The discussions between Job and his friends were the last place I expected to find expressions of hope from Job. He has lost everything, despite his righteousness. His friends are accusing him of sins and refusing to listen to anything he says. Even his wife is encouraging him to turn from God. And yet, a major theme of Job's speeches in the second cycle of arguments is hope. It comes up at least four times: Job 13:15, 14:14-17, 17:13-16, and 19:25-27.
Now, before a theologian or linguist attacks, let me say I know that the Hebrew is unclear in Job 13 and that the expressions of hope in Job 14 and 17 are open to some differing interpretations. However, each cycle of speeches contains its own themes. Job develops his ideas throughout each cycle and then moves on in the next. With a clear expression of great hope in the second cycle's penultimate speech and a 50/50 expression in the first speech, the definite possibilities of expressed hope in the middle speeches should be at least considered.
Let's start at the end and work back. Chapter 19 is Job's summation of how alone he feels. He begins by pleading with his friends to stop tormenting him. He then details how God has seemingly turned against him and will no longer listen (vs. 6-12). Vs. 13-19 tell how the people he would normally have relied on in times of trouble have forsaken him: brothers, relatives, house guests, servants, wife, intimate friends, even the children in the street back talk him now. Then, in verse 20, his body itself has turned against him. His friends torment him, his God has punished him unjustly (he thinks), his friends and family have forsaken him, his body fails him, and in the midst of all that he then says: "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God," Job 19:25-26. Yes, I know, the Hebrew here is especially garbled. We don't know whether it should be "in my flesh I shall see God" or "without my flesh I shall see God". Several of the phrases here and in the next verse have up to a dozen different possible translations. But what is clear in this passage is Job's statements "For I know that my Redeemer lives" and "I shall see God". We can argue about the rest of it until we are all blue in the face and IT DOESN'T MATTER ONE BIT to the interpretation of Job's speech. His life is falling apart. Everything he would normally rely upon has been taken away. Even God seems to be against him. And in all that turmoil, in the cyclone that has become his life, Job says "I know that my Redeemer lives" and "I shall see God." Despite everything, Job holds fast to the hope that God would redeem him. His hope remained firmly attached to God even when his senses told him that God was against him. Amazing faith. This is clear from chapter 19. If this is not some extraordinary one-time statement, but rather the concluding statement of a theme that runs through the second cycle of speeches, then how does that affect the interpretation of other passages?
Job 13:15a "Though he slay me, I will hope in him;" Another possible interpretation is "he will slay me, I have no hope". If you ask 100 scholars their opinion 40 will vote for the first option, 40 will vote for the second, and 20 will be honest enough to say "I don't know". Apparently, the Hebrew is very unclear. However, this is the first mention of hope in any context and it is at the beginning of the cycle which contains Job's monumental expression of hope just six chapters later. I am unqualified to argue the linguistics (I am barely qualified to spell linguistics) but I can understand themes in writing and this seems like the beginning of a thread that culminates in chapter 19. Based on that, I will argue for the first interpretation "Though he slay me, I will hope in him;"
Then we have Job 14:13-17 "Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come. You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands. For then you would number my steps; you would not keep watch over my sin; my transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would cover over my iniquity." Job is willing to hide in the grave (Sheol) until God's wrath is past? Sure! He expresses confidence that God would remember him. If a man dies, shall he live again? Sure! Job is positive that his renewal will come. God would long for Job and call for him. What is involved in that renewal? God would seal up Job's transgressions in a bag and cover his iniquity. Tell me, is this anything other than hope? And don't be confused because immediately after this passage Job seems to fall back into despair. There was a form of argument in ancient times in which the speaker would surround his conclusion with two ideas considered but rejected. This is exactly what we see in Job 14, with this wonderful expression of hope surrounded by passages of despair. It is confusing to us only because we went to Western schools instead of learning rhetoric in the Near East of a few millennia ago.
Job 17:13-16 is usually considered a downer of a passage, but I think it is exactly the opposite. Its "if-then" nature demands a conclusion and only one conclusion is rational. "If I hope for Sheol as my house, if I make my bed 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?"" If I hope for the grave, then where is my hope? Who will see it? This is not despair, but rather a rejection of despair! The contrast is between hoping in the grave and Job's previous expressions of hope, especially in chapter 14. 'Will it [my hope] go down to the bars of Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?' That is a description of despair, and it is described in question form. In the Bible when these question forms are used, they are almost always rhetorical questions whose implied answer is "No!" This is not Job giving up, but rather Job declaring that he won't give up, that he won't stop hoping in God.
So what do we have? Job saying that even if he dies he will not stop hoping in God. Job declaring a clear hope for a renewal with God, being clean from sin, after the grave. Job refusing to despair, but clinging to hope. Job declaring that despite the turmoil in his life, despite being forsaken and rejected by his friends, family, and wife, and despite God's apparent temporary enmity that he knows that his Redeemer lives and that he will one day see God.
My only remaining question is, if Job can express such wonderful hope despite his overwhelming troubles, what do I have to feel depressed about?