The NIV Application Commentaries are among my best sellers so I was very happy to see the newest entry in the series come in to the store. This one is on the book of Job and is written by John Walton. As I looked through it and read portions here and there I was struck by his discussion of 9:5-9. Here’s how it reads in the NIV
He moves mountains without their knowing it and overturns them in his anger. He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble. He speaks to the sun and it does not shine; he seals off the light of the stars. He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.
Walton says that “scholars consistently agree that John 9:5-8 refers to cosmic acts of judgment against those who resist God.” (170) This has important implications for verse 9 which some have seen as simply an expression of wonder over God’s creative power. But let’s back up to verse 5 and work forward.
Walton begins by commenting on the verb for “moves” in verse 5.
“Close analysis reveals that the translation should go in a different direction. The verb that NIV translates ‘moves’ (Hiph. of ʿtq) only occurs in a times; in Genesis it refers to the movement of the patriarchs from place to place (Gen. 12:8; 26:22). The Hiphil is often, though not always, a causative form—but the use of this verb in the Hiphil in Genesis is not. Therefore, we would not translate Job 9:5 as ‘God causes mountains to move’ (implied in NIV translation), but ‘God traverses the mountains.’ This would parallel his treading the seas in verse 8. [He notes in a footnote, “The Akkadian cognate is etequ and has the same meaning (occurring many more times). That Akkadian š stem (equivalent to the Hebrew Hiphil) of the verb means to pass through difficult territory.”] (166-67)
Skipping ahead to verse 8 Walton notes that at first blush this appears to concern God’s creation. Again, on closer examination he says “[t]he two actions in the verse are related to theophanies in which God judges his enemies or his sinful people.” (168) This now brings us to verse 9 and the odd mention of the constellations. Walton writes,
“Regardless of which constellations Job 9 refers to, the more important question is why the constellations are brought into the discussion. Amos 5:8 mentions the making of the constellations in a context of cosmic judgment. Similarly, scholars consistently agree that Job 9:5-8 refers to cosmic acts of judgment against those who resist God. If verse 9 simply expresses wonder over God’s creative power, it is entirely inconsistent with the context, therefore, we should consider possible alternatives. As it turns out, constellations often are the subject of omens (for good or evil) in Akkadian literature. For example: ‘If Leo is dark: lions and wolves will rage and cut off traffic with the Westland.’ Since God is the one who makes the constellations, he is the one who uses them to portend ominous events that are understood as acts of judgment.” (170)
Pulling all this together Walton offers the following “expansive translation” for the passage:
Verse 5: He [God] traverses the mountains, but his enemies do not detect him; then he comes upon them [his enemies] in his anger and overthrows them.
Verse 6: He causes the earth to tremble in its place and makes its pillars sway.
Verse 7: He speaks to the sun it does not shine [for them], and he seals off the stars [from giving them light].
Verse 8: He raises the corner of the heavens by himself [and comes down on them in judgment], treading the waves of the sea.
Verse 9: He is the one who makes the constellations [as ominous signs against them]; he makes the [destructive] south wind come from its chambers.
“The point of the section is that God uses all of the cosmos as a weapon against those who oppose him. Job sums this up in 9:10, giving the impression that those wonders that he has named are only the beginning of what God can do.” (170)
Walton is one of my favorite Old Testament scholars and I think this will prove to be one of the finest entries in the NIV Application Commentary series. The book is from Zonderan and is a hardcover with 469 pages and sells for $29.99.
John Walton is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School.