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40. Job 5:1-7, Life’s Pain
1 “Call now; is there anyone who will answer you?
To which of the holy ones will you turn?
2 Surely vexation kills the fool,
and jealousy slays the simple.
3 I have seen fools taking root,
but suddenly I cursed their dwelling.
4 Their children are far from safety,
they are crushed in the gate,
and there is no one to deliver them.
5 The hungry eat their harvest,
and they take it even out of the thorns;
and the thirsty pant after their wealth.
6 For misery does not come from the earth,
nor does trouble sprout from the ground;
7 but human beings are born to trouble
just as sparks fly upward.
Part of “Life’s Pain,” as this section is entitled, is trying to translate these seven verses. Eliphaz slipped into obscurity when he started talking about humans being crushed before or by moths in 4:19. He doesn’t pull himself completely out of the obscurity for several more verses, though glimpses of clarity occasionally appear, just as a submarine occasionally comes to the surface or the snow-capped peak of Olympus sometimes slices the clouds. The general point of these verses follows that of the previous section—on the danger of human life. Here, however, for some reason, he seems to focus on the fool (evil, v 2) rather than on humans in general. Here, also, he seems to point to certain characteristics that bring judgment on the fool, such as his anger (kaas, v 2). In Chapter 4 it was a person’s mere humanity that was responsible for the attack of the killer moths. Yet, by the end of this section it appears that Eliphaz has returned to his theme beginning in 4:17, that all humans are born to trouble. Welcome to ancient Middle Eastern rhetoric, advanced seminar!
Though I have charged Eliphaz with obscurity in this section, this doesn’t mean that what he writes isn’t both interesting and valuable. He gives Job some words here that will be useful for his response (Job anchors his next speech in kaas, a word which Eliphaz introduces in 5:2); we might even see the opening idea, of calling on angelic forces, as adumbrating Job’s quest for another heavenly figure who will “lay his hand on us both” (9:33) or who might mature into the “witness in heaven” (16:19) or “Redeemer who lives” (19:25). With that in mind, let’s take care with Eliphaz’s confusing words.
Verse 1 is not obscure: “Call, I say to you, but is there someone to answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn?” Eliphaz knows that Job is not simply frustrated with his life but wishes that he never had been born (Job 3); he has no rest, no ease, but only trouble (3:26). Eliphaz already knows that Job is nursing such great pain as to be reluctant to call upon God for help. Having just mentioned angels in 4:18, Eliphaz now refers to them again. Thus his opening words make sense: ‘Do you really think there is another one ‘up there’ who will answer you?’ Eliphaz's question implies that these other sources won’t be of any help to Job; thus, he eventually will urge Job to appeal directly to God (5:8). So, Eliphaz may gently be pointing out to Job that he is painting himself into a corner by his attitude. Cursing the day of one’s birth is an attack on God. Once you go down that road you really don’t have many good options. The angels won’t help. Call on them, and you will see. That seems to be the flow of his argument.
Having started with the futility of calling on these other heavenly sources of help, Eliphaz then turns to a common statement of traditional wisdom in verse 2. We might have expected him immediately to say, ‘Well, then, why not turn to God?’ But before he gets there, he wants to examine the case of one whom he calls in Hebrew evil (pronounced eh VUL), the “fool”, beginning in verse 2. We don’t know if he is gently suggesting that Job is among this bunch. If pressed on the issue, Eliphaz could claim plausible deniability—‘Hey, man, I was just quoting a generic wisdom principle.’ This generic wisdom principle may be rendered as follows, “Because/for anger kills the fool, and jealousy brings the simple to death” (v 2).
A word on the word for simple in verse 2. Here we have a present participle of the verb pathah, while the word used for “simple” in Proverbs is the closely related pethi. The verb pathah means “to seduce, deceive, entice” or “to be spacious, open.” Job 5:2 is the only place in the Bible where it is translated as “simple.” Yet, that is, no doubt, what Eliphaz means here. It is no doubt connected to pethi. Pethi appears 19x in the Bible, 18 of which are in Proverbs. Usually it is translated as “simple” or “naive.” It is a wisdom tradition-coined word to describe a category of people. These people are not yet fools; one might cynically call them “fools in training” because, unless they internalize the lessons of wisdom pretty quickly they are headed for certain doom. Let’s assume that pethi is the category Eliphaz is speaking about in the second part of 5:2. Yet if we look closer, we see that Eliphaz is putting two categories of wisdom characters together that usually are kept separate. Because the "fool" and the "simple" are put in parallel construction, they are to be read as one category. Proverbs will keep them separate; Eliphaz seems to put them together.
That the first part of verse 2 is indebted to the wisdom tradition in general can be seen because of its striking similarity to Prov 12:16, “The anger (also kaas) of a fool (also evil) is known at once.” Eliphaz would just be ramping up the meaning of the proverb. Not only is the fool’s anger immediately evident, but it actually kills the guy. The word evil appears 25x in the Bible, and Proverbs again dominates its appearances (19/25). Thus it, like pethi, functions as a technical term to help fill out the universe of individuals in Proverbs. “A fool (evil) rejects his father’s discipline” (15:5) or ”The way of the fool (evil) is right in his own eyes. . .” (12:15). Anger, kaas, appears 26x and is also largely a wisdom tradition word (4x Job; 4x Proverbs; 6x Ecclesiastes). Normally its translation runs the scale from grief to anger or even sorrow, but anger is the most frequent rendering of it and appears appropriate here.
Instead, then, of continuing to discuss the fate of all humans, which 4:19 would have led us to expect, Eliphaz now simply talks about the fool/simple person. You wonder if his generic comments on human life at the end of Chapter 4 are somewhat out of step with the focus of the wisdom tradition, which wants to divide the world into categories of people (wise, simple, foolish, lazy, etc). Yet, as we look even more closely at Eliphaz’ words in 5:1-7, we see him going back and forth between describing the fool (5:2-6) and describing the fate of all humans (5:7).