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377. Job 36:31-33, Conclusion


31 "For by these he governs peoples;

    he gives food in abundance.

32 He covers his hands with the lightning,

    and commands it to strike the mark.

33 Its crashing tells about him;

    he is jealous with anger against iniquity."


Though I put these three verses under a separate head, they are in many ways just a continuation (or conclusion) of Elihu’s meteorological observations in verses 27-30.  Both verses 27 and 31, the beginning of the final subsections, begin with the conjunction kiy, “For/because,” and that perhaps is the reason for my division points at verses 27 and 31. In this case the kiy gives a further description of the effect of the rain, mist, clouds, and thunder of verses 27-30.  


Verse 31 speaks of two divine movements: judgment and graciousness. The meteorological displays of verses 27-30 not only have a physical effect in the natural world; they also are signs of the divine judgment. The NRSV and NASB have it that by these he “governs” people, but that really can't be right. The verb translated “govern” is din (24x), which always is translated “judge” or “administer justice” or “plead one’s cause.”The noun din is almost equally prominent in the Bible (20x, “justice/cause/lawsuit/judgment”), but nary an appearance is rendered “govern.” We translated its appearance in 36:17 as “judgment.” Clines translates the verb here as “nourish,” which receives no support from other appearances of the word.


How is it that the crashing of thunder and spreading out of lightning “judges” people?  Perhaps because these elements show us that behind the seemingly placid or even tumultuous workings of nature is a power that is not to be underestimated or ignored. But God also “gives food in abundance.” We hear an echo of Psalm 145:16, 


    “You open your hands and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”  


The word for “abundance” here is the hapax makbir, which is derived from the hapax verb kabar which we just saw in the previous chapter (35:16) and translated “mightiness” or “to be mighty.” But these two hapaxes ought not to deter us; they are obviously related to kabbir (10x/7x Job, most recently twice in Job 36:5), which also occupies the linguistic space of greatness/largeness/mightiness.  Thus, a better rendering of verse 31 is:


    “For through these things God judges people; He gives food in abundance.”  


Verse 32 looks like it is out of place, perhaps fitting better after verse 30, because of the continuation of the theme of lightning and the double use of the verb kasah, “to cover,” in verses 30 and 32. We have a curious, and somewhat humorous picture in the first clause—a clause that can be translated two ways.  It is either:


    “He covers his hands with lightning” OR

    “With his hands he covers lightning.”


So, the issue is, what’s on top, God’s hands or the lightning? Most versions go with the first, but the KJV and several more recent translations go with the second. Our choice of one translation over another is among the most insignificant decisions we probably will make in life, yet it does provide the occasion for a humorous reflection. Imagine a conversation between A and B.  A says, 

    'I just saw God on high with lightning covering the divine hands.' But B says,

    'No, you have it all wrong; God’s hands are actually on top and the lightning

    is on the bottom.'


The two friends talk back and forth, and then one brilliantly suggests, 'Hmm. . .how do you know that his hands are covering lightning?  Do you actually see the divine hands?  What do they look like?' This soon leads to loud swearing and a falling out between two long-time friends.  Thus, I am not going to wade into this disagreement, unimportant as it is, at the risk of breaking up friendships.


The second part of verse 32 is a little clearer, but we see Elihu struggling. It says,


    “And he commands it (lit. “over it/upon it”) in its meeting/striking/encountering.”


The sense of verse 32b seems to be that regardless of whether or not the lightning is covering the divine hands, God gives it a command, and it strikes its target. It is a noncontroversial thought, though said with more complexity than necessary. The last verb of the verse is paga (46x), which normally is translated “meet” or “encounter” or “arrive at.” When Jacob was traveling east, he came (paga) to a certain place where he had a vision of angels and a renewed sense of the divine presence (Genesis 28:11). God’s angels later “met” (paga) him (Genesis 32:1). But a more violent dimension of paga is assumed in Exodus 5:3, where the fear is that God will “fall upon” (paga) people with a plague. This “falling upon” becomes “killing” in the Samson narrative of Judges 15:12. Thus, when the last word of Job 36:32 is, literally, “in its meeting,” we can see how “in its striking/falling upon” is probably better. The thought is that God commands the lightning to strike.


Verse 33 completes Elihu’s thought, and allows him yet another opportunity to sink into obscurity.  Literally we have, 


    “His noise/roar declares upon it/about him, cattle also upon the rising.”


We don’t know, at first, whether to laugh or cry. We think, ‘I have come this far in trying to understand you, Elihu, and all you can give me at this stage is a rare word that I think means “roar” but may mean “thunder” (rea), an uncertain object (i.e., does the noise declare about God?  About the lightning that just has struck?), and then you throw cattle in for no apparent reason, ending your thought with the common verb for “going up/rising.”’  


But after nursing our wounds, we may actually be able to get somewhere with this verse. Recall we are in Elihu’s peroration, where he will prepare the way for the coming of God. It is an awesome responsibility. We might, then, see the meteorological phenomena of verses 27-30 not simply functioning as signs of judgment or blessing, but as harbingers of the divine appearance. The word for “roar” (rea) derives from the more common verb rua (45x), which describes a war cry, the blast of a trumpet, or a shout from individuals or the community.  


Thus, following a few translations, we might render the first phrase as:


    “His thunder announces him” (the divine coming). . .


Others try to read more into the “upon him/him” and render it as “his wrath” or “his anger at the disobedience of people.” I think that stretches the text a bit too far. Let’s just keep it as nebulous as Elihu seems to have it here. There is a noise, or roar, or thunder, which declares (verb is the common nagad) God.  

But then we are nonplussed by the second clause. What can it mean that cattle go up? One explanation that has some plausibility is that if even the dumb cattle (miqneh, 76x) feel or recognize the divine advent, why can’t humans? 

This explanation satisfies some people, though many commentators seek to replace the word “cattle” with a word looking like it in Hebrew: “jealousy.” Well, cattle is miqneh; jealousy is qana; one might argue that the “m,” the sign of a participle or noun, was just carelessly dropped in there. That is why Clines will render the last clause, “the passion (i.e., jealousy) of his anger against iniquity.”  But we really have a mess in rendering the final clause, from the NASB above to Clines’ rendering:


    “the passion of his anger against iniquity” TO

    “even the cattle make known his approach” TO
    “the cattle concerning the rising storm” TO 

    (my favorite) “the cattle also concerning the vapor” (KJV)  TO    

    “anger against perversity.”


So either we have the idea that some kind of noise, probably thunder, is announcing the divine advent, with even the cattle making it known OR some noise (“crashing” in the NRSV and NASB) either just tells us about God or declares the divine wrath (though we have to add the word “wrath”) and is the sign of divine jealousy/wrath. In either case Elihu doesn’t end the chapter on a strong note. We look forward to his redeeming himself in his last chapter, as he prepares us for the divine appearance.

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