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258. Job 27:7-10, The Curse on the Enemy
7 “May my enemy be as the wicked
And my opponent as the unjust.
8 For what is the hope of the godless when he is cut off,
When God requires his life?
9 Will God hear his cry
When distress comes upon him?
10 Will he take delight in the Almighty?
Will he call on God at all times?
One reason to see these words as Job’s (rather than Zophar’s) is that the oaths or curses appear both in verses 1-6 and verses 7-10. In the first part of the chapter, Job is calling down a curse on himself if he has acted unrighteously; in the second part he is calling down a curse on the enemy.
Accomplished scholars disagree with my assessment, however, and tend to attribute these words to Zophar. It does indeed make sense for Zophar to be saying these words because of the assumption that the wicked will be punished, something that Job has begun to doubt. It is a hard decision, but I will stay with Job. Naturally, the meaning of the verses will be different based on whom you think is saying them.
We don’t know to whom Job is referring here when he speaks of his enemy. Could it be the friends? Possibly. Could it be God? That is even more intriguing, but there is no indication that Job would be calling down a curse on God. As will become clear in reading the rest of the chapter, what we have here is the beginning of a rather standard series of statements regarding the fate of the wicked. It is the Book of Job at its least impressive. Even having said that, however, we have some unexpected vocabulary and unclear thoughts, especially in verse 8.
Job asks that his enemy be as the wicked (rasha), a character we have seen throughout Job but it is increasingly prevalent as the subject turns to the divine judgment. For example, Job had anchored his long speech in Job 21 around the activities of the rasha (21:7); that same feeling pervades 27:7-10. But a problem arises if we take this as Job’s speech. He wants the enemies to be like the wicked. . .but the wicked in Job’s mind are seemingly those who can act with impunity, oppressing the poor while they are growing more prosperous. Perhaps the wicked acting with impunity in Job 21, 24 and the wicked being judged in Job 27 reflects Job’s profound wrestling with the issue, an issue he can’t quite solve. Here his unnamed enemies will be like the wicked.
In 27:8-10 these “wicked” are not to be envied. In verse 8 they are called the chaneph (“hypocrites”), a term that the Book of Job loves more than anyone in the Bible (8/13 appearances in Job). The word chaneph is neatly distributed in Job, being placed on Bildad’s (8:13); Job’s (13:16), Eliphaz’s (15:34), Zophar’s (20:5) and even Elihu’s lips (34:30). Only God and the Satan, of all the speakers in the Book of Job, don’t use the word chaneph. It thus seems to be a convenient whipping post for everyone. Everyone agrees that these “hypocrites” will have it coming to them! It is reminiscent of a discussion in my Judaism in Late Antiquity class at Brown University in 1972-73, taught by the famed Jacob Neusner, where we were trying to understand how Judaism and early Christianity interacted in the first century CE. He looked at us with mock seriousness one day and say, ‘And then there are they hypocrites! Jesus and the early Christians didn’t like them, but we have no idea who they were. Did they wear signs so identifying themselves?’
Job asks in verse 8 about whether there is hope (tiqvah, 34x/12x in Job) for these hypocrites. But then the scholarly disagreement begins. These chaneph will be batsa, which may mean that they will “become greedy/get gain,” and then God will clobber them; it may mean, as the NRSV, NASB and many other versions render it, that they will be “cut off.” The BDB says that the range of meanings for batsa includes “breaking/cutting off” or “gaining by violence.” We could see how both of these would work in verse 8.
But then the result of the chaneph’s activity, whether it is to get gain or be cut off, is stated in a hapax. The form of the verb is yeshel, which the standard online resources say comes from the hapax shalah. Many scholars think that this means to “draw out” or “extract,” and thus the meaning may be, “If/when God draws off (i.e., takes away) his soul/life.” But many are the interpreters who see the underlying verb as either nashal (7x, to “clear away, drop off”) or the more common verb shalal (16x, “to plunder”). With all this debate, however, one would think that the interpretive possibilities for verse 8 are enormous. But they really aren’t. Job is simply asking about the hope for the wicked enemy. In a word, his prospects aren’t great, despite the fact that we don’t really know if he will get some gain by violence before he is judged or whether he will be judged/cleared off/taken away right away. So very little rests on our decision.
Verses 9-10 are clearer. First, verse 9:
“Will God hear his cry when trouble (tsarah, 73x) comes upon him?”
The only word attracting any notice here is tsarah, which was used once by Eliphaz in 5:19 (God will deliver Job from “six troubles”) and is almost always used in the context of trouble or distress in the Bible. The closest parallel in thought to verse 9, coming from the wisdom tradition, are the words of Wisdom itself in Proverbs 1. Wisdom is personified as standing on a street corner, calling out to the simple to turn in and hear Wisdom’s instruction (1:23). But the simple often will not do so (1:25). Then comes the word of judgment. Wisdom will laugh at the simple’s calamity and mock at their dread:
“When great dread (pachad, frequently in Job) comes as a storm (shaavah, a hapax), and calamity comes as a whirlwind (suphah; we saw this word in Job 21:18 and will see it in 27:20); when distress (tsarah, as in Job 27:9) and anguish (tsuqah) come upon you” (Proverbs 1:27).
Note the alliteration of Proverbs 1:27, suphah, shaavah, tsarah, tsuqah—all pointing to the anguish coming on the simple, whose cry God will ignore. Job, then, in 27:8, is uttering a thought familiar to the tradition. God will definitely not hear the cry of such a person even when in trouble (tsarah).
The reason for that, if it hasn’t been clearly stated, is the expected answer to the rhetorical question in verse 10. “Will he (the chaneph/the oyeb—enemy) delight in God and call upon God at all times?” The verb for “delight” can mean “to be delicate” or, as here, “to take pleasure in” (anog, 10x), and is clear enough as it stands, though some have tried to emend the verb so that it is parallel in meaning to qara (“call”) in the second half of the verse. I don’t think that is necessary. Its most memorable two other appearances are in Psalm 37, where the reader is urged to “delight the self/take pleasure in” (anog) the Lord, and the Lord will give one the desires of one’s heart (Psalm 37:4, 11). But the obvious answer to the two questions raised in verse 10 is, “No.” The wicked no longer calls on God.
Though not as eloquently stated as many things in the Book of Job, Job’s few words here indicate he still holds out some hope for a judgment on the wicked, even though that belief doesn’t seem to be as rock solid as it is for the friends.