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144. Job 14:13-14, A More Granular Look

 

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.

As I argued previously, we may fruitfully divide these verses into verses 13-15 and 16-17.  Verse 13 begins with a strong adversative clause:  miy-yitten,“O that. . .”, a clause we have just seen in verse 3. We have also seen the clause in 11:5 where Zophar makes a transition in his speech and expresses his wish that God would personally instruct Job (“Oh that (miy-yitten) God would speak.,, .”). Job will also use miy-yitten in 23:3, one of his most emotionally fraught utterances. “Oh that (miy-yitten) I knew where to find God. . .”  So, when we see 14:13 beginning with this phrase, we know we have not only a strong contrast with what has gone before but also an expression of the deepest yearning of the speaker’s heart.  

 

A remarkable thing about this passage is Job now looks at Sheol as a temporary shelter rather than a final condition. The only previous appearance of the term “Sheol” in Job (7:9) was used in the traditional way—as a place of shadowy finality. “As the cloud is consumed and vanishes, so the one that goes down to Sheol doesn’t rise up” (7:9). But now Job’s pain drives him to a new conception of Sheol—as the shelter from the storm.  

 

The first part of verse 13 now makes full sense: “miy-yitten (“Oh that!”) you would treasure me up in Sheol, and that you would hide me there—until your wrath subsides.” Job is asking God to place him in the protected place (Sheol) until the storm of divine wrath diminishes. It is such a beautiful and subversive thought not only because of the new conception of Sheol but also because of its blithe assumption that God is the one who needs to cool off!    

 

Two verbs for hiding/treasuring up are used, both of which are common in Biblical Hebrew. The first, tsaphan (31x/8x in Job) means to store something up or treasure something. Its most vivid usage in the wisdom literature is in Proverbs 2:7, where God is said to “store up” (tsaphantushiyyah (either success or sound wisdom) for the tam (the blameless). The second, satar (80x) is the common verb for hiding something. We have Job’s desire to be placed in Sheol until, literally, “God’s wrath returns” (words are shub and aph). The phrase is significant because it is identical to the phrase Job used in 9:13 to describe God’s “problem”—God’s doesn’t withdraw (shub) the divine anger (aph). Job now uses the “non-returned” divine anger as his explanatory concept for what has gone awry. 

 

If God were to withdraw/turn aside the divine anger, then everything might be different. God didn’t show Himself inclined to do so in 9:13, but Job now expects that to happen while he is in the protective realm of Sheol.  But Job wants God to do two more things in verse 13. God would need to “appoint (shith, “to set/place”) a "set time" (choq) and “remember me.” The verb shith is very common in the Bible; more interesting here is that God would appoint a choq. We have seen this word earlier in the chapter (v 5) when the boundary or limit (choq) beyond which humans can’t pass was mentioned.  The meaning in 14:13 is similar: Job wants God to set a limit or time or boundary when this divine wrath will have run its course. Then, and only then, does Job want God to “remember” (the common zakar) him. It is good that Job added the notion of remembering, because there is always a lot of cleanup after a divine storm, and God just might forget Job—unless God is reminded.

 

The question in verse 14 can be read in more than one way. It literally reads, “If a warrior/man dies, shall he live?” One way to read these words is as if Job is catching his breath and then retreating slightly from the radical thought of verse 13, where Sheol was conceived of as a temporary shelter rather than a final condition of death.  Then, verse 14 would be returning to a more traditional reading of Sheol. God’s setting Job in Sheol in verse 13 would be the equivalent to his dying. But, if he is dead, then the question of verse 14 makes a lot of sense. Will he live (again)? Uncertain.

 

We may also read the question as simply reiterating the underlying issue of the entire chapter—the incongruity of the contrast between a nature that comes back to life and humans that don’t.  


Finally, and the alternative I prefer, is to see the question here as the first thing that would be on Job’s mind once he is in the protective environment of Sheol. He would be continuing the thought of verse 13, where Sheol is not place of irreversible finality, and then spinning out the first question that comes to mind. The thought might be clarified by an analogy. When a worker has an upcoming sabbatical, whether in academia or another field, there usually is a problem which the person wants to explore further on the sabbatical. The press of regular duties precluded a details examination of the subject.  But the person who has the sabbatical coming knows what s/he wants to think about. Job will be taking his ‘sabbatical’ in Sheol, wondering about the question of a future life for humans.