Job 24 – “Job’s Eighth Speech – Part II”

little_rain_girl_by_pinaybabyHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Job ends his eighth speech by lamenting the injustices in the world. He is upset at God for allowing the wicked to take advantage of innocent victims.

II. Photo
Job laments how innocent people lead miserable lives: “They are drenched by the mountain rains, And huddle against the rock for lack of shelter.” (v. 8 )
III. Important Verses
v. 1: Why are times for judgment not reserved by Shaddai? Even those close to Him cannot foresee His actions.
vv. 2-4: People remove boundary-stones; They carry off flocks and pasture them; They lead away the donkeys of the fatherless, And seize the widow’s bull as a pledge; They chase the needy off the roads; All the poor of the land are forced into hiding.
v. 12: Men groan in the city; The souls of the dying cry out; Yet God does not regard it as a reproach.
v. 16: In the dark they break into houses; By day they shut themselves in; They do not know the light.

IV. Outline
1. Complaint: God does not judge mankind
2-17. The wicked take advantage of the poor
18-24. Imprecation of the wicked (see comment)
25. Confidence

V. Comment
Chapter 24 is the second part of Job’s eighth speech. It is a response to the parallel points made by Eliphaz in ch. 22, namely that God punishes those who sin and rewards those who are righteous. Job disputes both of those claims by bearing witness to the fact that there are wicked people who go unpunished, and, on the flip side, there are innocent people who are exploited and never given justice. In terms of structure, the chapter has an opening comment (v. 1), a discourse about the success of the wicked (vv. 2-17), and an enigmatic ending (vv. 18-24, see comment).

The chapter begins with a complaint (v. 1): “Why (maddua‘) are times for judgment (‘ittim) not reserved by Shaddai? Even those close to Him cannot foresee His actions (chazu yamaw).” It seems that Job is not seeking an answer to his question. Rather he is giving expression to his frustrations, much like he did in 3:11-12: “Why (lammah) did I not die at birth, Expire as I came forth from the womb? Why (maddua‘) were there knees to receive me, Or breasts for me to suck?” While it isn’t clear to me what ‘ittim means throughout Tanakh, it seems that it can refer to a judgement day. For example, Deut. 32:35 says, “… Yea, their day of disaster is near, And destiny (‘atidot) rushes upon them.” Also see the related Ezek. 12:27.

In vv. 2-17 Job gives examples of how the wicked “dispossess others of their livelihoods with impunity; there is no retribution for them, and there is no justice for the dispossessed any more than there is for Job.” (Clines, 601) In v. 2 Job describes their evils, “People remove boundary-stones; They carry off flocks and pasture them.” Moving another’s boundary marker in order to increase the size of one’s own field is a common sin in Tanakh. For example, see Deut. 19:14: “Cursed be he who moves his fellow countryman’s landmark. — And all the people shall say, Amen.” Also see Prov. 23:10, “Do not remove ancient boundary stones; Do not encroach upon the field of orphans,” and Hos. 5:10, “The officers of Judah have acted Like shifters of field boundaries; On them I will pour out My wrath like water.”

Vv. 18-25 are the subject of much scholarly debate. The major problem is that these verses, which seem to say that wicked people get what they deserve, are antithetical to Job’s well developed theology (i.e. that the wicked prosper). Hakham writes (p. 190, translation my own), “From here until the end of the speech the language is extremely difficult. Many explanations have been proposed for these verses. Here we will explain that these verses speak about the actions of the wicked. In the footnotes we will bring another view, which is that these verses are a curse that Job wishes upon the wicked.” To demonstrate these two approaches let us look at v. 21: ro‘eh ‘aqarah lo’ teled we’almanah lo’ yeitiv. According to the first approach the verse is condemning wicked deeds, “[The wicked] do evils to the barren woman who cannot give birth, and they deny good to the widow.” Yet, according to the second approach, the verse is cursing the wicked people themselves, “May he consort with a barren woman who bears no child, Leave his widow deprived of good.” Another possible approach to these verses is to say that Job is paraphrasing his friends in order to disparage them.

Clines, and other scholars for that matter, opt for a more liberal position. He writes (p. 667), “This strophe… appears to belong to a speech of Zophar rather than of Job. It forms one of the most difficult sets of verses encountered in the book. There are many textual and philological problems… It is so hard to see what these verses have to do with Job’s argument in this speech, indeed with Job’s argument at any point in the book. If they are really saying that the wicked get their just deserts, that is not only the position of the friends and not of Job, but it is also the very opposite of what Job has been arguing in this very speech in chaps. 23-24.”

Job ends his speech with confidence: “Surely no one can confute me, Or prove that I am wrong.” Note the confidence at the end of Job’s previous two speeches as well: v. 19:29 says, “Be in fear of the sword, For [your] fury is iniquity worthy of the sword; Know there is a judgment!” and 21:34 says, “Why then do you offer me empty consolation? Of your replies only the perfidy remains.”

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Clines, Job 21-37 (Word Biblical Commentary)
Hakham, Job (Daat Mikra (Hebrew))

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