Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.XIV.
(1) Man that is born of a woman is of few days.—He now takes occasion to dilate on the miserable estate of man generally, rising from the particular instance in himself to the common lot of the race. It is not improbable that these words should be connected with the last of the former chapter. He, as a rotten thing, consumeth—a man born of woman, short of days and full of trouble, who came forth as a flower and was (began to be) cut off (at once); who fled as the shadow that abideth not. After having resolved to come into judgment with God, he pictures to himself the miserable creature with whom God will have to contend if He contends with him.
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.(4) Who can bring a clean thing . . .—How can man be clean that is born of woman, who is unclean? This question is reiterated by Bildad (Job 25:4). We ought perhaps, however, rather to render “Oh, that the clean could come forth from the unclean! but none can.”
Turn from him, that he may rest, till he shall accomplish, as an hireling, his day.(6) Accomplish.—Rather, have pleasure in; rejoice at the day when his wages are paid him. Job had used the same image before (Job 7:2). Job now proceeds to enlarge on the mortality of man, comparing him, as is so often done in all literature, to the vegetable produce of the earth (Isaiah 40:7; Isaiah 65:22); with this difference, however—that a tree will sprout again when it is cut down, but even a strong man succumbs to death. “Yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?”
As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up:(11) As the waters fail from the sea seems commonly to have been misunderstood from its having been taken as a comparison; but there is no particle denoting comparison in the Hebrew. Moreover, the water never fails from the sea, nor do great rivers like the Nile or the Euphrates ever dry up. The comparison that is implied, but not expressed, is one of contrariety. The waters will have failed from the sea, and the rivers will have wasted and become dry, and yet the man who hath lain down (in death) will not arise: i.e., sooner than that shall happen, the sea will fail and the great rivers become dry. This appears to give a sense far better and more appropriate to the context. The Authorised Version obscures the obvious meaning of the passage by the introduction of the “as,” which is not wanted. There is no hope of any future life, still less of any resurrection here; but neither can we regard the language as involving an absolute denial of it. What Job says is equally true even in full view of the life to come and of the resurrection; indeed, there seems to glimmer the hope of an ardent though unexpressed longing, through the very language that is used. At all events, the statement uttered so confidently is not proof against the inevitable doubt involved in Job 14:14.
If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.(14) If a man die, shall he live again?—Why ask the question if it were absolutely certain that he would not? “All the days of my warfare—i.e., as long as I live—I will hope, till my change or transition from life to death comes, that Thou shalt call and I shall answer Thee, that Thou wilt long for the work of Thine hands.”
For now thou numberest my steps: dost thou not watch over my sin?(16) For now thou numberest my steps: dost thou not watch over my sin?—“It is sealed up in a bag, and Thou fastenest up mine iniquity. But persecution so persistent would wear out the strongest, even as the mountain and the rock are gradually worn away. How much more then must I be the subject of decay? for Thou destroyest the hope of man when he dieth, so that he no longer has any interest in the welfare or any concern in the adversity of his children after him; only in his own person he has pain, and his own soul within him mourneth.”