Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Job’s Friends (Job 3-37)

Posted on: June 28, 2011

JOB Chapters 3-37 Haftarah Circle 26 January 2011

This long central portion of Job is made up of three cycles of speeches, in which Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar speak, each receiving a response from Job; they then each speak again, with Job answering them and the third cycle is believed to be incomplete, with Zophar’s speech missing (unless one follows Alter in attributing chapter 27:8ff and 28 to Zophar), and Bildad’s speech cut short.

Chapter 3
Job curses the day he was born and the night of his conception, and laments that he survived infancy. The repetition of day and daylight should be remembered when Job names a daughter Jemima (days) when his fortunes are restored at the end off the book.

Chapters 4-5

Eliphaz the Temanite argues the case for the doctrine of retribution saying:

Remember now, who was innocent that perished, and when were the upright destroyed?

The implication is that Job must have deserved his misfortune. The name Eliphaz the Temanite indicates the house of Esau, who had a son called Eliphaz and a grandson called Teman. We saw that the book of Job seems to be set in the patriarchal period – Job performs his own sacrifices – and in an non-Israelite environment, and the names of Job’s friends are further indicators of this.

There is a touch of schadenfreude in Eliphaz’s suggestion that Job has got above himself: ‘You have chastised many and you have strengthened weak hands. Your words would pick up the stumbler, and you would strengthen buckling knees. Now when it comes to you, you weary; it touches you and you are afraid.’

Eliphaz says ‘Man is born to trouble while the sparks fly upward.’ Translations vary but reshef, translated sometimes as sparks, is also the name of a Canaanite deity or demon, who presides over fire and destruction.

Gerald Abrahams, in the Encyclopaedia Judaica reads reshef רשף as refesh: רפש as in Isaiah 57:20:

‘The wicked are like the troubled sea which cannot rest, whose waters toss up mire and mud.’

So the word reshef could be down to a scribal error, in which two consonants were reversed. Refesh is found in three other instances, both with the meaning of muddy waters.

The parallelism of ‘For He brings pain and binds it; He wounds and His hands heal’ is reminiscent of Hannah’s poem: The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. There is also a similarity to Psalm 91, when Eliphaz says ‘You shall be hidden from the scourging tongue and you shall not fear plunder when it comes.’ Compare ‘For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence’. Eliphaz speaks psalmodically and Job replies threnodically.

It has been noted that the author of this speech is acquainted with five different words for lion: aryeh, shachal, kefir, layish and lavi. He has a sophisticated vocabulary, and a knowledge of lions

Chapter 6
Job speaks of his anguish but says that he has not earned his afflictions: ‘My cause is righteous.’ In verse 21 the qere is לו where the ketiv is לא. Robert Alter translates this as ‘Now you are His,’ explaining ‘The idea then would be that Job’s friends have gone over to God’s side.’

Job invokes the Canaanite deities Yam and Tannin when he asks ‘Am I the sea or a sea monster that You place a watch over me?’ Robert Alter translates this ‘Am I Yamm or am I the Sea Beast, that you should put a watch upon me?’

And he asks what is perhaps the defining question of the book of Job: If I have sinned, what have I done to you, you who watch over us all? Why have you made me your target?

Chapter 8

The second friend, Bildad the Shuhite, now begins to rebuke Job for accusing God of injustice. He is more severe than Eliphaz, asserting that Job’s children died because they were sinful. ‘Shuhite’ suggests that Bildad is a descendant of Abraham and Keturah. The name Bildad is regarded as Canaanite or Sumerian, Dad being a theophoric syllable with reference to a Mesopotamian god. WF Albright, writing in 1927, with knowledge of Assyrian, refers to a view about the interchangeableness of l and r, lamed and resh, which would make Bildad’s name something like Bir-Hadad. Albright however rejects this conclusion, and connects the name Bildad with that of Balaam. As it happens, Balaam gets connected with Job and his friends by the Vilna Gaon, who said that there were seven heathen prophets: Balaam and his father Beor plus Job himself, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar amd Elihu.In the Testament of Job, the three friends are three kings: Eliphas, Baldad and Sophar.

Bildad rebukes Job for attributing injustice to God (something which Abraham did also however). He concludes with the possibly comforting words: ‘God will not reject the innocent, nor will He uphold evildoers.’

Chapter 9-10
Job speaks his mind without answering Bildad’s specific comments. He takes the view that the transcendent God who creates heaven and earth, nature and miracles ‘will not answer one of a thousand’. אם־יחפץ לריב עמו לא יעננו אחת מני־אלף

Job asks ‘If it is a trial of strength,behold He is mighty; and if one of judgment, who will summon me?’ He says that God destroys both the innocent and the wicked. It is as if he believes it is beneath God topay attention to his individual distress. To the Master of the Universe, Job cannot amount to a hill of beans. He longs for his suffering to end, but does not believe that God listens to his prayers.

Note the reference to the constellations in verse 9. the identification of ash, kesil and kimah as the Bear, Orion and the Pleiades has been disputed. The LXX specifies the Pleiades, Hesperus and Arcturus:

Ο ποιων Πλειαδα και Εσπερον και Αρκτουρον
Hesperus is Venus, the evening star and Arcturus is in a direct line with the tail of Ursa Major.

Amos also refers to God as ‘He who made the Pleiades and Orion’, עשה כימה וכסיל

Chapter 11
The third friend, Zophar the Naamathite, speaks up. He is at least as severe than the other two, and his view is that if Job removed wrongdoing from his hand and his tents, then all his wretchedness would disappear.

Zophar’s words are reminiscent of God’s to Cain: If you do well, will you not be accepted?[]And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.

Job’s plight is indeed inexplicable like Cain’s, except that the narrative has assured us of Job’s virtue, whille nothing is known about Cain, prior to the fratricide, except that he was a tiller of the soil whose offering of vegetable produce was unacceptable.

Chapters 12 – 14
Robert Alter says that Job is being sarcastic to his three friends who consider themselves wiser and more righteous than he. ‘I too have intelligence like you; I am not inferior to you,’ he says.

He compares himself to one who calls on god and God answers punitively, to make the righteous mock and despise him. This is a reductio ad absurdum of the theology that only the wicked suffer – to say that the righteous enjoy the suffering of others, because they consider it to be inflicted by God, with justice.

Job goes on to refute this, pointing out that the tents of robbers are secure and the wicked prosper, yet all of Creation is in God’s hands. He overturns the authority of counselors, judges and kings and takes away wisdom from sages. This is a view propounded in Ecclesiastes, that wealth, power and even wisdom are transitory and futile, הבל הבלים.

It is in the course of this monologue that Job says to God:

Why do You hide Your face and regard me as Your enemy? (אויב) Will you frighten a driven leaf?

אדם ילוד אשה קצר ימים ושבע־רגז Man born of woman, short of days and full of fear.

As Woody Allen says: ‘The food here is terrible…and such small portions.’

Job wonders how God can be bothered to judge such an ephemeral creature as man. He compares life to hard labour:

…he serves out his days like a hired man (כשכיר).

Chapter 15
The second cycle of speeches commences, with Eliphaz urging Job to repent of his angry words. He accuses Job of speaking hot air.

Let your own mouth condemn you and not I, and let your own lips testify against you.

The friends are very inflexible in their arguments and are not moved in the least by any of Job’s speeches. No wonder William Blake depicts them pointing accusatory fingers at Job.

Chapter 16 – 17
Job in turn accuses Eliphaz of uttering words of hot air, דברי־רוח. He says that God has delivered him to wrongdoers although he has perpetrated no violence. He cries out:

Oh earth! Do not cover my blood and let there be no place for my cry.

Robert Alter comments that this verse is reminiscent of God’s words to Cain.

Chapter 18
Bildad the Shuhite also urges Job to repent, affirming the terrors in store for evildoers.

Chapter 19
Job replies, complaining of his isolation – everyone has turned against him:

All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me.

He wants to be vindicated, by a judgment in his favour., Alter understands verse 25, ‘I know that my redeemer lives’ to refer to an ally who will testify on his behalf. However the continuation of the verse and the term גאלי make it reasonable to interpret this as referring to God.

Chapter 20
Zophar also wants Job to repent of his outburst. He uses a notable simile for the transience of wordly success of evildoers:

Though his height ascends to the heavens and his head reaches the clouds, like his dung, he shall perish forever; those who see him will say ‘Where is he?’

The Hebrew word is גלל which has other meanings, particularly the verb to roll, from which such words as circle, wheel, ( gilgal גלגל), skull (gulgolet גלגלת) and scroll (megillah מגלּה) are derived. There is a usage in 1 Kings, saying that the house of Jeroboam will be swept away, like dung.

Chapter 21
Job is so unconvinced by all his friends’ arguments that he continues to ask:

Why do the wicked live, grow rich and gather wealth? Their seed is firm-founded before them, their offspring before their eyes, their homes are safe from fear, and God’s rod is not against them.

Whereas his friends find a kind of simpklistic moral order in the world, Job finds the world a lawless place, where suffering is allotted randomly to undeserving victims.

Chapter 22
Now in the third cycle of speeches, Eliphaz remains convinced that Job must deserve his suffering:

Why, your evil is great and there is no end to your crimes.

Chapters 23-24
Job wants an opportunity to defend himself to God. He speaks of his inability to find God in terms of the four points of the compass, or of four directions. Robert Alter has:

Look, to the east I go, and He is not there,
to the west and I do not discern Him,
To the north where He acts, and behold Him not,
He veils the south and I do not see him.

The ESV translates the same verse in terms of directions:

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.

Job’s response seems to go beyond the injustice of his personal predicament as he regards the suffering of the innocent and the flourishing of the wicked as being the way of the whole world, with God unreachable and His justice indiscernable.

Chapters 25-26
Job (in Alter’s translation, Bildad is the speaker here) alludes to a variety of creatures from Canaanite mythology. Zaphon is the mountain of the Canaanite god Baal; Yam and Rahab are sea monsters. Rahab is associated with primordial darkness and sometimes with leviathan, being a sea monster slain by Baal in Canaanite poetry. However, zaphon can be translated as ‘north’ and yam as ‘the sea’.

Chapters 27-28
Chapter 28 is known as the Hymn to Wisdom.

The opening verses of Chapter 28 show that the author has some technical knowledge of mining and mineralology, but, by contrast with precious metals, wisdom is priceless and can not be found by human diligence.

There are four different words for gold in verses 15-19: segor, zahav, paz and ketem.

Job (Alter attributes some of this speech to Zophar) asks where wisdom is to be found. It is not in the sea; it can not be bought; it is more precious than valuable gems. It is invisible. When God created the world, measuring wind and water, clouds and thunder, He said to man:

Behold, the fear of the Lord is wisdom and shunning evil is understanding.

There is an obvious similarity to Psalm 111 and Proverbs:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.

Note the full spelling of Adonai in Job 28:28, whereas Psalm 111 and Proverbs have the tetragrammaton.

Chapters 29-31
In his final defence, Job yearns for the time when he felt God watching over him, shining a lamp over his head. He dreams of yesterday.Now he is despised by people who were beneath him. He contrasts himself with Adam who hid from God:

Did I hide like Adam my wrongdoings, to bury within me my crime?

Some versions translate Adam as ‘man’. The targum, however uses the term ומדק םדא which does suggest Adam the first man.

Job comes to the end of his testimony, saying:

May Shaddai bear witness for me and may my opponent write a book.

It seems he still desires to be heard and answered, although not with the facile responses of his friends.

Chapter 32-37
The friends are indeed silenced, but now a new character appears: Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite from the clan of Ram. Robert Alter suggests that this is a satirical name as the literal meaning is ‘He-is-my-God, the son of God-has blessed the scornful one from the high clan.

Rashi however explains that Ram refers to Abraham, which makes Elihu a descendant of Abraham. Ramban said that Ram was an abbreviation of Avram. The Jerusalem Talmud identifies Elihu with Isaac. Ibn Ezra supposes him to be a descendant of Buz, the son of Abraham’s brother Nahor and from Ram, the father of Aminadab, whose son Nachshon was, according to midrash, the first into the Red Sea.

Elihu is considered, by Carol A Newsom for example, to be a late addition to the book of Job. Elihu is not mentioned outside chapters 32-37 and the removal of his speeches would not compromise the narrative integrity of the book. He does not enter into dialogue with Job and his speech consists of a long monologue. He is absent from the conclusion of the story in chapter 42, where Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are included.

Alter says of Elihu: ‘The plausible consensus is that he is an interrpolation, the work of another poet.’

Elihu is young and for this reason held back his speech so that his elders would precede him. It soon appears that he considers himself wiser than the older men.He believes Job is unreceptive to the teaching which could come to him through his trials. He rebukes Job for expecting an answer from God, and points out that God answers in many ways, for example, through dreams and visions. He is very self-assured, telling Job that he will teach him wisdom. He refers to the wonders of Creation and the transcendence of God, using the names Shaddai and Eloah. His speech is a long reproach to Job, who, Elihu says, should be ‘tried to eternity’. He argues that Job compounds his evil by complaining about his punishment.

Elihu’s is the last of the human speeches in the book of Job. As we shall see, God answers from the whirlwind.

The Book of Job is about the problem of theodicy, why does God permit bad things to happen to good people. Although the book of Job shows that the righteous do suffer, it does not tell us why, and the various speakers in the book do not reach a consensus about the problem. Job has the experience of feeling abandoned by God, but, as we shall see, he also experiences a theophany which reveals that God has not abandoned him. Perhaps this depicts the two poles of experience, in the way the innocent but suffering person can relate to God.


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