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363. Finishing Job 35

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.”

 

So, the pride of evil people is shown in their vanity. My point is that these evil people are not simply unspecified individuals but are telescoped into the individual Job. God doesn’t behold or regard these cries or these people. With this background, I then read verse 14 as directed to Job. The language isn’t crystal clear, but most translations affirm that Elihu is now focusing his gaze on Job.

 

    “Even though you say that you don’t see him (shur once more), the case (din) is before him and           you wait for him.”

 

Elihu’s point has been that God doesn’t answer cries of people because the cries come from prideful, wicked, vain/empty people. This sounds not only a bit too harsh but a bit conclusory; Elihu hasn’t brought much evidence to the fore in making the point. But now he directs his gaze to Job. Job isn’t heard by God despite all his efforts. That is the point of verse 14.


The verse begins with a very emphatic double conjunction meaning “despite/even though.” Elihu’s first two clauses: “you don’t see/behold him” and “the case is before him,” could almost have been direct quotes from Job himself. Recall that Job said, in rather unforgettable language (23:8-9):

 

    “Lo, I go forward but he isn’t there; and backwards, but I don’t discern him. On the left hand, were      he does his work, but I can’t behold him; turning to the right, and I cannot see him.”

 

Elihu has captured the achingly beautiful and painful Joban frustration with God in three Hebrew words (“you say you cannot behold him”).  Elihu uses his favorite verb for “see” (shur); Job had used three different verbs for “see” in 23:8-9. Elihu’s second phrase, this time with two Hebrew words (literally “judgment before him”) is echoed in Job’s most powerful and defiant statement in 13:18,

 

    “Lo, I have set my case (mishpat) in order; I know that I will be justified.”

 

Elihu uses another word for “case” here (the common din), but he no doubt is referring to Job’s words of several chapters earlier. Finally he concludes verse 14 by saying,

 

     “and you wait for him”

 

This is a more difficult phrase to render than it first appears. The verb is chul (60x, 5x Job), a verb that has a range of meanings from “bring forth” (a child) to “writhe” to “endure” to “tremble” to “dance” to “wait.” The other Joban usages are all over the map—“bring forth” in 15:7; “writhe” (in pain) in 15:20; “endure” in 20:21; and “tremble” in 26:5. Yet, it clearly means “wait” in Ps 37:7 (“wait patiently for the Lord”) and Judges 3:25, among other places. The meaning of chul that makes most sense here is “wait,” even though writhing in pain or trembling would not be too far-fetched.  

 

Now that Elihu has dealt, rather unskillfully, with the reason why people like Job aren’t heard, he descends into unclarity in verse 15. Yet it is like a cell phone conversation where one party is cutting out but still can, somewhat, be understood. But if we recall that Elihu’s main point is, ‘How can you expect God to answer when you are fighting him, when you are sinful, arrogant and won’t listen?’. . .then some of verse 15 might be clear.

 

    “And now, is it not the visitation of his anger (that is on your now) and doesn’t he have full

     knowledge of (your) arrogance?”

 

My translation agrees completely with no other translation, but I think each phrase I provide is defensible. Let’s try. We have, literally, “And now, because there is not/is there not a visitation/punishment of his anger?” We aren’t sure if this is a question or a statement, but it makes more sense to me if it is a question. Job is suffering, and Elihu is trying to pose a rhetorical question. ‘Isn’t your suffering an example of the visitation of his anger?’ The word rendered “visitation” or “punishment” here is the common paqad, which has as much flexibility in meaning as a Russian dancer in moves. Yet the notion of “appointment” or “visitation” (either in mercy or judgment) or “punishment” is well attested, perhaps most famously in Exodus 20:5, where God visits (paqad) the iniquity of fathers on successive generations. Elihu’s use of shav (“vain/empty”) in verse 13 and paqad here both have strong and unexpected echoes of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:5, 7). Hmm. . . There may be a level in which Elihu sees Job as even violating this most sacred gift to the people of Israel.

 

If we take the first part of verse 15, then, as a question and render the paqad as visitation or punishment, the meaning would be fairly clear and consistent with the words of the three friends, that Job’s punishment is because of the divine anger. The second half of the verse is likewise somewhat opaque, primarily because the crucial word, pash, is a hapax, with no near neighbors in Hebrew and only some shadowy and unconvincing connections with other Semitic languages. Yet, historically it has been translated as “arrogance” or “foolishness” or “weakness,” and I will go with that meaning here. Literally, then, we would have, “Doesn’t he have knowledge of great (meod) foolishness/arrogance?” The point would be that God punishes because God knows of Job’s intransigent foolishness and arrogance. This, however, is highly speculative.


Clearer, however, is the closing verse of the chapter. Even though there is a good reason (in Elihu’s mind) why Job cries out and isn’t heard, and even though he has prepared his case against God, he is being punished by the divine anger. It isn’t a particularly powerful point theologically, and is unskillfully said, but it seems to be Elihu’s point. So, Elihu closes with a summary statement about Job, using Job’s name once again:

 

    “And Job opens his mouth in vanity; his words are mighty though without knowledge.”

 

Several of the words should be briefly noted. The verb for “open” is the somewhat uncommon patsah (15x), which means “rescue” or “deliver” almost as often as “open” (the mouth). We are more familiar with the verbs pathach/paqach to express the concept of “opening,” and patsah appears uniquely here in Job. The reference to “vanity” of course leads us back to verse 13, but Elihu uses a different word for it, the common hebel. The reference to Job’s words being “without knowledge (daath)” is no doubt meant to remind us of the previous verse, where God is impliedly said to act with knowledge. Finally, the notion of “mightiness” in words is expressed through a hapax verb kabar which, however, is obviously related to a familiar Joban adjective kabbir, “mighty.” Though the final phrase is often translated “he multiplies words,” I render it as words that are “mighty” because of the connection with kabbir (10x/7x Job).  

 

As we close Elihu’s third speech, we feel we are getting a clearer understanding of who Elihu is as he speaks. He certainly sees himself as speaking for God, rather than for the friends or for Job. Yet, he is able to speak independently, and critically, of the friends as well as Job. His greatest contributions are in what we might call “imaginative” theology, where he speaks of visions or songs in the night that God brings, or the various situations in life in which God is trying to teach us. Perhaps perceiving that this is his strong suit, Elihu will turn in his last speech to a more gentle and encouraging assessment of Job. Though some of the last speech, especially in Job 36, is opaque, some clear thoughts are expressed, thoughts that convince us that Elihu has a fresh, and very valuable, take on Job’s situation.