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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Hope Lies Beyond the Grave


"What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil." Job 3:25-26

Last time, we left Job sitting in the dust and ashes with his 3 friends in complete silence – nobody was saying a word. That silence lasted 7 days. It was as if the friends were so appalled by the plight of their friend, that they clapped their hands over their mouths. They seem to have sensed that any words at this point would only come across as glib. And glib is not what Job needed right now.

The friends mourned with job for the customary period of time. They mourned with him for all his ten children who died in a freak windstorm when their house collapsed on them. A bit like a freak earthquake that moved the ground on the Turkey-Syria border 3m up and down two weeks ago.

They mourn with him for his dead and stolen servants, and for his dead and stolen livestock.

And they mourn with him for his terrible physical calamity, in which, sores have broken out all over his body and in which they see their friend suffering intense and now prolonged pain.

Who wouldn’t mourn for this man? If the narrator labelled him the greatest man in all the east, back in chapter 1, then surely, he would be described as the most lamentable man in all the east, now.

Chapter 3 starts with the words ‘after this’ indicating that the 7 days of mourning have come to an end. But, though the customary period for mourning has ended Job’s suffering has not.

It’s difficult to get a handle on the time scales in Job. Like, how much time elapsed between Satan’s first incitement of God and his second?

Or how long did it take for the friends to hear about Job’s calamity, arrange to meet, and then come to visit?

But, we do have some indications from Job that his physical pain was probably, by now, already dragging on into months. In chapter 7, he says that he has been allotted ‘months of futility’.

That might be anticipatory. But chapter 29 isn’t. ‘I long for the monthsgone by, for the days when God watched over me’.

In other words, this spiral down into disaster is lingering on in Job’s case.

The kind of suffering that attends the death of children or spouse doesn’t leave a person quickly, or ever, perhaps. That is one thing, but on top of that, the physical abasement of Job, which brings with it relentless pain he says, has by now been going on for weeks and maybe is moving into months as he now prepares to open his mouth and speak.

With that kind of suffering his daily experience; sleep deprived; no pain medication to dull his nerves - probably; children gone, wife out of the picture unable to bear his breath (19:17), and friends silent, what will the words that he speaks sound like?

Well, I think what we see in his words is the dreadful power of suffering to strip a person of their hope. This chapter has hopelessness written all over it.

Satan isn’t mentioned again in the entirety of the book after chapter 2, but make no mistake, he has not accepted defeat at Job’s worshipful words of chapter 2, when he said, ‘Shall we accept good from God and not trouble’.

Satan has his tether from God, and he will use all of it. He will strikeJob for as long as it takes to demolish his hope, or God calls an end to it.

If he can destroy Job’s hope then he can demolish his faith too. Because, when God is the foundation of our hope, but the God we hope in is unseen, then our hope is also based on faith – the faith we have in the God who is the foundation of our hope.

So, if Satan can erode hope then he can place doubt in our minds about the foundation of our hope too – namely God. In other words, if there is no hope then maybe there is no God – and puff, just like that, our faith is dead.

His ultimate aim is to eat the faith of Job, and he’s going to get at that faith by destroying his hope.

The apostle Peter says, ‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’.

How does he devour a believer? Peter continues,

‘Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings’.

So, he ‘devours’ by eating their faith. And one way he gets at their faith is through suffering that makes them hopeless.

Here in chapter 3 we get the sense that Satan is making some significant progress in destroying Job’s hope and therefore maybe his faith too.

This chapter is ultimately a chapter of lament and there are essentiallythree laments in chapter 3 from a man who is in deep distress but who will not curse God, even though his wife incited him to do so.

Nevertheless, he will curse something, because he is in deepdistress. According to the narrator in verse 1, Job’s curse falls not on God but on the day of his own birth. He laments the days of his conception and birth for ten solid verses here.

But, perhaps because of the futility of lamenting something that has already happened and which he can’t change, he progresses from the day of his conception through his life, all the way to his present situation.

So, in verse 11 he moves from the days of his conception and birth to the days after he was born when there were breasts to nurse him and knees to receive him. But again, what use is it to curse those days when they cannot be undone.

And so, verse 20 brings him up to the present day when people long for death and God doesn’t give it to them. Just like he didn’t in the womb, and just like he didn’t at birth either.

In other words, what Job is experiencing right now is just like what happened at birth and what happened at conception – he doesn’t die. He wishes he hadn’t lived and wouldn’t live. But he did and he does. And that means continued suffering.

Now, it’s very important to spot a way of thinking that has developed in Job and which underpins these 3 phases of lament. As we’ve seen, in all 3 laments, Job wishes that he had died. He wishes he had died before he was born. And since that didn’t happen he wishes he had died when he was born. And since that didn’t happen he wishes he would die now. But why does he think that death would be so good?

Here's why: In verse 13, he thinks that if he were dead he would be at peace and at rest. In verse 14, he shows that he thinks peace in death has been the fate of even the kings and rulers of the earth. All their wealth failed, but at least they’re dead and at peace.

He goes further in verse 17. In Job’s mind, even the wicked find rest in the grave. In verse 18, the captives enjoy ease because they no longerhear the slave driver’s shout.

Underpinning his lamentations is this basic idea: death brings an end to suffering. Death treats everyone alike – it gives them peace. And, armed with that idea, Job concludes that to be dead would be far better than the daily agony he is facing whilst ever air fills his lungs.

Now, I want to show you why I think there has been a shift – or a slidemight be a better way to put it – in Job’s faith over time here. It’s an understandable slide – I’m not saying I would have done better - understandable because it’s been brought on by the intensity of his pain, but it is a deadly slide nonetheless. It’s deadly because it’s a slide from greater faith to lesser faith and that’s not a good trend.

Peter exhorts the believers to be alert and of sober mind. This is a fight for faith that starts in the spiritual mind. And Job’s thinking here is being altered. I think that he’s moving towards a kind of Gnosticism and rejecting what he knows to be true about God.

But don’t take my word for it, let me show you why I think that he’s on the slide here.

The first feature of Job’s slide into a kind of Gnosticism is his departure from the utter sovereignty of God.

The first hint is in verse 4 where Job asks that God above ‘not care’about the day he was conceived or the day he was born.

It’s almost as if he’s saying that that day mechanically came about and God took a special interest in it, ‘but it would have been better if he hadn’t’. Verse 10 is similar, the doors of the womb mechanically opened on the day he was born but would that they hadn’t, ‘and now look at the trouble that has come upon me’.

These statements are so contrasting with his words in Job 1:21 that they can’t go unnoticed: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I will depart. The Lord gave [in the context of chapter 2 let’s say ‘health’] the Lord has taken health away, blessed be the name of the Lord’.

Job was so willing to yield to the sovereign and inscrutable ways of God back there, but now he presumes to advise God how he should have treated the day of his birth. And he makes his birth impersonal, reducing it to a kind of fate in verse 10.

That’s a slide I think. Back in chapter 1 Job would have spoken God’s words from chapter 38 for him, ‘who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb?’ and ‘from whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens?

I think he would have said, ‘if God controls the wombs that birth the seas, the ice and the frost, how much more the womb that birthed me!’. But now he seems to think it was a matter of fate.

Job’s thinking isn’t in line with his thinking back in chapter 1, and it isn’t in line with the orthodoxy of his day either.

Genesis 4:25, after Cain killed Abel, ‘Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in the place of Abel”’.

Or, Genesis 3:30, when Rachel complained to Jacob because she was not bearing children whilst her sister Leah was, Jacob replied, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?’

Or Deuteronomy 32:39, when God says, ‘See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand’.

Or even to put it in the words of Elihu, a young onlooker who appears at the end of the discourses in this book,

‘If it were [God’s] intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all humanity would perish together and mankind would return to dust’.

Job has seemingly slipped from the truth that God Almighty is in control. If God says ‘be born’ a person is born. If he says to the womb ‘open’ it opens and if he says ‘do not conceive’ a baby will not be conceived. And whatever he decides is right. ‘Bring my sons from afar, my daughter from the ends of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made’ (Is 43:6-8).

God created Job. God said ‘yes’ to conception. God said ‘yes’ to birth. God said ‘yes’ to knees and breasts to nurse him. God said ‘yes’ to life. And he said ‘yes’ for his glory and none could stay his hand, even if they had wanted to. Which is exactly how Job was thinking in chapter 1, but now seemingly not.

Why are 5 children conceived and only 3 born? Because God is sovereign and God is good! He does everything according to his supreme purposes, and to uphold the value of his name.

The second feature of Job’s slide into a type of Gnosticism is his belief that in the grave he is sure to find peace because there everyone rests from their painful toil upon the earth.

That, I think is a departure from what he really believes and a departure from the orthodoxy of his day.

Here in chapter 3, Job seems to regard the grave as the final destinyand a happy one at thay, because in that place there is no slave master, or prison guard and that’s what he regards God as right now.

According to verse 23, the very hedge that Satan knows is God’s protection of Job, Job regards as a curse because it will not let him be free of life and it will not let him enter into the peace of death.

The reason he will have peace in the grave is because he will be beyond the reach of God. Even the wicked find rest there! God’s eye cannot examine him any more in that place, therefore, he longs for it as for ‘hidden treasure’.

That’s not how he was thinking about death before. I think we get glimpses of how he was thinking about death later in Job’s discourses. And they sound different. Here are a few:

Chapter 14,

13 “If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me!

14 If someone dies, will they live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.

And Chapter 19,

And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; 27 I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.

Job believed in the resurrection of the dead and so did his contemporaries. Hebrews 11 gives us great insight into the faith of the patriarchs. And no patriarch is a greater example of the faith that God desires in a person than Abraham.

Verse 10 of Hebrews 11 says that Abraham by faith was looking forward to a city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.

And in verse 14 that he, along with Isaac and Jacob, were looking for a country not their own and longing for a better country.

Verse 16 tells us that all this looking and longing by faith was directed heavenwards. The city is a heavenly city. The country is a heavenly country.

Of Jacob, when he died, it was said that he was ‘gathered to his people’. And yet his bones weren’t interred with his people’s bones for another several months, because Jacob died in Egypt.

So, the way the patriarchs thought about death was in terms of life after death, not annihilation. And that’s right. That’s what the fuller doctrinal teaching of the new testament reveals to us as true.

Jesus said about himself that he is the resurrection and the life. ‘Whoever believes in me will live even though they die’ (John 11:25).

According to Peter, since Jesus rose from the dead, we have a living hope – in the resurrected body of Jesus – that we too will be raised from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).

And according to Paul, even now, to depart from this world is better by far (Philippians 1:22-24) because for a believer to be away from the body is for them to be at home with the Lord (2 Cor 5:6-9).

So even this side of the return of Jesus and the resurrection of the body, there is immediate bliss in the presence of Jesus when we die – just like the thief on the cross next to Jesus was promised.

And so, there is an orthodoxy that was present even in Job’s day, that inJob’s great suffering he is losing sight of as his hope slowly erodes away.

I’ve made much of Job’s habit that we read of in chapter 1 and how it equipped him to be able to worship effectively in the face of severe trial in chapters 1 & 2. I’ve said we should follow his example and fix our eyes on Jesus habitually ahead of the calamity so that when the calamity comes we do not curse God, but are able to worship as Job did.

Job still hasn’t cursed God. His good habit continues to bear fruit.

But here, perhaps, in chapter 3 we get a glimpse of one of Job’s weaknesses. In verse 25 Job admits that ‘what he had feared had come upon him and what he dreaded had happened to him’. And he elaborates on this is chapter 29 when he says, ‘I thought I shall die in my own house, my days as numerous as the grains of sand’. I think that was a mistake on Job’s part and it didn’t prepare him well for the prolonged nature of this suffering.

I think that rather than embracing the idea of death early, he fearedthat it might come early, and he dreamed of it coming late.

In other words, he didn’t spend enough time contemplating and readying himself for death with all the blessings and joys that it holds – not because in it there is annihilation, but because in it there is a translation from the weariness of life to the joy of the everlasting presence of God. I don’t think Job had lingered on that.

I think he had lingered on the blessings of life on earth, but failed to linger on the surpassing benefits of departing and being with God. And now the earthly blessings are gone, he longs for death to come because his hope is gone, but death eludes him.

The psalmist tells us to ‘number our days that we may have a heart of wisdom’.

The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that it is ‘better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of allmankind, and the living will lay it to heart.

Jesus says, ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell’.

Moses, Solomon and Jesus all entreat us to prepare ourselves for death. Jesus specifically says not to fear it. Yet Job had feared it and now that his hope is gone, he can’t find it, adding to his hopelessness.

Part of the reason why Job’s hope is vanishing is because his hopes have depended on life in this world, but now that life is slipping through his fingers, hope is slipping through them too.

So, I think we need to learn another lesson from Job here, not something he did which we must do, but something he didn’t do which we must do. We must learn to face death now. And facing death now means at least the following:

1. Living lightly to this world and not investing our hope in long life. It seems Job failed to do this.

2. Like Abraham, investing our hope securely in the city and country to come where God is the architect and builder.

3. Longing to be where God is without sin. Paul thinks that is better by far!

4. Meditating on the scriptures that speak of heaven. Both without, and then with, our resurrected bodies.

5. Keeping a firm grip on our life’s purpose. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 that ‘while we are in this tent [that is our body] we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come’. God has madeus in order to dwell with him forever, free from sin. That is our ultimate purpose.

I think the evidence suggests Job hadn’t looked longingly at death and lived his life here below in light of his death. He had longed for life and lived his life for life.

That was a mistake that didn’t serve him well when his suffering lingered on. As a result, his hope is in tatters at the end of chapter 3.

And so, like never before, he needs some good, spiritually-minded, scripture-saturated friends who have got a solid handle on the purpose of life and the purpose of death, to come alongside him and restore his hope.

We’ll see next time what they’ve got to offer.

But, by way of spoiler alert, the lesson is going to be: choose your friends carefully and make sure they are spiritually minded!


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