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380. Job 37:9-13, Here Come the Winds and the Ice

9 “Out of the south comes the storm,
And out of the north the cold.
10 From the breath of God ice is made,
And the expanse of the waters is frozen.
11 Also with moisture He loads the thick cloud;
He disperses the cloud of His lightning.
12 It changes direction, turning around by His guidance,
That it may do whatever He commands it
On the face of the inhabited earth.
13 Whether for correction, or for His world,
Or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen.

 

While the humans and animals are thus inside, God sends the tempest and the frigid weather. The major interpretive problem of verse 9 is whether Elihu is elegantly, though allusively, referring to two compass points (south and north) or whether the words cheder (“chamber”) and mezareh (“scattering”) simply speak metaphorically of the divine abode (“God’s chamber”). In verse 17 we will have an unmistakable reference to the south wind, but it isn’t clear that this is what is in view here.

 

The literal rendering of verse 9 is:

 

    “From the chamber comes the tempest, and cold (comes) from the scatterings.”

 

Again, Elihu won’t win the Nobel Prize for Clarity with this statement. The reason why some scholars suggest that the “chamber” (cheder, 38x) might mean “the south” is that its only other appearance in Job (9:9) is rendered: “Who (i.e., God) makes the bear, Orion and the Pleiades, and the chambers (cheder) of the south (teman).” Could the appearance simply of cheder in 37:9, then, point to that same reality? If so, then the second half of the verse, referring to the cold (qarah, 5x/2x Job), would properly be “the north.” But the only candidate for “north” in the second part is the hapax mezareh, which no doubt derives from zarah (39x, “to scatter/winnow”). Clines eschews any directional meaning in this verse and renders the last clause “scattering winds.”  

 

I think more important than directional origin in verse 9 is the kind of natural force in view (suphah, 16x, “tempest/whirlwind”). Interestingly, when God speaks “out of the whirlwind” in Job 38:1, it will be a sa’ar (24x) , rather than a suphah. The two terms are synonymous and are combined in Isaiah 29:6 (“whirlwind and tempest”). Just as the divine “chamber” (chered) is sometimes associated with a direction, though perhaps not here, so the whirlwind, suphah, is sometimes associated with a divine chariot (Isaiah 66:15; Jeremiah 4:13). But perhaps the most memorable appearance for me of suphah in the Bible is in Hosea 8:7, where the proverbial thought is expressed: “The one who sows the wind (ruach), will reap the whirlwind (suphah).” 

 

Verses 10-11 simply continue the flow of verse 9:

 

    “From God’s breath comes (lit, “is given”) the ice; the breadth of waters is constrained.  Certainly

     He burdens the clouds with moisture; He spreads out the cloud of his lightning."

 

Now we have the ice (qerach, 7x/3x Job) whereas in the previous verse we had the almost identical word “cold” (qerah). Verses 10-11 are full of rare words, as the two hapaxes of riy  (“moisture”) and the verb tarach (“burden”) grind us almost to a standstill. In addition, the phrase “cloud of his lightning” is unusual, because we mostly think of lightning breaking through clouds. Yet the conceptual flow is not difficult. Whether it is ice, moisture, clouds, lightning, it is all a product of, in this case, the divine “breath” (the familiar neshamah—see Genesis 2:7; 7:22 etc.).

 

What is interesting, in light of its appearance in 36:16, is the rare participial form mutsaq, translated “constrained” above  (v 10). The breadth of waters or, otherwise translated, “the wide waters,” are constrained. The only other Biblical appearance of mutsaq, beyond Job 36:16, is in the theologically-rich Isaiah 9:1, where there will be no future gloom for the one who was “in anguish/constraint” (mutsaq).

 

But just as I argued above that Elihu may be gently experimenting with “knowledge” and “not knowledge,” so here he may be contrasting the “constraint” of the created waters and the place of “no constraint” for Job in 36:16. The point would then be as follows: in Job 37 God performs a series of works to constrain people, animals and nature.  He “seals up” people indoors, and the beasts retreat to their dens. Then, God constrains or keeps under control the wide waters of the earth. All these are the limitations placed on creation by the incomprehensible God. Note, however, that God does this only after luring Job to a place of freedom and broadness, a place where there is no mutsaq (36:16). Confirmation that 37:10 and 36:16 are to be read “antiphonally” is the interesting way that rachab appears also in both passages. God “limits" or “constrains” (mutsaq) the “wide” (rachab) waters; in contrast, God leads Job into a “wide” place (rachab) where there is no “constraint” (mutsaq).  

 

Finally we ought to pause briefly on the variety of words used by Elihu for the simple concept of “clouds.” All we really need is one word, but Elihu draws upon and plays off three words:  ab (32x 3x by Elihu), anan (87x, 2x by Elihu); shachaq (21x, 4x by Elihu). As the numbers show, clouds are on Elihu’s mind. We wonder that if he lived in our day he would have concurred with Joni Mitchell that he had looked at clouds from both sides now but, in fact, he really doesn’t know clouds at all. . . 

 

Most scholars see verse 12 continuing the focus on clouds, though Elihu’s language is rough and the concept not fully clear. We might draw help from another passage, where the ideas are more clearly expressed, that seems to say about the same thing:  Psalm 148:8. 

 

    “Fire and hail, snow (sheleg, as in 37:6) and vapor, stormy wind (sa’ar) fulfilling his word."

 

In Job 37:12 we also have something that does whatever God commands, even though the last phrase of 37:12 is more pleonastic than Psalm 148:8. Job 37:12 has, “who do (paal in 37:12, while asah appears in Psalm 148:8)  everything he commands upon the face of the inhabited (tebel, 36x, 3x Job) world.”  

 

The first clause of 37:12, however, gives us headaches. It is only four words in Hebrew, but if we try to render what is written we have, literally: “he/it (singular)” and “that which surrounds/round about” (noun, plural) and “is overturned” and “by his guidance.” We can count on translators to level out the rough spots, and the consensus that has arisen is that the clouds of verse 11 are the subject in verse 12, and these clouds whirl about, turning this way and that, and that this whirling is done by the divine guidance. So, Clines can say, “They wheel round and round at his direction. . .”  The only difficulty with that translation is that “clouds” is a singular concept from verse 11 (ab and anan are both singular), but the second word, mesiboth, is plural. The only satisfactory way to resolve this is to look at the “cloud” really as a collective, able to use either a singular pronoun (hu) or a plural (mesiboth) to describe it.  

 

Now that the work of the clouds, as well as the snow, rain and lightning, have been duly described, Elihu comes in for a gentle landing in verse 13:  

 

    “Whether these things are found/come for correction, or for his land, or for mercy.”  

 

The verse is unusual because of the wedding of three common words that normally aren’t put together: correction (shebet, 190x/3x Job), land (erets, common word), or mercy (chesed, 247x/3x Job). We can easily understand how the rains, lightning, wind and snows might be for correction—bringing famine or destruction that is a sign of the divine displeasure. We can also easily understand how mercy may be in the weather—when gentle rain falls in due season to water the crops. Job has used the word shebet in 9:34 when expressing a desire for a mediator. Job believes that such a mediator will remove the divine “rod” (shebet) from him. Is Elihu subtly pointing Job back to that statement and saying that this, indeed, is one of the divine purposes in Job’s life?  

 

Though the first and last terms are easy to understand, the middle term, “for his land,” has occasioned debate. Its form in the text makes the last three letters look like the Hebrew word “pleasure” (ratsah), a point that has been made by several scholars, who would like to change the “land” to “pleasure.” Thus, two of the “messages” of the weather are for the human community (correction/mercy) and one of the messages tells us about God. God would, in this reading, sometimes just be acting without regard to humans—for the divine benefit. Despite the theological attractiveness of the idea, “for his land” is so clear in the text that I will stay with it.  

 

But verse 13 is a majestic conclusion to this section of Elihu’s final speech. Humans and animals are shut up in their dens or homes, watching the signs of divine power in the weather. They know by observing these signs that God is both great and incomprehensible, sometimes bringing abundance through the elements and sometimes destruction. The insertion of “land” the middle of the correction/land/mercy triad is a subtle reminder to the immured humans and animals that things aren’t done by God solely for their benefit or discipline. Sometimes, it is simply for the land itself, without regard to humans, that God does things. A Biblical doctrine of care for creation should include this phrase. 

 

That simple word “for his land,” allows and encourages our own speculation—on how God might bring about something for the land with no demonstrable affect on or concern for humans. Perhaps it is through introduction of species of nearly invisible bugs; maybe God is delighted by geological formations that bring no benefit or “message” to humans. Elihu is describing a mysterious and incomprehensible deity, a deity who will soon come to speak with Job.