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45. Job 5:9-11, The Nature of God Upon Whom One Should Call, Essay 1

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.

 

What follows in the next several verses (vv 9-16) is not the content of Eliphaz’s prayer when he seeks God or a method that Job might use when he he prays, but a catalogue of wonderful things that God does, tailored to Job’s situation. Most readers of this passage have commented on the “traditional” nature of this catalogue, but what stands out to me is that even though every assertion has parallel expressions in Scripture, the place Eliphaz ultimatly ends up seems very “un-wisdom-like.” Verses 9-11, describing the glories of creation, are standard assertions that would find ready acceptance from every believer in Yahweh. But once he speaks about God’s turning the tables on people, especially in verses 12-14, he begins to be in tension with, if not contradict, the heart of the wisdom tradition. Verses 15-16 are probably meant to apply it all to Job and thus give him hope in his distress.  A word on each mini-section, in separate essays, might be helpful.  Here we will focus on verses 9-11.

 

The language of verse 9 is among the clearest of Eliphaz’ many sentences. Job should call on God, “Who does great things, for which there is no searching out, wonderful things without number.” The word for “no searching out/unsearchable” is cheqer, a noun, the verbal form of which appears in 5:27 when Eliphaz is winding up his speech.  Eliphaz will say at the end of his speech that everything he has said has been well-researched, well searched-out (chaqar) .Eliphaz has carefully sifted and searched out everything he says. This stands neatly in contrast to 5:9, where God is said to beyond searching out. The things that make God’s ways unsearchable is that they are “marvelous” or “wonderful” or “extraordinary” (from the verb pala).  Pala occurs more than 70x in the Bible, often to describe God’s “wonderful deeds” (I Chronicles 16:12, 24) or “miracles” (Exodus 3:20; 34:10).  

 

So “orthodox” or standard is Eliphaz’s idea 5:9 that Job will repeat it nearly verbatim in 9:10 when he is singing the glories of God. He also uses the same word (pala) in 42:3, when confessing that God can do “marvelous” things. Both sides of the debate can agree: God does great and unsearchable things, marvelous things without number.

 

An example of those marvelous things is given in verse 10. God “gives rain on the face of the ground, and sends out water on the face of the fields” (literally “on the outside”).  Ten neatly balanced words, in two clauses of five words each, give the impression of complete symmetry or firm divine control over the world. You ask yourself—if Eliphaz can be so utterly clear and poetically balanced, why does he also write/speak with such frustrating imprecision? Well, some questions are never answered here in this life. . .The Psalmist will talk about God’s renewing the face of the ground in Ps 104:30, though a few of the words are different from Job 5:10. We are, however, in a similar thought world. 

 

God not only brings rain to the earth, but lifts up those who are downcast. God “places the lowly/humble on the heights, and those in mourning he places inaccessibly high in salvation” (v 11).  The lowly are the shephalim, which is from the same word as the Shephelah, the Israelite lowlands. God raises these to the heights.   

 

More interesting in verse 11 is the second phrase, where the “mourners/those in black” are “raised inaccessibly high (sagab) in salvation.” The verb sagab appears 20x in the Bible and in most instances it describes either a God who is exalted (Job 36:22) or God’s people who are placed in a high and secure place (Psalm 20:1). Those who are raised so high are the qedorim. The verb qadar appears 17x in the Bible and mostly means “to be black” or “to grow dark.” Job will use the term in his next speech (6:16) when he takes what I call “Job’s Rabbit Trail # 1” in describing things that are “black/turbid because of ice.” Its four appearances in the Psalms are best translated “mourn” (35:14; 38:6; 42:9; 43:2), and that informs our translation here. God raises the mourners to a protected position of salvation or safety (yesha).