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249. Job 26, Job Responds, Introduction
This is a brief (14 verses) but most remarkable chapter. In it we will see not only the cynicism and cutting humor of Job towards the friends (vv 2-4), but also the use of breathtaking imagery to describe the glory of God (vv 5-14). Many scholars have felt that the latter description doesn’t properly reflect Job’s state of mind at this point and so have wrested it from Job and have given it to one of the friends. But as the following brief analysis shows, the content and form of verses 2-4 fit perfectly with Job’s manner of dealing with his friends earlier in the book, and even the soliloquy on God’s magnificence in verses 5-14 bears striking resemblance to Job’s earlier speech on that subject in 9:4-13. Thus, there are good grounds for affirming that Job 26 is Job’s third speech of the Third Cycle.
If we look at it this way, we see that the Third Cycle of speeches, which almost all scholars characterize as disjointed or incomplete, is perfectly complete—so far. We have given sufficient reason for Bildad’s short second speech. If we wanted to discuss length of speeches alone, we realizeJob’s fourteen-verse third speech (Job 26) is also considerably shorter than his other third speeches in Cycles One (Job 9-10 has 57 verses) and Two (Job 19 has 29 verses), but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. No one argues that Job 26 is "too short" or "unduly truncated." Job 27, as all admit, will present a problem but we will deal with that when we get to it.
As mentioned, Job’s cynicism and criticism of his friends in 26:2-4 is completely consistent with his dealings with them in 12:2-4; 13:4-5 and 16:1-5. In those earlier chapters he had characterized the friends as “worthless physicians” who would do better to shut up than speak (13:4-5); they are “miserable comforters” (16:2). But he also can treat them with some of the cynicism he feels they direct at him: “No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you” (12:2). This last attitude is particularly present in 26:2-4, where Job cynically says,
“How you have helped one who has no power!…How you have counseled one who has no wisdom” (26:2, 3).
Then, the actual content of Job’s ten-verse soliloquy in 26:5-14 is strikingly reminiscent of his words in 9:4-13. There will be considerable differences of emphasis, but four impressive similarities are the trembling of creation, the stretching out of either the north or the heavens over the earth, the interesting reference to pillars, and the unexpected dual reference to Rahab and God’s primordial victory over this mythological force.
Job 9 celebrates the divine glory in destructive, rather than creative, ways. After all, God was in the midst of dismantling Job’s life in Job 9; it is therefore not unusual for Job to see evidence of that dismantling process in the creation. God removes mountains, overturning them in the divine anger (v 5). But the result of all of this is that the pillars tremble (9:6). The verb for “tremble” or “shudder” there is a hapax, palats. In Job 26, where Job is also describing God’s work in shaking up the creation, we have the curious reference to the pillars of the heaven “trembling” (v 11, another hapax, ruph). An earlier verse uses a different verb for “trembling” (chul, v 5). In Job 9 it is the pillars (amud) of the earth that tremble; in Job 26 it is the pillars (amud) of heaven that tremble.
Then we note the role of “stretching out” (natah) in both Job 9 and 26. In Job 9, God alone “stretched out” (natah) the heavens (9:8); in Job 26 God “stretches out” (natah) the north over the empty space. The latter is much more suggestive and will occupy our thought in a future essay, but suffice it to say now that God’s activity is conceived similarly in both passages.
Finally there are references to Rahab, the fierce antique mythological foe of God, both in 9:13 and 26:12. In Job 26 God actually “smites” or “shatters” (machats, 14x) Rahab, while in Job 9 God prostrated all the allies of Rahab. But Job 26 will also present new content, content that seems to be, as Anderson describes it, “snatches of old poems.” But now that we are comfortable in seeing this chapter as Joban, we will endeavor to explain it, first verses 2-4 and then verses 5-14.