Here’s a translation of Job 23-24 from Hebrew, with sporadic comments.
Previously: 1:1-5 | 1:6-12 | 1:13-22 | 2:1-6 | 2:7-13 | 3:1-10 | 3:11-26 | 4 | 5:1-7 | 5:8-27 | 6 | 7 | 8:1-7 | 8:8-22 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13:1-16 | 13:17-14:22 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 |
23:1 And Job answered, saying:
2 “Surely today bitter [is] my complaint,
My hand [is] heavy from my groaning.
3 O that I knew [where] I would find him (God),
and come to His seat.
4 I would lay before Him judgement,
And my mouth I would fill [with] reproof.
5 I would know [the] speech He would answer me,
And I would understand what He said to me.
6 With much power would He contend with me?
No – He would pay attention to me.
7 There [the] upright could argue with him, and I would be delivered forever by my judge.
Eliphaz has already had three goes at “advising” Job (see attempts #1, #2 and #3). In his reply, Job doesn’t even address Eliphaz directly (I suspect he realises there’s no point trying to change his mind!). Instead, he longs to find God (v3), to come to His seat, and lay his case before him (v4). Job is convinced that, unlike the self-assured Eliphaz, God will understand (v5), He will pay attention (v6), and Job will be able to argue his case (v7).
8 See, I go forwards (lit: east), but he is not there,
And back, but I do not sense him.
9 On the left (fig: north) in his working I do not see him; he turns right (south) yet I do not see.
Unlike the writer of Psalm 139, who is so certain of God’s sovereign care wherever he goes, Job cannot find His Maker whichever direction he turns. God must show up Himself! (c.f. chapter 38-41)
10 For he knows the way that I take,
[When] He has tried me, as gold I shall come out.
11 In his footsteps my foot has held fast;
His path I have kept and not turned away from,
12 [The] commandment of His lips also I have not departed from;
More than my portion [of food?] I have hidden His words in my mouth.
If Job could be assessed (“tried” in v10) by God, he is confident that his conduct would be as pure as gold. He knows he hasn’t departed from God’s commandment, and has stored up His words in his mouth.
13 But He is as one, and who can cause Him to return?
And [what] He (lit: his neck) desires, He also does.
14 For He will complete (lit: shalom) my decree, and many such things [are] with him.
15 Therefore before His presence I am dismayed,
When I consider, I am in dread of Him.
16 God has softened my heart,
And Almighty has dismayed me.
17 But I am not “silenced”, on account of the darkness,
and because of my face [which] thick darkness covers.
Job here seems to backpedal regarding his confidence before the Lord… but he would still rather plead his case, even if it means showing himself before God’s presence. The use of “darkness” (חֹ֑שֶׁךְ) and “thick darkness” (אֹֽפֶל) reminds us how hurt he still is, as we heard earlier in chapter 3. But He still keeps talking to God.
24:1 Why from the Almighty are times not kept hidden,
And [why] do those who know Him not see his days?
2 [The wicked] move boundary stones,
Flocks they seize; and shepherd [them].
3 A donkey of the orphaned they drive away;
they take for a pledge the widow’s ox.
4 They stretch out the poor from the road,
the poor of the earth hide themselves.
Verse 1 is at the heart of Job’s complaint: why is it that “those who know Him” (the word know here connotes a deep intimacy and closeness) not live to an old age (see his days?) Implied in verse 2-4 is a contrast of the awful behaviour of the wicked: they take over land illegally (v2a), take others’ farm animals (v2b), chase away the property of the vulnerable, and take advantage of widows. Why do these kinds of people, organisations, governments seem to prosper? With large-scale military coups and state-sanctioned genocide happening even today, this is a relevant question.
5 Behold – [like] donkeys in the wilderness,
they go out to their work, seeking food;
The wasteland (to it) [has] food for young lads.
6 In the field they gather their fodder
And the vineyard of wicked men they glean.
7 Naked, they overnight without clothing,
And there is no covering in the cold.
8 From mountain rains they become wet,
And (from) without refuge they hug a rock.
You can’t accuse Job of being unsympathetic to the poor. Job is lamenting and asking, “Is there justice?” – in comparison to other literature that says, “There is justice” (e.g. Proverbs), or “Give us justice!” (e.g. Psalms), or “Where is justice?” (e.g. Ecclesiastes).
9 They seize the orphan from a breast,
And over the needy they take a pledge.
10 Naked [the needy] walk without clothing,
And hungry they carry sheaves.
11 Among [olive] rows they press oil,
the winepress they tread, yet they thirst.
12 From [the] city the dying groan,
And the necks of the wounded cry for help,
yet God does not give offense [to anyone].
The plight of the needy, Job observes, is obvious. They work while hungry, they don’t have enough to live on, yet God doesn’t seem to hold anyone to account for this injustice here in this life.
13 There are those rebelling the light, who do not recognise its ways,
And do not dwell in its paths.
14 Before light (lit: to light) a murderer rises to kill the poor and needy,
and at night he becomes a thief.
15 And the eye of an adulterer watches for twilight, to say:
“No eye will observe me.”
And he sets a covering of [his] face.
16 He digs in the dark [through] houses,
by day they seal themselves, they do not know light.
17 Since altogether morning to them [is like] thick darkness,
Since they recognise terrors of thick darkness.
The language of darkness returns again. For wicked people to “recognise” (or befriend) the same darkness that Job lamented from in chapter 3 seems perverse.
18 Swift he is upon the face of the waters,
Cursed is their portion in the land;
They do not turn the way of the vineyards.
(In other words, no one offers to help them with the hard work of treading the grapes from their vineyards).
19 Drought and also heat seize the waters of snow,
Sheol [too seizes] those who sin.
20 The womb forgets them,
A worm finds it sweet,
They are not remembered again;
And broken as a tree is wickedness.
21 [When the wicked one] accompanies the barren,
she does not bear children;
And he does not deal well with the widow.
22 Yet He prolongs the mighty in his power;
he [who] rises up and does not trust in his life.
23 He gives to him (the wicked) security and they are supported;
And his eyes are upon their ways.
24 They are exalted awhile, then he is not,
and they are brought low [and] like others they are taken up;
And like heads of grain they wither.
25 And if not, then who will cause me to be a liar;
And show [there is] nothing in my speech?
Job despairs of how the mighty people on earth seem to rise up. Yet he is sure of their path in life: they become exalted for a time, but then are “brought low” and gathered up like a harvest. This is a perspective that Job’s friends fail to account for. Justice is not only something we observe in the here and now, but includes what God will do. The grave (v21, Sheol) eventually will seize all those who sin. There is no partiality – it is appointed for every person to die once, and face judgement (Heb 9:27).