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231. Job 23:1-7, Confidence in Laying Out His Case Before God
1 Then Job replied,
2 “Even today my complaint is rebellion;
His hand is heavy despite my groaning.
3 Oh that I knew where I might find Him,
That I might come to His seat!
4 I would present my case before Him
And fill my mouth with arguments.
5 I would learn the words which He would answer,
And perceive what He would say to me.
6 Would He contend with me by the greatness of His power?
No, surely He would pay attention to me.
7 There the upright would reason with Him;
And I would be delivered forever from my Judge.
We are back to the triad of clarity, deep emotion, and Job’s lawsuit. One wonders for a moment if Job’s lawsuit has become his replacement child, to be nourished and cultivated like the ten he lost in Chapter 1. He opens this chapter with a complaint. Literally, we have in verse 2:
“Today my complaint is bitter; my hand weighs heavily because of my groaning.”
The word rendered “bitter” (meri 23x) is elsewhere rendered “rebellious,” but if we look briefly at the root of the word, we see bitterness dripping from it, bitterness that began with the aptly-called waters of Marah in the wilderness (Exodus 15:23). A siach (13x, here rendered “complaint”) is usually a complaint, as in Job 9:27, but it can mean one’s talk/conversation or musing. Job has used the similar word sichah (meditation) in 15:4. The verb, also siach (21x), appears six times in Psalm 119 to describe the meditation activity of one who is (pre)occupied with the law of God. Thus, siach implicates the world of speaking, musing, complaining, meditating. All of those might lie behind Job’s use of siach in 23:2. Bitterness coats his thoughts.
The second half of verse 2 presents an unusual phrase to express the same idea as verse 2a. Other translations have “my hand is become heavy because of my groaning” or “my hand is listless because of my sighing.” There is no textual justification for the NASB’s “his hand.” The word for “groaning/sighing” is anachah (11x) which we have previous seen in Job 3:24, where “groaning/sighing” came for Job in front of his or before his food. We can look at Job then as groaning throughout the book, sighing with each expiration of breath, perhaps wondering if that breath will be his last. Job’s words call to mind the groaning and sighing of the Psalmist in 6:6,
“I am weary with my moaning (anachah); every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.”
Psalm 102:5 captures the abject loneliness of the Psalmist using this word:
“Because of my loud groaning (anachah), my bones cling to my skin.”
The word is redeemed through two famous passages of Isaiah (35:10; 51:11), where “sorrow and sighing” (yagon/anachah) will flee away. But they do anything but flee when Job opens his mouth in Job 23. If we were to take the preposition in the second half of the verse literally (al, “upon”), we might have something like “my hand is heavy on my groaning,” as if the complaints, pains, and groaning are all piled up on each other, making them a burden too heavy to bear.
Job’s sighing and complaint here is driven by the simple frustration of verse 3, where he expresses his annoyance at not being able to find God. The opening phrase of verse 3 is miy-yitten (“O that”), a favorite Joban phrase that also occurred in 11:5 and 14:13, among other places. It expresses a consuming anguish. If Job knew where to find him, he would certainly come to the divine tekunah. Tekunah is a hapax, but we can see embedded in it the verb kun, which means “to establish” or “to “fix/determine.” Job wants to come to the place fixed or established for God. Some have rendered it God’s “seat” or even “tribunal.” It is the place where judgment will be rendered.
Note the presence of several simple verbs one after another in v 3: natan (“to give,” from the miy-yitten construction), then yada (“to know”), then matsa (“to find”) and finally bo (“to come”). Job would leap into action, with four consecutive action verbs, to find God. But we will learn in a few verses that the contemplated action, and the verbs, are much simpler than Job’s actual reality.
What would happen if Job could approach God’s seat? Verse 4 both links us with Job 13 and says afresh that Job would arrange his case and fill his mouth with arguments. Elsewhere in the Bible, the language of arrangement (arak, 76x) points primarily to two things: military preparedness and setting up of Tabernacle furniture. That is, arak is primarily used to describe a battle formation drawn up or various items of furniture neatly placed. It is a verb of control rather than chaos, of order rather than disorder. The same phrase used here in 23:4, arak mishpat, literally “to line up the judgment,” was used in 13:18, usually translated there as “to prepare (my) case.” Job wants us to return in our minds to that passage, where he knew he would be justified.
Though we get the sense of order through “arrange my case,” we also get a feeling of almost unconstrained profusion in the second half of v 4— he would fill his mouth with tokechah. The word tokechah (28x) is a favorite of the Book of Proverbs (16 appearances), and is almost always rendered “rebuke” or “correction” in that book. But we see that it is derived from yakach, a great verb which acts as a kind of utility infielder—i.e., it can play any “position” in a lawsuit from describing the initial argument or reasoning process until the final judgment, rebuke or correction at the end. Though Proverbs picks up on the correction angle, without any reference to lawsuit, Job will frequently emphasize the earlier stages of the process through yakach. The best rendering of tokechah here is “argument” or “reasoning,” which is also its meaning in 13:6. Job would now fill his mouth with arguments. We imagine him ready to burst as he approaches the divine seat. It is not too different from the way Elihu presents himself as bursting with arguments in 32:18-20.