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240. Job 24:10-12, Finishing this Section
10 “They cause the poor to go about naked without clothing,
And they take away the sheaves from the hungry.
11 Within the walls they produce oil;
They tread wine presses but thirst.
12 From the city men groan,
And the souls of the wounded cry out;
Yet God does not pay attention to folly.
Whichever way you go with verse 9, the result in verse 10 is bleak. The first thought repeats verse 7a; “They go (halak) naked, without clothing.” Instead of adding a third phrase for nakedness, as was done in verse 7, the author goes on to say that “being hungry, they carry the sheaves.” It isn’t a particularly memorable phrase, and because we are not sure if this “carrying” (the common verb for “lift up,” nasa) is either the defiant carrying off of sheaves in robbery or is the dutiful, even subservient, harvesting by the poor of the wicked’s crop, we are left with uncertainty. Some commentators point out the sad situation of many of the world’s poor, who are often put in the position of having to harvest the best part of their country’s crops, send it overseas or to a wealthier country, and then get a pittance for their labor. The poor, here, would then be going hungry while others are well-fed because of their labor. It makes for a powerful picture, though the text doesn’t require that reading.
Among the valuable features of Clines’ three-volume commentary on Job are his frequent excurses into “daily life” in Palestine. For example, when considering the threefold tasks of the poor envisioned in verses 10-11, he speaks about the particulars of the Palestinian grain harvest (here “carrying/lifting” the sheaves), the oil harvest (v 11) and the grape harvest (v 11). For example, he talks about the spring grain harvest, the olive production in October and November and the grape harvest in August and September. A few of the words Job used to describe that process (the winepress and treading in v 11) were, according to Clines, regular terminology to describe these harvests, while the word in verse 11 rendered “their rows” or “their walls” (shur, 4x) may give the impression that olive preparation was done “on the spot,” though Clines thinks it was done away from the trees. Thank you, Professor Clines, for thinking through all these issues!
We do have one hapax, however, in verse 11, which is usually translated “make oil” (tsahar). The word is related to the noun yitsar, a common-enough (23x) term for fresh oil, though Job doesn’t use the noun. The point of verses 10-11, then, is to show that the poor are engaged in production of the three major crops in Palestine: grain, oil, wine. A triad of different words than used by Job for these crops appears in Deuteronomy 7:13, where God will be said to multiply the people’s “corn, wine, and oil” (dagan, tiyrosh, yitshar; the same three also appear in Deuteronomy 11:14).
For Job, the wine is produced “between the walls” (shur), though the meaning is unclear. Then they “tread their winepresses (yeqeb, 16x),” stomping (darak) the grapes. Dropped in at the end of verse 11 is the verb for “to be thirsty.” They do all of this, and they thirst. It is a masterful word to express understatement. It also adds to the irony of the thought—they are producing things to drink, yet they are thirsty.
The result of all of this is presented in verse 12,
“From the city of men they groan; and the soul of the wounded cries out;
But God doesn’t not place this/consider this unseemly.”
The meaning of the verse is rather clear—these poor people (here called “males,” math) groan and God doesn’t really do anything about it. Note that the passage from verses 5-12 has, whether intentional or not, moved us from the wilderness in verse 5 to the harvest fields in verses 10-11 and now to the city (ir) in verse 12. No matter where the poor go, they are subject to depredation. We might have expected them to “cry out” (tsaaq/zaaq) but instead our author chooses a rhyming but rare verb (only one other appearance) naaq, which most scholars translate as “groan.” He returns to a more common verb in the second clause—“cry out/cry for help” (shava, 21x). As might be expected, nearly half of the appearances of shava are in the Psalms, the quintessential book presenting people “crying out” to God.
Only the final phrase of verse 12 is difficult at first. Literally we have “God doesn’t place unseemly,” which sounds either jarring or nonsensical. The word for “unseemly” (tiphlah, 3x) is the same word used in Job 1:22 to describe Job’s not charging God with “folly/unseemliness” after his multiform disasters had struck him. Some scholars, not getting any meaning out of “place unseemliness,” have decided to emend the tiphlah ever so slightly to tephillah, which is the common word for “prayer.” But meaning can be extracted from the verb sim connected to tiphlah. Just as Job didn’t charge God with unseemliness in 1:22, so we can see here that God doesn’t consider it unseemly to see all this oppression of the poor taking place. In Job’s judgment, God is stunningly unconcerned about the lives of the poor.