Conjuring Hope II
Job 14--Hope for a Tree, But Not for Me
Though Job didn't even entertain hope in chapter 9, a germ of a thought flitted through his mind, fast as lightning. 'If only there was (but there is not) an umpire. If only I had (but there is not) a hope.' The possibility of hope disappeared even before it took root. In Job 14 hope will last a while longer. This mini-essay will show how the proces of nature suggests hope to Job in chapter 14 but that, ultimately, natural process also destroys hope.
The Genesis of Job's Hope
As we have seen, Job 14 is a great poem of sadness because of the numbing realization of human mortality. In the context of this sadness, Job entertains thoughts of rebirth and restoration. Hope is generated by watching the tree. It is cut down and pruned back, but at the merest whiff of water, it springs to life "and puts forth buds like a young plant (14:9)." But, mortals lie down and die. Isn't this a contradiction of sorts? We are of much more value than the plants and trees, and should we die once and for all? Job's hope is born through reflecting on the natural world.
The Content of Job's Hope
Job therefore asks God to try an experiment. "Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past (14:13)." God has been angry since the creation of the world (9:13) and is angry at Job (9:5), but that anger will pass. In the meantime, Job requests that he be hidden in a place where the divine anger won't reach him until that anger has spent itself. So radical is this thought that Job has to stop himself and ask, ""if mortals die, will they live again (14:14)?" He imagines, for purposes of the mental scenario he is creating, that we too, like the tree, will live again after being placed in Sheol.
Then, what would happen? "You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands (14:15)." Calling and answering does relate to the legal framework Job has developed (cf. 9:16), but it even has a greater resonance in the context of covenant and relationship with God (12:4). Job knows in the deepest fiber of his being that if God would only stop being angry at him everything could be patched up, and reconciliation could occur.
The Dashing of Job's Hope
Job entertains this hope for five verses (vv. 13-17) until he notices nature again. Instead of metaphors of water and trees springing back to life, he notices the erosion and wasting away of the mountains. "But the mountain falls and crumbles away.....so you destroy the hope of mortals (14:18-19)." Nature gives and nature takes away. It gives us pictures of hope and hopelessness. Job concludes that his imagined scenario is not going to happen. Hope may be entertained, even for a longer period than in 9:33, but ultimately it comes crashing down like the mountains that erode through pressure and time. So, our hope erodes also. The only thing left is the pain of our own bodies (14:22).
Job seems very near to an emotional abyss, but the next essay will show how something indomitable in Job allows him to reconstruct his hope, this time through the medium of a heavenly witness.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long