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143. 14:13-17, Timeout, Please!
13 “Oh that You would hide me in Sheol,
That You would conceal me until Your wrath returns to You,
That You would set a limit for me and remember me!
14 If a man dies, will he live again?
All the days of my struggle I will wait
Until my change comes.
15 You will call, and I will answer You;
You will long for the work of Your hands.
16 For now You number my steps,
You do not observe my sin.
17 My transgression is sealed up in a bag,
And You wrap up my iniquity.
We ought not to overlook or downplay the emotional intensity of what we have just read in verses 10-12. Those verses were spoken with such a sense of finality and futility. Plants and trees come back to life. They experience renewal with the slightest trace of water. But humans aren’t like that. They won’t awake from their sleep “until the heavens are no more.” The incongruity of the picture is stunning. Aren’t humans of more value than trees? Yet the tree returns to life and humans don’t.
In verses 13-17 Job needs a mental retreat from the raw implications of such a statement. That is, he may have just posited the finality of earthly existence, and may say it again (vv 18-22), but it is just too much for him to bear at this point. So he retreats to a comfortable space for a few verses, away from the dramatic and hopeless implications of a natural world that returns to life but humans who don’t. Verse 13-17 function as that retreat.
It is the second such mental retreat for Job. In the first, in 3:13-19, Sheol was not specifically mentioned, though Job spoke at length of what a glorious thing it would have been had he never been born. He would have been in another realm of existence with distinguished personages from the past, enjoying the cessation of labor and pain. In 14:13, however, he wants to go to Sheol, and he stresses an unexpected reason for it—in order that the divine wrath might pass. The retreat to Sheol here may be likened to a person’s seeking out a shelter after going on a hike in the hills and getting caught in a mountain storm. You want a place of protection until the storm blows by.
That is Job’s situation here. He believes God is controlled by anger, an anger that has been with God since the beginning of time (cf Job 9:13). He imagines that if God places him in Sheol, out of harm’s way, that the divine anger will pass. Then, after it passes and God has returned to a sound Divine Mind, their pre-distress relationship could continue. Thus, in these verses Job makes the rather incredible assertion that God is the one who needs a timeout. God needs time to let the fire of His wrath subside. Job just wants to be placed out of harm’s way until God can regain control of the divine emotions.
There is one interpretive problem in these verses, which tends to split commentators right down the middle, and which will be dealt with in more detail below. The question will be how seriously to take the “but now” in verse 16. Is it meant to suggest what God is doing to Job at this instant? If that is the case, then verses 16-17 would be a return to Job’s hopelessness, perhaps a prelude to the final statement in verses 18-22. Yet, if we read “but now” as pointing to the future, after Job’s relationship with God is restored, then the actions of verses 16-17 have to do with God’s mercy and not with God’s oppressive presence. The next essay will tease out the implications yet further.