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48. Job 5:18-27, A Stereotypical Hope, Uniquely Stated

 

After anchoring his language firmly in the wisdom tradition in 5:17, Eliphaz begins to wander again with his words, even though all his concepts are well-represented in other biblical passages. The next several verses describe the pitfalls from which God will redeem Job (vv 18-23) and the future blessings which God will no doubt bring to Job (vv 24-26).  Eliphaz concludes with a verse we have already discussed— how he has searched out all of this and knows it to be true (v 27).

 

I will not present exhaustive word studies on every verb he uses. Yet several call for mention. God will bind up Job’s wounds (v 18) because God’s nature is to “make sore” or “inflict pain” (kaab) as well as to  “bind up” (chabash). God will “wound” (machats) and “heal” (rapha). Hosea lived in the eighth century BCE, perhaps about the time Job was written, and also wrote about wounding and healing. He used four verbs to describe God’s work in restoring the nation, two of which are in Job 5:18:  God “tears/rips” (taraph) and “heals” (rapha); God “strikes” (nakah) but “binds up” (chabash, Hosea 6:1).   

 

The most memorable use of kaab ("he wounds/makes sore" in Job 5:18) in the Bible is Genesis 34:15, where the sons of Hamor were “sore” or “in pain” (kaab) while recovering from their circumcision operations. Simeon and Levi, two sons of Jacob, struck them down and killed the men of their town while they were in their vulnerable state. Job himself will use the verb in 14:22, where he talks about the “grief” of life. Recall that Job will also “borrow” from Eliphaz the similar-sounding word kaas (5:2, vexation/anger) used by Eliphaz but used also by Job in 6:2. My theory of the relationship of speakers to each other in Job, especially Eliphaz to Job, is that the former bequeaths to Job several terms Job will find useful in his own defense. Rather than thanking them for giving him some conceptual ammunition, however, Job trashes his friends as useless. . .

 

The parallel verb for “wounding” in 5:18 (machats) occurs 14x and may be translated several ways, but for our purposes one of the meanings is, you guessed it, “crush.” Sometimes it is hard to differentiate precisely how God’s “crushing” something. The crushing in Numbers 24:17 (machatsdiffers, for example, from Deborah’s “shattering/crushing” the head of Sisera with a tent peg (also machats, Judges 5:26). Yet it renews my interest in Eliphaz’s well-honed vocabulary of “crushing,” which now includes at least three verbs (kathath, daka, machats).  


 

In pleasant biblical fashion, Eliphaz continues discussing the manner in which God will deliver Job. Using a common wisdom device of ascending numbers to describe experiences that can’t be numbered (e.g., “six this/seven that” means “a bundle of”; though the “three” and “four” of Proverbs 30:15 only means four), Eliphaz says that God will deliver (the common verb natsal) Job from “six troubles” (the common noun tsarah) and that “in seven” (troubles to be understood), no evil” (the common ra)  shall “touch” (naga, the same verb used for the Satan’s “touching” Job with his varied debilities) him. Sorry for all the parentheses. . .

 

Eliphaz’s confidence grows as he continues. God will deliver Job from all kinds of scourges. Four of them are mentioned in the next several verses: “sword, famine, beasts, pestilence” or chereb, raab, chayah, deber. Eliphaz is drawing on deep Biblical traditions for his list of scourges, even though his vocabulary differs from another classic expression of these scourges, in Psalm 91:5, 6. In that passage, God will deliver from the “terror/dread” (pachad, which we have already seen several times) of the night, and the “arrow” (chets) of the day; from the “pestilence” (deber) that walks in darkness and the “destruction” (qeteb) that “wastes/destroys” (shud) at noon. 

 

Eliphaz will go on to use the noun “destruction” (shad) twice in his catalogue (vv 21, 22). So, we begin to see how Eliphaz words both fit into and refine the biblical language of suffering and deliverance. But Eliphaz goes further in verses 22-23. God won’t just deliver from destruction or famine (Eliphaz uses the rare kaphen for “famine” in v 22); but Job will “laugh” (sachaq)  at them. Why? Because they won’t touch him.  Elihpaz is now getting carried away, and we can see that in verse 23, where Job will now have a covenant “with the stones of the field,” a unique biblical expression that makes one stop and wonder. Even inanimate nature will be on friendly terms with Job. The beasts also will be at peace with Job. Fancy that. A league of amity with stones and beasts. This certainly is the “Peaceable Kingdom” we have heard about somewhere. . .

 

Job’s positive future emerges from the deliverance God will provide. In words that drip with insensitivity even as we can imagine Eliphaz saying them with misty eyes and faraway look, Eliphaz says, “And you shall know that your tent will be in peace” (v 24).  Huh?? The whole problem that Job is experiencing now is precisely because his tent wasn’t in peace. It was torn away from him, destroyed by marauders, his family devastated by the gust of the east wind. Things can’t be mended that quickly, Eliphaz. 


Even though Eliphaz has just said earlier in the chapter that he came upon a foolish person and cursed his abode (naveh, 5:3), now he says that Job’s abode (naveh) will have nothing missing; nothing will be amiss there (using the verb for “sin” or “miss the mark”, chatah). Now we can understand how Job will explode in bitterness in the next chapter against his friends. Eliphaz’s optimistic, Panglossian words will lead Job to condemn all of his friends in Chapter 6 as treacherous companions. But what if Job had just been patient and said, ‘Pardon, Eliphaz, one small question. . .where is all this abundance going to come from? Didn’t I just have abundance?’  But, then again, an argument could be made that much of the great classic literature on suffering and longing for God or a better future would be non-existent if Advil had been invented 2,500 years ago. Thus, we ‘forgive’ the vehemence because we not only recognize it in ourselves, but we realize that it helps to sharpen perennial issues of meaning in life.

 

Eliphaz just keeps piling on insensitive statements, like the two Greek heroes Otus and Ephialtes who tried to assault Olympus by piling Ossa on Pelion. He believes he is delivering the very word of God to Job, but every vocable uttered is like a nail in Job’s psychological coffin. Eliphaz continues, “You shall know (again using yada, as in the previous verse), that your seed will be great, and your offspring as the grass of the earth” (v 25). God had spoken in Genesis 15 about Abram’s offspring being as numerous as the stars of the sky, but this one is a new one.  

 

Eliphaz mercifully finishes up his speech about this time. After the insensitive words about many offspring, he mentions that Job will come to his grave in ripe old age (v 26), using an analogy from nature to seal the case. One of the great ironies of the Book of Job is that Eliphaz’s words here will actually be shown to be true in Job 42. Job will have a numerous progeny, and will die in good old age. Yet at this point, that “prophecy” is a little too much for Job to bear. We will see his response to Eliphaz, and his own manner of arguing, as we turn to Chapter 6.