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322.  More “If’s”

 

29 “Have I rejoiced at the extinction of my enemy,

Or exulted when evil befell him?

30 No, I have not allowed my mouth to sin

By asking for his life in a curse.

31 Have the men of my tent not said,

‘Who can find one who has not been satisfied with his meat’?

32 The alien has not lodged outside,

For I have opened my doors to the traveler.

33 “Have I covered my transgressions like Adam,

By hiding my iniquity in my bosom,

34 Because I feared the great multitude,

And the contempt of families terrified me,

And kept silent and did not go out of doors?

 

We might label these oaths as numbers 8-10, even though there is no punishment or judgment in view in these verses. His literary form, which started so neatly and hopefully in verses 5-8 and 9-12, has broken down. In addition, Job’s words begin to lose their precision, and the three mini-sections of these verses  (vv 29-31, 32, 33-34) don’t seem to relate to each other. Other sections had maintained the focus on adultery (vv 9-12) or treatment of servants (vv 13-15) or dealings with various groups of vulnerable people (vv 16-23), but here we have Job’s scattershot last words. It is almost as if a person is moving from a home and first moves all the predictable boxes in good order—kitchen goods, bathroom supplies, books, bedroom materials, etc..—but then realizes at the end that there are just stray boxes of tools, odd keepsakes and unsorted files lying around. They too have to be moved out and stuffed in the moving van. So, Job has in this passage put together three miscellaneous thoughts, with apparently no connection to each other.

 

His first “if” clause is clear except for a confusing use of the verb ur in the second clause. Let’s try a literal translation of verse 29:

 

    “If I have rejoiced over the misfortune of those who hate me;

    And if I stirred up/rose up/lit up (ur) when evil has found him”

 

By putting this statement in a conditional form, Job is communicating, of course, that he has never done such a thing. He has used the verb samach (150x, “rejoice”) as recently as verse 25 when talking about his wealth. One wonders whether “rejoice” or “take delight”-type language was typical in the conditional clauses of oaths of clearance. The word “destruction/misfortune” (pid, 3x) is rare and is confined to Job and Proverbs (also Job 30:24; Proverbs 24:22). Instead of the typical word “enemy” is a participial form of the common verb “to hate” (sane, 147x). Using the term “enemy” might actually work against Job’s purpose here because the word is ambiguous as to the feelings cherished by both parties. By calling them “those who hate me,” Job can maintain his aura of magnanimity. They aren’t his “enemies”—they are just people who hate him.


The second clause presents a problem for us in how to translate the unusual (technically known as the hithpolel) form of the verb or. Its root meaning is “to bring light” or “to awaken,” though it is almost universally rendered here as “gloat” or “exult” or “become happy.” Thus, Job wouldn’t exult when evil has found the ones who hate him. Job has previously used ur in 17:8 with the meaning of “awake/stir up” (which is what happens when light shines on a person), and this gets us closer to clarity. Thus, the passage may point to Job’s not becoming engaged/stirred up when calamity finds the one hating Job. I prefer to keep the root “light up” in my translation and would like to render it “lit up.” So, Job doesn’t become emotionally charged or vengeful or “lit up” against those who hate him.

 

This is a significant point theologically because in antiquity in general and the Hebrew Scriptures in specific, there is much gloating over defeated enemies or, to use Job’s phrase, “those who hate” you. Sometimes it is difficult to discern if a victory song is also a song that gloats over the defeated foe or longs for retaliation. Most infamous in this regard are the final verses (vv 8-9) of the otherwise beautiful Psalm 137:

 

    “O daughter of Babylon, the one to be destroyed;

    Happy is the one who repays you as you have served us.

    Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock.”

 

Psalm 109, a little-studied Psalm, speaks of the Psalmist’s enemies as being put to shame (v 28). “My adversaries shall be clothed with confusion, and shall put on their own shame as their robe” (v 29). Other expressions of gloating over the downfall of foes aren’t hard to find. 

 

Yet Proverbs 17:5 adds a cautionary note, especially about attitudes towards the poor. 

 

    “Those who mock the poor bring reproach upon his Maker; the one who 

    is glad (samach, same verbs as in Job 31:29) at calamity (ed, a common word

    in Job) will not be unpunished"

 

Job is, once again, the perfect exemplar of the wisdom tradition.

 

Verse 30 continues the thought of the preceding verse, and probably ought to be put in parentheses.  

 

    “(And I didn’t give over my mouth to sin by seeking/asking for an oath/ curse on his life).”


This verse continues the thought of the preceding one by suggesting that Job didn’t retaliate agains the “haters.” The language, though, is unusual and memorable. Rather than the usual word for “mouth” (peh), Job uses the less-frequent chek or “palate” (18x/7x Job). Job has already used the word chek in proverbial-type expressions, such as “the palate discerns crafty devices” (6:30) or “does not the ear test words as the palate tries food?” (12:11), but here it points to the body part. Just as we were regaled with rare terminology for “shoulder” or its parts in verse 22, so Job takes us to his “palate” here.  

 

Job didn’t “give” (the common natan) his palate to “sin” (the common chata). That “sin” would have consisted of asking (the common shaal) “with a curse” (alah, 36x) for his soul. This is the only place Job uses the word alah for “curse”—he earlier employed an entire “curse vocabulary” both in the narrative section and his first speech of Job 3 (consult the commentary). Yet the word alah has a broader linguistic sweep than simply “curse.’ It is often an “oath,” which is a solemnly sworn statement of testimony or affirmation (e.g., Genesis 24:41; Leviticus 5:1, etc).  Yet, declining to utter a “curse” against a person’s life seems more in tune with the non-retaliation flavor of verses 29-30, rather than an oath that affirms something. In saying this, Job also shows his indebtedness to the wisdom tradition, and the thought of Proverbs in particular.  The latter book teaches (24:17):

 

    “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,

    and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble”

 

Rather (25:21),

 

    If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;

    and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink"

 

This non-retaliatory strategy of Job bleeds over to verse 31, though we begin to lose cell phone “reception” in this verse. We should see it probably as continuing the parenthetical thought of verse 30.  Literally, we have in verse 31:

 

    “If men of my tent didn’t say, ‘Oh that we were not satisfied with his flesh.'”

 

The double negative confuses things. Usually the two negatives cancel out each other, so that the meaning would then be, “If men of my tents said they were satisfied with his flesh.” There are many, many different translations of this verse in the various versions, but if we keep in mind that the overriding point is to show Job’s policy of non-retaliation towards those who hated him, we see this verse fitting that structure. The point would be that if anyone from Job’s side (the word is math, “men,” 21x) was satisfied with the flesh of another (by wreaking vengeance), Job would have nothing to do with them. The language is difficult, but if we see verses 29-31 arguing the same point, then at least some light emerges.