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333. Job 32:18-22, And the Pitch??

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.


We are now so ready to hear Elihu’s interpretation of Job’s issue. But not yet!  We may, somewhat facetiously, divide the next five verses into verses 18-20, The Wind Up, and verses 21-22, The High Leg Kick. Still no pitch. We even think that such a pitcher may look a little comical. He says in verse 18:


    “For I am full of words; the wind in my belly compels/oppresses me.”


The first three words make us smile and want to award Elihu the “Understatement of the Book of Job Award.” But while we are chuckling we realize that the words are pleasantly euphonious. “Full of words” is male millah. The difficult word to translate is in the second half:  tsuq (11x), which I rendered “compel/oppress.” Tsuq appears three times in quick succession in Deuteronomy 28 (vv 53, 55, 57), where “oppress” is the best translation. It appears twice in the Samson narrative (Judges 14:17; 16:16) to capture the wheedling and oppressive spirit of Delilah towards Samson—she “pressed him sorely/daily” to tell the riddle of his long hair. Isaiah uses it four times to talk about the fury of oppressors (51:13, twice) or distress that comes to people (29:2, 7). Thus, we see that tsuq occupies the verbal space of constraint and distress at the same time.  Elihu doesn’t just want to speak; he is now compelled to speak.

Jeremiah and many others who have been possessed by/oppressed by the spirit of God know the feeling. In Jeremiah’s memorable soliloquy (20:9), he says:

    “If I say, ‘I will not mention him,

    or speak any more in his name,’

    then within me there is something like a burning fire

    shut up in my bones;

    I am wearing with holding it in, and I cannot.”

Jeremiah is more eloquent than Elihu in describing his feeling of needing to speak lest one burst, though Elihu is no less memorable.


Verses 19-20 don’t advance Elihu’s case at all but they provide a further, and even humorous, description of the oppression he feels with holding in his words. I should probable qualify my word “humorous.” No doubt Elihu’s words are said with great solemnity; he, like other Biblical speakers, feels a sense of compulsion and constraint as he has been holding in his precious words. Yet, we can barely suppress a smile. We say, ‘Now is your big chance; don’t keep telling us how much you want to speak. . .’  But still he keeps telling us how much he wants to speak.


Now his beten, his belly or inward parts (same word as in the previous verse) is as wine that has not been opened (the verb is the common patach, often appearing in Job).  Because the “wine” of his words hasn’t been “opened,” it is as if there is no vent for the wine-skin. Jesus told us what would happen in such a case. Indeed, Elihu goes on to tell us. He is like “new wineskins which are ready to burst” (v 19b).


Two of those words make us pause. The “wineskin” is an ob (17x), but every other appearance of ob in the Bible describes a necromancer or person who tries to get in touch with spirits of the dead. Certainly not applicable here! So, most scholars have posited a second word of the same spelling, with its sole appearance in Job 32:19, with the meaning “wineskins.” The only reason for this suggestion is that is appears in parallelism with the “wine” of 19a. Then, there is the final verb: baqa. It means to “tear/rip/cleave.” One of its first appearance is where Abraham is splitting (baqa) firewood to prepare for the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:3). Usually baqa is used with big objects—like seas dividing/splitting (Exodus 14:21) or earthquakes splitting the land (Numbers 16:31), but it can, as in Job 32:19, be used to describe torn objects, such as clothing (Joshua 9:4).  Elihu is like the wineskin that is ready to split/burst/come apart at the seams. We feel for him even as our own bellies hurt trying to suppress some laughter.


Then, in verse 20 he uses one unusual/rare word in the first part, but quickly retreats to conventional and familiar language of “opening” (patach) and “answering” (anah) in verse 20b.  He says in verse 20a:


    “Let me speak/I will speak and there will be space/relief for me. . .”


Clines recognizes a note of necessity in the verbs: “I must speak” or, in the second part of the verse, “I must answer.” Whatever the urgency, Elihu is telling us that he now is going to speak. The unusual final verb is ravah, usually translated as “find relief.” It only appears two other times (I Samuel 16:23; Jeremiah 22:14). In the former place it describes Saul’s  “refreshment” or “relief” when David played the lyre for him.The latter passage describes a house with “spacious” upper rooms. Most scholars say ravah derives from the common verb rachaq, “to be wide/spacious”—hence the ambiguity of my translation. One might even contrast the ravah of verse 20 with the constraint of the tsuq of verse 18.  Rather than being limited and constrained, he now will speak and find (unlimited) space. Relief and space both seem to be captured by the verb ravah.


But he still isn’t ready to tell us what is on his mind. Like a German theologian who has to write three volumes of prolegomena before getting to the two-volume main work, Elihu continues now with a caveat or another preliminary statement. His point in verses 21-22 is that he will not flatter anyone; he will simply speak as he is compelled. But just as with the ravah of verse 20 or, to a lesser extent, the tsuq of verse 18, now we will have the kanah (usually rendered “flatter”) of verses 21-22 to deal with


Let’s begin with a translation:


    “I shall not by any means show partiality to a person; nor shall I flatter; for I don't even know

     how to give flattering titles; or else my Maker would soon carry me off."


The thought is controlled by the double appearance of the rare verb kanah, translated above as “flatter” or “give flattering titles.” Its two other appearances (Isaiah 44:4; 45:4) might best be rendered as "to name” or “to give a title of honor” to someone. Thus, my translation of it here as “flatter” is an attempt to capture the notion of “giving a title” to someone with simpler language. But the verses are also surrounded by a two-fold appearance of the common verb nasa, used in two different ways.  First, “to show partiality” renders the Hebrew words “to lift up (nasa) the face,” a phrase we have previously seen in 13:8 to mean “show partiality” or “show favor.” The verses also ends with God’s “carrying” (nasa) him off. Literary skill thus characterizes these two verses. Even though we have rare expressions or words here, the meaning is tolerably clear. Elihu will render judgment impartially; he will not bow and scrape to anyone. He will not “lift up” anyone’s face (show partiality) lest God “lift him up”/carry him away."


One wonders whether a person’s saying that he will be completely impartial makes it actually less or more likely that s/he actually will be impartial. Psychologists have told us that those who tell us time and again that they are not lying perhaps have a higher likelihood of lying to us than those who don’t promote their truthfulness. We are willing to give Elihu the benefit of the doubt here, since he already has told off the elders; we think that he may actually have independence of spirit.

The last phrase of verse 22 is actually a bit confusing until one realizes the function of the dual appearances of nasa in verses 21-22. The final three Hebrew words literally mean, “in a little my maker will lift me.” The common verb “carry/lift” (nasa) has a stunningly great scope of meaning. Most scholars suggest this phrase means something like “carry me away” or “take me away.” Elihu then would be uttering the equivalent of an oath—‘If I flatter, may God whisk me away.’ In saying this, the author may be expressing the same idea as in Psalm 102:10, where the Psalmist laments that the Lord has lifted him up (same verb nasa) and thrown him away (common verb shalak).  With that somewhat ominous thought, Elihu closes his first chapter.

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