He said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' (NRSV 1.21)
And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. (KJV 1.21)
Sound familiar? This is a pretty famous quote right here—you've probably heard it more like it appears in the King James version: "the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away." Why do people say that so much? Well, because it's one of life's Big Questions. If the Lord has the power to give, why does he, um, taketh away?
But Job doesn't ask that question—he just throws it out there as a statement: hey, it happens. Wait, what? It happens? His entire family just died, and he doesn't make a peep. When does he start to pipe up? Once the wrath of God starts to affect him physically. You'd think the death of his family would do it, but no, it's those pesky sores.
'Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? Why were there knees to receive me, or breasts for me to suck? Now I would be lying down and quiet; I would be asleep; then I would be at rest with kings and counsellors of the earth who rebuild ruins for themselves' (NRSV 3:11-14)
Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly? Why did the knees prevent me? or why the breasts that I should suck? For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest, With kings and counsellors of the earth, which build desolate places for themselves; (KJV 3:11-14)
How's that for depressing? Well, at least death gets a nice review. If you die, you get to hang out with kings and get a good night's sleep. Not too shabby.
At this point, Job's life is so horrible and painful that he starts to wonder what things would be like on the other side. Let's be honest—we could slap this in the middle of a Shakespeare play and no one would know the difference.
'Can mortals be righteous before God? Can human beings be pure before their Maker? Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error; how much more those who live in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like a moth. Between morning and evening they are destroyed; they perish for ever without any regarding it.' (NRSV 4:17-20)
Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker? Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly: How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth? They are destroyed from morning to evening: they perish for ever without any regarding it. (KJV 4:17-20)
This is humans we're talking about here. That's right. Those people who are destroyed and "perish for ever without any regarding it"? That's us. Enemies of God may get the worst of it, but according to this passage, we all go back to dust. Hmmm.
'so that I would choose strangling and death rather than this body. I loathe my life; I would not live for ever. Let me alone, for my days are a breath. What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment? Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle? If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.' (NRSV 7:15-21)
So that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life. I loathe it; I would not live always: let me alone; for my days are vanity. What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? And that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment? How long wilt thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till I swallow down my spittle? I have sinned; what shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men? why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself? And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away my iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be. (KJV 7:15-21)
Job makes the case here that death will hide him. After the whole nasty sores fiasco, he would choose death over existing in this pain and humiliation.
This passage highlights one of the Book of Job's best style choices: rhetorical questions. These characters are all about asking questions to get their listeners thinking—they don't really want an answer. In fact, there usually isn't an answer.
This time, Job is arguing that by the rules of that logic, God shouldn't be punishing him. Later on, we'll see that God uses this same strategy, but expands the scale of the questions.
'It is all one; therefore I say, he destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.' (NRSV 9:22-23)
This is one thing, therefore I said it, He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked. If the scourge slay suddenly, he will laugh at the trial of the innocent. (KJV 9:22-23)
Everyone dies, but God survives…to laugh? What do you think of how God is portrayed here? Does God himself address these questions in his speech? What about in the frame story?
'Remember that you fashioned me like clay; and will you turn me to dust again?' (NRSV 10:9)
Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt thou bring me into dust again? (KJV 10:9)
Dust is a certainty—Job understands that. But if God is going to kill Job off, Job thinks he deserves an explanation first.
'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; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep.' (NRSV 14:7-12)
For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant. But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. (KJV 14:7-12)
Nature has a chance of re-forming itself after a catastrophe, but humans are stuck. Once they're dead, they're dead. And to top it off, humans have the ability to think. Well, most of us, at least. According to Job, that means we should get an explanation for the whole process. God was the one who gave us the power of thought to begin with, right?
'It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air. Abaddon and Death say, "We have heard a rumour of it with our ears.' (NRSV 28:21-22)
Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air. Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears. (KJV 28:21-22)
This is from the "where is wisdom" passage. Wisdom here is elusive even to death. This is because the speaker wants us to know that God himself holds all the cards and all the keys—wisdom can only be found by exploring his works in the world and remembering our powerlessness. Death itself has no wisdom because it cannot envision the whole of life, just the end of it.