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362. Job 35:12-16, Job’s Empty Words, Second Essay

12 “There they cry out, but He does not answer
Because of the pride of evil men.
13 Surely God will not listen to an empty cry,
Nor will the Almighty regard it.
14 How much less when you say you do not behold Him,
The case is before Him, and you must wait for Him!
15 And now, because He has not visited in His anger,
Nor has He acknowledged transgression well,
16 So Job opens his mouth emptily;
He multiplies words without knowledge.”

 

We have seen that Elihu is at his best when describing how God communicates with people and how God teaches people. He isn’t as convincing or sure-footed when he speaks of theological themes in general. After brilliantly speaking of a God who communicates through songs in the night (v 10) and teaches (v 11), he returns in verse 12 to a theme he explored without great skill in verse 9—people’s “crying out” to God.  He uses functionally the same verb in verse 12 as he did in verse 9 (tsaaq vs zaaq) to stress that people are crying out, but again he trips over himself:

 

    “There they cry out and he doesn’t answer because of the pride of evil people.”

 

We don’t know why “there” (sham) is there, since sham normally denotes a place, and we have no reason to believe that “place” plays any role in this passage. But there it is. Again, the cry isn’t specific, “They cry out.” We don’t know whether the cry is an unfocused cry of pain or a cry directed to God. But here the impression given is that the cry may be for help from people or from God. Elihu is maddeningly imprecise. So, are people crying out in their oppressions to God or to other people for help? Or is it just a generic cry with no target in mind? Good thing this is sacred Scripture or one might think that the author is confused. 

 

Well, Elihu advances a reason in verse 12 for why there is no answer to “their” cry. It is because of the “pride (ga’own) of evil people.” Hmm. . .Where did that come from?  Ga’own (49x/4x Job) isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the Bible; it can denote the divine excellence, for example, in Exodus 15:7. In Job 37:4, it will be used positively to describe God—God “thunders with his ga’own (mighty/majestic/excellent) voice.” Yet because it is paired here with “evil people” (raiym) we assume it can’t be a positive trait. Therefore it becomes “arrogance/pride.”


But we were in no way prepared for the notion that pride now becomes the reason for people’s cry to God not being heard.  Neither Job nor his friends have used the word previously. Even though the verb tsaaq is in the plural here, I think there are reasons to see this part of the speech as directed increasingly to Job alone. I see this verse as Elihu’s not-so-gentle response to Job in 19:7, where he said,

    

     “I cry out (tsaaq, as in 35:12), ‘Violence,’ and there is none to answer (same

      phrase as in 35:12).  I cry aloud (shava), and there is no justice (mishpat).”

 

Job’s complaint had been that he faithfully cried out, no doubt to God, but that he wasn’t heard. Job blamed God for the divine deafness or lack of concern. His lawsuit emerged because he wasn’t being heard. “There is no justice,” was his cry. Elihu speaks of “they” who cry out and are “not answered.”  Hmm. . .anyone have any idea of who may be on his mind?   

 

Thus if we read verse 12 as Elihu’s gradual turning to face Job and away from generic complaints of “people,” we read the word “pride” as directed to Job. Job’s pride, then, would be keeping him from getting an answer from God. Job thinks that all he has to do is to prepare his case and submit it to God; Elihu is saying that his prideful attitude gets in the way of proper submission of his cry. But even if we can make some sense out of what Elihu is saying, things break down pretty quickly, because Elihu calls it the “pride of evil men.” Does he believe that Job is “evil?” I think Elihu is trying to do too many things in one verse: indict Job and speak in general of why people don’t get answers from God. It doesn’t work for him.

 

Then, he digs himself deeper into his hole in verse 13.  Coupled with the pride of verse 12 is now another concept—vanity (shav) in verse 13:

 

    “Certainly God doesn’t hear vanity, and the Almighty doesn’t regard/behold it.”

 

Elihu tries to relate familiar themes, especially with the verb for “behold,” one of his favorite near-unique words (shur, 16x in Bible, but 6x in Elihu’s mouth), but his introduction of another word, presumably to describe the proud evil people that cry out, is puzzling. God doesn’t hear vanity (shav, 52x/6x Job). OK, but that word can mean “false” or “vain” or “empty.” Its first biblical appearance, in the Ten Commandments, is most memorable:  one should not take the Lord’s name lasshav, or “for nothing/in vain” (Exodus 20:6). We can render it in Job 35:13 as “falseness” or “emptiness.” God doesn’t hear these things. Presumably shav is used here synonymously with ga’own of the previous verse. I doubt if there is another place in Scripture where these two define each other.