Job recalls the “good old days,” a time when he was respected and happy.
Job speaks about the good deeds he once performed: “I was eyes to the blind And feet to the lame.” (v. 15)
III. Important Verses
vv. 2-5: O that I were as in months gone by, In the days when God watched over me, When His lamp shone over my head, When I walked in the dark by its light, When I was in my prime, When God’s company graced my tent, When Shaddai was still with me, When my lads surrounded me
vv. 7-8: When I passed through the city gates To take my seat in the square, Young men saw me and hid, Elders rose and stood.
vv. 14-16: I clothed myself in righteousness and it robed me; Justice was my cloak and turban. I was eyes to the blind And feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, And I looked into the case of the stranger.
v. 21, 25: Men would listen to me expectantly, And wait for my counsel… I decided their course and presided over them; I lived like a king among his troops, Like one who consoles mourners.
2-11. Job was once happy and respected
12-17. Job helped the downtrodden
18-20. Job anticipated a long and happy life
21-15. Men viewed Job as their leader
Job’s final speech has three components, and each component takes up a single chapter. Job begins his speech by reflecting on the “good old days,” a time when he was happy and respected (vv. 2-11). He also describes how he helped the downtrodden (vv. 12-17), expected to live a joyous life (vv. 18-20), and was a leader amongst his people. While it seems that Job is speaking to himself in ch. 29, he will eventually turn to God in chapter 30.
In terms of form/structure, Clines writes (p. 978): “The speech is striking from-critically speaking for its novelties. In chap. 29 the first person description of an experience, the predominant form, is almost unparalleled in the Hebrew Bible.” He goes on to cite similar passages such as Song 3:1-4, 5:2-7, and the communal psalms 105 and 106. The chapter also shares some language with the book of Psalms. For example, v. 3 says, “When His lamp shone over my head, When I walked in the dark by its light,” and Ps. 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light for my path.”
In v. 18 Job says: “I thought I would end my days with my family, And be as long-lived as the chol.” What does chol mean? Hakham points to two possible definitions. The first is “sand,” and the verse means “I will increase your days to be like the days of the sand on the seashore, which remains there forever” (p. 222, translation my own). For support, Hakham points to a verse which equates sand with eternity. Jer. 5:22 says, “Should you not revere Me — says the LORD — Should you not tremble before Me, Who set the sand as a boundary to the sea, As a limit for all time, not to be transgressed? Though its waves toss, they cannot prevail; Though they roar, they cannot pass it.” The strength in this translation is that the word chol means sand, just like the other 22 occurrences of the word in Tanakh.
The second possible translation for chol is “phoenix.” Hakham notes that B. Sanhedrin 108 speaks of a bird named “chol” which lived for a thousand years. This bird, called the phoenix in Greek and Latin, was an international symbol for long life (see ABD, “Phoenix,” Vol. V 363-365). Our verse would accordingly mean “may you be as long-lived as the phoenix.” While Bibles such as NJPS translate this way, Hakham points out that “there is no definitive proof” for such a translation. Indeed, he chooses the first explanation for his commentary, and only mentions the second in a footnote (fn. 21).
VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Clines, Job 21-37 (Word Biblical Commentary)
Hakham, Sefer Iyov (Daat Mikra [Hebrew])
Alderink, “Phoenix” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. V pp. 363-365
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