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81. Job 8:13-19, The Reality of Judgment

13 Such are the paths of all who forget God;
    the hope of the godless shall perish.
14 Their confidence is gossamer,
    a spider’s house their trust.
15 If one leans against its house, it will not stand;
    if one lays hold of it, it will not endure.
16 The wicked thrive before the sun,
    and their shoots spread over the garden.
17 Their roots twine around the stoneheap;
    they live among the rocks.
18 If they are destroyed from their place,
    then it will deny them, saying, ‘I have never seen you.’
19 See, these are their happy ways,
    and out of the earth still others will spring.

 

By connecting verse 13 to verse 12 through the use of “thus" ("Such" in the NRSV), Bildad is now saying that the godless are like withered or dried-up papyrus. It depends on your context, of course, but most hearers could probably take this news standing up with the drink in their hand not even sloshing around. But Bildad presses ahead. The paths of all who forget God are like the withered papyrus. Perhaps he even brought a withered papyrus leaf and laid it at the foot of Job’s ash heap to aid his point. ‘Look at that, Job…that’s the fate of the godless!’ Job probably had other more pressing pains on his mind.

 

The last phrase of verse 13 merits attention. The noun chaneph is derived from the verb of the same spelling, which appears 11x and is normally translated “to pollute.” Land is the thing most often “polluted” (chaneph) because of people’s infidelity (Numbers 35:33; Psalm 106:38). Thus, “one who pollutes” is one who is unfaithful or ungodly or a hypocrite. 8/13 appearances of the noun chaneph are in Job; everyone uses it at least once: Eliphaz (15:34); Bildad (here); Zophar (20:5); Elihu (34:30; 36:14); Job (13:16; 17:8; 27:8). Job pretty much concurs with Bildad’s sentiment here in 13:16, “This will be my salvation, that the godless (chaneph) shall not come before him.” Job is really not “deficient” in his theology; it is just that his theology is now adding new categories and new doctrines the likes of which his friends have never encountered.  

 

It’s interesting that the word chaneph plays such an important role for Job when it is nearly absent in the rest of the wisdom tradition. Normally the people who are judged in that tradition are fools, the simple, the lazy and their relatives; the “godless” somehow don’t enter into their ken. Perhaps this is another reason supporting a later date for Job, or seeing Job as a responsive reaction to Proverbs; Proverbs only once picks up on chaneph, a term that could have been very useful for it. Why does Job use it? No definite answer, but it is very similar in sound to an unusual verb Job has just used in 7:15 to express his desire. He prefers being “strangled” (chanaq). The final “p” of chaneph and “q” of chanaq are mirror images of each other when written in Hebrew. Maybe that is why the godless look like an inviting target to clobber for Bildad—they are "almost" strangled.  

 

As mentioned above, Blidad divides the judgment of the chaneph into two parts: verses 13-15 speak of his judgment as a person; verses 16-19 speak of him likened to a plant.  As a person, we know his hope (tiqvah) will perish (v 13).  Verse 14 continues the list of experiences such a person will encounter. Literally, v 14 reads, “His foolishness is cut off, and the house of the spider is his trust.” 

 

Almost every word in verse 14 invites consideration.  Most translators render the first word “confidence” (root is kesel)  to try to be consistent with how they translate a word from a similar root (root is kislah) in Eliphaz’s mouth in 4:6.  But I tried to give a reason why the latter word should be rendered “foolishness” in 4:6, consistent with the meaning of the k-s-l root. We are in the realm of foolishness here, without any admixture of confidence. In almost every instance in the Bible, with one or two exceptions in Proverbs, the k-s-l root is best rendered “foolish/foolishness.” Let’s try to maintain that consistency here.  

 

So, the ungodly (chaneph) person demonstrates foolishness (kesel). What happens to such a person? He is qut, a hapax (three letter form is q-t-t) that usually is rendered “cut off.” Many translations render it “fragile,” supposedly to make it consistent with the parallel thought in the second part of the verse, but rendering it “fragile” is an admission of defeat. Bildad has just used the verb qataph in verse 12 (“cut off”/“plucked”). I tend to look at the qut as relating to qataph, though having the final ph, well, cut off. Thus its meaning and shape would argue for “cut off.”

 

If Eliphaz is the master of crushing (daka; kathath), then Bildad seems to favor “plucking off” or “cutting off.” Job used the verb batsa (“cut off”) when expressing his heartfelt desire that God would eliminate him (6:9). Job/Zophar use the word batsa again in 27:8, also in connection with the fate of the chaneph. Bildad will use yet another word, namal, for “cut off” in 18:16. Yet, that latter word may have been “borrowed” from Job’s use of it in his eloquent and long poem in Job 14 (v 2). Thus, Bildad’s notion of the godless getting “cut off” in various forms complements Eliphaz’s “crushing" fixation.  But Bildad also is fascinated with things drying up and thus dying. The papyrus plant is the first instance of this (8:12); perhaps it was the power of that image that made him directly say that the wicked (rasha) rather than the chaneph will also “dry up” (yabesh) in 18:16.  Crushing/cutting off/drying up—this is the troika of terrible punishments awaiting the godless/wicked.