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Bible Commentaries
Job 14

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

Verse 1

Man that is born of a woman - See the notes at Job 13:28. The object of Job in these verses, is to show the frailty and feebleness of man. He, therefore, dwells on many circumstances adapted to this, and this is one of the most stirring and beautiful. He alludes to the delicacy and feebleness, of the female sex, and says that the offspring of one so frail must himself be frail; the child of one so feeble must himself be feeble. Possibly also there may be an allusion here to the prevailing opinion in the Oriental world of the inferiority of the female sex. The following forcible lines by Lord Bacon, express a similar sentiment:

The world’s a bubble, and the life of man

Less than a span,

In his conception wretched, from the womb

So to the tomb.

Curst from the cradle, and brought up to years

With cares and fears.

Who then to frail mortality shall trust.

But limns the water, or but writes in dust.

Of few days - Hebrew “Brief of days;” compare Psalms 90:10; Genesis 47:9.

And full of trouble - Compare the notes at Job 3:17. Who cannot bear witness to this? How expressive a description is it of life! And even too where life seems most happy; where the sun of prosperity seems to shine on our way, and where blessings like drops of dew seem to descend on us, how true is it still theft life is full of trouble, and that the way of man is a weary way! Despite all that he can do - all his care, and skill, and learning and wealth, life is a weary pilgrimage, and is burdened with many woes. “Few and evil have the days of the years of my pilgrimage been, ‘ said the patriarch Jacob, and they who have advanced near the same number of years with him can utter with deep emotion the same beautiful language. Goethe, the celebrated German, said of himself in advanced age, “They have called me a child of fortune, nor have I any wish to complain of the course of my life. Yet it has been nothing but labor and sorrow, and I may truly say that in seventy-five years I have not had four weeks of true comfort. It was the constant rolling of a stone that was always to be lifted anew. When I look back upon my earlier and middle life, and consider how few are left of those that were young with me, I am reminded of a summer visit to a watering-place. On arriving one makes the acquaintance of those who have been already some time there, and leave the week following. This loss is painful. Now one becomes attached to the second generation, with which one lives for a time and becomes intimately connected. But this also passes away and leaves us solitary with the third, which arrives shortly before our own departure, and with which we have no desire to have much contact.” - Rauch’s Psychology, p. 343.

Verse 2

He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down - Nothing can be more obvious and more beautiful than this, and the image has been employed by writers in all ages, but nowhere with more beauty, or with more frequency than in the Bible; see Isaiah 40:6; Psalms 37:2; Psalms 90:6; Psalms 103:15. Next to the Bible, it is probable that Shakespeare has employed the image with the most exquisite beauty of any poet:

This is the state of man; today he puts forth

The tender leaves of hope, tomorrow blossoms,

And bears his blushing honors thick upon him;

The third day comes a frost a killing frost,

And - when he thinks, good easy man, full surely

His greatness is a ripening - nips his root,

And then he falls.

Henry viii. Act iii. Sc. 2.

He fleeth also as a shadow - Another exquisite figure, and as true as it is beautiful. So the Psalmist:

My days are like a shadow that declineth.

Psalms 102:11.

Man is like to vanity;

His days are as a shadowy that passeth away.

Psalms 144:4.

The idea of Job is, that there is no substance, nothing that is permanent. A shadow moves on gently and silently, and is soon gone. It leaves no trace of its being, and returns no more. They who have watched the beautiful shadow of a cloud on a landscape, and have seen how rapidly it passes ever meadows and fields of grain, and rolls up the mountain side and disappears, will have a vivid conception of this figure. How gently yet how rapidly it moves. How soon it is gone. How void of impression is its course. Who can track its way; who can reach it? So man moves on. Soon he is gone; he leaves no trace of his being, and returns no more.

Verse 3

And dost thou open thine eyes upon such an one? - Is one so weak, so frail, so short-lived, worthy the constant vigilance of the infinite God? In Zechariah 12:4, the expression “to open the eyes” upon one, means to look angrily upon him. Here it means to observe or watch closely.

And bringest me into judgment with thee - Is it equal or proper that one so frail and feeble should be called to a trial with one so mighty as the infinite God? Does God seek a trial with one so much his inferior, and so unable to stand before him? This is language taken from courts of justice, and the meaning is, that the parties were wholly unequal, and that it was unworthy of God to maintain a controversy in this manner with feeble man. This is a favorite idea with Job, that there was no equality between him and God, and that the whole controversy was, therefore, conducted on his part with great disadvantage; compare the notes at Job 9:34-35.

Verse 4

Who can bring a clean - thing “out of an unclean?” This is evidently a proverb or an adage; but its connection here is not very apparent. Probably, however, it is designed as a plea of mitigation for his conscious frailties and infirmities. He could not but admit that he had faults. But he asks, how could it be expected to be otherwise? He belonged to a race that was sinful and depraved. Connected with such a race, how could it be otherwise than that he should be prone to evil? Why then did God follow him with so much severity, and hold him with a grasp so close and so unrelenting? Why did he treat him as if he ought to be expected to be perfectly pure, or as if it were reasonable to suppose he would be otherwise than unholy? This passage is of great value as showing the early opinion of the world in regard to the native character of man. The sentiment was undoubtedly common - so common as to have passed into a proverb - that man was a sinner; and that it could not be expected that anyone of the race should be pure and holy.

The sentiment is as true as it is obvious - like will beget like all over the world. The nature of the lion, the tiger, the hyaena, the serpent is propagated, and so the same thing is true of man. It is a great law, that the offspring will resemble the parentage; and as the offspring of the lion is not a lamb but a young lion; of a wolf is not a kid but a young wolf, so the offspring of man is not an angel, but is a man with the same nature, the same moral character, the same proneness to evil with the parent. The Chaldee renders this: “Who will give one pure from a man polluted in sin, except God, who is one, and who forgiveth him?” But this is manifestly a departure from the sense of the passage. Jerome, however, has adopted nearly the same translation. As a historical record, this passage proves that the doctrine of original sin was early held in the world. Still it is true that the same great law prevails, that the off-spring of woman is a sinner - no matter where he may be born, or in what circumstances he may be placed. No art, no philosophy, no system of religion can prevent the operation of this great law under which we live, and by which we die; compare the notes at Romans 5:19.

Verse 5

Seeing his days - are “determined” Since man is so frail, and so short-lived, let him alone, that he may pass his little time with some degree of comfort and then die; see the notes at Job 7:19-21. The word “determined” here means “fixed, settled.” God has fixed the number of his days, so that they cannot be exceeded; compare the notes at Isaiah 10:23, and notes at Psalms 90:10.

The number of his months are with thee - Thou hast the ordering of them, or they are determined by thee.

Thou hast appointed his bounds - Thou hast fixed a limit, or hast determined the time which he is to live, and he cannot go beyond it. There is no elixir of life that can prolong our days beyond that period. Soon we shall come to that outer limit of life, and then we must die. When that is we know not, and it is not desirable to know. It is better that it should be concealed. If we knew that it was near, it would fill us with gloom, and deter us from the efforts and the plans of life altogether. If it were remote, we should be careless and secure, and should think there was time enough yet to prepare to die. As it is, we know that the period is not very far distant; we know not but that it may be very near at hand, and we would be always ready.

Verse 6

Turn from him - - שׁעה shâ‛âh. Look away from; or turn away the eyes; Isaiah 22:4. Job had represented the Lord as looking intently upon him, and narrowly watching all his ways. He now asks him that he would look away and suffer him to be alone, and to spend the little time he had in comfort and peace.

That he may rest - Margin, “Cease.” “Let him be ceased from” - ויחדל veychâdal. The idea is not that of rest, but it is that of having God cease to afflict him; or, in other words, leaving him to himself. Job wished the hand of God to be withdrawn, and prayed that he might be left to himself.

Till he shall accomplish - - עד־ירצה ad-yı̂rtseh. Septuagint, είδοκήσῃ τὸν βίον eidokēsē ton bion - “and comfort his life,” or make his life pleasant. Jerome renders it, “until his desired day - “optata dies” - shall come like that of an hireling.” Dr. Good, “that he may fill up his day.” Noyes, “that he may enjoy his day.” The word used here (רצה râtsâh) means properly to delight in, to take pleasure in, to satisfy, to pay off; and there can be no doubt that there was couched under the use of this word the notion of “enjoyment,” or “pleasure.” Job wished to be spared, that he might have comfort yet in this world. The comparison of himself with a hireling, is not that he might have comfort like a hireling - for such an image would not be pertinent or appropriate - but that his life was like that of an hireling, and he wished to be let alone until the time was completed. On this sentiment, see the notes at Job 7:1.

Verse 7

For there is hope of a tree - This passage to Job 14:12, is one of exquisite beauty. Its object is to state reasons why man should be permitted to enjoy this life. A tree, if cut down, might spring up again and flourish; but not man. He died to rise no more; he is cut down and lives not again. The passage is important as expressing the prevalent sentiment of the time in which Job lived about the future condition of man, and is one that deserves a close examination. The great question is, whether Job believed in the future state, or in the resurrection of the dead? On this question one or two things are clear at the outset.

(1) He did not believe that man would spring up from the grave in any sense similar to the mode in which the sprout or germ of a tree grows up when the tree is cut down.

(2) He did not believe in the doctrine of metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls; a doctrine that was so common among the ancients.

In this respect the patriarchal religion stood aloof from the systems of paganism, and there is not to be found, that I know of, any expression that would lead us to suppose that they had ever embraced it, or had even heard of it. The general sentiment here is, that if a tree is cut down, it may be expected to shoot up again, and another tree will be found in its place - as is the case with the chestnut, the willow, the oak. But Job says that there was nothing like this to happen to man. There was no root, no germ, no seminal principle from which he would be made to live again on the earth. He was to be finally cut off, from all his pleasures and his friends here, and to go away to return no more. Still, that Job believed in his continued existence beyond the grave - his existence in the dark and gloomy world of shades, is apparent from the whole book, and indeed from the very passage before us; see Job 14:13 - compare Job 10:21-22. The image here is one that is very beautiful, and one that is often employed by poets. Thus, Moschus, in his third Idyl, as translated by Gisborne:

The meanest herb we trample in the field,

Or in the garden nurture, when its leaf

At winter’s touch is blasted, and its place

Forgotten, soon its vernal bud renews,

And from short slumber wakes to life again.

Man wakes no more! Man, valiant, glorious, wise,

When death once chills him, sinks in sleep profound.

A long, unconscious, never-ending sleep.

See also Beattie’s Hermit:

‘Tis night, and the landscape is lovely no more;

I mourn, but ye woodlands, I mourn not for you;

For morn is approaching, your charms to restore,

Perfumed with fresh fragrance, and glittering with dew.

Nor yet for the ravage of winter I mourn;

Kind nature the embryo blossom will save;

But when shall spring visit the mouldering urn?

O when shall it dawn on the night of the grave?

The same image, also, has been beautifully employed by Dr. Dwight, though urged by him as an argument to prove the doctrine of the resurrection:

In those lone, silent realms of night,

Shall peace and hope no more arise?

No future morning light the tomb,

Nor day-star gild the darksome skies?

Shall spring the faded world revive?

Shall waning moons their light renew?

Again shall setting suns ascend,

And chase the darkness from our view?

The feeling of Job here is, that when man was removed from the earth, he was removed finally; that there was no hope of his revisiting it again, and that he could not be employed in the dark abode of departed spirits in the cheerful and happy manner in which he might be in this world of light. This idea is expressed, also, in a most tender manner by the Psalmist:

Wilt thou show wonders to the dead?

Shall the dead arise and praise thee?

Shall thy loving-kindness be declared in the grave?

Or thy faithfulness in destruction?

Shall thy wonders be known in the dark?

And thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

Psalms 88:10-12.

And the same feelings were evinced by Hezekiah, the pious king of Israel:

For Sheol cannot praise thee;

Death cannot celebrate thee;

They that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.

The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day;

The father to the children shall make known thy faithfulness.

Isaiah 38:18-19.

All these gloomy and desponding views arose from the imperfect conception which they had of the future world. It was to them a world of dense and gloomy shades - a world of night - of conscious existence indeed - but still far away from light, and from the comforts which people enjoyed on the earth. We are to remember that the revelations then made were very few and obscure; and we should deem it a matter of inestimable favor that we have a better hope, and have far more just and clear views of the employments of the future world. Yet probably our views of that world, with all the light which we have, are much further from the reality than the views of the patriarchs were from those which we are permitted to cherish. Such as they are, however, they are fitted to elevate and cheer the soul. We shall not, indeed, live again on the earth, but we shall enter a world of light and glory, compared with which all that is glorious here shall fade away. Not far distant is that blessed world; and in our trials we may look to it not with dread, as Job did to the land of shades, but with triumph and joy.

Will not cease - Will not fail, or be missing. It will spring up and live.

Verse 8

Though the root thereof wax old - Though life becomes almost extinct. The idea is, though the root of the tree be very old, yet it does not become wholly lifeless. It is not like an old man, when life goes out altogether. In the very aged root there will be vitality still; but not so in man.

Though the stock thereof - The stump - literally that which is cut off - גזעוּ geza‛ô. The meaning is, that when the trunk of the tree is cut down and dies altogether, life remains in the root; but when man fails, life is wholly extinct.

Verse 9

Yet through the scent of water - The word here rendered “scent” (ריח rêyach) means properly the odor or fragrance which anything exhales or emits; Song of Solomon 2:13; Song of Solomon 7:13; Genesis 27:27. The idea is very delicate and poetic. It is designed to denote a gentle and pleasant contact - not a rush of water - by which the tree is made to live. It inhales, so to speak, the vital influence from the water - as we are refreshed and revived by grateful odorifles when we are ready to faint.

It will bud - Or, rather, it will germinate, or spring up again - יפרח yapârach; see the notes at Isaiah 55:10.

And bring forth boughs - קציר qâtsı̂yr. This word usually means a harvest; Genesis 8:22; Genesis 30:14; Genesis 45:6. It also means, as here, a bough, or branch; compare Psalms 80:11; Job 18:16; Job 29:19.

Like a plant - Like a young plant - as fresh and vigorous as a plant that is set out.

Verse 10

But man dieth and wasteth away - Margin, “Is weakened, or cut off.” The Hebrew word (חלשׁ châlash) means to overthrow, prostrate, discomfit; and hence, to be weak, frail, or waste away. The Septuagint renders it Ἀνὴρ δὲ τελευτήσας ᾤχετο Anēr de teleutēsas ōcheto - “man dying goes away.” Herder renders it,” his power is gone.” The idea is, he entirely vanishes. He leaves nothing to sprout up again. There is no germ; no shoot; no living root; no seminal principle. Of course, this refers wholly to his living again on the earth, and not to the question about his future existence. That is a different inquiry. The main idea with Job here is, that when man dies there is no germinating principle, as there is in a tree that is cut down. Of the truth of this there can be no doubt; and this comparison of man with the vegetable world, must have early occurred to mankind, and hence, led to the inquiry whether he would not live in a future state. Other flyings that are cut down, spring up again and live. But man is cut down, and does not spring up again. Will he not be likely, therefore, to have an existence in some future state, and to spring up and flourish there? “The Romans,” says Rosenmuller, “made those trees to be the symbol of death, which, being cut down, do not live again, or from whose roots no germs arise, as the pine and cypress, which were planted in burial-places, or were accustomed to be placed at the doors of the houses of the dead.”

Man giveth up the ghost - Expires, or dies. This is all that the word (גוע gâva‛) means. The notion of giving up the spirit or the ghost - an idea not improper in itself - is not found in the Hebrew word, nor is it in the corresponding Greek word in the New Testament; compare Acts 5:10.

Verse 11

As the waters fail from the sea - As the waters evaporate wholly, and leave the bottom wholly dry, so it is with man, who passes entirely away, and leaves nothing. But to what fact Job refers here, is not known. The sea or ocean has never been dried up, so as to furnish a ground for this comparison. Noyes renders it, “the lake.” Dr. Good, without the slightest authority, renders it, “as the billows pass away with the tides.” Herder supposes it to mean that until the waters fail from the sea man will not rise again, but the Hebrew will not bear this interpretation. Probably the true interpretation is, that which makes the word rendered sea (ים yâm) refer to a lake, or a stagnant pool; see Isaiah 11:15, note; Isaiah 19:5, note. The word is applied not unfrequently to a lake, as to the lake of Genesareth, Numbers 34:11; to the Dead Sea, Genesis 14:3; Deuteronomy 4:49; Zechariah 14:8. It is used, also, to denote the Nile, Isaiah 19:5, and the Euphrates, Isaiah 27:1. It is also employed to denote the brass sea that was made by Solomon, and placed in front of the temple; 2 Kings 25:13. I see no reason to doubt, therefore, that it may be used here to denote the collections of water, which were made by torrents pouring down from the mountains, and which would after a little while wholly evaporate.

And the flood decayeth - The river - נהר nâhâr. Such an occurrence would be common in the parched countries of the East; see the notes at Job 6:15 ff. As such torrents vanish wholly away, so it was with man. Every vestige disappeared; compare 2 Samuel 14:14.

Verse 12

So man lieth down, and riseth not - He lies down in the grave and does not rise again on the earth.

Till the heavens be no more - That is, never; for such is the fair interpretation of the passage, and this accords with its design. Job means to say, undoubtedly, that man would never appear again in the land of the living; that he would not spring up from the grave, as a sprout does from a fallen tree; and that when he dies, he goes away from the earth never to return. Whether he believed in a future state, or in the future resurrection, is another question, and one that cannot be determined from this passage. His complaint is, that the present life is short, and that man when he has once passed through it cannot return to enjoy it again, if it has been unhappy; and he asks, therefore, why, since it was so short, man might not be permitted to enjoy it without molestation. It does not follow from this passage that he believed that the heavens ever would be no more, or would pass away.

The heavens are the most permanent and enduring objects of which we have any knowledge, and are, therefore, used to denote permanency and eternity; see Psalms 89:36-37. This verse, therefore, is simply a solemn declaration of the belief of Job that when man dies, he dies to live no more on the earth. Of the truth of this, no one can doubt - and the truth is as important and affecting as it is undoubted. If man could come back again, life would be a different thing. If he could revisit the earth to repair the evils of a wicked life, to repent of his errors, to make amends for his faults, and to make preparation for a future world, it would be a different thing to live, and a different thing to die. But when he travels over the road of life, he treads a path which is not to be traversed again. When he neglects an opportunity to do good, it cannot be recalled. When he commits an offence, he cannot come back to repair the evil. He falls, and dies, and lives no more. He enters on other scenes, and is amidst the retributions of another state. How important then to secure the passing moment, and to be prepared to go hence, to return no more! The idea here presented is one that is common with the poets. Thus, Horace says:

Nobis, cum semel occidit brevis lux,

Nox est perpetua una dormienda.

Verse 13

Oh that thou wouldest hide me in the grave; - compare the notes at Job 3:11 ff. Hebrew “in Sheol” - ב־שׁאול bı̂-she'ôl. Vulgate, “in inferno.” Septuagint ἐν ἅδῃ en Hadē - “in Hades.” On the meaning of the word “Sheol,” see the notes at Isaiah 5:14. It does not mean here, I think, the grave. It means the region of departed spirits, the place of the dead, where he wished to be, until the tempest of the wrath of God should pass by. He wished to be shut up in some place where the fury of that tempest would not meet him, and where he would be safe. On the meaning of this passage, however, there has been considerable variety of opinion among expositors. Many suppose that the word here properly means “the grave,” and that Job was willing to wait there until the wrath of God should be spent, and then that he desired to be brought forth in the general resurrection of the dead.

So the Chaldee interprets it of the grave - קבורתא. There is evidently a desire on the part of Job to be hid in some secret place until the tempest of wrath should sweep by, and until he should be safe. There is an expectation that he would live again at some future period, and a desire to live after the present tokens of the wrath of God should pass by. It is probably a wish for a safe retreat or a hiding-place - where he might be secure, as from a storm. A somewhat similar expression occurs in Isaiah 2:19, where it is said that people would go into holes and caverns until the storm of wrath should pass by, or in order to escape it. But whether Job meant the grave, or the place of departed spirits, cannot be determined, and is not material. In the view of the ancients the one was not remote from the other. The entrance to Sheol was the grave; and either of them would furnish the protection sought. It should be added, that the grave was with the ancients usually a cave, or an excavation from the rock, and such a place might suggest the idea of a hiding-place from the raging storm.

That thou wouldest appoint me a set time - When I should be delivered or rescued. Herder renders this, “Appoint me then a new term.” The word rendered “a set time” - חק chôq - means, properly, something decreed, prescribed, appointed and here an appointed time when God would remember or revisit him. It is the expression of his lingering love of life. He had wished to die. He was borne down by heavy trials, and desired a release. He longed even for the grave; compare Job 3:20-22. But there is the instinctive love of life in his bosom, and he asks that God would appoint a time, though ever so remote, in which he would return to him, and permit him to live again. There is the secret hope of some future life - though remote; and he is willing to be hid for any period of time until the wrath of God should pass by, if he might live again. Such is the lingering desire of life in the bosom of man in the severest trials, and the darkest hours; and so instinctively does man look on even to the most remote period with the hope of life. Nature speaks out in the desires of Job; and one of the objects of the poem is to describe the workings of nature with reference to a future state in the severe trials to which he was subjected. We cannot but remark here, what support and consolation would he have found in the clear revelation which we have of the future world, and what a debt of gratitude do we owe to that gospel which has brought life and immortality to light!

Verse 14

If a man die, shall he live again? - This is a sudden transition in the thought. He had unconsciously worked himself up almost to the belief that man might live again even on the earth. He had asked to be hid somewhere - even in the grave - until the wrath of God should be overpast, and then that God would remember him, and bring him forth again to life. Here he checks himself. It cannot be, he says, that man will live again on the earth. The hope is visionary and vain, and I will endure what is appointed for me, until some change shall come. The question here “shall he live again?” is a strong form of expressing negation. He will not live again on the earth. Any hope of that kind is, therefore, vain, and I will wait until the change come - whatever that may be.

All the days of my appointed time - צבאי tsâbâ'ı̂y - my warfare; my enlistment; my hard service. See the notes at Job 7:1.

Will I wait - I will endure with patience my trials. I will not seek to cut short the time of my service.

Till my change come - What this should be, he does not seem to know. It might be relief from sufferings, or it might be happiness in some future state. At all events, this state of things could not last always, and under his heavy pressure of wo, he concluded to sit down and quietly wait for any change. He was certain of one thing - that life was to be passed over but once - that man could not go over the journey again - that he could not return to the earth and go over his youth or his age again. Grotius, and after him Rosenmuller and Noyes, here quotes a sentiment similar to this from Euripides, in “Supplicibus,” verses 1080ff.

Οἴμοί τί δὴ βροτοῖσιν οὐκ ἔστιν τόδε,

Νέους δὶς εἶναι, καὶ γέροντας αὐ πάλιν; κ. τ. λ.

Oimoí ti dē brotoisin ouk estin tode,

Neous dis einai, kai gerontas au palin; etc.

The whole passage is thus elegantly translated by Grotius:

Proh fata! cur non est datum mortalibus

Duplici juventa, duplici senio frui?

Intra penates siquid habet incommode,

Fas seriore corrigi sententia;

Hoc vita non permittit: at qui bis foret

Juvenis senexque, siquid erratum foret

Priore, id emendaret in cursu altero.

The thought here expressed cannot but occur to every reflecting mind. There is no one who has not felt that he could correct the errors and follies of his life, if he were permitted to live it over again. But there is a good reason why it should not be so. What a world would this be if man knew that he might return and repair the evils of his course by living it over again! How securely in sin would he live! How little would he be restrained! How little concerned to be prepared for the life to come! God has, therefore, wisely and kindly put this out of the question; and there is scarcely any safeguard of virtue more firm than this fact. We may also observe that the feelings here expressed by Job are the appropriate expressions of a pious heart. Man should wait patiently in trial until his change comes. To the friend of God those sorrows will be brief. A change will soon come - the last change - and a change for the better. Beyond that, there shall be no change; none will be desirable or desired. For that time we should patiently wait, and all the sorrows which may intervene before that comes, we should patiently bear.

Verse 15

Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee - This is language taken from courts of justice. It refers, probably, not to a future time, but to the present. “Call thou now, and I will respond.” It expresses a desire to come at once to trial; to have the matter adjusted before he should leave the world. He could not bear the idea of going out of the world under the imputations which were lying on him, and he asked for an opportunity to vindicate himself before his Maker; compare the notes at Job 9:16.

Thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands - To me, one of thy creatures. This should, with more propriety, be rendered in the imperative, “do thou have a desire.” It is the expression of an earnest wish that God would show an interest in him as one of his creatures, and would bring the matter to a speedy issue. The word here rendered, “have a desire” (תכסף tı̂kâsaph), means literally to be or become “pale” (from כסף keseph), “silver,” so called from its paleness, like the Greek ἄργυρος arguros from ἀγρός agros, white); and then the verb means to pine or long after anything, so as to become pale.

Verse 16

For now thou numberest my steps - Thou dost make strict inquiry into all my conduct, that thou mayest mark my errors, and hold me bound to punishment. The sense is, that God treated him now with severity; and he besought him to have pity on him, and bring him to trial, and give him an opportunity to vindicate himself.

Verse 17

My transgression is sealed up - The verb rendered sealed up (חתם châtham) means to seal, to close, to shut up; see the notes at Isaiah 8:16; compare the notes at Job 9:7. It was common with the ancients to use a seal where we use a lock. Money was counted and put into a bag, and a seal was attached to it. Hence, a seal might be put to a bag, as a sort of certificate of the amount, and to save the necessity of counting it again.

In a bag - - בצרור bı̂tserôr. So Jerome, “in sacculo.” So the Septuagint, ἐν βαλαντίῳ en balantiō. The word צרור tserôr means usually a “bundle” 1 Samuel 25:29; Song of Solomon 1:13, or anything bound up (compare Job 26:8; Hosea 13:12; Exodus 12:34; Proverbs 26:8; Isaiah 8:16; Genesis 42:35; Song of Solomon 1:13; Proverbs 7:20); but here it is not improperly rendered a bag. The idea is, that they were counted and numbered like money, and then sealed up and carefully put away. God had made an accurate estimate of their number, and he seemed carefully to guard and observe them - as a man does bags of gold - so that none might be lost. His sins seemed to have become a sort of valuable treasure to the Almighty, none of which he allowed now to escape his notice.

And thou sewest up mine iniquity - Noyes renders this, “and thou addest unto mine iniquity.” Good, “thou tiest together mine iniquity.” The word used here טפל ṭâphal means properly to patch; to patch together; to sew to join together as carpenters do their work; and then to devise or forge - as a falsehood; - to join a malicious charge to a person. Thus, in Psalms 119:69, “The proud have “forged a lie” (שׁקר טפלוּ ṭâphalô sheqer) against me,” that is, they have joined a lie to me, or devised this story about me. So in Job 13:4, “Ye are forgers of lies.” The word does not occur elsewhere. The Greeks have a similar expression in the phrase ῥάπτειν ἔπη raptein epē - from where the word ῥαψῳδὸς rapsōdos. The word here, it seems to me, is used in the sense of sewing up money in a bag, as well as sealing it. This is done when there are large sums, to avoid the inconvenience of counting it. The sum is marked on the bag, and a seal affixed to it to authenticate it, and it is thus passed from one to another without the trouble of counting. If a seal is placed on the bag, it will circulate for its assigned value, without being opened for examination. It is usual now in the East for a bag to contain five hundred piastres, and hence, such a sum is called “a purse,” and amounts are calculated by so many “purses;” see Harmer, ii. 285, Chardin, and Pict. Bible in loc. The sense here is, that God had carefully numbered his sins, and marked them, and meant that none of them should escape. He regarded them as very great. They could now be referred to in the gross, without the trouble of casting up the amount again. The sins of a man’s past life are summed up and marked with reference to the future judgment.

Verse 18

And surely the mountain falling - Margin, “Fadeth.” The sense of this is, that the hope of man in regard to living again, must certainly fail - as a mountain falls and does not rise again; as the rock is removed, and is not replaced; or as the waters wear away the stones, and they disappear. The hope of dying man was not like the tree that would spring up again Job 14:7-9; it was like the falling mountain, the wasting waters Job 14:11, the rock that was removed. The reference in the phrase before us is, probably, to a mountain that settles down and disappears - as is sometimes the case in violent convulsions of nature. It does not rise again, but is gone to reappear no more. So Job says it was of man.

And the rock is removed - An earthquake shakes it, and removes it from its foundation, and it is not replaced.

Verse 19

The waters wear the stones - By their constant attrition they wear away even the hard rocks, and they disappear, and return no more. The sense is, that constant changes are going on in nature, and man resembles those objects which are removed to appear no more, and not the productions of the vegetable world that spring up again. It is possible that there may also be included the idea here, that the patience, constancy, firmness, and life of any man must be worn out by long continued trials, as even hard rocks would be worn away by the constant attrition of waters.

Thou washest away - Margin, “Overflowest.” This is literally the meaning of the Hebrew תשׁטף tı̂shâṭaph. But there is included the sense of washing away by the inundation.

The things which grow out of the dust of the earth - Herder and Noyes translate this, “the floods overflow the dust of the earth,” and this accords with the interpretation of Good and Rosenmuller. So Castellio renders it, and so Luther - “Tropfen flossen die Erde weg.” This is probably the true sense. The Hebrew word rendered “the things which grow out” ספיח sâphı̂yach, means properly that which “is poured out” - from ספח sâphach, to pour out, to spread out - and is applied to grain produced spontaneously from kernels of the former year, without new seed. Lev 25:5-11; 2 Kings 19:29. See the notes at Isaiah 37:30. But here it probably means a flood - that which flows out - and which washes away the earth.

The dust of the earth - The earth or the land on the margin of streams. The sense is, that as a flood sweeps away the soil, so the hope of man was destroyed.

Thou destroyest the hope of man - By death - for so the connection demands. It is the language of despondency. The tree would spring up, but man would die like a removed rock, like land washed away, like a falling mountain, and would revive no more. If Job had at times a hope of a future state, yet that hope seems at times, also, wholly to fail him, and he sinks down in utter despondency. At best, his views of the future world were dark and obscure. He seems to have had at no time clear conceptions of heaven - of the future holiness and blessedness of the righteous; but he anticipated, at best, only a residence in the world of disembodied spirits - dark, dreary, sad; - a world to which the grave was the entrance, and where the light was as darkness. With such anticipations, we are not to wonder that his mind sank into despondency; nor are we to be surprised at the expressions which he so often used, and which seem so inconsistent with the feelings which a child of God ought to cherish. In our trials let us imitate his patience, but not his despondency; let us copy his example in his better moments, and when he was full of confidence in God, and not his language of complaint, and his unhappy reflections on the government of the Most High.

Verse 20

Thou prevailest forever against him - Thou dost always show that thou art stronger than he is. He never shows that he is able to contend with God.

And he passeth - He cannot stand before thee, but is vanquished, and passes off the stage of being.

Thou changest his countenance - Possibly the allusion is to the change produced by death. The countenance that glowed with health and was flushed with beauty and hope - blooming as the rose - is made pale as the lily under the hand of God. What an affecting exhibition of the power of God!

And sendest him away - This language seems to be that of expectation that man would still live though he was sent away; but all his hopes on earth were blasted, and he went away from his friends and possessions to return no more.

Verse 21

His sons come to honour, and he knoweth it not - He is unacquainted with what is passing on the earth. Even should that occur which is most gratifying to a parent’s heart; should his children rise to stations of honor and influence, he would not be permitted to enjoy the happiness which every father feels when his sons do well. This is suggested as one of the evils of death.

They are brought low, but he perceiveth it not of them - He is not permitted to sympathize with them, or to sustain them in their trials. This is another of the evils of death. When his children need his counsel and advice, he is not permitted to give it. He is taken away from his family, and revisits them no more.

Verse 22

But his flesh upon him shall have pain - Dr. Good renders this, “his flesh shall drop away from him.” This is evidently a representation of the state of the man after he was dead. He would be taken away from hope and from his friends. His body would be committed to the grave, and his spirit would go to the world of shades. The image in the mind seems to have been, that his flesh would suffer. It would be cold and chill, and would be devoured by worms. There seems to have been an impression that the soul would be conscious of this in its distant and silent abode, and the description is given of the grave as if the body were conscious there, and the turning back to dust were attended with pain. This thought is that which makes the grave so gloomy now. We think of ourselves in its darkness and chilliness. We insensibly suppose that we shall be conscious there. And hence, we dread so much the lonely, sad, and gloomy residence in the tomb. The meaning of the word rendered “shall have pain” - כאב kâ'ab - is “to be sore, to be grieved, afflicted, sad.” It is by the imagination, that pain is here attributed to the dead body. But Job was not alone in this. We all feel the same thing when we think of death.

And his soul within him shall mourn - The soul that is within him shall be sad; that is, in the land of shades. So Virgil, speaking of the death of Lausus, says,

Tum vita per auras

Concessit moesta ad manes, corpusque reliquit.

Aeneid x. 819.

The idea of Job is, that it would leave all the comforts of this life; it would be separate from family and friends; it would go lonely and sad to the land of shades and of night. Job dreaded it. He loved life; and in the future world, as it was presented to his view, there was nothing to charm and attract. There he expected to wander in darkness and sadness; and from that gloomy world he expected to return no more forever. Eichhorn, however, has rendered this verse so as to give a different signification, which may perhaps be the true one.

Nur uber sich ist er betrubt;

Nur sich betrauert er.

“His troubles pertain only to himself; his grief relates to himself alone.” According to this, the idea is that he must bear all his sorrows alone, and for himself. He is cut off from the living, and is not permitted to share in the joys and sorrows of his posterity, nor they in his. He has no knowledge of anything that pertains to them, nor do they participate in his griefs. What a flood of light and joy would have been poured on his soul by the Christian hope, and by the revelation of the truth that there is a world of perfect light and joy for the righteous - in heaven! And what thanks do we owe to the Great Author of our religion - to him who is “the Resurrection and the Life “ - that we are permitted to look upon the grave with hearts full of peace and joy!

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Job 14". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/job-14.html. 1870.
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