Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
In this chapter Job turns away from his friends to God, to whom he appeals for compassion (Job 7:1-11). He asks whether man hath not a campaign to serve upon earth. The English Version suggests a limited period; but it is apparently not so much that as what is required to be done in the period. “Hath not man a time of service upon earth? Is he not appointed to sorrow (Job 7:5-7), because his life is one of toil? Is not his life a life of servitude? and is he not like a very slave?” Job does not regret that man’s time is short upon earth, for he says that he longs eagerly for his end, but he regrets that it is so full of misery. The context, therefore, shows that it is the character of the appointed time, and not the shortness of it, that he laments.
Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? are not his days also like the days of an hireling?
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) When I lie down, I say.—Or, When I lie down, then I say, When shall I arise? But the night is long, and I am filled with tossings to and fro till the morning twilight.
My flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust; my skin is broken, and become loathsome.(5) With worms and clods of dust.—It is characteristic of Elephantiasis that the skin becomes hard and rugous, and then cracks and becomes ulcerated.
The eye of him that hath seen me shall see me no more: thine eyes are upon me, and I am not.(8) Shall see me no more.—That is, thine own eyes shall look for me, but I shall be no more. So LXX. and Vulg.
As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.(9) As the cloud is consumed.—It is a fine simile that man is as evanescent as a cloud; and very apt is the figure, because, whether it vanishes on the surface of the sky or is distributed in rain, nothing more completely passes away than the summer cloud. It is an appearance only, which comes to nought.
He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more.(10) Neither shall his place . . .—This language is imitated in Psalm 103:16. We need not force these words too much, as though they forbad our ascribing to Job any belief in a future life or in the resurrection, because, under any circumstances, they are evidently and accurately true of man as we know him here. Even though he may live again in another way, it is not in this world that he lives again, and it is of this world and of man in this world that Job is speaking. And man, in the aspect of his mortality, is truly a pitiable object, demanding our compassion and sympathy. Happily, the appeal to man’s Maker is not in vain, and He who has made him what he is has looked upon his misery. Consequently Job can say, 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.”
Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?(12) Am I a sea, or a whale . . .?—This very hard verse it seems most reasonable to explain, if we can, from Scripture itself: e.g., in Jeremiah 5:22 we read, “Fear ye not me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea?" The writer was probably familiar with Egypt when the Nile, which is still called the sea, was carefully watched and guarded by dykes that its overflow might not destroy the land. So Job exclaims, “Am I like the sea, or one of its monsters—like that Leviathan which Thou hast made to take his pastime therein, that Thou keepest guard over me and makest me thy prisoner continually, shutting me up on every side so fast in prison that I cannot get free?”
So that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life.(15) So that my soul maketh choice of strangling and death rather than a life like this. Literally, than these my bones, or, as some take it, a death by these my members: a death inflicted by myself, suicide.
I loathe it; I would not live alway: let me alone; for my days are vanity.(16) I loathe it—i.e., the thought of self-destruction; or, I loathe my life; or, according to others (see the margin), I waste away: this, however, is perhaps less probable. Then the thought comes with a ray of comfort, “I shall not live for ever;” for this seems more in accordance with the context than the Authorised Version: “I would not live always.”
What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him?(17, 18) What is man . . .?—Here is another point of contact with Psalm 8:5; but the spirit of the Psalmist was one of devout adoration, whereas that of Job is one of agony and desperation.
How long wilt thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till I swallow down my spittle?(19) Till I swallow down my spittle.—This is doubtless a proverbial expression, like “the twinkling of an eye,” or “while I fetch a breath.”
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) I have sinned—i.e., “Putting the case that I have sinned, yet what then can I do unto Thee, O thou keeper of men? “with a possible allusion to Job 7:12, though the verb is not the same.
O thou preserver of men.—“Why hast Thou set me as a mark for Thee to expend all Thine arrows upon?” or, “Why hast Thou made me to be Thy stumbling-block, so that Thou ever comest into collision against me, so that I am become a burden to myself?”
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) And why dost thou not pardon my transgression?—In Job’s belief, sin was the origin of all disaster, and so he thinks that if he were but pardoned his sorrows would pass away. Our Lord has not discouraged the belief when He has taught us that His miracle of healing the paralytic was accompanied with the assurance of forgiveness (e.g., Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 5:20).