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84. Job 8:17-18, Continuing with the Obscure Imagery
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.’
In short, we presume that the “heaps” of 8:17 are “rocks,” rocks that protrude upward, and rocks around which roots are tangled. These are all well-founded presumptions. We have no idea how plants can have roots wrapped around the heaps, but the image I most cherish is of an upside-down plant with roots nestled in the very top of a heap of stones that rises from the earth. Ah, maybe the judgment is that the chaneph, likened to this plant, has to be upside down all the time. I would find that pretty uncomfortable.
The fun continues with the second thought of verse 17, “he looks upon the house of stones.” Of course the image is hazy, but I want to follow up from the perspective of a person who is now likened to an upside-down plant. Such a plant has eyes and looks out from its upside-down perch, with roots lodged above the heap, and what does it see? A house of stones. My. That is interesting. Is this “house” another heap? Or Is it something more organized, a structure that someone has built in the past? ‘Hmm. . .let me build a house of stones near the heap. . .’ Maybe that is what some guy said in the deep past, not knowing that this very heap and that very stone house would be the subject of inspired Scripture. I can imagine the maker of the house of stones, if he is still alive, breathlessly running to his wife and saying, ‘Honey, our house made it into the Scriptures! That is even better than making it into ‘Western Home’ or ‘Sunset Magazine.’ Can you imagine what that will do to our property values?' I am sure a scene like that stood behind this rather simple text.
Well, according to my image, we have the hypocrite as an upside-down plant looking out a a nearby stone house. We would love to know what he thinks of this stone house. Is he elated? sad? indifferent? How about envious?
Ah, perhaps an emotional feeling not described by Bildad when discussing the upside down plant with roots on the heap gazing longingly at the house of stones was perfectly captured by Psalm 68:15-16. After all, I have argued that Job and the Psalms seem at times to “talk to” each other. Why not talk to each other here? Those verses read:
15 O mighty mountain, mountain of Bashan;
O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!
16 Why do you look with envy, O many-peaked mountain,
at the mount that God desired for his abode,
where the Lord will reside forever?
So is it too much to say that we, by interweaving two passages from Sacred Scripture, might infer that this upside-down plant while gazing at the house of stones felt a twinge of jealousy? Envy? Maybe deep meditation on the fate of the upside down plant of Job 8 led the Psalmist to write these lines; conversely, maybe Bildad, overwhelmed by the power of the Psalm, applied it to his plant. We are really getting somewhere now, even coming up with a potential reason for the ultimate judgment on the chaneph (jealousy). After all, didn’t Eliphaz just say that “envy killed the simple” (5:2)? Bingo. Bildad would warmly concur.
We have to notice in this context the actual verb that was used to describe the look of the upside-down plant towards the house of stones: chazah. Though often rendered simply as “look” or “see,” it is often enough used to describe someone who sees a vision (Numbers 24:4) or actually “sees God” (Exodus 24:11) as to give us pause. Our upside-down plant, then, is gazing with deep spiritual perception at the house of stones not far off.
Bildad is not done with his literary torture. What happens to this upside-down plant, with roots above the heap, which is looking longingly at the house of stones which I have posited was built by a guy who now is reveling in its increased value? Verse 18 tells us: “It is destroyed from his place and it/he will say, ‘I never have seen you.’” Bildad certainly keeps our interest! This upside-down plant will be “swallowed/destroyed” (bala, 49x) from its place.” Now what might that mean? Bildad is probably the last person we should look to for help. Apparently the chaneph, likened to a plant, was doing just fine with its roots wrapped upon the heap. It was just lazily sitting there, gazing (perhaps with envy) at a house of stones. No doubt this is what most upside-down plants would like to do.
But the party is over, plant! Perhaps with no more notice than Job received in Chapter 1, the plant is “swallowed”/“destroyed.” It is destroyed “from its place.” The sad reality, then, for this plant is that it must somehow become dislodged from the friendly heap of stones which it encircled and, no doubt, fall to the ground. So, there we have it. Our proud plant, twining around the heap, looking longingly at the house of stones, is now lying in a heap of its own on the ground, next to the heap of rocks. We see it in our mind's eye and we grieve. We aren’t told what or who the subject of the verb bala is, leaving us no explanation for this summary and ignominious removal of the plant from its place.
Stanching our tears, we continue to the next thought. “It (or he) will deny (or deceive/lie) it/him and say, ‘I have not seen you/I didn’t see you.’” What could this mean? If we continue our thought of the plant now lying unceremoniously as its own heap next to the heap of rocks because it was destroyed by some unknown force, we then hear a voice coming from somewhere. This can happen. After all, doesn’t the Scripture say, “I heard a voice which I had not known” (Psalm 81:5, though that phrase is subject to different translations). So, our plant, no doubt suffering the combination of ignominy and pain, now hears a voice. Maybe this voice will be one of comfort or understanding. Maybe it will be the voice of a gardener saying, ‘Let’s hook this baby up again to the heap.’
But instead we have a denial followed by “I didn’t see you.” Is this the semi-apologetic confession of a heedless tourist who has heard about this unusual upside-down heap-clinging plant looking at the house of stones and wanted to come to see it but, upon getting to close, inadvertently knocked it down and said this statement? Maybe the guy wasn’t even saying it to the plant because he might have thought that plants weren’t being likened to people (or vice versa) and so he might have just said, to no one in particular, “I didn’t see you.” Like we might say when we inadvertently bump into someone.
Now, under my interpretive scenario, we have a richly-peopled scene. The hanging plant has attracted tourists. The builder of a stone house is delighted that his house is being mentioned in Scripture. If only the chaneph likened to a plant could speak! What would he say? He might say to the tourist, “No problem, guy, but please hang me up again on the heap.” But he can’t speak because he is a plant and not a person. So, there he is, lying in a heap next to the heap, in shame and destruction. No longer will he gaze with longing at the house of stones in the distance. No more will he imagine pleasant meetings that might have taken place between him and the owner/builder of such a home. His world has been reversed, and all he can do now is to suck the dust.