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51. Job 6:8-13, Please Crush Me, God!

 

8 “O that I might have my request,

    and that God would grant my desire;

9 that it would please God to crush me,

    that he would let loose his hand and cut me off!

10 This would be my consolation;

    I would even exult in unrelenting pain;

    for I have not denied the words of the Holy One.

11 What is my strength, that I should wait?

    And what is my end, that I should be patient?

12 Is my strength the strength of stones,

    or is my flesh bronze?

13 In truth I have no help in me,

    and any resource is driven from me.

 

We are starting to get a window in to the pattern of argumentation in Job. Usually for each identifiable section (and the boundaries of each section aren’t always clear), there is one, or perhaps two, major points but these points are often then surrounded by two kinds of unclarity: linguistic and logical. Linguistic unclarity relates primarily to words whose meanings aren’t clear, either because of our ignorance of the ancient language or because the author might be deliberately unclear. Logical problems arise primarily because we have certain expectations of how an argument ought to flow, but Joban argumentation, like the Jordan River, frequently bends and twists, seemingly meandering with no clear “goal” as it flows through the land. But usually we can learn one or more points. At times the text will surprise us with breathtaking power, such as in Eliphaz’s night vision of Job 4. If we don’t let ourselves get bothered by all of this, we will have a good time with Job.

 

The central idea of this section is Job’s desire for God to end his life. In Chapter 3 he expressed a desire never to have been born; here he wants to end the life he now has.Job will never, however, use language of suicide or self-harm. He will request God to “cut him off.” The language is often not very clear in this section, though we can easily descry the mountaintop through the thick haze.  

 

Verses 8-9 constitute Job’s request to God. Rather than saying clearly like the Psalmist, “I asked one thing of the Lord; I will seek it; I (would) dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his house,” (Psalm 27:4), it takes Job a little while to return to clarity after the confusion of verse 7.  Literally we have, in verse 8, “Oh that my request would come, and that God would grant my hope.” In other words—here is what I want! Job is ‘clearing his throat’ to get our attention.  

 

The word for “hope” (tiqvah) appears unexpectedly frequently in Job (13/34 appearances). Yet a moment’s reflection will explain its frequency. The word is often on the lips of Job’s friends, who proffer a rather false hope. Sometimes when it is on Job’s lips it is because there is no hope (“So, you (God) destroy human hope” in 14:19, or “He has uprooted my hope like a tree,” 19:10). The word “hope” is frequently present in the speeches primarily because its reality is absent.

 

Verse 9 consists of two parts: “that God would be pleased to crush me” and “that his hand might spring up/jump up/leap and cut me off.” The thoughts are parallel, but each invites consideration. Job begins with the verb for “to be willing” or “to please” (yaal, 19x), a thought that neatly links the verse with the “request” or “supplication” language of the preceding verse. Yaal twice appears in Abraham’s debate with God over the fate of Sodom (Gen 18:27, 31) and there means “to dare” or “to venture,” but normally it means “to be willing.” Its clearest parallel in meaning to Job 6:9 is II Samuel 7:29, where Solomon asks God, “Now therefore, may it please you (yaal) to bless the house of your servant. . .” Job is similarly addressing God here, asking for the divine pleasure to be exercised.

 


In this case it is the pleasure of crushing, rather than blessing. This is the third time in as many chapters that daka (“crush”) appears. Eliphaz has crushing on the brain, when he spoke of people being crushed before the moths (4:19) and the sons of fools being crushed before the gates (5:4); he has bequeathed that verb to Job, who finds it useful here. Note that Job doesn’t want God to “abandon” him or “reject” him or “cast him away.” Rather, he wants God to crush him. The fact that Job uses daka here is perhaps the strongest argument that Job is listening to his friend at this point, even if, as we have just seen with Job’s use of kaas (“anger”), he often wants to use their words for his purposes.    

 

It is interesting to reflect for a moment on Job’s choice of being crushed when so many other alternatives of dying or of restoring to life are out there. Why doesn’t he pray for God to reverse his fortunes? Why doesn’t he take up the liturgy of the Psalms, which often end with a note of optimism after exploring the depths of human loss? Neither liturgy or prayer for salvation is Job’s choice; he uses the “gift” of Eliphaz’s favorite word (daka) and applies it to his situation.

 


The second half of the verse is slightly less clear.  Most translations render natar as “let loose” or “unleash,” but it only appears seven other times in the Bible, with its only other reference in Job probably best rendered “leap” or “jump” (Job 37:1, where Elihu anticipating the coming of God, talks about his heart “leaping” from its place). Its two appearances in the Psalms (105:20; 146:7) are best rendered “to release” or “set free,” which is probably behind the majority translation here, but I want to cling to the word “jump” or “leap” for a second. Normally we don’t say, “My hand jumped” or “my hand leaped,” but if we recognize that Job is emphasizing the suddenness and decisiveness of the contemplated divine action, then we might be excused for mixing metaphors here with hands jumping. Job wants a sudden and decisive annihilation at God’s hands. 

 

He wants to be cut off (batsa). Though batsa (17x) can be translated “to be greedy” in Jeremiah and elsewhere, it often has to do with being injured (Ezekiel 22:12) or breaking something (Amos 9:1) or, as in Job 27:8 and here, to be cut off. Perhaps the closest parallel to its meaning here is in Isaiah 38:12, where batsa describes the weaver, who cuts (batsa) the threads of the loom one by one. That is what Job desires.  'Cut off the last little thread of my existence, though don’t do it one by one. Make it fast. . .'

 

Sometimes, when studying a verb like batsa, you wonder how the meaning of a verb evolved in Biblical Hebrew. You ponder if there was a basic or “original” meaning that then morphed over time, or if totally different meanings emerged spontaneously in different places. Thus, the verb batsa makes us wonder about the evolution and meaning of words. I’ll stay with everyone else and translate it as “cut me off.”  The thought, then, would be parallel to the first part of the verse.