One thing I’ve always wanted to do but never have is to study Hebrew. One thing I know about the book of Job is that it contains some of the most difficult Hebrew in the Bible. That means every commentary on Job will struggle with lexical, syntactical, and grammatical issues. This also means that some commentators may offer some unique interpretations of passages in the book of Job which may, at first blush, seem way off but upon closer examination may require a second look. In his recent commentary on the book of Job, John Walton offers one such alternative to Job 22:1-3. Here’s how it reads in the NIV

“Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied: 2 “Can a man be of benefit to God? Can even a wise person benefit him? 3 What pleasure would it give the Almighty if you were righteous? What would he gain if your ways were blameless?

I’ve looked at numerous translations and they are all fairly close to this one. Walton notes a couple of others from commentaries like this from Habel: “Can a hero endanger El? or a sage endanger the Ancient One? Is it a favor to Shaddai in you are righteous, or his gain if you perfect your ways?” (244)

“If we follow the NIV,” Walton says, “Eliphaz is suggesting that it doesn’t matter to God whether a person is righteous/blameless or not; God derives no benefit from moral behavior.” This is the interpretation found in Tremper Longman’s new commentary on Job. Longman entitles these verses as “God couldn’t care less” and writes that “Eliphaz says that God is indifferent to the idea of a righteous/blameless person. To him, God is a being who is self-sufficient and does not need or care about people. Of course, readers know from the prologue that God indeed cares greatly.” (286-87) But Walton says that this “interpretation is out-of-character for Eliphaz and does not fit well with the rest of his speech.” (243) He offers the following alternative translation,

“Can a wise mediator do any good for a human being [serving] on behalf of God? Can such a mediator bring a human any benefit? Will God respond favorably when you justify yourself? Will there be a gain when you give a full account of your ways.” (244)

Walton continues, “In 22:1-3 Eliphaz is in effect saying, ‘A mediator will do you no good, your proposed lawsuit would have no chance of success.’ (244) A unique feature to this NIV Application Commentary is that Walton has provided a “technical appendix” where he offers a more detailed case for some of his translations. The appendix covers three passages: 2:3; 22:2-3, and 24:22-23. The following comes from his discussion on this passage.

“The commentaries and translations regularly take the Hebrew word geber (NIV, Hartley; ‘man’; Habel: ‘hero’; Clines: ‘human’) as the subject of the verb in the first clause of 22:2. The occurrence of the same construction in 34:9 shows, hover, that geber must be the object rather than the subject, as I have rendered it.”

“I have proposed the interpretive ‘wise mediator’ as the subject of the first sentence, which is a translation of the noun maśkil, which both in the Hebrew text and in most translations (NIV, Harley, ‘wise man’; Habel, Clines: ‘sage’) occurs in the second line. Evidence that it should be considered the subject of this sentence is based on Job 34:9 (NIV: ‘It profits a man nothing when he tries to please God’), which uses the same verb as 22:2 (skn). What is in effect the subject of 34:9 also comes in the following line, in the phrase ‘when he tries to please God’ (i.e., his attempts to please God profit a man nothing.”

“Unlike other translators, I have not set God as the direct or indirect object (‘benefit [to] God’) but removed him grammatically one step further from the action (‘on behalf of God’). I base this decision on the other two occurrences of this construction (13:7 and 21:22; nowhere else in the Old Testament). A comparison of these verses will help us to see the parallel constructions.”

Job 13:7 hale’el telabberu ʿawlah
  Is it on behalf of God you speak wickedness
Job 21:22 hale’el yelammed daʿat
  Is it on behalf of God he teaches knowledge
Job 22:2 hale’el yiskan gaber
  Is it on behalf of God he benefits human being
Grammar Interrogative (ha) +   preposition l- + God (‘el) verb (imperfect noun abstraction as direct object


“It seems to me from 13:7 that this opening combination must be translated, ‘Is it on behalf of God . . .?”

“Finally, the last verb in 22:3 (Hiph. of tmm) is challenging. The translations above treat it variably as an adjective (expressed as fact, ‘to be blameless,’ Clines, NIV; or as a claim of blamelessness, Hartley) or as a very (‘to perfect your ways,’ Habel). It is a verbal form, and the Hiphil only occurs eight times. My translation, ‘Give full account of your ways,’ is based on the observation that in many of the other contexts, it roughly concerns paying off or rendering account of something (note esp. 2 Kings 22:4)”

I don’t have the skills in Hebrew to weigh the merits of Walton’s case but I’ve known him long enough to know he’s not just trying to be novel. From looking at his argument and comparing the passages I think he makes a good case.