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62. Job 7:2-6, Continuing on Life’s Futility
If Job 14 provided an ‘intra-Job’ commentary or midrash on Job 7:1-6, so Deut 28:65-67 also provides some ‘extra-Job’ linguistic or intellectual background to help us understand this passage. That may beg the question of the time of composition of Deuteronomy. Suffice it to say that the curse oracle of Deuteronomy 28 was probably written long before it appeared in final form in Deuteronomy and was derived from a well-known curse oracle in antiquity, perhaps emerging from Assyria farther to the east. Though Deuteronomy 28:65-67 records a curse on the people/nation of Israel, Job uses the words in reference to himself and his suffering.
The most obvious connection with this Job passage is Job 7:4 with Deuteronomy 28:67, “In the morning, you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening! and at evening you shall say, ‘Oh that it were morning. . .’” But there is more. The curse of Deuteronomy 28 has people having no “repose” (raga) once they arrive among the nations where God exiles them. This rare, and difficult to translate, verb (raga) also appears in Job 7:5 where his skin eruption is briefly hinted at. Further, Deuteronomy 28:65 plays on the r-g sound in Hebrew to provide three words to anchor that text. God will drive people into foreign nations. These are nations where “there is no repose” (r-g) and there will be no rest “for the sole of their feet” (r-g-l),and God will there give them a trembling (r-g-z) heart.” The only reason we would translate raga as “rest” here is because of its parallelism with manoach, which means “rest.” The bad news of Deuteronomy 28:65, then, is captured by the “r-g” sound, a sound Job picks up in 7:5, though less felicitously than in Deuteronomy 28. Finally, the situation in which the people will find themselves in Deuteronomy 28 is raggaz or “trouble or distress or trembling.” Raggaz is obviously from the same root as the word rogez, a noun “owned” by Job (5/7 appearances of it are in Job, including 3:26; 14:1) and rendered “trouble.” Thus, Job is mapping a potential national disaster onto his personal distress in this passage.
With that as background, let’s turn to the language of Job 7:2-6. Verses 2-3 are one thought and may be rendered:
“As a servant who longs for the shadows, and as a hired laborer who awaits his wages, so I have inherited months of vanity; nights of weariness are measured out for me.”
The language is suffused with brilliant hopelessness. The second half of the thought (v 3) is expressed in a neat chiasm, i.e., a “crossing” grammatical pattern, where the first and last ideas of verse 3 are parallel, and the middle two thoughts are parallel. The first half of the thought (v 2) uses two more words for laborers/servants or the wages they earn. Sakir (“hireling”) appears also in verse 2, but because the verse is all about servants and wages, our author needs more words to describe the life of a servant. He is “like a servant” (ebed, a common word for “servant”); this servant will wait for (qavah; the verb for “wait” in Job 14 is yachal) “his wage” (from poal, or “his work”).
But two words in between are the fascinating ones. The servant “longs for” (sha’aph, 14x) the “shadows” or “shelter” or “shade” (the common tsel). Though not appearing frequently, sha’aph can be rendered in several different ways. Eliphaz has already used the word in 5:5 to describe how schemers are “eager” for wealth. The same meaning is present in Job 36:20, where Elihu urges Job not to “long for” the night. Interestingly, the verb even makes it into Psalm 119, that great Psalm on the delights of the law of God. The Psalmist says, “I opened my mouth wide and panted or yearned or longed (sha’aph), for I greatly desire your commandments” (119:131). Yet in Psalm 56:1, 2 it appears to be best rendered as “trample” or “swallow,” describing the actions of the foes toward the Psalmist. Its appearance in Ezekiel 36:3 may best be rendered “crushed.” Yet, here it makes most sense to see the servant longing for “the shadow.”
The word tsel (“shadow,” 49x) often merely describes the darkness cast by a body placed between the sun and the ground. At times it is a positive concept, as when the Psalmist says, “The Lord is your shade (tsel) on your right hand” (Psalm 121:5). Yet, the “shade” may also be a harbinger of death. The Psalmist also talks about our life as a “passing shadow” (Psalm 144:4, tsel used for “shadow”), where the word for “passing” is abar, the same word Job had just used in 6:15 to describe his friends who either “pass away” or “overflow.” We recall they were like the “passing brook” or the brook that disappeared in the heat of the summer. So, the “passing shadow” is one that disappears. That is the nature of human life according to Job. He is the exhausted one, just trying to make it through life, a life that is rapidly passing away.
Verse 3 functions as an application of the general principle of verse 2 to Job’s life. Job is now the one who inherits this hopelessness and meaninglessness, quoted above. The language is made unusually powerful because of the verb nachal (“to inherit”) at the beginning of verse 3. Often translators render nachal here as “allot,” but “inherit” captures the rich theological meaning of the verb for Israel. Its corresponding noun, nachalah (228x), is the word often used to describe the promised land as the “inheritance” of the people. In powerful and sonorous words, Yahweh tells Israel to “remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel” and that “they shall inherit” (nachal) the land before them (Exodus 32:13). Numbers 18:20-21 uses the noun twice in a pointed way, when Yahweh tells the Levites that they shall have no “inheritance” (nachalah) in the land because God shall be the “portion” (chalaq); the tithes of Israel shall be their inheritance (nachalah).
Job says that he inherits shav,“vanity,” or “months of shav.” 7/52 appearances of shav are in Job; a full fourth of them are in the Psalms. It can be translated as “futility, vanity, emptiness.” Its first appearance is in the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20:7, where one is not to take the name of the Lord in vain or to consider it empty or of no force. The word seems to stick in Eliphaz’s mind; he will use it twice in his next speech (Job 15:31) to talk about shav being the reward or portion of the wicked.
But Job supplements the shav with the familiar amal (trouble). Amal is familiar because we have already seen it in 3:10 (“hide trouble from my eyes”); 4:8 (“those who sow trouble reap it”) and 5:6 (“trouble doesn’t spring from the ground”). Job is developing a mini-vocabulary of distress, and now we have amal, evel, rogez, tsarah and often their corresponding verbs. There still are other words that , such as “vanity” (hebel, made famous by the “vanity of vanities” rant of Ecclesiastes 1:2, but also present in Job 7:16; 9:29 and three other places in Job), but Job is the leader in language of loss. Finally, this distress or trouble is “measured” out to him by night. The verb is manah, the common verb for “numbering” or “measuring out.” This is its only appearance in Job. Sometimes it appears in tandem with saphar (“to count”) such as in I Kingsb 3:8; 8:5. One might say that manah is numbering in an enumerative sense: it often appears as “counting” the dust of Jacob (Numbers 23:10) or the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16). Thus, when Job uses it here, it may add to his desperation: the months not only drag out, but each night is “numbered,” as if he can remember the private torment of each one of them (i.e., ‘Ah, Wednesday night it was a gripping headache; Thursday was unbearable joint pain. . .’).