Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.Ch. Job 14:1. In the last verse of ch. 13. Job thought of himself as one of the race of men, and now he speaks of the characteristics of this race.
born of a woman] The offspring of one herself weak and doomed to sorrow (Genesis 3:16) must also be weak and doomed to trouble, cf. ch. Job 15:14, Job 25:4.
He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.2. and is cut down] Rather, and withereth, cf. similar figures Isaiah 40:6 seq.; Psalm 37:2; Psalm 90:6; Psalm 103:15 seq.
And dost thou open thine eyes upon such an one, and bringest me into judgment with thee?3. A question of astonishment at the severity of God’s dealing with a creature of such weakness as man. “To open the eyes” is to look narrowly to, to watch in order to punish.
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.4. The question of astonishment in Job 14:3 supported by reference to the universal sinfulness of man. The verse reads,
Oh that a clean might come out of an unclean!
There is not one.
The phrase who will give (as margin) is a mere optative expression. Job throws his idea of the universal uncleanness of man, and that there is not one without sin, into the form of a wish that it were otherwise. If the race of men were not universally infected with sin, which each individual inherits by belonging to the race, God’s stringent treatment of the individuals would not be so hard to understand. For similar ideas of the universality of the sinfulness of mankind cf. Genesis 6:5; Isaiah 6:5; Psalm 51:5, also the words of Eliphaz ch. Job 4:17 seq. Job urges the admitted fact as a plea for forbearance on the side of God.
Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass;5, 6. Man being of few days and full of trouble Job pleads that God would not load him with uncommon afflictions, but leave him oppressed with no more than those natural to his short and evil life.
Turn from him, that he may rest, till he shall accomplish, as an hireling, his day.6. turn from him] lit. look away from him, cf. ch. Job 7:19, Job 10:20.—turn thy keen scrutiny away from him.
may rest] i. e. have peace, from unwonted affliction.
till he shall accomplish] Or, so that he may enjoy—so that he may have such pleasure as is possible in his brief and evil life, which is of no higher kind than the joy of the labourer during his hot and toilsome “day,” cf. ch. Job 7:1 seq. The sense given by the A. V., “to pay off,” is, however, possible (Isaiah 40:2), and not unsuitable here.
For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.7. For there is hope of a tree, if] lit. for a tree hath hope; if it be cut down it will sprout again &c.
7–12. The irreparable extinction of man’s life in death. His destiny is sadder even than that of the tree. His sleep in death is eternal.
Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground;
Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.9. like a plant] i. e. a fresh and new plant; it begins a new life again.
But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?10. wasteth away] lit. is laid prostrate.
As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up:11. fail from the sea] i. e. the inland sea or pool, cf. Isaiah 19:5; so in Arabic bahr, sea, is any mass of water whether salt or fresh, and also a river.
the flood] the stream. A graphic figure for complete extinction.
So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.12. till the heavens be no more] i. e. never; cf. Psalm 72:7, Till there be no moon. The heavens are eternal, cf. Jeremiah 31:35-36; Psalm 89:29; Psalm 89:36-37.
O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!13–15. Having pursued the destiny of man through all its steps down to its lowest, its complete extinction in death, Job, with a revulsion created by the instinctive demands of the human spirit, rises to the thought that there might be another life after this one. This thought is expressed in the form of an impassioned desire.
To understand these verses the Hebrew conception of death must be remembered. Death was not an end of personal existence: the dead person subsisted, he did not live. He descended into Sheol, the abode of deceased persons. His existence was a dreamy shadow of his past life. He had no communion with the living, whether men or God; comp. Job 3:12-19; Job 10:21-22, Job 14:20-22. This idea of death is not strictly the teaching of revelation, it is the popular idea from which revelation starts, and revelation on the question rather consists in exhibiting to us how the pious soul struggled with this popular conception and sought to overcome it, and how faith demanded and realized, as faith does, its demand, that the communion with God enjoyed in this life should not be interrupted in death. This was in short a demand and a faith that the state of Sheol should be overleaped, and that the believing soul should be “taken” by God in death to Himself, cf. Psalm 16:10; Psalm 49:15; Psalm 73:24. This was the solution that generally presented itself to the mind when death was contemplated. The present passage differs in two particulars. It does not exhibit such assured faith as these passages in the Psalms. The problem before the Psalmists was a much simpler one than that before Job. They were men who, when they wrote their words of faith, enjoyed God’s fellowship, and their faith protested against this fellowship being interrupted in death. But Job has lost the sense of God’s fellowship through his afflictions, which are to his mind proof of God’s estrangement from him, hence he has so to speak a double obstacle to overcome, where the Psalmists had only one, and this makes him do no more here than utter a prayer, while the Psalmists expressed a firm assurance. In the following chapters, especially ch. 19, Job also rises to assurance. In another particular this passage differs from these Psalms. It contemplates a different and much more complete solution of the problem. In both the hope of immortality has a purely religious foundation. It springs from the irrepressible longing for communion with God. The Psalmists, in the actual enjoyment of this communion, either protest against death absolutely (Psalms 16), and demand a continuance in life that this fellowship may continue—that is, they rise to the idea of true immortality; or, contemplating death as a fact, they protest against the popular conception of it, and demand that the deceased person shall not sink into Sheol, but pass across its gulf to God. Job’s conception is different from either of these, because his circumstances are different. He does not enjoy the fellowship of God, his afflictions are evidence of the contrary. His firm conviction is that his malady is mortal, in other words, that God’s anger will pursue him to the grave. On this side of death he has no hope of a return to God’s favour. Hence, contemplating that he shall die under God’s anger, his thought is that he might remain in Sheol till God’s wrath be past, for He keepeth not His anger for ever; that God would appoint him a period to remain in death and then remember him with returning mercy and call him back again to His fellowship. But to his mind this involves a complete return to life again of the whole man (Job 14:14), for in death there is no fellowship with God (Psalm 6:5). Thus his solution, though it appears to his mind only as a momentary gleam of light, is broader than that of the Psalmists, and corresponds to that made known in subsequent revelation. It is probable that this conception, which the Author of the Poem allows Job to rise to out of the very extremity of his despair, was one not unfamiliar to himself (cf. Isaiah 24:22). The verses read as a whole:—
13 Oh that thou wouldst hide me in Sheol,
That thou wouldst keep me secret till thy wrath be past,
That thou wouldst appoint me a set time and remember me—
14 If a man die shall he live again?—
All the days of my appointed time would I wait
Till my release came;
15 Thou wouldst call and I would answer thee,
Thou wouldst have a desire to the work of thine hands.
As Job follows the fascinating thought, the feeling forces itself upon his mind how much is implied in it, nothing less than that a man when dead should live again (Job 14:14), but he will not allow himself to be arrested in his pursuit of the glorious vision—he describes how he would wait all the period appointed to him (his “warfare,” cf. ch. Job 7:1) till his release came, and dwells upon the joy and readiness with which he would answer the voice of his Creator calling him to His fellowship again when He longed after the work of His hands long estranged and hidden from Him (ch. Job 10:3). The words “call” and “answer,” Job 14:15, have here naturally quite a different sense from the forensic or judicial one which belongs to them in ch. Job 13:22 and similar passages.
If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.
Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.
For now thou numberest my steps: dost thou not watch over my sin?16. Figures expressing the keen scrutiny with which God watches man’s life in order to detect his false steps and observe his every sin, cf. ch. Job 13:27.
16–22. This prayer for a second life is supported by a picture of the severity with which God deals with man in this life and the mournful consequences of it.
My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and thou sewest up mine iniquity.17. Figures expressing the carefulness with which God treasures up a man’s sins lest any of them should be lost, in order to visit the full tale of them upon him.
And surely the mountain falling cometh to nought, and the rock is removed out of his place.18. And surely] Rather, but; cf. ch. Job 13:3-4.
The “mountain falling” is the mountain from which great forces detach pieces—as man is subjected to the shattering strokes of God. The second clause shews this to be the meaning.
18–22. Under this severe treatment man must perish. For even the greatest and the firmest things in nature, and those most capable of resistance, are worn down by the influence of constant forces, and how much more man’s life under God’s continued severity.
The waters wear the stones: thou washest away the things which grow out of the dust of the earth; and thou destroyest the hope of man.19. The turbulent waters wear away the stones of the brook by their constant action.
thou washest away, &c] Rather, the floods thereof (i. e. of the waters) do wash away the soil of the earth.
and thou destroyest] i. e. so thou destroyest. The “hope” of man which God destroys is not the specific hope of a renewed life (Job 14:7)—this idea is dismissed—but more general, the hope of life.
Thou prevailest for ever against him, and he passeth: thou changest his countenance, and sendest him away.20. thou changest his countenance] A graphic and pathetic description of death. The word “prevailest against,” i. e. overpowerest him, refers to the last conflict and the final stroke, cf. ch. Job 15:24.
His sons come to honour, and he knoweth it not; and they are brought low, but he perceiveth it not of them.21. “The dead know not anything … also their love … is now perished,” Ecclesiastes 9:5-6.
But his flesh upon him shall have pain, and his soul within him shall mourn.22. But his flesh] Or, only. The prep. rendered here “upon him” is the same as that rendered “within him,” it means with him or in connexion with him, and the verse differs little from this, Only his flesh hath pain and his soul mourneth. The dead knoweth nothing of the upper world, only this can be said of him that his flesh hath pain and his soul mourneth; but the Hebrew expresses the idea more distinctly that his flesh and soul do these things in connexion with him. There are two ideas expressed: (1) that the body in the grave, being that of a still existing person, feels the gnawing and the wasting of corruption, cf. Isaiah 66:24, and that the soul in Sheol leads a mournful and dreary existence; and (2) that these elements of the person though separated still belong to the person.
The first circle of speeches, now completed, started from Job’s complaints in ch. 3. Job did not there name God nor make any open imputation against Him, but his bitter maledictions of the day of his birth and his impatient cry, Why gives He life to him that is in misery, (Job 3:20), shewed too well against whom it was that he “turned his spirit” (Job 15:12.)
Hence the three friends conceive that the first thing to aim at is to bring Job back to just and reverent thoughts of God. Therefore they dwell upon the attributes of God and contrast Him with man, hoping by this great thought of God to still the tumult in Job’s breast and bring him to take his right place before the Creator.
The friends all impress this thought of God upon Job, each, however, doing it in his own way. The oldest and most thoughtful of the three, Eliphaz, lays hold of the moral purity of God and His universal goodness. Bildad insists on the discriminating rectitude of God in His rule of the world. While Zophar magnifies the omniscience of the Divine insight, which guides God’s dealings with men. Each of these views is designed to meet some side of Job’s feeling as expressed in his complaints. Job answers these arguments for the most part indirectly. His own unmerited afflictions furnished the answer to them, and he mainly dwells on this. Only at last is he driven by the form in which Zophar puts the common argument of the friends directly to meet it. To their great argument of “God,” with which they thought to terrify and silence him, he replies that he does need to be taught regarding God. He is not inferior to them in knowledge of God; but it is just God that he desires to meet. He will go before Him to maintain his rectitude. He challenges God to make known the sins of which he has been guilty (Job 13:23).
However irreligious Job’s demeanour might seem to his friends (Job 15:4), it is obvious that he has struck from their hands the weapon they have hitherto been using against him. Their argument of “God” is exhausted. Job’s passionate proclamation that what he desires above all things is to meet God and maintain his ways to His face has convinced them that he is not to be vanquished with this weapon. Hence they are obliged to look about for others.