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145. Job 14:14b-15, The “Sabbatical” in Sheol
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.
In Job’s case, he can imagine his “sabbatical” in Sheol, the place of protection from the divine wrath. He already knows the question he will raise in Sheol, and it is “If a warrior dies, shall he live?” It is the question underlying the earlier verses of the chapter. Job would be saying in the question in the first part of verse 14 that this would be the focus of his concern. He can’t really “solve” or “address” this important question now because he is overwhelmed by the divine wrath. But he tells us what his concern will be once he is freed up to have some thinking space.
Then, in the last part of verse 14, he further imagines his life in Sheol. He might not be able to answer the question about life after death, but he imagines a rather touching scenario in the rest of verse 14 and verse 15. My translation is:
“All the days of my service I would wait, until my relief would come. Then you
would call, and I would answer you; you would have such a strong desire for
the work of your hands.”
These words are full of interesting and alluring thoughts, even if the meaning isn’t crystalline at first. What is clear is that he is imagining his life in Sheol, waiting for the divine wrath to pass. He now characterizes his life in Sheol not as a pleasant time of unhindered conversation and reflection but a a time of “service” (tsaba). Yet tsaba really isn’t “service.” It means something more akin to corvee labor or hard service. We saw the term in 7:1 where Job talked about his life of relentless hard service on earth, where he is no different from a hireling, a hired man. Its reappearance in 14:14 to describe Job’s life in Sheol seems to suggest a rather hard-headed awareness on Job’s part that ‘Sheol-life’ is not easy.
During his time of hard labor in Sheol, he would “wait” (yachal, 40x/8x in Job). As previously mentioned, yachal can mean “wait” or “hope.” You wonder if Job used the verb here to play off of his most recent use of it, in 13:15. There Job talked about the dangers of approaching God God was going to slay him for his temerity in challenging God. Job felt he had no hope (yachal is verb), yet he would press on. Here Job is saying, in contrast to 13:15, that he would continue to slave away in Sheol in hope. The hopelessness of the previous chapter would be reversed by his sojourn in Sheol while God gets over the divine anger. Hope would be restored in the place thought by most to be a most hopeless place. Job would work, waiting patiently, hoping for the great reversal which Job knows will come.
Job would have hope, until his chaliphah comes. This noun is derived from the verb chalaph, which generally means “to change,” but which we have just seen in Job 14:7 meaning “to sprout again.” That is certainly the meaning of the noun here, though it is usually translated “change” elsewhere (11x). Job would labor in hope until his dramatic sprouting again would come. We don’t know if Job considers this as a life after death (it will be after Sheol) or a continuation of this life. After all, he hasn’t yet had time for his “sabbatical” in Sheol to think through this problem in detail. He just knows that there will be some kind of renewal, some kind of change, some kind of new sprouting up that he will experience.
Job has expressed his bold confidence in verse 14; the thought of verse 15 assumes the thought of Job’s “sprouting again.” The chief thing this change or sprouting will bring with it is a restored relationship with God. God would call and Job would answer. Note that the appearance of these two common verbs (qara/anah) tends to reverse the use of these verbs elsewhere in Scripture. Normally it is the humans who call and God who answers. Note Jeremiah 33:3 where God is speaking, “Call to me (qara) and I will answer (anah) you. . .” Another example is in Psalm 91:15. God has just delivered the faithful believer. The words are powerful, “Because he (the believer) has set love upon me, I will deliver him. . .” It continues. “He shall call (qara) on me and I will answer (anah). That is the way that faith works. One final example is in Psalm 3:5, “WIth my voice I call (qara) to the Lord, and He answers (anah) me from his holy mountain.” Humans, in need, call upon God and God, in the divine mercy and grace, answers and delivers.
In Job 14:15, however, God is the one who calls and Job is the one who answers. Is Job trying subtly to suggest through this reversal of verbs that the relationship between the two of them will be on a different footing—a kind of footing of equality or even of Joban primacy? Is Job expressing these thoughts with an abject and admirable humility or out of a sense that God may actually need Job?
That such a thought is not completely out of the question is confirmed by the last words of verse 15, “You would greatly desire/long for (kasaph, 6x) the work of your hands.” Kasaph is rare, but its clearest and most memorable appearance is in Psalm 84, where the Psalmist expresses his great desire to be in the Lord’s house. “My soul longs/desires (kasaph), and almost dies (kalah, could be translated “faints” or “comes to an end” or “yearns” or “pines") for the courts of Yahweh” (Psalm 84:2). Again, what is fascinating is that in Psalm 84 the human is the one who yearns or longs for God and the divine Temple. Not so for Job 14:15. God would be greatly yearning for (kasaph) the work of the divine hands. The tables would be turned. God would realize that He needs Job as much as the common Israelite needs God. God would realize that the divine desire for Job is as great as the Psalmist’s desire for God. God, too, would finally understand how wonderful it was to be in deep personal relationship with Job. Job is definitely no shrinking violet here.