Job – Chapter 29

Phoenix Rising

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Job continues:

“If only things were good, like they were before, when G-d was taking care of me! He used to protect me and light my way! People used to come to me for advice and young men would wait upon me! I had all the best things in abundance and when I went to town, I occupied a place of honor. The young men would hide from me in shame and even the old men would rise for me. Princes and nobles would be silent before me, until I opened dialogue with them.”

“Anyone who heard my words or saw my appearance couldn’t help being impressed. I would go to bat for the needy and for orphans when they were being oppressed. The property of deceased evil men would find its way into my possession and I would use it to support their widows and orphans. I wore my righteousness like a garment, for all to see. I was eyes for the blind, feet for the lame, and I supported the needy. If I didn’t know the true story behind a situation, I would investigate it.”

“Back in the day,” Job reminisced, “I would break the fangs of predatory people and release their prey. I had every reason to expect my legacy would endure and I would be renewed like a phoenix. My roots would be watered and dew would be on my branches. People hung on my every word, which was the final say on any matter. They would eagerly anticipate my wisdom and if I cracked a joke, they were amazed that someone as esteemed as I also had a sense of humor. I was their leader and they looked at me like a king.”

One of the ways of understanding the word “chol” in verse 18 is the mythical phoenix, an immortal bird that would renew itself. The fact that a mythical creature may be mentioned in the Bible should not be taken as proof of its existence, or even to suggest that Job necessarily believed in it. Its use here is simply a metaphor, as if I said that one has as many lives as a cat. We all know that cats have the same number of lives as dogs, cows and horses (i.e., one each), but invoking a common expression, however zoologically inaccurate, is an effective means of conveying an idea. (Of course, the Metzudas Dovid understands verse 18 to say that Job thought his days would be as numerous as grains of sand on the beach, which renders the phoenix question entirely moot.)

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