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44. Job 5:8-16, Calling on God


8 “As for me, I would seek God,

    and to God I would commit my cause.

9 He does great things and unsearchable,

    marvelous things without number.

10 He gives rain on the earth

    and sends waters on the fields;

11 he sets on high those who are lowly,

    and those who mourn are lifted to safety.

12 He frustrates the devices of the crafty,

    so that their hands achieve no success.

13 He takes the wise in their own craftiness;

    and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.

14 They meet with darkness in the daytime,

    and grope at noonday as in the night.

15 But he saves the needy from the sword of their mouth,

    from the hand of the mighty.

16 So the poor have hope,

    and injustice shuts its mouth.


We have seen how Eliphaz has been imprecise in his words and has taken verbal detours with Job. Yet, he also is capable of clarity and even eloquent writing, especially when describing his experience of the night vision in 4:12-16. Most of his verbal detours or unclarities were seemingly harmless, e.g., when he discussed five types of lions (4:10-11) or even potentially entertaining or humorous, e.g., when we had to imagine how people are crushed before or by moths (4:19). His detours are distracting, nevertheless, and we can understand why people abandon studying Job if encountering too many of these detours.


But when he moved to the realm of ideas, his imprecision actually becomes somewhat frustrating. For example, he seemed to be talking about the general fate of humanity at the end of Chapter 4, with tent-cords plucked up (v 21) or with them being shattered all day long (v 20), but in Chapter 5 his focus shifts to the fool, the evil in Hebrew. The fool and his sons are in a precarious position and, like the general run of humans in Chapter 4, also die. The sons of the fool in 5:4 are crushed with the same verb as the general run of humans in 4:19, though the fool’s sons are crushed in the gates of the town while the general run of people are crushed before those famous moths. But once we seemingly are focusing on the fool and his sons in 5:2-4, Eliphaz returns to the general fate of humans. Their trouble seems to be in themselves and also seems to be inherent in the human condition rather than something encountered because of foolishness (5:6-7). All of this is confusing and not very rewarding.


He returns to clarity in 5:8-16 and presses on relentlessly as to what Job ought to do; he ought to seek (darash) God. More precisely, verse 8, if read literally, is just a statement of what Eliphaz does: “But I will seek God, and to God will I commit my cause.” But almost all interpreters have taken this as a gentle recommendation by Eliphaz to Job: “But if it were me, I would see God. . .” We have run into the common verb darash, used in an unusual way in 3:4, where Job doesn’t want God to “seek out the day.” Here the language is more familiar, where humans “seek out” God. Biblical examples of this are legion. Deuteronomy 4:29 has “But from there you will seek (baqash)  the Lord your God and you will find him when you seek (darash) him with all your heart and all your soul.” The most memorable use of darash in connection with seeking God is in Isaiah 55:6, “Seek (darash) the Lord while he may be found.” Eliphaz’s encouragement for Job to seek God, then, is fully consistent with the full range of the biblical tradition.

Two more things about verse 8 are noteworthy. First is the word to describe what is to be submitted to God. It is the last word in the phrase, “and to God I would commit my cause” (dibrah). Dibrah only occurs 5x in the Bible, but is obviously derived from the hyper-common dabar, a "word" or "matter." There is some minor scholarly debate over whether the word should be read here in a generic way, such as “submit one’s concern” to God, or a more specific way, such as “submit one’s case to God.” The former translation suggests that Eliphaz is perhaps encouraging Job to utter a general prayer to God; the latter might even envision a more formal legal process. Using the word “cause” is a good way to handle the issue at this point. We simply don’t know how specific Eliphaz is being. Yet it raises the intriguing possibility that the ultimate idea for Job to pursue his lawsuit or “case” (mishpat, 13:18) against God so eloquently came from Eliphaz’s and not from Job’s own fertile mind.


Second, we should listen to the sound of the Hebrew of 5:8. Seven of the nine words begin with aleph; when we recognize that a waw conversive precedes another word beginning with aleph, we have an incredible 8/9 words beginning with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Four of the words, all in a row, are functionally the same:  el el el elohim (“to God, and unto God”). Eliphaz is either demonstrating a rather rare and unexpected eloquence here or has developed a stutter.  

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