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Top Ten #4 // Hope for the downcast soul

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

Top Ten Pro-life Passages # 4 // Job 10

“Your hands shaped me and made me. Will you now turn and destroy me? Remember that you molded me like clay. Will you now turn me to dust again? Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese, clothe me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews? You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit. [Job 10:8-12 NIV]

The most detailed descriptions of the unborn child’s creation come within the Psalms and the Book of Job. Psalm 139:13–16 is understandably the most well-known and a future article will focus on that passage. But Job 10:8–12 is equally remarkable and deserves to be better appreciated, given its depiction of life in the womb (Job mentions the womb more often than any other book in the Bible).

Job is a difficult book and in chapter 10, as in chapter 3, Job is at a very low point, even wishing he had never been born. He complains that God is slowly destroying his own handiwork (Job 10:3). If this was God’s plan all along, why was Job made with such exquisite care in the womb? Job feels the tension because he believes in God’s love, power and wisdom. Job’s suffering and wrestling with the Lord produces some of the profoundest theology in the Old Testament, including this beautiful portrayal of the unborn child:

8Your hands fashioned and made me, and now you have destroyed me altogether. 9 Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust? 10 Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? 11 You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. 12 You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.

There is a lot packed into these five verses in highly poetic language and we can only skim the surface here. The first thing to recognise – and this is a theme we will see repeated – is that when Job reflects on the beginning of his existence, he is drawn, as if irresistibly, to the language of Genesis. In other words, the creation of human life in the womb evokes in profound and significant ways God’s first creation of human beings in Eden. As the great 19th century German Lutheran biblical commentator Franz Delitzsch puts it:

“a creative act similar to the creation of Adam is repeated at the origin of each individual . . . The primal origin of man . . . is repeated in the womb.1

We have previously looked at the first creation account in Genesis 1, but Job has in mind the complementary narrative in Genesis 2:7. Here God comes close to creation and like a potter sculpts Adam from the ground. The earthy aspect of human life is emphasised – we are of the same substance as the rest of creation – yet we are also animated by the divine breath. In the very same way God moulds Job, as if from clay, in the womb.

Job 10:10 reflects the embryological theory of his day, in which the embryo was thought to “curdle” like soft cheese before taking greater definition and form. We might not often have compared the foetus’ growth to cheese-making(!), but it is one of several domestic crafts, including pottery (Job 10:8–9) and weaving (Job 10:11), that Job utilises to convey God’s artistry in shaping the infant’s body. The important point is just how consistently Job’s formation is viewed as God’s work. Job is not an accident, nor is his development simply explicable by science. God is behind his existence, and the life of every child in the womb.

It is God who “clothed” and “knitted” Job together (Job 10:11). The fabric/clothing imagery will of course reappear in Psalm 139:13–16. When God clothes someone in the Bible it typically confers a certain status (e.g., Isaiah 22:21; Zechariah 3:4; see also Exodus 28:41; Genesis 41:42; Esther 6:11) and clothing is connected to personal identity (Genesis 27:15–16) and human dignity (Genesis 3:21).

This verse also goes into a high level of anatomical detail. In fact this intense focus on the body (typical of Job) led the Church Father Ephrem to argue that Job here foreshadows the incarnation of Jesus. The only other time these four terms (bones, sinews, flesh and skin) occur together elsewhere in the Bible is in Ezekiel’s stunning vision of the resurrected army (Ezekiel 37:6–8). Just as God initially creates human life (Job 10), so he is able to recreate it in all its glorious complexity and individuality (Ezekiel 37). Nothing related to the composition of the physical body is lacking in the unborn child and the miracle of resurrection is comparable to the mystery of life in the womb (see Ecclesiastes 11:5).2

Job 10:12 reiterates that Job is alive because of God’s undeserved kindness (Hebrew: chesed). God’s covenant loyalty or “steadfast love” is traced by Job back to his conception. At a stage of development where many would see the unborn child as wholly insignificant, sub-human even, God’s concern is evident. The word “care” in fact is the same root as the word in Psalm 8:4 which speaks of God’s remarkable “care” for human beings. From the womb, the work of God’s hands is only “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5).

Job is a complex book and not every opinion voiced within it is accurate, as God himself insists (Job 42:7), but Job’s words are not censured in the same way. When the dust has settled, faulty doctrine has been corrected and Job’s fortunes have been restored, Job 10:8–12 remain a compelling vision of the unborn child. This is a rich theology to correct, inspire and tell a better story about the most vulnerable people in the world. It can also help us when we are overwhelmed by feelings of low self-worth, despondency, even despair. God’s love for us has been present from conception and his providence is witnessed in every cell of our bodies.

[1] Carl F. Keil and Franz J. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (10 vols, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978, repr. ed.), Job, 2:166-67.

[2] In the period between the Old and New Testaments the Jews wrote a series of works that became known as the Apocrypha. This collection help us to understand the development of doctrine and thinking during this period. The Books of the Maccabees relate the struggle to maintain religious identity under fierce persecution. In 2 Maccabees 7:22–23 we find exactly this argument: the mystery of the unborn child in the womb points to God’s power to resurrect people after death in readiness for the last judgement and eternal life.


Social justice begins in the womb.

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