The Text of Job 38:1-42:6

Here’s Norm Habel’s translation of the text of the speeches from the whirlwind. You’ll see that there are two distinct speeches, each responding to something Job said, but never speaking to Job’s innocence or explaining the prologue. So the question is, in what sense is this a response?

If I might make a suggestion, you may find that you’ll enjoy this more if you lift it into a word processor and print out a copy. Then read it a couple of times just for the flow of the words and the impact of the poetry. After the mythical beasts tamed by God in the creation and whatnot begin to seem familiar, then try to fit it into the larger narrative of Job.


Theophany and Summons

Then Yahweh answered Job from the whirlwind and said:
Who is this who clouds my design in darkness,
Presenting arguments without knowledge?
Gird your loins like a hero;
I will ask questions and you will inform me.

Earth and Sea

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Tell me if you have gained discernment!
Who fixed its dimensions? Surely you know!
Or who stretched out the measuring lines over it?
On what were its pillar sunk?
Or who set its cornerstone
When the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Who hedged in the Sea with doors
When he gushed forth from the womb,
When I wrapped him in robes of cloud
And swaddled him in dense cloud,
When I prescribed my limit for him
By fixing bars and doors
And saying, “Thus far you may come and no farther!
Here your proud waves break.”

Dawn, Darkness, and the Netherworld

In all your days, have you commanded Morning,
And assigned Dawn her place,
So that you might seize the edges of the earth
And shake the wicked from it?
It changes like clay under a seal,
And they stand out like a garment
Thus the wicked are robbed of their light
And the upraised arm is broken.
Have you penetrated the sources of Sea
Or walked through the recesses of Deep?
Have the gates of Death been revealed to you?
Have you seen the gates of Death’s gloom?
Have you discerned the expanses of the earth?
Tell me if you know all this?
Where is the way to the dwelling of Light,
And where is the place of Darkness,
That you may escort each to its territory
And discern the path to its house?
Surely you know, for you were born then,
And the number of your days is great.

Phenomena of the Heavens

Have you penetrated the storehouses of snow
And inspected the storehouses of hail,
Which I have reserve for the time of distress,
For the day of attack and war?
Where is the way for the dispersing lightning
And scattering the east wind over the earth?
Who cleft a channel for the torrents
And a way for the thunderstorm
To rain on a land devoid of mortals,
Or a wilderness devoid of humans,
To saturate the wasted wasteland
And sprout forth grass from the dry ground?
Does the rain have a father?
Who begot the dewdrops?
From whose belly did ice emerge?
Who gave birth to the hoarfrost of heaven,
When water is hidden like stone
And the face of the Deep freezes over?
Can bind the fetters of the Pleiades
Or loose the sash of Orion
Can you lead out Mazzaroth in its season
Or stay the course of (a)Bootes and his companions?
Do you know the laws of heaven?
Can you establish its order on earth?
Can you lift your voice to the clouds
For a torrent of water to cover you?
Can you dispatch lightning on a mission
And have it answer you, “Here I am?”
Who put wisdom in the cloud canopy
And who gave discernment to my pavilion?
Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
Who tilts the bottles of heaven
When the dust melts into a mass
And the clods cleave together?

The Kingdom of the Wild

Can you hunt prey for the lion
And appease the appetite of whelps
When they crouch in their dens
And wait in their lair?
Who provides prey for the raven
When its fledglings cry out to El,
Wandering about without any food?
Do you know the time when the ibex give birth?
Do you watch over the calving of hinds?
Can you count the months they must fulfill?
Do you know the time of their delivery,
When they crouch to deliver their offspring?
Their young are healthy; they grow up in the open;
They leave and never return.
Who set the wild ass free
And loosed the bonds of the onager,
Whom I assigned a home in the wilderness
And a dwelling in the salt flats?
He laughs at the furor of the city
And hears no shouts from a taskmaster.
He roams the hills for pasture
And searches for anything green.
Is the wild ox willing to serve you?
Will he spend the night beside your crib?
Can you hold the wild ox in the furrow with ropes?
Will he harrow the valleys behind you?
Can you rely on his great strength
And leave your toil to him?
Can you trust him to harvest your grain
And gather it in from the threshing floor?

The Ostrich, the Horse, and the Eagle

The wing of the ostrich rejoices;
She has gracious plumage and pinions.
But she leaves her eggs on the ground
And lets them get hot in the dust,
She forgets that a foot may crush them,
Or a wild beast trample them.
She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
She does not care if her labor is in vain.
For Eloah deprived her of wisdom
And withheld her portion of discernment.
But when she rears on high
She laughs at horse and rider.
Do you impart to the horse his might?
Do you adorn his neck with thunder?
Do you make him quake like a locust swarm?
The majesty of his snort spells terror.
He paws with power, he exults in his strength;
He charges headlong into the fray.
He laughts at dread, he remains undaunted;
He does not recoil from the sword.
Beside him the quiver rattles,
The flaming lance and the javelin.
He quakes and shakes; he swallows the earth;
He can hardly believe the blast of his trumpet.
As the trumpet sounds he says, “Aha!”
From afar he smells the battle,
The thunder of captains and the war cry.
Is it by your discernment that the hawk soars,
Spreading his wings to the south?
Does the eagle mount at your command
And build his nest on high?
He makes his dwelling on a rock.
On a rocky crag his stronghold.
From there he searches out food,
From afar his eyes detect it.
His young gulp blood;
Where the salin are, there is he.

Closing Challenge and Job’s Reply
Yahweh answered Job and said,
“Will the one with a suit against Shaddai correct me?
Will the one arraigning Eloah answer me?”
Then Job answered Yahweh and said,
“Behold, I am small; how can I refute you?
I clap my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, I cannot answer
Twice and will do so no more.”


Then Yahweh answered Job from the whirlwind and said:
Gird your loins like a hero!
I will ask questions and you will inform me!
Would you pervert my justice?
Would you prove me wrong so that you may be in the right?
Have you an arm like El’s?
Can you thunder with a voice like his?
Deck yourself with grandeur and dignity!
Adorn yourself with glory and majesty!
Unleash the furies of your wrath!
Look upon the proud and humble them!
Look upon the proud and abase them!
Crush the wicked where they stand!
Hide them in the dust together!
Bind up their faces in the hidden place!
Then I, I will pay you homage
For the victory your right hand has won you.

El’s Subjugation of Behemoth

Behold, now, Behemoth, whom I made along with you!
He eats grass like cattle.
Behold also his strength in his loings,
His might in the muscles of his belly.
When erect, his tail is like a cedar,
The sinews of his thighs are knotted together.
His bones are like tubes of bronze,
His limbs like iron rods.
He is the first of El’s ways;
His Maker draws his sword against him.
The mountains bring him their tribute;
All the beasts of the field revel there.
He lies down under the lotuses,
Under the cover of reeds and swamp.
The lotuses form a bower of shade over him,
The willows of the brook surround him.
If the river rages he is not cowed,
If the Jordan gushes forth he is calm.
El takes him by the mouth with rings,
He pierces his nose with hook.

Challenge to Capture Leviathan

Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook
Or depress his tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope through his nose,
Or pierce his jaw with a barb?
Will he inundate you with supplications,
Or placate you with gentle words?
Will he make a covenant with you
To take him as your lifelong servant?
Will you play with him like a bird
And tie him down for your girls?
Will traders bargain over him
Or offer him for sale among merchants?
Can you fill his skin with harpoons
Or his head with fishing spears?
If you lay a hand on him
You will not long remember the battle!

Yahweh’s Silencing of Leviathan

Behold, any hope against him is false;
At his very appearance one is laid low.
Is he not ferocious when roused?
But who can take their stand before my face?
Whoever confronts me I requite,
For everything under heaven is mine.
Did I not silence his boasting
His mighty word and his persuasive case?

The Terror and Invincibility of Leviathan

Who can remove his outer garment
Or penetrate his double coat of mail?
Who can pry open the doors of his face?
Terror surrounds his teeth!
His back is rows of shields,
Closed tight with a seal.
One piece is hard on another;
No air can come between them.
Each one is joined tightly to the other;
They are interlocked and cannot be separated.
His sneezings flash forth lightning
And his eyes are like the eyelids of dawn.
Torches issue from his mouth,
Flames of fire leap forth.
From his nostrils comes smoke,
Flames, fanned and fierce.
His breath ignites coals,
Flame pours forth from his mouth.
Strength resides in his neck,
And before his face dread dances.
The fold of his flesh cleave together,
Cast hard upon him and immovable.
His heart is cast hard a stone,
Cast hard as the nether millstone.
At his majesty gods are afraid,
At his crashings they cringe.
No sword one draws against him will prevail,
Nor spear, nor dar, nor javelin.
He treats iron as straw,
Bronze as rotted wood.
No arrow can put him to flight;
Slingstones are turned to stubble for him.
The club too he treats as stubble
And he laughs at the shaking of javelins.

Lord of Chaos and King of the Proud;

His underparts are sharp shards
He spread out like a threshing sledge on the mire.
He makes the deep seethe like a cauldron;
He turns the sea into an ointment pot.
In his wake is a luminous path;
One would think the abyss had white hair!
There is no one on the dust to dominate him;
He is make without fear.
He looks down on all that is lofty;
He is king over all proud beasts.

Job’s Final Response

The Job answered Yahweh and said:
I know that you can do everything,
And that no scheme of yours can be thwarted.
[You said]
“Who is this who obscures my design without knowledge?”
Indeed I spoke without discernment
Of things beyond me which I did not know.
[You said]
“Hear now and I will speak,
I will ask and you will inform me.”
I have heard you with my ears
But now my eyes see you.
Therefore I retract
And repent of dust and ashes.

So then…the central issue is to decide why Job decided to stop talking and withdraw his suit. And what does it mean to “repent of dust and ashes?” What is Job repenting of? And even more interesting, what is God’s mood? Is he angry? Is he crushing Job? Or is he playful and tolerant? How does God feel about his creation and his work?

I have provided the clues that support my reading in the earlier posts, but you may have different ideas. Although some readings of Job can be discarded, there are many that remain viable, even against the most careful study.

The OT is great literature and Job is the greatest of the OT…

14 Replies to “The Text of Job 38:1-42:6”

  1. Aside from anything we might come up with by context and then argu about, there are the plain accusations by the Lord in 38:1-3 of ignorance and arrogance, and of faultfinding in 40:2. There are probably some others scattered around in there too.

  2. Thanks for all these posts Mogget. I’m not sure I can read between the lines to discern your take, so I hope you’ll elaborate with a bit of prodding. Prod, prod, prod….

    It seems you do think that the philosophies/theologies that the friends all put forth are the wrong approaches to God. But what is the right approach? Simply to humble oneself to what God chooses to inflict, without trying to fit God into a limiting theological framework? I’m sure I’m projecting my own hermeneutical tendencies onto what you’ve written here….

    We’ve started to discuss a possible meaning proposed Gerald Janzen regarding the phraseology “repent of dust and ashes” in 42:6. I haven’t read any of Janzen’s work and it’s hard to for me to see how he would develop this theme, but I think it’s a very interesting idea from an LDS perspective because it focuses on an elevated potential of man beyond dust and ashes….

  3. Kurt! Ha! Good to see you around, dude.

    Robert C.,

    Yes, I’ll wind it up in a day or so. I’m having some very serious time issues just at the moment.

    It’s not so much that all the approaches are wrong as that none of them address the currect scenario. All of them are right…some of the time. None of them is right this time.

    I definitely do not think that unquestioning submission is the answer. If there is one thing about Job that is clear, it is that questions, even tough questions, are welcome — if they come from folks who are sincere.

    So I have another answer, or partial answer to be more accurate. But I gotta dissertate right now….sure you know the feeling yourself. So I put this up, not to be mysterious, but so folks could have a look at it before I speak my piece.

  4. With respect to 42:6, I prefer the JPS translation:

    Wherefore I abhor my words, and repent, seeing I am dust and ashes

    This is the most contextual reading of the problematic Hebrew, given Job 30:19 and Gen. 18:27.

    Job is confessing he is nothing but dust and ashes before the Lord, and has to repent of his arrogance where he questioned and criticized the Lord.

  5. the most contextual reading

    Little Mogget was born at night, but not last night. A “contextual reading” is a translation that is already responding to an interpretation. You like the JPS’s self-abnegation — I don’t, for the following reasons:

    Pretty literally, the Hebrew reads:

    Therefore I despise and I am sorry upon dust and ashes

    So…the JPS has added a few things. Like the object of the verb despise/abhor, for instance.

    This is not surprising, because the object of the verb is key. If the verb is a true reflexive, then no object is required. Dhorme is the most famous commentator to take this route, I think.

    But if not, then there’s gotta be an object. Here’s a synopsis of the situation:

    There’s the idea that what Job rejects is his own words. Kuyper is the force behind this idea.

    Patrick takes “dust and ashes” as the object since it happens to be handy, meaning it’s already in the sentence itself.

    And then there’s J. Curtis, who thinks that Job is rejecting God.

    After that, there’s the final verb, nhm. This is usually “repent,” if its read as a niphal and “find consolation in” if it’s read as a piel. Could be either.

    Here, Patrick has pointed out that the preposition ‘al with the root nhm means to change one’s mind about something. This makes it “I repent of dust and ashes” and it means Job is turning away from his lamentations. Incidentally, this is the position Maimonides took, as well.

    So it’s far more likely that “dust and ashes” is the object of both verbs. I just happen to disagree with Patrick on what the “dust and ashes” are.

    Now let’s talk about Job 30:19. There we have the [only] hithpael of msl, in the first person singular and it’s doing the normal hithpael thing. It means “I am like,” so you naturally get “I am like dust and ashes.” Which is fine with msl, but doesn’t do a thing for me with 42:6, where there’s a different verb and the context is precisely the point of contention.

    Now in Gen 18:27, we have the 1st person pronoun, ‘nky. And so it becomes, naturally, “I am dust and ashes.” But the syntax of Job 42:6 utterly different. So this one is a no-go as well.

    And I’m getting very bad vibes about the JPS over this. If these two examples are what they gave, and they ignored the force of that preposition in conjunction with nhm, then that’s pretty weak.

    Now if I had to guess about what the JPS is thinking with regard to the phrase “I am but dust and ashes,” I’d say they’re working with the preposition ‘al in isolation. It means “over,” “upon,” or “above.” On occasion, it can read “because.”

    Is this an instance where “because” is appropriate? You’ll have to determine that from the context. And the context is precisely the point. And then you’ve also got to milk the context for the verbal phrase “I am” as well. Too much of a stretch.

    In a crux interpretatum use of a contextual reading creates a circular argument. It’s best to lay it out pretty literally and deal with it from there.

    Finally, the JPS reading looks very much like the LXX. I dunno how heavily they’re swayed by the Greek, but I’m always suspicious when it happens.

    Anybody else?

  6. I’ve found in my study of Job that many translations fall to the LXX when the Hebrew runs into trouble, whether minor or major. HP, you Hopskinians had to take Job at some point, right? What say ye?

  7. Crap.

    I have been on vacation for a week and a half. You’ve been busy. Probably take me a couple of weeks to catch up, by that time all this will be ancient.

    I sometimes hate the speed of the bloggernacle.

  8. I don’t know what they did when they recently taught Job (as I wasn’t around; Ronan, however, was) at Hopkins and my own Job knowledge is rather rusty. That said, I think the temptation to look to the Greek as the ultimate arbitor of textual disputes regarding Job is possibly misplaced. After all, it is hard to judge when the Greeks are dealing with an original variation or when they are also having trouble translating hard passages. I haven’t heard an opinion that the Greek text of Job is usually superior, but that might be the case, so take this advice with a shaker of salt (and a side of fava beans)

  9. OK, Mogget, I’ll bite (you said before, “no guts…) You ask what did Job repent of? Maybe Job didn’t repent at all. He retracts his words against God, then consoles himself of his mortality (dust and ashes). Job says, “Previously, I had only heard of thee, but now that I actually understand, I retract my complaint(s) and my mind is eased concerning my suffering.”

    Should I present my knuckles to be rapped with a ruler? (Just don’t use the edge, please.)

  10. No need for a ruler. That’s a good reading with a long and distinguished pedigree.

    And the worst thing that ever happens around here is actually just the threat of a Mogget-nipping, you know. So far, I’ve only had to threaten myself.

  11. Mogget,

    The more literal reading (and I bow to your knowledge of Hebrew on such matters) is as you say, but that more literal reading is problematic. You dont find the other Job passage and the ref from Gen to be useful in perhaps informing your reading of the present verse?

  12. In general:

    Job is a major example in the theme that serious study of the Bible requires the serious study of the languages of the Bible and its times and places.

    To the aspiring student of the Bible, my advice is this: If you don’t grok Hebrew and Greek, hie thee to the nearest seminary and get some. You don’t need a bazillion years, just a couple of semesters so you can follow the arguments closely.

    You can’t really do French literature without French. Likewise, the Bible.


    Yes, this passage is very problematic. It really hurts to have syntactical and semantic ambiguity at the climax of a narrative.

    The problem with the JPS translation is that it obliterates the ambiguity. At least the Habel/Good translations preserve enough of it so that the alert reader who is otherwise confined to English knows that something is uncertain and can look into it further.

    If it’s a matter of syntax, the passages cited by the JPS are useless. If it’s a question of whether or not self-abnegation is found in the OT, then yes the Genesis passages applying this sentiment to the mighty Abraham is informative.

    By now, you can see where I went with it. I think the “smallness” is in the first response, while the second response really gets at a specific point of Job’s ignorance.

  13. Mogget,

    I’ll hie me to the nearest seminary and get some as soon as the kids are all grown up and out of the house and I am retired. Until then, I’ll hie me to the to abscond with reasonably priced lexicons.

    I dunno, Ms. Mogg, my exegetical wanderings have led me to develop a habit of resolving problematic readings by looking at other less problematic texts with apparently similar contexts. Sure, sure, you can argue autocorrelation and all that, but if the results are good and dont make reason stare and jaws go slack, then how is it any worse than yanking the hairs from your head in frustration?

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