Job 5:12-16 II
Bill Long 5/27/05
Eliphaz Believes in a Little Place Called Hope
Job could be excused as he listens to Eliphaz in 5:8-16 if he wondered how the principles Eliphaz lays out relate to him. Eliphaz's two major points are that God lifts up the lowly and that He brings the council of the so-called wise to nothing. Pretty standard theology. But Job must have wondered if he was one of the "wise" whose council God had just brought to nought or whether he was a poor one whom God was going to save from the strong? Job's life has taken on a certain plasticity as a result of his distress. Is he a "big man" fallen or a "poor man" waiting for exaltation? Job sees himself as the former, while it seems like the reason for Eliphaz's upbeat assessment which will follow in 5:17-27 is that Eliphaz sees Job as the latter. The same factual scenario confronts both--Job is on the ash heap having lost children, wealth and health, but the interpretation of who Job is as he sits before Eliphaz couldn't be more different.
Hope on the Ashheap
Striking to me as I slowly perused the Hebrew text of 5:16 is that the word hope (tikvah), used by Eliphaz to describe the expectation of the poor, is not used very frequently in the Bible but, when it appears, appears primarily in Job and Proverbs. This mini-essay will explore the world of hope (tikvah) in Job.
First, a few things about the word. It is built off the root k-v-h, which is the common verb for "wait" in the Bible. Thus, hope is built on waiting. A helpful first insight. Biblical hope is something that waits around, that doesn't see the fruit of effort right now. The word tikvah appears 33X in the Bible, 12 of which are in Job and 8 in Proverbs. No other biblical book uses the word more than three times. There are other words for hope in Hebrew, to be sure, but tikvah is the preferred word in Job. We would not be greatly mistaken were we to posit that the central theological issue for the Book of Job is the reality of hope in the midst of wrenching loss. How can hope live when all else has seemingly disappeared? Let's go through some of the appearances of tikvah in Job.
Eliphaz uses the word twice in his first speech. He asks, "Is not your fear of God your confidence (or your foolishness--recall the themes of Eliphaz's 'double-speaking'), and the integrity of your ways your hope?" (4:6) Integrity, tam, is the word used here by Eliphaz, as well as the narrator of the prose story (1:1) and God (1:8) to describe Job's condition. We have a saying in English that integrity is its own reward and Eliphaz is almost saying the same thing. Job's integrity is his hope, a sort of proleptic reward even while living. Eliphaz also uses tikvah in 5:16. "So the poor have hope..." Eliphaz uses two words for "poor" in 5:15-16. The former, ebyon (5:15) is the term primarily used in the Wisdom tradition (i.e., Proverbs) for the poor while the latter, dal (5:16), appears most frequently in the Psalms. Thus, Eliphaz covers all his important bases when speaking of the hope that the poor have.
The Word Tikvah in Job's Mouth
Seven of the remaining ten appearances of tikvah are spoken by Job (the other three are spoken by Bildad--once--and Zophar--twice--and don't concern me here). The first time Job uses the word is in 6:8. "Oh that I might have my request, and that God would grant my desire (tikvah)." What is Job's "hope" or "desire?" "That it would please God to crush me (same word as used by Eliphaz in 4:19; 5:4), that he would let loose his hand and cut me off!" (6:9). Job is picking up the words of Eliphaz and turning them upside down. Eliphaz sees the word "hope" as signalling a bright future for Job. Job first uses the term to seal his fate further. It is as if job is saying, 'You talk about hope, Eliphaz. Ok, maybe God will give me MY hope. It is to be utterly obliterated.'
But Job will not be able to leave the word tikvah alone. His first assessment of his life, in 7:1-6, closes with this statement: "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle and come to their end without hope" (7:6). Several scholars translate the last word as "thread," so that Job would be saying that his "thread" of life had run out. The idea would seem to be more at home in the world of Greek mythology, where the three Parcae or Fates dole out the "thread" of one's life before cutting it, but the image of "hope" connected with a very thin "thread" highlights Job's fragile mental state.
Tikvah twice appears in that most searching poem of hope and hopelessness, Job 14. The issue that drives the poem is the hope of the tree (14:7). Human life seems to be nothing but a painful and short experience. We die and that seems to be the end of it. However, nature teaches us that there is hope for a tree. Its leaves may die one year but, at the first hint of water, it stretches itself out to meet the water, and it springs forth in new life. Trees have hope. Do humans? The question haunts Job in 14:13-17, but then he consults nature once again to realize that just as mountains crumble and rocks fall, so God destroys human hope (tikvah--v.19).
The image of the tree having hope but humans being deprived of hope stays with Job. The final instance I want to mention of the use of the word is in 19:10, where Job details God's assault on him. The language is of unparalleled brutality. One of the ways God destroys Job is that he "has uprooted my hope (tikvah) like a tree." Here is the tree again, formerly a symbol of hope, now reduced to a symbol of hopelessness. Job now speaks of the uprooted rather than the flourishing tree.
Though Job is overwhelmed by pain physical and psychological, he keeps adverting to the little word tikvah. Tikvah seemingly has disappeared for him, but he keeps using the word. Indeed, Job will use other images, such as the witness in heaven (16:19) or the redeemer of his life (19:25) to express a countervailing theme to hopelessness. Yet Eliphaz got Job speaking of hope, and one who continues to speak of it has not fully lost it, even if he talks about hope being uprooted. Job waits, and waits very impatiently at times, but his tikvah is never far away.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long