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82. Continuing on Judgment in Job 8:14-15

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.

 

There is more. In the second part of verse 14 we have, “The house of the spider is his trust.” People who try to give eloquent translations usually render it, “his trust is like a spider’s web.” It will be important that we keep the word “house” in our translation because of its appearance also in verses 15, 17, though nearly all translations 'clean it up' and render it as “web.” It is unusual that Bildad will use the word beth ("house") here thrice since he favored naveh (like his companion Eliphaz, in 8:6) to express the idea of a dwelling previously; he will also use “his place” in verse 18 (noun is maqom), a phrase first given him by Job.  

 

Many commentators point to a parallel with Quran 29.40 to lend support for the notion that in the Semitic world the spider’s web was considered fragile: “Those who take for themselves a protector other than God are like a spider that builds a house for himself.  Surely the spider’s house is the weakest of all houses.” Clines says that the flimsiness of the spider’s house is “proverbial” in Arabic literature. No question—the spider’s web must univocally suggest “flimsiness.”

 

But not so to the spider. He doesn’t weave his web thinking that he is making a flimsy dwelling. A web is actually a pretty serviceable thing for a spider—it provides an easy way for him to move, and it envelops his prey in an unsuspecting way. One might say, “Well, from the perspective of a human, a spider’s web is flimsy,” and that ultimately may be what is going on here, but I don’t easily run to that conclusion. If we did, then we can point to anything on earth as flimsy depending on the perspective of the one judging. Thus, mountains might be characterized as “flimsy” from the divine perspective. By quickly allowing ourselves to run to a “human perspective” on the spider’s web, we may unwittingly be disallowing the use of analogies of stability in the Bible. For, after all, from God’s perspective the stable things are unstable, strong things are weak. There is no such thing as strong or stable or lasting things in the Bible because, in the final analysis, it isn’t so to God. That brings us rather closely to the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence, a doctrine that is pretty far away from where most of the Bible spends its time. 

 

But perhaps that is the point.  The hypocrite is quite satisfied with his spider’s web dwelling. It provides security. Ultimately it will be unstable, but first let’s recognize its serviceability. The word beth (house) links verses 14 and 15.  Verse 15 says, “He shall lean upon his house and it/he shall not stand. He shall make it strong, but it/he will not rise.” The translation is difficult, even though each of the words is crystal clear.  We have an image of a person “testing out” the thing in which he has put his trust, the spider’s “home,” leaning on it, and either it or he then collapsing. The second half of the verse suggests to me that he then tries to shore it up, making it strong, but it won’t “rise”—i.e., he won’t be able to rebuild the “house” that has come crashing down.  There is no verb for “crashing down”—all we have is the rather tame lo amad, or “it/he will not stand.”  

 

The verse points to the instability of the chaneph's or hypocrite's sources of trust. Though only the word beth overlaps in verses 14-15, verse 15 is strangely reminiscent of Amos 5:19, describing the instability and danger attending the advent of the Day of the Lord. That Day is likened to a man who flees from a lion and encounters a bear, or comes into his house (beth) and “leans” (different verb—samak, meaning “to place one’s hand on”) his hand against a wall and a snake bites him. “Leaning” in Job 8:15 is shaan (22x) which carries with it the concept of “trusting” as well as “leaning.” Thus, the meaning of verses 14-15 is closely connected. The fool, or hypocrite, will trust in the “house” he has built, it won’t stand.  He tries to shore it up (my rendering of the hiphil of chazak) but it won’t “rise” (qum).  

 

For all his systematizing and potentially cruel tendencies (“(if) your children sinned against him,” v 4), Bildad’s description of the fate of the hypocrite is remarkably restrained. The house of the chaneph collapses. That is about as bad as it gets. No visitation of weird boils on unsuspecting descendants for many generations. No being wiped out by hordes of marauding raiders. No permanent exclusion from divine presence while ingesting hot balls of molten iron. Bildad is incredibly, and somewhat mystifyingly, muted.