Job 23 – “Job’s Eighth Speech – Part I”

weathervaneHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Job expresses his desire to debate God and vindicate himself, but he knows that God cannot be found. And, even if God could be found, Job is afraid that God wouldn’t play fair.

II. Photo
Although Job wants to debate God, he can’t find Him: “But if I go East — He is not there; West — I still do not perceive Him; North — since He is concealed, I do not behold Him; South — He is hidden, and I cannot see Him!” (vv. 8-9)

III. Important Verses
vv. 3-4: Would that I knew how to reach Him, How to get to His dwelling-place. I would set out my case before Him And fill my mouth with arguments.
vv. 8-9: But if I go East — He is not there; West — I still do not perceive Him; North — since He is concealed, I do not behold Him; South — He is hidden, and I cannot see Him.
vv. 11-12: I have followed in His tracks, Kept His way without swerving, I have not deviated from what His lips commanded; I have treasured His words more than my daily bread.
vv. 13-15: He is one; who can dissuade Him? Whatever He desires, He does. For He will bring my term to an end, But He has many more such at His disposal. Therefore I am terrified at His presence; When I consider, I dread Him.

IV. Outline
1. Introduction
2. Opening remark
3-9. Desire to debate God
10-12. Self-described piety
13-17. Fear about God’s arbitrary wrath

V. Comment
Chapter 23 is the beginning of Job’s speech. Job expresses his desire to debate God (vv. 3-9), asserts his innocence (vv. 10-12), and complains that even if he could find God, God would never treat him fairly. Clines (p. 597) traces Job’s train of thought: “Despite my desire to find God and present my case to him (vv 3-7), I am unable to find him (vv 8-9). And he is elusive just because ([ki], ‘for,’ v 10) – although I am a righteous man who has always kept God’s commands (vv 10-12) – he is determined to make me suffer as long as he wants (vv 13-14).” As one might expect, the speech has elements common to the complaint/lament genre. Also, the piety described in vv. 10-12 is similar to the piety described in the books of Psalms (e.g. Ps. 119) and Proverbs.

Who is this speech addressed to? Clines writes (p. 589), The speech as a whole is a soliloquy, addressed at no point either to the friends or to God. Nevertheless, there seems to be a consciousness in Job that he has an audience.” Hakham disagrees (p. 193, translation my own): “From Eliphaz’s final words it has become clear to Job that the friends won’t budge even if he would return and speak to them again. Because of this, Job does not turn to his friends in this speech but directs his words to God. But, due to the fact that God hides himself from Job, Job does not speak to Him in second-person address. Rather, he speaks of him in the third-person.”

In vv. 3-4 Job expresses a futile wish: “If only (mi yitein) I knew how to reach Him (’emtza’ehu), How to get to His dwelling-place. I would set out my case before Him And fill my mouth with arguments.” The idiom mi yitein, which appears twelve times in the book (nine times more than in any other book) is what indicates Job’s pessimism. Another example of the phrase is Zophar’s statement in 11:5: “If only (mi yitein) God might speak, And talk to you Himself.” Also see 19:23-24: “If Only (mi yitein) my words were written down; If only (mi yitein) they were inscribed in a record, Incised on a rock forever With iron stylus and lead!” On an unrelated note, it isn’t clear what Job means when he says he wants to matza’ “find” God (is it a metaphor?). For similar verses, see Deut. 4:29, Jer. 29:13, 1 Chr. 28:9, 2 Chr. 15:4, and Job 37:23.

In vv. 8-9 Job expresses his dedication to find God: “But if I go East (qedem) — He is not there; West (’achor) — I still do not perceive Him; North (semo’l) — since He is concealed, I do not behold Him; South (yemin) — He is hidden, and I cannot see Him.” Here Job is imagined to be facing east. For a verse where qedem and ’achor are used together as “east and west,” see Isa. 9:11: “Aram from the east (qedem) And Philistia from the west (’achor)….” The word semo’l, which often means “left,” means “north” in Gen. 14:15: “… he pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north (misemo’l) of Damascus.” The word yemin, which often means “right,” means “south” in 1 Sam. 23:19: “… at the hill of Hachilah south (yemin) of Jeshimon.”

In the previous chapter Eliphaz advised Job to “turn to God” (cf. 22:23 and comment), and Clines points out that Job’s intense desire to find God might be a response to that suggestion. He describes Job’s outlook in the first-person (p. 593), “Turn to God? I want not just to ‘turn’ to him but to travel the path, no matter where it lies or how long it is, to be able to present my case before him in person.” Clines writes elsewhere (p. 594), “It is not the beatific vision that Job desires, not communion with the divine, not some placid sinking into the everlasting arms, but a face-to-face confrontation with the heavenly bully who maltreats him.” Indeed, this confrontation has been described before. For example, see 13:22-23 : “Then summon me and I will respond, Or I will speak and You reply to me. How many are my iniquities and sins? Advise me of my transgression and sin.”

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Clines, Job 21-37 (Word Biblical Commentary)
Hakham, Job (Daat Mikra (Hebrew))
Photo taken from  http://www.uwp.edu/departments/advising.testing/weathervane.jpg

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