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85. Job 8:19, Concluding the Image—With Dust

19 See, these are their happy ways,
    and out of the earth still others will spring.

 

By starting this culminatory verse on judgment with hen hu (“thus this…”) the author/speaker is telling us that Bildad is actually going to be wrapping up this point. Though we might prefer that he just keep spinning out his vague statements interminably, we really do have to get back to Job’s suffering. That, indeed, is what the Book of Job purports to be about. We can’t let Bildad take us down too many rabbit trails. But before he gets to his words of hope for Job in verses 20-22, he says the following, “Thus this is the joy of his way and from the dust others spring up” (v 19). 

 

The unexpected reference to the “joy (masos 17x) of his way” makes us ponder.  Our first thought is that Bildad has completely lost it; the center has no longer held for him.  Even though the picture of judgment just painted is comparatively mild, under no stretch could we call it a “joy.” This has led scholars to their usual variety of tricks:  either to see the reference to the joy of the uprooted or destroyed plant as sardonic or to imagine that the masos is really not masos but is another word that looks pretty similar and means “dissolution” (Clines). So, if we are to accept this conjectural emendation, the translation would be something like,“This is the manner of his dissolution/falling apart. . .” The idea makes sense but, then again, a lot of ideas would make sense if we changed the words in the text. But it may be our best hope for meaning, since Bildad hasn’t shown himself to be particularly adept at humor so far. So, then the meaning would be something like, ‘This is how it all ends. . .’

 

But Bildad isn’t content to leave our heads spinning in meaninglessness; he has to add a final touch to it: “from the dust others spring up.” “Dust” (aphar, 110x) is a favorite word of Scripture, ever since God created humans from the “dust” of the earth (Genesis 2:7) and then promised humans that they/we are dust and to dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19). Now our hypocrite (chaneph), likened to a plant, has been swallowed up/destroyed (bala, v 18). We assume that the destruction of the hypocrite means that the “plant” which he is has fallen off the heap and now is lying in the dust, which would account for the reference to dust in 19b—from the same dust in which the plant is lying will others spring up. But, for all of Bildad’s nearly hallucinogenic images it just might be that the destroyed plant has taken wing and is now wafting over Peoria. Yet, we are kindest to Bildad if we see the reference to “dust” in 19b as triggered by the fact of the destroyed plant’s lying in its own heap of destruction in the dust next to the heap of stones.  

 

Ok, now that our plant has been destroyed (symbolizing the destruction of the chaneph), we see that “others spring up.” How are we to read that? Mostly in confusion, like almost everything else Bildad has said in the past few verses. The Hebrew verb “spring up” is tsamach (33x) which almost always is a good word in the Bible—from the springing forth of plants in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:5, 9) to the springing up of new growth when God will do a new thing for the people of God after exile (Isaiah 43:19). The impression given in 8:19, then, is that other good things spring to birth once our chaneph is lying, destroyed, on the ground.  

 

But that would kind of defeat the purpose of what Bildad is saying. He is delivering, after all, a word of judgment, even though some scholars have decided that verse 19 converts the plant image in verses 16-18 into a positiveone. When he says that “others will spring up/sprout,” then, he could mean that other hypocrites will likewise just repeat the sad pattern of our clinging plant or that others will spring up and perhaps do a better job. Because he is unclear, we are left in a muck of unclarity. Perhaps that is ultimately what judgment is about in the Scripture—not piecing screams of pain; no eternal physical torments; no spears stabbing the body or regrets suffusing the mind; no abject pleas for reconsideration or messages to be brought to surviving relatives to reform—but simply people speaking lines that make no sense all day long—and we have to listen to them. Now that would truly be a most exquisite torture. If I had been Job, I might have said to Bildad at this point, ‘Friend, I missed a few things you said. . .would you just start from the beginning again?  Come to think of it, maybe not. . . .’