Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.
Verses 1-22. - This chapter, in which Job concludes the fourth of his addresses, is characterized by a tone of mild and gentle expostulation, which contrasts with the comparative vehemence and passion of the two preceding chapters. It would seem that the patriarch, having vented his feelings, experiences a certain relief, an interval of calm, in which, his own woes pressing less heavily upon him, he is content to moralize on the general condition of humanity. Verse 1. - Man that is born of a woman. In this fact Job sees the origin of man's inherent weakness. He is "born of a woman," who is "the weaker vessel" (1 Peter 3:7). He is conceived by her in uncleanness (Psalm 51:5; comp. below, ver. 4), brought forth in sorrow and pain (Genesis 3:16) suckled at her breasts, placed for years under her guidance. No wonder that he shares the weakness of which she is a sort of type. Is of few days; literally, short of days. Length and shortness of days are, no doubt, relative; and it is difficult to say what term of life would not have seemed short to men as they looked back upon it. To Jacob, at the age of a hundred and thirty, it appeared that "few and evil had the days of the years of his life been" (Genesis 47:9). Methuselah, perhaps, thought the same. We all, as we come towards old age, and death draws manifestly near, feel as if we had only just begun to live, as if, at any rate, we had not done half our work, and were about to be cut off before our time. But would the case be seriously different if our tale of years were doubled? And fall of trouble (comp. Job 5:7).
He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.
Verse 2. - He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down. Few similes are more frequently used in Scripture (comp. Psalm 103:15; Isaiah 28:1, 4; Isaiah 40:6, 7; James 1:10, 11; 1 Peter 1:24), and certainly none could have more poetic beauty. Eastern flowers do not often last much more than a day. He fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not (comp. Job 7:2; Job 8:9; 1 Chronicles 29:15; Psalm 102:11; Psalm 109:23; Ecclesiastes 6:12, etc.). Shadows are always changing; but the shadows which flee away the fastest, and which Job has probably in his mind, are those of clouds, or other moving objects, which seem to chase each other over the earth, and never to continue for a single minute in one stay.
And dost thou open thine eyes upon such an one, and bringest me into judgment with thee?
Verse 3. - And dost thou open thine eyes upon such a one? Is it compatible with God's greatness, unchangeableness, and majesty to take any notice of so poor, weak, and unstable a creature as mortal man? The question has been often asked, and answered by many in the negative, as by the Epicureans of old. Job does not really entertain any doubt upon the point; but only intends to express his wonder that it should be so (comp. Psalm 8:4, and above, Job 7:17). And bringest me into judgment with thee? Especially astonishing is it, Job says, that God should condescend to try, pass judgment on, and punish so weak, worthless, and transitory a creature as himself.
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.
Verse 4. - Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one. It is scarcely true to say that "the fact of original sin is thus distinctly recognized" ('Speaker's Commentary,' vol. 4. p. 61). Original uncleanness and infirmity are recognized; but the uncleanness is material, and removable by material expiation (Leviticus 12:2-8). It is rather man's weakness than his sinfulness that is here under discussion.
Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass;
Verse 5. - Seeing his days are determined. Job here returns to the consideration of the shortness of man's life. "His days are determined;" i.e. they are a limited period, known to and fixed beforehand by God. They are not like God's days, which "endure throughout all generations" (Psalm 102:24). The number of his months are with thee. "With thee" means here "known to thee," "laid up in thy counsels." Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass. "His bounds" are "the limit of his lifetime." The three clauses are pleonastic. One idea pervades them all.
Turn from him, that he may rest, till he shall accomplish, as an hireling, his day.
Verse 6. - Turn from him, that he may rest; literally, look away from him; i.e. "Cease to watch him and search him out so continually" (comp. Job 7:17, 18). "Then he will be able to have a breathing-time, an interval of peace and rest, before his departure from the earth." What Job had previously desired for himself (Job 10:20) he now asks for all humanity. Till he shall accomplish, as an hireling, his day. Hired labourers are glad when their day's work is over. So man rejoices when life comes to an end. Ver 7. - For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down. God's vegetable creation is better off, in respect of length of days, than man. Let a tree be cut down, it is not therefore of necessity destroyed. There is yet hope for it. The bare dry stump will sometimes put forth tender branches, which will grow and flourish, and renew the old life. Or, if the stump be quite dead, suckers may spring up from the root and grow into new trees as vigorous as the one that they replace (comp. Isaiah 11:1). Herodotus considered that all trees had this recuperative power, except the πίτυς, a species of fir (Herod., 6:37), and the traveller Shaw says that when a palm tree dies there is always a sucker ready to take its place. Pliny also observes of the laurel, "Viva-cissima est radix, ita ut, si truncus ina-ruerit, recisa arbor mox laetius frutificet" ('Hist. Nat.,' 1:15. § 30). That it will sprout again. That is, from the spool or stump. Some trees, as the Spanish chest. nut, if cut down flush with the ground, throw up shoots from the entire circle of the stomp, often as many as fifteen or twenty. And that the tender branch thereof will not cease. The vigour of such shoots is very great. In a few years they grow to the height of the parent tree. If they are then removed they are quickly replaced by a fresh growth.
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;
Verses 8, 9. - 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 bring forth boughs like a plant. After the stump is actually dead, suckers may be thrown up from the roots, if sufficient water be supplied to them; and these will put forth branches luxuriantly.
Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.
But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?
Verse 10. - But man dieth. "Man" is here גבר, "the brave, strong man," not אדם or אנושׁ, and the meaning is that man, however brave and' strong, perishes. And wasteth away; i.e. "comes to nought, remains no strength or vitality." Yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? "Where is he?" Job could not answer this question. He might say, "In Sheol." But where was Sheol, and what was Sheol? There was no written revelation on this subject, and no traditional knowledge on which dependence could be placed. The Hebrew notions on the subject were very vague and indeterminate; Job's notions are likely to have been still vaguer. There is no reason to believe that he had any exact acquaintance with the tenets of the Egyptians. He may have known the Chaldean teaching, but it would not have carried him very far(see above, pp. 178, 179). Doubt and perplexity beset him whenever he turned his attention to the problem of man's condition after death, and, excepting when carried away by a burst of enthusiasm, he seems to have regarded it as the highest wisdom, in matters of this kind, "to knew that he knew nothing." The question, "Where is he?" is an acknowledgment of this profound ignorance.
As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up:
Verse 11. - As the waters fail from the sea. The allusion seems to be to the actual desiccation of seas and rivers. Job, apparently, had known instances of both. A formation of new land in the place, of sea is always going on at the head of the Persian Gulf, through the deposits of the Tigris and Euphrates; and this formation was very rapid in ancient times, when the head of the gulf was narrower. The desiccation of river-courses is common in Mesopotamia, where arms thrown out by the Tigris and Euphrates get blocked, and then silted up. And the flood decayeth and drieth up; rather, and the river decayeth etc. (see the comment on the preceding clause).
So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.
Verse 12. - So man lieth down, and riseth not. This is not an absolute denial of a final resurrection, since Job is speaking of the world as it lies before him, not of eventualities. Just as he sees the land encroach upon the sea, and remain land, and the river-courses, once dried up, remain dry, so he sees men descend into the grave and remain there, without rising up again. This is the established order of nature as it exists before his eyes. Till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake. This order of things, Job believes, rightly enough, will continue as long as the heavens and the earth endure. What will happen afterwards he does not so much as inquire. It is remarked, ingeniously, that Job's words, though not intended in this sense, exactly "coincide with the declarations of the New Testament, which make the resurrection simultaneous with the breaking up of the visible universe" (Canon Cook). Nor be raised out of their sleep. If "the glimmer of a hope" of the resurrection appears anywhere in vers. 10-12, it is in the comparison of death to a sleep, which is inseparably connected in our minds with an awakening.
O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!
Verse 13. - Oh that thou wouldest hide me in the grave! literally, in Sheol which here does not so much mean "the grave," as the place of departed spirits, described in Job 10:21, 22. Job desires to have God's protection in that" land of darkness," and to be "hidden" there by him until his wrath be past. It has been generally supposed that he means after his death; but Schultens thinks his desire was to descend to Sheol alive and there remain, while his punishment continued, hidden from the eyes of men. That thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past. Job assumes that, if he is being punished for his youthful sins (Job 13:26), his punishment will not be for long - at any rate, not for ever; God's anger will at last be satisfied and cease. That thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! How long he may have to suffer be does not greatly care. Only let it be "a set time" - a fixed, definite period - and at the end of it, let God" remember" him.
If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.
Verse 14. - If a man die, shall he live again? The question is clearly intended to be answered in the negative. It is not a dispassionate inquiry, but an expression of hopelessness. Let a man once die, and of course he cannot live again. Were it otherwise, then, Job says, all the days of my appointed time will I wait; or, rather (as in the Revised Version), all the days of my warfare would I wait; i.e. I would patiently endure any sufferings in the larger hope that would then be open to me. I would wait till my change (rather, my renewal) come. The exact nature of the 'renewal" which Job seems here to expect is obscure. Perhaps he is pursuing the idea, broached in ver. 13, of his being conveyed alive to Hades, and looks forward to a furthur renewed life after he is released from that "land of darkness."
Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.
Verse 15. - Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee; rather, thou shouldest call, and I would answer thee (see the Revised Version). In that case, when I quitted Hades, and renewed my life, thou wouldst assuredly summon me to thee, and I would respond to the summons. There would be sweet colloquy between us; for thou wilt (or, rather, wouldest) have a desire to the work of thine hands (comp. ch. 10:8-11). Job assumes that God must love whatever he has created, and be drawn towards it by a secret, strong desire.
For now thou numberest my steps: dost thou not watch over my sin?
Verse 16. - For now thou numberest my steps; rather, but now. Job, at this point, proceeds to contrast his actual condition with the ideal one which (in vers. 13-15) his imagination has conjured up. God's actual attitude towards him he regards as one, not of protecting love, but of jealous hostility. His "steps" are observed, counted - every divergence from the right path is noted - a false step, if he makes one, is at once punished. Dost thou not watch over my sin? (comp. Job 10:14). Job's sins, he thinks, are watched for, spied out, taken note of, and remembered against him.
My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and thou sewest up mine iniquity.
Verse 17. - My transgression is sealed up in a bag (comp. Deuteronomy 32:34); i.e. God keeps account of all my transgressions. It is as if he put them all into a bag (compare "Put my tears into thy bottle," Psalm 56:8), whence they can be taken out and brought against me at any moment. They are "sealed up" in the bag for greater security. And thou sewest up mine iniquity. (So Ewald, Dillmaun, Canon Cook, and the Revised Version.) Others think the meaning to be, "Thou addest to my iniquity [continually];" i.e. by placing fresh sins to my account. (So Schultens and Rosenmuller.)
And surely the mountain falling cometh to nought, and the rock is removed out of his place.
Verse 18. - And surely the mountain falling cometh to nought. Job here resumes the lament 'over human infirmity, with which the chapter opens (vers. 1-12); but he has, perhaps, in this passage, his own case mote distinctly presented to his consciousness. With the wealth of metaphor which characterizes his utterances, he compares the ruin of a prosperous man
(1) to the sudden collapse of a mountain;
(2) to the removal of a rock out of its place;
(3) to the wearing away of stones by the constant flow of streams; and
(4) to the destruction of alluvial tracts by floods.
Mountains collapse, either by volcanic agency, which is quite as much shown in the subsidence as in the elevation of the soil, or by landslips, which are most usually the results of heavy rains. And the rock is removed out of his place. Rocks are sometimes split by frost, and topple over when a thaw comes; at other times, heavy floods remove them from their accustomed place; occasionally earthquakes overturn them, and cause them to fall with a crash. There is also a removal of rocks to much greeter distances, by means of glaciers and icebergs; but of these Job is not likely to have known.
The waters wear the stones: thou washest away the things which grow out of the dust of the earth; and thou destroyest the hope of man.
Verse 19. - The waters wear the stones. The power of the soft element of water, by continual washing or dripping, to wear away the hardest stone, has often been noticed, and is a frequent topic in poetry. Deep ravines have been worn in course of time, through broad and lofty mountain ranges by rivers, the stone yielding little by little to the action of the water, until at last a broad chasm is made. So the continual wearing action of calamity often lays low the prosperous. Thou washest away the things which grow out of the dust of the earth; rather, as in the Revised Version, the overflowings thereof wash away the dust of the earth; i.e. "overflows of water, inundations, floods, not only make a way through rocks, but often carry off great tracts of rich soil, hurrying the alluvium down to the sea, and leaving in its place a marsh or a waste." And thou destroyest the hope of man. Even thus from time to time does God ruin and destroy the hopes of a prosperous man.
Thou prevailest for ever against him, and he passeth: thou changest his countenance, and sendest him away.
Verse 20. - Thou prevailset for ever against him, and he passsth; rather, thou puttest forth thy power against him perpetually; i.e. thou art continually oppressing him, and crushing him by afflictions; and the consequence is that "he passes;" i.e. "he passes away, disappears, ceases to be." Thou changest his countenance. "Alterest," i.e, "its expression from cheerfulness to sadness, and its complexion from the hue of health to the sickly pallor of disease; settest the stamp of death upon it, and further dis-figurest it in the dreadful process of decay." And sendest him away. That is to say, "Thou removest him from the earth, dismissest him to Sheol, where thenceforth he remains?'
His sons come to honour, and he knoweth it not; and they are brought low, but he perceiveth it not of them.
Verse 21. - His sons come to honour, and he knoweth it not. The meaning seems to be, "If his sons come to honour, it is of no advantage to him; in the remote and wholly separate region of Sheol he will not be aware of it." The view is more dismal than that of Aristotle, who argues that the fate of those whom they have loved and left on earth will be sure to penetrate, in course of time (ἐπὶ τινα χρόνον)' to the departed, and cause them a certain amount of joy or sorrow ('Eth. Nic.,' 1:11). And they are brought low, but he perceiveth it not of them. Equally, in the opposite case, if his sons are brought low, he is ignorant of it, and unaffected by their fate.
But his flesh upon him shall have pain, and his soul within him shall mourn.
Verse 22. - But his flesh upon him shall have pain. The best rendering is probably that which is placed in the margin of the Revised Version, only for himself his flesh hath pain, and for himself his soul mourneth. Nothing more is intended than to negative the idea that the future condition of his children will seriously affect a man who is suffering under God's afflicting hand, either in this life or afterwards. He cannot but be occupied solely with himself. His own sufferings, whether of body or mind, win absorb all his attention.