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94. Job 9:13-24, God’s Anger and Moral Confusion

 

13 “God will not turn back his anger;

    the helpers of Rahab bowed beneath him.

14 How then can I answer him,

    choosing my words with him?

15 Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him;

    I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.

16 If I summoned him and he answered me,

    I do not believe that he would listen to my voice.

17 For he crushes me with a tempest,

    and multiplies my wounds without cause;

18 he will not let me get my breath,

    but fills me with bitterness.

19 If it is a contest of strength, he is the strong one!

    If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?

20 Though I am innocent, my own mouth would condemn me;

    though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse.

21 I am blameless; I do not know myself;

    I loathe my life.

22 It is all one; therefore I say,

    he destroys both the blameless and the wicked.

23 When disaster brings sudden death,

    he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.

24 The earth is given into the hand of the wicked;

    he covers the eyes of its judges—

    if it is not he, who then is it?

 

It’s bad enough for Job that God treated him as if he were a prisoner and needed to put a guard over him (7:12-21). But here Job ramps up his allegations against God. God’s doing so to Job indicates that God is controlled by divine anger, an anger that goes back to primordial times (9:13). Job sees very few alternatives at this point. He can appeal for mercy to his judge/for his right (9:15), but he doesn’t feel inclined to do so. Yet, any other path of approaching God seems fruitless. God may give the impression of listening but, in fact, God will not listen to Job’s voice (9:16). God will just continue his violent actions against Job—breaking him with a tempest and multiplying his wounds (9:16).  A contest of strength would quickly be lost by Job (9:19).  

 

Yet, Job doesn’t want to make this a contest of strength. He would like to have it be a time for justice (9:19, 20). But even in a more formal court of justice, Job also believes that he will lose big time against God. God will just make things work so that Job’s own words condemn him. God will find a way to make Job admit his perversity (9:20).  Faced with all this, Job simply despises his life (9:21).  This is nothing other than divine moral confusion, where the guiltless are mocked and the faces of judges are covered (9:24).  It is a sorry, sorry situation in which Job now finds himself. 

 

Though Job will unleashe frustration, anger, and bitterness towards God in this section, he will also refine that bitterness in later chapters, becoming more specific about the type of wounds inflicted on him by God and more cynical about whether he will ever really get a fair hearing from the divine judge. All of this makes it hard to understand, at least at this point, how Job can be commended by God in 42:7, 8 for “speaking right” about God.  But we will, I hope, eventually arrive there and have to try to explain that verse, too. . . 

 

Job 9:13-14 may be rendered as follows:

 

      “God will not bring back (shub) his anger; under it the helpers of Rahab bowed. How then                   will I answer him and chose my words with him?”  

The last sentence may also be rendered as a statement rather than a question. It might then read, “Certainly (aph) because I will answer him, I will choose my words with him.” (i.e., Job now knows both the power of God and the danger of seeming to “harden himself” in approaching God. He has to be very circumspect in what he says). The point that connects this section with the preceding is the common verb shub in both 9:12, 13. In verse 12 we saw that God snatched away, and no one could make God give things back/return them. Now God will not “give back” (make stop) the divine anger. The thing most desired by Job would be the return of his seized (chataph) property and dead children; God not only won’t return those, but God wont return from the divine anger.  

 

The major step taken by Job in these verses is to characterize the divine anger as not simply a whim or an example of current pique, but to say that it was present with God from primeval times. We have seen that God overturned mountains in the divine anger (9:5), and now we see God was in the habit of crushing primeval monsters (Rahab) under his anger; perhaps that occasion provided God a modus operandi for future conflict. Just crush them!  Display the divine anger and the rest of creation flees or submits. Maybe Eliphaz is onto something with his frequent reference to verbs for "crushing."

 

In 9:13 Job doesn’t seem to be pointing to a story that we know about from other sources. The Babylonian Creation story talks about the victory over Tiamat by Marduk, and various Ugaritic myths, nearer in time and space to the Book of Job, give us a list of characters and actions that can’t easily be said to be parallel to this verse. Yet the Bible itself gives some hints of a divine battle with primeval forces in several places, among which is Isaiah 51:9, 

 

            “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm  of the Lord!

            Awake, as in the days of old, the generations of long ago!

            Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon?”

 

Other verses, such as Psalm 74:13-14, Job 26:12 and Psalm 87:4 indicate to us that God’s setting up of the world was done with some struggle. All Job says here is that “beneath” (tahath) it or him (God or the divine anger), bowed down/lie prostrate (the common verb shachach) the helpers of Rahab.

 

Mythology thus serves theology.  The theological point is that the mythic stories tell us something about God’s nature—God has been controlled by a spirit of anger ever since these pre-creation times. Because of this Job simply wonders how can he, so small and powerless, even answer God or choose appropriate words to reason with God. His entire world has been destabilized; no doubt God would easily destabilize his words, making him say things that are contrary to his interest. It is futile and dangerous for Job to think that he can approach this anger-filled divine creator, a creator who has even made terrifying primeval creatures bow to him.