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262. Continuing with Zophar’s Judgment Speech, Second Essay
This same lack of forcefulness also characterizes the next verse (27:15).
“His survivors will be buried in death; and his widow will not weep.”
Most scholars have taken the clear reference to “death” (maveth) here to mean some kind of pestilence, though there are a handful of sturdy Biblical Hebrew words to describe that phenomenon (deber, maggephah, nega, negeph) that Zophar doesn’t use. Even if we grant Zophar a plague here, we still are confused by the neatly balanced second half of the verse. We are confused, first, because somehow the widow/wife has managed to escape what has taken down the entire family. We are confused, second, because it literally reads “his widows,” but we will overlook that one, too. Finally, we are confused as to why she (or they) won’t weep. Normally a sign of divine judgment is that many people perish and the rest weep or are in other kinds of physical or emotional turmoil. But having the “survivors” die but the widow(s) not weep is a head-scratcher. Maybe she was happy to see him go. But that takes us down an interpretive route that no doubt was far from Zophar’s intention.
Thus, by the time we get to verse 16, we see that Zophar has lost a great deal of his ideological appeal, an appeal that actually was rather exiguous from the get-go. But he is undaunted, and so in verses 16-17 he turns to the wealth of the wicked.
“Even if he heaps up silver as the dust, and though he prepare raiment as clay, he prepares it
but the righteous put it on, and the silver becomes the portion of the innocent.”
Zophar retains his mastery of structure, even though we are not much impressed by his content. We have a pleasant chiastic construction with the first and fourth ideas being about silver, while the middle two are about clothing. In addition, he neatly returns to the concept of “portion” of verse 13, even though the word is the verb form of cheleq, which is chalaq (“to divide up/apportion”). He has tied up his list of disasters with a nice literary bow.
Yet the content is rather hackneyed. Silver is gathered up or hoarded by the wicked, but then it disappears. The actual verb used is to “heap up” (tsabar, 7x), a verb used elsewhere to describe Joseph’s role as “storing up grain” in Egypt (Genesis 41:35, 49) or the memorable picture of the dead frogs that were heaped up in Egypt after the plague of those reptiles on the Egyptians (Exodus 8:14). So, the wicked heap up silver as dust. The same concept appears in Zechariah 9:3.
But the notion of “piling up clothing like clay” is strange. The verb is actually the common kun, “to prepare/establish.” So, the wicked spends his time preparing great piles of clothes. Ok. Got it. But they are piled up “like clay” (chomer, 33x). Nearly 1/4 of the uses of the term chomer are simply translated “homer”—a measure of weight. When it is actually translated “clay,” we have a familiar passage such as “God’s being the potter and we are the clay” (Isaiah 64:8) or less familiar passages about people treading others down like “mud/clay” in the streets (Isaiah 10:6). Never, as far as I can discover, are heaps of mud or clay seen as something positive. But even though the garments will eventually be taken away, their piles at this juncture seem to be considered a positive thing for the wicked. But “heaps of clothes like clay” is a new one. Perhaps out of embarrassment more than grammatical sense, some have translated this as garments being prepared “as plentiful as the clay.” Ok, but we are smiling, rather than in terror, now.