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393. Job 38:22-24, The Snow and the Hail

 

22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,

Or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,

23 Which I have reserved for the time of distress,

For the day of war and battle?

24 Where is the way that the light is divided,

Or the east wind scattered on the earth?

 

Clines tries to put order the divine wanderings as Job 38 unfolds by saying that the first 21 verses were about “fundamental cosmic structures” while the next 17 are about “aspects of the world order” that “impinge upon” people. There certainly is merit in his suggestion, but the repeated treatment of light, for example, suggests less structure than Clines would like to find here.

 

Verses 22-23 pose one question, and verse 24 poses another. First, we have:

 

    “Have you come to the treasuries of the snow, and the treasuries of the hail have you seen--

     which are withheld for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war?"

 

The structure of verse 22 is reminiscent of verses 15, 16 and 17. All these verses begin and end with simple verbs (manah/shabar in verse 15; bo/halak in verse 16; galah/raah in verse 17; bo/raah in verse 22); Verses 16 and 22 begin with the identical form of the verb “to come.” The storage places/treasury is otsar, 79x, which commonly refers to the regal treasuries of Israel. The word rarely appears in Job and the Psalms, though it has five appearances in Proverbs. Just as most state departments of transportation have storage places for plows and sand/gravel for the winter storms that are sure to come, so God seemingly has great storage facilities where snow and hail are kept. But these elements, sheleg (“snow”) and barad (“hail”)  are not mentioned here as simple operations of nature but as adjuncts of war. More specifically, verse 23 says that God has “reserved” or “withheld” them (chasak, 27x) for the day of trouble.  

 

We see how the hail functioned this way when a plague of it was sent down from heaven on Egypt (Exodus 9:22-26). A more prominent example of what Job 38:23 refers to is in Joshua 10 when Joshua went up from Gilgal to fight some foes. Joshua was no doubt on the way to becoming victorious, but what sealed the victory was the Lord’s raining down “stones” (i.e., hailstones) on the retreating enemy (10:11). More died from the hailstones than by the sword.  

 

Though snow is also mentioned as an adjunct of war, its presentation in the Bible is more ambiguous than that of hail. Snow can be mentioned in the context of a battle (II Samuel 23:20; Psalm 148:8 is a bit more unclear), but normally it is just seen as a simple meteorological phenomenon (e.g., Isaiah 55:10) or a weather feature that teaches moral lessons (Proverbs 26:1).

 

Even though I have included verse 24 with the section on snow and hail, it pursues a topic of its own, a topic that dangles both because it relates to nothing before or after and because its basic meaning is unclear. Using language identical to the first three words of verse 19, it says:

 

    “Where is the way to the division of the light? The east wind scatters on the earth.”

 

Verse 19 posed the question of the way to light’s dwelling place. I argued that that verse possessed the semblance of meaning because the separation of light and darkness in Genesis 1:4 might suggest that each had a separate dwelling place. But this verse stymies us. Other translations have:

 

    “By what way is the light parted, or the east wind scattered on the earth?  OR
    “What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place

      where the east winds are scattered over the earth?”

 

Clines, ever the creative one, has:

 

    “Where is the realm where heat is created, which the sirocco spreads across the earth?"

 

So, there is disagreement whether the light (common word or) is similar to the “light” of verse 19 (also or), the lightning which will be mentioned in the next verse or the generic concept of “heat.” Part of the disagreement happens because we don’t know what is happening to the light/lightning/heat. Are we looking for a place where it is dispersed or where it is created? And even if we accept the translation of chalaq as “divide” or “distribute” or “part” or “disperse,” we have no idea what that means. How can light or lightning or heat be divided? Well, maybe one of those three things is “dispersed” rather than “divided.” Do we have any more clarity?  Probably not. I am sure that we can juggle verbs and nouns long enough to come up with a semblance of meaning with one of the combinations, but is that a satisfactory method of proceeding? It may simply be that verse 24a copies the suggestive phrase of verse 19a and verse 25b copies the happy phrase from 28:26 but in between we have darkness—and that the phrases in between (v 24b, v 25a) are independent floating creations.


Yet, many scholars would like to see a connection between the two clauses of verse 24, as evinced by Clines’ translation. The KJV started the trend by saying:

 

    “By what way is light distributed, which scatters the east wind upon the earth?”

 

We scratch our heads trying to figure out how either the way or the light can scatter east wind on the earth. At least Clines’ translation has the semblance of meaning because we can imagine heat and the hot east wind being related. But chalaq never elsewhere means “created,” and so we are plunged back into uncertainty. If we just take a moment to muse on the two verbs of the verse, chalaq and puts (67x, “scatter”) we see that there may be more meaning by reversing the order of the verbs—and thus linking the light with “scattering” and the east wind with being “dispersed.” But that would be turning God on the divine head, and we think that God might not like that. Maybe there is a little man somewhere beyond the rainbow who is standing there and controlling the light—and then when it wants to shine he “divides” it, sending part of it to Mongolia and part to Indonesia, for example. Even though it looks like the same light to those of us on the earth, the little man knows differently. He has “divided” the light.  Again, this starts to become the stuff of fantasy, which, as I have argued earlier, might be the best way to extract meaning from many sections of the text of Job.