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49. Job 6:1-7, What Did You Expect From Me, Silence? Job’s Rejoinder
We may profitably divide this chapter as follows:
Job 6:1-7, What Did You Expect from Me? Silence?
Job 6:8-13, Please Crush Me, God!
Job 6:14-23, The Treachery of “So-called” Friends
Job 6:24-30, Show Me How I Have Sinned in This Instance
1 Then Job answered:
2 “O that my vexation were weighed,
and all my calamity laid in the balances!
3 For then it would be heavier than the sand of the sea;
therefore my words have been rash.
4 For the arrows of the Almighty are in me;
my spirit drinks their poison;
the terrors of God are arrayed against me.
5 Does the wild ass bray over its grass,
or the ox low over its fodder?
6 Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt,
or is there any flavor in the juice of mallows?
7 My appetite refuses to touch them;
they are like food that is loathsome to me.
We are now ready not just to hear Job respond to his friend but to have some clarity and order restored to the discussion. Whatever we might feel about the thoughts Job uttered in Chapter 3, at least we know where he stood and where the argument was going. It began with a curse on his “day,” continued with a reverie or time-out in an imagined realm, and ended with trouble before his eyes. We saw that Eliphaz, too, could be clear, but he often veered off into maddening obscurity. Our hope that clarity will be restored in Job 6 will, however, soon be dashed. Job will, like his friends, be an elegant speaker but he will also use his share of difficult words and will pursue rabbit trails that make him very difficult to follow.
Yet, his speech starts in such a promising fashion. Job’s opening word is the short lu, an interjection that is best rendered “Oh” or “If only. . .” In 9:33 Job expresses his fondest wish by using lu, “If only there were an umpire. . .” In 16:4, using the same lu, he says “If I only were in your place. . .” Abraham used the little word most memorably in Gen 17:18 after receiving the news that his wife would bear another son for him: “If only (lu) Ishmael would live before you!”
In verse 2 Job truly, sincerely, ardently (literally "if only," lu) wants his kaas to be weighed out. As mentioned above, he borrows kaas neatly from Eliphaz in 5:2. There Eliphaz had said that anger killed fools. Now Job ‘redeems’ the word by applying it to his own condition. He definitely is no fool, and he wants his anger to be front and center in his response to Eliphaz. In 5:2 anger ‘’kills.” Now anger will give Job energy. I argue elsewhere that anger is Job’s root or anchor emotion in the First Cycle of speeches. Just as Eliphaz’s first word in 4:2 indicated that his speech would be about “testing,” so Job’s speech in response will be about anger. It begins as anger against the friends, but it will mature into anger against God. “If only my anger were weighed. . .” is a good translation of his first words in Chapter 6.
The verb for weighing out is used twice here, in the infinitive absolute and Qal imperfect, to express the strongest possible accuracy of the scales. “O that my anger were thoroughly/accurately weighed” is the sense. The verb for “weighing” is shaqal, the noun form of which is the Sheqel, the coin. It has been “weighed out.” Job is creating a picture of weighing in Job 6:2, but we don’t know what the scales really looked like. They could have been scales with two plates, with his anger on one plate and the “sands of the seas” (v 3) on the other, with the anger outweighing the sands. If the “sands of the seas” suggests all the sand on all the beaches of all the seas, we get an arresting picture of what Job is saying. It could be that the anger is just “heaped” on a one-plate scales, with the outcome being that the weight is heavier than the sand, which may have been weighed separately. But let’s not lose the sense that Job’s anger is rising here; he thus utters these words almost in a challenging fashion: ‘Oh, let me weigh out my anger; we will see if it kills, as Eliphaz says. . .’
Job wants his “calamity” (hapax hayyah) to be placed in the scales (mozen, 15x). Mozen is familiar from other passages of Scripture where, for example, “a just balance” is commended (Leviticus 19:36; Proverbs 16:11). But then we have the word hayyah which, in its current form, is a hapax and probably is identical to the similar-looking word havvah, which means “calamity” or “destruction.”
Verses 3 states the conclusion of this little exercise. If someone could weigh Job’s calamities, they would be weightier (the common verb kabad, “to be heavy”) than the sands of the seas. Nothing heavier can be imagined than Job’s anger and complaint. Job finishes his thought in verse 3 with a word that has bedeviled translators: “Thus my words have been luwa.” Luwa only appears one other time in Scripture (Obadiah 16) and may mean something like “swallow” in that case. Many scholars believe that the luwa in Obadiah 16 isn’t the same word as in Job 6:3. Various translations that have been suggested are “swallowed up” or “useless” or “powerless” or “wild” or “rash” or “vain” or “idle.” As a sign that no one really knows what luwa means is that two leading Job scholars in our day, Seow and Clines, translate it as “grievous” and “unrestrained,” respectively. We really don’t know, even though it is great fun to guess. Formerly translators tried to connect luwa with the verb lu (“to swallow”) but now they are more inclined to connect it with laa (“to talk wildly”).Some have also tried to connect luwa to the verb yala, appearing in Proverbs 20:25, usually translated “devour,” but yala is a hapax, plunging us deeper into our translation funk.
I used to be frustrated when coming across a seemingly crucial word in Job and finding it to be unclear. After all, if luwa does mean something like “wild” or “rash,” one might ask the question, ‘Is Job here admitting that he has overspoken and perhaps even sinned with his mouth?’ On the other hand, if it is ‘idle,’ he might be expressing the frustration that often accompanies the feeling of powerlessness. It sometimes just feels like the words are spoken in vain, into the wind as it were. Which is it??
But rather than seeing the unclarity as an occasion for frustration, why not see it as part of Job’s literary strategy? At the crucial moment, he deftly pulls the plug, leaving us yearning and destabilized. We thought we heard Job say “terr…” but then we lose reception. The word mighthave been“terrible” or “terror” or “terrific.” So it is with Job’s words. His anger is clear. The quantity of his anger is clear. But we don’t know what he is saying about his words—my best guess is that Job is admitting not fault but awareness that his pain has driven him to extreme expression in his words. Thus, if I were getting paid for my translation, I would say, “Therefore my words have been a bit overcharged.” Sinful? No. But perhaps slightly over-the-top. Cut him a break. He’s suffering.
We now enter into a clear but most hopeless verse (v 4). It can, rather literally, be translated,
“Because arrows of the Almighty are with me/in me, whose anger/poison my spirit drinks; the terrors of God are neatly arrayed against me.”
Note that when we were talking about the list of plagues from which God will deliver the faithful person (Psalm 91:5-6), one of them was the “arrows” (chets 44x) of the day.” Eliphaz used a number of words from that Psalmic catalogue of disasters in his first speech in Job 5; he didn’t, however, use the word chets. Job makes up for that ‘deficiency’ here. The divine arrows are present throughout Scripture (Psalm 38:2 is an example), most viciously in Psalm 57:4 (v 5 in Hebrew), where the teeth of the Psalmist’s enemies are “spears and arrows” and their tongue is a “sharp sword.”
God has shot the divine arrows here, and Job is the target (v 4). Target practice on Job—a theme that will also end this speech (7:20). We often think that God’s closeness to people is one of the special blessings of faith, but Job will turn that observation on its head. Here the divine closeness means that God has set up Job as a target for the divine arrows. Yep, another direct hit! The divine arrows are said to be imadi, which means either “against” me or “with me” or “in” me. The second clause of verse 4 reiterates the idea. Instead of the typical word for poison (either rosh or merorah, the latter of which Job uses in 20:14 as a “bitter thing”), Job uses the common chemah (“fury” or “anger”, 122x) to describe the poison. “My spirit drinks their wrath,” is a fair rendering of it. Job, the thirsty one, drinks in the wrath of the arrows. The liquid which he so needs is in reality a poison, seeping into all parts of his body, silently but effectively depriving him of strength as he comes to the point of death. It would be interesting to have a seminar on antique poisons. . .
The verse concludes with a very rich phrase: “The terrors (biuthim) of God are arranged/arrayed (arak) against me.” The verb arak creates a nice visual picture for us—like an army drawn up in battle array (Genesis 14:18). What else is “arrayed” or “arranged” in the Scriptures? Wood for the sacrifice of Isaac; bread on the plate outside the Holy of Holies. Now, apparently, the “terrors” of God are also neatly arrayed against Job. Line them up neatly, so they can do their most devastating work. Whenever the verb arak is used, we know that someone has had to take care to do a lot of planning. Job no doubt feels that God has been carefully arranging these terrors specially for him. Biuthim (“terrors”) is derived from the verb baath, to “terrorize” (16x), but as a noun it appears only here and in Psalm 88:15-16.
Speaking of Psalm 88, it is the most hopeless Psalm, leaving us in the realm of darkness and terror with no way out, with no word of hope or divine presence. The Psalmist says, “I myself am afflicted (using a very powerful and euphonious ani ani, though with two different Hebrew words); I have been dying from my youth. . .your fierce wrath has gone over me; your terrors (biuthim) have cut me off.” This Psalm passage ends with an interesting verb that Job picks up on in 23:17. Whereas the Psalmist will be “cut off” or “silenced” (verb is tsamath) by the divine terrors, Job will not let himself be “silenced” (tsamath) by the “darkness” (choshek, 23:17). By the time we reach Job 23, Job has his moxie back; rather than bemoaning his fate he will not be silenced. But we get ahead of ourselves. . .
In Chapter 6, so far, we see a Job who feels besieged, beleaguered, attacked, victimized. The arrows of God are the instruments of it here. Not only does Job feel the tearing pain, but the spreading poison begins to suck the life out of him. He is in the most desperate straits.