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225. Job 22:6-11, Job’s Moral Lapses

 

6 “For you have taken pledges of your brothers without cause,

And stripped men naked.

7 To the weary you have given no water to drink,

And from the hungry you have withheld bread.

8 But the earth belongs to the mighty man,

And the honorable man dwells in it.

9 You have sent widows away empty,

And the strength of the orphans has been crushed.

10 Therefore snares surround you,

And sudden dread terrifies you,

11 Or darkness, so that you cannot see,

And an abundance of water covers you.

 

Until now the friends have mostly satisfied themselves with generic statements about the fate of the wicked or veiled references to Job’s possible unrighteousness, but now Eliphaz takes the gloves off and goes directly at Job. We might tend to look at the alleged violation in verse 6 (taking garments in pledge) as a rather mild transgression, until we realize that taking pledges, without returning them at night, was a practice specifically forbidden in the oldest code of Israelite law. First, let’s begin with the words from Job 22:6:

 

            “You have taken pledges from your brother without reason/cause; you have 

            stripped the naked of his clothing.”

 

A few of the words call for comment.  The verb for “taking/giving pledges” is chabal, (27x). The verb has a wider reach than the legal notion of taking or giving a pledge, but this is how it is used here. In every society people give security for debts owed. In ancient Israel the primary object of this security for a poor person was a garment. Thus, a person who owed an amount, in labor or money, to a wealthier person would give his garment as pledge. Yet, the Israelite law was strict on the matter. Exodus 22:25-26 says, 

 

            “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal

            with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your

            neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down.”

 

The reason for the requirement to give it back is that it may be the neighbor’s only covering. Without that covering, he may get sick, be unable to work and not pay back his debt. Thus, restoring a person’s pledge in the evening was a most basic sign of humanity in ancient Israelite society (the same law is also given in Deuteronomy 24:10-13).  

 

Eliphaz charges Job not simply with violating the law, but doing it “without cause/reason” (chinnam, 32x).  We have already met chinnam several times in Job (1:9; 2:3; 9:17), but they all mean the same thing—doing something for no apparent reason. Job, for Eliphaz, seems to be violating Israelite law in two ways: first he takes garments in pledge when there is nothing owed him (i.e., chinnam), but he also doesn’t return the pledges at night. Job does this against “his brother” (ach is the word), which is meant to suggest the intimacy of Job’s violation.  

 

Lest we miss the brazen nature of Job’s alleged violation, Eliphaz finishes it with Job’s stripping the naked of their garment (v 6b).  The verb for “strip” is the common pashat (43x), which not only means to raid cities but also to do the things that raids lead to—stripping the city of goods. But pashat also appears once (in Leviticus 1:6) in the context of animal sacrifice where the priest is to “flay” (pashat) the burnt offering. Thus, Eliphaz’s accusation against Job here is not simply that he violates the law in two ways but that he does so with extreme, almost inhumane, cruelty. We have no idea where Eliphaz got his information but when Job defends himself in Chapters 29-31, Job will stress his upright behavior in all particulars. No doubt Eliphaz’s words stung.  

            

Eliphaz then turns to Job’s other alleged violations in verse 7. Literally, Job has “not water the thirsty made drink.” or, as we might say, “You didn’t give the weary (ayeph, 17x) water to drink” and “you withheld (mana, 29x) bread from the hungry.” A little-known oracle in Isaiah urges the inhabitants of Tema to “bring water to the thirsty; meet the fugitive with bread” (Isaiah 21:15). Perhaps this kind of tradition was ringing in the ears of Eliphaz, who was from Tema and who now turned it into an accusation against Job. Job will deny (31:16-17) that there is any factual basis for such an allegation. Ah, maybe there is a subtle psychological process at work here—Eliphaz accuses Job of shortcomings in an area where he/his people might have had those same shortcomings. Verbal passing of the buck.

 

Though there is nothing exceptional about the word ayeph (“weary”), both its sound and the vividness of the contexts in which it is elsewhere used help us remember it.  Esau was famished (ayeph, Genesis 25:29, 30) when Jacob took advantage of him; the Psalmist’s longing for God is described as that of a parched (ayeph) land (Psalm 143:6). Job has withheld water and bread from the vulnerable ones. Interestingly, the word for “withhold” (mana) is pronounced identically to the provision God gave the people in the wilderness (manna). Ezra’s prayer in Nehemiah 9:20 links the two:  “You gave your good spirit to instruct them, and did not withhold (mana) your manna from their mouths, and gave them water for their thirst.”  

 

Job’s supposed violations are so severe because of his powerful status in society. Verse 8, which otherwise may seem out of place, emphasizes this fact. It is hard to translate, but a serviceable rendering connects it with the following verse (vv 8-9):

 

     “And (as) a strong/mighty (zeroa, 91x) in the earth, and a respected person who dwells in it, you      have sent widows away empty and crushed the strength of orphans.".  

 

Yet other translations see it differently, looking at verse 8 as an independent thought. The NRSV has, “The powerful possess the land, and the favored live in it.” Admittedly I add the word “as,” not in the text, as a means of connecting this thought with Job’s experience and not a general reference to rich people living in the land.    

 

The only phrase in verse 8 requiring more careful attention is nasu panim, literally, “lifted up (passive voice) face,” which is usually translated as “honorable” or “respected.” We don’t have to travel a long linguistic distance to get here. The active form of the verb nasa with panim (“to lift up the face”) means “to favor” someone (e.g., Leviticus 19:15); its passive form, then, is someone respected or favored. Isaiah 3:3 uses the identical phrase nasu panim in a catalogue of officials whom Yahweh will remove from Jerusalem: “warrior and soldier, judge and prophet, diviner and elder, captain of fifty and dignitary (nasu panim).”  

 

Thus I see verse 8 as specifically referring to Job as a mighty or powerful person, with verse 9 as next in a series of his purported ethical or legal violations. In this case it is Job’s sending widows away empty-handed and crushing the arms of the orphans. Eliphaz takes care to emphasize that Job has not just rejected the widows, but sent them away empty (reqam, 16x).  When one comes into the presence of the Lord, one is not to come “empty-handed” (reqam, Exodus 23:16; 34:20); when God’s word goes out to the world, it doesn’t return to God empty (reqam, Isaiah 55:11). Yet here Job is accused of turning a deaf ear to widows. Job will also deny this allegation in 29:13 and 31:16, with the former being of particular note (Job says he “caused the heart of the widow to sing”).  

 

As for crushing orphans, Eliphaz brings no evidence. It would have been nice if he had an orphan in tow who could tearfully accuse Job of mistreating him or her, but he doesn’t do this. What he does is take refuge in one of his favorite verbs, daka (“to crush,” 18x/6x in Job), to say that this is what Job does to orphans. We recall earlier that Eliphaz used daka in 4:19 and 5:4 to talk about various ways that the wicked will be judged; Job was so impressed by Eliphaz’s verbal display that he used the verb to describe how God (“You have crushed me”—6:9) and the friends were treating him (“break me in pieces/crush me with words”—19:2). Eliphaz now wants to reclaim the verb lest Job start to own it. His point would be, ‘You are not crushed, Job; rather you are the one doing the crushing.’ One other Hebrew word makes things even more vivid. Job was the man of strength (zeroa) in verse 8; he shows his power by crushing the strength (zeroa) of orphans in verse 9. What an admirable guy.

 

The so-called mild-mannered Eliphaz isn’t done with Job. Just as he previously argued that one reaps what one sows (Job 4:8), so Eliphaz now illustrates that principle in Job’s life. Thus, “round about you are snares (pach); sudden fear dismays/terrifies (bahal) you,” (v 10). In uttering these words, Eliphaz draws both on his own and Bildad’s earlier words. Bildad had used the word pach in 18:9 as one of the six snares that traps the wicked person; Eliphaz had previously used the concept of sudden terror descending on the wicked in 5:3 (sudden, pithom) and 5:5 (terror, bahal). Though he doesn’t refer here to his most vivid claim about the wicked (“that they writhe in pain all their days,” 15:20), he squarely puts Job in the category of wicked people with these words. His point would be—‘Hm, Job, you know that sudden fear that you feel? It is because of your unjust behavior.’

 

Having said so much in about five verses, Eliphaz is about due for an obscure verse. Verse 11 doesn’t disappoint us. Literally we have, “Or you will not see darkness and the abundance of waters covers you.” Clines tries to make sense of this by connecting the thought to the previous verse, so that we have not just terror frightening Job but “(that is why) darkness (is all about you) so you cannot see, why a flood of waters covers you.” But the doesn’t seem right, because darkness is the thing that appears to cover God a few verses later, and not Job.  


The problem is compounded because of two opposite ways one can translate the first four Hebrew words of verse 11. It is either “Or darkness, which you will not see” or “or “You can’t see in the darkness.” I think, however, we can see a sliver of interpretive light in this phrase. Recall that one of Job’s greatest longings in 10:21-22 was to go to darkness, a concept he explored with four different words in those verses. In Job’s mind, this darkness would be a great comfort to him, because he wouldn’t have to deal with the oppressive hand of God. Yet here, in 22:11, Eliphaz may be saying that part of Job’s judgment, in addition to a snare (pach), is that he will fall into an imperceptible darkness (choshek). This choshek, however, isn’t a friendly place.  

 

As for an abundance (shiphah, 6x) of water covering Job, we have no idea what is meant. God, however, must have loved the phrase, since in his first speech in Job 38 he uses identical language as Eliphaz when He accuses Job in these words, “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that an abundance of waters may cover you?” (38:34). Again, it is not clear what is meant by God. Perhaps chuckling at these attempts to come up with meaning, Isaiah uses the same words “abundance” and “cover” in his prophecy, but this time it is an abundance of camels (!) that covers the people (Isaiah 60:6). Eliphaz should have quit at the end of verse 10, even though we now understand the author’s method of giving the speakers free reign to explore obscurity at times.