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305. Job 30:24-31, Utter Desolation


24 “Yet does not one in a heap of ruins stretch out his hand,

Or in his disaster therefore cry out for help?

25 Have I not wept for the [s]one whose life is hard?

Was not my soul grieved for the needy?

26 When I expected good, then evil came;

When I waited for light, then darkness came.

27 I am seething within and cannot relax;

Days of affliction confront me.

28 I go about mourning without comfort;

I stand up in the assembly and cry out for help.

29 I have become a brother to jackals

And a companion of ostriches.

30 My skin turns black [v]on me,

And my bones burn with fever.

31 Therefore my harp is turned to mourning,

And my flute to the sound of those who weep.”


The soaring eloquence of the last few verses was too much for Job. Like a runner exhausted who has just crossed the finish line after a grueling marathon, barely able to stand much less give a composed interview to an eager ESPN reporter, Job is exhausted, and can barely mouth his words. Verse 24 is incomprehensible. But then, he gradually gets his breath back. Verse 25 has one difficult expression but is relatively clear, and then the rest of the passage returns to Job’s inimitable and powerful style.


We won’t spend much time on verse 24, other than to give the literal meaning of the Hebrew words.  In order, the words run,


    “Certainly not grave/heap/ruin; he stretches out a hand. If in his destruction/his destroying it for           these things/them he shouts/cries for help.”


I am sure that was as limpid to you as John 3:16, but let me point out just a few translation problems with the verse before moving to verse 25. It is only nine words in Hebrew. The first is ak, “certainly/assuredly.” No problem. Then we have a “no/not” (lo). We are batting 1,000 so far. The third word is beiy, a hapax whose meaning is unclear. It could mean “the grave,” but then several translations render it as “heap of ruins” or a “ruined person” or “the needy.” It is unclear whether the verb that then follows (the simple shalaq, “to stretch out”) goes with the preceding or the following word (“hand”).  


In order to make sense of it, some translators have put it all together to get a “Certainly he won’t stretch out his hand against a ruined person.” But that is probably not right. An equally serious translation has, “Yet does not one in a heap of ruins stretch out his hand?” We would have no idea what either of them meant, even if we accepted either as our translation. Then, we have the noble KJV, “Howbeit he will not stretch out his hand to the grave.” The Contemporary English Version, which wants to make everything simple, just has, “No one refuses to help others.” Huh?  If you took up Biblical studies believing that this was the most important verse in the Bible, you would soon give up your quest in despair. Oh, Clines puts this in the first person (since Job is talking, even though the verb is in the 3rd person), “Surely I never stretched out my hand  against any needy person.” That thought is certainly consistent with other statements Job makes in his peroration, but just because it is consistent doesn’t mean it is what the text says.

If the first half of the verse is opaque, the second half continues the opacity. The last four words read, “if in his destruction/when he destroys for them/to them cry out.”  Simple, right?  Actually, we probably can come to some determinate meaning here by rendering it “if he cries out in his distress/destruction.” But the uncertainly of the meaning of beiy, the unclarity regarding whether we have a question or two questions or one or two statements here, and the difficulty of discerning who is the subject of the verb “send out” as well as “his destruction” means that we should chalk this up to Job’s faltering speech. He is telling the ESPN reporter, “Race, rough bend, opponent water drink, undercut trees” and the reporter then says, “Well, you have heard it from the source!” before cutting away to a commercial.

Job’s breathlessness continues in verse 25, even though some meaning can be descried.  First, a literal reading:


    “If I had not wept for the severe of the day; my soul grieves for the poor.”


We see that Job is gradually getting his breath back. Most take the difficult phrase “severe (qasheh, 36x) of the day” to mean “those who are in trouble.” It is a reasonable inference, since the word qasheh carries with it the notion of roughness, severity, hardness, or harshness. Job seems to be talking about his past concern over those who had been treated harshly. It is not a huge stretch from the unclear words to that concept.  Aiding that interpretation is the second clause, where Job’s soul “grieves” the poor (the common ebyon). The verb “grieve” (the hapax agam) is somewhat difficult, but is similar in form to agem, another hapax that is best rendered “grieved” in Isaiah 19:10.  


Thus, the two clauses of verse 25 would then be parallel. Job had wept for those in trouble; his soul grieved for the poor. The thought is unexceptional and the wording is more difficult than it needs to be. Our only problem is that the verse begins with im, “If,” but there is no “then” clause in the next verse to complete the meaning. It makes most sense, with the flow of the passage and the following verse, to see this verse as a statement (ignoring the “if”) of Job’s commitment to those in trouble. This commitment, then, is contrasted with the result that followed for him in verse 26.  

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