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257. Job 27:1-6, Swearing on His Innocence

 

Then Job continued his discourse and said,

2 “As God lives, who has taken away my right,

And the Almighty, who has embittered my soul,

3 For as long as life is in me,

And the breath of God is in my nostrils,

4 My lips certainly will not speak unjustly,

Nor will my tongue mutter deceit.

5 Far be it from me that I should declare you right;

Till I die I will not put away my integrity from me.

6 I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go.

My heart does not reproach any of my days.      

 

As mentioned above, Job 27 is the only two (or three) chapter speech in Job that includes a reference to Job’s continuing to speak at the beginning of the second chapter. And the words of 27:1 seem very strange for Job. We have, literally, “Job again took up his proverbial speech…” The word for “proverbial/proverb” is mashal (38x), which is the word used in the Book of Proverbs (7x) to identify both the name of the entire book (1:1) and the specific wise sayings that are part of that book (e.g., 1:6).  The word mashal has not previously appeared in the Book of Job. The phrase will be used, interestingly enough, in 29:1, when Job speaks again, though there it is at the beginning of his three-chapter final soliloquy.  


Though the phrase “take up proverbial speech” seems strange on Job’s lips, it has been previously used in the Bible—in the Balaam narrative. The phrase “taking up proverbial speech” is the usual way to indicate that Balaam is about to speak (Numbers 23:7, 18; 24:3, 15, 20, 21, 23).  It is the way in which Balaam’s words are introduced. That there may be some overlap between the speaking methods, if not content, of Job and Balaam is provocative. Both are from the “East.” Both are non-Israelites but speak the Word of God to “foreign” people. The use of mashal often indicates that something deeper, more profound and spoken with great authority, is coming. We will soon have Job’s strongest oath to date that what he is speaking is absolutely true. Perhaps that is one reason for the strange, yet alluring use of Job’s “taking up proverbial speech” here.

 

Job 27:2-6 is a solemn asseveration that Job is speaking the absolute truth and that he is convinced that he is in the right. But he can’t say these words without getting a substantial dig in against both God and the friends. He begins in verse 2 with God. It is both a confession of faith but also an attack against God.  It only takes seven words in Hebrew to say the following:  

 

    “As God lives, who has removed my case; and the Almighty, who has embittered my spirit.”

 

Most translations of the first part of the verse are too abstract. They usually read, “As God lives, who has taken away my right” (NRSV and NASB) or “who has denied me justice” (NIV) or who has “taken away my judgment” (KJV). The word I have translated “case” here is mishpat, the same word used in 13:18 to express the idea of Job’s “case.” Read with that passage in mind, we would then have the twofold movement of Job’s preparing his case (13:18), but God taking away/removing (the common sur) Job’s case (27:2). Or, to put it in words from the twenty-first century, Job would be saying that God has removed his case from the docket. Job submitted it but, for some reason, God has decided to ignore it. Perhaps it has gotten misfiled or lost in the plethora of other complaints brought before God. But Job’s immense frustration here is not because he is somehow adumbrating a theory of political or judicial rights (“denying me justice”), but rather because his case has seemingly been shelved.

 

This divine action has brought embitterment to Job’s spirit. Though the verb marar (“embitter”) only appears here in Job, the concept of bitterness (mar) frequently appears on Job’s lips (3:20; 7:11; 10:1; 21:25). With so much venom in his system, Job may be in danger of being like the person who “dies in bitterness of spirit” (21:25), and who is further said to have “not tasted good” (21:25).

 

In any case, Job is angry that God has shelved his case; he is bitter at the divine neglect. Verses 3-4 then go together and act as Job’s solemn oath. So clear is the thought that Job doesn’t need to say, “I swear.” Verse 3 states the conditions:

 

      “As long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nose. . .”

 

The Hebrew word for “nose” (aph) is also the word for “anger,” a word Job has used to describe the divine reaction to him (“anger,” see 19:11). So, we may only slightly tongue-in-cheek (or spirit-in-nose) translate the latter phrase, “and the spirit of God is in my anger. . .”  This is Job’s righteous indignation. . .on steroids.

 

Verse 4 states the result:

 

    “Surely not (literally “if”) shall my lips speak injustice/unrighteousness, and my tongue shall surely        not utter treachery/deceit.”

 

The word for injustice or unrighteousness is evel (53x), disproportionately appearing in Job (12x). The im (to be translated “if/surely not”) at the beginning of verse 4 functions as an “asseverative negative particle,” i.e., the beginning of an oath. The word rendered “treachery/deceit” (remiyyah, 15x/2x in Job) stands in parallel construction with evel. The neatly balanced lines of verses 3-4 give the impression of tight control of language, which often hints at control of life, even though Job’s situation is perilously close to chaos. Job can only speak with such certitude if he has been touched so deeply by a concept of truth that he can do nothing other than speak it. In this regard, Job and Jonah seem to be spiritual companions. Jonah, as I argue in my book Something Fishy, was so incredibly angry throughout the book and especially in Jonah 4 precisely because he thought that God was not that committed to the concept of truth that the held dear. Job, here, asserts the same thing.

 

Verse 5 reads:

 

    “Far be it from me that I should say you (plural) are right; till I die I will not put away/remove my

    integrity from me.”  


Verse 5 begins with a beloved Hebrew phrase, chalilah li (“far be it to/from me”),  which literally means “(it would be) profane to me.” That is why it is “far from me.” The word chalilah appears 21x; most memorable are its two appearances in Genesis 18:25 where Abraham was arguing with God over the fate of the Sodomites. Abraham stated that it would be chalilah from “God” to lump the righteous and wicked together in judgment. The intensity of that word is captured here in Job 27:5. But here Job is saying that it would be equally far from him (Job) to say that “you” (plural form) are right. Who are the “you?” It could be the three friends, but it could also be the friends + God. Job will not put away his integrity until his dying day (v 5). 

 

What makes verse 5 so fascinating is the use of a common verb (sur, “to remove/put away”) which Job has just used in verse 2. Job has accused God of removing/shelving his legal case (v 2); but here Job says that he won’t remove (sur) his integrity. Even though God may pull judicial shenanigans, Job will not falter until he expires (the more elegant way to say “die” is used here—gava). The thing that Job will retain to his dying day is his tummah (5x/4x Job), usually rendered “integrity.” Tummah is obviously derived from tam, “blameless” or “perfect,” a word often used in connection with Job, especially in Job 1-2. Tummah, however, only appears in Job and Proverbs. God had first used the word, pointing out Job with pride to the Satan, telling the Satan that Job holds fast to his tummah (2:3). Though we might feel that Job is a bit over-the-top in his declaration of integrity, he only is repeating what God has already said about him.  

 

Lest we miss Job’s message, he says it again in verse 6, using three powerful verbs to express his meaning. He says that he will “hold strong” (chazak, common verb) to his righteousness (tsedaqah, common noun); that he will not “grow slack/weak” (raphah, 46x); and that, literally, his heart will not “reproach” (charaph, 41x) him “from my days.”    

 

Though having a range of meanings, the sense of chazak as growing firm or strong is clear here. The obverse is that he will not “grow weak.” Raphah carries a range of meanings that include to “sink down” or “decline,” such as when the day “sinks down” into evening (Judges 19:9); to “be lazy,” as when the Israelites in Egypt were repeated scored with this allegation when Moses expressed a desire to let them go to worship their God (Exodus 5:8, 17); to “let go” or “let alone,” as when God wants to be left alone to work his destructive work (Deuteronomy 9:14). But it also means “to fail,” as when it appears in the heartening statement in Deuteronomy 31:6 that the Lord will go with the people, and will not “fail” (raphah) or “forsake” them.  An interesting parallel usage is with that most elusive of poetic books, the Song of Solomon. The lover says of the beloved (Song of Solomon 3:4):

 

    “I held on (achaz, also often in Job) and would not let him go (verb is raphah)”

 

That is the meaning of raphah in Job 27:6. Job will not only grow strong or even stronger in his righteousness, but he will not let go of it, much like the lover won’t let the love target go in the Song of Songs.  

 

The second part of verse 6 is harder to translate. Literally we have, “Not reproach my heart from my days.” Most scholars have rendered this, “My heart will not reproach me  as long as I live.” Some also take the enigmatic final word to mean “for any of my days,” meaning that Job is, as it were, reviewing his life’s course and proclaiming his own righteousness. One prominent scholar, picking up on the near-identical appearance of the word in Job 38:12, has rendered it “since I was born.” This would mean that Job feels he has lived a life of fidelity since the womb. So, whether the word is forward or backward looking, Job is confident of his blamelessness in this situation.  He not only won’t budge on that issue, but his heart will not find fault with him (another meaning of “reproach”) for so acting.