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61. Job 7:1-6, A Window Into Job’s Desperate Life
A useful outline of Job 7 is:
Job 7:1-6, A Window into Job’s Desperate Life
Job 7:7-10, Life Is a Vanishing Breath
Job 7:11-16, Nothing to Lose!
Job 7:17-21, Turning A Famous Scripture (Ps 8) on Its Head
1 “Do not human beings have a hard service on earth,
and are not their days like the days of a laborer?
2 Like a slave who longs for the shadow,
and like laborers who look for their wages,
3 so I am allotted months of emptiness,
and nights of misery are apportioned to me.
4 When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I rise?’
But the night is long,
and I am full of tossing until dawn.
5 My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt;
my skin hardens, then breaks out again.
6 My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,
and come to their end without hope.
After seemingly coming out on top in the confrontation with friends in Chapter 6, Job’s tone changes dramatically in 7:1. There is stark beauty in what he says, though the overwhelming tone is one of hopelessness. He might be a better debater than the friends, but that doesn’t change the basic realities of his life. The life Job lives is full of pain, suffering and emptiness.
There is a striking similarity between the tone, vocabulary and flow of Job 7:1-6 and Job 14:1-14. If we look at the structure of the Book of Job, we see these as quiet mini-interludes, where the intensity of what has just taken place is followed by this more somber and ruminative reflection on human life. If we take Job 28 as the final ruminative escape from the flow of the narrative, we see we have a finely crafted poem that gives its readers these breaks every seven chapters, mostly to give a pause from the difficulty of what has come previously. We note an absence of a “break” around Job 21 which, in my mind, accounts for the fact that interest in Job 21-27 is much lower among readers of Job than the other parts of the book. I doubt if there is one person in a million who can quote one verse from Job 21-27, much less provide the flow of the argument. The author has “erred” in not giving us a similar break in Job 21. It is just a little too hard for almost all mortals to keep up sustained interest in the intensity of argument, and a catalogue of obscure words, from Job 14-28 without a break.
Let’s point to a few of the similarities between Job 7 and 14 that support my statement in the previous paragraph. The similarities are not only in general idea of the fruitlessness of life, but in the vocabulary used. Life is one of “trouble” (tsaba) in 7:1; that “trouble” is called rogez in 14:1, but also tsaba in 14:14. The problem with life is that humans are just wage earners or even corvee laborers (depending on how you render sakir, which appears both in 7:1 and 14:6). There really is nothing to do but to “wait” for life to end. Job 7 expresses this waiting through qavah (v 2) while Job 14:14 uses the synonym yachal. Both Job 7 and 14 are very aware of the futility of time as it passes (7:3; 14:5). We might even look at Job 14 as a commentary or midrash on Job 7, further clarifying the short, but desperate, life of humanity.
7:1 continues Job’s questions which he had begun at the end of the previous chapter. “Isn’t there only trouble/warfare for humans on earth? Aren’t his days like the days of a hired laborer?” The two words that move the action in verse 1 are tsaba and sakir. The first is usually translated as “time of service” or “hard service;” the image behind tsaba is a military one. The word appears more than 480x in the Bible and generally is used to describe either the (angelic) “hosts” of God or the “hosts” of Israel as they go out to war. This meaning morphed into the battle itself or warfare in general. Finally, its broad stretch can include the service of those who go into battle. Thus, when we see the word in 7:1 we think immediately of the dangerous, unremunerative and painful service of soldiers in warfare. Some have also suggested that tsaba might include the concept of forced (peacetime) labor, when people are conscripted to do tasks needed by the state.
However we read it, verse 1 begins with a plaintive recognition that our days are days of warfare and trouble. We are constantly battling things. That is the sense of tsaba. The second half of the verse provides little relief: our days are those of a “hired worker” (sakir). Sakir appears just 17x in the Bible and is always translated as “hired worker” or “hireling,” and is derived from the 21x-appearing verb sakar, which means “to hire” or “to earn.” Other words in the “sakar-group", like the nouns sakar or seker, are translated as “wages,” though sometimes they may be “reward.” Job 7:1, then, just asks about the difficult and unsatisfying nature of human life. Isn’t it all just warfare and trouble and working for wages/working at the mercy of someone else?