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235. Job 23:15-17, Facing the Terror 

15 “Therefore, I would be dismayed at His presence;
When I consider, I am terrified of Him.
16 It is God who has made my heart faint,
And the Almighty who has dismayed me,
17 But I am not silenced by the darkness,
Nor deep gloom which covers me.


Multiform divine plans may bring comfort to some, but to Job they are terrifying.  His first words in verse 15 are conclusory, “therefore” (al-ken). Job is terrified (bahal) at the divine presence (mippanayv). I like some of the older translations’ rendering of the verb, not because of their helpfulness but because of their quaintness: “affrighted” or “troubled” or “dismayed” are three. But bahal (37x; also in Job 4:5; 21:6; 22:10) is best rendered “terrify,” especially in 23:15-16, where it appears twice and is connected to pachad, a term describing primal or deep-seated fear. We might say that as the book of Job develops, it reaches its “peak of terror” in Chapters 21-23 as bahal appears four times in these chapters. Only Psalm 6, where it appears thrice in ten verses, can compete with it. Terror grows in tandem with Job’s feeling of helplessness. He has done all he can to prepare his case, but God just can’t be constrained or forced to respond to him.


Job’s terror at the divine presence is then supplemented by verse 15b:

            “I consider/think about it, and I am afraid (pachad) of him.”


There is almost a slight touch of (perhaps unintended) humor in the two verbs of verse 15b. Bin, rendered as “think about/consider” is the quintessential wisdom tradition verb emphasizing prudent consideration and patient probing. Job used it twice previously in this speech, in verses 5 and 8.  He would “understand” the divine words (v 5); he tries to “perceive” God, but God isn’t there (v 8). Though the noun pachad appears as early as Genesis and is once used as a divine appellation (“the Fear of Jacob,” Genesis 31:42), the verb pachad (25x) doesn’t make its glorious debut until Deuteronomy 28:66, 67.  When it appears, it hits very hard; it appears in a passage describing the multi-form curses that will overtake the people if they are disobedient to their covenant with God. It is best rendered “dread” or “horrify.” So, as Job carefully and studiously considers everything, he is utterly horrified. 


The terror continues in verse 16.  


          “God has weakened my heart; and the Almighty has made me terrified.”


Rather than verbs swirling around ayeph/ataph, which we saw earlier, Job will use the verb rakak (8x) to express his feeling of weakness in v 16.  The verb rakak and its adjectival form rak (16x), carry with it far more than the idea of weakness; often they also stress the delicacy or tenderness of the object. For example, in II Kings 22:19 (parallel passage in II Chronicles 34:27), the verb is used to describe good king Josiah’s penitent or “tender” heart. Yet here in Job 23:16, Job’s weakness is at issue. He has said previously that God has worn him out; feelings of exhaustion may lie behind many of his speeches. Here he just reiterates those thoughts.  But the weakness is now combined with terror (bahal again). We might even look at verses 15-16 as a pleasant literary pair, with bahal acting as an inclusio—it both begins and ends Job’s thoughts in these verses. Terror, rather than the comforting arms of God, is all around him now, even from a literary perspective, though he felt confidence just a few verses ago.


With these powerful and clear emotions being expressed, we are a bit disappointed that the chapter ends with less than ringing clarity in verse 17. Some have rendered the first clause, “For I am annihilated by darkness” or “Because I was not cut off before the darkness.” Thus even if we render the opening kiy-lo in a causal way (“because” or “for”), we don’t know how to translate the verb tsamath (15x) here. Elsewhere it is rendered “be silenced” or “cut off/destroyed.” Its sole other appearance in Job is best rendered “become silent” (6:17).  And the lo (“not”) is problematic, because it gives the impression that Job was “not destroyed/became silent” by darkness—a thought far from clear. The second part of the verse, however, is easy enough to render:  “And from the cover of deep darkness,” which seems to be explanatory of the first part.  


The best I can do is to try to connect Job’s two thoughts on darkness here, as well as his tone of resignation, with his earlier musing on darkness (especially 10:21-22, where four words for the phenomenon are used), his desire to be cut off in 6:9, as well as the tone of resignation and longing in the early verses of Job 3. Job has just expressed his terror and faintness because of the realization that God cannot be constrained or forced to appear. Now he returns to a sense of lament. I see verse 17 as providing a reason for Job’s terror—because God didn’t destroy me/make me silent before the darkness (referring to 10:21-22) and from the covering of deep darkness. Job is lamenting again the fact that he had to come forth to face all the brutal pains of this life, a lamentation that began in 3:3 and has really never left him. Would that he could return to the land of deep darkness; would that God would have destroyed him there (cf 6:9). He is back in the pit of despair.

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