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306. Job 30:26-28, Reversal

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.


The final six verses of Job 30 recount the varied distresses that overcame Job even while he was weeping for those in trouble or grieving for the poor. One verse (v 26) sets the context by giving a general statement of the reversal he faced; twice he speaks of his dark situation or even his bodily hue becoming dark or black (vv 28, 30); once he speaks of the effect on his inner organs (v 27); once he mentions his isolation (v 29); he concludes with a reference to the doleful strands of musical instruments that “play” his sadness even as he lives it each day (v 31). Thus we see that the last six verses of the chapter return to familiar themes for Job, themes that he now knows so well that he can dilate effortlessly and eloquently on them.


He begins with a general statement of his reversal, starting with good and ending with evil.  The method is similar to that in 16:12, “I was at ease and he broke me in two.” Job 30:26 says, 


    “For I waited for good and evil came; and I waited for light but darkness came."


The clauses are ordered and neatly balanced. They are all the more powerful because they neatly capture a life freshly disrupted. Ordered words; disordered life. We get a slight window into Job’s “pre-distress” thinking when he says, “I waited for (qavah, 49x) good.” The verb qavah can mean “to wait for/expect/hope for.” It is a word beloved in the Psalms, which has more than one-third of its appearances, where the experience of patiently waiting for God in the midst of distress or confusion is often the reality of life for the faithful. “I waited patiently (qavah) for the Lord” (40:1)”; “None who wait (qavah) for you will be put to shame” (25:3)”; “Wait (qavah) for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage. Wait (qavah), I say, for the Lord” (27:14).  


Job’s pre-distress life was characterized by the “waiting for” or expectation of continuing good. It is nice to know this because previously the Book of Job only presented the external indicia of his obedience: fearing God, turning away from evil, sacrificing for his children lest they sinned. But here we have the faintest ray of light into Job’s inner self—he expected good to continue. Perhaps there was some fear in that expectation, for he said in 3:25, “That which I fear has come upon me.” He expected good to continue, but he was a little afraid about losing it all. This kind of attitude probably characterizes the lives of many a prosperous person.


So powerful is the thought of expecting good, while experiencing evil (ra, a common word), that he gives it with slightly different words in the second part. The verb yachal (“wait for,” 40x) is a synonym of qavah, and appears even more frequently in the Psalms (nearly half of its appearances).  Instead of light (the common or) came darkness (ophel, 9x/6x). The final word is unexpected; we would have thought that choshek (“darkness,” 80x/23x Job) would have been what came upon Job. But ophel carries with it the sense of deep gloom or impenetrable darkness. In one passage it is put right next to tsalmaveth, “the shadow of death” (10:22).  Evil has come; deep darkness has come. That is Job’s reversal in a nutshell.


Perhaps because he ventured into the new territory of his inner feelings in verse 26, he turns then in verse 27 to his inner physical state:  


    “My heart/inward parts/belly (meeh) seethe/boil (rachath) and are not silent; days of affliction

    (oni) confront (qedem) me.”


Earlier we heard the doleful tale of his very bones being gouged out or hollowed out; the gnawings gave him no rest (30:17). He returns to that theme here, though he now uses the common word for inner parts of a person (meeh, 32x) to describe the affected parts. Job has previously used this word to describe the stomach (20:24): it can describe the “womb” where babies gestate (Ruth 1:11); it describes the “inner parts” or “body” out of which Abram’s descendants will come and fill the earth (Genesis 15:4). Now those inner parts of Job “boil” (rachath, 3x). One other appearance of this rare verb is also in Job (41:31), where God makes the deep boil up like a pot. Its only other appearance is in Ezekiel 24:5, where the reference is also to a boiling pot.  


Job’s inner state is one of turmoil and extreme dislocation. The two pictures are heartbreaking: bones actually gouged or hollowed out; inner parts seething or boiling. So that we don’t quickly pass over the notion of inner parts boiling, he adds the verb, “and are not silent” (damah, 30x). Damah has such a positive meaning in the Psalms. “I have calmed and quieted (damah) my soul” (131:2); “my soul waits in silence (damah) for the Lord” (65:2); “be silent/rest (damah) in the Lord and wait patiently” (37:7). But in Job 30:27 the idea is that there is no silence, no rest, no calm.  The inner turmoil never ceases. No wonder Job feels he is on the point of death.


The second half of verse 27 echoes the first. The words aren’t exceptional. “Affliction” (oni, 36x) is a word we have seen already in Job (10:15; 30:16). The same expression used in verse 27 (“days of affliction”) appeared just 11 verses previously. There the days of affliction “seized” (achaz) him; here they “confront” (qadam) him. Qadam (26x)’s more common cousin is the noun qedem (87x), which points either to a direction—the east— or to a previous time. Facing east, then, is the visual way of capturing the concept of confrontation or facing something. Nothing but days of affliction now confront Job.


Job’s earlier place of escape was the darkness. Job asked God to let him experience a few days of peace before descending into it (10:21-22). In 30:28 we have references to darkness but with different language. The language is difficult to translate than we would like, though the meaning is fairly clear. Verse 28 says: 


    “I go about in the dark/in mourning/in black (clothes) (qadar) with no sun; I stand up in the                   assembly and cry for help (shava).”


Though the first half of the verse is hard to render, the really exceptional thought is in the second. What does it mean that Job stands up (the common qum) in the assembly (the common qahal) and “cries out” (shava, 21x/8x Job)? Twice previously Job has used shava to describe how he cried to God with no answer (19:7; 30:20). He cries here a third time. But note that it appears Job is describing his present reality. He may have retreated to the ash heap, he may be facing humiliation from people whose fathers he wouldn’t even hire as watchers of his flock, but he keeps standing up in the assembly and shouting out. The really sad picture of Job we get through all this is that Job is trying to maintain his piety; trying to keep up his loyalty to God; showing up for weekly services with the assembled faithful even as God continues the stony divine silence.


This doesn’t give us the key to understanding the difficult first part of verse 28 but we relax a bit because we now “see” Job clearly. He goes about qadar (the actual form is qoder, the present participle). Qadar (17x) is usually translated as “grow dark” (Joel 2:10; 3:15) or “to be in a dark mood/mourn” (Jeremiah 8:21; Ezekiel 31:15). Because he has just descended into the darkness two verses previously (30:26), a “darkness” translation here is alluring. But the overall tone of the passage is one of deep grief; thus a “mourning” translation also seems fitting. Clines rejects both to adopt a similar reading to Psalm 38:7, where going about this way means one is wearing the dark garments of a mourner.  We have three strong translation possibilities, and one might even be tempted to follow Yogi Berra’s advice when coming to a fork in the road: take it—i.e., adopt all three translations! Giving further support, however, to the notion of going about in darkness is the fact that the next words are “with no heat/sun” (chammah, 6x). Chammah is normally rendered “sun,” but can be translated as “heat” in Psalm 19:6, where nothing is hid from the “heat” of the divine light.  


By the close of verse 28, then, we have the sad picture of Job standing up, perhaps extending his arms, in the congregation of the faithful, empty, mourning, in his own personal darkness. We mourn with Job even as we secretly delight because he is now firing on all verbal cylinders.  

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