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60. Finishing Job 6
Even though the emotional temperature of their encounter is rising, by the end of Job 6 he (Job) has not yet thought about a legal case; he is still hoping that his friends can shed some light on his terrible suffering. ‘I am playing straight with you; please play straight with me,’ is the gist of 6:29. The thought is then repeated, with a two-fold emphasis on “turning” in 6:29. We might render it, “Turn now, let there be no injustice; turn once again, my righteousness is in it.” The double appearance of “turn” (shub, a very common verb) suggests that Job is asking the friends now to “think again” about the matter or perhaps even, as we might say, to ‘turn over a new leaf.’ The double “turn, turn” functions as an invitation to his friends to look at things with closer scrutiny, to pay closer attention to what is right before their faces. Another way of rendering the somewhat enigmatic “my righteousness is in it,” is, as David Clines suggests, “my integrity is at stake.” Maintaining integrity is of prime importance for a person for whom integrity is a basic virtue.
Instead of language of tam or yashar for integrity (as in 1:1), we have the words evel and tsadiq in 6:29. The first word may be translated “injustice” or “unrighteousness” or “wickedness” or, in nineteenth century terms, “iniquity.” Job has a disproportionate share of evel’s appearances (12/53). Its closest parallel in usage in Job is at 27:4, where Job says, “My lips will not speak evel, nor will my tongue mutter deceit.” Fascinating about Job 27:4 is the twofold appearance of im, left untranslated, so that the real meaning is “‘If my lips have spoken evel, and if my tongue has muttered deceit,” let xxx happen.’ Near the beginning of his words, then, Job utters a solemn oath; near the end of his words the same oath language is present. Job can’t be any more specific than to stress that he feels he has done nothing wrong in this instance, that he will swear to it, and that he would like an explanation for why he is suffering so severely.
Job 6:30 repeats the idea of 6:28-29 and then takes it one step further, “Is there evel on my tongue? Can my palate not understand deviousness?” The translation is not without difficulty. Fortunately, the first part is fairly clear. In language similar to the preceding verse, 6:24, and 27:4, Job asks them if there is any evel on his tongue. It is almost as if, by asking this twice or three times, Job is asking, ‘Any injustice on my tongue? Going once, going twice. . .nope!!’
The last five words of verse 30 occasion some problems. It begins with that little word im again, suggesting some kind of oath or wish to be judged if the following thought is untrue. What is that thought? Whether his “palate” or “the roof of the mouth” (chek, 18x) can discern (bin, the very common wisdom tradition verb for having wisdom or discernment) havvah? We are in the realm of taste, and the most disproportionate appearances of chek in the Bible are in Job (7x) and the Song of Songs (3x). Chek may either refer to the mouth itself or the mouth’s ability to discern taste. \The latter seems more appropriate in Job 6:30; he is asking whether his “taste buds” can discern something.
What that something is is a bit of a mystery. Havvah appears only 15x in the Bible, all but one of which appearances are in Job, Psalms or Proverbs. In Psalms it generally occupies the meaning field of “calamity” or “destruction,” while in Proverbs it can mean that as well as “craving” or “greed” (Proverbs 10:3; 11:6). But if we read it in parallel construction with the evel of the first part of the verse, we might tend to wander into the world of “injustice,” though Clines along with Seow translate it as “falsehood.”
Other translations are all over the map, though they tend to break down into two major approaches. Approach A is what I call the “calamity/disaster” approach. One translation has “taste disaster,” while the NASV has “discern calamities.” Approach B is the “perversity or craftiness or falsehood” approach. The KJV has “discern perverse things,” with the NIV’s “discern malice” being similar. A modern Jewish translation has “discern crafty devices.”
There are worlds of difference in meaning based on these renderings. If we see it as “calamities,” we are in the world of Job’s loss, while if we render it as “discern crafty devices,” this might be a not-so-subtle dig against the friends. From a pure “denotation of word” approach, the translation of “calamity” or “disaster” is more appropriate. Yet, from a theological or “flow of the argument” approach, a better rendering is “craftiness.” Let’s do the Yogi Berra approach, taking both translations. If we did this we would render the phrase, “Can’t I really discern what is going on?” (i.e., calamities and perversities; we might even justify this grammatically by saying that havvah is derived from hayah, “to be/become”). Job is saying that he has the sense to begin to realize that this disaster is larger than his friends can explain; he also is saying that their treatment of him is bordering on perversity and falsehood. He is confident of his ability to pick up on what is happening. The rest of the Book of Job will see Job gaining in confidence as he clarifies his emotions and then makes his case.
But instead of launching immediately into the idea that ended Job 6, of his ability to perceive what is going on (he will develop that in 7:11ff), he now presents us with a beautiful, and hopeless, meditation on the brevity and futility of life (next essay).