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331. Job 32:13-15, The Friends’ Ineffectiveness

13 “Do not say,
‘We have found wisdom;
God will rout him, not man.’
14 For he has not arranged his words against me,
Nor will I reply to him with your arguments.

15 They are dismayed, they no longer answer;
Words have failed them.


Let me first suggest the flow of argument in verses 13-15 and then try to take apart the verses piece by piece. I see Elihu addressing the friends in verse 13 and saying, ‘Don’t think you are the wise ones, thinking that you have found wisdom, that you have made Job shut up. God will, in the last analysis, vanquish him; no human will do so.’ Then, in verse 14, I see Elihu quoting the friends when they say, ‘He hasn’t really laid a glove on us with his arguments.’ Then Elihu responds, ‘But I wouldn’t answer him with your (the friends’) words, I wouldn’t use your arguments.’ The result of these two rather obscure verses (vv 13-14) is that the friends then fall silent; they are amazed or dismayed (chathath, 51x) at Elihu’s words to them (v 15). Everyone, then, is silent except Elihu. He owns the stage.


Let’s look more closely at the flow of words in this section to see how I reached the conclusions just mentioned. Verse 13 says:


    “Lest you say, ‘We have found wisdom. God will pursue/vanquish/drive him, and not humans.”


We are immediately confused because the verse begins with pen, “lest” or “otherwise,” a word that is invariably tied to the preceding thought. Its first appearance in the Bible clarifies its meaning. Eve characterized God’s command to Adam as a command that they should not even touch the fruit “lest” (pen) they die (Genesis 3:3). In Genesis 11:4 the people talked about how they could build a name for themselves (resulting in the Tower of Babel) lest (pen) they be scattered. So, it doesn’t really make much sense to begin a sentence with pen, especially when the thought doesn’t seem directly related to the preceding. . .


Thus, chalk it up to Elihu’s descent into obscurity. Yet, there seems to be meaning, too. Elihu seems to be characterizing the friends, whom he has just criticized for their ineffective responses to Job, as pushing back against him by suggesting that they have “found wisdom” (i.e., that they have beaten Job in argument). But Elihu quickly adds that God will drive him away or vanquish him (nadaph, 9x). Thus, the point of verse 13 would be Elihu’s telling the friends that they, really, didn’t defeat Job in argument. God will have to do so (Hmm. . .what then is Elihu’s role?).


While they are reeling a bit from Elihu’s seeming volte-face (for he had begun his words in vv 11-12 by seeming to praise them), Elihu then continues, but this time I see him quoting the friends:  


    “He has not stretched out/arranged his words against me.” 


That is, I see the friends’ first claiming that they have buried Job in argument (v 13, a though which Elihu rebutted in that verse); then I see them saying here that Job had answered them ineffectively. Elihu then would be characterizing the friends as saying that Job’s words against them were ineffective. Note the presence of arak (here translated “stretched out/arranged”) to describe Job’s argument. It is the same word Job used to describe his own argument that he was piecing together against God in 13:18. So, there is some plausibility in looking at 32:14a as the friends saying that Job has inadequately answered their arguments. Their two points, then, are that their arguments sunk in and that Job’s arguments didn’t. Elihu kindly points out that the reverse is true. Their words weren’t words of “wisdom.” And Job’s words weren’t ineffective.

Yet the words Elihu uses on the latter point are:


     “I will not/would not answer him with your words” (v 14b).


That is, Elihu tells them that their arguments are pretty useless.  So, in my reading, verses 13-14 have Elihu pointedly puncturing the friends’ bubble about their argument. It wasn’t that effective against Job; Elihu wouldn’t have used it.


Now we are ready for verse 15:


    “They are dismayed (chathath); they don’t answer.  Words escape (atheq) them.”


I read this verse as the reaction of the friends to Elihu’s sudden rather rough treatment of them in verses 13-14. The verb chathath first memorably entered the Scriptures in Deuteronomy (Chapters 1 and 31), where Moses encouraged the people not to “fear or be dismayed” (chathath, Deuteronomy 1:12; 31:8). The verb often appears with arats, “to tremble” (Joshua 1:8; 8:1). Here the little used verb atheq describes the friends’ response. Words don’t “proceed” from them; they don’t “advance” from them. It was the same verb Job first used in 9:5 to describe God’s moving mountains. The result in 32:15, though, is the friends are now cowed into silence.


Both Job and the friends are then silent. Elihu has done some significant things in ten verses (vv 6-15): he has argued for a new understanding of knowledge, where insight lodges in a person because of the “breath of the Almighty”; he has also disabused the friends of the notion that they have vanquished Job in their altercation. Now that he has done these two important things, we are ready to hear what he has to say. But that will take a while. Elihu, like a pitcher, first has to go into his wind-up before he throws the ball. The next section describes that “wind-up.”  

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