Job 12 – “Job’s Fourth Speech – Part I”

EartogroundHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Job responds to his friends by attempting to refute their arguments.

II. Photo
Job describes the banality of his friends’ statements: “Or speak to the ground, it will teach you; The fish of the sea, they will inform you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?” (vv. 8-9)

III. Important Verses
vv. 2-3: Indeed, you are the [voice of] the people, And wisdom will die with you. But I, like you, have a mind, And am not less than you. Who does not know such things?
v. 6: Robbers live untroubled in their tents, And those who provoke God are secure, Those whom God’s hands have produced.
vv. 7-9: But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; The birds of the sky, they will tell you,  Or speak to the earth, it will teach you; The fish of the sea, they will inform you. Who among all these does not know That the hand of the LORD has done this?
vv. 17-19: He makes counselors go about naked And causes judges to go mad. He undoes the belts of kings, And fastens loincloths on them. He makes priests go about naked, And leads temple-servants astray.
v. 23: He exalts nations, then destroys them; He expands nations, then leads them away.

IV. Outline
1. Introduction
2-6. Rejecting the doctrine of retribution
7-11. Exposing the banality of the friends’ words
12-25. Ironic hymn about God’s control of everything, even the bad

V. Comment
Chapter 12 is the introduction of Job’s fourth speech. The speech, which is the second longest in the book (only Job’s speech in chaps. 29-31 is longer), lies in between the first and second cycle of dialogue. The speech can be divided into two main sections: an address to the friends (12:1-13:19) and an address to God (13:20-14:22). In terms of the structure of chapter 12, vv. 2-11 use disputational language, parody, and vv. 13-25 are a negative form of “hymnic praise.”

While Job’s main goal is to refute the claims of his friends, he complains as well. As one might expect, many of his complaints mirror those found elsewhere in Tanakh. For example, in v. 4 he laments, “I have become  laughingstock (sechoq) to my friend — ‘One who calls to God and is answered, Blamelessly innocent’ — a laughingstock (sechoq).” This is similar to Jeremiah’s complaint in Jer. 20:7, “You enticed me, O LORD, and I was enticed; You overpowered me and You prevailed. I have become a constant laughingstock (sechoq), Everyone jeers at me.” Similarly, Lam. 3:14 says, “I have become a laughingstock (sechoq) to all people, The butt of their gibes all day long.” Also see Ps. 22:8, 44:14-15, and 79:4.

In their speeches, the three friends repeatedly explained that God punishes the wicked for their sins. However, in v. 6 Job refutes his friends with one simple observation: “Robbers live untroubled in their tents, And those who provoke God are secure, Those whom God’s hands have produced.” Then, in vv. 7-8, Job parodies his friends: “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; The birds of the sky, they will tell you,  Or speak to the earth, it will teach you; The fish of the sea, they will inform you.” How do we know that these verses are parody? Clines explains: “The use of the second person singular indicates that the verses are cast as address to Job, that is, as Job’s depiction of how he imagines the friends addressing him.” Also, the introductory word ‘ulam “however” implies that Job disagrees with what he is saying. In regards to Job’s idea of learning wisodm from animals, see Prov. 30:24-30 where people observe – but don’t speak to – animals.

V. 9 contains the only occurence of the Tetragrammaton in the poetic core of the book (chaps. 3-37). What is it doing here? While some scholars believe it to be a scribal insertion, Clines writes (p. 294): “Job is ‘citing’ the words of his friends, whom he envisages as deploying religious clichés. So it is a quotation, not directly of Isa 41:20, no doubt, but of a well-worn idiom that is used there also (cf Weiser). It is true that the friends themselves in their speeches never use the [Tetragrammaton], but Job is not noticeably careful to do justice to the friends’ exact theological position on other matters. It is a little more surprising that the poet allowed himself the freedom to use [the Tetragrammaton] here; the reason must be that “hand of [the Tetragrammaton]” is a fixed phrase (over thirty occurrences); while “the hand of God” (Elohim) is very rare (1 Sam 5:11; 2 Chr 30:12; Ecclus 9:1; Job 19:21 has “the hand of Eloah” and 27:11 “the hand of El”).” Yet, Clines also notes how some manuscripts do use the name ‘elohah (see the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia).

In vv. 12-25 Job seems to praise God in the hymnic style characteristic of the book of Psalms. Clines writes (p. 296): “The purpose or significance of the hymn is not immediately evident… It cannot simply be a hymn of praise, for Job has no call to praise God. Nor can it be a mere acknowledgment of God’s power, since God’s power is usually the object of complaint on Job’s part (cf 9:3–4, 17, 34). Its purpose rather is to convey Job’s ‘wisdom,’ his understanding of the true nature of God’s activity. The God he has encountered is no placid governor of a universe of order, but an eccentric deity, equally inapprehensible and untameable whether he stands aloof from humans or frenetically and obnoxiously interferes in their lives. This is the deeper wisdom, the higher knowledge, that calls forth a hymn—half-serious because Job is truly awed by this revelation of a God beyond theological entrapment and half-ironic because Job deeply despises a God who does not play fair.”

In v. 23 Job speaks of God’s might: “He exalts nations, then destroys them; He expands nations, then leads them away.” For a similar contrast between building and destroying, see I Sam 2:6-7: “The LORD deals death and gives life, Casts down into Sheol and raises up. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He casts down, He also lifts high.” Also see Ps. 107:33-34: “He turns the rivers into a wilderness, springs of water into thirsty land, fruitful land into a salt marsh, because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.”

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Clines, Proverbs 1-20 (Word Biblical Commentary)

Photo taken from  http://www.isis-inc.org/podcast/Eartoground.jpg

Leave a Reply