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263. Concluding Zophar’s Judgment Speech, Third Essay

Verse 17 then tries to resolve these difficulties by saying that the righteous will wear the garments and the innocent get the portion of the silver. The innocent (naqiy, 43x) have already appeared in Job 17:9 (Job speaking); 22:19, 30 (Eliphaz speaking); they make a special one-time return appearance here for this further act of putting on the clothes of the wicked.


Zophar is gradually losing us, and in verse 18 he almost loses us completely.  Literally, we have:


    “He builds his house as a moth; and as a booth which the guard makes.”


Huh? Well, most scholars have taken the first clause to mean that the wicked person’s house is poorly-constructed. It is flimsy as the house of a moth. Or, it might be stoutly constructed but when the divine judgment is implicated, it just seems flimsy. Perhaps because of the embarrassment felt by translators at taking the first clause as I have it, some have emended the word “moth” to become “nest”, but others try to get spiders and even cobwebs into the act, because of the similar look of the word for “moth” and “spider” (though ash—moth—and akkabish—spider—really have little in common). I think, actually, he has swallowed Eliphaz’s kool-aid of 4:19, where the wicked are crushed before the moth (ash). I know that I as an interpreter can’t get that phrase out of my head; it may have been the same for Zophar; he is giving a bow to Eliphaz, probably the senior spokesman of the three.


The second clause is also supposed to stand for flimsiness in the mind of many. The guards or watchmen (notser) were those people who camped in huts in the fields to keep wild beats or other pests away from valuable crops. But they often don’t seem to be very committed to their task.


Zophar still has a few things to say, and he now turns unexpectedly to the rich person (ashir, 23x) in verse 19.  We would think that this is the same as the wicked person, but Zophar never explicitly connects the dots. Though some translate this as “He lies down rich,” a more natural translation is “The rich person lies down.” Our first phrase is confusing:  


    “The rich person lies down and does not gather.”


Is this meant to suggest that he hasn’t sufficiently secured his wealth before lying down?  That makes most sense, though it could have been said more clearly. The second clause is clearer:


    “He opens his eyes and it is not.”


His wealth has disappeared. Poof! Then, the problems continue. Verses 20-21 should be read together. Terrors (ballahah is the word; 5/10x in Job) will overtake him like waters. Waters coming up to the neck and fear of being overwhelmed by waters is expressed in the Psalms (69:1). In the midst of these problems “a tempest (suphah) steals him away in the night” (v 20). The language is suggestive, not only because he uses the same word (suphah) as is used in the Proverbs 1:27 passage previously discussed, but Zophar is repeating the same phrase Job used in 21:18 (tempest steals—ganab suphah) but in the opposite sense. Job had queried “How often does the tempest steal away (the wicked)…?” Zophar emphatically states that the “tempest steals him (the wicked) away.” 


Then, in verse 21, the east wind carries him off. We have this weird vision of a person being torn out of his bed at night by a tempest and then disappearing over the horizon. . . In any case, the east wind lifts him (the common verb nasa). Then follows the interesting but common little verb halak, “and he walks..” It is used in 14:20 to describe the inevitable disappearance and destruction of human hope (literally “and it walks”). Thus, it is a phrase that captures the irreversibility of the human condition or what has just been described. This rich person, presumably also the wicked person, is swept away. The last phrase of verse 21 confirms it: “It sweeps him (saar, 8x) from his place.” The identical thought is expressed, also using saar, in Psalm 58:9.  


But just as some people want a parting shot at someone else whom they despise, so Job 27:22 functions as the parting shot of the winds or tempests against the wicked.  The language is memorable:


    “He/It throws him around without sparing/pity.  And from its/his hand he tries to flee."


The last phrase is eloquently spoken. Literally it is “fleeing he flees,” or “he desperately and unsuccessfully tries to flee.” We can almost see the terror-stricken evil person, awakened at night, fumbling in the darkness and confusion, trying to get away from a mysterious sound and wind all around him, but then being unmercifully swept away in the torrent. It is a rather ignominious end for such a person. Zophar ends much stronger than he begins.


Verse 23 acts as a coda, where the reaction of onlookers is recorded. They “clap” (saphak, 10x/3x Job) their hands at him. And they “hiss” (sharaq) him from his place.  The last word (“from his place”) is identical to the final word of verse 21. As the storms are lifting him up and carrying him off, he shall be applauded with hissing and clapping of hands.  This is not the applause, however, of a performance well done. It is the hiss or applause of derision or mocking.  The same two verbs are used in Lamentations 2:15 to describe the mingled horror and mocking of those looking upon the fortunes of the Israelites:


    “All that pass by clap (saphak) their hands; they hiss (sharaq) and wag their heads."


That is the kind of final humiliation that Zophar has in mind for the wicked. Zophar’s last two verses (vv 22-23) actually have both a euphonious ring and a sophisticated content. The verbs are shalach (“hurl”) and chamal (“spare/pity”) and saphak (“clap”) and sharaq (“hiss”). One can repeat them over and over and be carried away by the sound. But they also help impressively to round out a speech on judgment that struggled and even faltered at points.  


But now the participants, as well as this interpreter, are ready for a break. . .

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