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Bob MacDonald

John what do you think of the gloss: or you have not spoken of me what is prepared as has my servant Job

Job is the only one who prays in the whole epic and what he intimates repeatedly in his speeches is exactly what we need of our God.

Bob MacDonald

whoops - I dropped an 'f' For you have not ... I agree with 'For'. It is a very useful preposition.

Bob MacDonald

I see also that in the use of this root, I have been discordant in my translation - establish adds an interesting aspect here - you have not spoken what has been established. In this usage, Job is seen as affirming the view of God that is established in contrast to his sufferings which mimic the curses of Deuteronomy.


Hi Bob,

"What is prepared" for נכונה is a new one on me. I don't think it's likely that the text's author had such a meaning in mind. The narrative here is not cryptic in style, whereas נכונה = "what is prepared" would be.

Martin Shields

Hi John. A thought-provoking post, as usual! In light of your observation that Job speaks with God, you might be interested to read Andrew Barry's suggestion here (cf. my comments).


Hi Martin,

Thanks for the links. I like Barry's homiletical points but not his translation proposal.

I find it excellent that you dismiss statistics as a guide to deciding the best option in terms of text interpretation. Statistics have wonderful uses, but that is not one of them.

אל in the sense of "concerning, in consideration of" with verba dicendi is firmly attested - note Gen 20:2 and 2 Sam 1:24 - and fits the context of Job 42 better than the alternatives.

Bob MacDonald

Hi John - that verb is used 15 times in Job - I wonder if it has a thematic purpose. Bildad encourages Job to 'establish the findings of their fathers'. Zophar tells him to 'establish his heart'. Job mocks these two using the word for himself as 'prepared for those whose feet are slipping'. Eliphaz uses it twice in chapter 15 : he knows that prepared in his hand is the day of darkness, and their belly prepares deceit. Bildad again of the wicked "famished is his vigor, a burden prepared for his rib". Job (21:8) again of the wicked - their seed is established before them... In chapter 27 it is hard to tell who is shouting at whom - the word is used twice. In chapter 28, it is God who 'prepares' the place for wisdom. Job frames his confession with the word - 29:7 and 31:15. Yhwh uses it of the raven's food. There is too much of a possibility of a 'sounds like' theme here to suddenly switch to 'getting it right' as a trope.

Martin Shields


I quite agree that אל ought to be understood in the sense of "concerning" in Job 42:7. Thanks for highlighting the additional examples (I'd only chosen instances with דבר).

However, having thought about it a little while out running, I'm not so sure about "sincerely." I think I know where you're coming from (although I may be deceiving myself!) — Job's speech was more profound, more heartfelt, and in that sense more sincere. But the problem is I think Job's friends were also sincere in that they were themselves profoundly convicted as to the truth of their assertions about God. What distinguished them from Job was, firstly, the certitude with which they held their convictions whereas Job's circumstances had forced him to question the doctrine the friends held so dear. Secondly, they were clearly wrong about their analysis of Job's circumstances.

I don't think this undermines the point you make about apologetics. My feeling is that often apologists make overly simplistic claims about doctrine of all sorts and, in doing so, misrepresent the truth. The Book of Job well reflects the complexity of God's universe, a complexity which Job begins to appreciate but which his friends fail to comprehend.

David Ker

"Theodic discourse, that is, pious justification of evil and suffering"

Is that the normal definition of "theodic"? I've understood it to be the insistence on God's goodness rather than justification of evil, etc.


Happy New Year, everyone.


I never thought to read נכונה in light of the use of the cognate verb in the book of Job. It's worth taking a look at.


If I understand you correctly, you support the exegesis of Gordis and NJPSV, which sees truth at stake, not sincerity. I prefer this analysis from a subjective point of view, but find it hard to square, objectively, with God's reproof of Job in his tirades from the whirlwind.

I'm glad to see that we agree about the meaning of the preposition in this passage. BTW, I think Gordis is quite wrong to suggest that el-al confusion is going on. No, el simply has distinct and context-dependent uses some of which can only be disambiguated at the macrosemantic level. Like the use of prepositions in every language I know.


The trouble is, insisting on God's goodness in some situations amounts to justifying evil and suffering.

For example, an Italian woman who spent much of her life in an iron lung and wrote about her life in a way that many found helpful tells the story of a nun who comes to visit her and says, "it must be wonderful to share in the sufferings of Christ as you are doing." She tartly replied, "You are welcome to take my place at any time."

The "greater good" defense is an insincere and blasphemous initiative when undertaken by a person who munches on popcorn snuggled up with his kiddies vis-a-vis someone who has lost everything he holds dear.

David Ker

Gotcha. That makes sense.

I haven't given much thought to Job since our wonderful exchanges in 2007. I'm making resolutions for Bible reading at the moment. Maybe that needs to be included.


Hi John,

Is "authenticity" the concept you are looking for? Or is that too anachronistic?

I find it interesting that the book of Job pays so much sustained attention to nature -- or Nature -- in something like our modern Romantic/scientific sense. I don't recall any other book of the Bible where this is so, not even Genesis.


Hmmm, poorly worded, that last bit about nature, I'm sure. I feel as if there's an important point just beyond my grasp here, but I lack the technical background to follow up and latch onto it.


Hi Woofin,

You are definitely onto something. Alan Mittleman’s essay, “The Job of Judaism and the Job of Kant,” HTR 102 (2009)25-50, deals with the issues you are grappling with, and many more. You should have no difficulty downloading this article online.

Rich Rhodes

Since my undergraduate days, I've always had a jaundiced view of theology. This is because I had a roommate whose church split over pre-trib/mid-trib rapture, and it was incredibly ugly. I always took Titus 3:9 as being about this.

But I had always had trouble as well with people putting God in a neat theological box, as Job shows. I talk about this in terms that boil down to sincerity, so it's nice to hear that there is textual support for that kind of language.

If this were Facebook I'd "like" this post.


Maybe it works like this: that God takes care of truth (a kinetic more than a noetic reality), whether we get it or not noetically.

Sincerity is what he asks of us. Sincerity is still an ethical concept, whereas authenticity too often becomes a justification for all manner of unethical behavior.

Edward T. Babinski


One of C. S. Lewis' close Inkling friends, Charles Williams, thought little of Lewis' apologetic work, The Problem of Pain, because as Williams pointed out, in the BOOK OF JOB God's displeasure was reserved for Job's "comforters" who were busy giving Job every "reason" for why he was suffering:

The weight of the divine displeasure had been reserved for the 'comforters', the self-appointed advocates on God's side, the people who tried to show that all was well--'the sort of people', he said, immeasurably dropping his lower jaw and fixing me with his eyes--'the sort of people who wrote books on the Problem of Pain'. [What Charles Williams told Anscombe]

P.S., Please note, when you are reading the Problem of Pain where Lewis claims he has very little difficulty imagining an eternal hell for human beings that may also function as an eternal heaven for mosquitoes. I wonder why Lewis stopped there? Why not add, "...and an eternal heaven for sharks, and every bacterial pathogen?"

Edward T. Babinski

There's a book that discusses how and why the tradition of "protesting against God" died out in the Hebrew tradition from Job to the O.T. and intertestamental works:

Protest Against God: The Eclipse of a Biblical Tradition. 2006. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press.



Thanks for your comments. Lewis, of course, was a moving target. Part of his greatness lies in his ability to learn from new experiences. His own attitude to suffering was transformed almost without remainder and is chronicled in part, if I remember correctly, in A Grief Observed.

Grievance prayer did not die out in Jewish tradition, even if the focus shifts to penitential prayer. Prayer of complaint, I' convinced, was alive and well in personal prayer. Just think of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane or from the cross (Psalm 22).

Many of the sages were troubled by Job's rhetoric of complaint, but they found room for it in other ways, for example, in the Kinot tradition associated with Tisha be'Av.

The existence of things as horrifying as hell is not in doubt. The question has to be posed seriously: which is worse, a new heavens and a new earth in which those who have committed the most heinous of crimes get what is coming to them, or are forgiven?

Ivan in the Brothers Karamazov argues that the non-existence of punishment for certain categories of evildoers would be totally unacceptable. I can't recall hearing a decent comeback to Ivan's arguments from universalists.

Ed Babinski

John, "Totally unacceptable to whom?" Someone with eternal vengeance on their mind that's who. I always thought God could get His revenge in less time, or that "God is love." George MacDonald pointed out: "I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing… That… hell will… help the just mercy of God to redeem his children… Such is the mercy of God that he will hold his children in the consuming fire of his distance until they pay the uttermost farthing, until they drop the purse of selfishness with all the dross that is in it, and rush home to the Father and the Son, and the many brethren, rush inside the center of the life-giving fire whose outer circles burn."

George MacDonald (19th-century universalist Christian), excerpts from “I Believe,” Unspoken Sermons

Ed Babinski

Love is patient… it keeps no record of wrongs…. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…. These three remain: faith, hope and love (oh, and punishment by a jealous wrathful God for all eternity.)

1 Corinthians 13:4,7,8,13 (NIV translation with amended ending so it accords with creedal Christianity)

Ed Babinski

A teacher of autistic children wrote this, and she added the George MacDonald quotation too:

A Christian brother told me that when we are in heaven we will have no concern for those who will be burning in what he believed to be eternal hell. But if we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” how can this be true? God has said that He will have “all” come to Him. Is any heart so dark (and without the slightest flaw or crack) such that the light of Christ could never penetrate it? Does not emptiness abhor a vacuum, and what could be more vacuous than a heart trying to keep itself pumped up with lies and deceit which have no substance of and by themselves. Surely such vacuous hearts cannot avoid being eventually filled with the only solid and substantial Truth that is, was or ever will be?

Something written by the 19th-century univeralist Christian, George MacDonald, recently encouraged my own heart… Jesus said for us to love even our enemies. We were His enemies at one time and He came down into our hell.

“And what shall we say of the man Christ Jesus? Who, that loves his brother, would not, upheld by the love of Christ, and with a dim hope that in the far-off time there might be some help for him, arise from the company of the blessed, and walk down into the dismal regions of despair, to sit with the last, the only unredeemed, the Judas of his race, and be himself more blessed in the pains of hell, than in the glories of heaven? Who, in the midst of the golden harps and the white wings, knowing that one of his kind, one miserable brother in the old-world-time when men were taught to love their neighbor as themselves, was howling unheeded far below in the vaults of the creation, who, I say, would not feel that he must arise, that he had no choice, that, awful as it was, he must gird his loins, and go down into the smoke and the darkness and the fire, traveling the weary and fearful road into the far country to find his brother?--who, I mean, that had the mind of Christ, that had the love of the Father?”

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Will He not continue to seek out and save all of the lost? Will we have the love of Christ in heaven? MacDonald’s words were a blessing for me to read.

Shana (First-Grade Teacher, Therapist for Autistic Children, and creator of a universalist Christian website) [Three sentences were edited by E.T.B.]

Ed Babinski

An article in Christianity Today (“Hell’s Final Enigma,” April 22, 2002) by Rev. J. I. Packer (professor of theology at Regent College in Vancouver and executive director of the aforementioned magazine) addressed the question, “How might those in heaven feel about those in hell?” The people in hell will include fellow human beings with similar joys, fears, and life stories to those in heaven, and Christians have been taught they ought to love others with an “unconditional love” and “forgive seventy-times-seven times.” So how can heaven truly be bliss for Christians if people whom they have grown to know and love (and care for) on earth are burning in hell?

Reverend Packer replied that heaven’s occupants would be busy loving each other and praising God. (I wondered if he meant that in the same sense as “winning teammates patting each other on the back for eternity?”) He added that their attention would be focused on heavenly glories. (I wondered if he meant that in the same sense as children so immersed in playing an entrancingly beautiful video game that they cannot be distracted by any actions or thoughts outside of the game?) Then, after having described how heaven’s occupants would feel about God, heaven, and each other, Reverend Packer finally replied to the original question of “How might heaven’s occupants feel about those in hell?” The Reverend’s reply consisted of ten words: “Love and pity for hell’s occupants will not enter our hearts.”

But doesn’t such a reply beg the question? What kind of “heart” could find neither “love nor pity” entering it, knowing that the greater portion of mankind, including former wives, children, and friends, were all suffering in hell?

Perhaps Rev. Packer’s next column should be about how to reconcile the following two statements, the first one being his own:

“Love and pity for hell’s occupants will not enter our hearts”

Ed Babinski

The second quotation of which is:

Love is patient… it keeps no record of wrongs…. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…. These three remain: faith, hope and love.

1 Corinthians 13:4,7,8,13 (NIV)


Thanks, Ed, for your comments here. I remain convinced - though I am a fan of George MacDonald - that you do away with hell with suspicious ease.

You might take a look at this post:

In particular, you may find the symposium the Christian Century put together, and to which I link, of interest. It is not the same old same old.

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  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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