Using Day 3 of our nationwide lockdown to lock down some rusty Hebrew. A rough translation and thoughts on the way. Some of it will be familiar to friends who have journeyed through Kirk Patston’s classes.
1:13-15 Now there was a day,
When his sons and daughters [were] eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house.
And a messenger came to Job, and said:
“The oxen were plowing, and the donkeys were feeding beside them…
and Sabeans fell [upon them]
and took the servants
they struck them by the edge of the sword.
And I have escaped — only I, alone — to tell you.”
- This section starts the same as verse 6: “Now there was a day…” – the camera’s shifted back from heaven to earth.
- The Sabeans literally “fell” – in the same way fire from God will fall from heaven in v16. The narrator emphasises that each , as horrifying as it is, was heaven-sent as previously decreed.
- The Hebrew captures stammering speech: “I’ve been delivered… I alone… only me…” – and highlights the severity of the calamity
1:16 [While] this one [was still] speaking, [another] came and said:
“Fire of God fell from the heavens,
and it burned the flock and the servants and consumed them.
And I escaped — only I, alone — to tell you.”
1:17 While this one was still speaking, another came and said:
“Chaldeans appointed three captains (lit. heads)
and they fell upon the camels
and took them
and the servants they struck with the edge of the sword,
and I escaped, only I, alone to tell you.”
- The key word in the Hebrew that connects all the calamities is niphal (נפל), “it fell”. They were not just chance accidents, but they fell from heaven. It’s a difficult truth.
- The narrator saves the worst news for last…
1:18-19 While this one was still speaking, another came and said:
“Your sons and daughters [were] eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house,
and behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness
and struck the four corners of the house
and it fell upon the servants [actually, Job’s children].
and they died.
And I escaped, only I, alone to tell you.“
- “And they died.” The servant can’t bear to say what Job dreads: his ten treasured children have died.
1:20 Then Job arose.
And he tore his robes
and shaved his head.
And he fell to the earth, and worshipped.
And he said:
“Naked I departed from my mother’s womb,
And naked will I return there.
Yahweh gave and Yahweh took;
May Yahweh name be ‘blessed’.”
1:22 In all this, Job did not sin. And he did not give offence to God.
- His actions are impeccable – he falls to the ground, he worships.
- Yet his own speech verse 21 is ambiguous. Remember how barakh could mean “blessed” or “farewelled”, and how it’s been used as a euphemism for “cursing” God (see previous discussion).
- Perhaps that’s why the narrator has to emphasise that Job does not sin or do wrong (v22).
My own reflections:
- Suffering often occurs in a relentless cluster. Job barely has time to catch his breath before the next messenger announces disaster. Many of us in NZ have shared this feeling this week – Alert Level 2 introduced on Saturday, Level 3 on Monday, a Level 4 nationwide lockdown by Wednesday night. That’s what it’s feeling like for healthcare workers on the frontline – the next patient arrives, then the next one, then the next one.
- We talk about blessings falling from heaven, but how comfortable am I with believing that our sufferings also fall, fall, fall, fall from heaven?
- How will I respond when everything is taken away from me – work, study opportunities, freedom to move around? Job falls to the ground and gives a faithful answer (that’s enshrined in Matt Redman’s song) we can follow – “Blessed be the name of the Lord”. Yet the ambiguity of barakh raises the possibility that those who suffer will not always stoically “bless” God. When troubles fall upon me, will I “farewell”, even curse God? Which route will Job take in the chapters to come? That’s the riddle of suffering.