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Job 21:7-13 (ESV)

Why do the wicked live,
    reach old age, and grow mighty in power?
Their offspring are established in their presence,
    and their descendants before their eyes.
Their houses are safe from fear,
    and no rod of God is upon them.
Their bull breeds without fail;
    their cow calves and does not miscarry.
They send out their little boys like a flock,
    and their children dance.
They sing to the tambourine and the lyre
    and rejoice to the sound of the pipe.
They spend their days in prosperity,
    and in peace they go down to Sheol.

Reading the passage in English, I was curious why Job would say the wicked have shalom in Sheol. But the Hebrew word in the verse is actually rega` <07281> meaning "in a moment". From the root word, I would prefer to translate the line:

 and in a twinkling they go down to Sheol.

Is this a reasonable translation? Why do the NRSV, NLT, NIV, and others use the word "peace"?

I'm particularly curious about the use of "peace" here since the Hebrew word shalom means, according to Cornelius Plantinga:

The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.—Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin

Accusing God of allowing the wicked to die quickly and easily doesn't seem out of Job's character, but to say that God delights in them or that they are in a state of wholeness seems a far more radical charge. And to me, that's what using the word "peace" signifies.

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Even the NJPS uses "peace" in this verse. That shocked me. – Jon Ericson Nov 9 '11 at 21:22
No clue-- I can't read Hebrew, though I'd love to learn-- but KJV seems to translate it your way ( – transistor1 Nov 12 '11 at 5:21
Is your thought, then, that the word "peace" in English should be reserved as a technical word conveying the Hebrew concept of shalom? – Soldarnal Feb 17 '12 at 18:20
@Soldarnal: Not necessarily. But since there are several other ways to translate the word that align with the original meaning (which I take to be "quickly"), why not use one of them instead? "Peace" here seems to muddy the waters needlessly here. – Jon Ericson Feb 17 '12 at 18:27
NASB has 'suddenly' – Jack Douglas Feb 17 '12 at 19:56
up vote 8 down vote accepted

At first glance it seemed strange to me as well. However, given that the context is the good things that occur to the wicked, and in the next verse (14) we see how the wicked take these things for granted, it makes sense that it would be a positive thing, and going down to sheol in a moment wouldn't be. The root is רגע , which aside for 'moment' can actually mean 'calm' or 'peacefulness,' at least in Modern Hebrew. I have not, however, managed to find this root mean 'calm' in other places in the Tanakh, and actually in a few places it's translated as 'to stir up' or 'agitate'

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! And thanks for the answer. – Jon Ericson Nov 10 '11 at 17:24
I agree the context signals a good end for the wicked, but it seems to me that if all go to Sheol, which I think is the cosmology of Job, going quickly at the end of long, prosperous days is actually a pretty favorable fate. – Jon Ericson Nov 10 '11 at 17:33

I realise I'm a little late to the party, but in the interest of posterity and despite Ecclesiastes 1:15, I would like to answer all those comments and claims that the root רגע has no basis as "calm" or "peaceful" in the tanakh. I'm not sure this is the most natural reading of the verse or even the one I subscribe to, however it certainly has a very solid basis that everyone seems to be ignoring.

Let's start with the more ambiguous readings:

Isaiah 51:15, Jeremiah 31:34, Job 26:12
רגע הים
There are two potential readings here - either God is expressing His strength in His ability to make the ocean stormy and strong (Mahari Krah, Rashi, Metzudot, Targum Jonathan), or precisely the opposite, in His ability to calm the raging ocean (Radak). Most translations and commentaries go with the first reading, referring to Job 7:5, there the root רגע seems to only have one interpretation - broken and cracked. But there's more in store.

Psalms 35:20
רגעי ארץ
Most commentaries consider this use also similar Job 7:5 (Rashi, Metzudot, Ibn Ezra). The Radak is still sticking to his guns, and considers this use to mean "calm". There's room to say he's earned himself support of the Targum Jonathan. And the Mahari Yavetz seems to remain undecided.

Proverbs 12:19
Most commentaries (Rashi, Metzudot, Ralbag) adopt a temporal reading, however the Ibn Ezra considers this too a use of "calm".

Jeremiah 50:43,44
Again an ambiguous one. Many commentaries (see Rashi) who go with the temporal interpretation, that God will act "quickly", in a short רגע. Again the Radak fancies the calm interpretation, and this time, so does Metzudot. Another has joined the party. (Also compare most commentaries which take Rashi's interpretation, with Jubilee Bible 2000 and Young's Literal Translation who take the "calm" path).

Interestingly we note in the verse before we note the use of a familiar phrase: כים יהמה which should remind us of the rest of the verses we first quoted: רגע הים ויהמו גליו. This juxtaposition would suggest to me similar meanings (obviously not an opinion shared by Metzudot, who interprets these two uses differently). Onward.

Isaiah 51:4
Our last ambiguous reading is much less ambiguous. The vast majority of commentaries (Mahari Krah, Rashi, Radak, Ibn Ezra, Metzudot) read it as "calm". The Ibn Ezra mentions an anonymous commentator who explains this temporally, like those commentaries from Jeremiah 50:43,44, but considers this wrong.

Finally, we will quote an array of uses of the root רגע all of which are unequivocally in the sense of "calm" (note that the הפעיל form of the verb is only used three times in Jeremiah, the two quoted below are uncontested uses of the meaning "calm", which lends credence to those opinions above who interpreted that use also as "calm"):

Deuteronomy 28:65
Isaiah 28:12
Isaiah 34:14
Jeremiah 6:16
Jeremiah 31:1,2
Jeremiah 47:6
Jeremiah 50:33,34

Not sure how this went unnoticed and undocumented and how so many comments of unsubstantiated use of the translation "peace" were so highly considered. It's clearly a well established use of the word, and again, while it may or may not be the best reading for the verse in question, it certainly has a lot going for it.

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It's never too late for a good answer! Thank you for bringing out the Jewish commentators and taking the time for such a detailed response. – Jon Ericson Aug 27 '13 at 6:24

Maybe - and I really don't have anything to substantiate this - it refers to a quick and painless death. "They spend their days in prosperity, and in a moment (without any fading or suffering) their lives end."

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Right. But peace in Hebrew (shalom) signals more than just lack of suffering or pain, but a holistic "goodness". Let me rephrase the question to get at that point. (Thanks for the thoughts. Might not they be better as a comment to the question, however?) – Jon Ericson Feb 17 '12 at 18:09
But the original text doesn't say shalom right? You asked why rega would be translated "peace". And sorry I'm still getting used to stack exchange :) – sep332 Feb 17 '12 at 18:14
I guess my question is if you had a choice between translating the word to "quickly" or to "peace", why would you pick "peace" here? It seems to put an even more radical charge in Job's mouth than what seems to be found in the original. I'd go with your suggestion over the translations I listed. It's just odd to me. And, no problem. ;-) – Jon Ericson Feb 17 '12 at 18:21
It seems you are not alone in your reading. Are you willing to quote some of this material in your answer to back up your theory? – Jack Douglas Feb 18 '12 at 6:05

To me this is an unsupportable translation. This is the only place the NET Bible picks "peace":

moment 8, instant 3, suddenly 2, times 2, continually 1, briefly 1, brief moment 1, peace 1, time 1, regularly 1, while 1, momentarily 1

The Authorized Version never uses "peace" for רֶגַע:

moment 18, instant 2, space 1, suddenly 1

Only four of these translations use "peace" for Job 21:13:

  • "in a moment"—9
  • "in peace"—4
  • "suddenly"—1
  • "in an instant"—1

Further, none of the commentaries lists mention "peace". Clarke's commentary seems a represetnative sample:

In a moment go down to the grave—They wear out their years in pleasure; grow old in their gay and giddy life; and die, as in a moment, without previous sickness; or, as Mr. Good has it, They quietly descend into the grave.

On the other hand, the NET Bible notes:

The word רֶגַע (rega’) has been interpreted as “in a moment” or “in peace” (on the basis of Arabic raja`a, “return to rest”). Gordis thinks this is a case of talhin – both meanings present in the mind of the writer.

I found this tidbit in an article about Job's literary characteristics:

This pun is similar to the subtle device of double entendre or what Gordis designates talhin, after the Arabic rhetoricians) which sometimes occurs. The author wished to bring both meanings of a word (especially when homonyms existed) to the consciousness of the reader simultaneously.

A nearby footnote reads:

[Robert] Gordis, The Book of God and Man, pp. 167-68. He suggests that this device
also occurs in 3:6-7,22; 5:24; 9:17; 12:6; 21:13; and 22:25 (see p. 347, n. 51).

I'll need to track down a copy to investigate that angle further.


On the whole (and until I read Gordis' book), the evidence for making a special case to translate rega` to peace for this particular use of the Hebrew word seems slight. One of the other possible translations that have temporal rather than "rightness" connotation seems more appropriate.

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In addition to my answer which sticks to the text of particular examples, you seem to have missed other relevant entries in the lexicon you quoted. You mentioned 07281 but failed to quote 07280 which cites "rest" and "ease" 6 times. – bjorne Aug 27 '13 at 0:05
@bjorne: That's true. However, I don't know how much weight we should place on the meaning of raga`. (That's mostly because my Hebrew is at best second-hand. ;-) The English word "salary" has it's roots in the Latin word for salt. But I would not be happy if my employer paid me in sodium chloride! – Jon Ericson Aug 27 '13 at 6:31
While I agree in principle, the usage here is more direct than your "salt" example. – bjorne Aug 27 '13 at 7:29

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