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357. Job 34:34-37, Finishing Elihu’s Second Speech

 

34 “Men of understanding will say to me,

And a wise man who hears me,

35 ‘Job speaks without knowledge,

And his words are without wisdom.

36 Job ought to be tried to the limit,

Because he answers like wicked men.

37 For he adds rebellion to his sin;

He claps his hands among us,

And multiplies his words against God.’”

 

But Job doesn’t respond to Elihu’s second invitation to speak, and so Elihu continues by, as it were, piling up even more “evidence” against Job. The evidence will come in the form of statements of the wise about Job. Elihu doesn’t simply have to make his own case against Job, like the other friends. He can solicit the opinion of informed and respected people about Job’s conduct.


We return to clarity. It is as if we have come out of a distracting or somewhat debilitating sickness, with our thoughts fuzzy and emotions raw, and now the fever has broken or the pain has receded. All are grateful to see what is next.

 

Elihu then relates what the “men of heart” (anshe lebab) are saying to him. These are every “warrior/man of wisdom” (geber chakam) who has been listening to him (v 34).  We don’t know if these are the same as the “wise men” (chokmah) or “those who know” (verb is yada) of verse 2, but it would make sense if they were. Elihu then would be calling on them to listen in verse 2 but then be interested in listening to what they have to say in verse 34. What they say is recorded in the rest of the chapter.  

 

But one other difficulty arises, and that relates to whether the quotation of the “men of heart” continues through the end of the chapter or only includes verse 35. The former makes more sense, since the presence of “among us” in verse 37 suggests that a group is speaking to Elihu. Elihu, then, would just be reporting on what others have said, saving for his final two speeches his own interpretation of Job’s conduct and what Job ought to do.

 

If we take verses 35-37, then as the voice of the “people of heart” or “men of understanding” (NASB), we first hear them saying, “Job speaks without knowledge, and his words are without discernment” (v 35). The complaint against Job is expressed in classic language of the wisdom tradition: knowledge (yada) and discernment/insight (sakal). These characteristics are gleaned from one’s own experience, to be sure, but are also learned from one’s teachers. Job, they say, lacks these. 

 

Why would the “buzz” about Job be that he speaks without discernment or insight, since his reflections come right from the heart of Job’s personal experience?  A few verses on the verb sakal from Proverbs not only show its centrality for a wise person but why wise men might think that Job doesn’t possess this discernment. We note in Proverbs 1:3 that sakal is one of the cardinal virtues of the tradition. The purpose of the book is so that people might “receive the discipline of sakal,” which may further be defined as tsedeq, mishpat, mesharim (righteousness, justice, equity, Proverbs 1:3).  Because sakal is a basic virtue, the teachers of the tradition are on the lookout for it.  But like a teacher whose eyes first fall upon the mistakes on a printed page rather than the good things in a person’s argument, so the wisdom teacher will also have heightened awareness when someone is not living with “prudence, insight, discernment.”  

 

How can a teacher of wisdom figure out if another is acting with discernment?  By his/her words. Note Proverbs 10:19, 

 

    “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent (sakal)  are restrained

     in speech.”  

 

The verb for “restrained” here is chashak, “to hold back, refrain.” What is one of the first things Job says when he utters his complaint against God? “Therefore I will not restrain (verb is chashak) my mouth” (7:11). Job has in explicit terms seemingly rejected the advice of the wisdom tradition on what constitutes discernment.  

 

Proverbs gives further reflection on the nature of discernment in Proverbs 16.  We not only learn that the prudent or discerning person will find good (v 20), but that discernment and knowledge are intimately related (v 23). That verse says,

 

    “The heart of the wise (leb chakam, both are words Elihu uses to address Job’s hearers in Job

     34) gives prudence (sakal) to his mouth, and he adds learning (leqach) to his lips.”

 

That is, the person filled with sakal is a person who adds insight and learning, and maintains the desire to increase the store of knowledge. The only time the word “learning” (leqach) is used in the Book of Job is when Zophar summarizes Job’s case by accusing Job of saying, “My learning (leqach) is pure” (11:4). Pure learning, for Zophar, isn’t learning that grows; it is frozen, turgid.  

 

Elihu gleans from the people of heart that Job’s words are without discernment. But then, in verses 36-37, the full anger of the people of heart comes out. Why should Job be coddled, since he has so obviously violated the central principles of the wisdom tradition? Rather than restraining his lips, he says his lips will be unrestrained. Thus, the men of heart express their desires for Job in verse 36:

 

    “Oh that Job were tested to the uttermost because his response is like the men of iniquity/

     wicked men.”

 

This thought is consistent with Zophar’s seemingly gratuitous slam in 11:6, “Know that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.” Job has not only not responded in the right way to the “testing” that has come his way, but he multiplies his sin by acting in a way directly contrary to the advice of the wisdom tradition. Thus, the desire to see Job tested (bachan, 29x/5x Job) to the uttermost (netsach, 44x, “forever, in perpetuity, enduring”) might not simply come from personal pique but from a deep acquaintance with the tradition. Testing, discipline, and possible punishment is the hard way to redeem a person who has dramatically strayed from the path of life. At present Job’s answer is like a wicked person (a statement reminding us of Job’s chiding his wife as behaving like a “foolish woman” when she urged Job to ‘curse God and die’ in 2:9-10).  

 

As with so many other verses in this chapter, the final verse is a bit odd. Job’s fault has been specified in verse 35 and the desire for his further “testing” in verse 36. But then, as a parting shot, the “men of heart” add three phrases in verse 37 that are anything but clear:

 

    “For he adds transgression to his sin; he claps hands among us; and he multiplies words to God.”

 

As with every statement not clear in Job, and many that are clear, scholars have suggested textual emendations. Some, for example, suggest that the repetition of “sin”-like language in the first phrase doesn’t make sense; thus they move the reference to “sin” to the second clause. But the rare verb saphak, which we rendered previously as “clap” or “strike” when we saw it just a few verses ago (34:26) has no object, and the thought of “clapping/striking sins” doesn’t resonate with many. Finally, the last phrase is relatively clear, where the “to” of my translation might also be rendered “against.”  

 

But why not look at this verse as the “piling up” of Job’s reckless and sinful behavior?  The first clause, then, would say that he is simply piling up his sins; the last clause that he his piling up more and more (offensive?) words to God. Then, we would say that the “clap among us” of the middle clause might also partake of this “piling up” theme.  Instead, then of translating it as “clap” or “strike,” we would look at saphaq as it is used in I Kings 20:10, where it might best be rendered “to suffice” or “to be enough.” The meaning of the second clause of Job 34:37 then would be that Job “provides (more than) enough among us.” The meaning of the verses would then be that Job adds rebellion to sin; he multiplies words against God, and this activity, truly, is enough (saphak). Or, in other words, Job has gone too far, according to these men of heart. That, according to Elihu, is what people are saying about him.

 

It is speeches like Elihu’s in Job 34 that lead to people to stop their study of the Book of Job (if, that is, they have made it through the perilous waters of the Third Cycle of speeches). I hope to have given a sliver of meaning for Job 34, though I realize that my construal, also, has to be tentative.