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308. Job 30:29-31, Finishing His Description of Personal Misery
If verse 28 had Job becoming dark or mourning because there was no heat/sun, verse 30 continues that theme, though pointing now directly to the discoloration of his skin:
“My skin becomes dark on me; and my bones are burned with heat.”
The first clause has received different translations principally because of uncertainty with how to render the third word: mealay. Literally it is “from upon me,” which has led some to suggest that a twofold motion is in view in the first clause: Job’s skin not only becomes dark or black but it then “falls from him.” The verb for “becoming black” is a hapax, shachar. Yet this word, too, is confusing because two other words, of identical spelling and pointing, mean fairly different things.
First, we have another verb shachar (12x) which means “to seek earnestly.” It is the verb used by David in Psalm 63:1 to describe his diligent quest for God. Yet, sometimes that verb in Psalm 63:1 is translated “early (rather than “eagerly”) will I seek thee.” It isn’t a misprint, but it is an attempt to come to grips with the noun (the second thing) shachar (25x), which means the “dawn” of the day, and apply that meaning to the verb shachar. And since a sign of diligent search may be an “early” search, one therefore has that suggested translation for Psalm 63:1.
What, then, is the connection between the two shachar’s, meaning “to search diligently” and “dawn,” and the supposed hapax shachar in verse 30? The reasoning seems to be that just before dawn is when the day is darkest; thus when Job talks about his skin shachar, it must describe his skin in a condition of the inky darkness preceding the dawn. And, we can imagine Job’s skin becoming discolored, darkened and diseased before it falls from him. It is an ugly picture, but that picture may be in view in the first clause of verse 30.
A description of Job’s bodily torment continues in verse 30b. His bones then “burn” (charah) from fever or with heat (choreb). Earlier in the chapter we saw that Job’s bones were gouged out (naqar) in the night (v 17). One wonders if bones “burning” now is related to the earlier experience. We feel Job’s oppression, this time expressed through language of warmth, heat, burning. We all have had the experience of bones that ache; but bones that burn, how do you “rub” them? His interior self turning into a cauldron, an inferno or, as he just said in verse 27, “boiling,” must be on the list of the most horrific experiences faced by a person.
The language of the last clause of verse 30 has the common charah (to burn) and the less common choreb (16x). Often choreb is a “drought” (Haggai 1:11; Jeremiah 50:38) or a “desolation” (Zephaniah 2:14) or “heat” (Isaiah 4:6; 25:5). Many scholars render the choreb in Job 30:30 as “fever.” Burning bones; feverish body. This man is burning up, as well as facing the numbing and soul-depleting isolation of having only jackals and ostriches as his companions. A golden retriever, or a friendly beagle, would probably have done a lot for him.
Our chapter closes (verse 31) with a reference to music. One of the things that has been almost completely absent in Job so far is any reference to music. Music accompanies the people of God through all their experiences of life, and mention of musical instruments is especially prominent in the Psalms, for example, when praise is given (see, e.g., Psalms 145-150). We have two musical instruments mentioned here: the harp/lyre (kinnor, 42x) and the pipes (uggab, 4x). The verse reads:
“My harp (kinnor) has become used for mourning (ebel); my pipe (uggab) is
accompanied by the voice of those that weep.”
Doleful, rather than joyful, strains fill his mind. Each of these words (kinnor/uggab) has appeared once previously in Job (21:12), where Job spoke of the joyous life lived by the unjust. Their houses are secure; they don’t experience the disciplining hand of God. Their children dance, singing to the “timbrel (toph) and harp (kinnor),” and “they rejoice at the sound of the pipe (uggab).”
But that is the only mention of any kind of music or dance in Job. One would have thought that such a reference would have been appropriate in describing the celebrative atmosphere among Job’s children in 1:1-5, but the description in that passage is spare. Music and dance is absent from every previous thought in Job, except for 21:12. There are no references to trumpets, to the shofar, to the wide variety of stringed instruments accompanying worship, to flutes or drums.
When Job finally speaks of music in his life in this verse, it is in the context of reversal. Normally we might have expected job to say that his harp has been “turned” (haphak) to mourning, since we have seen haphak used in that way previously, and other scriptures use the verb haphak to describe dramatic reversal. Lamentations 5:15, for example, uses both language of reversal (haphak) and mourning (ebel, as in Job 30:31), where the people’s dancing has been turned to mourning. Thus, though Job’s picture is plaintive and painful in verse 31, it isn’t unprecedented. Instruments which are normally and easily plucked to play optimistic strains now are used to play the minor keys of life.
Finally, the second instrument mentioned by Job (uggab) is rare, only appearing outside of Job in two places, one of which is early in the Genesis narrative (4:21) where Jubal was the ancestor of those who played the flute. All the music in Job’s life now is a dirge. Even his language has returned to being elegiac. It is a fitting way to end his description of reversal in Job 30.