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350. Job 34:10-15, God Doesn’t Act Unjustly

 

10 “Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding.

Far be it from God to do wickedness,

And from the Almighty to do wrong.

11 For He pays a man according to his work,

And makes him find it according to his way.

12 Surely, God will not act wickedly,

And the Almighty will not pervert justice.

13 Who gave Him authority over the earth?

And who has laid on Him the whole world?

14 If He should determine to do so,

If He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath,

15 All flesh would perish together,

And man would return to dust.

 

After making it clear in the preceding passage that he is now siding with the friends, Elihu continues in this passage by speaking of a few themes dear to them—the majesty of God and the divine control over all life on earth. Despite Job’s allegations of divine machinations against him, God in fact does no wrong. To act unjustly would be contrary to God’s personality and mode of operation. God isn’t responsible to another force who appointed Him, as if God is doing the bidding of any greater power in the universe. As a result, God can at any time recall the spirits of all living things, and they obediently return to the dust. If Job 32-33 presented Elihu as more “Job-friendly” than “friend-friendly,” the reverse is true in Job 34. I think this is by literary design, for it is meant to demonstrate Elihu’s impartiality and commitment to the truth, rather than to flattery (see 32:21-22).

 

For the fourth time in thirteen verses, Elihu asks someone to “listen” (shama) to him (33:31, 33; 34:2, 10). This time he calls his hearers, literally, “men of heart,” but it no doubt is supposed to be the same people he addressed earlier as those who know (yada) or who are  wise (chakam, v 2). He has compassion on his readers here, breaking up his thoughts into relatively short sections of ten or fewer verses; these sections can be divided yet further. When he turns to addressing Job (the verbs are in the singular starting in verse 16), the section gets longer.

 

The thought he wants to express in verse 10 is stated with the emphatic interjection chalilah, “far be it. . .”  Yet in his eagerness to get to his point, he has left out some important Hebrew words, though we can easily divine them. Verse 10b literally reads:

 

    “Far be it to God from evil, and the Almighty from iniquity.”

 

The meaning, no doubt, is “Far be it from God to do evil, and the Almighty to do iniquity.” Chalilah (27x/2x Job) always carries with it the sense of “God forbid!” or “It is impossible. . .” or, as here, “Far be it. . .” A quick survey of a few of its other appearances shows that there is a grammatical structure that challah-clauses usually follow.  

 

Abraham is the first to use the interjection in his conversation with God over the fate of Sodom (Genesis 18:25). He comforts himself with the thought that it is far from (chalilah) God to do wrong. The construction is chalilah +lak (“to you”) + measeh (“from doing”) kadabar (“according to the thing”). Thus, we see that the person who "forbids" or "it is far from" is preceded by the preposition le, usually translated “to,” but here it must mean, in our English way of speaking, “(far be it) from you..” Then, the mem prefixed to the noun is literally “from XXX,” but in English we translate it best as “to XXX.” It is almost as if the le and mem exchange their meaning as they are brought into English.

 

One more example will illustrate chalilah. King Ahab had approached Naboth and given him a difficult-to-refuse offer to purchase his vineyard. The vineyard had been in Naboth’s family since time immemorial. Naboth responded with the emphatic chalilah. His words run: "Chalilah (“far be it”) + liy (“to me”) + meyvah (“from Yahweh”) + mittittey (“from giving”)…the inheritance of my fathers to you” (I Kings 21:3). Thus the construction is relatively clear:  chalilah + le + one or more mem’s, with the meaning being “Far be it from XXX (le) to do (mem…plus verb) something.

 

Job 34:10b follows that pattern. Job says, chalilah + leel (“from God”) mereshah  (“to (do) evil”). The English and Hebrew don’t match up literally, but the meaning is crystalline.  

 

After stating the principle that the Almighty will not do evil, Elihu explains the principle in verse 11, literally:

 

    “Because/according to the work of a man will it be recompensed to him; and according to the 

     way of a man will he find him.”

 

Again, a literal translation yields a bit of a rough reading, but the meaning is clear.  Most translators render the simple verb “to find” (matsa) in the second clause in the sense of a person’s “reward” or “desserts.” Clines is typical: “and brings upon them what their conduct deserves.” The verb matsa is very common and almost always is best rendered “to find,” but the hiphil of the verb, usually rendered “cause to find,” is difficult here: “cause him to find him” is the literal rendering. No doubt Elihu is here expressing the same principle that Eliphaz more eloquently expressed in 4:8, “Those who plough iniquity, and sow mischief, shall reap the same.” Eliphaz’s words were expressed in very tight proverbial language; perhaps that scared Elihu off and made him try his hand at articulating the same principle, but without the same deft literary skill as his senior colleague.