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295. Job 30:7, More Fun at The Mockers’ Expense

 

Our author is clearly flailing around or, to change the analogy, trying to land a plane in no-visibility conditions. Everyone is in a fog. But he boldly continues in verse 7, with the NASB translation first:

     7 “Among the bushes they cry out;  Under the nettles they are gathered together."

I would render it:

 

     “Between bushes they bray; they nestle under the nettles.”

 

This sounds very bad for our mockers.  The Wikipedia article on “animal sounds” concludes that two animals “bray”—donkeys/asses and zebras.  Are our mockers suddenly being transformed into animals? Perhaps this is a divine sign of disapproval of mocking behavior; people gradually turn into asses—er--donkeys.  But before we rush to this “Greek-like” conclusion (transformations of humans into animals or trees or other things is common in the mythology of that people), we ought to look both at the noun (“bush”) and verb.  

 

The verb nahaq (2x), like kephen (2x) in verse 3, only appears in Job. Its other appearance is in 6:5, where it describes the sounds made by donkeys. Hence my translation “bray.” But because many people think such a sound coming from humans would be undignified or inappropriate, they translate it in 30:7 as “shout” or “cry out" (as the NASB does).  But I like to stay with the possibility of people “braying.” It gives us a much more vivid mental picture to work with.

 

Note where they are. They are “between the bushes.” We marvel at the specificity of the description. Apparently in these wadis, near the holes of the earth that now is home sweet home there are some bushes that grow. These bushes are the rare siach both of Genesis 2:5 and just three verses earlier, Job 30:4. We recall that, for unspecified reasons, that the saltwort was growing atop these bushes (do we have to consider the possibility that hallucinogens are involved here, too?). These bushes cum saltwort are apparently near some juniper or broom trees, from whose roots the people get their food. No wonder they are hanging out “between the bushes.” That is where their food is. But they have been reduced to the bare necessities of life, so all they can do is “bray.” A more confusing picture of people, their condition and actions can scarcely be conceived.


So, what do they do when they are “braying” between the bushes? Do they kind of pop out when passersby come along, to scare them with their “braying”? Sort of like “peek-a-boo braying?” Or, do they just stand between the bushes, with heads exposed, braying? Do these people bray by day and then retreat to the caves/holes by night?  Is life among the bushes the most desirable place for the mockers or are they further cast out? Even in societies of losers there is a pecking order.  

 

We never realized there was a such a cost for mocking. But, interestingly enough, this narrative never talks about these conditions being a judgment on mockers or a penalty for mocking Job. He is just clobbering them with rather incoherent sentences. But then, in the last few words of verse 7, we have the possibility of euphony, at least in English translation. “They nestle under nettles.” Actually, the Hebrew is a bit more messy than this almost meaningless English sentence. The verb is saphach (6x) which is much more difficult to translate than we would like. In a few of its other five appearances it can be translated “to put/assign” (I Samuel 2:36) or “to share” (I Samuel 26:19) or “to join” (Isaiah 14:1). Not too promising for our translation here. Maybe we can say that these mockers “join” with the “nettles,” but then we have to determine what the “nettles” actually are. And, we have to determine what “join” actually means.  Clines, for one, thinks of them as “coupling” under the nettles, again not probably the most comfortable place for amorous encounters. But it shows the lengths to which translators are forced to go to try to make sense even of the words.  


The word here rendered “nettles" is charul (3x), which elsewhere also is translated as nettles (Proverbs 24:31; Zephaniah 2:9). It is identified by the BDB as  “a kind of weed, perhaps chickpea.” Ok, so these people are either nestling or coupling under the nettles. I suppose the nettles must be some kind of bush, even though we often think of nettles as lying on the ground.  But why would people with any rational sense either have sex or nestle under nettles?  Maybe they spend part of their day with heads peeking out above the siach, but this may have been a hitherto unidentified “mating call” of antiquity. Then, they find a person desirable because of this “manly” activity of sticking your neck out between bushes, and then you couple under the nettles. Just hope that none of those stinging branches fall in the throes of passion, or one might have other things than fingernails digging into one’s flesh.

 

Actually, I think I now have a semi-serious thing to say. I wonder if this passage, verses 3-8, is not only the result of a school exercise, but an exercise where the teacher, as it were, gave “two verbs,” spaced apart, and then told the students to compose a narrative or poem including those verbs. That is, common when I was growing up in  the 1960s, were writing assignments where a few verbs or nouns were provided, but well spaced from each other, so that the ingenuity of the student would be tested by trying to compose a story linking those two words. If we look at I Samuel 26:19, we see a rather standard verse where two verbs appear almost next to each other that also appear in Job 30:3-8.  They are garash (“drive out”) and saphach (translated variously, as illustrated above). That is, I Samuel 26:19 is an example of how to write a sentence including these two words.

 

My point is that the “assignment” given to the students (one of whom wrote Job 30:3-8) was to come up with a narrative or poem that used both of these words that appeared in I Samuel 26:19. We have the result of that here in 30:3-8, but we probably have excerpts from the essay that only won the bronze, at best.

 

Finally, when Job’s credibility has reached its nadir in this passage, we conclude this section with verse 8. In the NASB, it says:

     8 “Fools, even those without a name, They were scourged from the land.

I go with the following:

 

    “Sons of fools, also sons of those without names; they strike (them) from the earth.”  


These words are no doubt meant to bring to a conclusion Job’s little screed against the mockers. These are “sons without a name” or “sons of those without names,” even though Job seems to have known them well enough not to hire them to watch his flocks. Though the verb for “scourge/strike” is a hapax, naka, it is almost identical in form to the very common nakah, which means “to strike” or “to smite.” We don’t know who the “they” are in the second part of the verse, but we are so fed up by now that we don’t really care. “They” may be the remnant of the “pro-Job” party back in the town who decided to get rid of the mockers. So, after six verses of this stuff we can safely say that we don’t know who the mockers were, why they left the town, where they went, what type of life they took up and for what reasons all this happened to them. No wonder that I have never, in all my years, heard anyone try to explain these God-breathed verses in a sermon, academic classroom or adult education forum. . .