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35. Eliphaz’s Rabbit Trail on Various Types of Lions


The online Urban dictionary defines a “rabbit trail” as “veering off subject or the point of the conversation.” From the perspective of our system of argumentation, Job 4:9-11 is a sort of “rabbit trail,” where Eliphaz begins by seeming to relate his comments to the subject just mentioned in 4:8, but then veers off to introduce five different terms for “lion” for us (4:10-11), all of which will encounter some kind of trouble in their lives. These verses not only give us a chance to increase our vocabulary on words that we will never need under almost any circumstance, but to learn something special about ancient (perhaps Middle Eastern?) argumentation: often an idea can trigger another image that really doesn’t strengthen the argument, but allows the speaker to wander into the realm of nature to observe something interesting.


The main point of the section is that you sow what you reap (v 8). Verse 9, in perfectly balanced poetic parallelism, is somewhat related to that point. Literally we have, “From the breath of God they perish, and from the wind of his nostrils/anger they are consumed.” We think this must refer to the ones who “plow iniquity” of verse 8. Noticeable here are the parallel words. For “breath/anger” we have neshamah/aph; the two verbs for perishing are abad/kalah. The previous verse gave us an aven/amal parallelism.  We have neatly balanced phrases to express the judgment of God.  


We first encountered neshamah in Gen 2:7, where God breathed into the living creature the “breath” of life. We have already run into abad (perish) in 3:4 and 4:7. The verb kalah has been variously rendered as “be complete, be at an end, perish, finish.” David Clines, a leading commentator on Job, renders it “shrivel.” Both neshamah and aph appear here and in Genesis 2:7. In Genesis 2:7 the divine breath in human nostrils brought life; here the divine breath brings death. We really get the point. We got it from 4:8 alone. Job 4:9 doesn’t really add too much to the argument. Wicked people/things die.  


Now the author devotes two verses to lions (4:10-11).  As a person interested in natural history, I am entranced. I have the privilege of learning several new words to describe lions. As we read these verses, however, we see that they are only dimly, if at all, related to the point of 4:8. But maybe that is our hangup as western readers.  We want arguments to be neatly and logically constructed, with no digressions. Lawyers tell us that’s the most effective way to win your case. But here we have digressions.


Three words are introduced for “lion” in 4:10. We have a roar of a lion (ari) and then the voice of a shachal, which scholars have rendered “fierce lion,” mostly because they need a different word from “lion” to render it. The phrase “roaring of the lion” is shaagath aryeh, a phrase almost identical to the memorable line in Amos 3:8, “The lion has roared, who will not fear?” Interestingly enough, God is sometimes said to roar (using the verb shaag; Joel 3:16; Jeremiah 25:30).  We then hear the “voice” of the “fierce lion.” The shachal only appears 7x in the Bible, three of which are in Job, and none of which gives one the confidence to translate it anything other than “lion.”  


We then have our third vocabulary word for lion, the kephir (32x), which is normally translated “young lion.” Here the author doesn’t refer to its voice but to its teeth.  These teeth are broken (verb is hapax nata, but is probably related to the more common natats, which means to break or break down). If we read the verse again, we see that there really is no verb that goes with the first two clauses. “The roar of the lion and voice of the shachar. . .” Then it proceeds, “yet/and/but the teeth of young lions are broken.” Is he trying to suggest that the fate of lions is an illustration of the principle that you reap what you sow? That is seemingly so far-fetched as to make us scratch our heads, since usually the principle applies to moral creatures and lions don’t come to the top of the list when we think of that subject. The best thing is simply to go with the flow of the words. Perhaps the author has come across the equivalent of a schoolboy’s tablet where different kinds of lions were being drilled into him. Thinking such a find too good to lose, our author put it to good use here. 


But he isn’t done. We have even more lions in verse 11. Now we have the layish and the labiy. Usually these are translated as “old lion” and "female lion.” Since layish only elsewhere occurs in Proverbs 30:30, where it is simply translated “lion” and Isaiah 30:6, where it is, as here, put in tandem with labiy, we have no real grounds for rendering it “old lion.”  Some translations render it “strong lion,” though then that gives a problem with how to render shachar. My, keeping all our lions separate has never been so difficult!  Labiy (14x) is a masculine noun that usually is translated in a feminine way. Here it may be “cubs of the lioness.” But what happens to these creatures?  Well, the layish perishes (abad again) for lack of prey while the young of the labiy are scattered (verb is parad).  Now we see that whatever extremely attenuated connection between 4:8 and 4:10 could have been posited at first is completely lost by the time we get through all the vocabulary of lions. How does a lion’s perishing because he can’t find prey help illustrate the “reap what you sow” principle?  How do the whelps of a lioness being scattering illustrate judgment? They don’t. But we look at the argument improperly if we see this rabbit trail as having to illustrate the point of the principle. It is a pleasant tour of natural history, introducing us to the roars and dental problems of some lions. We smile and realize that we are not in Kansas anymore.

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