Job’s Covenant: Hebrew Tav and “Behold my sign!” in Job 31

A few days ago I wrote about a post I read over at Lehi’s Library which quoted a paper by Kevin Christensen in which he referenced Margaret Barker.  The subject was the use of the Hebrew word/letter tau or tav, translated as “mark” in Ezekiel 9:4–6, and what it meant in Ezekiel’s day, and what it may have meant to the Nephites who also referenced it (Jacob 4:14).  The conclusion was that it may have referred to an anointing that the high priests received on their foreheads, having literally taken upon themselves the name of God.  I was curious to investigate the Hebrew word/letter tav more, which I did, and I want to share some of the intriguing things I discovered.

A small disclaimer.  I am most definitely an amateur when it comes to Hebrew, so any insights I might gather should be taken with a grain of salt.  Perhaps someone with greater expertise can make a greater inquiry into this particular subject.  These are just some of my observations as I’m learning.

Firstly, the Hebrew word tav is made up of two Hebrew letters, tav and vav, which lends the pronunciation “tawv,” the same way its first letter is pronounced.  The letter tav is also where we get our modern Romanized letter T.  The definition of this word tav (Strong H8420) according to Brown-Driver-Briggs is simply a “desire” or “mark,” or “mark (as a sign of exemption from judgment).”  It is likely a derivative of the Hebrew word tavah (Strong H8427), meaning “to scrabble, limit, mark, or set a mark.”  Gesenius gives an interesting description of the word tav:

(1) a sign, Eze. 9:4 (Arab. a sign in the form of a cross branded on the thigh of neck of horses and camels, whence the name of the letter tav, which in Phoenician, and on the coins of the Maccabees has the form of a cross.  From the Phoenicians the Greeks and Romans took both the name and form of the letter.)
(2) sign (cruciform), mark subscribed instead of a name to a bill of complaint; hence subscription, Job 31:35. It is stated that at the Synod of Chalcedon and other synods principally in the East, some even of the bishops being unable to write, put the sign of the cross instead of their names, which is still often done by common people in legal proceedings; so that in the infancy of the art of writing this could not fail of being the case, so as for the expression to be received into the usage of language.1

The next thing I noticed is that the word tav is only found three times in the Hebrew Old Testament.  Two of those times are in the 9th chapter of Ezekiel that we’ve already discussed.  The only other instance is found in the book of Job:

Oh that one would hear me! behold, my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine adversary had written a book. (Job 31:35 – KJV)

I immediately saw that the use of the word tav is not as noticeable in this scripture as it is in Ezekiel.  The translation “mark” does not appear, neither does the word “sign.”  Upon further investigation it appears that the English King James translation has changed the rendering of this verse significantly from what the Hebrew reads.  Different renderings can be found in the older Bishops’ Bible (1568) and Geneva Bible (1587), precursors to the King James Version, which seem to record the Hebrew more closely:

O that I had one which woulde heare me: beholde my signe in the whiche the almightie shal aunswere for me, though he that is my contrarie partie hath written a booke against me. (Job 31:35 – Bishops’)

Oh that I had some to heare me! beholde my signe that the Almightie will witnesse for me: though mine aduersary should write a booke against me, (Job 31:35 – Geneva)

Indeed, many commentators agree that a better English rendering of the phrase is “behold my sign” or “behold my mark” or “behold my signature.”  This is even reflected in some of the latest translations:

Oh, that I had one to hear me!
Here is my mark.
Oh, that the Almighty would answer me,
That my Prosecutor had written a book! (Job 31:35 – New King James Version, 1982)

Oh that I had one to hear me! Behold, here is my signature; Let the Almighty answer me! And the indictment which my adversary has written, (Job 31:35 – New American Standard Bible, 1995)

So what was Job setting his mark to?  What was he signing his signature to?  What was the nature of this sign?  Or, if we take the meaning we’ve learned from the Ezekiel context, why was he calling attention to his anointed status?  Furthermore, if the Name that the high priests received in their forehead was the Lord’s, was Job’s mark his own, or was it the Lord’s?  These are all interesting questions to ponder and consider.  I’ll try to give some brief context, which might help to illuminate the meaning of this scripture.

Most of us know the story given in the book of Job in the Bible.  Job is introduced to us as a just and upright man, who was obedient to God and rejected evil; he is even noted as being “perfect” (Job 1:1; perfect = Hebrew tam, meaning complete, perfect, sound, wholesome, morally innocent, ethically pure).  Job was blessed greatly, and was quite prosperous, having a large family and many possessions which gave him the title of being “the greatest of all the men of the east” (Job 1:2–3).  His life could be described as Edenic, which is corroborated by the fact that he performed temple-related labors for his household (Job 1:5).

But then something happens that causes Job to be cast out of this idyllic life into a dark and dreary existence. Along comes Satan who makes an agreement with the Lord to test and try Job for his faithfulness (Job 1:7–12).  Through these trials Job loses his possessions, his family, and his health (Job 1-2).  Through all of his tribulations, Job stays true to God, and bears his afflictions with patience, continually calling upon the name of God.  Three “friends” come along and tell him that he must have sinned for such punishments to have been inflicted upon him, and that he must repent.  Another stranger also condemns him for what he has done.  In all of this Job stands firm in the conviction that he has been faithful and true to God, and has not sinned to cause these trials to come upon him.

Job pleading with the Lord to hear him

Job pleading with the Lord to hear him. Artist unknown. (Click to enlarge)

Job makes continual pleadings that God would hear him, and that they could converse with one another:

Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! (Job 6:8)

Whom, though I were righteous, yet would I not answer, but I would make supplication to my judge.  If I had called, and he had answered me; yet would I not believe that he had hearkened unto my voice. (Job 9:15–16)

Surely I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to reason with God. (Job. 13:3)

Then call thou, and I will answer: or let me speak, and answer thou me. (Job. 13:22)

Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee… (Job 14:15)

Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat! … I would know the words which he would answer me, and understand what he would say unto me. (Job 23:3, 5)

Such pleadings recall the Psalmist pattern of prayer for the Lord to listen to the petitioner:

O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. (Psalms 54:2, see the note.)2

Then, what we come to in chapter 31 is a turning point in the narrative, as Matthew Henry informs us:

Job had often protested his integrity in general; here he does it in particular instances, not in a way of commendation (for he does not here proclaim his good deeds), but in his own just and necessary vindication, to clear himself from those crimes with which his friends had falsely charged him, which is a debt every man owes to his own reputation.3

Chapter 31 has been labelled “Job’s Covenant”4.  Job himself notes in verse 1 that “I made a covenant with mine eyes…”  Here Job recites to the Lord the covenants that he has taken upon himself, and which he has not broken, including the specific laws or virtues by which he has bound himself to God.  Dr. Stephen Ricks from BYU also has noted the covenant pattern of this chapter in his paper “Oaths and Oath Taking in the Old Testament“:

The force of an oath may be strengthened by expressly stating the penalties incurred for failure to perform it. The number of explicitly mentioned curses is relatively limited in the Old Testament.  An outstanding example of the oath and curse appearing together is in Job 31, where Job, in defense of his actions, calls down a series of terrible curses upon himself if he has failed to live uprightly: “If I have walked with vanity, or if my foot hath hasted to deceit; Let me be weighed in an even balance. . . . Then let me sow, and let another eat; yea, let my offspring be rooted out” (Job 31:5–8; see Psalms 7:3–5; 137:5–6).5

Job lists a number of laws or commandments which he has obeyed as part of this covenant, and, if he has not fulfilled them, welcomes down penalties upon his head.  The sins that he denies committing are:

  • wantonness & uncleanliness (v. 1-4)
  • fraud, deceit, dishonesty in dealings (v. 4-8)
  • adultery (v. 9-12)
  • poor dealings with fellow man (v. 13-15)
  • bad treatment of the poor, widows, or fatherless (v. 16-23)
  • love of wealth (v. 24-25)
  • idolatry (v. 26-28)
  • revenge (v. 29-31)
  • inhospitality of the poor/strangers (v. 32)
  • hypocrisy in covering sin (v. 33)
  • oppression and violation of other’s rights (v. 38-40)6

At verse 35, Job appeals to the judgment bar of God to vindicate his righteousness.  He requests that God would hear him or give him a hearing at His bar, and then displays a mark or sign (our Hebrew tav), described at the beginning of this article, which somehow represents all of the covenant that he has just finished reciting and which he has faithfully obeyed in his life, and asks if God would answer him (respond, testify, witness) of its truth.  The Geneva Bible Translation Notes record the intent of Job:

This is a sufficient token of my righteousness, that God is my witness and will justify my cause.7

Albert Barnes gives us further insight into the potential meaning of the sign or mark given by Job:

According to this, Job means to say that he was ready for trial, and that there was his bill of complaint, or his pleading, or his bill of defense. So Herder renders it, “See my defense.” Coverdale, “Lo, this is my cause.” Miss Smith renders it, “Behold my gage!” Umbreit, Meinel Kagschrift – My accusation. There can be no doubt that it refers to the forms of a judicial investigation, and that the idea is, that Job was ready for the trial. “Here” says he, “is my defense, my argument, my pleading, my bill! I wait that my adversary should come to the trial.” The name used here as given to the bill or pleading (תו  tâv, mark, or sign), probably had its origin from the fact that some mark was affixed to it – of some such significance as a seal – by which it was certified to be the real bill of the party, and by which he acknowledged it as his own. This might have been done by signing his name, or by some conventional mark that was common in those times.8

Moreover, looking at the Greek Septuagint of the Old Testament reveals yet another possible translation for the “mark” in Job 31:35.  A literal translation of the Greek reads:

oh that there might be given one to hear me, of the hand but of the Lord unless I was in awe; and as to a writ which I had against anyone, (Job 31:35 – The Apostolic Bible)

The word translated as “hand” comes from the Greek cheir (Strong 5495) meaning “by the help or agency of any one” or figuratively “applied to God symbolizing his might, activity, power,” and is often translated as “hand,” “hands,” or once “grasp” in the New American Standard translation.

The following verses continue Job’s surety of victory and of his at-one-ment with God:

Surely I would take it upon my shoulder, and bind it as a crown to me.  I would declare unto him the number of my steps; as a prince would I go near unto him. (Job 31:36–37)

The chapters which follow include the Lord responding to Job, from out of a whirlwind or from the “veil of a dark cloud” (Job 38:1)9, thus granting his pleadings for a question and answer session through the veil:

Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. (Job. 38:3)

Gird up thy loins now like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. (Job. 40:7)

The Lord recounts to Job the unmatched power of God in comparison to the lowliness of man, including an accounting of the supreme strength and power which He is able to bestow according to His will upon His creations, such as the animals behemoth and leviathan:

15 Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox.
16 Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly.
17 He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together.
18 His bones are as strong pieces of brass; his bones are like bars of iron.
19 He is the chief of the ways of God: he that made him can make his sword to approach unto him. (Job 40:15–19)10

Job confesses to God’s power, that He can do everything, and humbles himself before the Lord (Job 42:2).  Job repeats his wish of a hearing before God:

Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. (Job 42:4)

Job is now granted his wish, and experiences a theophany or vision of the Lord:

I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. (Job. 42:5)

The Lord accepts Job (Job 42:9), and bestows upon him twice as much as he had before, both in terms of possessions and in family value and posterity (Job 42:10, 15–16), a blessing for his obedience and faithfulness to God despite the temptations which Satan had heaped upon him to test and try him.  Interestingly, in many ways Job’s life is a “historical prototype of Jesus: the Man of Sorrows”11.

In conclusion, the book of Job is replete with this imagery which I had not before recognized, and which I don’t think has been studied in depth before from this LDS perspective, particularly chapters 31 and 40-42.  Clearly there is much more work that could be done here.  Looking further into the meaning of the original Hebrew (or Greek) is especially instructive.  No doubt this is why the Prophet Joseph Smith was so interested in learning the original language of the scriptures, and in having the brethren around him to do the same, so they could better understand God’s word.

Update 9/22/12: Mack Stirling gave a presentation at “The Temple on Mount Zion” Conference held on September 22, 2012. His paper was entitled “Job: An LDS Reading,” wherein Mack described the book of Job as “a literary analogue of the endowment ritual.” His presentation goes much deeper on the points of connection between the temple and the book of Job.

Notes:
  1. Blue Letter Bible, http://cf.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H08420&t=kjv []
  2. “Give ear” in the original Hebrew is the transliterated word ‘azan, and in some Biblical translations such as the NIV and HNV is rendered as “listen,” and as “escucha” in the Reina Valera. The Hebrew word for the ear is derived from this word, and is ‘ozen, which looks identical in the Hebrew except for the diacritical marks.  It is also translated as the word “hear” in two other locations in the King James Version of Psalms, such as Psalms 140:6, invoking the Lord to hear and answer.  Indeed, it is translated as “hearken” six times in the Old Testament, four of which are in the book of Job. []
  3. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Job 31 []
  4. The Apostolic Bible, http://septuagint-interlinear-greek-bible.com/ []
  5. Stephen Ricks, “Oaths and Oath Taking in the Old Testament,” The Temple in Time and Eternity, link. []
  6. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Job 31 []
  7. Geneva Bible Translation Notes, Job 31:35 []
  8. Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible, Job 31:35 []
  9. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Job 42:5 []
  10. Leviathan is described in chapter 41.  This recalls the sacred bull in Egyptian theology.  See also my articles on the ankh.  Dr. Bill Hamblin has noted that “Horus fights Seth in the form of a Hippopotamus,” and a hippo has often been regarded as the animal referenced as behemoth. []
  11. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_job#In_Christianity []

13 Comments

  1. Posted August 16, 2008 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Now that is a good post. I’d like to see if any scholars could come and verify or add anything to your insights here.

  2. Posted August 16, 2008 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Andrew! I’d like to have scholarly critique as well. I’m sure I goofed up along the way. I welcome any and all correction/addition to the subject.

  3. Posted August 18, 2008 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Great post! Very interesting.

  4. Posted August 23, 2008 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Someone pointed out a masonic dictionary which has some interesting explanations for the tav as well:
    http://www.masonicdictionary.com/tau.html

    This is a gem – “…for they say that when Moses anointed Aaron as the High Priest, he marked his forehead with this sign.”

    I may also have connections with the Egyptian ankh, which we’ve studied before here – “Among the Egyptians, the tau, with an oval ring or handle, became the Crux Ansata, and was used by them as the constant symbol of life. Doctor Clarke says (Travels v, page 311) that the tau cross was a monogram of Thoth, “the symbolical or mystical name of Hidden Wisdom among the ancient Egyptians.”

  5. Dan Lounsbury
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    This directly correlates to Revelations 14:1 “And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.”

    Also, Jesus Name– Christ’s name means “annointed one.” So if we are to take upon us the name of Christ it literally means to take upon us an annointing.

    Also Abraham Chapter One (I think) talks about the Priesthood (certainly an annointing) is a way Abraham described he took upon himself the name of the Lord.

  6. Amanda
    Posted April 17, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Is the author of this post certain of the accuracy of how this letter was written in paleo-Hebrew? I ask because I recently read from a Jewish source that the letter was actually written in the exact opposite position as the tav shown above. For instance, if you turned the page and saw the letter through the paper from the other side, according to this other source this is how the letter would appear when written from right to left.

  7. Posted April 17, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    I’m not certain, no, since I do not know much about ancient Hebrew. But from what I’ve found it appears that the tav was essentially an x or †. See these:
    http://www.omniglot.com/writing/aramaic.htm
    http://www.hebrew4christians.net/Grammar/Unit_One/Paleo-Hebrew_Alphabet/paleo-hebrew_alphabet.html
    http://yahshvah.com/paleohebrewalphabet.htm
    http://biblescripture.net/Hebrew.html
    http://www.adatmoadim.com/HebrewAlpehBet.htm
    http://www.ancientscripts.com/images/old_hebrew.gif

  8. Posted August 26, 2010 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Bryce-

    A few portions of this article were used as supplementary material to my Gospel Doctrine class. To say the least, it was an enlightening experience. Next to Jacob’s wrestle with Yahweh in Genesis 32, I believe the parallels introduced in this outline study of Job are extremely significant in identifying temple-related patterns in the Old Testament text.

    As an interesting side note, the Paleo-Hebrew letter “tav” which you have identified above is remarkably similar to the Egyptian “ka” sign (i.e. man with upraised hands) which has significant connections to the above-mentioned “Psalmist pattern of prayer.” There is a relationship between ancient Egyptian and Hebrew. The ka is also featured on Fascimile 2 in the Book of Abraham at multiple locations.

  9. Posted August 26, 2010 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Tyler. This is one of my most prized essays.

    Interesting insight about the Egyptian ka. I’ll have to look at that further.

  10. Posted August 27, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    From what I can determine, the “ka” eventually evolved into the Hebrew letter “he.” The “tav” evolved out of what were two crossed sticks, resembling in essence, a “+” sign. But you’re definitely pointing out some interesting implications.

    http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/28_chart.html

  11. Posted June 12, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I posted this to facebook, with the comment that there is a great deal we can learn from the study of Hebrew; starting with the recognition of the symbolic meaning of each letter. Joseph invited the rabbim of his day to reason with the brethren in their school of prophets; we should do the same in our quorums…starting with Spanish, which I offer to my local members, using the Hebrew letter sounds as a bridge to understanding the SOUNDS of the inspired word – God-breathed into each letter.

  12. brent
    Posted August 18, 2012 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    Revelations 14:1 (as mentioned above) and your post give a new meaning to the initiatory ordinances. I remember reading somewhere else (I’ll have to search for it) that the Tav may also have also been written simply as a straight line and was probably the mark that Moses had put on the door posts during the passover. That woud make the initatory temple ordinances (and, subsequently, the promises to those that wear the garments) even more significant (although they are, for now, only prepratory or symbolically done)….Leading me to comment that I really like your other post on the “Culminating Sealing Ordinance of the Temple.”

  13. Helen Wood
    Posted July 21, 2013 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    I have nothing scholarly to add. I just love Job and feel so close to him and his trials. When I first read of his talk with God I was moved. His plaintive search for answers and justice is powerful, but what gets me every time is that he had ” heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes”. I absolutely loved it that his faith gave him access to God. Or should I say his faith and his goodness. There are many instances where people have seen God (in His Spirit form) before He came to live as a ‘mortal’. I keep a record of each one I find. Thank you.

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