Escaped by the skin of my teeth

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Here’s one of the more famous phrases in the bible.  We’ve probably all used it.  And we’ve probably used it in its biblical sense – i.e. to describe an extremely narrow escape.  But if we were asked to explain it, we’d struggle.  Why “skin of my teeth”?  Why not “hair of my kidneys”?  Or “lips of my elbow”?  That would seem to make as much sense.

But it seems like Job is talking about an “escape” so unlikely as to be impossible.  The fact that my teeth don’t have skin is precisely the point.  I shouldn’t have escaped any more than my teeth should have skin.

What does Job need escape from?  Well, let’s start with his circumstances.  They are pretty dire:

I called my servant, and he gave me no answer; I intreated him with my mouth.  My breath is strange to my wife, though I intreated for the children’s sake of mine own body.  Yea, young children despised me; I arose, and they spake against me.  All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned against me.  My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth. (Job 19:16-20)

Everyone around Job seems to be against him.  But if that weren’t bad enough, verse 9-11 speak of God being against him:

He hath stripped me of my glory, and taken the crown from my head.  He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone: and mine hope hath he removed like a tree.  He hath also kindled his wrath against me, and he counteth me unto him as one of his enemies.  (Job 19:9-11)

We’ve been thinking of Job as the story of “man” and these verses are particularly apt.  Stripped of his glory and crown, man is now an enemy of God.

There is nothing in man’s circumstances and nothing in his natural state before God that could possibly give him hope.  Yet he does have a hope.  Tomorrow we will think about the one hope for Job (the one hope for man) – “I know that my Redeemer liveth” (Job 19:25).

But the context for that hope is utter hopelessness in his own situation.  The salvation of man is a completely unnatural escape – a “skin of my teeth” kind of escape.  It has nothing to do with me and my circumstances and everything to do with my Redeemer.

John Calvin speaks of it quite poignantly:

“Everything by which we are surrounded conflicts with the promise of God.  He promises us immortality, but we are encompassed with mortality and corruption.  He pronounces that we are righteous in His sight, but we are engulfed in sin.  He declares His favour and goodwill towards us, but we are threatened by the tokens of his wrath.  What can we do?  It is His will that we should shut our eyes to what we are and have, in order that nothing may impede or even check our faith in Him.”

This is a gospel for sufferers.  Those who suffer know they have nothing.  You can’t tell a Job “worse things happen at sea” – in Job’s case, that’s just not true.  It’s as bad as it gets.  Those who suffer know that there’s nothing in their immediate circumstances that would give them hope.

Yet here is the gospel: our salvation lies entirely above our circumstances and above ourselves.  It lies in Christ our Redeemer.  For now “we shut our eyes to what we are and have” – nothing around us will give us comfort.  But there is One above us who can be trusted – He provides our escape:

our life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.  (Colossians 3:3-4)

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