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NKJV: “To him who is afflicted, kindness should be shown by his friend, Even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty."
NASB: “For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend; So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty."
ESV (cf. NIV): “He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty." [here "withholds" is another interpretation of the word translated "afflicted" in the NKJV]

I've looked at several translations, and they seem to be equally divided between these three translations. What is the right translation based on the Hebrew and the context?

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The Hebrew text of Job 6:14 runs as follows:

לַמָּ֣ס מֵרֵעֵ֣הוּ חָ֑סֶד וְיִרְאַ֖ת שַׁדַּ֣י יַעֲזֽוֹב׃
lammās mērēʿēhû ḥāsed, wəyirʾat šadday yaʿăzôb

Ambiguity has long been recognized as one of the "features" of the Hebrew of the book of Job.1 That enters into the picture here, although there are other issues, too.

Context

The book of Job has a "prose" framework which introduces and concludes the book (chs. 1-2 + 42:7-17). In the intervening chapters there are various speeches in poetry, first between Job and his "friends" (chs. 3-31), then the intervention of the young Elihu (chs. 32-37), then the response of YHWH from the whirlwind (chs. 39-41).

Job 6 is Job's first response to the first, fairly gentle, intervention of Eliphaz (chs. 4-5) -- who appears to be the "senior" member of the triumvirate of friends -- who himself spoke only after Job's opening "soliloquy" (ch. 3).

In 6:2-13, Job has seemingly continued his soliloquy, as the themes carry on from where he left off in ch. 3. Verse 14 comes at a significant turning point. It isn't clear, up until this point, that he has even registered the presence of his friends who have come to keep him company in his misery (Job 2:11-13). At this very point, though he seems to lift his gaze. V. 14 launches a brief reflection on the nature of treacherous friendship -- still in the third person -- until finally, in v. 21, for the first time, he addresses the three of them directly ("Such you have become [hĕyîtem, 2nd pl.] to me").

Clearly 6:14 has an important structural/contextual significance, then.

Job 6:14 in Hebrew

Unfortunately, the Hebrew original is fairly obscure in this verse. Thus S.R. Driver's pithy comment: "Hard and uncertain"!2 And David Clines opines:3

The whole verse is deleted by some, either as an explanatory gloss on v. 15 (Fohrer), or because it is impossible to translate with confidence (cf. Hesse).

So what's the problem -- or, better, what are the problems?

A literal translation of the Masoretic Text as it stands would go something like this:

14a:
lammās mērēʿēhû ḥāsed
To the one in despair from his friends [belongs] kindness
14b:
wəyirʾat šadday yaʿăzôb
and the fear of the Almighty he abandons.

The overarching problem is: how does 14a relate to 14b at this point? That involves two subsidiary, interrelated issues:

  1. how should lammās be understood?
  2. what is the force of the wə... conjunction that begins 14b?

We take these two in turn:

  1. lammās - is normally taken as the preposition le- ("to" - and here is where "belonging to", or "is due to" comes from) + mās normally thought to derive from the root MSS "melt", so "to melt away, (metaph.) be discouraged, despairing" (NOT to be confused with mas = "forced labour").

    Since the "long-a" mās is a hapax legomenon (i.e., this is its single occurrence in the whole Hebrew Bible), there have long been suggestions for emending the text. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Job ed. by G. Gerleman) includes in its apparatus:

    14 a-a prp לֹא מָאַס מֵרֵעַ

    = "A friend does not refuse [loyalty]" or the like (mērēaʿ now simply a noun "companion", cf. BDB, p. 946b, and subject of the verb māʾas, "refuse"). This is adopted by a number of commentators, and although Clines (p. 160) suggests this requires the "the addition only of two vowel letters", he ought to know better than to call alef a vowel letter (!), and it obviously requires re-dividing the consonants as well. Edouard Dhorme claims (via Bauer) that מאס has some manuscript support, but doesn't cite it himself.4

    Other emendations are also proposed, playing with mem + samekh + ?? in various combinations. None has commanded anything like widespread support. Perhaps, then, we're "stuck" with the MT's rare formulation.

    + see Joseph's answser for discussion of the possibility of reading למאס lmʾs.

  2. What, then, is the force of the wə... conjunction that begins v. 14b? This part of the verse is clear in itself: "and[?] he abandons the fear of YHWH". The problem is that, on most readings of v. 14a, a simple "and" does not yield satisfactory meaning. What meaning commentators and translators want to give it is tied up with how they have resolved problem (1), what to do with lammās. This is what accounts for some obvious differences in the modern versions cited by OP (in the Question).

    • If 14a is thought to have something to do with sympathy being given to sufferers, then some kind of concessive term is used: e.g., "although", or like the HCSB: "A despairing man should receive loyalty from his friends, even if he abandons the fear of the Almighty." (So also NET and ISV.) But the waw conjunction is generally said not to have a concessive force (like Driver & Gray, Job, p. 40).
    • V. 14b might be thought of as an outcome of 14a, and this is how some in the Authorized tradition take it. They make the conjunction an adversative, like the KJV itself: "To him that is afflicted pity should be shewed from his friend; but he forsaketh the fear of the Almighty."
    • Those who adopt the emendation of BHS typically see an unstated negative carrying over from 14a to 14b, and Clines cites Gesenius-Kautzsch-Cowley § 152z in support. His translation comes out as: "A friend does not refuse his loyalty, / nor does he forsake the fear of the Almighty."

The Ancient Versions

The Septuagint rendering is:

ἀπείπατό με ἔλεος ἐπισκοπὴ δὲ κυρίου ὑπερεῖδέν με
apeipato me eleos episkopē de kuriou hupereiden me
Mercy has renounced me, and the visitation of the Lord has disregarded me. [NETS]

It could lend support to the emendation to "reject", and has a reflex for wə- in δὲ [de], but it takes the otherwise clear 14b in a very different direction.

Dhorme (p. 84) lists other versions as follows:

  • Vulgate: qui tollit ab amico suo misericordiam timorem Domini derelinquit = "He that takes away mercy from his friend, forsakes the fear of the Lord."
  • Syriac: "He who refuses peace to his friend, forsakes the fear of the Most High."
  • Targum: "As for the man who has refused mercy to his friend, he forsakes the fear of Shaddai."

What these three have in common is (a) turning the whole verse into a single clause (instead of two); and (b) making the "subject" of "14a" identical with the subject of "14b". Modern versions often follow the lead of these renderings; see, for example, the marginal notes in the RSV which persist into both the ESV and the NRSV.

Summary

This is a difficult verse! Hopefully, even this brief and selective review of the two main issues it contains will show why it is so difficult. It should also hint that there is no "right translation based on the Hebrew and the context", because the choice of translation depends on a number of related judgments, and one can take up different positions on these for good reason. These, however, seem to me to be the two main options:

  • It is clear from what follows that Job regards his friends as unreliable and destructive. This seems to have exercised constraint on some ancient translators (Vulg, Syr, Targ) and informs the most widely (?) adopted sense in modern versions, that failure to support a "friend in need" is tantamount to apostasy.
  • If, however, the Masoretic Text is retained, then it seems to imply that suffering is the trigger for loss of faith, since the subject of both parts of the verse remains the same (the sufferer) and the "join" (whether coordinating or disjunctive) implies some sequence between 14a and 14b.

It may be that context needs more reflection, as if the latter choice is made, then it would seem best to take 6:14 not as the introduction to a reflection on treachery, but as the conclusion to Job's introspective soliloquy in vv. 1-13 (as in fact the Judaica Press translation has it). But that has issues too ... and so it rumbles on.


Notes

  1. E.g., Y. Hoffman, “The Use of Equivocal Words in the First Speech of Eliphaz (Job IV-V)”, Vetus Testamentum 30 (1980): 114-119; W. Morrow, “Consolation, Rejection, and Repentance in Job 42:6”, Journal of Biblical Literature 105 (1986): 211-225.
  2. S.R. Driver and G.B. Gray, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Job (ICC; T & T Clark, 1921), pt. 2, p. 39.
  3. D.J.A. Clines, Job 1-20 (Word Biblical Commentary, 1989).
  4. E. Dhorme, A Commentary on the Book of Job (Nelson, 1967), p. 84.
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The Idea in Brief

There are three words in the verse which provide ambiguous meaning, however, the Masorah Parva of the Masoretic Text helps to shed light to the verse. In spite of these difficulties, the MT can be seen to yield good sense.

Discussion

The first and most significant problem in the verse is the word for "friend." If the Hebrew word is רֵעַ, then the word also contains the prefix מִן (or מֵ), which in conjunction with the possessive masculine suffix means from-his-companion. (The translators of the Syriac, Latin, and Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible inferred this meaning.) If the word here, however, for "friend" is מֵרֵעַ, then the word in conjunction with the possessive masculine suffix means his friend. In other words, both words in the Masoretic Text appear exactly alike (and both refer to companion/friend, respectively), but one contains a preposition and the other one does not.

Another problem is the phrase לַמָּס, which means to (for) one despairing. In lieu of this word, and based on multiple manuscripts, the editors of the BHS have suggested the Qal infinitive construct of לִמְאָס, which means despising, grudging, scorning. The evidence for this variant is provided in de Rossi's Variae lectiones Veteris Testamenti... (1788), vol. 4 p. 106:

de Rossi

According to Gensenius ( §114f, §114o, and §115e), if in fact the infinitive construct (as in our case with לִמְאָס) were present in this verse (and as suggested by the editors of the BHS and found in a number of Hebrew manuscripts), then the clause of this verse could read as follows, since the noun in the clause could function as the subject of the infinitive construct.

(1) In refusing his companion (=>מֵרֵעַ) compassion, thus he (the friend Eliphaz) forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
(2) In withholding compassion from his friend (=>רֵעַ), thus he (Job) forsakes the fear of the Almighty.

N.B. The conjunction which connects both clauses (within gnomic poetry) is the waw copula (Gesenius §161a).

There is yet a third factor to consider before concluding this discussion. At the end of the second clause appears the verb יַעֲזוֹב, which for ancient Hebrew contains the waw Matre Lectionis. These letters are sometimes known as consonants, but they have been "helpers" to identify vowels (begun at a time before the Masoretes added the vowels and accents and spaces between words). Waltke and O'Connor explain the sporadic nature of these "helpers" as now present in BHS. That is, the proto Masoretic Text had no vowels and spaces, which had led to confusion with homophonic words (such as the example with the two words for "friends" as noted above).

Anyway, in the margin of Job 6:14 of the BHS appears the Masorah Parva, which should correspond to references to the Masorah Magna at the foot of the Hebrew Text (which provide more amplification of meaning and references). In this instance, in the Parva (marginalia) there are only the words ‏ב̇ מל̇ בליש‎ written in Aramaic, which phrase reads that this particular verb appears in the Masoretic Text "twice written out with vowel letters in Hebrew." At the foot of the text there is no corresponding Masorah Magna to reference. The editor of the Masorah in BHS (Georg Weil) annotated "Mp (Mesora Parva) sub loco," which means that there is some sort of problem with it, and there is no related listing for this reference in the Masorah Magna.1

Weil died before he could produce the volume in which these (many) "sub loco" entries would be discussed. Many of them remain obscure,2 and it isn't clear what Weil intended to note for יַעֲזוֹב in Job 6:14. BHS is meant to reproduce Codex Leningradensis, but it reads this way:

Leningrad, Job 6:14

Here, the marginal note (meaning "unique occurrence [of this form]") is, in fact, correct, and appears this way in other medieval Hebrew manuscripts. Oddly, however, the highly esteemed Aleppo Codex has this:

Aleppo, Job 6:14

Here, the marginal note suggests there are two occurrences of this form. This is, in fact, an error (unless the "missing" part of this codex contained a second example: the same form but with the "defective" spelling, i.e., no vowel letter, occurs in Genesis 2:24). Perhaps this is the "problem" that Weil had in mind, but we can only guess.

Finally, in Job 6:14-20 appear in narrative format in the third person, which includes the verse under discussion. That is, Job is alluding to himself and/or his companions in the third person until Job 6:21, when he then begins to address the three "friends" in the second person.

Conclusion

In summary, while there is no exacting certitude as regards the "correct" translation of this verse, the editors of BHS provide an alternate reading for לַמָּס in order to facilitate the smooth reading of the verse. In this regard, then, the NASB takes and assumes the Masoretic Text as the correct reading, which assumes the verb in the first clause is רֵעַ, which contains the prefix מִן (or מֵ):

Job 6:14 (NASB)
14 For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend;
So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.

While there is grammatical ambiguity of the precise nature of the wording of this verse (because of homophonic-sounding words in Biblical Hebrew), the meaning notwithstanding still comes out quite clear: Instead of helping Job as a friend/companion, Eliphaz was provoking Job to react toward the Lord.


1 When we check the Interlinear Scripture Analyzer (http://www.scripture4all.org), we find that another appearance of this verb in the Masoretic Text is 2 Ki 21:22. There we find that King Amon forsook the Lord. This verb does not contain the waw Matre Lectionis, however. In other words, there are only two places in the Hebrew Bible that the verb appears in reference to rejecting/forsaking the Lord: Job 6:14 and 2 Ki 21:22.
2 One monograph has appeared which attempts to work through the examples in the Pentateuch: D.S. Mynatt, The Sub Loco Notes in the Torah of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BIBAL Press, 1994).

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  • 2
    @David - I owe you lunch. I hope that I can buy you roast rack of lamb with mint sauce, if and when I am ever in Scotland. – Joseph Oct 27 '14 at 10:53
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Here is Rashi's analysis:

"By one who withholds kindness from his friend and who abandons the fear of the Almighty?"

By one who withholds kindness from his friend: Heb. למס, by one who withholds kindness. The “lammed” is a prefix, as in (Num. 26:54), “to the numerous one (לָרַב) ”; “to the one who returns (?) (לָשָב) ,” and (Isa. 28:10, 13) “for a precept (לצו).” מָס too is an expression of a verb, like בָּא, comes: שָב, returns; גָר, dwells; these also are an expression of doing [i.e., the present tense]: who withholds kindness, who destroys it, like (Exod. 16:21), “when the sun grew hot, it melted (ונמס).”

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