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368. Job 36:13-14, A Word on the Godless

 

13 “But the godless in heart lay up anger;

They do not cry for help when He binds them.

14 They die in youth,

And their life perishes among the cult prostitutes.

 

Elihu ties himself into verbal knots in these two verses. As we recall, Elihu spent some time in the previous chapter talking about those who “cry out” because of the multitude of oppressions (35:9, 12). Because their cry is empty (35:13) or comes from the pride of evildoers (35:12), God doesn’t hear them (35:12). The people who “cry out” in Job 35 are not specified, but we have no reason to believe they are the kings of Job 36. They seem just to be people in general who cry out to God.  This passage (36:13-14) purports to describe the life of those who don’t cry out (v 13).  If we were to keep a parallel structure with 35:7-12, these would be people in general and not kings.  

 

A twofold problem, however, emerges for Elihu. First, he brings up the subject of kings between these two passages, in 36:7-12. We have no idea if they, like the run of the mill common person, “cry out” because that isn’t mentioned in 36:7-12. What is mentioned, however is that they are “bound” (verb is asar). Thus, if we were reading Job 35 and 36 as they were intended to be read, that is consecutively, we would have the following:

 

    35:9-12   People, not kings, who cry out because of oppressions

    36:7-12   Kings who are bound, though not apparently crying out

 

But in 36:13-14 Elihu puts the two concepts of crying out and binding together, leaving us fully confused. We are confused because we don’t know if the reference in 36:13-14 is to kings or to common people. It presumably isn’t to kings because these people don’t cry out, and no reference is made at all about kings’ crying out a few verses previously. Yet, these people in 36:13 are bound, which is the fate of kings. Then, again, the references in 36:13-14 can’t be to kings since they are said to die in their youth (verse 14), while the kings who are bound seem to reign in perpetuity (netsach).  

 

Elihu might have become confused in his terminology because he was just on the subject of “bound” kings, and so he continues with the idea of binding. But there is no indication that the common people who cry to God in Job 35 are bound. But the people in 36:13-14 are bound. It is yet another example of how ineffective Elihu is when he strays from his favorite topic—the divine instruction through pain on the bed or dreams in the night. Once he goes down the road of theological exposition or social analysis, he becomes tongue-tied. Let’s look a little closer at his language in 36:13-14.  

 

Elihu uses two Job-dominant words in verse 13: “godless/hypocrite” (chaneph, 13x/8x Job) and “cry for help” (shava, 21x/8x Job). References to the chaneph have already been on Bildad’s (8:13), Job’s (13:16; 17:8), Eliphaz’s (15:34) and Zophar’s (20:5) lips. It is thus an equal-opportunity term of opprobrium; if there is one thing that everyone in the Book of Job seemingly agrees on, it is that there are godless people out there. I suppose disagreement would arise when one begins to point fingers or to try to identify precisely who the godless are, but for now Elihu is using a term that would evoke the likely response, ‘Right on! Get the godless!’ 

 

In 36:13 they are called the “godless in heart,” which is probably the same as the “godless” with no reference to heart. But these people, who “put” (the common verb sim, which most render here as “cherish” or “harbor” or “lay up”) anger (aph), are people who don’t cry (shava) when God binds (asar) them. As hinted at above, if we try to keep a parallel structure in Elihu’s speech, we would have the case of the “bound rulers” in verses 9-12, to whom God declares their sin and the bound rulers in verse 13 who don’t cry out. But the people in verse 13 can’t be rulers because they die in their youth in verse 14. Thus, we have confusion. As I said previously, Elihu is at his best when talking about the instructional or disciplinary work of God; when he turns to theological exposition or social analysis, he is much less useful. Verse 13 is an example of that inutility.

 

So, we don’t really know how to make all our category boxes to capture how Elihu speaks of rulers or others. Are there rulers, for example, who may not be evil but may also not be bound? Or, are they all bound in fetters, even though they occupy their throne netsach, in perpetuity? Do a few rulers cry out? Looking to Elihu for answers is asking too much of him. He really wants to get to his point in verses 15ff, but he seemingly feels he has to finish out his typology. But he doesn’t even have the courtesy to tell us whether he is speaking about rulers in verses 13-14.  

 

As just said, the people who are bound in verse 13 aren’t kings because, in verse 14:

 

    “Their soul dies in their youth and their life among prostitutes.”

 

We are trying to grant Elihu a lot of “space” here, but he is on the brink of losing us completely in this verse. The fact that their soul dies in youth means that he can’t be speaking about the kings; thus he has to be completing his typology begun in 35:9, when he spoke about people who cry out.  We don’t know what happens to people who “cry out” but don’t seemingly ask “where is God my maker” (35:10), but here the people who don’t cry out have an unexpected and bleak fate: they die in their youth.  That is unfortunate and would be made all the more unfortunate if we had some idea of what Elihu was saying.

 

He digs himself into a deeper hole, if that is possible, with the final words of verse 14.  These people who don’t cry to God die in their youth (literally, their “soul dies in their youth”—I presume that means that they die) but then are spoken of as if they were alive. Hmm. . . If they die in their youth, how is it that they make their life among prostitutes? You would think that people need to get out of their youth before the life of hanging out with prostitutes has any allure. So, is Elihu trying to suggest that these people, who die in their youth, are somewhat sexually precocious, because already before they die they spend their life among the prostitutes?  Or, maybe they are like Mad Men’s Don Draper, who was just brought up in a brothel.

 

Then, the word I render here as “prostitute” (the NASB has “cult prostitute”) has occasioned a lot of discussion. It is qadesh (6x), which usually is rendered “cult prostitute” (Deuteronomy 23:17; 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; II Kings 23:7). The root, as we easily see, is from the noun for “holiness.” It is an interesting irony that the root of the word for sacred things and prostitutes is the same. Most translations of this passage go with words such as “male prostitutes” or “immoral living” or “the unclean/depraved.” But Clines isn’t satisfied with that. He wants to cling to the root meaning of qadesh as “holy” to suggest that the verse should be rendered “their existence at the hand of the Holy Ones.” Well, my conclusion after reading several earnest critics on the subject of temple prostitution in Israel and surrounding nations in antiquity is that the subject deserves fresh consideration—but not by me. . .  But no one knows because Elihu doesn’t know what he is talking about. But by the end of verse 14, he has dispensed with kings and binding and normal people who have cried out and is ready to address his final remarks of the chapter (vv 15-23) to Job.