Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
JOB CHAPTER 23
In his reply to Eliphaz in this and the following chapter, Job - angered by his companions' suspicions that he had been evil towards God and men - does not answer them directly. Rather, he wants to argue with God alone over the fact that despite his innocence he was plagued with suffering, while the wicked sin yet enjoy success and die quickly without pain (Ramban on Job 23:2).
In the words of Metzudas David: "Job denies Eliphaz' accusations against him, insisting that he had followed the ways of God and practiced justice in all that he did. Job fulminates over the fact that God shows patience to the wicked and does not destroy them despite the fact that they themselves destroy many souls. What sense does it make that He has mercy on them but not on the people they destroy? Success accompanies the wicked not only in their lifetimes but even when they die, because they die quickly without the pain of protracted illness. This is because their success is determined at the time of conception and birth by the heavenly apparatus of stars and planets. Job asks why God does not bend the heavenly order so as to rule justly since He established it (Metzudas David on Job 24:25).
V 2: "Today also my complaint is bitter; the blow to me is heavier than my groaning" - Despite all the "consolations" offered by his companions, Job has found no comfort, and his actual suffering is greater than the groans of pain he emits.
Vv 3-7: "Oh that I knew and could find Him." Job yearns to fathom the answer to the mystery of why he has to suffer despite his innocence. He is convinced that if he could argue his case before God, he would be able to prove his innocence.
V 8: "But if I go east, He is not there, and if I go west I cannot perceive Him. I go to the left hand [=north] where He works, but I cannot behold Him; He hides Himself on the right side [=south] but I cannot see Him." Job is scouring for answers in all directions of the universe, but God remains invisible and inscrutable.
Vv10-12: The reason why Job wants to argue with God and not with his companions is because he knows in his own heart - and he knows that God knows - that he acted justly and followed His commandments, treasuring His teachings more than his own food.
V 13: "But He is unchangeable [Heb. BE-ECHAD] and who can turn Him.?" The literal meaning of the verse is that despite the fact that Job's innocence was known to God, He remained with one and the same intention and did not desire to remove his suffering. The Hebrew rendered as "unchangeable" - BE-ECHAD - literally means "in one". This alludes to the secret of God's transcendence beyond the world simultaneously with His immanence within it - "for Job was a sage and a MEKUBAL who know the secret of Godliness and of His unity" (Ramban ad loc.)
Vv 14ff: "For He will complete what is appointed for me." The decree seems to be irreversible and the Judge implacable, despite Job's innocence - and "THEREFORE I am shaken by His presence" (v 15) - Job is shaken by contemplating the fact that God apparently does not treat a person according to his ways (Rashi).
Chapter 24 consists of the continuation of Job's answer to Eliphaz, in which he now turns in a new direction. In the previous chapter Job complained that he could not find an answer to the question of the suffering of the righteous, while in the present chapter he complains about the success of the wicked.
V 1: "Why are the times not hidden away from the Almighty, and why do those who know Him never see His days?" - "Since Job erroneously held that everything depends upon the influence of the heavenly order of stars and planets at the time of conception and birth, he now asks why the rulings made at those moments were not put away in the sense of being made subject to the superior power of God who created that order. All who know God know that He is timeless - no limit can be set to His days - and therefore He surely has the power to bend the influence of the heavenly order so as to do justice (see Metzudas David ad loc.).
In verses 2-11 Job's catalogues the crimes of the wicked: They take other people's land; they take away the livestock of widows and orphans who cannot pay their debts; they push aside the poor, forcing them to flee. They are like wild donkeys, plundering in the plains. They steal people's crops but leave the vineyards of the wicked untouched. They strip poor people of their clothes, leaving them freezing in the cold.
V 12: "Men groan from out of the city, and the soul of the wounded cries out, YET GOD LAYS NO BLAME ON THEM." Here is the very essence of Job's question about why the wicked cause such suffering to others yet God does not appear to exact retribution from them.
Vv 13-17: "They were of those who rebelled against the light." In these verses Job poetically evokes how the wicked pervert God's order of light and darkness, day and night. By day they blatantly defy Him by committing daylight murder, while they take advantage of night-time, when people are asleep, to steal (v 14). The adulterer goes about in the twilight hours, thinking that in the semi-darkness he is concealed from God.
V 18: The Hebrew in this verse can be construed in various ways: the simplest PSHAT is that these wicked people are swift in making their getaway and succeed in escaping being caught (Metzudas David, Ramban).
V19: "Dryness and heat steal the waters of snow, and so does She'ol [=the grave] steal those that sinned" - "When their time comes, they die with a quick, easy death, just as dryness and heat quickly and easily "steal" and evaporate the waters that drip from snow. For She'ol quickly destroys the wicked, who despite their sins do not suffer the pain of illness" (Metzudas David).
V 20: The very womb that gave birth to the sinner quickly forgets him: the worms eat him up leaving no trace, and he is broken quickly like a chopped down tree - all without the protracted pains of illness and suffering (Metzudas David).
Vv 21-22: Despite the fact that the wicked prey on the barren woman and show no favor to the widow, God shows great patience - until He draws the mighty away with His power quickly, on one day, without causing them great suffering.
V 23: "All the days of his life God allows him to dwell securely - it is as if His eyes are upon the wicked to ensure that they will not stumble" (Metzudas David).
V 24: Job concludes his bitter speech with a challenge to anyone to prove him wrong.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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