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98. Job 9:22-24, God’s Moral Confusion

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?


Job not only argues that God has been angry since the beginning of time; in this passage he asserts that God’s moral categories are confused.  He states that clearly in verse 22, “This is the one thing; thus I say that both blameless (tam) and evil (rasha) God brings to an end/destroys.” It isn’t clear how “this is the one thing” relates to the following words. It may be read something like, ‘It all boils down to this…,’ with conclusion of God’s moral confusion following this statement. Some scholars, however, have seen the first two words of verse 22 (ahath hi) belonging more properly with the jagged and brief statements of 9:21. In any case, the focus of the verse is on the allegation Job now drops on God: that God’s moral categories are confused.  


Job makes his case by saying that God destroys (kalah) both tam and rasha.  Care must be taken to recognize that Job isn’t just uttering a commonplace of life, that is, that the good and evil both die or, in New Testament language, that the rain falls both on the just and the unjust. The frequently-appearing verb kalah (204x) can mean something as innocent as “come to an end/be completed” (e.g., God’s work of creation is so described in Genesis 2:1, 2) but can also carry with it the notion of exterminating or be destroyed, either by divine judgment or the work of an enemy. Eliphaz already used kalah in parallel meaning to abad (to perish) in 4:9, “By the breath of God they perish; by the blast of his anger they are consumed/come to an end (kalah).” Thus, Job’s meaning here is that God cuts off, exterminates, or destroys both tam and rasha before their natural end. By clinging to the adjective tam, Job shows us how he (and he is not alone in this) moves from an affliction concerning the self to a general principle of the universe. ‘I, a pure and blameless person, am suffering unjustly; it must be that God’s entire universe is now ethically out of kilter.’ That is the nature of Job’s argument.  


Job 9:23-24 then illustrate further the principle stated in 9:22. Verse 23 says,


   “If a scourge (shot, 11x) suddenly kills, he will laugh/mock at the trials of the innocent.”   


This is a shocking statement even for Job. He alleges that God is not only morally confused but is also extremely callous. Though the word shot is translated as “whip” in more than half of its occurrences (e.g., when Rehoboam discusses his more severe approach to discipline—II Kngs 12:11, 14), it can also point to an overwhelming punishment or chastisement (Isaiah 28:11, 15). Though Job doesn’t connect the dots explicitly to his own experiences of Chapters 1-2, we can easily do so.


The text says, “if a scourge kills suddenly (pithom).” Who can’t hear in that word pithom a distant echo of Eliphaz’s eerie statement in 5:3, where he pithom curses the estate of the fool?  In the case of 9:23, however, we only have God’s reaction to sudden death through scourge: God “laughs/mocks” (laag) at the “testing” (massah) of the innocent (naqiy).” Later, Eliphaz will pick up on two of Job’s words here and try to restore the inverted moral order Job implies. After affirming how God will fill the houses of the righteous with good things, Eliphaz adds, “The righteous saw it, and were glad, and the innocent (naqiy) laugh at them (laag),” 22:19.  But this will be too little and too late for the friends to stem the flow of Job’s argument. 


Job puts naqiy and laag together in 9:23 by suggesting that God laughs at the trials of the innocent. The word I have rendered here as “trial” (massah, 5x) is often translated “distress” or “despair,” but it is derived from the verb for “testing” (nasah),which we have seen Eliphaz use in his opening line to Job in 4:2. The verb for “smiling/mocking” (laag) appears 19x in the Bible and never more memorably than when Jeremiah uttered his plaint to God, “Everyone mocks (laag) me,” 20:7.  


Now that the gloves are off, Job can finish his allegation of moral confusion against God with an explicit statement in 9:24:  


     “The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; he has covered over the face of its judges.  If not      he, who then has done it?”   


The first part of the sentence sounds like a typical criticism not simply of God but of the moral decline of any era. The wicked, rather than the just, are in charge.  When has that not happened in human history?  But Job carries it one step further by saying that God covers (kasah 152x) the faces of judges. This means that they don’t judge justly. Other religious traditions recognize the importance of having judges dispense impartial justice. Note Dhammapada 257, “The one who does not judge others arbitrarily, but passes judgment impartially according to the truth, that sagacious person is a guardian of law and is called just.” Other prophets might call out in generic despair, 'Violence and Destruction,' hoping, mostly in vain, that things will change, but Job knows too well. God has already sided with destruction and injustice.  Because he has such an understanding of an all-powerful God, he briefly asks rhetorically at the end, ‘If God (hasn’t done this), then who has?’ 

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