“Mortals, born of woman,
are of few days and full of trouble.
2 They spring up like flowers and wither away;
like fleeting shadows, they do not endure.
3 Do you fix your eye on them?
Will you bring them before you for judgment?
4 Who can bring what is pure from the impure?
5 A person’s days are determined;
you have decreed the number of his months
and have set limits he cannot exceed.
6 So look away from him and let him alone,
till he has put in his time like a hired laborer.
7 “At least there is hope for a tree:
If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
and its new shoots will not fail.
8 Its roots may grow old in the ground
and its stump die in the soil,
9 yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth shoots like a plant.
10 But a man dies and is laid low;
he breathes his last and is no more.
11 As the water of a lake dries up
or a riverbed becomes parched and dry,
12 so he lies down and does not rise;
till the heavens are no more, people will not awake
or be roused from their sleep.
13 “If only you would hide me in the grave
and conceal me till your anger has passed!
If only you would set me a time
and then remember me!
14 If someone dies, will they live again?
All the days of my hard service
I will wait for my renewal to come.
15 You will call and I will answer you;
you will long for the creature your hands have made.
16 Surely then you will count my steps
but not keep track of my sin.
17 My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
you will cover over my sin.
18 “But as a mountain erodes and crumbles
and as a rock is moved from its place,
19 as water wears away stones
and torrents wash away the soil,
so you destroy a person’s hope.
20 You overpower them once for all, and they are gone;
you change their countenance and send them away.
21 If their children are honored, they do not know it;
if their offspring are brought low, they do not see it.
22 They feel but the pain of their own bodies
and mourn only for themselves.”
There are some who think v. 12-14 are at the very least innocently mistranslated, but possibly even changed completely and intentionally, to more fully support the idea of resurrection. Indeed, I got excited when I read that passage – “I will wait for my renewal to come.” Isn’t that what we’re taught, as Christians, to wait for? I mean, the return of Jesus is the renewal this whole Christian “thing” is all about, right?
So let’s say that this passage has been manipulated. I can totally believe that: before they were codified into a collection we now call “the Bible,” these stories (especially a really old one like Job) were oral traditions that were retold and later written down in a centuries-long game of telephone, if you will, so things were bound to change, at least a little. But does that mean we should totally scrap it?
In short, no. But this is a good time to plug in a little reminder about reading the Bible in context, which can be easy to forget, especially in a project like this with a laser focus on one chapter at a time. Is it true that the key passage of this chapter has been manipulated to fit an agenda? Quite possibly yes. But how does it, and this chapter at large, fit into the greater truths the Bible is trying to convey to us?
Taken as a whole, this chapter – and most of Job’s three-chapter speech here – aren’t really about renewal and allusions to resurrection, but about God’s infinite power and the insignificance of humans in the face of such an almighty force. I think two verses from chapter 12 could serve as Job’s thesis in this three-chapter speech: “To God belong wisdom and power, counsel and understanding are his…to him belong strength and victory, both deceived and deceiver are his.” (13:13, 16) So, even ignoring the potentially problematic passage, we have our first greater truth: God is great.
The second greater truth takes a little inference, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch. The second greater truth is that even though we are “like a fleeting shadow” in our mortality, we are important to God, God sees us. In this chapter alone Job mentions God watching man three times: in vv. 3, 6, and 16. In all of Job’s the chapters making up Job’s speeches so far, God watching man is mentioned nine, possibly ten times (in v. 7:8 he could be referring to his friends or to God when he says “you will look for me but I will be no more”). True, it is mostly in a negative sense, more like a kid with a magnifying glass over an anthill than a beneficent Lord, but we must remember the place of pain and lack of understanding from which Job is speaking. In fact, because of his suffering Job is extra important to God. Remember, the cause of all this suffering was a wager between God and Satan – so Job’s actions through his suffering are of keen interest to the celestial court of this story, even if Job’s days are just as fleeting as the rest of ours.
So if God is great (Greater Truth One), why are we important to God (Greater Truth Two)? I honestly don’t know. But perhaps the key to that mystery lies in the Greatest Truth: that God is love. We may not understand all of God’s ways, but even with all the suffering we see in Job, all the suffering we see in the world, we can know that we, our insignificant, flawed, mortal, fleeting selves, are important to a power much greater than our own. God is watching us, all the time. Xe sees our successes, and rejoices with us, Xe sees our failures, and mourns with us. One, or even hundreds, of controversial translations in the Bible cannot dissuade me from that fact, because I can see the forest through the trees, or in this case the truth through the words, and it bears repeating one more time: God loves us. God loves you. Praise be to God.
I’m going to switch gears here because we’ve reached a good stopping point in the cycle of speeches between Job and his friends. I’m setting aside the Book of Job until next Lent and reading Psalm 6 and Psalm 32 in the remaining time before Holy Week, which starts a week from today. During Holy Week I’ll read corresponding Gospel passages, specifically Matthew 21, 26, and 27. Then for Easter I’ll read Matthew 28, if you want are reading along (or ahead) as we go.