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354. Job 34:21-24, The Extent of Divine Judgment
21 “For His eyes are upon the ways of a man,
And He sees all his steps.
22 There is no darkness or deep shadow
Where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.
23 For He does not need to consider a man further,
That he should go before God in judgment.
24 He breaks in pieces mighty men without inquiry,
And sets others in their place.
Elihu speaks of the divine judgment in this long section (34:16-28/30), yet he doesn’t do so either with the ghoulish delight of Zophar (20:12-16) or by enumerating the pains of the wicked, as does Eliphaz (15:20-24). Rather, Elihu emphasizes the certainty and finality of the divine judgment. He breaks no new ground in these verses, though his way of wording things often is either indebted to other Scriptures or is full of unique phrases.
Verse 21-22 speak of the inescapability of the divine judgment. Literally, we have:
“For his eyes are upon the ways of a man; and he sees all his steps. There is no darkness nor
is there a shadow of death for the doers of evil to hide there.”
The Hebrew is straightforward and even fun to read for, unlike many verses in Job, one has the sense that meaning is being communicated clearly through the words. The general theme of God’s knowledge of human ways is expressed throughout the Bible, but Psalm 139:1-3 captures it memorably:
“Lord, you have searched (chaqar, which appears in Job 34:24) and known me
(yada, used in 34:10). You know when I sit down and rise up. . . you are a steward of all
my ways (derek, same word as in Job 34:21).
Elihu’s word for “steps” (tsaad, 14x) is a favorite word in Job (5x). When Job thinks of the benefits of a divine “time-out” in Job 14, he thinks about how glorious it would be after the time-out for God to “number his steps” (saphar, tsaad, 14:16). The same verb and noun (saphar, tsaad) also appear on Job’s lips in Job 31:37. In this passage Elihu talks about God’s “seeing” (the common raah) all the steps of a human, but this isn’t a joyful recounting of the path of a human who seeks close fellowship with God, but is a prelude to judgment. God’s “seeing” all human steps means that there is no escape from God’s gaze.
The thought that God sees all things is confirmed in verse 22, where Elihu uses two terms beloved of Job but actually reverses the way Job used the terms. Earlier when Job had longed for God to leave him alone, he requested leave to descend into the land of “darkness” (choshek) and “the shadow of death” (tsalmaveth, 10:21). Elihu now says in 34:22 that there is no “darkness” (choshek) or “shadow of death” (tsalmaveth) where workers of iniquity can go. He doesn’t directly call Job a “worker of iniquity,” but a smart person can connect the dots. There is no escape from the searching eyes of God.
Just when we were getting confident in our translation skills, Elihu pulls the rug from under us—by giving us verse 23. Oh, it isn’t as if we don’t know what the individual words say, it is just that they make no sense when strung together. We have:
“Because not upon a man does he place again, to walk to God in judgment/with a case."
Unless you take seriously the fact that dozens, and perhaps even 100, verses in Job are of like obscurity, you will never enter into the alluring torment of the translator and interpreter of this book. The usual way of handling this first part is to emend the word translated “again” (od) to the similar-looking moed (just add the mem) and you have a “special time” or a “season.” The translation then would be, “For he does not set a time for anyone to go before him for judgment” (Clines' translation). But other translations make us wonder if we are looking at the same underlying text: “God has no need to examine people further” (NIV) or “For he will not lay upon man more than right” (KJV) or “For He doth not appoint a time unto any man” (Jewish Publication Society). Our head is spinning.
If we wanted to accept the emendation, and perhaps the NIV translation, then verses 23-24 would fit together nicely. God has no need to examine people further (v 23) because, as we have just seen, he knows all their ways, and thus he can break them in pieces without further inquisition (v 24). To repeat, God, in Elihu's mind, breaks people apart because God so thoroughly knows all their ways and machinations that He has no further need to hold an assize to determine guilt or proper punishment.
Yet, if we accept the translation, supported also by weighty authorities, that God doesn’t appoint a time/special time for humans, we would be consistent with Job’s earlier lament in 24:1 that God doesn’t appoint special times (though the word is the common eth rather than moed).
However we render verse 23, we have the rather clear, even if grim, verse 24:
“He brings evil/shatters mighty people without searching it out (cheqer), and he makes others stand in their stead.”
The first verb of verse 24 is the 98x-appearing ra’a’, which usually means “to be wicked” or “to do evil,” but has a secondary meaning of “shatter” or “break.” But the unusual thought is that these mighty people (kabbir, 10x, whom we have previously met in 34:17) are shattered without any investigation. Cheqer is the noun form of the verb chaqar (27x), which we have already seen a few times in Job but most noteworthy on the lips of Eliphaz and God. It is the perfect verb to capture the diligent effort to understand the world characteristic of the wisdom tradition. Eliphaz said, at the end of his long and impressive first speech, that he had searched everything out (chaqar, 5:27). God, too, was said to have “searched out” (chaqar) the world once it had been established (Job 28:27). But here God doesn’t search out people before lowering the boom. If we have emended verse 23 properly, God doesn’t have to do any more investigating of people because he already has been doing so throughout their lives. Another inquisition would be a waste of time.