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72. Job 7:20

Back to Job 7. Job poses the first question of verse 20 to God, the “watcher (from the verb natsar, 61x) of humanity.” Usually when the verb natsar is used in connection with God it is because God benignantly watches over humanity or the people of Israel. “You are my hiding place; you preserve (natsar) me from trouble” (Psalm 32:7) or “the Lord preserves the faithful” (31:23; see also Deuteronomy 32:10). Yet, the verb can also be used to describe humans who “preserve” or “guard” something of special importance. Natsar appears an incredible 10x in Psalm 119, all of which uses emphasize the Psalmist “keeping/observing” God’s law (e.g., 119:115, 129). In Job 7:19, however, Job turns the concept of God’s “watching” of Israel on its head. He asks, 'Why should I be of so much concern to you, you eagle-eye watcher of Israel?'    

 

Job’s words then turn from defiant to plaintive. “Why have you made me your target/obstacle?” I have hedged my translation possibilities because the hapax miphga (“target/obstacle”) is the noun form of the verb paga, which means to “meet/encounter.” It is translated “target” by most interpreters, but the form of the word might best be rendered, “that which is encountered” or “a stumbling block/obstacle.” Little hangs on which alternative we choose, though maintaining the traditional rendering of “target” connects well with his earlier thought of the “arrows of God” that have penetrated him (6:4), a thought that finds its counterpart in Psalm 38:3, “For your arrows have gone deep into me. . .” 

 

He finishes this verse with the ultra-sad, “And I have become a burden (masa) to myself.” The great theologian Augustine used the phrase, “I have become a puzzle to myself,” as a way of stimulating his interest in autobiography, an autobiography which is perhaps the world’s best known expression of that genre. Job’s assertion that he has become a burden to himself likewise provides creative fodder for him to explore all the contours of that term for the rest of the book. Burden to himself, to God, to the friends.  Yet, he too will turn that heavy load into the most creative exploration and faith and loss that the world has yet seen.

 

Though we don't know precisely when the Psalms actually became collected together in their current order, or even in mini-collections that might pre-date its current order, it is curious and not a little amazing that Job, who has just used the thoughts of Psalm 39,  now mirrors the language of the early verses of Psalm 38. We recall that in this speech Job had said that God’s arrows (chets) had gone into him. Job now wants to know if he has sinned (chata) against God (7:20) so that he has become a burden (Job’s only use of masa).  He requests God to pass over (abar) whatever sin (avon) is in him.  

 

The early verses of Psalm 38 reflect this world and this language of Job. After pleading with God not to rebuke him in anger (a theme that Job will explore, with a different word, beginning in 9:13), the Psalmist continues. “For your arrows (chets) have gone deep into me. . .” “There is no health in my bones (etsam, the same word that Job has just used in an unusual expression in 7:15) because of my sin” (chata).  My iniquities (avon) have gone over (abar) my head,” (Psalm 38:3-5). Then, to crown or highlight the similarities, the Psalmist says, “As a heavy burden (masa, the only appearance of masa in the Psalms), they are too heavy for me” (v 5). Perhaps one of the reasons why Job seems to suggest the confusing possibility of his having sinned in 7:21 is that he is following the language of Psalm 38 closely, where the Psalmist confesses his sin. Yet, Job will be using that language for his own purposes. His thought would be, in verse 21, ‘Whatever sin I have committed (and I wish you would tell me, God, since I asked the friends to do so in 6:24 and they aren’t much help), just cover it.’ Job doesn’t believe he has done anything remotely deserving the suffering he experiences. He uses language of Psalm 38, even language that is a bit contrary to the meaning in Psalm 38, to express his willingness to be taught.