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297. Job 30:10-11, Encountering Some Difficulty

 

Verse 10  also begins with great promise before it trails off to some obscurity.  

 

    “They abhor me, and stay away from me; but they do not withhold/stop spitting (roq) in my face."

 

Whereas all the action in verse 9 was in the nouns, here the action is in the verbs. We have taab (22x, “detest/utterly abhor”) and rachaq (58x, “go/be far away”) and chasak (27x, “withhold/spare”). Though Job’s thought in 30:9-10 hits us with a vigorous freshness, it is just a reprise of 17:6, though the crucial words are different. Job 17:6 has, “He has made me a byword (mashal) with the people, and I have become one in whose face they spit” (topheth, a hapax). Thus, the thought of Job 17:6 becomes distributed over two verses in Job 30:9-10.

 

Four of the 22 appearances of taab are in Deuteronomy, where we get the basic concept of abominate/to be abhorrent for the verb. Deuteronomy 7:26 says that people are not to bring an abomination (an image or idol of a foreign deity, using the noun form, toebah) into their houses lest they become destroyed. They are “utterly to detest” (double use of shaqats) and “utterly to abhor” (double use of taab) this abominable thing. It is about as strong a condemnation as one can utter in Biblical Hebrew. So the usage of taab became fixed. Job says that his enemies feel this way towards him.  

 

As a result, they go far from him (rachaq). Well, this is consistent with the spirit of 30:3-8, where they hid in the clefts of rocks or waterless dry places. But the third clause gives us some trouble. They “don’t withhold (chasak) spittle from my face.” Just as taab received its most memorable association through Deuteronomy, so chasak (“withhold”) is memorable because it was twice used in Genesis 22, where Abraham was commended because he didn’t “withhold” his son Isaac from God. Job uses it most memorably in 7:11, where he will not “restrain” his mouth in his complaint.

 

And before getting to the strangeness of the picture at the end of verse 10, we need a word on “spittle.” The word is roq (3x), a rare word that also appeared in Job 7:19, where Job famously asks God to leave him alone so he can swallow his spittle (roq). The verb raqaq, to spit, only appears one time (Leviticus15:8). But wait a second. . .  If they are living in the clefts of rocks and beside wadis, with their heads popping up between the bushes, how can they spit at Job in the face?  Perhaps they did so before they moved  (a sort of “spit and run” group), or perhaps some of the mockers, no doubt through long processes of personal discipline, became expert spitters so that their phlegm might carry an inordinate distance to lodge on Job’s face. How do you spit on someone’s face when you are far from them? Of course, I can hear the jeers of poets who say, ‘You are trying to put a great piece of poetic literature into the Procrustean bed of logical categories. . .”  and they would be right.  I guess I still want the images used to make sense, even if they are vivid and picturesque and a little obscure.  

 

Verse 11 continues the confusion that verse 10 had probably inadvertently created, though for many scholars verse 11 reads with clarity.  Let’s translate it:

 

    “For he has opened my cord/excellence/remaining and afflicted me; and they have sent out/cast        off the bridle from me.”

 

The school of thought that says verse 11’s meaning is limpid would interpret it as follows:  the ‘he’ is God, who has broken or snapped Job’s bowstring, thus making him vulnerable and weak. This leads to the affliction of the second clause. The divine work of hamstringing Job in this way then leads to the mockers’ then casting off restraint (Clines’ way of reading “casting off the bridle”) so that they can continue their oppressive ways towards Job.

 

Another way of looking at this verse is to see Job as descending back into his obscurity of verses 3-8, though thankfully not as deeply as in that passage. The word yether is potentially difficult. Appearing about 100x in the Bible, it is overwhelmingly translated as “remaining/rest” or “excellence.” I know—there seems little relation between the two. Yet, in three verses in Judges (16:7-9), one in the Psalms (11:2) and here it seems that yether means “cords” or “bowstrings”—i.e., the cord extended between bent wood to make a bow.  And a similar word, methar, obviously derived from yether, appears 9x, meaning “cord” or “string” on each occasion.  

 

That may have been the primary purpose for which the yether were employed (i.e., bowstrings), but the three verses in Judges mentions them as “fresh cords” used to bind Samson. Their function as bowstrings isn’t seemingly in view. Therefore the “cords” of the first clause of Job 30:11 might not best be interpreted as a bowstring but be like the “fresh cords,” yether, in the Samson narrative (Judges 16:7, 8) which are something that constrain or constrict. Samson was tied up with these and then burst them. By “opening Job’s cord,” God would be giving Job the (false) sense of freedom, which God then follows with affliction. The previous narrative in Job gives ample evidence of God’s afflicting Job. So, the chief interpretive problem of the first part of the verse is whether loosening/opening Job’s yether is an act of liberation or constraint. I think our author isn’t clear on that—leading to deeper confusion.

 

This confusion is also reflected in the second part of the verse. Now “they” (the mockers? someone else?) have sent out/cast off (the common shalach) the resen (“bridle”) from Job.  But the text literally reads “from before Job,” which leads to two possible meanings. Does this mean, as Clines says, that they are throwing off restraint “in my presence”?  Or that they are taking off the bridle “from” Job? The former would place the emphasis on the action of the unspecified “they”; the latter would stress the lack of constraint of Job. The latter is consistent with my reading of the first clause as a “liberation” rather than “constriction” clause. But, thinking about the issue for a moment longer, is taking off a bridle from Job (if that is how we read it) an act of constriction or freedom?  Normally, if an animal has a bridle it can be controlled/directed, but is that bad either for the animal or the person controlling it?  It usually is considered a good thing.  Is removing the bridle, then, an act of freedom or lack of control?  Resen, rendered “bridle” or “halter” here, only appears 3 other times in the Scripture, and is always rendered “bridle.” 

 

Thus, we have two ways to read this verse. The “clearer” way, which I think isn’t as faithful to the text, has God hampering Job and afflicting him; then “they” throw off restraint and join in on the fun against Job. My reading, in contrast, finds little sense here.  I see it as reflecting Job’s gradual descent into unclarity, from which he momentarily freed himself in verse 9.