Job was a righteous man who suffered great destruction. Specifically, God sovereignly allowed Satan to take Job’s wealth, his children, and his physical health. Throughout the book of Job, we see Job and his friends engage in an extended dialogue, trying to process the painful thing that has happened.
Most of Job’s speeches lament his personal and individual suffering. Chapter 14, which concludes the first cycle of speeches between Job and his three friends, is one example. Yet Job also touches – tentatively — on important, broader principles. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Job stumbles upon the gospel-in-embryo.
Job first remarks on mankind’s basic problem: we are born of woman, few of days, and full of trouble. (Job 14:1). We are mortal. Even more, our brief lives are not peaceful but marred. Job asks, “And do you [God] open your eyes on such a one and bring me into judgment with you? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one” (Job 14:3-4).
Humanity is unclean and under God’s judgment. Even though Job was uniquely righteous on earth (Job 1:8), he knows he cannot escape his sinful nature as a human being. We are reminded here of Romans 3:10, “None is righteous, no, not one.” the Apostle Paul states, “Those who are in the flesh [i.e., born of woman] cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).
Job has described the existential predicament of mankind, and the source of all human suffering. We think of the first man-born-of-woman, Cain, whose offering was rejected, and who went on to murder his own brother (Genesis 4:1-16). The indelible imprint of Adam’s fall has marked even the best of us.
Why Can’t God Leave Us Alone?
Job proposes a solution, albeit not a very good one. He tells God, “since you made man like this – born of woman, few of days, and full of trouble – since you have set limits that man cannot pass – why don’t you just leave us alone? Sure, human life is hard labor. But if you just stop scrutinizing us, perhaps we can find some enjoyment. You know, like a hired hand when the boss’s back is turned” (Job 14:5-6).
At this point, Job and the gospel diverge. Becoming God’s hired hand is just not an option. That was what the prodigal son suggested to his father in Christ’s parable, “I have sinned, make me your hired hand” (Luke 15:18-19). Yet, sinful as we are, God does not allow us to exist as his paid workers.
God also refuses to leave us alone. No, he has greater plans than that. Man-born-of-woman is a slave to sin and corruption. But as believers, we are destined to become sons and daughters, even heirs of all God’s world (Romans 8:17). As Paul says, “… you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15). How does such an incredible transformation take place?
The Water of Renewal
Perhaps thinking about hired labor, Job imagines a tree that has been chopped down. That stump looks pretty pathetic, right? Yet, under the right conditions, “at the scent of water,” the tree can sprout again. Stumps are surprisingly tenacious, and their roots can experience renewal (Job 14:7-9).
But Job does not hold any such hope for mankind. Instead of budding and putting out new branches, man shrivels up like a riverbed in the desert. As far as Job can tell, “man lies down and rises not again.” (Job 14:10-12). Job sees no “scent of water” to revive humanity.
Here again, Job is wrong. The gospel preaches just such a fountain of renewal. To the woman at the well, parched and used up, Jesus offered living water, water that becomes “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). Jesus promises renewed life, even resurrection from the dead, for everyone who believes in him (John 11:25-26).
Tomb to Womb
Although Job did not have the full revelation of God, he saw the faint outlines of the gospel message. “Oh, that you [God] would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me” (Job 14:13a). Job does not dispute that God’s anger against mankind is justified. But if there is to be hope, somehow God has to hide us from God, until his wrath has passed over. Job imagines this could perhaps happen in Sheol, the grave.
Job sees Sheol both as an ending and a potential beginning. Job asks, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14). Can the tomb become a womb? In the Old Testament, the grave and the womb are often described in similar terms. For example, Psalm 139 speaks of David being “intricately woven in the depths of the earth,” an expression that could refer to Sheol or his mother’s body. Job makes use of this double meaning in chapter 3, where he curses the day of his birth and wishes the womb had become a tomb for him.
With his tomb-womb analogy, Job is onto something here. The only way for man to live again, the only way to experience renewal, is to die – with Christ. Believers are united with Christ in his death and hidden with him in the grave (Romans 6:3-11; Colossians 3:3). The wrath of God has passed over us. Christ takes us from tomb to womb. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “… unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5). We must be born again.
Call and Response
Job promises God, “All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come” (Job 14:13b). This word “wait” can also be translated as “hope” or “trust.” A baby in the womb doesn’t have to do anything, except wait. Paul also talks about waiting eagerly, patiently, hopefully, for our renewal. (Romans 8:23-25).
How will Job know when it’s time to come out? “You [God] would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands” (Job 14:15). Despite his great suffering, Job knows he belongs to God. He can’t imagine God abandoning him. God longs for him. God will call, and Job will respond. As a mother is delivered from the pangs of childbirth, and rejoices in her baby, so Job’s sorrow will be turned to joy when he sees God (John 16:21-22).
Anyone who believes in Christ has heard this call of God and responded. Like Lazarus, we come forth from the grave. Even when we are most overwhelmed, “deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7). When God calls to our spirit, we can’t help but answer (Romans 8:30). “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). This is the miracle of the new birth.
Sin Is Sealed
Once we hear God’s call and respond in faith, our relationship changes. God “numbers our steps,” but not like a boss micro-managing us to make sure we hit our metrics. No, he watches like the father of a baby learning to walk. And God no longer sees our sin – that goes straight into the diaper genie. “My transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would cover over my iniquity” (Job 14:17). God removes our sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).
As Paul puts it, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2). The original problem raised by Job – can man be clean? Can, we come out from under God’s judgment? – has now been solved. We have been pruned clean, and God now dwells with us (John 14:3-4).
Must Suffering End in Despair?
Here, at the very point of salvation, Job’s vision fails. Like a crumbling mountain or a flood that erodes the earth, suffering has shaken Job to his core. His hope is destroyed. “You [God] prevail against him [man], and he passes; you change his countenance, and send him away.” We are reminded of Cain, the first man-born-of-woman. When God ignored Cain’s offering, Cain’s countenance fell. You could see Cain’s anger in his face, the anger that caused him to kill his brother Abel. And God sent Cain away.
Job’s speech in chapter 14 ends on a low note. Job envisions man trapped in solitary suffering, cut off from future generations. How can we know whether our sons and daughters will succeed or fail? Is life limited to the lonely pain of our own bodies?
With the full revelation of the gospel, we know that suffering and decay are not signs that God has rejected us. We may very well experience tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword in this life (Romans 8:35). Yet we are more than conquerors through Christ, and nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:37-39). Death is at work in our bodies, but our inner self is renewed day by day; our temporary suffering is preparing us for an eternal glory beyond compare (2 Corinthians 4:16-17).
What Job Did Not Yet Understand
At the very end of the book, God himself appears to Job. Faced with God’s awesome power and majesty, Job recognizes the smallness of his thinking, of his very life (Job 40:4-5). Job tells God, “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted… Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:2-3).
Job recognizes God’s sovereignty and accepts it as good. God will accomplish his purposes. Job also seems to acknowledge the glimpses of the gospel given to him: wonderful things that he did not know, which he could not know at that time. Job’s suffering as an innocent man foreshadowed the passion of Christ, our sinless suffering Savior.
Likewise, Job’s restoration foreshadows our own. Job received back a double portion from the Lord, including sympathy, material blessing, and a new family with seven sons and three daughters. Before he died, Job saw his offspring to the fourth generation.
Sin, death, a saving birth, restoration: this is the gospel according to Job, now fully revealed in Christ. Peter tells us that the prophets “searched and inquired carefully,” trying to discern the good news of the suffering and later glories of Christ (1 Peter 1:10-12). These Old Testament saints, including Job, were serving us, looking forward to our time of revelation.
As New Testament Christians, we have God’s clear word that our present suffering is not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7). We have been given hope that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). And we look forward, with the family of believers (including Job), to eternal joy in God’s presence.
Editors Note: If you enjoyed this article consider checking out Laura’s series on Job here.