Bill Long 4/29/05
A Feast of Words
As Job closes the first part of his tri (or quad)-partite speech (3:1-10, 11-23, 24-26), he uses a number of interesting words, phrases or arrangements of words that create vivid pictures. Together they constitute Job's first gambit in this new area of description of his personal pain. I think it best in this essay to stop and view the words, as if one is climbing a mountain and wants to pause every few steps to survey the interesting rock formations, the astonishing vista and the evidences of life all around.
Two Context-Setting Words
I want to reemphasize the rannanah and annanah contrast mentioned earlier. Job longs for a day in which there are clouds (annanah) and a night in which there is no joy (rannanah). That is what he wants to occur. Life and joy has been taken away from him; why not have that day, that cursed evening, be filled with the sadness which it has brought for him? Either obliterate it or fill it with turmoil. Cursed be the day.
Then, in v. 8, he called upon those skillful in cursing the sea (or day) and in rousing Leviathan, to curse his day. When we think ahead to the nature of Job's final speech in 29-31, we might see it (esp. ch.31) as Job's "rousing up" not Leviathan, but God. While in 3:8 Job wants the skillful cursers to rouse Leviathan, maybe by ch.31 he has turned into such a curser, but this time it is God who is called up. As an aside, I think the prevalence of "shout TV" in our own culture, where hosts and participants basically trash other people (usually the unnamed "liberals") is an example of modern-day cursers. These people would have found fault with Jesus' healing ministry or his raising of people from the dead.
I like the middle of the three phrases in v.9. The NRSV translates it, "let it hope for light, but have none." These eight words are three in the Hebrew. Literally, they are, "let it hope for light, and there is not" or, in the words of 2005, "let it hope for light, NOT!" "And there is not" is one Hebrew word, and it is sort of set apart from the first two by the presence of the conjunction "waw." If the first two words of Job are best translated "A man there was," here we have "light and there was not." Light? Nope.
The last words of this verse, the "eyelids of the morning" is particularly arresting. Scholars disagree among themselves whether the Hebrew word suggests eyelashes or eyelids, but I am not going to the mat on this one. In any case, the "eyelids of the dawn" rivals Homer's "early-born rosy-fingered dawn" in eloquence. If dawn "opens its eyes" each morning, and there is light, then dawn might be perceived as a person, possibly a woman, whose opening eyes signal a new day. Greet your lover with this phrase some day--"dawn's eyelids flutter as do yours" and see what her/his response is.
Three things to note in v. 10 are the appearance of "my womb," the word "close up" or "shut up" and the word "trouble." The first phrase of the verse may literally be rendered, "because it did not close up the doors of my womb." Of course, Job's mother's womb must be meant, as the NRSV and almost all modern translations have it, but we ought to pause for a minute on why "mother" is left out. I think it is another example of the phenomenon of compressed speech, which we already saw in 2:11. The author of the Book of Job uses metaphors and phrases that really do make you stop and "fill in" the rest of the details. Just as the description of Job in 1:1-5 is spare in the extreme, so the poetry makes us pause, imagine the pictures and "fill in" words that are left out.
The verb rendered "shut up" is frequently used in the Bible. It is in the Qal here, but the Piel (intensive) usage appears several times in Lev.13, the great passage on the "shutting up" of the leper in his home once leprosy has been or may have been contracted. This quarantine is a rigid one, for if leprosy breaks out in the community many will be affected. So Job wanted his mother's womb likewise to be "shut up" so that he couldn't have been squeezed out of it. Doors and windows secure; rags stuffed in the places where the clay had broken apart; roof completely covered. That is what Job wants. A sealed womb; a womb double-stiched so it cannot open.
Finally, the word "trouble" (amal). It appears more than 50 times in the Bible, and is not particularly prevalent in Job (8X). More than 20 of the 50 appearances, however, are in Ecclesiastes, and are usually translated "toil." If Job is the book of terror, as I said in an earlier essay, Ecclesiastes is the book of trouble. Yet, Job will explore the theme. He has another word, rogez, which in its noun form only appear 7X in the Bible (5X in Job) which he seems to like just as much. But the appearance of "trouble" near the end of 3:10 and rogez in 3:26 indicates that trouble will never be far from Job's consciousness. He wished that the eyelids of the dawn would never have opened again, but they did. He wished that trouble would be hid from his eyes, but it wasn't.
Now we truly understand the enormous "stakes" in the Book of Job. It will be an exploration of trouble, trouble in all its fullness.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long