THE CONCLUSION OF JOB'S FOURTH DISCOURSE:
JOB'S SOLILOQUY UPON LIFE'S BREVITY
"Man that is born of a woman
Is of few days and full of trouble.
He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down:
He fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.
And dost thou open thine eyes upon such a one,
And bringest me into judgment with thee?
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.
Seeing his days are determined,
The number of his months is with thee,
And thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass;
Look away from him, that he may rest,
Till he shall accomplish, as a hireling, his day."
"Man ... is of few days and full of trouble" (Job 14:1). The brevity of mortal life is a fact that is alike applicable to men who live but a few years or many. Jacob, when presented before Pharaoh said, "The days of the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty years: few and evil have been the days of my life" (Genesis 47:9). Troubles of all kinds fall upon mankind in every walk of life; and even in those instances of remarkable health, prosperity and longevity that come to a few; even for them, the disasters that fall upon their loved ones have tremendous impact, with the result that none are exempt. Troubles come to all.
Job did not have the advantage that we have. The Christ had not come; the apostles had not yet lived. And although Job recognized the fact of countless troubles, he might not have known why. Paul tells us why. "By one man, sin entered the world, and death by sin; so that death passed upon all men" (Romans 5:12). Also, that Evil One who engineered the entry of death into our mortal life through that `one man,' Adam, was also the architect of all those evils that came upon Job.
Although Job mentions human misery and suffering here, "His emphasis in this paragraph is upon the brevity of life." The literature and musical excellence of mankind has been exhausted upon this very subject. As Shakespeare said it, "Life is like a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more." From the H.M.S. Pinafore, who can forget the words, "Here today and gone tomorrow, yes I know, that is so"?
"Like a flower ... like a shadow" (Job 14:2). There are no more beautiful metaphors than are these, regarding the brevity of life. Mortal existence is like a falling star (a meteorite) that streaks across the November sky at night, only for a moment, and then disappears forever. When one thinks of all the powers and abilities of men at their best, their excellence, their brilliance, their genius, their incredible abilities, their beautiful and adorable persons - when one thinks of all this and then remembers that it all collapses and self-destructs at last in the rottenness of a grave, he will instantly understand why Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Life on earth, at its best, is an epic tragedy.
In view of the ephemeral nature of mortal life, Job marveled that God was concerned at all with such a creature as man.
"And dost thou open thine eyes upon such a one" (Job 14:3)? "Job, not for an instant, questioned the fact of God's interest in men; he only expressed amazement at it." However, there are profound implications in this. In spite of man's fleeting citizenship on earth, God has planted eternity in his heart; and God's attention to the affairs of mortals is itself a pledge of man's cosmic importance and of his restored fellowship with the Creator.
"Who then can bring a clean thing out of an unclean" (Job 14:4)? This passage does not teach, as some have asserted that, "Anyone born of woman is born in sin." "It cannot be true that original sin is thus distinctly recognized. It is not man's sinfulness, but his weakness, that Job was discussing here."
"(Man's) days are determined" (Job 14:5). "It is appointed unto man once to die." There is nothing accidental about death. If it were merely a matter of chance, all of the billions who have lived on earth would certainly have exhibited one person who escaped it. Men vainly dream of conquering death, but it can never be done. We praise the medical fraternity, and well we should; but, although here and there, they may have plucked a feather from the wing of the death angel, his darkening shadow still falls upon us all.
"Thou hast appointed his (man's) bounds that he cannot pass" (Job 14:5). God has set the boundaries, not only for men, but for nations also, "Having determined their appointed seasons and the boundaries of their habitation" (Acts 17:26).
MAN GIVETH UP THE GHOST; AND WHERE IS HE?
"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.
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 put forth boughs like a plant.
But man dieth, and is laid low:
Yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?
As the waters fail from the sea,
And the river wasteth and drieth up;
So man lieth down, and riseth not:
Till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake,
Nor be raised out of their sleep."
It is a sinful perversion of the Word of God to interpret this paragraph as a denial of the resurrection of the dead, a resurrection that Job certainly believed in, as did Abraham, the Psalmist, the prophets and many others, even in the Old Testament. What Job was saying here pertains exclusively to, "The return of men to this present life in its present form. Job was not ignorant of the resurrection hope, but a firm believer in it." A failure to understand this results in such a comment as this, "There is hope of a tree ... but for man there is none till the heavens pass away (Job 14:12), which is never, as far as Job knows." Kelly put it this way: "Job insists, against all suppositions to the contrary, that death is the end, that Sheol, rather than life, is man's final destiny."
We believe that such comments do an injustice to Job. The expression, till the heavens pass away, emphasizes that man's resurrection shall not occur until indeed the heavens do pass away. This is made clear in 2 Peter 3:10.
In his summary of what this paragraph teaches, Matthew Henry wrote that, "This indicates that there will be a return of man to life again in another world, at the end of the time when the heavens shall be no more." Keil also stated that Job's words in this paragraph. "Cannot be otherwise understood than that Sheol would be Job's temporary hiding place from the divine wrath, instead of being his eternal abode." To construe this passage otherwise it is necessary to ignore, or delete altogether Job 14:15, below.
"As the waters fail from the sea, and the river ... drieth up" (Job 14:11). "Job had evidently seen both of these things happen. The formation of new land in the place of the sea is continually going on at the head of the Persian Gulf, through the deposits of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; and this formation was extremely rapid in ancient times, when the head of the gulf was narrower; and the drying up of river-courses is common in Mesopotamia, where arms thrown out by the rivers get blocked and become silted up."
JOB'S HOPE OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD
"Oh, that thou wouldest hide me in Sheol.
That thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past.
That thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!
If a man die, shall he live again?
All the days of my warfare WILL I wait,
Till my release should come.
Thou SHALT call, and I WILL answer thee:
Thou wouldest have a desire to the work of thy hands.
But now thou numberest my steps:
Dost thou not watch over my sin?
My transgression is sealed up in a bag,
And thou fastenest up mine iniquity."
Note the capitalized words in Job 14:14,15. These are the marginal alternatives in the ASV, and by all means should be used here. This paragraph is not some kind of a vague hope on Job's part, as if he were trying to lift himself by his own bootstraps; this passage is a prayer to God, in which he asks God to hide him (temporarily) in Sheol until his anger is spent, affirming Job's conviction that at the time indicated, God WILL call (not a vague hope that he might) and that Job WILL hear and respond (Job 14:15). The discerning reader will understand at once that this is a radical departure from a lot that has been written on this chapter.
"If a man die, shall he live again" (Job 14:14)? The answer that the scholars generally give here is a decided NO; but we reject that misunderstanding of the passage.
We are delighted that in Vol. 13 of the Tyndale Commentary, we find a valid scholarly opinion which we can accept: "Job here gives a very clear expression to his belief that, even after he lies down in Sheol, God will call him out to life again (Job 14:15)." There is only one reason for the blindness of many scholars on this point; and, as cited by Andersen, it is solely due to, "Their a priori belief that the idea of a resurrection arose quite late in Israel's thought." That false theory, like many another liberal axiom, is totally false. Abraham offered Isaac, being able to do so only because of his faith in the resurrection (Hebrews 11:19).
The true answer, therefore to the question in Job 14:14, "If a man die, shall he live again"? is Yes, Indeed! Amen.
It is a help in understanding Job to remember that God Himself, when he appeared in the mighty wind to Job and his friends, declared that Job, throughout this book spoke the truth regarding God; and we consider that such a declaration can mean only that Job was an inspired man in his great discourses throughout. He spoke by the Spirit of God. That is the reason we have the Book of Job in the canon.
The ridiculous notion that Job in this passage is "feeling his way" toward some epic truth, but that he has, as yet, no conviction about it should be rejected. Job's firm faith in the resurrection of the dead (Ch. 19), is not something that Job cooked up out of his own subjective feelings. What Job stated in Job 19 is the same thing that he believed when he was speaking in chapter 14. What we have here is not the picture of some mortal man "feeling his way" toward God and finally, after all kinds of errors, at last coming up with a declaration that has inspired all men for ages. The great message of Job 19 is absolutely nothing that Job "worked out," and "finally arrived at." God spoke to all of us through Job.
"My transgression is sealed up in a bag" (Job 14:17). We agree with Andersen that, "These transgressions have been sealed up in order to hide them, and not for keeping them to be used at some time of reckoning." Thus we have the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins making its appearance here in the inspired words of Job.
THE FAILURE OF EARTH-LIFE TO SATISFY MANKIND
"But the mountain falling cometh to naught;
And the rock is moved out of its place;
The waters wear the stones;
The overflowings thereof wash away the dust of the earth:
So thou destroyest the hope of man.
Thou prevailest forever against him, and he passeth;
Thou changest his countenance, and sendest him away.
His sons come to honor, and he knoweth it not;
And they are brought low, but he perceiveth it not of them.
But his flesh upon him hath pain,
And his soul within him mourneth."
This is indeed a sad and mournful picture of our lives upon earth. The notion that men continue to live on in the lives of their children is contradicted by the fact that whatever happens to them is unknown to the deceased. Man's brief life is subjected to the very same erosive and destructive elements in our world that can wear down the mountains, and even wash away the stones; so "Little by little, man's hope is destroyed, drop by drop." But it should not be overlooked that Job in this paragraph is pointing men away from the prospects as they are in this life and in the direction of the eternal things of God. The man who establishes his hope in this world only is a fool. It is a race he cannot win, a hope that he shall never realize, a trial that shall never end, and a warfare that he absolutely cannot win.
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Job 14". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany