Job 4:3-4; 29:8-15
Bill Long 5/6/05
Yes, It Really IS All About Job
When Eliphaz first spoke to Job in chs.4-5, he began with the dilemma of speech (v.2) and then his commendation of Job (vv.3-4). We talked about the former in a previous essay; this and the next essay will consider the language that Eliphaz used to commend Job and, even more, the way that Eliphaz's commendation provided the context for Job to praise himself in 29:8-15. Make no mistake about it; Job's final words are all about his righteousness, his value to other people, his deliverance of the needy. No shrinking violet is Job.
A Word on Eliphaz's Words
Eliphaz, as we saw, begins gently. His punch lines are in 4:5 and 4:6, but he wants to get there by commending Job. This form of flattery is common in human relationships. Before we ask for a big favor or a concession, we often butter up the other person. The flattery may be sincere or insincere, but we speak flattery not for the sake of the flattery. Here, Eliphaz's interests are to get Job to listen to his interpretation of Job's suffering. Eliphaz's words and his timing, however, are off. His theory of Job's suffering as divine discipline (5:17ff) and his attempt to direct Job to God while Job is feeling emotionally raw are met with Job's harsh words in ch.6. The dynamics of friendship and conversation suggest that helpful words must not only be helpful; they must be spoken at the right time. In this case what seemed to happen is that Job responded immedately to Eliphaz's words in a negative way (chs. 6-7), but he let them sink into his mind because when he ultimately spoke his lines of self-justification in ch.29 he was indebted to a few of Eliphaz's words and the entirety of the content of 4:2-4. Eliphaz says in 4:3-4:
"See, you have instructed many; you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have supported those who were stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees."
A word on the word "instructed." It is the Hebrew verb yasar, meaning "to instruct," "discipline," or "punish." The range of translations of it in the Hebrew Bible can be seen by comparing Ps.6:1/Ps. 38:1 with Ps. 16:7.
"O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline (yasar) me in your wrath" (Ps.6:1).
"O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline (yasar) me in your wrath" (Ps.38:1).
"I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs (yasar) me" (Ps.16:7).
Other biblical examples could be cited to show the basic ambiguity of the word yasar. Its range of meaning stretches from the Boston of divine anger and punishment to the San Francisco of gentle instruction.
However, Eliphaz leaves no doubt as to the linguistic range of the term yasar as he uses it in 4:3-4. He will read it "positively;" the way that Job has "instructed" many will be seen through his strengthening weak knees and hands. While Eliphaz has definite interests in commending Job here (to get him to accept this "discipline" from the Lord), Job will use Eliphaz's words and ideas for his own purposes when he gets around to self-commendation in ch.29. Let's turn to that now.
Job's Self-Commendation in 29:8-15
You can make a good argument that ch.29 of Job ought not to be divided this way. Indeed, verses 1-17 are of a piece; they recount Job's former glory as a judge of the people. But I am dividing the verses this way because of the particularly arresting language of 29:15. Here is the literal rendering of that verse:
"I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame was I."
Commentators have noticed the "somewhat awkward place" of the emphatic pronoun "I" at the end of the sentence (Good, In Turns of Tempest, 126). For me it is not awkward; it is of a piece with Job's self-congratulatory words of 29:8-14, and it reveals that Job's distress has either made or heightened his sense of self-centeredness. Though Job dispensed justice to people, he doesn't want them to forget that it was he, Job, yes, me, I, the big guy, the greatest guy in the East, yep me, who has done it. It is as if Job is saying to Eliphaz, 'Yep, you got that right, Eliphaz. I WAS eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I did raise up those who stumbled. I did strengthen the weak. That was me, Elihpaz.'
Let's explore further Job's sense of self in ch.29.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long