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232. Job 23:5-7, Continuing with His Case

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.


Verses 5-7 continue Job’s clear and confident statement about how approaching God will lead to his vindication. The verbs of verse 5 are so common that we sometimes fail to recall how many ways common verbs may be taken. For example, a literal reading of verse 5 is,


     “I know the words he will answer me, and I understand what he would say to me.”


Is Job saying that he already knows God’s tactics and has anticipated precisely the divine response? Most scholars don’t go that far. Most are satisfied with a tamer translation, one that reads the “know” in the sense that Job would “learn” what God has to say. The NASB, quoted above, does that. So some of our translation uncertainties arise from the fact that we don’t know if Job is at his defiant best here or is just evincing calm confidence and a somewhat submissive attitude to God.   


If we see Job in the latter way, as most do, then Job is simply saying in verse 5 that he would patiently listen to God’s response and would be able to understand (the common wisdom verb bin) what God is saying. Job then would be envisioning a very civil, clear, and orderly process, where God will be judge but God will grant Job the courtesy of a hearing. 


Note once again the two verbs that Job uses here: yada (“to know”) and bin (“to discern/understand”). They not only are verbs of fundamental importance to the wisdom tradition, but they will dominate God’s first speech in Job 38. Yada will appear an incredible 8x in that chapter (vv 2, 3, 4, 5, 12, 18, 21, 33). It is almost as if God in Job 38 will be needling Job on a verb very important to both of them. Job says, in 23:5, “I know the words he would answer me.” God says, in Chapter 38, “Do you really know much of anything?” The verb bin appears twice in Job 38, the noun binah twice more. God will go toe-to-toe with Job on what he really “knows” and “understands.”  But here, in Job 23, Job alone has the floor, and he declares what he knows and understands. 

So confident is Job that he understands how God will act that he poses a rhetorical question in verse 6,


     “Would God contend (the common rib, used to describe arguing a lawsuit) with me in the                    greatness of his strength?”


Those who have read the entire book of Job see the irony of the question. Job is asking whether God would unleash the forces of the divine strength (koach) in responding to Job. That is preciselywhat God does in Job 38-41, but Job knows in Job 23 that God won’t do that. In fact, “God will yashim with me.”


I left the word yashim in verse 6 untranslated because, though it comes from the simple and common verb “to place” or “to set,” its proper rendering here has bedeviled commentators for centuries. What could it possibly mean to say “He will place with me?” or “He will set in me?”  Among the translations suggested are “give heed to me/listen to me/pay attention to me/take note of me.” They are all in the same ballpark and probably are right, but we wonder why Job has chosen an ambiguous word when a clear one, we think, would have served his purposes better. Perhaps this is an ambiguity deliberately chosen so that Job doesn’t “go on record” before the hearing on exactly how God will regard him. He knows he will be vindicated (v 7), but trying to capture the actual feeling or attitude of God towards Job—well, even Job hesitates to do that. As we will see soon enough (23:13ff), Job is still terrified of what God might do, even though he seems brimming with confidence here. Perhaps we read yashim best if we see it reflecting Job's desire not to stir the pot by predicting not simply the outcome but the attitude of the divine judge towards him.  


Job confident section concludes with a more-confusing-than-necessary verse 7. The first part is tolerably clear.


     “There—an upright person would bring a case with him.”  


The “there” is sham, an adverb of place, referring back to the tekunah or “seat/tribunal” of verse 3. At that location, wherever it really is, an upright person (yashar, used in the first verse of Job to describe Job) could reason with/bring a case with him. The last verb is the now-familiar yakach, a verb that has already appeared 13x previously in Job (only 59x in the Bible). It plays a major role in Job 13, where Job was preparing his case against the Almighty. In that context we concluded that it can mean anything from “prepare” the case, to “argue/reason” with God to “reprove” a defendant at the end of the case. Here it also points to the early part of the judicial process. Job is therefore saying in verse 7a that he, an upright person, could lay out his arguments before God at God’s judgment seat.


The second half isn’t so clear, though the general meaning seems to be that if Job does this he will be vindicated. But rather than using the expected verb, tsadeq, “to be justified/found righteous,” Job uses palat (25x, “to escape/deliver”) in the piel. But the piel of palat is elsewhere uniformly translated in the active voice. Rather than Job “being delivered” (as most translations have it), Job will “escape” lanetsah mishpatiNetsah (40x) is a fascinating little word, translated “glory” or “victorious” when appearing without the preposition “le,” but suddenly becoming “forever” when the preposition is prefixed, as it is in more than 90% of its appearances. Job would escape forever mishpati. Mishpati by itself just means “my judge,” but most interpreters have imagined the addition of another “mem” at the beginning of the word, thus “from my judge.” But the word is also used to describe Job’s “case” in 13:18, and so our translation must remain a bit uncertain. I am comfortable with “I would escape forever from my judge,” because the larger context of this passage is of Job appearing before God’s (judgment) seat. The only problem with this entire scenario, as indicated earlier, is that God, who has seemingly been Job’s adversary all along, is now the judge.  Perhaps this realization is really what is behind the return of Job’s terror in verses 13-17. It dawns on him, afresh, that he still is going to have to seek escape or vindication from the one whom he feels has harmed him.

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