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395. Job 38:28-30, Rain and Dew and Other Things
28 “Has the rain a father?
Or who has begotten the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb has come the ice?
And the frost of heaven, who has given it birth?
30 Water becomes hard like stone,
And the surface of the deep is imprisoned.
Continuing the tour of the natural world, without any seeming order, God now asks Job about rain, dew, ice and hoarfrost. One might have thought that talking about snow and hail in verse 22 would have been the natural segue to rain, dew and frost in verse 28, but God took a detour in the meantime to dividing light and to rain in uninhabited places. Now, in this section, God returns to the rain and other liquid forces. Rather than asking Job whether he was there at their creation or whether the knows the way to them, God poses the arresting question of whether these natural forces have a father (v 28) or a mother (“womb”, v 29). In view here is probably some kind of mythological, superhuman or human force that might give birth to these common meteorological phenomena.
The expected answer, of course, is “No!” The rain’s father is God; the ice’s mother is God, an interesting take on a God who seems to be both beyond gender and to include both genders. Verse 28 literally reads:
“Is there for the rain a father, or who has given birth to the drippings of dew?”
We have the noun for “rain” here (matar, 38x/7x Job) though the verb matar appeared in verse 26. Elihu may have provoked this long discussion on rain by three usages of the word in 36:27; 37:6 (twice). The word rendered “drippings” is a hapax, egel, but there is no dispute as to its meaning. Job certainly can’t make these things or bring them down to earth. Then, in verse 29, we have, literally:
“From whose womb has come out the ice? And the hoarfrost of the heavens, who has given
birth to that?”
The image is doubly-interesting; not only does it suggest that some kind of womb (beten, 78x/16x Job) gives birth to watery substances, but that something very cold (ice) comes from a very warm place (the womb). Qerach is always “ice” or “frost” (7x, also in Job 6:16; 37:10) but the word rendered “hoarfrost” here, kephor, appears 12x in the Bible but is translated “bowl” in 3/4 of its appearances. Only here, Exodus 16:14, and Psalm 147:16 can it be rendered “frost/hoarfrost.” Clines helpfully tells us the difference among frost, hoarfrost and rime but the only problem is that we don’t know if the author of this passage thought of qerach/kephor in terms of our modern-day distinctions.
The point of what precisely to call the cold thing/s here, however, is of lesser importance; the primary concern is to point out to Job, by means of rhetorical questions, that God is really the progenitor of all these things. But then God does something in verse 30 that He also seems to do in verse 24. More specifically, we saw that verses 22-23 covered one topic—the snow/hail, while verse 24 probed the unrelated issue of the parting/division of the light. Here we see the first two verses of the section (vv 28-29) probing one topic—the origins of cold wet things—while verse 30 goes in a different direction. We have trouble translating it. Literally it reads
“The waters hide themselves as stone; and they capture the face of the deep.”
The unclarity here may be a deliberate method pursued by the author of Job, which we have previously seen, where there are two clear verses before plunging us into translation despair in the third. The meta-message might be that all meaning is tentative and that it, like our own breath, can be taken from us at any instant. Be grateful, then, for the meaning you can extract from a text.
But apparent unclarity has not deterred interpreters from finding meaning here. The most common method is to render the verb which clearly means “to hide” (chaba, 33x) as “to congeal” or “become hard.” These translations are suggested not because there is another instance in which chaba is so translated but because the waters are likened to stone and the only thing people can think of that completes the identity or likeness is the concept of “hardness” or something that “congeals.” Chaba appears four other times in the Book of Job. Eliphaz assures Job that if he recognizes experience as the discipline of God he will “be hidden (chaba) from the scourge of the tongue” (5:21). Two other instances are in 29:8, 10, where young people see Job and “hide themselves” (chaba) and the voice of the nobles “was hushed/hid itself” (chaba). There is no support for a rendering of “congeal” or “become hard.” Clines’ solution (translating chaba as “become hard”) is to posit a new verb, also chaba, which means “to become hard.” He has done that on more than one occasion.
The same can be said for the second verb. Almost all of the appearances of lakad are best translated “to capture/take/seize.” It is a common verb (121x) to describe the results of a military encounter (e.g., Numbers 32:39, 41)—one “takes” or “captures” a town. But that meaning won’t work here. Because scholars and translators have fudged on the first part, they mostly do so on the second. Two suggestions are “frozen” (NRSV) or “imprisoned” (NASB). If we try to keep the core meaning of lakad, we could say, following Clines, that the face of the deep is “captured” (by the ice). But because it is hard to see how this verse relates to the preceding, that it in no way is connected to the following verse, and its meaning is unclear, let’s just leave it as a “doesn’t make SENES” verse.