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37. Job 4:14-16, Still Describing the Vision

 

As if we aren’t scared enough so far, verse 14 functions to put additional fear into us. It is, in a word, the “trembling” verse. We might translate it, “Dread came over me and trembling, and all my bones were affrighted.” The thought is ringed or surrounded by the word pachad, the word Job used twice for his great fear in 3:25, where he feared losing everything. Note that the common word for “fear”

 (yare) is absent. As if to emphasize the bodily effects of this vision, he mentions his raad (4x), a verb related to the verb charad (39x), “be terrified” or “tremble.” Charad most memorably appears in describing Isaac’s reaction when he got news of the deception practiced on him by Rebekah and his son Jacob in Genesis 27:33. When he learned of the deception, he “trembled violently” (charad is verb). The word also is used for describing the trembling or quaking of Mount Sinai when God descended on it in a theophany (Exodus 19:16, 18). Those who have ears to hear are themselves trembling a bit as Eliphaz continues his story.

 

But he isn’t done yet with the description of his unforgettable religious experience. Here we actually have reference to a “spirit” or “wind/breeze” (ruach) that passed by his face (v 15). In verse 12 he heard the faint sound of it; now he feels it. Normally when you have the idea of something or someone passing by something else, Biblical Hebrew expresses it through the verb abar, but here we have the 18x-appearing verb chalaph

 

The verb chalaph is often translated “to change.” For example, Jacob chided Laban for changing—chalaph—his wages ten times (Genesis 31:7, 41). in Psalm 102:26 it appears twice in a majestic description of God’s “changing” the heavens like a garment when they get old. But, it can also mean to  “pass away” or "pass by” or “sweep by.” In Isaiah’s view of a future blessed kingdom, all the idols will chalaph, “vanish” or “pass away” (Isaiah 2:18).  When two lovers meet in the Song of Songs, they do so after the rain has chalaph, or “passed by” (Song of Songs 2:11).  

 

Job uses the verb chalaph 6x; the first four appearances of it in Job are unquestionably “pass by” (4:15; 9:11; 26; 11:10).  Key to the meaning of chalaph in Job is Job 9:11. In that passage Job will use abar/chalaph in poetic parallelism—both having to do with “passing by.” He says, echoing the thought of 4:15, “Lo, he “passes by me” (abar) but I don’t see him, he “sweeps by” (chalaph) but I don’t perceive him.” Job seems to intone the verse in a rueful fashion in 9:11, perhaps recalling Eliphaz's use of chalaph in 4:15. Eliphaz had such a memorable and powerful vision of God, a feeling of the spirit as it passed by him. Yet for Job, God just “passes him by” (i.e., abandons him). Once again, Job shows us, in his forlornness, how to turn words on their head.

 

For Eliphaz the experience of the spirit’s or wind’s passing by him was unforgettable. It made his hairs stand on end. The end of verse 15 has, “It made stand up the hairs of my flesh.” The verb samar only appears here and in Psalm 119:120, and perhaps is better translated as a synonym of raad, “tremble,” than amad, “stand up.” All his hairs trembled, in particular the “hairs of his flesh (basar).” Really scary vision. Note that in Ps 119:120, we also have the interesting combination of samar with basar. Ps 119 presents us with a most unusual thought: “My flesh (basar) trembles (samar) for fear (pachad—the same word for fear that has just been used twice in Job 4:14) of you; I am afraid of your judgments.” You wonder if Eliphaz, himself being steeped in the religious tradition, might have frequently recited Psalm 119, or its predecessor, and noted the close association of “fear” and “stand up” and “flesh,” and thus ended up “seeing them” in his own nocturnal vision. If this is the case, we have another instance where the Book of Job is living in the world of the Psalms and responding to them. Eliphaz's mind is full of the words that the tradition gave him, and he uses them skillfully to describe his experience of life.

 

We aren’t yet done with his vision. Instead of Job’s experience in 9:11, where God just will passes by Job, leaving him with a sense of abandonment, we have the arresting verb amad at the beginning of verse 16. “It stopped.” Whoa!  This spirit, which blows where it wills, has now come to rest, to a standstill, right in front of Eliphaz’s eyes. Eliphaz looks closer, and is rewarded with the sight of a form or an appearance that he can’t really discern. He says, “I couldn’t discern (the common nakar) its appearance” (mareh, from the common verb for “to see”); “a form (temunah) was right before my eyes.” We are now in the realm of extreme creepiness. Most people might be able to handle a ‘sense’ of the divine or the ‘spirit’ of God passing by one, but when you have a “form” or some kind of apparition standing right before you—well, no wonder your hairs are standing on end or trembling! What do you do in such a situation. Do you say, ‘Hi, my name is Eliphaz. What’s yours?’

 

Eliphaz doesn’t do anything. But he listens, and he hears what some translators render as a “still small voice.” The rare word in 4:16 to describe what Eliphaz hears is the same word used in I Kings 19:12 to talk about the “still small voice” that Elijah heard after he realized God was not in the ‘loud’ things of the world. Eliphaz hears the demamah, the “silence” of a voice. Now we are in the realm of paradox, because the noun demamah derives from the verb damam (30x), and is usually translated “silence” or “to be silenced” (e.g., Jeremiah 49:26; 50:30). Eliphaz has the unlikely experience of a spirit standing still; a spirit taking a form; and then the spirit speaking in silence. This is like Milton’s “darkness visible” in Book 1 of Paradise Lost. Eliphaz has already been straining his ears in verse 12, when his ears took in the “whisper” of the word that stole in upon him; now he actually “hears” silence. We would like to stop there and celebrate Eliphaz’ vision, but there is no celebration, no high-fives for Eliphaz. He goes right to the message of this vision. . .