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332. Job 32:16-22, And Now…the Wind Up

 

16 “Shall I wait, because they do not speak,

Because they stop and no longer answer?

17 I too will answer my share,

I also will tell my opinion.

18 For I am full of words;

The spirit within me constrains me.

19 Behold, my belly is like unvented wine,

Like new wineskins it is about to burst.

20 Let me speak that I may get relief;

Let me open my lips and answer.

21 Let me now be partial to no one,

Nor flatter any man.

22 For I do not know how to flatter,

Else my Maker would soon take me away.

 

Elihu is just getting warmed up. He has already explained why he was silent for so long but no longer feels he has to remain so (vv 6-10); he has told the friends that their attack on Job was unsuccessful (vv 11-15). We still don’t know if he thinks he is speaking for God, for the wisdom tradition, for the friends, for Job or just for himself. But we are intrigued to give him a listen. 

 

Yet, this passage makes us wonder if that is a good decision. As I have said above, these seven verses might be likened to a “writhing” pitcher who “grinds the ball into his hip,” (in the memorable words of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s Casey at the Bat) and then does a most elaborate wind-up. . .before falling off the mound! Or so it seems. By the end of Elihu’s first chapter, then, we don’t know a bit more about him, other than he is young, that he has a new theory of wisdom and that he thinks he can do better than the friends in answering Job.  

 

The friends are standing there, subdued. Job is standing there, too, having finished his words. No one is talking. Elihu occupies the vacant space in the middle and continues to speak. His next words pose a rhetorical question, if not to the friends then to the listener, whoever s/he may be (v 16):

 

    “Should I wait because they don’t say a word, because they stand there and answer no more?"

 

We might even render the first verb, “Shall I continue to wait (yachal, 40x/8x Job)?” As can easily be calculated, one-fifth of yachal’s appearances in the Bible are in Job, and five of these are in Job’s peroration (29-31) and Job 32. The unspoken theme of these chapters then is “waiting”. . .waiting to finish the speeches, waiting to finalize the the case, waiting to hear if God will have anything to say. Elihu has already used yachal five verses previously in addressing the friends, “I waited (yachal) for your words. . .” Elihu will wait no more.


He won’t wait also because they are just standing around (amad, the same verb used in 29:8 to describe the crowd which stood in hushed reverence when Job arrived to judge) and not answering (anah) anymore. Verse 17 then neatly complements verse 16. Literally, we have: 

 

    “I will answer (anah), yes even I, my portion (cheleq); I will declare my knowledge (dea); certainly I     will.”

 

The translation is more pleonastic than necessary, but I wanted to illustrate and  capture the idea that the focus for the next several chapters will be on Elihu. “I” or “my” appear five times in this verse, with the interesting phrase aph-ani (“certainly/yes even I”) appearing twice. He begins with the common but noteworthy little verb anah (“to answer”); the friends have no answer, so Elihu will leap into the gap with his own answer. The double appearances of aph-ani, one right after “answer” and one at the end of the verse, are grammatically superfluous but aid in centering the passage on Elihu. It isn’t certain how we should take the aph of aph-ani.  Is Elihu just saying, “I will answer, even little me” or “I will answer, certainly I will”? Aph is a particle, often left untranslated, but it most frequently gives emphasis to the thought that follows (e.g., “Has God indeed (aph) said,” Genesis 3:1). I lean toward the latter reading—Elihu will “certainly” answer. 

 

Elihu says he will relate his “portion” (the common cheleq) and declare his “knowledge” (dea). The word cheleq (67x) comes from the language of inheritance or share of a much larger object. Therefore it isn’t surprising that more than one-fourth of its appearances are in Deuteronomy and Joshua, two books most concerned with parceling out land. It appears four other times in Job, once in the very physical sense of a share of the spoil (17:5) but usually in the metaphorical sense as one’s portion/share from God (e.g., 20:29). Here Elihu is saying that it is now his turn to speak; he, too has his “portion” to say.

But, he also uses the term “knowledge” (dea), a word appearing only on Elihu’s lips (5x) to capture his unique “take” on the situation. We already have seen tebunah and daath to express the concept of knowledge in Job, but I think the author is suggesting that Elihu’s “read” of the situation will be so unique that even the word used to describe it (dea) has to be unique to him. This is the third time that Elihu has used the concept of “declaring my knowledge” (chavah, dea) in twelve verses (vv 6, 10, 17).