The Afterlife in the Book of Job

Ilya Repin, Job and His Friends, 1869, Wikimedia Commons

I have recently read through the book of Job again, and this time I made special note of all the places where it looked like one of the characters was describing the afterlife, or what they thought of the afterlife. As close readers of the Bible have long realized, the conception of the afterlife in the Old Testament seems quite a bit different from the normal Christian idea of what comes after this life. The book of Job provides particularly abundant evidence for conceptions of an afterlife, since death is firmly on the mind of the main character.

This post will simply cite the verses I found with bearing on this issue, without much commentary. Before we begin, I will say that the Hebrew word for the place of the dead is Sheol, and this Hebrew word has entered into the English language and into English translations of the Bible, though the KJV translated this word with a few English terms. According to my Bible software, this Hebrew word appears in the book of Job eight times. Here they are, with KJV translation.

  • 7:9, grave
  • 11:8, hell
  • 14:13, grave
  • 17:13, grave
  • 17:16, pit
  • 21:13, grave
  • 24:19, grave
  • 26:6, hell

Of course, the Old Testament sometimes refers to the afterlife without using the word Sheol. That is often the case for the passages below. And by the way, there is another Hebrew word, qever, that the KJV and modern versions translate “grave,” appearing five times in Job (3:22; 5:26; 10:19; 17:1; 21:32).

For every one of the quotations below, Job is the speaker. The Bible version is NRSV.

Now I would be lying down and quiet;
I would be asleep; then I would be at rest

with kings and counselors of the earth
who rebuild ruins for themselves

or with princes who have gold,
who fill their houses with silver.

Or why was I not buried like a stillborn child,
like an infant that never sees the light?

There the wicked cease from troubling,
and there the weary are at rest.

There the prisoners are at ease together;
they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.

The small and the great are there,
and the slaves are free from their masters.

Job 3:13–19

As the cloud fades and vanishes,
so those who go down to Sheol do not come up; 

they return no more to their houses,
nor do their places know them any more.

Job 7:9–10

Are not the days of my life few?
Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort

before I go, never to return,
to the land of gloom and deep darkness, 

the land of gloom and chaos,
where light is like darkness.

Job 10:20–22

For there is hope for a tree,
if it is cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its shoots will not cease. 

But mortals die, and are laid low;
humans expire, and where are they? 

As waters fail from a lake,
and a river wastes away and dries up, 

so mortals lie down and do not rise again;
until the heavens are no more, they will not awake
or be roused out of their sleep. 

O that you would hide me in Sheol,
that you would conceal me until your wrath is past,
that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!

If mortals die, will they live again?
All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come. 

You would call, and I would answer you;
you would long for the work of your hands. 

But the mountain falls and crumbles away,
and the rock is removed from its place;

the waters wear away the stones;
the torrents wash away the soil of the earth;
so you destroy the hope of mortals.

You prevail forever against them, and they pass away;
you change their countenance, and send them away.

Their children come to honor, and they do not know it;
they are brought low, and it goes unnoticed. 

They feel only the pain of their own bodies,
and mourn only for themselves. 

Job 14:7–22

For when a few years have come,
I shall go the way from which I shall not return. 

Job 16:22

If I look for Sheol as my house,
if I spread my couch in darkness, 

if I say to the Pit, “You are my father,”
and to the worm, “My mother,” or “My sister,”

where then is my hope?
Who will see my hope?

Will it go down to the bars of Sheol?
Shall we descend together into the dust? 

Job 17:13–16

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; 

and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,

whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! 

Job 19:25–27

I know that you will bring me to death,
and to the house appointed for all living. 

Job 30:23

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