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302. Job 30:17-19, More Anguish

17 “At night it pierces my bones [q]within me,
And my gnawing pains take no rest.
18 By a great force my garment is distorted;
It binds me about as the collar of my coat.
19 He has cast me into the mire,
And I have become like dust and ashes.


Though the images of Job’s pain pile up here, with language or pictures suggestive of Job’s earlier words in Chapters 16 or 9 (to be illustrated below), we also run into the problem of obscurity again, especially in verse 18.  Let me give the problem to you straight, first, and then see if the verse can be saved:


    “By great power he searches out for himself/disguises himself (with) my garment; the collar of 

     my robe binds me.”


Huh? Job is in the midst of describing great bodily pain that attends him. He feels as if his bones are literally “gouged out” or “gnawed” so that he can’t find any rest (v 17).  He will say in the next verse that he feels like a dirty and worthless person, thrown into the mud and discarded (v 19). The verse just quoted comes between these two thoughts; therefore we think it has to do with the great pain or humiliation he faces.  


I think the second part of verse 18 describes a feeling of suffocation or strangulation. Literally we have: “the mouth of my robe binds/girds (azar, 16x) me.” The verb azar can often describe a divine action: God “girds (azar) me with strength for battle” (Psalm 18:39).  Yet it is also a human action. God twice says to Job, “Gird (azar) up your loins like a warrior” (38:3; 40:7). It means to bind something around you, such as a belt or other equipment. Now, however, in Job’s twisted condition, he sees God as figuratively grabbing him by the collar and tightening it, so that Job is rendered helpless.  


That God is the actor in the second part of the verse (even though it can also be translated simply as the collar binding Job) is confirmed by my reading of the first part. The verb, as presented in the Masoretic text, is chaphas (23x), which primarily means to search for, but has a secondary meaning of disguising oneself (e.g., II Chronicles 18:29; 35:22). Though scholars have gone through all kinds of contortions to try to “massage” the verb to say something that makes sense, they have failed. The best alternative is to take the verb chaphas really as the verb taphas (the ch and t in Hebrew are often almost indistinguishable). Taphas (65x) does not otherwise appear in Job, but it almost always elsewhere rendered as “to capture” or “be caught” or “seize.”  A parallel to the meaning here is found in I Kings 11:30, where the prophet Ahijah seizes (taphas) the king’s robe and tears it into 12 pieces, symbolizing the coming division of the people of Israel.


This use of taphas best fits Job 30:18. The meaning then would be that God has with great force seized Job’s garment for Himself (the reflexive form of the verb is used); then the second half would fall directly into place: that God binds Job by the collar of his garment. We see God seizing Job by the collar, twisting it, rendering Job helpless and perhaps even close to strangulation. This picture, fuzzy to some extent, is saying the same thing as Job 16:12, where God also “seized” (using the common verb achaz) Job by the neck, rather than the collar, and dashed him to pieces.  


Job’s bones have been gouged out. God has grabbed him by the collar and squeezed.  Now God deposits Job in the mud. Verse 19 says,


    “He has tossed me into the mire; I have become like dust and ashes.”


The language is unexceptional; the verb for “toss/throw” is yarah (81x/9x Job), which can also mean “to shoot” (Psalm 11:2), but it most frequently is used for a concept that at first seems far removed from “tossing”—“teaching.” Yarah is the primary verb for that activity; its participial form is Torah, which needs no explanation. Seven of the nine appearances of yarah in Job are best rendered “teach” (e.g., “Teach me (yarah) and I will be silent,” 6:24), but here and in 38:6 it is best rendered “cast,” such as when God “cast/laid” the cornerstone of the world (38:6) or, here, “casts” Job into the mud.  

Job had earlier talked about God’s tossing him into the mud, but he used priestly language there to describe it.  God would “dip” (tabal) Job in the pit so that his clothes would abhor him (9:31).  Instead of the taphas/azar language of Job 30:18, Job 9:31 used tabal, 16x, the verb used to describe the priest’s dipping his finger in the blood of the sacrificial animal (Leviticus 4:6, 17; 9:9). Instead of using the lebush/kethoneth of 30:18 to describe his clothes, he used salmah in 9:31. But the result is the same.  Surprisingly, also, three of the five words of Job 30:19 appear in 13:12, where Job criticizes the friends:


    “Your memorials shall be (mashal, same verb as in 30:19) as ashes (epher, same noun as in 

    30:19; your defenses as defenses of clay (chomer, same word as in 30:19)." 


Finally, the phrase “dust and ashes,” though seemingly present everywhere we turn, and certainly still present in common English speech, only appears three times in the entire Hebrew Bible (here; Job 42:6; Genesis18:27). Thus, Job’s thoughts, and even the words in this most moving section of Job 30 are replicated in other passages. It doesn’t diminish or blunt their effectiveness in Job 30, but the language doesn’t hit us with quite the directness of Job 16:7-17 or 9:30-31.  

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