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We read: “Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.” ‭‭Job‬ ‭42:1-2‬

My question is: what does the Hebrew mean byyou can do everything”? Some might think this is Job asserting that God can do infinitely everything. We also know that God cannot lie.

It’s more likely that the verse indicates God’s sovereignty, but is the Hebrew more expressive or narrow in our understanding of this verse? Or is the answer a form of Hebrew parallelism in which its answer is in the second part of verse 2?

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  • "Can God really do everything if he can't lie?" is one of those angels on the head of a pin questions, missing the forest for the trees, and hardly depends on a verse citation to raise it. "Can God make a boulder so big even he can't move it?" is the classic version and equally pointless. Of course, your question can also be read in good faith as a translation question, but hopefully this type of contradiction is not the motivator here. Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 2:49
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    @ Luke my motivation is trying to understand the translation, yes. I wonder why it doesn’t say “You can do all that you desire”. I’m completely supportive of the Bible as God’s innerant Word. ;)
    – Cork88
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 6:06

1 Answer 1

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Hebrew words are often rich with meaning that cannot be fully expressed by a single word in English. In this case, the word I would focus on more than the "everything" or "anything" is the word translated as "do."

The Hebrew word behind "You can do" is תּוּכָ֑ל/tū·ḵāl (H3201). This word can mean to overcome, to prevail, to be able to gain or accomplish, to be able to endure, to be victor, to have ability, to have strength, or to be able to reach. In the KJV, as the linked resource above indicates, it is translated in many ways:

AV — could 46, able 43, cannot 34, prevail 22, may 16, can 12, canst 5, endure 2, might 2, misc 13

If we look at the broadness of this word's meaning in Hebrew, we might actually be able to formulate a picture of a God who can survive anything, and against Whom nothing will prevail. God will be the ultimate winner, as He will endure, and be the victor and conqueror.

However, as your question suggests, the Hebrew here is also using a poetic couplet, tying those two thoughts together. This is, actually, the way poetry looks in Hebrew. Hebrew poetry does not have rhyme or rhythm as we would typically perceive to be "poetic" today. Hebrew poetry has repetition through synonymous terms. We might call it parallelism. Sometimes the parallels might seem a little surprising to us in their disparity; sometimes they are virtually the same words.

Hebrew language can sometimes be more precise than English, but it is usually less precise. It is always very important in Hebrew to consider the context in order to understand a particular word's meaning--and by "context" we might include other passages on the same topic.

There is no suggestion at all in this verse of speaking to God's ability to lie or to do other things that clearly God will not do.

Conclusion

The Hebrew itself presents no contradiction here, for it is simply saying God Himself will overcome anything/everything; and that no one/nothing can stop Him from accomplishing His purposes.

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  • OUTSTANDING answer! Thank you! Very helpful Polyhat. I’ve actually wondered about this particular question for some time. It would be a good apologetic to remember this if any skeptic asks in the future. BUT! Defense against skeptics is NOT why I asked the O.Q.
    – Cork88
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 6:13

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