Job 6:14 --A Translation
Bill Long 3/7/05
In Honor of the Adult Education Class, Lake Grove Presbyterian Church
One of the most notable things Job does early in his speeches is attack his friends in 6:15ff. This is initially pretty surprising, since they had shown loyalty by coming from afar to be with him and weep with him. It is surprising also when we turn to the first speech of a friend (by Eliphaz) and note that it is filled with more commendation than criticism. However, one can also read Eliphaz's words more negatively, too. They may be laced with a judgmentalism that comes from a "we really know you have sinned"-type of attitude. How do you read Eliphaz?
Regardless of how you read these actions of the friends, it is unmistakable that Job attacks the friends viciously in 6:14ff. He calls them traitors, and then uses the image of the wadi drying up in the desert to illustrate their treachery. But the opening verse of his attack on the friends is in 6:14 and is very difficult to translate. In this essay I would like to give some samples of how it is translated, then work through the language with you and finally give my own translation of the verse. Of course, this exercise is the best argument for offering a Hebrew class....
Various Renderings of Job 6:14
Here are some standard translations of the verse:
NSRV. "Those who withhold kindness from a friend forsake the fear of the Almighty."
NIV. "A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty."
JB. "Grudge pity to a neighbor, and you forsake the fear of Shaddai."
Clines (leading interpreter of Job). "A friend does not refuse his loyalty nor forsake the fear of the Almighty."
Let's start with some remarks about the Hebrew text. This verse consists of only six Hebrew words. No one disputes the translation of the last three (forsakes the fear of the Almighty), though the conjuntion between the first and second halves is "waw," which may be translated "and" or "but" or "even if" or "although" or "nor/or."
The interpretive problem lies with the first three words. The first word is called a "hapax legomenon," that is, a word that only appears once in the Hebrew Bible. Though that does not mean that it can mean anything, it means that we have to try to associate it with words that we do know, even though that can be hazardous [i.e., if we didn't know what "gilt" meant in English, we would not really be on good grounds if we associated it with "guilt"]. But the first word looks like it a participial form associated with the verb translated in English as "melt" or "dissolve." Thus the first word is "to one who is despondent," or "to one who despairs." Someone who "melts" is despondent or despairing. Then the next two words are, literally, "from his friend" and "mercy" or "faithfulness." The word translated "faithfulness" is the rich biblical term "hesed," which signifies God's "covenant faithfulness" to the people of God.
Things Come Together
Now the passage is beginning to take shape for me. The first three words can at first be rendered, "mercy from a friend [is] to one who is despondent." Or, to be a little more literary, "To one who is despairing, mercy is expected from a friend." We can then play around with the wording, though not the sense, to come up with something that has a euphonious ring to it. "One who despairs (or "is despondent") expects mercy from his friend," is my final translation of it.
Then the second part of the verse falls into place for me. Since the first part expresses the expectation of the friend, the second part, relating to forsaking the fear of God, makes best sense if the conjunction "waw" is taken as "even if" or "although." Thus, the Revised Standard Longean Version would render it:
One who is despondent expects mercy from his friend, even if he forsakes the fear of the Almighty."
This would make more sense than if we translated the "waw" as an "and." Then we would have something like "One who despairs expects mercy from his friend and he forsakes the fear of the Almighty." Apart from the fact that this doesn't closely connect the second phrase with the first, I am not sure exactly what this would mean. However, my version has the advantage of being readable and meaningful. It would be a proverbial saying that states the expectations of friendship, even when one of the friends might forsake God. Job is not saying that he has forsaken God; he is just stressing that the obligation of friendship goes this far.
As I have rendered it, the proverb not only is a rather striking one, but it fits well with v.15. It would emphasize that the obligations of friendship even go deeper than one's apparent faithfulness to God. It means that friendship may be thicker than anything we know on earth. And, this fits perfectly with the language of v.15. There Job accuses the friends of treachery. Now we can understand why Job is so utterly furious with the friends. They have neglected the core duty of friendship--to be loyal (hesed) to a friend even if he happens to "forsake" God (indeed, hadn't Job 'cursed his day?'). Job expects a lot from many: he expects a lot from himself, from his friends, and from God. This proverb helps us understand what he expects of his friends. Once we work through the verse closely like this, we can never forget its potency.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long