Job 24

The Apparent Indifference of God

“Why are times not appointed by
The preposition מִן (min) is used to express the cause (see GKC 389 #121.f).
the Almighty?
The LXX reads “Why are times hidden from the Almighty?” as if to say that God is not interested in the events on the earth. The MT reading is saying that God fails to set the times for judgment and vindication and makes good sense as it stands.

Why do those who know him not see his days?
The line is short: “they move boundary stones.” So some commentators have supplied a subject, such as “wicked men.” The reason for its being wicked men is that to move the boundary stone was to encroach dishonestly on the lands of others (Deut 19:14; 27:17).
move boundary stones;
they seize the flock and pasture them.
The LXX reads “and their shepherd.” Many commentators accept this reading. But the MT says that they graze the flocks that they have stolen. The difficulty with the MT reading is that there is no suffix on the final verb – but that is not an insurmountable difference.

They drive away the orphan’s donkey;
they take the widow’s ox as a pledge.
They turn the needy from the pathway,
and the poor of the land hide themselves together.
Because of the violence and oppression of the wicked, the poor and needy, the widows and orphans, all are deprived of their rights and forced out of the ways and into hiding just to survive.

The verse begins with הֵן (hen); but the LXX, Vulgate, and Syriac all have “like.” R. Gordis (Job, 265) takes הֵן (hen) as a pronoun “they” and supplies the comparative. The sense of the verse is clear in either case.
wild donkeys in the desert
That is, “the poor.”
go out to their labor,
The MT has “in the working/labor of them,” or “when they labor.” Some commentators simply omit these words. Dhorme retains them and moves them to go with עֲרָבָה (’aravah), which he takes to mean “evening”; this gives a clause, “although they work until the evening.” Then, with many others, he takes לוֹ (lo) to be a negative and finishes the verse with “no food for the children.” Others make fewer changes in the text, and as a result do not come out with such a hopeless picture – there is some food found. The point is that they spend their time foraging for food, and they find just enough to survive, but it is a day-long activity. For Job, this shows how unrighteous the administration of the world actually is.

seeking diligently for food;
the wasteland provides
The verb is not included in the Hebrew text but is supplied in the translation.
food for them
and for their children.
They reap fodder
The word בְּלִילוֹ (belilo) means “his fodder.” It is unclear to what this refers. If the suffix is taken as a collective, then it can be translated “they gather/reap their fodder.” The early versions all have “they reap in a field which is not his” (taking it as בְּלִי לוֹ, beli lo). A conjectural emendation would change the word to בַּלַּיְלָה (ballaylah, “in the night”). But there is no reason for this.
in the field,
and glean
The verbs in this verse are uncertain. In the first line “reap” is used, and that would be the work of a hired man (and certainly not done at night). The meaning of this second verb is uncertain; it has been taken to mean “glean,” which would be the task of the poor.
in the vineyard of the wicked.
They spend the night naked because they lack clothing;
they have no covering against the cold.
They are soaked by mountain rains
and huddle
Heb “embrace” or “hug.”
in the rocks because they lack shelter.
The fatherless child is snatched
The verb with no expressed subject is here again taken in the passive: “they snatch” becomes “[child] is snatched.”
from the breast,
This word is usually defined as “violence; ruin.” But elsewhere it does mean “breast” (Isa 60:16; 66:11), and that is certainly what it means here.

the infant of the poor is taken as a pledge.
The MT has a very brief and strange reading: “they take as a pledge upon the poor.” This could be taken as “they take a pledge against the poor” (ESV). Kamphausen suggested that instead of עַל (’al, “against”) one should read עוּל (’ul, “suckling”). This is supported by the parallelism. “They take as pledge” is also made passive here.

10  They go about naked, without clothing,
and go hungry while they carry the sheaves.
The point should not be missed – amidst abundant harvests, carrying sheaves about, they are still going hungry.

11  They press out the olive oil between the rows of olive trees;
The Hebrew term is שׁוּרֹתָם (shurotam), which may be translated “terraces” or “olive rows.” But that would not be the proper place to have a press to press the olives and make oil. E. Dhorme (Job, 360–61) proposes on the analogy of an Arabic word that this should be read as “millstones” (which he would also write in the dual). But the argument does not come from a clean cognate, but from a possible development of words. The meaning of “olive rows” works well enough.

they tread the winepresses while they are thirsty.
The final verb, a preterite with the ו (vav) consecutive, is here interpreted as a circumstantial clause.

12  From the city the dying
The MT as pointed reads “from the city of men they groan.” Most commentators change one vowel in מְתִים (metim) to get מֵתִים (metim) to get the active participle, “the dying.” This certainly fits the parallelism better, although sense could be made out of the MT.
and the wounded
Heb “the souls of the wounded,” which here refers to the wounded themselves.
cry out for help,
but God charges no one with wrongdoing.
The MT has the noun תִּפְלָה (tiflah) which means “folly; tastelessness” (cf. 1:22). The verb, which normally means “to place; to put,” would then be rendered “to impute; to charge.” This is certainly a workable translation in the context. Many commentators have emended the text, changing the noun to תְּפִלָּה (tefillah, “prayer”), and so then also the verb יָשִׂים (yasim, here “charges”) to יִשְׁמַע (yishma’, “hears”). It reads: “But God does not hear the prayer” – referring to the groans.

13  There are those
Heb “They are among those who.”
who rebel against the light;
they do not know its ways
and they do not stay on its paths.
14  Before daybreak
The text simply has לָאוֹר (laor, “at light” or “at daylight”), probably meaning just at the time of dawn.
the murderer rises up;
he kills the poor and the needy;
in the night he is
In a few cases the jussive is used without any real sense of the jussive being present (see GKC 323 #109.k).
like a thief.
The point is that he is like a thief in that he works during the night, just before the daylight, when the advantage is all his and the victim is most vulnerable.

15  And the eye of the adulterer watches for the twilight,
Heb “saying.”
‘No eye can see me,’
and covers his face with a mask.
16  In the dark the robber
The phrase “the robber” has been supplied in the English translation for clarification.
breaks into houses,
This is not the idea of the adulterer, but of the thief. So some commentators reverse the order and put this verse after v. 14.

but by day they shut themselves in;
The verb חִתְּמוּ (khittemu) is the Piel from the verb חָתַם (khatam, “to seal”). The verb is now in the plural, covering all the groups mentioned that work under the cover of darkness. The suggestion that they “seal,” i.e., “mark” the house they will rob, goes against the meaning of the word “seal.”

they do not know the light.
Some commentators join this very short colon to the beginning of v. 17: “they do not know the light. For together…” becomes “for together they have not known the light.”

17  For all of them,
Heb “together.”
the morning is to them
like deep darkness;
they are friends with the terrors of darkness.
Many commentators find vv. 18–24 difficult on the lips of Job, and so identify this unit as a misplaced part of the speech of Zophar. They describe the enormities of the wicked. But a case can also be made for retaining it in this section. Gordis thinks it could be taken as a quotation by Job of his friends’ ideas.
“You say,
The verb “say” is not in the text; it is supplied here to indicate that this is a different section.
‘He is foam
Or “is swift.”
on the face of the waters;
The wicked person is described here as a spray or foam upon the waters, built up in the agitation of the waters but dying away swiftly.

their portion of the land is cursed
so that no one goes to their vineyard.
The text reads, “he does not turn by the way of the vineyards.” This means that since the land is cursed, he/one does not go there. Bickell emended “the way of the vineyards” to “the treader of the vineyard” (see RSV, NRSV). This would mean that “no wine-presser would turn towards” their vineyards.

19  The drought as well as the heat carry away
the melted snow;
Heb “the waters of the snow.”

so the grave
Or “so Sheol.”
takes away those who have sinned.
This is the meaning of the verse, which in Hebrew only has “The grave / they have sinned.”

20  The womb
Here “womb” is synecdoche, representing one’s mother.
forgets him,
the worm feasts on him,
no longer will he be remembered.
Like a tree, wickedness will be broken down.
21  He preys on
The form in the text is the active participle, “feed; graze; shepherd.” The idea of “prey” is not natural to it. R. Gordis (Job, 270) argues that third he (ה) verbs are often by-forms of geminate verbs, and so the meaning here is more akin to רָעַע (raa’, “to crush”). The LXX seems to have read something like הֵרַע (hera’, “oppressed”).
the barren and childless woman,
Heb “the childless [woman], she does not give birth.” The verbal clause is intended to serve as a modifier here for the woman. See on subordinate verbal clauses GKC 490 #156.d, f.

and does not treat the widow well.
22  But God
God has to be the subject of this clause. None is stated in the Hebrew text, but “God” has been supplied in the translation for clarity.
drags off the mighty by his power;
when God
Heb “he”; the referent (God) has been specified in the translation for clarity. See the note on the word “life” at the end of the line.
rises up against him, he has no faith in his life.
This line has been given a number of interpretations due to its cryptic form. The verb יָקוּם (yaqum) means “he rises up.” It probably is meant to have God as the subject, and be subordinated as a temporal clause to what follows. The words “against him” are not in the Hebrew text, but have been supplied in the translation to specify the object and indicate that “rise up” is meant in a hostile sense. The following verb וְלֹא־יַאֲמִין (velo-yaamin), by its very meaning of “and he does not believe,” cannot have God as the subject, but must refer to the wicked.

23  God
Heb “he”; the referent (God) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
may let them rest in a feeling of security,
The expression לָבֶטַח (lavetakh, “in security”) precedes the verb that it qualifies – God “allows him to take root in security.” For the meaning of the verb, see Job 8:15.

but he is constantly watching
Heb “his eyes are on.”
all their ways.
The meaning of the verse is that God may allow the wicked to rest in comfort and security, but all the time he is watching them closely with the idea of bringing judgment on them.

24  They are exalted for a little while,
and then they are gone,
The Hebrew throughout this section (vv. 18–24) interchanges the singular and the plural. Here again we have “they are exalted…but he is not.” The verse is clear nonetheless: the wicked rise high, and then suddenly they are gone.

they are brought low
The verb is the Hophal of the rare verb מָכַךְ (makhakh), which seems to mean “to bend; to collapse.” The text would read “they are made to collapse like all others.” There is no reason here to change “like others” just because the MT is banal. But many do, following the LXX with “like mallows.” The LXX was making a translation according to sense. R. Gordis (Job, 271) prefers “like grass.”
like all others,
and gathered in,
The verb קָפַץ (qafats) actually means “to shut in,” which does not provide exactly the idea of being gathered, not directly at least. But a change to קָטַף (qataf, “pluck”) while attractive, is not necessary.

and like a head of grain they are cut off.’
This marks the end of the disputed section, taken here to be a quotation by Job of their sentiments.

25  “If this is not so, who can prove me a liar
and reduce my words to nothing?”
The word אַל (’al, “not”) is used here substantivally (“nothing”).

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