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349. Job 34:5-9, Summarizing Job’s Case Again

5 “For Job has said, ‘I am righteous,
But God has taken away my right;
6 Should I lie concerning my right?
My wound is incurable, though I am without transgression.’
7 What man is like Job,
Who drinks up derision like water,
8 Who goes in company with the workers of iniquity,
And walks with wicked men?
9 For he has said, ‘It profits a man nothing
When he is pleased with God.’

 

Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, Elihu can consider Job’s case.  His summary consists of two verses (vv 5-6), though there is some controversy about how to translate the clause including the verb “to lie”:

 

     “Because Job has said, ‘I am righteous’ (tsadeq), but God has removed/taken

      away my mishpat (meaning a).  Should I lie concerning my mishpat (meaning a)? 

      My arrow is incurable, though without transgression.”

 

The two rough spots in the translation are how to render the first clause of verse 6 and what the unusual phrase “arrow is incurable” means. Clines, following the medieval Jewish interpreter Rashi, takes the first to mean “concerning my judgment, I declare it a lie” (i.e., taking mishpat in sense c). But many interpreters have translated the clause as a rhetorical question, and I follow their lead. Some translators also render it, “Notwithstanding my right, I am accounted a liar.” I believe that the “tone” of Job that Elihu captures is Job as the indignant sufferer rather than as a gently querulous speaker. An indignant sufferer usually poses sharp questions rather than makes nice declarative statements. The issue of the “arrow” (chets) can be resolved more quickly.  The “arrow” no doubt stands for Job’s injury. The verb rendered “incurable” is the somewhat rare anash (9x), which usually means “to be sick” or “to be incurable.” The NASB’s “My wound is incurable” is a good translation.

 

In his summary of Job’s case in the previous chapter, Elihu said Job claimed to be “without transgression” (the same phrase as in 34:6), though references to tsadeq and mishpat in 34:6 are consistent with the thoughts of Job 33.  

 

In 34:7-9 Elihu gives a preliminary, and unexpected, assessment of Job’s case or argument. He sees Job as a mocker or scoffer (laag is both a verb and noun), a concept more prominent in Job and Proverbs than the rest of the Bible, but still not as pronounced in wisdom literature as “the wise” or “the fool” or “prudence” or “cleverness.” Job is said to drink water as “scorn” (laag), and is said to be a person who goes (a rare verb for “go,” arach) in league with workers of iniquity.  Finally, Elihu accuses Job of saying, literally:

 

    “It does not profit (sakan) a man (geber) in delighting (ratsah) in God."

 

The language of “profiting” (sakan, 12x) appears six times in the Book of Job, but Job himself never uses the word. Eliphaz uses it four times, accusing Job of “unprofitable talk” (15:3) and claiming that no person can be “useful/profitable” to God (22:2, twice). Elihu uses it the other two times, here and in 35:3. Thus, we see that it is a “friends” term and not a “Job” term. That seems to be key to understanding Elihu’s characterization of Job here. He claims that Job says that delight in God brings no profit to people. 

 

Then, on the theme of mocking, Zophar had accused Job of “scorning” or “mocking” people (11:3), but when Job uses the verb laag, he never refers to himself but rather to God’s mocking of human efforts (9:23) and the friends “mockery” of Job’s case (21:3). Thus, Elihu has adopted the “friends’ vocabulary” to characterize Job’s actions. This may be natural, since he is now addressing “the wise,” a group broader than just Job himself. It is also likely he is doing so to regain their favor after he had rather strongly criticized them in 32:8-12.