Bill Long 5/14/05
Pulling up the Tent Cords
This and the next essay are pure word and thought experiments. They begin with a word spoken by Eliphaz in 4:21 and then take a biblical journey with the word, picking up other words along the way and then depositing us back in the Book of Job. Join me on my journey!
Setting the Context
As we have seen, Eliphaz concludes the account of his vision by telling Job what the "form" which glided by his face said to him. I have argued that the apparently mundane observation of 4:17 is really a fairly profound insight into the inner workings of Job's psyche. Job does and will think of himself as superior to and more just than God. But, Eliphaz doesn't let up after he makes that observation. In 4:18-20, he continues to pummel Job under the guise of delivering a "neutral" message about the generic sinfulness of humans. He brings his divine message to its culmination in 4:21, which is he subject of these essays. Let's hear what HE does and then play with the words.
A translation of this verse runs as follows:
"Is not their tent peg yanked up in them? They die, and not in wisdom."
The word I have translated "yanked up" is nissa, which is the standard verb used in the Bible for folding up the tents and moving on. It is especially prominent in the Book of Numbers, where the Israelities were constantly "pulling up stakes" as they journeyed through the wilderness. The word "tent peg" (yeter) can also be translated "bowstring," and it is the thing that is fastened to the object (the tent or bow) that ties it down or makes it strong. Eliphaz's final words concerning his vision are particulary brutal. The picture I get is that somehow our "tent peg," which means whatever it is that ties us down and makes us strong, will be pulled out within us. How can something be pulled out within us? I don't know, but it appears to be a violent image of some vital internal organ being pulled out from us. An indication of how vital it is follows in the next word: "They die" (yamutu). Something very disturbing, violent and fatal happens to humans. And, note, it is not something that comes to humans because they have been particularly disobedient to God. Eliphaz sees himself simply narrating the human condition--people cannot be more righteous than God; their houses collapse; they are destroyed; and their "tent peg" is yanked out from inside them. Then they die. We may have had bumper stickers in the 1980s in America saying, "Life sucks and then you die," but Eliphaz is saying it much more viciously: 'life is a process of getting crushed, uprooted, yanked out, and then you die." His final words of ch. 4 put the "icing" on the cake: "And not with wisdom" or "And not in wisdom." The human condition is to die without having realized the thing that was the goal of our aspirations: to find wisdom.
Wandering with yeter
The tent peg of 4:21 is the same word as "bowstring" in the Samson narrative in Jud. 16. I don't need to tell the entire story. In Judges 16 Delilah has bound Samson with fresh bowstrings (yeter). Why Samson ever submitted to this treatment, when he knows it is the way to make him "weak and like anyone else" (16:7), is only understood by those who know the irrational control that lust and sexual power exerts over us.
But Samson is playing deceptively with her, just as she is with him, and he knows that he really will be able to burst out of the bowstrings if bound. This, then, is what happens. She binds him with the bowstrings. Three times in as many verses the Hebrew uses yeter to describe the cords that bind Samson. The word yeter only occurs 6X in the Bible, with two of the other three being in Job (4:21; 30:11), so the Job/Samson connection on yeter is interesting. Well, you know the story. The lords of the Philistines brought Delilah seven fresh bowstrings, and she bound Samson with them. Let's follow the narrative:
"While men were lying in wait in an inner chamber, she said to him, 'The Philistines are upon you, Samson!' But he snapped the bowstrings, as a strand of fiber snaps when it touches the fire. So the secret of his strength was not known" (Jud.16:9).
The word used for "snapped" in this verse is the Hebrew word nataq. It is used in two places in 16:9--Samson "snaps" the bowstrings as a strand of fiber "snaps" when it touches the fire. Actually, the verb is used again in 16:12 where Samson the Brilliant permits himself to be bound again, and he likewise "snaps" the cords once the Philistines were upon him. Nataq occurs about 25X in the Bible, with about 1/5 of the occasions in Judges. It also appears twice in Job.
The next essay considers its meaning in one passage of Job.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long