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307. Job 30:29-31, Continuing His Description of His Personal Misery
29 “I have become a brother to jackals
And a companion of ostriches.
30 My skin turns black 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.
In the midst of situation just described, Job then turns to his relationships with other living creatures. Perhaps a reference in the previously verse to standing up in the assembly made him think about one of the purposes of standing in such an assembly: to relate to the people of God in their varied struggles and successes. His children, however, are gone. After the frosty exchange of 2:9-10, his wife doesn’t seem to play an important role in his life. Who, then, are Job’s companions? Verse 29 tells us:
“I have become a brother to jackals and a companion to ostriches.”
The English translation flows a bit more smoothly than the Hebrew text. “Brother I am to the tannim,” he says. If he said he was a brother to the tannin, in contrast, we would have been plunged into the mythological world of great sea creatures or dragons, which tannin describes. The KJV even fell victim to that slight confusion, as it translates the opening phrase, “I am a brother to dragons.” But the singular of the noun here is tan; its feminine form is tannah (Lamentations 4:3; Malachi 1:3). Yet there is confusion with the word; sometimes it appears as iyiim (Isaiah 13:22), but in several places it is tannim (e.g., Micah 1:8; Malachi 1:3, where the feminine plural, tanoth, appears). All modern versions render it as “jackals.”
It is thenfollowed by the clause: “a companion of the daughters of ostriches.” But that clause, too, is controverted. The last phrase has literally been rendered as “daughters of greed/daughters of screeching.” Indeed, if underlying the yaanah (“ostrich”) is really derived from the verb anah, there might be other renderings: “daughters of an answer. . .” But the word yaanah has to refer to an animal not only because of the parallelism with the first clause, but because the word appears in those two great classifications of unclean animals: Leviticus 11 (verse 16) and Deuteronomy 14 (verse 15). In those catalogues we have the yaanah appearing in tandem with the tachmas, normally rendered “the owl.” Let’s go with “ostriches” for yaanah.
Equally important as identifying the two animals which Job says are his companions is determining what kind of companions these are. For example, these two creatures appear together in Isaiah 43:20 in the context of a dramatically positive reversal of fortunes for the people of Israel. God will “Make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (43:19). As part of this dramatic reversal:
“The wild animals will honor me; the jackals and the ostriches” (43:20).
The impression we receive is that the author is drawing upon these two animals to help
him show how great God’s triumph over nature is. These animals, then, would be two of the least social, the least likely animals to honor God. Yet even they, in the people’s reversal of fortunes, honor God. Both of these creatures also appear in Jer 50:39 when the future desolation of the land is predicted.
“Therefore the wildcats (tsiyyiym) and the jackals (here it is iyiim) shall dwell there, and also the ostriches (literally, “daughters of ostriches,” as in Job 30:29) shall dwell there.”
Thus, we can conclude that Job’s relationship with these animals bespeaks a kind of desertion or abandonment, a sense of isolation. Perhaps the only consolation for Job in this situation is that his cries might mingle with and be drowned out by the plaintive screeches of these two unclean creatures.
One of the other biblical passages stressing the extreme isolation of the author is Psalm 102:6-7, where a completely different vocabulary is employed. There the author is like a “pelican” of the wilderness or an “owl” (yet another word kos) of the waste places; he is like a lone bird on a roof. Loneliness, isolation and companionship with unclean creatures—that is Job’s reality in 30:29.