Job 12

Job’s Reply to Zophar

This long speech of Job falls into three parts: in 12:2–25 Job expresses his resentment at his friends’ attitude of superiority and acknowledges the wisdom of God; then, in 13:1–28 Job expresses his determination to reason with God, expresses his scorn for his friends’ advice, and demands to know what his sins are; and finally, in 14:1–22 Job laments the brevity of life and the finality of death.
Then Job answered:

“Without a doubt you are the people,
The expression “you are the people” is a way of saying that the friends hold the popular opinion – they represent it. The line is sarcastic. Commentators do not think the parallelism is served well by this, and so offer changes for “people.” Some have suggested “you are complete” (based on Arabic), “you are the strong one” (based on Ugaritic), etc. J. A. Davies tried to solve the difficulty by making the second clause in the verse a paratactic relative clause: “you are the people with whom wisdom will die” (“Note on Job 12:2, ” VT 25 [1975]: 670-71).

and wisdom will die with you.
The sarcasm of Job admits their claim to wisdom, as if no one has it besides them. But the rest of his speech will show that they do not have a monopoly on it.

I also have understanding
The word is literally “heart,” meaning a mind or understanding.
as well as you;
I am not inferior to you.
Because this line is repeated in 13:2, many commentators delete it from this verse (as does the LXX). The Syriac translates נֹפֵל (nofel) as “little,” and the Vulgate “inferior.” Job is saying that he does not fall behind them in understanding.

Who does not know such things as these?
Heb “With whom are not such things as these?” The point is that everyone knows the things that these friends have been saying – they are commonplace.

I am
Some are troubled by the disharmony with “I am” and “to his friend.” Even though the difficulty is not insurmountable, some have emended the text. Some simply changed the verb to “he is,” which was not very compelling. C. D. Isbell argued that אֶהְיֶה (’ehyeh, “I am”) is an orthographic variant of יִהְיֶה (yihyeh, “he will”) – “a person who does not know these things would be a laughingstock” (JANESCU 37 [1978]: 227-36). G. R. Driver suggests the meaning of the MT is something like “(One that is) a mockery to his friend I am to be.”
a laughingstock
The word simply means “laughter”; but it can also mean the object of laughter (see Jer 20:7). The LXX jumps from one “laughter” to the next, eliminating everything in between, presumably due to haplography.
to my friends,
Heb “his friend.” A number of English versions (e.g., NASB, NIV, NRSV, NLT) take this collectively, “to my friends.”

I, who called on God and whom he answered
Heb “one calling to God and he answered him.” H. H. Rowley (Job [NCBC], 92) contends that because Job has been saying that God is not answering him, these words must be part of the derisive words of his friends.

a righteous and blameless
The two words, צַדִּיק תָּמִים (tsadiq tamim), could be understood as a hendiadys (= “blamelessly just”) following W. G. E. Watson (Classical Hebrew Poetry, 327).
is a laughingstock!
For calamity,
The first word, לַפִּיד (lapid), could be rendered “a torch of scorn,” but this gives no satisfying meaning. The ל (lamed) is often taken as an otiose letter, and the noun פִּיד (pid) is “misfortune, calamity” (cf. Job 30:24; 31:29).
there is derision
(according to the ideas of the fortunate
The noun עַשְׁתּוּת (’ashtut, preferably עַשְׁתּוֹת, ’ashtot) is an abstract noun from עָשַׁת (’ashat, “to think”). The word שַׁאֲנָן (shaanan) means “easy in mind, carefree,” and “happy.”
) –
a fate
The form has traditionally been taken to mean “is ready” from the verb כּוּן (kun, “is fixed, sure”). But many commentators look for a word parallel to “calamity.” So the suggestion has been put forward that נָכוֹן (nakhon) be taken as a noun from נָכָה (nakhah, “strike, smite”): “a blow” (Schultens, Dhorme, Gordis), “thrust” or “kick” (HALOT 698 s.v. I נָכוֹן).
for those whose feet slip!
The verse gives the other side of the coin now, the fact that the wicked prosper.
the tents of robbers are peaceful,
and those who provoke God are confident
The plural is used to suggest the supreme degree of arrogant confidence (E. Dhorme, Job, 171).

who carry their god in their hands.
The line is perhaps best understood as describing one who thinks he is invested with the power of God.

Knowledge of God’s Wisdom

As J. E. Hartley (Job [NICOT], 216) observes, in this section Job argues that respected tradition “must not be accepted uncritically.”
“But now, ask the animals and they
The singular verb is used here with the plural collective subject (see GKC 464 #145.k).
will teach you,
or the birds of the sky and they will tell you.
Or speak
The word in the MT means “to complain,” not simply “to speak,” and one would expect animals as the object here in parallel to the last verse. So several commentators have replaced the word with words for animals or reptiles – totally different words (cf. NAB, “reptiles”). The RSV and NRSV have here the word “plants” (see 30:4, 7; and Gen 21:15).
to the earth
A. B. Davidson (Job, 90) offers a solution by taking “earth” to mean all the lower forms of life that teem in the earth (a metonymy of subject).
and it will teach you,
or let the fish of the sea declare to you.
Which of all these
This line could also be translated “by all these,” meaning “who is not instructed by nature?” (H. H. Rowley, Job [NCBC], 93). But D. J. A. Clines points out that the verses have presented the animals as having knowledge and communicating it, so the former reading would be best (Job [WBC], 279).
does not know
that the hand of the Lord
Some commentators have trouble with the name “Yahweh” in this verse, which is not the pattern in the poetic section of Job. Three mss of Kennicott and two of de Rossi have “God.” If this is so the reminiscence of Isaiah 41:20 led the copyist to introduce the tetragrammaton. But one could argue equally that the few mss with “God” were the copyists’ attempt to correct the text in accord with usage elsewhere.
has done
The expression “has done this” probably refers to everything that has been discussed, namely, the way that God in his wisdom rules over the world, but specifically it refers to the infliction of suffering in the world.
10  in whose hand
The construction with the relative clause includes a resumptive pronoun referring to God: “who in his hand” = “in whose hand.”
is the life
The two words נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh) and רוּחַ (ruakh) are synonymous in general. They could be translated “soul” and “spirit,” but “soul” is not precise for נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh), and so “life” is to be preferred. Since that is the case for the first half of the verse, “breath” will be preferable in the second part.
of every creature
and the breath of all the human race.
Human life is made of “flesh” and “spirit.” So here the line reads “and the spirit of all flesh of man.” If the text had simply said “all flesh,” that would have applied to all flesh in which there is the breath of life (see Gen 6:17; 7:15). But to limit this to human beings requires the qualification with “man.”

11  Does not the ear test words,
The ו (vav) introduces the comparison here (see 5:7; 11:12); see GKC 499 #161.a.
the tongue
Heb “the palate.”
tastes food?
The final preposition with its suffix is to be understood as a pleonastic dativus ethicus and not translated (see GKC 439 #135.i).
In the rest of the chapter Job turns his attention away from creation to the wisdom of ancient men. In Job 13:1 when Job looks back to this part, he refers to both the eye and the ear. In vv. 13–25 Job refers to many catastrophes which he could not have seen, but must have heard about.

12  Is not wisdom found among the aged?
The statement in the Hebrew Bible simply has “among the aged – wisdom.” Since this seems to be more the idea of the friends than of Job, scholars have variously tried to rearrange it. Some have proposed that Job is citing his friends: “With the old men, you say, is wisdom” (Budde, Gray, Hitzig). Others have simply made it a question (Weiser). But others take לֹא (lo’) from the previous verse and make it the negative here, to say, “wisdom is not….” But Job will draw on the wisdom of the aged, only with discernment, for ultimately all wisdom is with God.

Does not long life bring understanding?
13  “With God
Heb “him”; the referent (God) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
are wisdom and power;
counsel and understanding are his.
A. B. Davidson (Job, 91) says, “These attributes of God’s [sic] confound and bring to nought everything bearing the same name among men.”

14  If
The use of הֵן (hen, equivalent to הִנֵּה, hinneh, “behold”) introduces a hypothetical condition.
he tears down, it cannot be rebuilt;
if he imprisons a person, there is no escape.
The verse employs antithetical ideas: “tear down” and “build up,” “imprison” and “escape.” The Niphal verbs in the sentences are potential imperfects. All of this is to say that humans cannot reverse the will of God.

15  If he holds back the waters, then they dry up;
The LXX has a clarification: “he will dry the earth.”

if he releases them,
The verse is focusing on the two extremes of drought and flood. Both are described as being under the power of God.
they destroy
The verb הָפַךְ (hafakh) means “to overthrow; to destroy; to overwhelm.” It was used in Job 9:5 for “overturning” mountains. The word is used in Genesis for the destruction of Sodom.
the land.
16  With him are strength and prudence;
The word תּוּשִׁיָּה (tushiyyah) is here rendered “prudence.” Some object that God’s power is intended here, and so a word for power and not wisdom should be included. But v. 13 mentioned wisdom. The point is that it is God’s efficient wisdom that leads to success. One could interpret this as a metonymy of cause, the intended meaning being victory or success.

both the one who goes astray
The Hebrew text uses a wordplay here: שֹׁגֵג (shogeg) is “the one going astray,” i.e., the one who is unable to guard and guide his life. The second word is מַשְׁגֶּה (mashgeh), from a different but historically related root שָׁגָה (shagah), which here in the Hiphil means “the one who misleads, causes to go astray.” These two words are designed to include everybody – all are under the wisdom of God.

and the one who misleads are his.
17  He
The personal pronoun normally present as the subject of the participle is frequently omitted (see GKC 381 #119.s).
GKC 361-62 #116.x notes that almost as a rule a participle beginning a sentence is continued with a finite verb with or without a ו (vav). Here the participle (“leads”) is followed by an imperfect (“makes fools”) after a ו (vav).
counselors away stripped
The word שׁוֹלָל (sholal), from the root שָׁלַל (shalal, “to plunder; to strip”), is an adjective expressing the state (and is in the singular, as if to say, “in the state of one naked” [GKC 375 #118.o]). The word is found in military contexts (see Mic 1:8). It refers to the carrying away of people in nakedness and shame by enemies who plunder (see also Isa 8:1–4). They will go away as slaves and captives, deprived of their outer garments. Some (cf. NAB) suggest “barefoot,” based on the LXX of Mic 1:8; but the meaning of that is uncertain. G. R. Driver wanted to derive the word from an Arabic root “to be mad; to be giddy,” forming a better parallel.

and makes judges
The judges, like the counselors, are nobles in the cities. God may reverse their lot, either by captivity or by shame, and they cannot resist his power.
into fools.
Some translate this “makes mad” as in Isa 44:25, but this gives the wrong connotation today; more likely God shows them to be fools.

18  He loosens
The verb may be classified as a gnomic perfect, or possibly a potential perfect – “he can loosen.” The Piel means “to untie; to unbind” (Job 30:11; 38:31; 39:5).
the bonds
There is a potential textual difficulty here. The MT has מוּסַר (musar, “discipline”), which might have replaced מוֹסֵר (moser, “bond, chain”) from אָסַר (’asar, “to bind”). Or מוּסַר might be an unusual form of אָסַר (an option noted in HALOT 557 s.v. *מוֹסֵר). The line is saying that if the kings are bound, God can set them free, and in the second half, if they are free, he can bind them. Others take the view that this word “bond” refers to the power kings have over others, meaning that God can reduce kings to slavery.
of kings
and binds a loincloth
Some commentators want to change אֵזוֹר (’ezor, “girdle”) to אֵסוּר (’esur, “bond”) because binding the loins with a girdle was an expression for strength. But H. H. Rowley notes that binding the king’s loins this way would mean so that he would do servitude, menial tasks. Such a reference would certainly indicate troubled times.
around their waist.
19  He leads priests away stripped
Except for “priests,” the phraseology is identical to v. 17a.

and overthrows
The verb has to be defined by its context: it can mean “falsify” (Exod 23:8), “make tortuous” (Prov 19:3), or “plunge” into misfortune (Prov 21:12). God overthrows those who seem to be solid.
the potentates.
The original meaning of אֵיתָן (’eytan) is “perpetual.” It is usually an epithet for a torrent that is always flowing. It carries the connotations of permanence and stability; here applied to people in society, it refers to one whose power and influence does not change. These are the pillars of society.

20  He deprives the trusted advisers
The Hebrew נֶאֱמָנִים (neemanim) is the Niphal participle; it is often translated “the faithful” in the Bible. The Rabbis rather fancifully took the word from נְאֻם (neum, “oracle, utterance”) and so rendered it “those who are eloquent, fluent in words.” But that would make this the only place in the Bible where this form came from that root or any other root besides אָמַן (’aman, “confirm, support”). But to say that God takes away the speech of the truthful or the faithful would be very difficult. It has to refer to reliable men, because it is parallel to the elders or old men. The NIV has “trusted advisers,” which fits well with kings and judges and priests.
of speech
Heb “he removes the lip of the trusted ones.”

and takes away the discernment
Heb “taste,” meaning “opinion” or “decision.”
of elders.
21  He pours contempt on noblemen
and disarms
The expression in Hebrew uses מְזִיחַ (meziakh, “belt”) and the Piel verb רִפָּה (rippah, “to loosen”) so that “to loosen the belt of the mighty” would indicate “to disarm/incapacitate the mighty.” Others have opted to change the text: P. Joüon emends to read “forehead” – “he humbles the brow of the mighty.”
the powerful.
The word אָפַק (’afaq, “to be strong”) is well-attested, and the form אָפִיק (’afiq) is a normal adjective formation. So a translation like “mighty” (KJV, NIV) or “powerful” is acceptable, and further emendations are unnecessary.

22  He reveals the deep things of darkness,
and brings deep shadows
The Hebrew word is traditionally rendered “shadow of death” (so KJV, ASV); see comments at Job 3:3.
into the light.
23  He makes nations great,
The word מַשְׂגִּיא (masgi’, “makes great”) is a common Aramaic word, but only occurs in Hebrew here and in Job 8:11 and 36:24. Some mss have a change, reading the form from שָׁגָה (shagah, “leading astray”). The LXX omits the line entirely.
and destroys them;
he extends the boundaries of nations
and disperses
The difficulty with the verb נָחָה (nakhah) is that it means “to lead; to guide,” but not “to lead away” or “to disperse,” unless this passage provides the context for such a meaning. Moreover, it never has a negative connotation. Some vocalize it וַיַּנִּיחֶם (vayyannikhem), from נוּחַ (nuakh), the causative meaning of “rest,” or “abandon” (Driver, Gray, Gordis). But even there it would mean “leave in peace.” Blommerde suggests the second part is antithetical parallelism, and so should be positive. So Ball proposed וַיִּמְחֶם (vayyimkhem) from מָחָה (makhah): “and he cuts them off.”
The rise and fall of nations, which does not seem to be governed by any moral principle, is for Job another example of God’s arbitrary power.

24  He deprives the leaders of the earth
Heb “the heads of the people of the earth.”

of their understanding;
Heb “heart.”

he makes them wander
in a trackless desert waste.
The text has בְּתֹהוּ לֹא־דָרֶךְ (betohu lo darekh): “in waste – no way,” or “in a wasteland [where there is] no way,” thus, “trackless” (see the discussion of negative attributes using לֹא [lo’] in GKC 482 #152.u).

25  They grope about in darkness
The word is an adverbial accusative.
without light;
he makes them stagger
The verb is the same that was in v. 24, “He makes them [the leaders still] wander” (the Hiphil of תָּעָה, taah). But in this passage some commentators emend the text to a Niphal of the verb and put it in the plural, to get the reading “they reel to and fro.” But even if the verse closes the chapter and there is no further need for a word of divine causation, the Hiphil sense works well here – causing people to wander like a drunken man would be the same as making them stagger.
like drunkards.

Job Pleads His Cause to God

Chapter 13 records Job’s charges against his friends for the way they used their knowledge (1–5), his warning that God would find out their insincerity (6–12), and his pleading of his cause to God in which he begs for God to remove his hand from him and that he would not terrify him with his majesty and that he would reveal the sins that caused such great suffering (13–28).
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