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Job 12:7-25

Context
Knowledge of God’s Wisdom 1 

12:7 “But now, ask the animals and they 2  will teach you,

or the birds of the sky and they will tell you.

12:8 Or speak 3  to the earth 4  and it will teach you,

or let the fish of the sea declare to you.

12:9 Which of all these 5  does not know

that the hand of the Lord 6  has done 7  this,

12:10 in whose hand 8  is the life 9  of every creature

and the breath of all the human race. 10 

12:11 Does not the ear test words,

as 11  the tongue 12  tastes food? 13 

12:12 Is not wisdom found among the aged? 14 

Does not long life bring understanding?

12:13 “With God 15  are wisdom and power;

counsel and understanding are his. 16 

12:14 If 17  he tears down, it cannot be rebuilt;

if he imprisons a person, there is no escape. 18 

12:15 If he holds back the waters, then they dry up; 19 

if he releases them, 20  they destroy 21  the land.

12:16 With him are strength and prudence; 22 

both the one who goes astray 23 

and the one who misleads are his.

12:17 He 24  leads 25  counselors away stripped 26 

and makes judges 27  into fools. 28 

12:18 He loosens 29  the bonds 30  of kings

and binds a loincloth 31  around their waist.

12:19 He leads priests away stripped 32 

and overthrows 33  the potentates. 34 

12:20 He deprives the trusted advisers 35  of speech 36 

and takes away the discernment 37  of elders.

12:21 He pours contempt on noblemen

and disarms 38  the powerful. 39 

12:22 He reveals the deep things of darkness,

and brings deep shadows 40  into the light.

12:23 He makes nations great, 41  and destroys them;

he extends the boundaries of nations

and disperses 42  them. 43 

12:24 He deprives the leaders of the earth 44 

of their understanding; 45 

he makes them wander

in a trackless desert waste. 46 

12:25 They grope about in darkness 47  without light;

he makes them stagger 48  like drunkards.

1 sn As J. E. Hartley (Job [NICOT], 216) observes, in this section Job argues that respected tradition “must not be accepted uncritically.”

2 tn The singular verb is used here with the plural collective subject (see GKC 464 §145.k).

3 tn The word in the MT means “to complain,” not simply “to speak,” and one would expect animals as the object here in parallel to the last verse. So several commentators have replaced the word with words for animals or reptiles – totally different words (cf. NAB, “reptiles”). The RSV and NRSV have here the word “plants” (see 30:4, 7; and Gen 21:15).

4 tn A. B. Davidson (Job, 90) offers a solution by taking “earth” to mean all the lower forms of life that teem in the earth (a metonymy of subject).

5 tn This line could also be translated “by all these,” meaning “who is not instructed by nature?” (H. H. Rowley, Job [NCBC], 93). But D. J. A. Clines points out that the verses have presented the animals as having knowledge and communicating it, so the former reading would be best (Job [WBC], 279).

6 tc Some commentators have trouble with the name “Yahweh” in this verse, which is not the pattern in the poetic section of Job. Three mss of Kennicott and two of de Rossi have “God.” If this is so the reminiscence of Isaiah 41:20 led the copyist to introduce the tetragrammaton. But one could argue equally that the few mss with “God” were the copyists’ attempt to correct the text in accord with usage elsewhere.

7 sn The expression “has done this” probably refers to everything that has been discussed, namely, the way that God in his wisdom rules over the world, but specifically it refers to the infliction of suffering in the world.

8 tn The construction with the relative clause includes a resumptive pronoun referring to God: “who in his hand” = “in whose hand.”

9 tn The two words נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh) and רוּחַ (ruakh) are synonymous in general. They could be translated “soul” and “spirit,” but “soul” is not precise for נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh), and so “life” is to be preferred. Since that is the case for the first half of the verse, “breath” will be preferable in the second part.

10 tn Human life is made of “flesh” and “spirit.” So here the line reads “and the spirit of all flesh of man.” If the text had simply said “all flesh,” that would have applied to all flesh in which there is the breath of life (see Gen 6:17; 7:15). But to limit this to human beings requires the qualification with “man.”

11 tn The ו (vav) introduces the comparison here (see 5:7; 11:12); see GKC 499 §161.a.

12 tn Heb “the palate.”

13 tn The final preposition with its suffix is to be understood as a pleonastic dativus ethicus and not translated (see GKC 439 §135.i).

sn In the rest of the chapter Job turns his attention away from creation to the wisdom of ancient men. In Job 13:1 when Job looks back to this part, he refers to both the eye and the ear. In vv. 13-25 Job refers to many catastrophes which he could not have seen, but must have heard about.

14 tn The statement in the Hebrew Bible simply has “among the aged – wisdom.” Since this seems to be more the idea of the friends than of Job, scholars have variously tried to rearrange it. Some have proposed that Job is citing his friends: “With the old men, you say, is wisdom” (Budde, Gray, Hitzig). Others have simply made it a question (Weiser). But others take לֹא (lo’) from the previous verse and make it the negative here, to say, “wisdom is not….” But Job will draw on the wisdom of the aged, only with discernment, for ultimately all wisdom is with God.

15 tn Heb “him”; the referent (God) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

16 sn A. B. Davidson (Job, 91) says, “These attributes of God’s [sic] confound and bring to nought everything bearing the same name among men.”

17 tn The use of הֵן (hen, equivalent to הִנֵּה, hinneh, “behold”) introduces a hypothetical condition.

18 tn The verse employs antithetical ideas: “tear down” and “build up,” “imprison” and “escape.” The Niphal verbs in the sentences are potential imperfects. All of this is to say that humans cannot reverse the will of God.

19 tc The LXX has a clarification: “he will dry the earth.”

20 sn The verse is focusing on the two extremes of drought and flood. Both are described as being under the power of God.

21 tn The verb הָפַךְ (hafakh) means “to overthrow; to destroy; to overwhelm.” It was used in Job 9:5 for “overturning” mountains. The word is used in Genesis for the destruction of Sodom.

22 tn The word תּוּשִׁיָּה (tushiyyah) is here rendered “prudence.” Some object that God’s power is intended here, and so a word for power and not wisdom should be included. But v. 13 mentioned wisdom. The point is that it is God’s efficient wisdom that leads to success. One could interpret this as a metonymy of cause, the intended meaning being victory or success.

23 tn The Hebrew text uses a wordplay here: שֹׁגֵג (shogeg) is “the one going astray,” i.e., the one who is unable to guard and guide his life. The second word is מַשְׁגֶּה (mashgeh), from a different but historically related root שָׁגָה (shagah), which here in the Hiphil means “the one who misleads, causes to go astray.” These two words are designed to include everybody – all are under the wisdom of God.

24 tn The personal pronoun normally present as the subject of the participle is frequently omitted (see GKC 381 §119.s).

25 tn GKC 361-62 §116.x notes that almost as a rule a participle beginning a sentence is continued with a finite verb with or without a ו (vav). Here the participle (“leads”) is followed by an imperfect (“makes fools”) after a ו (vav).

26 tn The word שׁוֹלָל (sholal), from the root שָׁלַל (shalal, “to plunder; to strip”), is an adjective expressing the state (and is in the singular, as if to say, “in the state of one naked” [GKC 375 §118.o]). The word is found in military contexts (see Mic 1:8). It refers to the carrying away of people in nakedness and shame by enemies who plunder (see also Isa 8:1-4). They will go away as slaves and captives, deprived of their outer garments. Some (cf. NAB) suggest “barefoot,” based on the LXX of Mic 1:8; but the meaning of that is uncertain. G. R. Driver wanted to derive the word from an Arabic root “to be mad; to be giddy,” forming a better parallel.

27 sn The judges, like the counselors, are nobles in the cities. God may reverse their lot, either by captivity or by shame, and they cannot resist his power.

28 tn Some translate this “makes mad” as in Isa 44:25, but this gives the wrong connotation today; more likely God shows them to be fools.

29 tn The verb may be classified as a gnomic perfect, or possibly a potential perfect – “he can loosen.” The Piel means “to untie; to unbind” (Job 30:11; 38:31; 39:5).

30 tc There is a potential textual difficulty here. The MT has מוּסַר (musar, “discipline”), which might have replaced מוֹסֵר (moser, “bond, chain”) from אָסַר (’asar, “to bind”). Or מוּסַר might be an unusual form of אָסַר (an option noted in HALOT 557 s.v. *מוֹסֵר). The line is saying that if the kings are bound, God can set them free, and in the second half, if they are free, he can bind them. Others take the view that this word “bond” refers to the power kings have over others, meaning that God can reduce kings to slavery.

31 tn Some commentators want to change אֵזוֹר (’ezor, “girdle”) to אֵסוּר (’esur, “bond”) because binding the loins with a girdle was an expression for strength. But H. H. Rowley notes that binding the king’s loins this way would mean so that he would do servitude, menial tasks. Such a reference would certainly indicate troubled times.

32 tn Except for “priests,” the phraseology is identical to v. 17a.

33 tn The verb has to be defined by its context: it can mean “falsify” (Exod 23:8), “make tortuous” (Prov 19:3), or “plunge” into misfortune (Prov 21:12). God overthrows those who seem to be solid.

34 tn The original meaning of אֵיתָן (’eytan) is “perpetual.” It is usually an epithet for a torrent that is always flowing. It carries the connotations of permanence and stability; here applied to people in society, it refers to one whose power and influence does not change. These are the pillars of society.

35 tn The Hebrew נֶאֱמָנִים (neemanim) is the Niphal participle; it is often translated “the faithful” in the Bible. The Rabbis rather fancifully took the word from נְאֻם (nÿum, “oracle, utterance”) and so rendered it “those who are eloquent, fluent in words.” But that would make this the only place in the Bible where this form came from that root or any other root besides אָמַן (’aman, “confirm, support”). But to say that God takes away the speech of the truthful or the faithful would be very difficult. It has to refer to reliable men, because it is parallel to the elders or old men. The NIV has “trusted advisers,” which fits well with kings and judges and priests.

36 tn Heb “he removes the lip of the trusted ones.”

37 tn Heb “taste,” meaning “opinion” or “decision.”

38 tn The expression in Hebrew uses מְזִיחַ (mÿziakh, “belt”) and the Piel verb רִפָּה (rippah, “to loosen”) so that “to loosen the belt of the mighty” would indicate “to disarm/incapacitate the mighty.” Others have opted to change the text: P. Joüon emends to read “forehead” – “he humbles the brow of the mighty.”

39 tn The word אָפַק (’afaq, “to be strong”) is well-attested, and the form אָפִיק (’afiq) is a normal adjective formation. So a translation like “mighty” (KJV, NIV) or “powerful” is acceptable, and further emendations are unnecessary.

40 tn The Hebrew word is traditionally rendered “shadow of death” (so KJV, ASV); see comments at Job 3:3.

41 tn The word מַשְׂגִּיא (masgi’, “makes great”) is a common Aramaic word, but only occurs in Hebrew here and in Job 8:11 and 36:24. Some mss have a change, reading the form from שָׁגָה (shagah, “leading astray”). The LXX omits the line entirely.

42 tn The difficulty with the verb נָחָה (nakhah) is that it means “to lead; to guide,” but not “to lead away” or “to disperse,” unless this passage provides the context for such a meaning. Moreover, it never has a negative connotation. Some vocalize it וַיַּנִּיחֶם (vayyannikhem), from נוּחַ (nuakh), the causative meaning of “rest,” or “abandon” (Driver, Gray, Gordis). But even there it would mean “leave in peace.” Blommerde suggests the second part is antithetical parallelism, and so should be positive. So Ball proposed וַיִּמְחֶם (vayyimkhem) from מָחָה (makhah): “and he cuts them off.”

43 sn The rise and fall of nations, which does not seem to be governed by any moral principle, is for Job another example of God’s arbitrary power.

44 tn Heb “the heads of the people of the earth.”

45 tn Heb “heart.”

46 tn The text has בְּתֹהוּ לֹא־דָרֶךְ (bÿtohu lodarekh): “in waste – no way,” or “in a wasteland [where there is] no way,” thus, “trackless” (see the discussion of negative attributes using לֹא [lo’] in GKC 482 §152.u).

47 tn The word is an adverbial accusative.

48 tn The verb is the same that was in v. 24, “He makes them [the leaders still] wander” (the Hiphil of תָּעָה, taah). But in this passage some commentators emend the text to a Niphal of the verb and put it in the plural, to get the reading “they reel to and fro.” But even if the verse closes the chapter and there is no further need for a word of divine causation, the Hiphil sense works well here – causing people to wander like a drunken man would be the same as making them stagger.



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