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64. Job 7:5-6, The Futility Continues
Deuteronomy 28:65-67 describes the fearful realities that will fall upon a disobedient and refractory people. Verse 67, as we have seen, talks of the fear that stalks their hearts, resulting in a sleeplessness that desires the morning when it is night, and vice versa. Verse 65 describes the effects on the body that their exile will bring: there will be “no repose” (raga); there will be no rest (manoach) for the sole of their feet; the Lord will give them a heart of trouble/trembling (rogez); their eyes will fail (kilyon), and their souls shall languish (daabon).” Both kilyon and daabon are rare; the former appears just one other time, the latter is a hapax.
Job speaks of the bodily effects of his distress in 7:5. He doesn’t draw upon the rare vocabulary kilyon/deabon. He has already neatly explored the idea of rogez. What he does is draw upon the verb rendered “no repose” (raga) and combine it with a brief description of other bodily distresses to give us a verse that is half clear and half opaque. First, the clear part: “My flesh is clothed with worms/maggots and clods of dust.” I suppose I spoke too quickly. We aren’t sure what the word gish/gush means, a hapax that usually is rendered “clod” or “lump.” Clines gives us a translation that differs from mine: “My flesh is covered with pus and scabs,” though Seow stays with the traditional “clods” to render gish/gush.
The first thing covering or clothing the flesh is rimmah, a 7x-appearing word that is always rendered “worms.” I suppose it is a bit of a stretch for most of us to see ugly little round things crawling on Job’s sores, and so Clines sought refuge in a word somewhat similar to a later Arabic word that doesn’t mean “pus” but one can imagine how it can mean “pus.” That is what translators, even excellent ones, have to do. I am willing to let the worms crawl in and the worms crawl out here—and so we have a situation that suggests slithering earth-bound creatures feasting on Job’s ugly, suppurating lesions. Right up there with being crushed before the moth. . .
As just mentioned, only a bit more problematic than the body clothed with rimmah is the next phrase: gush aphar. I am not sure why gush is rendered “clod” or “lump,” other than it seems similar to an Arabic word that means “rough ground,” but “clods of dust/dirt” makes sense here. Aphar is the familiar word for “dust” or “dry earth.” Many translations have either “worms and scabs” or “worms/maggots and dirt” but there are only so many translation choices you can make at this point. Skin doesn’t crawl with asps.
What is difficult, however, is the rendering of the pair of verbs raga and maas that end verse 5. Here are some translation suggestions: “my skin is broken and festering” or “my skin hardens and breaks out afresh” or “hardens and runs” or “is broken and becomes loathsome” or “forms scabs and then oozes” or “becomes rough and then breaks out afresh.” If there is a consensus in these renderings, it appears that the first verb (raga) is taken as the skin hardening/closing up (maybe Job has shooed off the worms and given the wounds a chance to “harden”) and then breaking out again. Part of his endless torment, then, is that his skin keeps hardening and festering, becoming rough and then oozing.
I don’t see it that way. We begin with raga. As already indicated, this 12x-appearing verb is very hard to translate. Jeremiah has half of the appearances, but his usages seem as contradictory as others. On the one hand, God is said to “stir up” the sea (Jeremiah 31:35, where raga is in parallel construction to hagah, “to murmur/growl”); on the other it appears to be used in parallel construction with damam (30x, primarily “to be silenced” or “made quiet”) and shaqat (41x, mostly “to be quiet”) in Jeremiah 47:6. In my mind, the concepts of disturbance and quieting are contrary.
So, where do we go, we who love meaning? Our best source might be Deuteronomy 28:65, which I have called the “intellectual background” of these verses in Job. There the verb raga is used in parallelism with manoach, “to give rest/rest.” So, I think it makes most sense to translate raga in Job 7:5 with words such as “become silent/die down/become quiescent.” Job’s wounds then would not necessarily be healing, because the point is that worms may still be crawling all over him, but they, like his inconstant spirit that wants both night and day at the same time, are becoming deadened or insensate. They become less prominent perhaps because he can’t feel the extremities anymore.
They also maas. Normally this 75x-appearing verb is rendered “to reject” or “despise.” We have that sense very clearly, for example, in Job 19:18 where Job complains “Young children despise (maas) me.” Twelve of its 75 appearances are in Job. What is interesting is that there may be a gradual movement in scholarly circles to render maas without an object as “fade away” or “waste away” rather than “despise.” The crucial passage on this is Job 42:6, where a translation of “fade away” or “waste away” rather than “despise myself” may be warranted. In Job 7:16 (same speech as 7:5), where maas also appears without an object, we may most profitably translate it, “I waste away.” I will try to render it like that here.
So, the two verbs in verse 4, raga and maas, describe Job’s skin, perhaps as a result of worm infestation. When combined with the lumps of dirt that seem to be caked to his body, we best render this section as, “My skin becomes deadened and wastes away.” He is seeing the decomposition of his body right before him. The body is shriveling, drying up, even disintegrating before his eyes. That is the horror, in my mind, of the raga/maas combination. These words don’t describe festering sores; they describe a rotting body. Job is feeling the utter terror of seeing his body die right in front of him. This terror is compounded by the sense that Job is now a despicable and ugly sight.
Verse 6 can either be seen as the closing verse of the segment beginning with verse 1 or the opening verse of the next section. In my mind it makes little difference. Job continues in the next section (through v 10) with his piteous lament, even if he doesn’t focus on his bodily discomfort. Verse 6 speaks of the rapidity of his days. It might seem strange to focus on the fact that his days “are quicker than a weaver’s shuttle” (v 6) when he has just complained about how each night stretches out in length, but now we as readers are fully brought into Job’s disoriented time warp. The verb usually translated “to be quick” (qalal) can also be rendered “be cursed” or “consider light.” One might also see it as “make light” or “to treat as trifling.” The speed of his days here makes most sense because it is likened to the movement of a weaver’s shuttle or loom. The thought is identical to Job’s words in 9:25, “My days are swifter (same verb qalal) than a runner; they flee away and they see no good.” In Job 7:6, they come to their end (kalah) without hope (tikvah, which we have seen three times previously—twice in Eliphaz’s mouth—4:6; 5:16—and once on Job’s lips—6:9). By saying this so clearly, Job is emphatically rejects the rosy picture of Eliphaz in 5:17-27. We almost imagine Job ready to launch into a serial denial of each optimistic clause in 5:17-27, but he probably is too exhausted. All he can say is that his days are expiring. . .without hope.