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Christian Biblical Studies
JOB AND THE POINT OF NO RETURN
All Scripture citations are to the King James (Authorised) Version
Job 7: 9, 10:
Question: What did Job mean by, ‘shall come up no more’?
Answer: Job’s declaration is part of an extended debate with his friend, Eliphaz. Ostracised and afflicted, Job laments the fate that awaits him. He is plainly referring to his own death. Job’s valedictory continues as he bewails his demise. Few dispute death’s finality and Job makes the same point elsewhere in his discourse – it is a common Biblical theme, death is the extinction of life (Job 14: 12):
So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.
The religious and secular majority agree on this point, the truth of it is a common and severe fact, yet for the religious there is hope of life after death, a return from the grave. Does Job deny this hope in his argument?
Perhaps Job picked his words to emphasise the certainty of death. He qualifies his fate by cutting out any possible euphemism in the poetry of his discourse. It is not a sickness that will take him to the grave’s edge, from which he will recover – his death is sure. In the latter sentence (7: 10) Job uses parallel language describing his absence from society. He has not taken a long journey from which he will return; the places he habitually occupied will remain vacant. The friends and family that outlive Job will look for him, but not find him.
Job’s depressing theme in these verses antagonises the comfort many Christians have in their own hope for an afterlife. In his poem, Death is Nothing At All, the English theologian, Henry Scott Holland, encourages the bereaved to think of the dead as nearby. He exhorts them to think and act as if the dead were alive, only absent:-
Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped into the next room. . .
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still,
Call me by my old familiar name . . .
It is a popular verse, read frequently at funeral services, and it eases the pain suffered during bereavement. Did Job have any palliative words to give to his friends? His lamentation is punctuated in places with hopeful interludes. In a later and more upbeat verse he talks about a future probation, a time when his sin would be forgotten, the penalty of death removed and himself restored to life (Job 14: 13, 14):
13 O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! 14 If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.
Job confidently expresses his hope for a resurrection. Living around the time of Abraham, Job did not have the Gospels to enlighten him, yet he expected a time when God would restore him to favour and grant him his change or renewal. The letters of St. Paul affirm Job’s belief that God will raise the dead (1 Corinthians 15: 21- 23):
Job expected to live again, and was prepared to wait until God’s appointed time. So the force of his words ‘come up no more’ emphasises the long parenthesis of his stay in the grave. He did not expect to become a spirit presence in the adjacent room, and he sorrowed for the oblivion to come. He trusted in God’s promises, since secured by Jesus’ atonement for mankind’s sin, the restoration to life in Christ’s Kingdom, when even death itself will be destroyed (Revelation 20: 13, 14).
Copyright October 2012 ukbiblestudents.co.uk
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