Job 5:17 II
Bill Long 4/25/05
Hearing Eliphaz's Words from a Different Angle
In the previous essay I emphasized two contrary construals of Job's pain--that of Eliphaz and that of Job. Eliphaz, as you recall, was steeped in wisdom tradition. The final words of his first speech emphasize this: "See, we have searched this out; it is true. Hear, and know it for yourself" (5:27). The word for "search out" (haqar) does not appear frequently in the Bible (about 20 times), but most of those references are in Proverbs and Job. Job 28, the great hymn to wisdom, uses it three times. God searches out wisdom (28:27) in fashioning the world; it is the duty of the obedient teacher of wisdom likewise to search it out. Eliphaz has duly done that, and Job 4-5 is the result of his searching. Thus, Eliphaz wants to portray the tradition, as it were, speaking through him. He is just giving Job the unadulterated "goods" of that tradition. And, in a few words, it is that God brings discipline (musar) into the lives of those he loves. Therefore, we ought not to despise (maas) this divine reproof (yakah).
Job's Clever Twisting of Eliphaz's Words
Conversations are exercises of power. Instead of pummeling people into submission with our fists, we try to persuade them to adopt our way of seeing the world. We sometimes deny we are doing this and emphasize only that we are putting a thought "out there" for consideration or rejection. I suppose this is sometimes true. But ultimately, if we have any sense of personal self-confidence, we want to put our "spin" on the world, and want our way of seeing things to be adopted by others.
We can get across our point in several ways. We may, for example, just disagree with someone else and use our own words to define the issue at hand. Much more effective and much more difficult, however, is to use the words already put on the table by the one with whom we disagree and then subtly change their meaning so that his or her words become our words but in our sense of the words. This may not be clear, so I will show you how Job does this twice with Eliphaz's words.
Eliphaz "lifted" Prov. 3:11 and used it in Job 5:17. "Do not despise (maas) the Lord's discipline," he says. God's discipline is for our good. It is a sign that God loves us (Prov. 3:12). In other words, can you imagine a parent who doesn't discipline the child at times? We feel pity for the child for not being disciplined. But notice how Job will use Eliphaz's good word "despise" or "reject" (maas). In his speech in response to Elihpaz in ch.6-7 Job first speaks about God in the third person (ch. 6) and then turns to second person intimacy (7:11-21). During his second person address to God, Job has occasion to use the word maas. Instead of using it similarly to the way that Eliphaz would prefer it to be used ('don't despise God's discipline), Job uses it absolutely. "I despise" (7:16). The starkness of maas's appearance without an object has caused translators to fill in the meaning gap by adding the words "my life." But "my life" isn't there in the Hebrew text. It is just "I despise."
I think Job is saying that he despises EVERYTHING that could be imagined at this point. He hates his life, his situation, his friends, his God. But, the significant point is that he has used Eliphaz's word and turned it upside down to express his view of things. Eliphaz gently chides: 'Don't despise God's discipline.' Job retorts with seething anger, "I DESPISE!" And, Job will use this word later, also. In 42:6, after God has revealed himself in power (38-41), Job is overwhelmed by the vision of God. But he uses the word "despise" in his last sentence. He "despises" and then repents upon the ash heap. I have spent several essays in my conversation with Job trying to come up with what he despises in 42:6, but suffice it to say here that Job is "twisting" Eliphaz's term for his benefit. "Don't despise God's discipline." Not on your life. "I despise (all)."
The other way Job subtly twists Elihpaz's words in 5:17 is through the word "reprove" or "rebuke" (yakah in the Hiphil). The one "rebuked" by God is blessed. The range of meaning of yakah includes "rebuke" or "punish" or "decide" or "judge." The Psalmist can pray for God not to rebuke him (6:2; 38:2). Job will pick up on Eliphaz's word immediately in ch.6 where he talks about the worthless rebukes of the friends (6:25,26). But it is not until Job 9 that he uses the word again but twists it nicely for his purpose.
In ch.9 Job first broaches the idea of a lawsuit against God. Law gives him both a language and procedure that engenders confidence. Law will provide him a way to formulate his complaint; law also will give him a means by which to approach God. Back and forth he goes in his mind, however, regarding a lawsuit. God is simply too powerful for Job. Even if he washes himself clean, God will just dip him into the muck (9:30-31). The problem is that there is no "umpire" or "arbitrator" (KJV "daysman") to come in and lay hands on both participants--God and Job. But note the word translated "umpire." It is mokiah, a participial form of the verb yakah. The mokiah is someone other than God, a third person who, at this point, does not exist ("There is no mokiah"). But what Job has done is to shift subtly the words of Elihpaz in 5:17. Eliphaz said that it was God who reproves. The wisdom tradition knows this to be true. Don't despise this divine reproof, Job. How does Job respond? By saying that he wishes there was REALLY a reprover, one who is DIFFERENT from God, who could lay his hand on both of them (9:33).
By so using the words maas and yakah this way Job has taken away the power of the terms not only from Eliphaz but also from the wisdom tradition. A good obedient young man in the wisdom tradition will calmly receive the reproof of God. He will not despise it. But, how about Job? He despises everything. And, the reproof? Oh, he will receive it, but it will have to be from a third party, a umpire who can lay his hands on both parties (see the use of this phrase in Ps.139:5). Job shows his skill at turning the linguistic tables on Eliphaz. The author of the Book of Job shows us how remarkable is his compressed use of language.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long