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283. Job 29:13-15, More Judgments of Job
13 “The blessing of the one ready to perish came upon me,
And I made the widow’s heart sing for joy.
14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me;
My justice was like a robe and a turban.
15 I was eyes to the blind
And feet to the lame.
We already saw that five verses of this chapter all began with temporal clauses (“when” or “as,” in vv 3-7), but four of the next five verses (vv 13-16) begin with nouns. These nouns are memorable ones, strong ones, as we move from “blessing” (v 13) to “righteousness” (v 14) to “eyes” (v 15) to “father” (v 16). Job continues on his mental journey to his past, coloring the past through the prism of his pain, perhaps making it look more glorious than it actually was even though it is impressive by any standards. Recounting past glories both ameliorates and intensifies current pain.
Verse 13 is one of the more striking and original of these verses. It runs,
“The blessing of the dying one came upon me, and the heart of the widow, well, I made it sing
The dying person has his own family and affairs to think about. Has the last testament or will been properly drawn up? Has potential future conflict been averted? Have I expressed final words of intimacy to family? But here Job says, with no proof of course, that the dying person wanted to wish a blessing on him. No reason is given—did Job successfully or justly adjudicate a dispute involving the dying person?—but the dying calls down a blessing. Every culture I am aware of attaches importance to words of a dying person; I often recall my father’s dying words as he struggled for breath at Stanford University Hospital at Christmas 1981.
Impressive as the first clause is, more memorable is the three-word Hebrew phrase (which takes us about a dozen words to render in English): “heart” and “widow” and “I make sing for joy.” The verb for “sing for joy” is ranan (54x), and it only appears in Job here and in 38:7, where the beautifully delicious phrase appears, “The morning stars sang for joy.” Its noun form (ranan also, 4x) appears at 3:7 and 20:5. Thus, joy or triumphing is a theme in Job, even if it isn’t a major one.
The verb ranan really “belongs” to or is “owned by” the Psalms (26x), appearing in such memorable contexts as: “Sing for joy (ranan) in the Lord, you righteous” (33:1); “Then my tongue will joyfully sing (ranan) of your righteousness” (51:14); or “in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy” (ranan, 63:7). Many more examples can be cited. Normally, as the Book of Proverbs tells us (25:20), singing a song to a person to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment in cold weather; here we have that quintessential category of “heavy-hearted people” (widows) themselves singing for joy. So, not only is the burden of her vulnerability removed, but the widow has taken the positive step of initiating her own cry of joy. Job is possibly so emphatic on this point because of the allegation of Eliphaz in 22:9, “You sent widows away empty, and the strength of the fatherless was crushed.” Nope. Both categories of people were helped, with the widows ending up singing for joy.
One wonders for a second if the image of clothing and singing, mentioned in the just-cited Proverbs 25:20, may have been on Job’s mind as he transitioned to verse 14. For now we have the normal verb for “putting on clothes” (labash) appearing not once, but twice, and then two noteworthy articles of clothing mentioned (a robe, meil, and a turban, tsaniph). But rather than directly refuting Eliphaz’s charge in 22:6 that Job actually took clothes from people in pledge, Job uses the language of clothing to describe metaphorically his own commitment to justice. It’s never bad to state what your values are; here it is “I put on clothes (of righteousness)” and “it (righteousness) clothed me” (labash, 110x).
Job’s “justice” (mishpat, which is also used earlier to describe the “case” that Job is preparing—13:18) was like a “robe” (meil, 28x/3x Job) and a “turban” or “diadem” (tsaniph, 5x). Meil is the word used earlier in the book to describe both Job’s robe that was torn (1:20) as well as the friends’ robes that were torn (2:12). Otherwise the word meil appears disproportionately in the Tabernacle narrative of Exodus (9x) to describe priestly garments. The most memorable appearance of “clothing” and “robe” language outside of Job is probably Isaiah 61:10, where the prophet rejoices (using two verbs, neither of which is ranan) because God has clothed (labash, as in 29:14) him in garments of salvation and with the robe (meil, as in 29:14) of righteousness (tsedeq, as in 29:14). We can almost see Job getting up each day and while putting on his normal clothing say to himself, ‘Today I clothe myself in the garments of righteousness and justice; I would love to make the heart of the widow sing for joy today.’
But those aren’t the only categories of people Job aids. Verse 15 introduces us to two more categories of vulnerable people: the blind (ivver, 26x) and the lame (pisseach, 13x). This is the only reference in Job to these categories people. Isaiah is the prophet most interested in the blind (11x). Indeed, the thought of the blind actually recovering their sight seems to entrance Isaiah. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped” (35:5). Or “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind” (42:7). The word ivver then appears 5x in Is 42:16-19 to stress both the work of the Servant of God in helping blind people and in describing the people of Israel, whom God characterizes as blind.
The blind need eyes, and Job supplied them. The lame (pisseach) require feet, which Job also provided. More than half of the thirteen appearances of pisseach in the Bible are linked with the blind. Note, for example, the unusual phrase the “lame and blind whom my soul (King David) hates” in II Samuel 5:8. Both the lame and the blind are disqualified from serving as priests (Leviticus 21:18). There is, unfortunately, no ancient Israelite version of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991. . . Then, in Isaiah’s vision of a peaceful future we have four groups of people who are healed:
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy” (35:5-6).
So, Job here links what one might call traditional classifications of impaired people with his own combination of vulnerabilities. He helped cach of these groups of people.