Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 7. Renewed outburst of despair at the thought of his sorrowful destiny
With a deeper pathos than any that had gone before, this innocence of his and this capacity to form true moral judgments regarding his history (ch. Job 6:28-30) being his starting-point, Job turns to the broad world, to contemplate how helpless man is with these qualities against that fated, inexorable misery called human life. His view is general, though he himself is the centre of it, and his own history gives colour to that of man.
First, Job 7:1-10, his complaint is that human life is short and evil, inexorably short and arbitrarily evil. It is a soldier’s “campaign,” and a hired labourer’s “day,” a time of heavy, forced toil at the stern will of another, in which one longs for discharge, and pants for the shadow,—the release and the night of death. The toil of this time and the fated compulsion of it Job chiefly describes in Job 7:2-5; its brevity and the regrets that accompany having lived and ceasing to live, in Job 7:6-10.
Second, Job 7:11-21. It is dangerous dwelling on misery, it usually but adds to it. The misery of feeling we are miserable is exquisite. With too fertile a fancy Job had heaped images together to picture out the fatal brevity of life,—the motion of the shuttle (Job 7:6), the wind (Job 7:7), the glance of the eye (Job 7:8), the cloud of vapour gorgeous for a moment but dissolved by the very light that illuminates it (Job 7:9)—and the inexorable “nevermore” that death writes on things, on one’s “home” and “place” (Job 7:10) when he is carried from it; and these regrets combine with that impatience of coercion natural to the mind and drive him on with a certain recklessness to utter his feelings in the face of that Power whose irresistible constraint presses upon him. He is not unconscious of the meaning of what he is going to do, for that which binds him in such chains of misery is not a power but a Person. Nevertheless he will not be deterred—I also will not refrain my mouth (Job 7:11).
Thus commences a remonstrance with God, who disposes all, which is only saved, if it be saved, from being too bold by that reverential hesitation and half pause which marks the commencement of it. First, he asks if he be dangerous to the peace and stability of the universe that he needs to be so restrained and subdued with plagues by God? In the description of these plagues his tone rises into the sharpest despair and he begs for death, desiring only that God would leave him alone and give him a little respite before he departs, Job 7:11-16.
Then he asks whether man is not too mean a thing for God to torment? appealing to the Almighty’s sense of His own greatness and the unworthiness of distressing so slight a thing as man; and travestying with a surprising acuteness of mind and bitterness of irony the admiring gratefulness of the Psalmist that God “made so much” of man (Psalms 8), Job 7:17-19.
Finally he comes to that to which perhaps he would rather not come at all, the supposition, which he will hazard though scarcely concede, that he has sinned, and asks, If so, what can I do unto thee? how can I by my sin injure thee? Even in hazarding this supposition he casts a side-glance of discontent on God, naming Him watcher or spy of men, as if it was due to Him if not that sin was at least that it was raked to the surface. And he concludes with asking why God does not take away his sin and spare him—for soon it will be too late, Job 7:20-21.
Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? are not his days also like the days of an hireling?1. The connexion is with the preceding verses ch. Job 6:28-30, which express the thought of Job’s innocence, and the thought that in spite of his innocence he is miserably plagued. Under this feeling he throws his eye over all mankind, and sees them also doomed by an inexorable destiny to a life that is brief and filled with pain.
an appointed time] Or, a time of service. The reference is to the hard service of the soldier, in which there are two elements, the fixed period and the hard toil of the campaign. Both are laid on man by a power to which he is subject; cf. Isaiah 40:2; Job 14:14.
days of a hireling] The “hireling” might be the mercenary soldier, whose fate, far from home and at the disposal of an alien power, might be thought harder even than that of the ordinary soldier. The word is used in this sense, Jeremiah 46:21, and the verb, 2 Samuel 10:6. In Job 7:2, however, the word has its ordinary sense of a hired labourer, and this is probably its meaning here.
As a servant earnestly desireth the shadow, and as an hireling looketh for the reward of his work:2. With slight change the verse reads,
As a slave who panteth for the shadow,
And as an hireling who looketh, &c.
The slave in the heat and under his hard toil pants for the shadow of evening, the day’s end; and the hireling looks for his wages, that is, the close of the day; cf. Proverbs 21:6.
So am I made to possess months of vanity, and wearisome nights are appointed to me.3. made to possess] lit. made to inherit. They are laid on him by the will of another. Job narrows his view here from the lot of men in general to his own. He is one of an afflicted race, but the universal misery does not alleviate his own, it rather increases it.
That loss is common would not make
My own less bitter, rather more;
Too common! Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break.
A sorrowing Arab poet gives expression to a different feeling:
Did not a common sorrow console me I would not live an hour among men,
But whenever I will, they in like condition with myself respond to me.
Hamasa, p. 389, 396.
The point of comparison between Job’s life and the day of the hireling lies in their common toil and their common longing for the end of it. Job describes his day as “months of vanity” and “nights of trouble,” indicating that his disease had already endured a long time. He refers to “nights” perhaps because his pains were severest then (cf. Job 7:4; Job 7:14, ch. Job 30:17); although in the East the method also of counting by nights instead of days was common.
When I lie down, I say, When shall I arise, and the night be gone? and I am full of tossings to and fro unto the dawning of the day.4, 5. A graphic account of his condition under his malady. Job 7:4 should probably be rendered,
When I lie down I say, When shall I arise?
And the night stretches out, and I am full of tossings, &c.
At evening he longs for morning (Deuteronomy 28:67), but the night seems to him to prolong itself, and he tosses restlessly till the daybreak.
My flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust; my skin is broken, and become loathsome.5. with worms and clods of dust] His ulcers bred worms; and the hard earthy-like crust of his sores he calls lumps of dust.
is broken, and become loathsome] Rather, my skin closes and breaks afresh—the allusion being to the alternate gathering and running of his sores, which went on continually.
Job 7:1-5 describe the pain of life; the following verses, 6–10, its brevity and utter extinction in death. There is no break, however, in the connexion, for it is the exhausting pains described in Job 7:3-5 that naturally suggest the hopeless brevity of his life. Job has been thought inconsistent in complaining that life being evil is also brief. But in his view life itself is the highest good; it should be free of evil and prolonged. And his complaint is that human life has been made by God both evil and brief; cf. ch. Job 14:1 seq.
My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and are spent without hope.6. By his “days” is meant his life as a whole, not his individual days, which are far from passing quickly (Job 7:4); and “are spent” means, have been consumed (as Job 7:9), or, are come to an end (Genesis 21:15). He regards his life as near a close, for his disease was incurable; this is expressed by “without hope,” i. e. hope of recovery or relief.
O remember that my life is wind: mine eye shall no more see good.7. This feeling of the hopeless brevity of his life overwhelms the sufferer, and he turns in supplication to God, beseeching Him, the Everlasting, to think how swiftly his mortal life passes, cf. Psalm 102:11.
see good] i. e. happiness or prosperity. He means in this life; but then the state of the dead, though not extinction, was not to be called life, it was but a dreary, dreamy shadow of life, having no fellowship with the living, whether men or God; cf. ch. Job 10:21 seq.; Psalm 6:5; Ecclesiastes 9:5 seq.; Isaiah 38:18.
The eye of him that hath seen me shall see me no more: thine eyes are upon me, and I am not.8. are upon me, and I am not] Perhaps rather, shall be upon me and I shall not be; God will look for him, enquiring, it may be, after the work of His hands, but he shall be gone; cf. Job 7:21.
As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.9. goeth down to the grave] Heb., down to She’ôl, the place of departed persons. This is never in the Old Testament confounded with the grave, although, being an ideal place and state, the imagination often paints it in colours borrowed from the grave and the condition of the body in death; cf. ch. Job 3:13 seq., Job 10:21 seq.
He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more.
Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.11. Job heaps image upon image to set before himself and the eye of God the brevity of life, the weaver’s shuttle (Job 7:6), the wind (Job 7:7), the morning cloud (Job 7:9, Hosea 6:4), ending with a pathetic reference to his home which shall see him no more (Job 7:10). These regrets altogether overmaster him and, combining with his sense of the wrong which he suffers and his impatience of the iron restraints of human existence, hurry him forward, and he resolves to open the floodgates to the full stream of his complaint (Job 7:11): Therefore I will not refrain my mouth, i. e. therefore I also, I on my side, will not refrain.
Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?12. First, he asks with bitter irony if he is the sea or the monster of the sea, that he must be watched and subdued with plagues lest he prove dangerous to the universe? The proud waves of the sea must be confined and a bound which they cannot pass set to them (ch. Job 38:8 seq.; Jeremiah 5:22); has he a wild, untameable nature like this? The monster of the sea here is no real creature such as the crocodile, “sea” being used in the sense of the river. The connexion shews that the reference is to the half poetical, half mythological conception of the raging sea itself as a furious monster, for it is God that sets a watch over it. Studer boldly renders, “am I the sea, or the sea serpent?” His sea serpent, however, is not that of the modern mariner and the mythology of our own day, but that of a more ancient mythology. The serpent of the sea—which was but the wild stormy sea itself—wound himself around the land and threatened to swallow it up, as the serpent of the sky swallowed up the heavenly luminaries (ch. Job 26:12, see on Job 3:8). God sets a watch upon the one, as His hand pierces the other, lest the fixed order of the world be disturbed and land and sea or light and darkness be confused. Job enquires if he must be watched and plagued like this monster lest he throw the world into disorder?
When I say, My bed shall comfort me, my couch shall ease my complaint;13, 14. Further description of the plagues employed to subdue him.
ease my complaint] Complaint always means complaining, not malady; ch. Job 9:27, Job 10:1, Job 21:4, Job 23:2. When he looks for sleep
That knits up the ravelled sleeve of care,
Balm of hurt minds,
instead of finding it he is scared with dreams and terrified through visions. Such distressing dreams and terrors in sleep are said to be one of the symptoms of Elephantiasis.
Then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions:
So that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life.15. Consequence of the preceding, Job 7:14.
chooseth strangling] A sense of choking is one of the accompaniments of the disease, which is said to end sometimes in actual suffocation. Job refers to this symptom, saying that he is driven to desire that it might be really fatal. The parallel word death in the next clause shews that this is what he is driven to wish for, but he selects this form of death as one incidental to his disease, and one with which he had perhaps felt himself more than once threatened.
death rather than my life] lit. death rather than these my bones. So he describes the emaciated skeleton to which he was reduced.
I loathe it; I would not live alway: let me alone; for my days are vanity.16. So keenly does he realize the misery of his condition and the intolerable painfulness of his life, that he breaks out into a passionate cry that he hates and is weary of life—I loathe it. The object of his loathing is not expressed, but it is rather life in general, as the words, I would not live alway, indicate, than what he calls his “bones,” cf. Job 10:21. No emphasis falls on alway, the phrase “I would not live alway” is rather an exclamation of revulsion, meaning I desire not life.
let me alone] i. e. cease from paining me with such afflictions. Job like his friends regarded his sufferings as inflicted directly by the hand of God, and if God would leave him his pains would cease. The words here are hardly a prayer, but something like an imperious command, to such a height of boldness is the sufferer driven by the keenness of his pains. The last words, “for my days are vanity,” support his demand that God would let him alone, by a reference to the shortness of his life; he seeks a little respite ere he die, cf. Job 10:20 seq. This reference to his life as “vanity” or a breath forms the natural transition to the next question.
What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him?17–19. Second, Job asks, If man be not too mean a thing for God thus to busy Himself with and persecute? cf. ch. Job 14:3.
set thine heart] that is, thy mind; as magnify means, to think great, to consider of importance.
And that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?18. The words of this verse recall Psalm 8:5; Psalm 144:3, the former of which passages at least must have been in the Author’s mind. The admiring gratefulness of the Psalmist that God condescended to visit man and gave him such a place in His estimation is parodied by Job, and the Psalmist’s words are made with bitter irony to express his wonder that God should occupy Himself continually with so slight a thing as man, and make him the object of His unceasing persecution.
How long wilt thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till I swallow down my spittle?19. depart from me] lit. look away from me; an impatient demand that God would turn away His plaguing glance; cf. “watcher of men,” Job 7:20.
swallow down my spittle] A proverbial phrase like “twinkling of an eye,” signifying a moment, as we might say “till I let over”; cf. “draw my breath,” ch. Job 9:18. To let one swallow his spittle is to give him a moment’s respite or time. The phrase is not unusual among the Arabs. In De Sacy’s Notes to Hariri, p. 164, a person tells the following: “I said to one of my Sheichs (teachers), Let me swallow my spittle; to which he replied, I will let you swallow the two Confluents (the Tigris and Euphrates).”
I have sinned; what shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men? why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself?20. The first half of the verse reads,
Have I sinned: what do I unto thee, O thou watcher of men?
I have sinned] Rather as above, have I sinned; the words being put as a supposition, equivalent to, if I have sinned. Job makes the supposition, he hardly concedes the fact, which is not meantime the point. His object is to pursue the idea that even sin (supposing it) on man’s part cannot affect God, and ought not to be the reason for such unsparing pains as man has to suffer. In ch. Job 14:3-4, where Job is calmer and more self-possessed, the same argument occurs, but is there supported by a reference to the universal sinfulness of mankind, which descends to the individual by inheritance and makes him more excusable and pitiable. Here the moral relations of men and God are less before his mind, it is God’s natural Greatness in contrast with the natural littleness of man that engages his attention, and he thinks that in this there is a reason why men even if sinful should be less severely reckoned with.
what shall I do unto thee?] Rather, what do I unto thee? that is, how do I affect thee by my sin? The idea is repeatedly expressed in the Poem that God is too high to be affected by men’s actions, whether sinful or righteous, cf. ch. Job 22:2 seq., Job 35:5 seq.
thou preserver of men] Rather, thou watcher, or keeper, of men. “Watcher” or keeper, elsewhere a word of comfort to the godly (Deuteronomy 32:10; Psalm 31:23; Psalm 121:4), is here used in an invidious sense to express the constant espionage exercised by God over men, that He may detect their sin and bring them to a reckoning, cf. ch. Job 13:27, Job 14:16.
a mark against thee] lit. unto thee. The word mark here does not mean a target at which to discharge arrows (ch. Job 6:4, Job 16:4), but a stumbling-block or obstacle against which one strikes. Job feels that he is continually in the way of God, an obstacle against which the Almighty is always of set purpose striking Himself. The thought is one of unprecedented boldness.
am a burden to myself] Or, am become a burden, &c., that is, weary of myself and of my life, cf. 2 Samuel 15:33. The Septuagint seems to have read, “a burden unto thee”; and according to Jewish tradition this was the original reading, but was corrected by the scribes as savouring of impiety.
20, 21. Third, Job makes the supposition that he has sinned, and asks, how such a thing can affect God? and, why He does not take away his sin instead of plaguing him unto death because of it?
And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be.21. seek me in the morning] Rather, seek me, simply, or, seek me earnestly; the addition “in the morning” (just as “betimes,” ch. Job 8:5) rests upon a mistaken etymology. Job concludes his speech by a pathetic reference to what must be the speedy issue of God’s stringent watching of him: he will lie down in the dust and even should God enquire for him it will be too late.
There is something very open and engaging in the character of Job as it appears in this speech. He confesses the impatience that Eliphaz found fault with, though he excuses it by the incalculable weight of his affliction (ch. Job 6:2). He admits that his words have been wild, though he thinks this was but natural when a creature found himself in conflict with God (ch. Job 6:4). He even suggests to his friends the worth at which to estimate his language when he says that the words of one that is desperate go into the wind (ch. Job 6:26). And he goes so far as to speak of himself as losing hold of the fear of the Almighty under the trial of his calamities (ch. Job 6:14). There is something simple too and childlike in his defence of his cry of despair by the example of the lower creatures, which also express their pain or want by cries of distress (ch. Job 6:5).
In keeping with this openness in regard to himself is his impatience and resentment of the covert insinuations of his friends through their first spokesman. He demands that they should shew him what they are hinting at by the pictures they are drawing and the blind parables they are narrating at him (ch. Job 6:24); he himself will look them in the face and affirm his innocence (ch. Job 6:28). And even the one bitter sentence which he utters against their hard-heartedness (ch. Job 6:27) is quite in harmony with the honest directness of the rest of his words.
The state of Job’s mind in ch. 7, when he turns away from his friends and casts his eye over the life of man as a whole, is more difficult to estimate. It appears to him that God has made man’s condition upon the earth full of painfulness and bounded within iron limits. The world wears many aspects according to the eye that beholds it. It was natural for one in Job’s condition to view it on its dark side. His view, however, has deeper grounds than mere subjective feeling. The view which Eliphaz presented of a scheme of universal goodness linking all events into a unity and making good the end even of ill may be the view which we ultimately rest in. Yet we believe in such a scheme rather than observe it. And the reasons of our belief, though various, are instinctive and ideal oftener than inductive. There are moments when another view forces itself upon the mind. And Scripture has here given this experience a place in its picture of man’s life. It may be said that Job spoke under a mistake. Men so often make mistakes even in the highest things. It may also be said that enough was revealed to Job to correct his false impressions. But men so often are either unable or unwilling to receive that which is revealed.
There is this difference between us and Job: where we can say “the world,” he was obliged to say “God.” In this chapter he regards God almost exclusively on the physical side of His Being. He speaks out of the agony of suffering and from the abjectness of his own whole condition, and contrasts these with the natural Greatness of the Being who has plunged him into them. It is the physical claim of sentient life, which he urges, not to be tortured on any grounds whatsoever they be. In this mortal agony of the creature, and in view of the Greatness of God, moral considerations are almost mocked at, and sin is sneered out of reckoning as an irrelevancy.