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294. Job 30:6, Continuing to Flail Away at the Mockers
We think we are supposed to take this rather incoherent rant in verses 3-8 seriously. After all, that is the way most of us were trained to read the Bible. Yet, 30:3-5 have given us ample reasons not to do so. Most likely these verses were cribbed from a generic “clobber-the-opponent” schoolboy exercise that were no doubt lying around the so-called wisdom schools or other venues of education. Perhaps a teacher had given the generic assignment: ‘Ok, folks, 100 words on describing the miserable plight of people. . .’ What we have in Job 30:3-8 could plausibly be the result of such an assignment.
So, let’s continue, trying to make sense of verse 6. The NASB has:
6 "So that they dwell in dreadful valleys, In holes of the earth and of the rocks."
My translation is:
“In terrors/clefts of wadis to settle down; holes of dust and rocks.”
Most scholars think these six Hebrew words describe the new digs of the mockers who are, for unspecified reasons, “driven out” (v 5). To repeat, we don’t really know who these mockers are or how many of them there were, whether they wore identifying badges or were an already-existing group of generic lowlifes, nor do we know who drove them out. We don’t know if there is a remaining “pro-Job faction” in the town (you would think he would at least have a few sympathizers) who decided that enough was enough. In fact, on every important interpretive question, we run into a brick wall or face impenetrable darkness.
Yet, we soldier on. Now that these guys have been driven out of an unspecified place for unspecified reasons by unspecified people, they have to pick a place to settle, though I suppose the text could simply have said that they remained nomads all their lives. But they select a charming upscale neighborhood, where home values are no doubt rising—in the caves or holes of the earth. More specifically, they seek places in the aruts of the nachal. We think we know what the latter term means; it frequently appears and is translated as “wadis” or “gullies” or “streams/brooks.” One supposes that the single word is sufficient to describe dry as well as wet places because sometimes these places dry up, and you don’t want to change the name for them in the case of rain.
But aruts, a hapax, is problematic. Many of the older interpreters took it as derived from the 15x-appearing verb arats, which means “to tremble/be afraid.” Thus, these nachalim (either brooks or gullies) would be “terrifying gullies” or “dreadful ravines.” Not satisfied with that, many modern scholars have taken refuge in a not-very-similar Arabic cognate word to suggest that it means “in the clefts/cliffs” of these gullies/valleys/ravines. So, even with the new suggestion we don’t know if they are living atop the valley-carving wadi, with a panoramic view of barrenness (cliff), or whether they set up their dwelling places parked right next to the gullies (cleft). You would think that if there was seasonal water to draw, they might choose the latter but, then again, there might be someone in the family who wants to argue for the unimpeded view of vast wastelands. It’s a real toss up.
Then, the second half of the verse seems to narrow our options. We don’t know if the infinitive “to dwell” (shakan) goes with the first or second clause; its position argues for a Janus-like function—these people live both in the clefts/cliffs/terrifying wadis and “caves of dust and rocks.” But this last phrase is problematic, too. There is no preposition telling us whether our driven-out mockers live in these holes (chor, 8x) or near the holes or upon the holes. We don’t know the difference between a chor and a mearah (cave, 39x). Maybe there is a social status “ring” in the words. Wife says, ‘Damn! I don’t want to live in a chor!’ Husband responds, ‘It’s the best we can do, but it really is a mearah!’ Joban imprecision is actually more fun than precision, because it encourages all kinds of speculation that leads to all types of wild pictures in our minds.
We wish that a map had accompanied these verses so we know not simply where the mockers now live, but perhaps their “route of escape” from the town. We might even conjure up stories of what they encountered along the way, what kinds of intra-mockers disputes there were about where to settle, etc. But then we remember that Job is clobbering these people, and we return to our semi-reality.
Their living situation is described. “Holes dust rocks” is how the text literally reads. Most have decided that the first two words mean “holes/caves of the earth,” with the common word aphar (“dust”) standing for “earth.” But then we have the rare word keph (2x) thrown in at the end. Only Jeremiah 4:29 also uses it, where people are climbing upon the keph—so there is good reason to affirm the traditional translation. So, the new home of the mockers is near wadis and holes in the earth and rocks. If I wrote this in a junior high essay, I think I would have received an “F.”