To speak well of God (2)

Jonathan Stone makes a great point about Job 42:7 in an article on his blog here.

After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.”

The underlined words translate the Hebrew כִּי לֹא דִבַּרְתֶּם אֵלַי נְכֹונָה כְּעַבְדִּי אִיֹּֽוב

Jonathan writes:

“The key is found in the preposition about. God tells Eliphaz that he is angry with him and his friends because they have not spoken the truth about God, as did Job. If you take the time to actually read the book you will know that something seems wrong here. Job said a lot of things. A lot of what he said was specifically about God, but very little of it sounds like the truth about God. In contrast, read the speeches of Job’s friends. They exalt God. They speak of his justice. They talk about his infinite power. They proclaim his endless wisdom. They say a whole lot about God. And it all sounds like the truth. What is going on here?

“As it turns out the Hebrew preposition translated about is a common one, ‘el. It is used hundreds of times in the Hebrew bible, and it can be translated about. However, you will only find a couple of examples where it is translated that way. Every other time it is translated to. In other words, the better translation is this:

“After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth to me, as my servant Job has.”

“Interesting. One little pronoun. Yet, it changes our understanding of the entire book of Job. We do not think of the power of prepositions as English speakers. But there is a world of difference between speaking the truth about God and speaking the truth to God.”

Jonathan is correct. The Hebrew word אֵלַי could be translated as “to me”, rather than “about me” although I haven’t (yet) come across a translation that renders it “to me” in Job 42:7. It does make good sense in the context to translate it as “to me” so that it was the forthright, blunt, robust manner in which Job spoke to the Almighty which was being commended, rather than what he actually said. The Hebrew word אל (el) is primarily a preposition denoting ‘motion to or direction towards (whether physical or mental)’ while a similar word עַל  (al) would be more often used to convey the meaning ‘in regard to, concerning, or on account of’. I checked this with Professor Ian Young, chair of the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies at the University of Sydney. His answer to me was that there is a very common interchange in the texts between el and al, and hence the translations might be taking it in that sense, and there are a couple of examples of al being interchanged for el in the prose frame of Job. I’ll do what I can to check this further.

Thanks Jonathan for bringing this to my attention.

2 comments on “To speak well of God (2)

  1. Thanks, Stephen. I am relying on the research of Dr. Rickie Moore for the insight on the pronoun, and cannot take any credit. While he is convinced by his research, his thoughts have not been widely accepted at this point. However, I am uncertain of how much of that has to do with the thesis being rejected or how much of it has to do with a lack of attention (it was published in a festschrift that was not widely circulated, as opposed to a prominent journal in the field). I’ll be interested in hearing what you uncover as you investigate further.

  2. Dave Garnand says:

    If we were to take this to heart it would transform worship from a sing-song, copycat, let’s all pretend like life is a walk in the park into a truthful, honest, forthright, often messy, Sunday morning multi-logue. While this sounds terrifying to those who don’t want to feel an ounce of discomfort in ecclesial life, I have no doubt it would quickly morph, not into a whiny, complaining, depress-a-thon but, into 100,000 versions of Psalm 22:

    Verse 1: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

    Working up to

    Verse 19: But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. (22) I will declare your name to my people

    Be honest and see what happens!

    Cool!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s