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70. God’s “Regard” of Job in 7:19

 

Job uses the verb shaah (“to regard” or "gaze" or “to look at”; 15x) only in 7:19 and 14:6, the intra-Job parallel to the despair of Job 7. Job 14:6 uses the same grammatical construction (shaah + the preposition mem or “from”) as in 7:19. In 14:6 Job asks God to turn the divine gaze away from humans so that they can “cease” or finally get some rest. We should see the same meaning in 7:19. Rather than the divine presence comforting Job, the divine absence is what he wants. We might even get a more granular understanding of shaar if we look at its first two appearances in the Bible, in Genesis 4. Twice in the Cain and Abel narrative the text tells us that God “looked at” (shaah) the  sacrifices of each (Genesis 4:4, 5). We might thus translate the verb, “look at with close scrutiny” or “look at critically.” Our meaning in Job 7:19 would be, “Take your searching and critical gaze away from me!”

 

Though I have pointed out how Job is often at odds with other sections of Scripture (Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 8:4; Psalm 27:13), in his use of shaah he seems sympathetically to share some of the same intellectual universe as the author of Psalm 39. After a most moving, but somewhat disjointed, series of thoughts, the Psalmist says, “Look away from me (shaah mem…) that I may have something to smile about (balag), before I walk and simply am no more” (39:13). The thought is remarkable not only because of the rare overlap with the language of Job in 7:19 but because of the Psalmist’s use of two other words, balag and eyneyni (“I am not”) that play a significant role in Job. It is almost as if Job takes comfort in the fact that one of the Psalms shares his mental world so significantly that he “gives a nod” to it by using two of its other phrases in a similar sense elsewhere in his work.


Let me illustrate what I mean. The Psalmist (39:13) wants God to avert the divine gaze from him so that he might “smile” (balag). Balag only appears three other times in the Bible, two of which are in Job. The two Joban appearances of balag appear ain Job’s next speech, almost as if there is an antiphonal call and response happening between Psalm 39 and Job. In Job 9:27, Job says, “If I say I will forget my complaint and forsake my (sad) face and be cheerful/wear a smile (balag). . .”  Then, in 10:20 he expresses an almost identical thought to that of Job 7:19 when he says, “Are not my days few?  Place from me (i.e., look away from me, though the text is problematic) so that I may smile (balag).”

 

If this isn’t enough, Ps 39 ends with the ominous word, “and I am not” (i.e., that I die or disappear). The Hebrew thought is expressed in one word, eyneyni, which is the word that ends Job’s speech in Job 7. Job is also thinking of his condition in which he “shall not be.” Perhaps Job gives us these three signals of dependence on the thought world of Psalm 39 because he is so grateful that someone, somewhere has understood his desire to be left alone. Would that God had understood him, too!