Job 4:7-11 II
Bill Long 5/9/05
Exploring Eliphaz's Language
Eliphaz tries to close the meaning gap between himself and Job first by appealing to Job's experience (4:7) and then adding his own "take" on things (4:8). Using the engineering analogy of building a bridge, 4:7 is Eliphaz's attempt to erect a pier on Job's side of the gulf while 4:8 is his attempt to do the same on his side of the gulf. If he can sink these stanchions deep into the earth, he can then build the surface roadway between them, and communication will be rescued. Let's walk through the three sets of verses here (v.7, vv.8-9, vv.10-11) and show how Eliphaz proposes to build the bridge. My focus will be primarily on the ambiguities of his construction language.
This verse may be translated:
"Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?" (4:7)
Eliphaz is appealing to Job's experience of life. By trying to get Job to answer "no one" or "never" or "nowhere," Eliphaz is attempting to restore communication. But his language is deliciously ambiguous. Though this question is meant to be a rhetorical question out of the wisdom tradition, Job can easily hear it as an attack on him and his children. His children perished. Certainly, Job feels, they were innocent. He sacrificed for them. He did everything that a good parent should do. Certainly they were guiltless, and a merciful God would know that. Eliphaz asks, "Who that was innocent ever perished?" Job's immediate inner response would be, "My children, Eliphaz."
But Eliphaz is not interested at pausing here. His second question employs the word "upright" (yasar), which is used to describe Job in 1:1. Job is tam ve yasar. Job will be the great innocent one throughout the book. He wishes that he were dead. He is all but dead. And, he is innocent. In answer to Eliphaz's second rhetorical question, then, Job would answer, "Right here in Uz city, Eliphaz, where I was cut off!" Eliphaz is just warming up; Job would like to shut him up or, at least, to respond to his questions in unexpected ways.
These verses read:
"As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed" (4:8-9).
Now Eliphaz focuses on what he knows. It is the same thing which he wants Job to confess in 4:7. Basically his point is that God has established a moral principle in the universe that teaches that the workers of evil perish. What Eliphaz characterizes as his experience of life (what "I" have seen) will be replaced in 5:27, his last verse, by what "we" have explored. He is gently but unmistakably trying to clobber Job over the head with the tradition.
But he uses potentially inflammatory words. The word trouble (amal) in 4:8 is the same word used by Job in his speeches in 3:10 and 3:20. Trouble was not hidden from his eyes (3:10); trouble is given to those, like himself, who want light (3:20). Trouble is his current condition (3:26, though he uses rogez here). Trouble has come upon Job. That is his problem. He could have "heard" Eliphaz's words as subtly suggesting that he courted trouble, because those who "reap" trouble have no doubt cultivated it. Then, v.9 has more inflammatory or insensitive language. Those who sow trouble perish by the breath (nishmah) or wind/spirit (ruah) of God. God blows into their life and destroys them. When Job's servant describes the great calamity that overtook his children, he explains that it was a great wind (ruah gedolah) which did them in (1:19). Surely that phrase became fixed in Job's mind as ineradicably as any scar on his body. When Eliphaz uses the image of the divine breath destroying people, he would make Job cringe, or more.
These verses deal with lions.
"The roar of the lion, the voice of the fierce lion, and the teeth of the young lions are broken. The strong lion perishes for lack of prey, and the whelps of the lioness are scattered" (4:10-11).
Some scholars argue that these verses don't fit here since they seem not to reflect the flow of the passage. But, I think they do. Eliphaz suggests that the lion is like the wicked of the preceding verses. They get their comeuppance. Eliphaz uses five words for lion here, and no one is quite sure how to translate the last four. It is like Bildad's use of five nouns to describe a net in 18:8-10. Our leonine vocabulary fails us in trying to render all Eliphaz's words. But two more ambiguities are introduced in this passage.
First, the word "roar" (shaag) in v.10 is the same word Job uses in 3:24 to talk about his "groanings/roarings." They are as many as are the waters (3:24). Now, when Eliphaz describes the fate of the wicked, the first word he uses is the one Job used to characterize himself a few verses earlier. Eliphaz seems to be saying directly, "I think good things for you, Job," but indirectly his message is much more cloudy. Then, there is the reference to the "whelps" being scattered in v.11. Boy, weren't Job's "whelps" scattered big time? Yep, to the four winds, so to speak. Or, better yet, by the courtesy of the great wind.
Eliphaz's speech works at two levels: the bright light of hopeful day and the murky world of ambiguous words. He struggles for meaning as does Job, even though he gives the impression that he has an easy explanation of things. But meaning is elusive, even as we multiply words.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long