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344. Job 33:26-28, The Prayer and Restoration of the Sufferer
26 "Then he will pray to God, and He will accept him,
That he may see His face with joy,
And He may restore His righteousness to man.
27 He will sing to men and say,
‘I have sinned and perverted what is right,
And it is not proper for me.
28 ‘He has redeemed my soul from going to the pit,
And my life shall see the light.’
Clines speaks about the “cultic ambience” of these verses because of its emphasis on the prayer and restoration of the sufferer after his body is healed in verse 25. Yet, I don’t fully see it that way. Though there certainly are echoes of the early Israelite cult in verses 26-28, the stronger background for the prayer to God (atar, 20x is the verb for “pray”), for example, is the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh in Exodus 8-10 (see below). Though the verb ratsah (57x, “to take delight in, receive favorably, be accepted”) is often used in sacrificial contexts (11x in Leviticus), it is just as often used in prayers to God for general deliverance in the Psalms (13x in Psalms). There is no language of offering up sacrifices of animals or of vows, which is constitutive of cultic service, though there is a reference to joining the community in a public thanksgiving.
The one whose body becomes fresh again (v 25) offers a prayer in these verses. Verse 26 reads:
“Then he will pray (atar) to God and it is a delight to him/he is favorable to him (ratsah); and he sees his face with a shout of joy; and he restores (shub) to the man his righteousness (tsedaqah).”
Here we have the restoration of righteousness (tsedaqah), whereas in verse 23 the work of the interpreter/mediator is to declare “his uprightness” (yashar) to a man. The terms are different but the reality is the same—restoration of health and fulness. Verse 25 emphasized physical restoration; verse 26 speaks of ethical or spiritual restoration.
The language of verse 26 gives the impression that the prayer is in response to rather than prior to healing. One might have chosen other verbs for “pray,” such as palal or chanan or the variety of verbs connected with “calling” or “crying out” (qara, zaaq, tsaaq, shava), but our author chooses the not-so-familiar atar (20x). The verb appears 8x in Exodus 8-10 to describe either Pharaoh’s urging Moses to “pray” to the Lord to remove the plague of frogs (8:8) to Moses use of the same word to describe his approach to God (8:9). This pattern of use of atar continues in these chapters as Pharaoh’s intransigence grows. The verb appears not at all in sacrificial contexts, but then is scattered throughout the rest of the Bible, with Job using it here and Eliphaz in 22:27. In Job 22:27 Eliphaz talks about the expected blessed state of the one who confesses sin to God. In language that is somewhat echoed in 33:26-27 (I am thinking of the presence of atar and paneh (face) in both places, as well as the concept of delight/rejoicing), Eliphaz says:
“You shall make prayer (atar) to him, and he will hear you, and you will pay your vows."
Once the healed sufferer prays to God, then God takes delight in him/looks favorably on him (ratsah, 57x includes both meanings). Ratsah appears in a cultic context in Leviticus, though it is almost always put in the negative, to describe an offense or offering that will not be accepted (e.g., Leviticus 19:7; 22:23) or a bodily disfigurement that disqualifies a person from becoming a priest (e.g., Leviticus 22:25). Its largest block of appearances is, not unexpectedly, in the Psalms, where it is variously used to describe a servant’s pleasure in the stones of Jerusalem (102:14) to Yahweh’s favor toward the land (85:1) or the people (149:4). Our healed person will be one of the people to whom God will show favor.
The unusual expression then follows:
“He looks upon His (the divine’s) face with a shout of joy.”
Normally when one sees the face of God in Scripture, one dies (cf Exodus 33:20) but here the restored person will have the unparalleled experience of seeing the divine face and shouting for joy (teruah, 36x). The teruah may describe either the alarm or sound of a trumpet in the camp (Numbers 10:5, 6), the shout of the people as they are circling Jericho (Joshua 6:5, 20) or the joyful sound of praise that rises to God through instruments and voice (Psalm 150:5). But here the restored person sees the face of God, apparently, and lives to tell about it, to sing about it. He is restored (the common verb shub) in his right way of living.
Verse 27 then describes the public confession of the restored person. Literally, we have:
“He beholds (shur) people, and says, ‘I have sinned and I have made perverse what is right; it
hasn’t profited (shavah) me.’”
The language is provocative and unique. Normally, in the language of the Psalms, one would “come before God with thanksgiving” (Psalm 100) or one would “give an offering” to God (Psalm 50:14). Psalm 22:22 says it most memorably:
“I will declare your name to my brethren, in the midst of the assembly I will sing your praise."
Yet in Job 33:27, the restored person just shur (16x, “beholds, regards”/10x Job) people. Elihu has just used shur in 33:14 to describe how humans don’t notice the silent acts of divine communication in their lives but here he uses it to describe how the restored person now sees. As previously mentioned, Elihu likes this verb (6x in six chapters). It is too much to say that it carries with it a sense of refined or supra-human seeing, but it seems to carry with it more than just the basic human visual sense.
The restored person “beholds” people, perhaps the gathered congregation in worship, perhaps (if Job is in view) the people gathered in expectant waiting in the public square, and then speaks. With a verb only appearing here in Job (avah, 17x, “to pervert, bend, do iniquity”), the restored person declares how he has “perverted the right” (yashar), the “right” which is declared to him in verse 23 and which he now has again for himself (though it is called his “righteousness,” tsedakah, in v 26).
But the phrase “to pervert the right” (avah yashar) is no doubt used here to stand in euphonious relationship with the last phrase of verse 27, “and it did not profit (shava) me.” Avah/shava, then, is the language of the restored sufferer, a sufferer who now is penitent because he has pursued a perverse way, a way that availed him not at all. Shava (21x) is a wonderfully complex verb, with probably as many translations as its appearances in the Bible. A few of them are
“to avail, have interest in, be like, be equal to, agree with, satisfy, be commensurate with, be proper, profit a person, to set something (before someone), to prepare or make, to place, to give, to quiet or compose, to compare with.”
Sometimes when you run into a Hebrew verb, and there is a precise correlation between its use in the Bible and an English-language concept, you say, “I love Hebrew.” But many times, when confronted with verbs like shava, or sentences that just don’t seem to make sense, you want to abandon biblical studies and take up law, which is what I did in 1996. At least in law everything is in English (apart from a few Latin phrases).
The restored sufferer has confessed his sin and has realized the inutility of his perverse way. The result is expressed again in verse 28, now in language that is both vintage Elihu and new. The language is also unclear at a few points. We have something like:
“He redeemed my soul from passing into the pit, and his life sees the light.”
In the second half of the verse Elihu may just be maintaining the avah, shava duo of verse 27 by adding a chay/chayah (which looks very much like chavah) to it. The two things to notice about verse 28 are the repeated use of the shachath (pit) image to describe the danger averted (see also 33:18, 22, 24, 30) and the fact that Elihu describes the suffer’s future in general, and somewhat muted terms. Though there is textual support both for redeeming “his” soul as well as “my” soul, because the restored person is speaking it probably is better to read the first clause as “He redeemed my soul.”
Rather than a devotee of the optimism of Eliphaz, Elihu simply says here that the restored person’s life will see the light. It may simply mean that he sees life again, or it may mean that he greets life with a newfound joy. The verse evoked by this last thought is Psalm 36:9, where a grateful Psalmist says,
“With you is a fountain of life, in your light (or, same word as in Job 33:28) do we see (raah,
same verb as in Job 33:28) light (or again).”
New life dawns for the person who is restored. Elihu has held out a compelling picture to Job. There will be a mediator, to be sure, but this is not the mediator who will argue Job’s case. Rather, the mediator will bring Job/the sufferer back to God. The fruit of this restoration will be joining with the community, however that community is defined, with grateful shouts of joy. Elihu doesn’t posit a house filled with the delightful screeches of toddlers; all he says is that the restored person now “sees the light.” There can perhaps be no more effective means of weaning Job away from his “lawsuit consciousness” than showing him a muted, but optimistic, picture of his future. He will see light. Now that is something that Job, mired in his multiple levels of darkness (see, esp 10:21-22), might appreciate.