Job 5:1-2 II
Bill Long 5/20/05
Calling and Answering
Despite Eliphaz's brutal, though oblique, attack on Job in his first speech, Job makes use of some of Eliphaz's language. The previous essay showed how Job used some of Eliphaz's words either by taking them from their "heavenly" realm ("turning") or by intensifying them ("anger"). This mini-essay illustrates something strikingly contrary: how Job used one of Eliphaz's phrases in a generative theological and legal manner.
Let's begin with Elihpaz's opening question in ch.5.
"Call now; is there anyone who will answer you?"
When you think about this question for more than a few seconds, you see the hopelessness of it. Eliphaz is asking, in these four Hebrew words, a rhetorical question. In fact, he believes that no one will answer Job. None of the heavenly beings, the "holy ones" will respond. But how insensitive is THIS and why would he say such a thing? I don't know the answer to the second part of the question, but it may be that Eliphaz is so convinced that the "meaning" of Job's suffering is right there, on the surface, that no revelatory voice about the meaning of Job's suffering from a divine source will either be necessary or forthcoming. One wonders for a second if Job's complaint throughout the book regarding God's silence is nothing more than his defiant hearing of Eliphaz's rhetorical question.
Job's Use of "Calling and Answering"
But I am more interested in the way that Job picks up and uses Eliphaz's words. He combines the terms "call and answer" (kara ve anah) in the same sentence on four occasions that are rich with theological and legal significance.* Let's hear each one.
[*I am, of course, aware that the verbs "call and answer" are used throughout the Bible, especially the Psalms, though I haven't counted the number of times they appear together. Thus, one might argue that Job's use of the terms together is more reflective of traditional biblical usage than of response to Eliphaz. My answer would be that we don't have to make it an "either/or" proposition. Psalmic language lies behind the Book of Job in many instances, I believe, but this doesn't preclude our thinking that Eliphaz's words have lodged in Job's mind and he is responding to them. Indeed, this would be the most natural reading of Job's use of kara and anah--to examine the immediate literary context for clues to its meaning.]
In ch.9, Job begins to couch his complaint against God in legal terms. He surveys the dangers of what it means to "contend" with God (9:3). The language and atmosphere is legal. Then, in 9:16, he says: "If I summoned (kara) him and he answered (anah) me, I do not believe that he would listen to my voice." The assumed world is that of the law court--the plaintiff "calls" the defendant into court and the defendant "answers" the complaint filed by the plaintiff. Maybe Eliphaz's words in 5:1 are ringing in Job's ears. Eliphaz asks, 'if you call, will anyone answer?' (expected answer, "NO!"). In 9:16 Job says that maybe God would answer him indeed when he called, but in this "answer" God would not have listened to his voice.
We move to a theological context in ch.12. Job recounts his former blameless life before launching into a long description of the divine power (12:7-25). But note how he describes himself, "I am a laughingstock to my friends; I, who called (kara) upon God and he answered (anah) me, a just and blameless man, I am a laughingstock" (12:4). Rather than looking at "call and answer" in a legal context, Job uses these words to recall the earlier covenantal intimacy he enjoyed with God--an intimacy that is now apparently lost.
Call and Answer in two Hopeful Contexts
But "call and answer" do not have to be things of the past or things that emphasize an adversarial legal relationship with God. In 13:20 Job asks two things of God. "Withdraw your hand far from me, and do not let dread of you terrify me" (13:21). Then, what will result? "Then call (kara) and I will answer (anah); or let me speak, and you reply to me" (13:22). Here we are still in a legal context, but the pessimistic world of ch.9 has been (temporarily) replaced by a more optimistic world of 13:20-22. God calls; Job answers. The complaint will have a gracious and sympathetic hearing before God. That is the feeling from 13:20-22. However, this thought will be too difficult for Job to maintain very long, and by the end of ch.13 he is plunged further into despair. Nevertheless, we have seen how "call and answer" may take on a more positive meaning for Job.
Finally, in 14:15 there is a most dramatic and remarkable use of "call and answer." Job wants to be hidden in Sheol until God's anger passes (14:13). Then, once God has gotten over his anger, Job hopes that God would remember him and restore their intimate relationship from the past. But how does Job express his desire for this restored intimacy? With language of calling and answering. "You would call (kara), and I would answer (anah) you; you would long for the work of your hands" (14:15). It is almost as if Job is saying, 'I will drop the lawsuit; I will abandon my legal arguments, if only we could be restored to our former relationship of calling and answering.'
The more I examine the Book of Job, the more I see it as laced with deep conversational ambiguity. Eliphaz offends Job deeply, even though he may not have intended to do so. Job responds to Eliphaz obliquely, by picking up tidbits of Eliphaz's words to frame his own understanding of reality. Even though Job knows that his complaint ultimately must be voiced to God and God alone, he makes use of the phrases of Eliphaz to formulate his sense of self (4:2-4 with 29:8-17), to express his defiance and to capture his hopes and longings (that once again, he would have a "call-answer" relationship with God. A true, though strained (and strange?) conversation is taking place.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long