The English idiom ‘escaped by the skin of one’s teeth’ is derived from this graphic expression in the book of Job. One of the main themes of the book is the problem of suffering. At the beginning of the book we find Job well blessed, with a large family, considerable wealth and great prospects. In the first and second chapters of the book, however, Job faces desperate grief as all his children die and he loses everything, including his health. Even his wife advises him to ‘curse God and die’. Job, however, remains resolute. In the face of bereavement, he bows his head and says, ‘the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’, and in response to the loss of everything he affirms, ‘though he slay me, yet will I trust him’. In doing so he shows us that suffering is sometimes brought upon us to prove that our faith is real and that we are not fair-weather believers, loving God only when everything is well with us. Sometimes suffering comes, too, so that our response of ‘faith-come what-may’ brings glory to God. In the end, God restores all to Job, and more besides.
To ‘escape by the skin of one’s teeth’ has been used for centuries to mean ‘to have a narrow escape’. Whether this is what the original Bible expression actually means is open to debate. It is, however, used in situations where survival or rescue is achieved at the last minute, or only just. Perhaps someone misses a flight that subsequently crashes, or climbs out of the wreckage of a write-off. It could also be used of someone who leaves it to the very last minute to get right with God, and yet succeeds in doing so. When a man or woman, who has lived a life without God, repents just before they die and rests all hope of peace with God in the death of Christ on the cross, it can be said of them that they were saved by the skin of their teeth. This is simply because the Bible always tells us to get right with God the moment we believe He is speaking to us, calling us to faith in Him and warns us not to leave it until tomorrow. We do not know whether we will see tomorrow. ‘Now is the accepted time, behold now is the day of salvation’, 2 Cor. 6. 2.
Two thieves were crucified with the Lord Jesus. One believed and trusted in Christ at the last moment. His experience shows that God can still receive a sinner who repents last minute, while there is yet life and consciousness, and asks to be saved from God’s judgement on sin; but only one was saved, so that no one should presume that such vital matters as gaining peace with God should be left to the last moment. Don’t bank on a death-bed conversion, will you? You may not be given one. If God is calling you, come now.