There is Hope
"There is Hope"
Job 14:7-17; 19:23-27
Job asks, “If mortals die, will they live again?” This is, perhaps, the central question of human existence. Is there continued life beyond the grave?
Through the ages, some have answered the question in the negative. Some believe that death is the end of existence. We are simply mammals with a limited lifespan. We live out our allotted time, we die, we decompose, and that is the end of the matter. As one philosopher puts it, “Some people accept the sad fact that death is the end of all, and then make the best of one’s transitory and futile life.”
This seems to be what Job is saying in chapter 14. ““For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grows old in the earth¢& and its stump dies in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant. But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they? As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up, so mortals lie down and do not rise again" (vs. 7-12a).
Job says there is hope for a tree, but not for mankind. Verses 7-9 reminded me of something from my childhood in Central America. It was quite common to see fence posts by the road sprouting to life in the tropical climate. “At the scent of water” fence posts that seemed to be dead came back to life!
Job says that human beings are more like a dried-up lake or a dry riverbed than a tree. He seems to conclude in verse 12 that “mortals lie down and do not rise again.” The end.
But verse 13 mentions Sheol. Sheol in the Old Testament is the abode of all the dead. There are several synonyms for Sheol: the grave, the pit, Abaddon, being the most prominent. Psalm 88 gives classic expression to what the abode of the dead is like. “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I am like those who have no help, like those forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you? Selah Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?" (vs. 3-5, 10-12). Sheol is a place of darkness inhabited by the shades. It is a place of silence, the land of forgetfulness. God is largely absent from this realm. Human beings still have some form of existence, but they are literally a shadow of their former selves. Kings and commoners, rich and poor, the righteous and the wicked alike end up in Sheol. This was the common belief of people in the Old Testament era. Sheol was not an intermediary state; it was the only state of mortals after death.
But despite this bleak outlook, despite Job’s loss, grief, and illness, despite God’s long silence, Job suddenly and unexpectedly erupts in faith and hope! Look at verse 14b again. “All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come.” Francis Anderson describes the significance of the verse. “Even if God kills Job, he will wait in hope. His readiness to go down into death in faith transforms his ideas of Sheol from those previously expressed. It is now seen as a temporary hiding place.”
This is a truly remarkable evolution in thought and theology. With beautiful tenderness and yearning, Job adds to his expression of faith and hope in verses 15-17. “You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands. For then you would not number my steps, you would not keep watch over my sin; my transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would cover over my iniquity.”
He says, “You would call to me in Sheol, and I would answer you. You, O God, would long for me once again. You, O Lord, would seal up my sins in a bag and cover over my iniquity.”
This is what it means to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). This is what the epistle to the Hebrews is describing when it says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).
Everything to the contrary, his circumstances, his inherited belief in death as the unchangeable end of human life, Job claws his way out of his limited paradigm and erupts into faith and hope. Death is not the end. It is a temporary state. God will call to us. God will once again long for his creatures, the work of his hands. God will forgive whatever our failings may be.
If mortals die, will they live again? Yes! Yes! Yes! A thousand times Yes!
But that is not nearly the end of Job’s eruption of faith and hope. In chapter 19, verses 23-24, Job longs for a record to be kept of his life of innocence and integrity. "'O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever!'" Job’s words call to mind the words of Revelation. “Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done" (Rev. 20:11-13).
God is watching and making notes on our lives. One day we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil (2 Cor. 5:10). To stand before the Almighty stripped of everything but our past deeds is a most discomfiting prospect, to say the very least. It is terrifying!
Thankfully, Job adds verse 25. “I know that my Redeemer lives.” The word "Redeemer" was a human word before it was a theological word. In human terms it described a family member’s obligation to help a relative in need. The story of Boaz and Naomi in the book of Ruth is the classic biblical example of redemption. Naomi was a destitute widow reduced to begging for gleanings from her neighbor’s fields to survive. All she owned was her deceased husband's land that had been abandoned when the family fled to Moab to escape a famine. Boaz was Naomi’s kinsman. Boaz redeemed her by purchasing the parcel of land and marrying Naomi’s gentile daughter-in-law, Ruth, whose husband had also died (Ruth 4:3ff). In so doing, Boaz restored Naomi’s fortunes. He redeemed her from destitution.
Job makes a gargantuan theological leap and identifies God as his Redeemer, the one who would rescue him from all his loss, and grief, and illness. Job anticipates what God will say in Hosea 13:14: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death.” Job’s words seem to reach well beyond the world of the Old Testament. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!" (vs. 25-27a). He envisions God, the Redeemer, at the last, standing upon the earth. Job’s words have eschatological overtones for us, prefiguring the return of Jesus Christ to earth at the end of history.
Job also hints at the promise of resurrection. “After my skin has been thus destroyed” seems to envision Job’s death. Yet he passionately believes that he will encounter God in an embodied form. As Anderson observes, “The references to skin, flesh, and eyes make it clear Job expects to have this experience as a man, not just as a disembodied shade. To underline his belief that this will happen with full possession of his personal identity, Job uses ‘I’ three times. He declares 'I shall see God. I shall see God on my side. My eyes shall behold and not another.'” This is resurrection language. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor can the perishable inherit the imperishable (1 Cor. 15), but God will supply us with a spiritual body.
Job’s faith and hope, our faith and hope are that we will see God for ourselves. We too have an interim state after death. It is not Sheol. We see only in a glass darkly when it comes to the afterlife. Paul says that to die is gain, to be with Christ is preferable to living (Phil. 121-24). Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. I go to prepare a place for you" (Jn. 14:2). This intermediate state is not the fulness of the resurrection, the kingdom of God, or the new heavens and the new earth wherein righteousness dwells, but it is more than enough until Christ comes again.
Brothers and sisters, beloved in Christ, “If mortals die, will they live again?” Indeed, we will! It turns out that we are more like a tree than a desiccated riverbed. God our Father will call to us. The Almighty will long for the work of his hands again. God has sealed up all our sins through the death of his only beloved son. Our Redeemer lives! Christ is risen from the dead! Although God keeps a record of all our deeds (good, bad, and indifferent) in his great books, our names have been written in another book, the Book of Life!
And even if we die before the last day when our Redeemer stands once again upon the earth, we shall see God on our side. Our resurrection eyes shall behold God face to face. And in the moment, all that has been lost through sin and death and evil will be restored. He will restore all the years the locust has eaten. He will restore all the years that were lost (Joel 2:25). This is our Christian faith, and where there is Christian faith, there is hope.
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory over death through our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia! Amen!