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261. Job 27:13-23, Zophar’s Third Speech, First Essay
With brimming optimism, the Psalmist (16:5) says,
“You are my assigned portion (cheleq) and my cup; you support my lot.”
But Zophar begins the final speech of the Third Cycle (27:13) with:
“This is the portion (cheleq) of the wicked person with God. . .”
The crucial word in both instances is chelek (67x), a word that usually designates either a tract of land or a “portion” or “inheritance” that is assigned to a person or tribe. It can be used in hendiadys with the word for “inheritance” (nachalah), so that one can have a “portion and inheritance” (Deuteronomy 12:12, 14:27, 29 and Job 27:13). It can take on the meaning of a portion of food (Deuteronomy 18:8) or a more theological meaning of the people of Israel being God’s “portion” (Deuteronomy 32:9). As we saw in Psalm 16:5, the covenant God can also be considered the cheleq of the faithful. A most chilling verse is Joshua 22:27, where those who don’t perform covenant obligations have no “portion” in the Lord.
But Zophar uses the word here to talk about the “inheritance” that is destined for the wicked person. He uses perfect parallelism, as can be seen by the second clause:
“And the inheritance (nachalah) that oppressors receive from the Almighty.”
We not only have a cheleq/nachalah parallelism; we also have a wicked/oppressor (rasha/arits) parallelism in the verse. Rasha is too familiar a term to require comment; arits (20x/3x in Job) usually designates a tyrant or a violent person. Psalm 37:35 puts these two words together to speak about a “wicked and violent man” who faces judgment. Arits people seek the Psalmist’s life (Psalm 86:14); sometimes they even attain riches (Proverbs 11:16). That will be the case in Zophar’s speech here—you wonder again if he is just uttering the common language of the wisdom tradition (i.e., that the wicked prosper for a time, but they will be clobbered eventually).
The cheleq of the rasha/arits is laid out in verses 14-22, with verse 23 acting as the shameful conclusion for the wicked. Among the things that happen to him are that his children are destined for the sword and famine (v 14); pestilence will claim the rest of his kin (v 15); the innocent will get what he has gathered even though he amasses silver and expensive raiment (vv 16-17). His riches disappear overnight (v 19); he builds an insubstantial house (v 18); Terrors and the east wind carry him away; he even willingly departs from his place (vv 20-21). We note that the punishments, though severe, pale in comparison to those enumerated for the wicked person in the Devaduta Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 130).
On second thought, the pains suffered by Zophar’s wicked person enumerated in verses 14-22 seem rather pedestrian, even yawn-inducing. That is, I doubt if reading Job 27:14-22 has ever led many people to the repentance certainly desired by Zophar. But one thing that can be said for Zophar is that his clauses are neatly balanced. Verse 14 states:
“If his sons multiply, then it is for the sword; and his offspring won’t have sufficient bread."
Thus, the first cheleq or “portion” is a chereb (sword, more than 400 appearances). With “sons” mentioned in the first part, we might have expected the “daughters” to be then mentioned, but instead of them we have tseetsa, the “offspring” (11x), an unusual word whose form twice expresses the concept of “going/coming out” (yatsa). Interestingly, the offspring don’t face “famine” (raab or reabon would be the usual word); all they face is insufficient bread. The last phrase, literally, is “they won’t be satisfied/surfeited with bread.” Hardly a famine, though Zophar seems to want to suggest a famine.