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382. Job 37:17-20, One More Question from Elihu and then Darkness

 

17 "You whose garments are hot,
When the land is still because of the south wind?
18 Can you, with Him, spread out the skies,
Strong as a molten mirror?
19 Teach us what we shall say to Him;
We cannot arrange our case because of darkness.
20 Shall it be told Him that I would speak?
Or should a man say that he would be swallowed up?


We continue to be entranced by Elihu’s language, even though we have little idea of what he means in verses 17, 19-20. Verse 17 just continues the thought of the “balancing” of the clouds in verse 16 and takes us deeper into confusion. Then, verse 18 presents Elihu’s third “God-like” question. Verses 19-20 begin with a word that we all know by now (the verb yada, to know, in the hiphil—“make me know”) before fading into the obscurity of darkness and some kind of swallowing up.

 

Recall that Elihu had asked in verse 16 whether Job knew the balancing of the clouds. Other translations of verse 16 have it as follows: “how the clouds hang poised” or “the layers of thick clouds” or “how the clouds float.” We can tell just from the translations that the Hebrew communicates no clear concept, though if I had to hazard a guess on what miphlas meant it would be how the clouds just sit there in the sky, defying gravity, though can still move, gather and fade away.  

 

Verse 17 finishes the thought of verse 16. Literally, we have:

 

    “which (make) your garments hot when the earth is quiet from the south wind."

 

There is no verb for “make” in the first clause; it simply reads:  “which” and “your garments” and “hot.”  Some render the “which” as “whose,” so that what is in view is Job’s clothes somehow warming up/becoming hot. We aren’t fully sure if the instrument of their warming up is due either to the “balancing of the clouds" (v 16) or the final clause of verse 17 (the south/south wind), or whether Job is simply addressed as the one in hot garments. Just as we would love to know what the balancing of the clouds means, so we would love to know why Job is wearing hot clothes. I would change them, especially if they started burning my body. But, then again, if he only brought the clothes on his body to this extended conversation, he is kind of stuck.  

 

Not only is the picture of Job suffering from “hot clothes” a bit absurd, but the second clause seems only tangentially related to the first. We know the words: the verb shaqat (41x/4x Job) is usually rendered “be quiet” or “have rest.” It appears 6x in Judges to describe either a people who are “quiet and secure” (Judges 18:7, 26) or to the land which has “rest” after a judge’s reign (Judges 5:31; 8:28). The other appearances in Job are consistent with this translation. Two of them are in Job 3, where Job either longs for the “quiet” of Sheol (3:13) or regrets that he has “no quiet” now (3:26).  

 

The word “quiet” is preceded by the Hebrew preposition be/buh, meaning “in” or “with” or “when.” Hence, it says,

 

   “when the earth (the common erets) is quiet (shaqat) because of (literally “from”) the darom.”

 

Darom (17x) only appears in poetic contexts and is another word, like teman and negeb, for “south.” There is no word for “wind” in our text, but almost all translators add “wind” because the concept of a southern wind may be related to warmth which might be related to Job’s hot clothes. That is the life of the scholar—explaining things that need no explaining or, alternatively, coming up with wild conjectures when things are impossible to explain. But sometimes, just sometimes, we are able to weave a compelling story from the shards of evidence lying around us. 

 

In sum, then, we have no idea how the clouds of verse 16 relate to or produce the heat of verse 17 or if it is the clouds that even make Job’s clothes warm. We don’t know how the earth becomes quiet by something from the south, even if it is the wind. We don’t know if the southern wind, which may not even be a wind, relates to the warming of Job’s clothes. Elihu has just finished telling Job how ignorant he is. We feel the same thing about ourselves. All we know is Job’s clothes are getting hot.

 

Verse 18 brings us to the third and final question of Elihu to Job. Literally, we have:

 

    “Have you hammered out/spread out with him the skies, strong as a cast metal mirror?"

 

We are back in the skies (shachaq), even though no mention is made of clouds. And again, just when we are thinking of dismissing or upbraiding Elihu because he is descending into obscurity, he comes up with a suggestive sentence or question. As mentioned above, the question is “God-like,” meaning that it looks very much like the kind of question God will pose to Job beginning in Job 38. It points out Job’s inability, ignorance and puniness. And it does so by created a compelling picture of God as the master metalsmith, working in solid materials to bring order to the heavens.

 

The first word of verse 18 has deep resonance in the Scripture—all the way back to Genesis 1. After God created Day and Night, the light and the darkness, God turned to the heavenly realm and created what is generally known as the firmament (raqia, Genesis 1:6). The word raqia derives from the verb raqa (11x), which means to “beat” or “stamp out” or “stretch out.” Thus, the firmament is something that is “beaten out,” like a sheet of metal that is shaped and formed according to the divine desires.  

 

Elihu uses the verb raqa here in his question to Job. It is obvious that God is the one who spreads out/beats out things in the skies; thus, his third question to Job is almost of a needling kind. But he also drops in the little preposition “with him,” so as to give Job a chance to admit to being with God, perhaps as an advisor, in the creation of the skies. Elihu’s words are reminiscent of Proverbs 8:30, where Wisdom says that it was “beside God” in the first acts of creation, functioning as an amon (a hapax that may mean “artificer” or “craftsman”). The tone of Elihu’s question, then, may be: ’Ahem. . .were you there, Job, like Wisdom, as the consultant to God while God was hammering out the skies?’ 


The second clause of verse 18 is a description of that which has been hammered out.  The skies (one of Elihu’s new favorite words— shachaq) are now as “strong” or “firm” (the common chazak) as a mirror of cast metal. The last phrase is so unusual that we need to look briefly at the two Hebrew words. Rei, a hapax, is usually rendered “mirror.” It obviously derives from the common verb raah (“to see”). The word mar’ah, also derived from raah, appears in Exodus 38:8 to describe a “mirror” or “looking glass” of brass that is part of the the bronze laver in the Wilderness Tabernacle.  

 

This “mirror” in Job 37:18 is mutsaq, or “cast” (rather than being molten or still in a liquefied state). Our first reaction to that word is to connect it with the rare and theologically significant usages of mutsaq in Job 36:16 and 37:10, but we hasten to add here that the mutsaq of 37:18 is derived from yatsaq, “to pour out (metal)” while the mutsaq of 36:16 and 37:10 are derived from tsuq, “to be straitened/constrained.”