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254. Job 26:11, Understanding God’s Angry Work
11 The pillars of heaven tremble,
and are astounded at his rebuke.
In the final four verses of this chapter, Job regales us with even more astronomical features that witness to God’s dominance in the natural world. Yet Job’s tone changes from verses 7-10, returning a bit even to the language of verses 5-6. The change is from Job as awed observer of an amazing creation to one who now explores God’s wrath or anger at part of that same creation. We are not told what got the divine dander up, but we are now in a world of rebuke, trembling, stirring up and smiting. In this essay, we will just examine 26:11.
Verse 11 recalls 9:6, where God was said to have “shaken” (ragaz) the earth from her place, with the pillars (amud) trembling (the hapax palats). In 26:11 the pillars (amud) of heaven also tremble or are shaken (using a different hapax, ruph, for the verb), but 26:11 goes on to say that the pillars are “aghast/astonished” (tamah, 9x) at his “rebuke” (gearah, 15x). We are in the same thought world as 9:6, though 26:11 gives us more information.
It is perhaps not a little humorous for the author of Job to use a hapax in one place (9:6) to describe a concept and then describe the same idea later (26:11) using a different hapax. There are several other more common biblical Hebrew words to express the concept of trembling, such as raad, charad, arats, or even zua but he manages to choose palats and ruph. We think, of course, that they both mean “tremble” or something similar, and we probably are correct.
So, once we see that the pillars are trembling again, our focus must turn to the second part of verse 11, where the pillars are “aghast at the divine rebuke.” “Rebuke” isn’t a word we use very frequently in English anymore, but it means to express sharp disapproval or criticism, to scold, reprimand, admonish, berate, chide. We don’t know actually if the pillars are receiving the brunt of a divine rebuke (‘What did we do wrong?’) or whether they are just collateral damage in a broader scheme of divine rebuke, but they will be aghast at the divine rebuke. The verb underlying the noun gearah (“rebuke”) is gaar (14x), which can point to a human scolding of another human, such as when Jacob gaar his son Joseph after the latter narrated a dream where he saw the family bowing down to him (Genesis 37:10), but it normally is used to describe God’s fierce anger. God has “rebuked” (gaar) the Sea (Psalm 95:10); God “rebukes” arrogant people (Psalm 119:21).
The same holds true for the noun gearah. Gearah is connected with God’s anger in Psalm 104:7, where at the divine rebuke all the waters fled and formed the earth as we know it. Similar thoughts are also expressed in Psalm 18:15; Psam 76:6. But 3/15 appearances of gearah are in Proverbs, and each of them describes the human activity of correcting or berating. For example, Proverbs 17:10 tells us that a gearah goes deeper in a person of understanding than 100 blows to a fool. But the divine rebuke always seems to carry with it a strong sense of divine disapproval or anger.
Just think. The pillars of heaven were just standing there, perhaps bearing up the canopy of the sky (though we are never given a specific chart or explanation of the relationship of the pillars and the thing stretched out above), but nevertheless they were probably just being impressive and minding their own business. But God makes them tremble. As mentioned, perhaps the divine anger or rebuke isn’t directed specifically against them, but they feel the effects of the anger. We are told that they “are astonished” (tamah).
Tamah appears rarely (9x) but always with memorable power. It describes the amazement that should greet onlookers when they see the devastation that will soon be wrought by the great nations of the world (Habakkuk 1:5 (twice)). It captures the feeling of absolute destabilization felt by Joseph’s brothers when they have brought little Benjamin to Egypt with them and see the unequal treatment he receives at the hands of Joseph (Genesis 43:33). Its most memorable use for me is in Psalm 48:5, where the kings of the earth have gathered together to attack Jerusalem. They crossed over en masse to Jerusalem. Then in four spare Hebrew words, the text says, “They saw; and immediately they were astonished” (tamah is verb). They become terrified and hastened off.”
God has changed the divine activity between 26:5-10 and 26:11. Rather than simply drawing boundaries in the heavens, God is now scattering things, leaving even the sturdy pillars of the earth to tremble and be aghast.