Job 12:1-25

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Job responded to the words of Zophar. In his comments, he also directed his expressions to Eliphaz and Bildad. (12:1)

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had misrepresented Job as having been guilty of serious transgressions that had led to his state of misery. Additionally, they had made themselves appear as possessing far greater wisdom than he did. This prompted Job to lash out, “Truly you [are the] people [so you are men (LXX)], and wisdom will die with you.” In this way, he sarcastically represented them as persons who had exalted themselves as being the people in possession of understanding and insight of such superiority that wisdom would perish at their death. (12:2; see the Notes section.)

Job did not give in to any feelings of insecurity regarding the life he had lived nor about his insight and understanding. He said to his companions, “I also [have] a heart (thinking faculties or understanding]. “I am not inferior] to you” (literally, “not falling from you” [that is, not falling to a lower position in relation to you]). The shorter text of the Septuagint reads, “Indeed I also have a heart like you.” In the Hebrew text, the verse concludes with the question, “And with whom [are there] not [such things] like these?” This question implied that nothing Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had said included insights that were not commonly known. (12:3)

On account of the calamities that had befallen him and his afflicted state, Job had become a “laughingstock to [his] companions.” Possibly with reference to the past, he referred to himself as a man who called upon God and was answered. Yet he, who considered himself to be “righteous and complete” or “blameless” [LXX], had become a laughingstock or an object of derision. (12:4; see the Notes section.)

The extant Hebrew text is obscure. It could indicate that, “in the thought” of one who is at ease, either complacent or feeling secure, there would be “contempt” for “ruin” or misfortune, possibly for those who were suffering or for the calamity that did not affect the complacent one. The opening word of the Hebrew text may also be translated “torch.” When the rendering “torch” is adopted, the meaning could be: Persons who regarded themselves as secure would have contempt for a torch, especially one about to burn out. They would have no use for it. As persons who had no concern for the suffering of others, they would have considered the torch as suitable for persons about to slip. Even for those about to fall, there would have been little use for light from a torch. An interpretive rendering by J. N. Darby likens the one “ready to stumble with the foot” to a “lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease.” Depending upon whether “torch” or “misfortune” is the rendering, it, in the thought of the person who is at ease or secure, is readied for those whose feet are about to slip or who are in a vulnerable state. (12:5; see the Notes section regarding the rendering of the Septuagint.)

Job spoke realistically about what he had observed. Men who despoiled, robbed, or dealt violently were at peace or secure in their tents or dwellings. Those who provoked God with their corrupt actions enjoyed security. (12:6)

The reference to the one “who brings god in his hand” may pertain to one who acts as if God or a god were in his “hand” or power so that he had nothing to fear. It is also possible to regard such a one as bringing a “god in his hand” by elevating his own “hand” or power to the level of a deity. Interpretive renderings vary considerably. “Those who provoke God dwell secure and so does anyone who makes a god of his fist!” (NJB) “They have their god in their pocket.” (NCV) “Their only god is their strength.” (GNT, Second Edition) “And those who provoke God are secure, those whom God’s hands have produced.” (Tanakh [NJPS]) (12:6; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

The imperative “ask” is a singular verb in the Hebrew text and in the Septuagint. What the animals (“quadrupeds” [LXX]) and winged creatures or birds (collective singular in Hebrew but plural in LXX) would be able to tell the inquirer is revealed in verse 9 of the Hebrew text. (12:7)

The next imperative is to “speak to the earth,” letting it instruct, and to the “fish of the sea” so that they might make their declaration. According to Origen (in the third century CE), the Septuagint text known to him, as his marks indicate, did not contain the reference to the “fish of the sea.” He added them from the version of Theodotion. (12:8)

The answer to what animals, birds, fish, and the earth would be able to provide is revealed in question form. “Who among all these does not know that the hand of YHWH has done this?” The implied answer could be that YHWH, by his hand or his great power, has brought everything into existence. In this context, however, the focus has been on the reality that the wicked or violent ones may be among those who enjoy security. In the animal world, predators are the ones that, with claws and teeth, cause ruin among the herbivores or weaker predators that become their victims. Likewise, predatory humans bring ruin to many who live uprightly. Accordingly, what may be observed in the animal world indicates that what the “hand of YHWH has done” is to allow the stronger predatory ones to have greater security than their potential prey. (12:9; see the Notes section.)

YHWH has in his “hand” or power the “soul” or life of “every living thing” and the “spirit” or life breath of all “flesh of man,” all humankind, or, according to the Septuagint, “every man.” (12:10; see the Notes section.)

Job raised the rhetorical question, Does “not an ear test words as a palate tastes food?” Being the organ of hearing, the ear is represented as testing, determining, or evaluating what is said. Similarly, the palate is here associated with the sense of taste and as making a determination about food. The implied point of the question appears to be that Job possessed the capacity to evaluate what Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had said, and he found it to be erroneous and distasteful. (12:11; see the Notes section.)

Job acknowledged that wisdom is associated with the aged or, according to the Septuagint, comes “with much time.” He also linked “understanding,” or the acquiring thereof, to “length of days” (“much living” [LXX]). There would still be a need for discernment (as the previous verse suggested) in order to evaluate what aged and experienced persons might say. Moreover, there is One in possession of far superior wisdom. (12:12)

God is the ultimate source of wisdom and the one who possesses matchless might. “With him [are] wisdom and power. To him [belong] counsel and understanding.” The “counsel” or guidance that he provides is always dependable, and his understanding or insight is never flawed. (12:13)

God’s power is revealed when he “tears down,” for no one can then “rebuild” (unless he allows it). Likewise, if he “shuts in” or confines a man, no one can “open” or effect release (unless he permits it). (12:14)

Job attributed other actions to God’s power. “If he withholds waters, then they dry up.” The Septuagint rendering identifies the “earth” or land as drying up if God “withholds the water.” Without the essential rains, vegetation withers and dies, and the land turns into a dry waste. If he sends out [the waters], then they “overwhelm” or flood the “earth” or land. According to the Septuagint, God completely destroys or devastates the land with the water. (12:15)

“With him” (God) are “strength and success.” His purpose will never fail to be carried out, and he will always be victorious. The rendering of the Septuagint focuses exclusively on God’s power. “With him [are] might and strength.” To God also belong “the one being misled and the one misleading.” Job understood that the Almighty had everything and everyone under his control, and this would include the masses who are misled and their leaders who mislead them. The Septuagint rendering highlights God’s wisdom. “With him [are] knowledge and insight.” (12:16)

God makes “counselors go barefoot,” letting them be taken into captivity stripped of their clothing and forced to march onward without their sandals. The Septuagint rendering is specific in referring to the counselors as being led away captive. God “makes fools of judges,” causing them to act like madmen without discernment. The Septuagint indicates that he maddens or confuses the “judges of the earth” or land. (12:17)

The consonants of the Hebrew word for “bond” and “discipline” are the same. According to the Masoretic Text, the vowel points indicate the meaning to be “discipline.” In this context, however, the designation “bond” fits better and may even be understood to refer to a girdle or a belt. Translators vary in their renderings about what God does. “He undoes the belts of kings.” (Tanakh [NJPS]) “He takes off the shackles put on by kings.” (NIV) “He loosens the bonds imposed by kings.” (NAB) If the assigned meaning is “belt,” the reference could be to the ungirding of kings in order to make them captives. When the significance is considered to be “bond,” the application could be to releasing from captivity those whom the kings had bound. The next phrase is, “and he binds a waistcloth on their loins.” This suggests that God is represented as stripping the kings of their royal attire and having them led away as captives wearing only a loincloth. (12:18; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

God “makes priests go barefoot” as captives stripped of their garments and forced to march onward without their sandals. According to the Septuagint, God is the one “sending priests away as captives.” He “overthrows” those who are “firmly seated” (the “mighty ones of the earth” or land [LXX]), or those who appear to be in a secure position. (12:19)

God “takes away speech [literally, lip] from those who are trusted,” or from trustworthy counselors, leaving them with nothing to say when sound advice from them is needed. The Septuagint could be understood to say that he “changes” or frustrates the “lips of trustworthy ones,” making it impossible for them to provide good counsel. God “removes discernment” from “elders.” Without discernment, they are unable to judge properly and to serve as dependable guides for the people. The Septuagint says that “he knew the understanding of elders.” This may particularly refer to the divine recognition of their limitations in understanding. (12:20)

God “pours contempt on nobles, and a girdle of channels he loosens.” He allows nobles to be deprived of their dignified standing and to become objects of contempt or derision. The word “channels” does not fit this context, but the consonants of the Hebrew word could also be read as “strong ones” or mighty men. This significance is conveyed in a number of translations. God “unbuckles the belt of the strong.” (NJB) He “loosens the belt of the mighty.” (Tanakh [NJPS]) If the “strong” or mighty are regarded as warriors, this could signify that God disarms them, for soldiers commonly suspended the sword from the left side of the girdle. (12:21; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

God “uncovers” or reveals “deep things out of darkness and brings death’s shadow to light.” “Deep things” could designate concealed things or mysteries. Though hidden from the understanding of humans, these “deep things” are known to him and revealed by him as he deems fit. He brings to light things that are hidden in “death’s shadow” or in the deepest darkness. (12:22)

Job attributed to God the making of nations great or strong so that he might destroy them. This would be by letting them develop into powerful nations and then later to be conquered. The “spreading out” of nations probably relates to territorial expansion. Yet, as Job expressed matters, God spreads out the nations so that he might “lead them away.” When conquered, the people would be led away as captives. (12:23; see the Notes section.)

God “takes away the heart” (the judgment or good sense) of the “heads,” chiefs, or leaders of the “people of the earth” or the land and makes them wander in a pathless waste (“on a way” or in a course “that they did not know” [LXX]). Lacking sound judgment, leaders cannot provide proper direction to the people. They themselves are lost as would be persons wandering in confusion in a trackless desert or, according to the Septuagint, on a path that is foreign to them. (12:24)

In their confused state, leaders of the people, when faced with serious problems or threats, would have no idea as to which course to pursue. “They grope in the dark without light.” God “makes them stagger like a drunkard.” In their helpless state, comparable to being in a drunken stupor, they would be unable to function as dependable guides for the people. (12:25)


In fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, verse 2 includes the plural form of the Greek word for “alone” (mónos), and the verse may be rendered, “So you alone are men.”

In verse 4, the Septuagint does not include the phrase that refers to calling upon God. This phrase is somewhat obscure in the extant Hebrew text, and this has resulted in various interpretive renderings. “I am a laughingstock to my friends; I, who called upon God and he answered me, a just and blameless man, I am a laughingstock.” (NRSV) “I have always lived right, and God answered my prayers; now friends make fun of me.” (CEV) “I have become the sport of my neighbors: ‘The one whom God answers when he calls upon him, the just, the perfect man,’ is a laughingstock.” (NAB) “Anyone becomes a laughing-stock to his friends if he cries to God and expects an answer. People laugh at anyone who has integrity and is upright.” (NJB) “Yet I am a laughing-stock to my friends — a laughing-stock, though I am innocent and blameless; one that called upon God, but he afflicted me.”

Verse 5 of the Septuagint, the “righteous and blameless man” (verse 4) had been ordained “to fall under others for an appointed time” and “that his houses be plundered by lawless ones.”

The meaning conveyed in verse 6 of the Septuagint differs significantly from the thoughts expressed in the extant Hebrew text. One who is wicked should not trust that he will be considered “innocent — as many as provoke the Lord — as if there will not also be their trial.”

Origin, in the third century CE, marked the words of verse 9 as not having been included in the text of the Septuagint available to him. He supplied the missing words from the version of Theodotion.

When the words from verses 8b and 9 are omitted and not supplied from the version of Theodotion, the Septuagint (in verse 10) represents the quadrupeds, winged creatures or birds, and the earth as being able to make known that the life (literally, “soul”) of “all living things” and the “spirit” or life breath of “every man” are in God’s “hand” (his power) or under his control.

In verse 11, Rahlfs’ printed text contains the word ous (“ear”), but fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus read nous (“mind”). The Septuagint rendering according to the oldest extant manuscripts is, “For indeed the mind distinguishes words, but the throat tastes foods.”

The rendering of the Septuagint in verse 18 departs significantly from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. It refers to God as “seating kings upon thrones.” The concluding phrase (“and he binds a belt around their loins”) was not in the Greek text of the Septuagint known to Origen in the third century CE. He added the words from the version of Theodotion and marked them accordingly.

In the third century CE, Origen did not find the opening phrase of verse 21 (“he poured out dishonor upon rulers”) in the Greek text of the Septuagint available to him. He added it from the version of Theodotion and marked it accordingly. With reference to God, the verse concludes, “But he healed the humble ones.”

Origen, in the third century CE, did not find verse 23 in the Greek text of the Septuagint available to him. He used the rendering of Theodotion to insert the words. In Rahlfs’ printed text, the concluding phrase of this verse is not included as part of the text that is marked as having been added, but this is an error. The added text reads with reference to God, “causing nations to wander and destroying them; spreading out nations and directing them.”