“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Job 1:21 | NIV (1984) | Other Versions | Context
Job is a book that has long since been appreciated by many to be a book with high literary value – it is perhaps best described as a book on suffering. The theology of suffering is condensed and best explained in the book of Job, and one of the most well-known facts about the book of Job was how the blameless and upright Job worshipped the Lord when faced with immense suffering. This verse was what Job so famously cried out immediately – his first reaction to the waves after waves of bad news that had been delivered. As poetic as he was, this verse encompasses rich theology for everyone of us today. If we could, like Job, adopt such an attitude in the immediacy of our sufferings, then perhaps half the battle would already be won. In today’s article, we will examine this verse from 2 angles – what are we and what is God; and build up an argument of how we can be like Job in our sufferings.
Analysis: We were nothing; we may be something; but we will be nothing
Naked I came from my mother’s womb – The life of any person begins with birth – coming out from our mothers’ wombs. No matter who we are or who our parents are, we all were born in the same, humble state – naked. Whether we are royalty or beggars, it is the same. In the beginning, we were nothing, we possessed nothing, not a name, not money, and not even clothes on our bodies. Not knowledge, not wisdom, not memories. Spiritually, we had nothing too – none of us were born as believers of Christ, even if our parents were Christians.
and naked I will depart – how poignant. At the end, we will leave in the same manner – possessing nothing, bringing nothing, wearing nothing. In between, we may become great, we may possess the whole world, our names may become great, but at the end of the day, all of us will face death – we are all but just mortals, no matter how great we become. There is nothing to boast in good times, for it will come to pass. There is no need to dwell in depression in bad times, for it will come to pass.
I like to use the example of Moses when talking about nothing to something. Moses was born a Jew in a time of Egyptian oppression. Jews were viewed as an inferior race, and there was even a decree for all male, Jewish babies to be killed. Such was the oppression, and yet Moses was born, and survived. He was born with nothing – no wealth, no knowledge, no status.
Yet by God’s divine intervention he became the son of the Pharaoh’s daughter, who picked him up while washing in the river. Such a fairytale, really. I used to wonder if the Pharaoh’s daughter ever regretted taking Moses in. If I had been Pharaoh, I would certainly have blamed her, but I guess it wasn’t a big deal to a man as royal as the Pharaoh to feed another mouth in his large household. With that one act, she not only gave Moses a secure home for his youthful days, but also gave him wealth, status and power. Moses spent his first forty years thinking he was a somebody.
Yet the Jewish blood in Moses cannot be removed. His own mother became his nurse and he grew up knowing his true identity as an Israelite. Seeing his own people being bullied, he performed a heroic murder and became enemy to his adopted country. From being an Egyptian prince, he became a refugee. Gone was his status, his power, his wealth. He became nothing again. He spent his next forty years learning that he was a nobody.
He probably thought he would die as a little nobody peacefully away from all the hype, but God had greater plans. First the 10 Plagues, then the parting of the Red Sea, the 40 year long exodus, the prayers after prayers, law after law, plea after plea. He spent his final forty years discovering how God can use a nobody. They say nobody, but today Moses is perhaps one of the most important Biblical characters in the Old Testament Bible. Isn’t he somebody? Surely, he is somebody in the eyes of the world. But this somebody wasn’t allowed to enter the promised land, wasn’t given a grand funeral with every single Jew watching – although they certainly did mourn for him. He died alone with nobody to see him off, he died as a nobody, but he alone was buried by God personally. How grand.
If we can but just keep in our sights that which cannot be seen – the eternal life that we have been promised, then perhaps our earthly assets and accomplishments will not bear as much importance to us. When we were born, we had nothing, we were nobodies. When we die, we cannot take anything with us, and no matter how glamorous or heroic our lives had been, just like Moses, we will die simply. Again, with nothing.
Analysis: God is everything
Conversely, this contrasts with what God is. In the midst of our lives, whatever we have, whatever we’ve learnt, whatever we’ve gained – are these not given to us by the Lord?
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away – There are a lot of things in this world that we own, and when it comes to some things, we can give them away and take them back again. However, if we trace back to the origin of all things, if we consider the fact that even if it is something that we own, we will lose it upon death, then things become straightforward again – we own nothing. The Lord is the one who gives, and he is the one who can take anything away from us.
God is the source of all our gifts, accomplishments and possessions. Our skills, aptitudes, talents. Our knowledge, our blessings.
Even when it comes to suffering. If we see our good health as a blessing from the Lord, then at any point in time, God can take it away. If we see our accomplishments and fortune as a blessing from God, then why do we place unnecessary burden on them which will not be eternal? God is everything, not our health, not our accomplishments, not our physical bodies. He gives, he takes. He gives, he takes. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? [Job 2:10|Article]
Analysis: Praising God in anything
may the name of the Lord be praised – Perhaps the most notable point about this entire verse is the fact that it was said in a time of immense misery, and yet it ends in praise. Despite all the pain and suffering, he still had things to thank God for. Job was the ultimate example of 1 Thes 5:18 – give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. In difficult situation, he found mercies to thank God for. Put ourselves in his shoes, and you must wonder whether we can find anything to praise God for in that situation? Perhaps as Christians, no matter what happens, there is one thing we can always thank God for – the fact that we have Him. We know Him. We know He loves us. Perhaps this knowledge alone is hope, comfort and peace all at once. Because you know God is still there, you can praise Him. You can be thankful.
Checking my revision history of this article, I realised that I first started writing this 4 years ago, 10 October 2012. It’s a verse I really like, probably one of the most prominent verses in the book of Job, a verse that comes to mind often, a verse that we come across in songs too. Yet perhaps as I sat on this article and edited it again and again, over these 4 years, what I’ve gotten from this verse is no longer the same. 4 years ago I was still an undergrad, freshly back from an internship stint overseas, still not sure about what my future was like. I had nothing, and I was nothing. I didn’t even have a proper role in Church.
Fast-forward till today, and I have been given a lot. It’s like somebody pushed me onto a fast-track train and raced me to the top of a small little hill. I can’t say I’m successful or that I’ve accomplished much, but I have gained much – thanks to the grace of God. Compared to 4 years ago when I was nobody and had practically nothing to lose, Job 1:21 is a lot more poignant these days, when the fear of losing is always present. It’s always a reminder to depend on the Lord and not on material posessions, to trust in the Lord and not on men, to rely on the Lord and not on my wisdom or knowledge.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised.