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95. Job 9:15-16, Few Options Left for Job
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.
A sense of futility is the next emotion that assails Job. Even though verse 15 is hard to translate, if we keep the “futility” theme in mind, we are led through it. Literally, verse 15 says,
“Which/whom If I were righteous I will not answer; I would need to appeal for mercy to my judge/the one contending against me/my enemy/adversary.”
To explain the some unclarities in the translation, we start with clear statements. Job knows he is righteous. That he would not answer him means that he would not answer God because God’s words, whatever they are, would overwhelm him.
There are a few additional points in the translation, even a literal one, that need to be explored. The opening word is asher, usually rendered “which” but, in this context it might relate to the major subject in Job’s mind—God. So, “whom” or “before whom” might be a useful or serviceable translation. Then, the im that follows, as we have already seen, need not always be given its “if” meaning. Sometimes it functions more as a stylistic particle than a conditional conjunction. I think the combined meaning of the asher im is best captured in English by “though. . .” With these additional comments, then, the first part of 9:15 is best rendered, “Though I am righteous, I will not answer him.” That is, it is dawning on Job that an answer to God will be futile because of God’s great strength and anger. In verse 14 Job realizes that God’s great anger makes him feel utterly small and incompetent. In verse15, Job would realizes that he just can’t “answer” God.
Job knows that an answer will be futile (“I will not answer”). This is the fundamental realization that Job makes here. Even though he is in the right, he can say nothing. He can say nothing because of the unpredictability of God’s anger and the fear that he might have, in the language of Proverbs 29, “hardened himself” in preparation for the final “smashing” that God has in store for him. Job is in a terrible, terrible dilemma. Justice must keep its mouth closed before the one who is supposed to be the just Judge of all the earth. The one in the right has no choice but not to “answer” God. He will eventually resolve this doubt as the Book of Job progresses, but for now it is debilitating.
The only option left for him is “to my judge/right/adversary, I will appeal for mercy” (9:15). The verb rendered “appeal for mercy” is chanan, and it appears in the hithpael or reflexive form here. Another example of its hithpael usage is in Genesis 42:21, where it is best rendered “when he (Joseph) besought us/begged for mercy.” Thus, since Job has recognized how futile it is to speak with God, the only viable option for him is to appeal to the divine mercy. Job doesn’t give any indication of the value of this “appeal to mercy.” Presumably it might pave the way for some kind of closure or reconciliation with God.
Yet, we might ask, ‘What is so bad about asking for God’s mercy?’ Appealing to the divine mercy is a Scripturally–approved method of approaching God. Yet, I think Job won’t follow that approach here because it ultimately would be unsatisfying to him. He wants an answer, and perhaps some compensation. He isn’t particularly interested in throwing himself on the divine mercy when, he suspects, God is the one responsible for ruining his life.
Verse 16 then takes Job’s despair to a new level. Even if, hypothetically speaking, Job had called upon God and God had answered him (anah again), “I am not persuaded that he would hear my voice.” Appealing for mercy is not the way to go. Calling up on God for an explanation isn’t the right way to go because, ultimately, God is not beholden to creatures and doesn’t even have to listen to Job’s voice. Job, frankly, doesn’t think that God will listen to him.
Note the dance with the verb anah (“to answer”) here. It appears in three consecutive verses (vv 14, 15, 16), and we also saw it in verse 3. Job uses it about himself in verse 14 to describe the circumspection that must attend any “answer” he prepares for God. Then, by verse 15, he has decided that an “answer” to God is not the way to go. There is too much danger in that. So, in verse 16, the verb is used to describe God. The reason Job doesn’t “answer” God is that if God, in return, would “answer” Job, Job doesn’t believe that God would hear him. Job doesn’t “answer” because he knows ahead of time that God’s “answer” will be unsatisfactory. God just won’t listen.
I understand a tiny bit of Job’s frustration at this point. Several years ago I became a new Board member of what I felt at first (a sentiment that was later confirmed) was a sort of fly-by-night operation. I supported the cause, however, and felt I might be able to help. When the director started speaking, I couldn’t really understand everything that was said. So, I began to pose a few questions. Every question I raised was met with an answer that related not at all to the question raised. I was astounded. I knew how to pose simple and direct questions but here was the director just ignoring them. I repeated my questions. Still, I was stonewalled. I repeated them a third time with the same result. Soon I was off the board, but this experience gave me some background for being sympathetic to Job in his current plight. God might answer. . . but Job is convinced that God would not listen to his voice. And God is in charge. His greatest fear now is that God won’t hear him. No one can compel God to listen. Job’s sorry state continues.