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63. Job 7:4 More on Job’s Futility
As has been said previously, some of Job 7:4 is similar to Deuteronomy 28:67. We may translate verse 4 as,
“When/if I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise? And the night stretches out. I am full of tossing to and fro until the dawn/dusk.”
Deuteronomy 28:67 has,
“In the morning you will say, ‘Who shall give evening?’ In the evening you will say, ‘Who shall give morning?’ You shall be terrified because of the terror in your hearts, and you will see the vision of your eyes.”
Both passages talk about the inability to find comfort for a sufferer. It reminds me of a friend’s complaint a few weeks after a painful surgery: “I have no position in which I can get comfortable.” The sufferer constantly wishes for a new situation or new condition in life, but it won’t happen. What will make this condition more terrifying is mentioned in verse 6—a disorientation with respect to time. But here we just have a desire for a different time, for morning when it is evening.
Yet there is a hint at disorientation of time even in verse 4 because of the appearance of nesheph, possibly to be rendered “dawn” and possibly as “dusk,” as the last word of the verse. Nesheph appears 17x in the Bible, and in 15 of those it is indisputably rendered “dusk” or “night” (It may mean “dawn” in Psalm 119:147, but a closer reading of that passage shows that “dusk” is the more logical translation). To make it very clear that its primary meaning is “night” rather than “dawn,” Proverbs 7:9 has the repeated clauses, “In the nesheph, in the evening (ereb, same word as in Job 7:4), in the black of the night and darkness.” One might see these as four different stages of the night—dusk, evening, late night, midnight— but they all point to the end of the day, rather than its dawning. Thus, rather than quickly rushing to the translation of “dawn” for nesheph in Job 7:4, which every translation I have seen does, why not keep it as “dusk” or “twilight”? It would be a sign that Job’s time categories are becoming confused. Thus, let’s just keep the translation of “to the dusk” at the end of verse 4. It may seem at first to make little sense to say “I am full of tossing and turnings until dusk,” but it accurately reflects Job’s topsy-turvy world.
We still have a few more words that deserve comment from verse 4. The first is the word translated as “stretches out” (the hapax middad). It no doubt occupies the same meaning field as the similar-looking verb madad (“to measure,” 52x) and a verb we have just seen in verse 3 (manah, to “number” or “to enumerate”). So, we literally we have “When shall I arise? And the night measures out. . .” Many translations have the satisfying, “And/but the night is long.” The Deuteronomy passage in dialogue with Job 7 had several r-g words; here Job centers on the m-a/m-d verbs.
One difficult clause to render in verse 4 is usually translated “I am full of tossing to and fro.” It represents two Hebrew words, the first one being easy (“I become full”) and the second being difficult: the hapax verb nadud. Normally when you run into a hapax you ask two questions: Is its form similar to a word we know? Then, Is it in a parallel or other kind of construction such that meaning can be inferred from the context? In this case the former provides the most help. Nadud is similar both to nadad (28x) and nud (24x). Fortunately, both nud and nadad occupy a similar meaning universe. They mean “to wander, flutter, waver, shake, move to and fro” (primarily nud) or “flee, wander, flap (wings), depart, chase away, fugitive” (primarily nadad).
These verbs provide a colorful linguistic background for understanding nadud. Job is most likely saying not that he is “full of fleeing” or “full of wavering” but “full of shaking/tossing.” In this case the traditional translations seem to be justified. He is “tossing and turning all night.” Interestingly, in the most famous poem of the tradition most famed for its poetry, ancient China (诗经 or Book of Poetry, poem 1, “The Ospreys”), the phrase 辗转反侧 appears at the end of the second stanza. It is best rendered “tossing and turning” but in this context it describes the frenzied thoughts of a lover who has not yet successfully secured the target of his search. He “tosses and turns” thinking of his beloved. Job is tossing and turning for another reason.