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405. Job 40:1-2, God’s Question

 

1 Then the Lord said to Job,

2 “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?

Let him who reproves God answer it.”

    

Just as Job 28 provided a major break in the book between the Three Cycles of speeches and Job’s peroration or summary of his argument (Job 29-31), so this and the next small section (vv 3-5) provide a mini-break between God’s two speeches. Yet rather than these sections being a poem that encourages the reader to think that wisdom is both in short supply and desperately needed, as in Job 28, they contain a brief conversation that, if anything, heightens the tension between Job and God. They heighten the tension because, in a word, Job declines to play along with God’s method of inquisition and decides to drop out of the conversation—at least for now. This seems to enrage God, who turns up the inquisitorial heat in 40:7-14, before settling into a long description of Behemoth (40:15-24) and Leviathan (Job 41).

 

We need to recall that as God takes a break and poses the question in 40:2 to Job, Job has the word “corpses” (chalalim) ringing in his ears (39:30). We don’t know either the way God said or Job heard that word, but a vulnerable person in Job’s position could be forgiven for thinking seeing it as a veiled threat to him and, moreover, that the purpose of God’s catechetical examination in Job 38-39 was more to show divine power than to get at truth or justice.

 

The opening words of this section (verse 1), where the two verbs “answer” (anah) and “said” (amar) are used, are similar to the opening of Job 34 and 35. Job 36, along with Job 27, has “added” (yasaph) and “said” (amar). Most earlier speeches in the book just open with the simple “answer” (anah; e.g., Job 4; 8; 11). God quickly goes on to ask a seven-word question in 40:2, the first clause of which can be rendered several different ways, depending on whether the first word is a verb or noun/participle, the fourth word is a verb or noun and how precisely to render the two words in question: harob, yissor.  

 

Let’s first look at the two words. Most translations see the first, from rib (spelled the same as noun or verb), as the verb “to contend” or “to file a lawsuit.” It is a technical term for a lawsuit or bringing a lawsuit in the Hebrew Bible, and “contend” is meant to capture that. Before deciding on whether it is a noun or verb, we ought to note that Job had used rib twice (9:3; 31:35), though in neither case does it describe the fact or act of bringing a lawsuit. In 9:3 Job uses it generally to describe Job’s “contention” against God; in 31:35 it appears in the unusual phrase ish ribiy, usually rendered “my adversary.”  


But it is safe to say that God uses it here in the sense of a lawsuit. Job has brought his case (called a mishpat in 13:18); God now is saying that He is answering in kind, with what one might call God’s legal response. The word yissor may either be a hapax, a noun derived from the verb yasar (43x, “to discipline/chasten/instruct”), or a form of the verb yasar.  

 

One appealing way to deal with the problem is to see God holding out two alternatives to Job at this point in the legal proceedings. This approach depends on reading the word yissor as a noun (“faultfinder”). The two alternatives are for the “faultfinder” (Job) either to drop the lawsuit, because he realizes it is improper for the “faultfinder” to “bring a suit” (taking rib as a verb) against God or for the faultfinder to “answer" (anah).  That is, according to this approach, God is giving Job a choice: drop your case or continue it by answering me. 

 

If we adopt the suggestion that God is giving Job two alternatives on how to proceed in 40:2, as I am inclined to do, we are almost immediately presented with an interesting problem, because Job, in verses 4-5, decides to do neither of the two alternatives. Job will just shut up. Job’s desire to pursue a tertium quid when a third alternative wasn’t given might then lie behind the divine pique in 40:7-14, where God seemingly goes over the top in exposing Job’s impotence. 

 

Not everyone, of course, follows this approach. A different approach is presented in Clines. Clines reads the yissor as derived from the verb yasar, with the rib at the beginning being in a participial form so that the resultant translation is, “Will the disputant (participle of rib) with the Almighty correct (yasar) Him?”  

 

A third defensible approach is to read the rib as a verb and yissor as a noun, but take the noun yissor not as a faultfinder, emphasizing the “discipline-aspect” of yasar but as an instructor, emphasizing the “teaching-aspect” of yasar.  We then might have a translation: “Will the instructor bring a lawsuit against God?” If we render it this way, we would have God using subtlety to expose a potential weakness in Job’s entire “legal” approach. God would then be saying, 

 

    ‘You are the great teacher, Job.  You have instructed many, and you really were in an                          instructional mode now when you gave your speeches. It is almost as if you wanted to be my            teacher. Well, my only question is—what is a teacher doing bringing a lawsuit against the student      (i.e., God)? Don’t you think that a different method is required?’

 

Translating the two words in question this way would emphasize not so much the two alternatives that Job has at the moment (drop the lawsuit or answer God) but that God feels Job has made a major blunder in speaking about a lawsuit in the first place.  

 

Thus, we have at least three defensible ways of reading the first four words of 40:2. Whichever we select (and I favor either suggestions one or three), we have one more word before the “Let him answer…” at the end of verse 2. That word is mokiach, derived from the difficult verb yakach. We saw the word in 9:33 where it was rendered “mediator/umpire,” but it is probably better to see it as “one who corrects” here. The entire verse would then be rendered:

 

    “Will an instructor bring a lawsuit against the Almighty? The one who is correcting (i.e., Job), let 

     him answer. . .”