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No. 131: Was Job an Edomite King? (Part 2)

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 131
Copyright (c) 2000 Biblical Horizons
July, 2000

Was Job Jobab?

To begin with. Genesis 36:33 tells us that the second named king of Edom was "Jobab, son of Zerah, from Bozrah." There are two differences between this man’s name and that of Job. Dropping the vowel marks because they are not part of the original text, in Hebrew they are spelled ywvv and ‘ywv. Job’s name begins with an aleph (‘), and the Edomite king’s name does not, but has an extra beth (v) at the end.

There is a second problem. The name Job pretty clearly means "Persecuted," but the meaning of Jobab is unknown.

Yet, the problem may not be as great as it seems to us. First of all, we have the ancient testimony, which indicates that people familiar with the Hebrew and Semitic languages could readily think that these were variants of the same name. Second, the aleph that begins the name of Job is sometimes placed there simply to make the vowel sound more forcefully, and thus is not always a necessary part of the word when it comes at the beginning. The Edomite king’s name is pronounced "Yovav" while Job’s name is pronounced "Eeyov," both bisyllabic words. Moreover, converting the name "Yovav" to "Persecuted" ("Eeyov") is easy, and fits the purpose of the author of Job.

All the same, if all we have to go on is the names there is not enough evidence to form any hypothesis. Still, since Job was an Edomite ruler, and since the names are similar, it is easy to understand why the ancient Jews made this association.

We can perhaps tease out from the text a bit more information that will help place Job in time, and strengthen the Job-Jobab hypothesis a wee bit (but only a wee bit). Genesis 36:31-39 provides us a list of seven kings over Edom, followed by an eighth.

1. Bela ben Beor from Dinhabah

2. Jobab ben Zerah from Bozrah

3. Husham from Teman

4. Hadad ben Bedad from Avith

5. Samlah from Masrekah

6. Saul from Rehoboth

7. Baal-Hanan ben Achbor

8. Hadar/d from Pau

The eight is Hadar or Hadad (spelled this way in many versions; the Hebrew D and R are written almost exactly alike). This person is almost certainly the Hadad who fled to Egypt as a child when David conquered Edom, and who then liberated Edom from Solomon later on (1 Kings 11:14-22). Hadad married the sister of Pharaoh’s wife, but her name is not given – just as Solomon had married a daughter of Pharaoh. In Genesis 36:39, Hadad’s wife is named, and her lineage. The wives of the preceding seven Edomite kings are not named. We notice that in the Kingdom Era, the wives of the kings of Judah are given (as the name of the mother of the next king; cp. 1 Kings 11:20), while the wives of the judges in the preceding Sinaitic Era are not.

Putting Genesis 36 together with 1 Kings 11, we see Edom as having a week of kings, and then undergoing death and resurrection, followed by a new line of kings. The earlier kings were not a dynasty, but were elected from various cities and locations; while the later kings were descended from Hadad (I Kings 11:20, by implication). Parallel to this, there were seven elected judges in the book of Judges (Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Abimelech, Jephthah, and Samson), followed by a death of Israel when the Tabernacle was taken apart in the days of Samuel, followed by a resurrection with David, who began a dynasty, and whose son put the Tabernacle back together as the Temple. But the seven judges of Israel are not called kings, while their contemporaries in Edom are called kings, according to the rule that the wicked get their inheritance first and then lose it, while the righteous get theirs last and keep it (Genesis 36:31). (See the Note 1 at the end of this essay.)

What is the chronology of the first seven Edomite kings? We cannot know for certain, but there are clues that enable us to sketch out the most likely possibility. To begin at the end, the last king before Hadad was Baal-Hanan. We can assume that he was the king conquered by David. His predecessor was named Saul (spelled Shaul in many Bibles, but identical in Hebrew). We shall assume that the Edomite Saul was a contemporary with the wicked Saul who ruled Israel.

The fifth king was Samlah, and the fourth was Hadad ben Bedad. This Hadad "smote Midian in the field of Moab" (Genesis 36:35). Now, in Judges we read that Gideon liberated Israel from Midian (Judges 6-8). It seems very likely that these events are linked somehow. It is typical of the Edomites to fall upon a defeated nation and despoil it. The Amalekite Edomites were on their way to take over Egypt as the "Shepherd Kings" when they met Israel coming out of Egypt (Exodus 17). We find the same pattern in Obadiah 10-14 and Psalm 137. Thus, it seems likely that after Gideon defeated and drove out the Midianites, the Edomites under Hadad ben Bedad fell upon them and conquered them.

The third Edomite king was Husham, the second was Jobab, and the first was Bela son of Beor. I suggest that this Bela is to be linked with Balaam son of Beor (Numbers 22:5). We know that there were already kings in Edom at this time, because one such king denied Moses passage through his territory (Numbers 20:14-21). If this king was Bela son of Beor, Balaam would possibly be his brother.

The name Bela is written bela` while the name Balaam is written bil`am. The E in Bela is short, and could easily shorten further to an I if the name is extended, as it is in the name Bilam: Bela is accented on the first syllable, while Bil`am is accented on the second, after a break in sound. Thus, it is entirely possible that Bela and Balaam are the same person. The name seems to be a shortened form of Baal, which means "lord, husband, eater." Bela, as first king of Edom, would be "Lord/Husband/Eater," while Balaam means "Lord/Husband/Eater of a People." (Compare the Babylonian god Bel with the Canaanite god Baal for a similar association.) The lord of a people is their husband, and "eats" them into himself as a body politic, as part of his body. (See Note 2 at the end of this essay.)

Whether Bela and Balaam were the same person or not, the fact that they are both sons of Beor, the only mention of any "Beor" in the Bible, indicates the strong possibility that they were at least brothers, and thus contemporaries.

Now, the king list of Edom is clearly not complete. There was already a king over Edom in the days of Moses, and we have suggested that he was Bela son of Beor. Eight kings are not enough to cover the entire 480 or so years between the end of the wilderness wanderings and the latter part of Solomon’s reign. Some kings are not included in the list so that we have a "complete" list of seven kings.

But if Bela was king is Moses’ day, and Jobab came soon after him, or immediately after him, Jobab would be king in the days of Joshua. Jobab would have had opportunity to encounter Moses and God’s priestly nation in the wilderness, and might have been converted at that time. Moses’ command in Deuteronomy 23:7-8 indicates that some Edomites were indeed seeking to join Israel during this period.

If this Jobab were the same Edomite ruler as Job, then such an encounter would explain two things. First, it would explain how Jobab and others in his area came to a knowledge of the true religion. Second, it would explain how the Israelites came to know the story of Job.

We can advance our hypothesis one further step. Jobab was son of Zerah, and the only Zerah mentioned in Genesis 36 is the son of Reuel, son of Esau (36:13). This Zerah may or may not have been Jobab’s father. Esau married Reuel’s mother, the daughter of Ishmael, a generation after he married his first two wives (Genesis 26:34; 28:8-9). If Reuel was born many years later, we can put his birth at about the time Israel descended into Egypt, or shortly earlier. Remembering that Moses’ mother Jochebed was born to Levi after that son of Jacob had moved to Egypt (Numbers 26:59), Reuel’s son Zerah might be a younger contemporary of Jochebed, and thus Jobab might be a younger contemporary of Moses.

Now, assume that Bela and Balaam are the same person. Moses put this man to death right at the end of the wilderness wanderings (Numbers 31:8 — and the mention of Balaam the son of Beor alongside five kings of Midian heightens the possibility that Balaam was Bela, king of Edom). At that point, then, Jobab the son of Zerah would have become king of Edom.

Of course, it must be granted immediately that (a) this hypothetical chronology might not be correct; (b) even if it is correct, Jobab might not have succeeded Bela immediately; (c) Jobab might not be Job; and (d) the experiences of Job might have become known to the Israelites at any time during the period of the Judges. Hard and fast proof of my suggested reconstruction is not available.

But what this essay has succeeded in doing is this: We have seen that the ancient Jews were right to suppose that Job was an Edomite king, and that they may well have been right to link him with Jobab, son of Zerah, from Bozrah.

Note 1:

Genesis stresses that the fallen culture arrives in history before a true culture arises. We see this clearly in Genesis 4, where we have the first city, the first musician, the first agriculturalist, the first metallurgist, and the first poet, all in the line of Cain. Later on, while Abraham ("Father of a Multitude") has only two sons (before his marriage to Keturah), his brother Nahor has a full complement of twelve. Similarly, while Isaac has only two sons, Ishmael has twelve. Jacob arrives finally at twelve sons, but his brother Esau gets a kingdom and has a line of kings long before Jacob does (though Jacob is promised kings in Genesis 35:11).

Enoch and Babylon are the first cities, but Jerusalem is the last. Jubal is the first musician, but David the "last." The wicked get there first and do much of the work, laying up an inheritance for the just. Because they are not concerned with morality, the wicked can employ slave labor freely and built their cultures early, while the righteous culture takes longer to build.

Note 2:

As I discussed at length in my extended Studies in Food and Faith, especially No. 7: "The Meaning of Eating in the Bible," eating is incorporation. In Revelation 3:16, the Church is pictured as in Jesus’ mouth, as He eats her into Himself, incorporating her. When God "eats" the sacrifices in Leviticus, He is "eating" the people into Himself as their King. When Christians greet each other with a holy kiss, they are symbolically "eating" one another, sharing their lives.

The names Bela (Bel`a) and Balaam (Bil`am) (bl`, bl`m) are most obviously related to the root bl`, which means "to eat or devour." In Balaam’s name, the word `am is evidently joined, which means "people," so that Balaam means "People Eater."

The word Baal, shortened to Bel, means "lord" or "husband." It is written in Hebrew b`l, which simply transposes the second two letters of bl`. Such transpositions happen occasionally in Hebrew words. Moreover, the shortened form Bel drops the middle consonant: bl. Thus we cannot be far from the mark in associating the two words. A king is both a lord and husband, and an eater of his people into himself.