deuteronomy 1:17). If we go with its common meaning for a second we ask ourselves, ‘What could possibly “reside from before the sword” mean?’ As mentioned, one way out of the translation mess is to see gur meaning “to be afraid/tremble.” Why? Probably because if you sojourn, you are in a strange place, and that strange place can sometimes bring fear, and therefore you are afraid. I think that is the thought process behind the evolution of the verb gur. So, we arrive at the meaning “Tremble (a way of showing fear) before the sword. . .” or “be afraid of the sword” or “be wary of the sword.”  


But I think that Job is playing with us again. I think the meaning is in the sounds and not in the denotation. We have just seen how he redeemed the notion of zur in verse 27. So excited is he that he is no longer a “stranger” (zur) that he just blurts out the rhyming gur. He is in his delirium-induced revelry of imagining the vision of God, and so to slide from zur to gur might be the most natural thing in the world for Job.  


Does verse 29, then, have meaning? It depends on which of the two or three or more alternatives for meaning you select for verse 28. The only meaning that seems to peek out of verse 29 is the certainty of judgment. If Job can say in verse 25 that he knows (yada) that his Redeemer lives/is alive, he also can say, at the end of verse 29, that “you may know” (yada is verb) that judgment impends. Knowledge is behind the vision and the ultimate judgment, but otherwise things are fuzzy.  

 

But, as we think of it, this slice of clarity may be enough for us. The specific contours of Job’s case have been presented; the broad contours of his expected experience at trial (he will see God) is presented; the certainty of judgment is presented; his friends are put back in their places, whether or not the friends admit their fault in the persecution of Job (somewhat unlikely). Job will “come down” from this mountaintop experience in a better frame of mind than in Job 16, where he confessed belief in the heavenly witness and then plunged into despair in Job 17. We will see, as he speaks in the Third Cycle of speeches and his peroration, that he is a man who speaks with growing and glowing confidence. But before we get there, we need to address Zophar’s second speech in Job 20.