Some of the Hebrew in this chapter is so vague that many variations in bible translations of these verses can be found. I suspect there may be more of them than in any other chapter. And I imagine that many interpretations are either incorrect or not quite on the mark.
רוּחִי חֻבָּלָה יָמַי נִזְעָכוּ קְבָרִים לִי׃ 17:1
Job 17:1 “My spirit is broken.
My days are extinguished, graves are for me.”
אִם־לֹא הֲתֻלִים עִמָּדִי וּבְהַמְּרֹותָם תָּלַן עֵינִי׃ 17:2
Job 17:2 “Surely mockers are with me,
and my eye must abide with their rebelliousness.”
שִׂימָה־נָּא עָרְבֵנִי עִמָּךְ מִי הוּא לְיָדִי יִתָּקֵעַ׃ 17:3
Job 17:3 “Set my pledge with Yourself, I pray.
Who else would clap 'hand' to my hand?”
For most if not all translators the gist of this verse seems to be that Job is asking God to pledge surety for him. He seems certain that no one would do that for him but God. However, I have some difficulty with that interpretation. Job would have to be considering borrowing something for him to say this. But what is he wanting to borrow? And who would he borrow from? Only the three friends are there. Certainly he can’t be thinking to borrow something from God. Surely he could, but why then would he ask Him to pledge surety for the loan He would be making? It doesn’t make sense to me. Can the verse mean something else? Is it a metaphor? For what? Possibly, it’s a metaphor for his desire to salvage his life. He could imagine that he can borrow a better life. He would have to be borrowing it from God. So he’s not really asking for surety, he’s asking for a loan. If any surety were required, Job himself would have to provide it, not God.
כִּי־לִבָּם צָפַנְתָּ מִּשָּׂכֶל עַל־כֵּן לֹא תְרֹמֵם׃ 17:4
Job 17:4 “For You have hidden their heart from understanding;
accordingly You would not lift them up.”
לְחֵלֶק יַגִּיד רֵעִים וְעֵינֵי בָנָיו תִּכְלֶנָה׃ 17:5
Job 17:5 “One should declare friends for a portion,
though the eyes of his children might fail.”
At first glance the Hebrew of this verse (or the English, for that matter) makes little sense. And in fifteen different popular bibles there are eleven different translations! I suspect that may be a record. I have translated the verse as literally as is possible. But other translators have taken numerous liberties with the words of the first line, making them say things they don’t. What do I think this verse means? I suspect that Job is mocking the friends again. I can see his thoughts as the following: One should be kind to his friends (give them a portion of his wealth) even if his children are in need (here he could be going overboard a bit). But he can’t do that for Eliphaz, Bildad, or Zophar -- they have turned out not to be friends.
וְהִצִּגַנִי לִמְשֹׁל עַמִּים וְתֹפֶת לְפָנִים אֶהְיֶה׃ 17:6
Job 17:6 “But He would set me as a byword of the nations,
and I would become a spit in the face.”
וַתֵּכַהּ מִכַּעַשׂ עֵינִי וִיצֻרַי כַּצֵּל כֻּלָּם׃ 17:7
Job 17:7 “And my eye has become dim from vexation.
And my members? All of them are like a shadow.”
יָשֹׁמּוּ יְשָׁרִים עַל־זֹאת וְנָקִי עַל־חָנֵף יִתְעֹרָר׃ 17:8
Job 17:8 “The upright must be appalled by this,
and any guiltless one must become excited against hypocrisy.”
וְיֹאחֵז צַדִּיק דַּרְכּוֹ וּטֳהָר־יָדַיִם יֹסִיף אֹמֶץ׃ 17:9
Job 17:9 “Yet a righteous one can hold tight his way,
and one pure of hands can increase strength.”
וְאוּלָם כֻּלָּם תָּשֻׁבוּ וּבֹאוּ נָא וְלֹא־אֶמְצָא בָכֶם חָכָם׃ 17:10
Job 17:10 “Nevertheless, of all of them, you would return
(and they had to come now),
but I shall find none wise among you.”
Again many different translations, most ignoring key elements of the grammar, and again mine is literal, following the Hebrew and its grammar precisely. Let’s start with the second word of the first line. I translate it as of all of them and I guess it must relate back to the righteous one and the pure of hands, and maybe to other friends of Job like them. But they don’t come. Only these three idiots show up (you would return). And he adds a snide aside: And they had to come right away. But unlike my other friends, you do not help me.
יָמַי עָבְרוּ זִמֹּתַי נִתְּקוּ מוֹרָשֵׁי לְבָבִי׃ 17:11
Job 17:11 “My days are past,
my plans are torn apart,
the ponderings of my heart.”
לַיְלָה לְיוֹם יָשִׂימוּ אוֹר קָרוֹב מִפְּנֵי־חֹשֶׁךְ׃ 17:12
Job 17:12 “They can transform night to day,
the light closer because of the darkness.”
Once more, numerous variations among the bibles can be found. Most translations assume that the pronoun translated as they refers to the three friends, implying that they distort the truth. I believe the pronoun refers to the ponderings of his heart from the previous verse. His thoughts are so troubling that he can’t sleep. He is wide awake, so the nights feel like daytime to him. The second line emphasizes the contrast between how he sees himself and how the friends see him. Their darkness makes his nights worse.
אִם־אֲקַוֶּה שְׁאוֹל בֵּיתִי בַּחֹשֶׁךְ רִפַּדְתִּי יְצוּעָי׃ 17:13
Job 17:13 “Since I would expect sheol to be my house,
in darkness I spread my couch,
לַשַּׁחַת קָרָאתִי אָבִי אָתָּה אִמִּי וַאֲחֹתִי לָרִמָּה׃ 17:14
Job 17:14 to the grave I call, 'You are my father,'
'My mother and my sister,' to the worm.”
וְאַיֵּה אֵפוֹ תִקְוָתִי וְתִקְוָתִי מִי יְשׁוּרֶנָּה׃ 17:15
Job 17:15 “So where then would be my hope?
And my hope, who would see it?”
Job’s hope is almost nonexistent, so who could see it?
בַּדֵּי שְׁאֹל תֵּרַדְנָה אִם־יַחַד עַל־עָפָר נָחַת׃ 17:16
Job 17:16 “They would descend the bars of sheol,
when together we would rest upon the dust.”
Lots of variations on this one too, most of them revolving around the pronoun they. I imagine the pronoun would refer back to his thoughts and his hope, but the ponderings are masculine and the pronoun is feminine. The only other feminine noun in the last few verses besides hope is his plans in v. 11. So maybe Job imagines his broken plans and his miniscule hope go down with him to sheol. But it’s still anyone’s guess.
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