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324. Job 31:35-37, Signing the Complaint
35 “Oh that I had one to hear me!
Behold, here is my signature;
Let the Almighty answer me!
And the indictment which my adversary has written,
36 Surely I would carry it on my shoulder,
I would bind it to myself like a crown.
37 I would declare to Him the number of my steps;
Like a prince I would approach Him.
A most dramatic thing happens here, almost as dramatic as Job's statements in 19:25 that he knows that his Redeemer lives or in 16:19 that his witness is in heaven. He will conclude his case and sign his document. But he goes much further in these verses than simply to file the complaint. He is screaming, as it were, for God to respond. Rather than being the humble suppliant, however, Job is now the confident complainer. And, surprisingly enough, God’s silence over nearly 30 chapters has contributed to Job’s strength. God’s silence has made Job realize that his strength in managing his life has to come from the creative process of his own mind. Friends were of little help; God has been silent. Job can either live in despair (or contemplate suicide) or create and then draw upon other resources to define and continue his life. By talking about a heavenly witness and a redeemer of his life, Job has shown his adroitness at creating other sources of heavenly comfort than God.
Yet even as Job is confident of his heavenly legal team that will make his case for him before God, he still would like an explanation from God as to why he has suffered so unjustly. He feels, in fact, that he deserves such an explanation. His signing of the complaint and delivering it to God is a screaming testimony that the ball is in God’s court and nothing less than a complete divine response will be literarily or theologically satisfying. One wonders, then, whether Job forces God’s hand here. We never are sure, but I will argue below, in my exposition of Job 38-41, that God’s response, majestic as it is, is based on a fundamental miscalculation regarding the strength of Job’s mind.
But, once again, we are getting ahead of ourselves. In these verses, Job is crying to be heard and signing the legal document that has been prepared. The language of verse 35 is both extremely concise and heart-wrenching. He begins with the familiar miy-yitten: “Would that/Oh that! (see, for example, Job 11:5; 14:13) there was one to hear me.” But most fascinating to me are the “sounds” of the first five words in Hebrew. Every other word ends in “iy.” We have, “miy-yitten, liy shemea liy.” The two “li’s” are, literally, “to me” while the “miy” (pronounced like our “me”) means “oh that!” Everything comes down to this simple point. Job wants to be heard. Indeed, he must be heard. Now is the right time for it to be all about “me” (liy).
In dramatic fashion he signs the document. “Here is my mark!” The word for “mark/signature” is the rare tav, appearing elsewhere only in Ezekiel 9:4, 6. Some scholars have looked at its infrequent appearance and emended the tav to ivvah, a “desire,” but I think the legal context of the book is honored by Job’s actual signature or mark now being affixed.
The requirements are crystal clear. “Let the Almighty answer me!”Job has thrown down the challenge but only because the Almighty has first challenged Job. Job is so confident of his case that he can end verse 35 with his desire to see the divine indictment against him written out/written in a book. He not only wants to know what he had done to deserve this horrible treatment; he wants God to reduce the divine complaint against Job to writing, also. The last four Hebrew words of verse 35 are, literally, “and that the man of my lawsuit (i.e., God/the Prosecutor) would write (it) in a book.”
Job has briefly done four dramatic things in verse 35. He has appealed for someone to hear him; he has signed the document; he has demanded a divine response; he wants that response in a written form. Job has been doing the first thing throughout the book. Now he does the second thing. He will be waiting on God for the third and the fourth. Since we now have the divine response in Job 38-41, we can see that Job got his wish. God not only answered him, but God made sure the divine words would be in writing. This verse, then, signifies a magnificent turn in the story of Job. Job has gone from wretched sufferer and plaintive suppliant to a confident complainer, armed with words and his defense team. God, now, will be on the defensive (or so Job thinks…)
Job’s confidence, which already is sky-high as a result of verse 35, continues to grow in verses 36-37. He imagines what he would do with the indictment or the “writing” that his prosecutor has prepared for him. In verse 36 he would wear it on his shoulder or as a crown on his head; in verse 37 he would boldly declare, as a prince might so declare, the number of his steps. Though there was some discussion about possible secrecy, which Job said he eschewed, in verses 33-34, here everything would be in the open. Job would proudly display the evidence of the divine communication to him. He would confidently show to everyone the divine indictment and its flimsy basis.
The language of verse 36 specifically speaks of Job’s carrying (the common nasa, “lift up”) the divine indictment on his shoulder (shekem, 22x) and then “binding” (the rare anad, 2x) it as a crown “for me” (liy). Though the language of verse 36 is unique to Job, the picture it conjures in the mind is the clothing of the High Priest in Exodus 28. There the various garments of the priest were described with meticulous detail. A special rare verb for “binding” (rakas; Exodus 28:28; 39:21) is also used there to describe how the breastplate is affixed to the ephod. Because the emphasis in Exodus 28 is on the various garments of the priest, no mention is made of bodily parts, such as shoulders which they cover.
But after ephods, sashes, girdles, robes and other parts of the High Priest’s garments are described, the final item is the crown (Exodus 28:36-37). It is broken down into the rosette/mitre and the turban in that passage:
“You shall make a rosette of pure gold, and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, 'Holy to the Lord.' You shall fasten it on the turban with a blue cord; it shall be on the front of the turban.”
Now listen to Job’s description of how he will wear the divine indictment:
“Surely I would carry it on my shoulder; I would bind it on me as a crown (ararah, 23x)"
Though the language of Job 31:36 and Exodus 28:36-37 is different, and though the concept of a crown here points more to a regal than a priestly world (see, e.g., the crown on the head of kings in II Samuel 12:30; I Chronicles 20:2, etc), the conceptual world seems similar. Job would hoist that little indictment, place it on his shoulder and even make it as if it were a crown that he would wear. Everyone would see it; it would be Job’s special mark, singling him out as a creature under the special care of God. He might even combine the roles of priest and king as he proudly wears the indictment of God.
Verse 37 completes the thought. Job’s “numbering” of his steps (tsaad, 14x) seems like a calculated response to his earlier words in 14:16. The center section of that most moving poem (Job 14) described a method by which God might sequester Job, placing him in Sheol, until the divine wrath was spent. After that time, God would call Job back and re-establish a relationship of harmony that preceded the great distress that had befallen Job. The language of relationship restoration of 14:16 is significant:
“Then you would not number (saphar, similar to 31:37) my steps (tsaad, as in 1:37).”
To number one’s steps means to exercise extreme vigilance over or to watch with unremitting focus. God would have no need to watch Job’s steps like He does now, tripping Job up, not giving him breathing space, making him suffer so terribly. The relationship would be based on trust, on a confidence that Job truly feared God and turned away from evil.
Job’s confidence in Chapter 14 was short-lived because he returned to look at his condition and realized that his body, and his hope, was quickly ebbing away. But in Job 31:37 the situation is different. Now Job himself, rather than God, would declare the number (mispar, from sepher, the noun form of the verb saphar, used in 14:16) of his steps (tsaad, as in 14:16). That is, in the context of the legal case that would be argued, Job would not be afraid/ashamed to number or recount all his steps. He is confident that his adversary (God) will be kept at bay (or, at least, that is the hope expressed as early as 9:33-35), that Job would successfully account for every step he made, and that Job would do so proudly. Job could frame his case as he desired, numbering the steps, recounting them, finding strength in every step he took, putting God in a corner so that God would then have to scramble to make the divine “case.”
One more word in verse 37 catches our attention. Unlike Job 14:16, where the verb saphar (“number”) appears, Job puts that verb in a noun form here (mispar) and adds the common verb nagad, “to declare” to his statement. Thus, Job 31:37 has,
"I would declare (nagad) the number/ing (mispar) of my steps (tsaad).”
It seems more pleonastic than necessary until we realize that the addition of the verb nagad in the first half of verse 37 is meant to add to the euphony of the second half of the verse, where Job would approach God like a prince. The word for “prince” is the common nagid. Thus we have in verse 37 a skillful echo of 14:16 combined with the euphonious connection of nagad/nagid. Job is firing on all literary and theological cylinders as he signs his complaint. He is brimming with confidence. The only thing he hasn’t fully taken into account is what will actually happen in Job 38-41—i.e., what will Job do if God decides that He doesn’t want to play by the “rules” that Job has laid out?