Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? are not his days also like the days of an hireling?
Verses 1-21. - In this chapter Job first bewails his miserable fate, of which he expects no alleviation (vers. 1-10); then claims an unlimited right of complaint (ver. 11); and finally enters into direct expostulation with God - an expostulation which continues from ver. 12 to the end of the chapter. At the close, he admits his sinfulness (ver. 20), but asks impatiently why God does not pardon it instead of visiting it with such extreme vengeance (ver. 21). Verse 1. - Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? rather, Is there not a warfare (or, a time of service) to man upon earth? Has not each man a certain work appointed for him to do, and a certain limited time assigned him within which to do it? And thus, Are not his days also like the days of an hireling? Since the hireling is engaged to do a certain work in a certain time.
As a servant earnestly desireth the shadow, and as an hireling looketh for the reward of his work:
Verse 2. - As a servant (or, a slave) panteth for the shadow; i.e. longs for the shades of evening to descend and bring the day to a close. The slavery of Job's time was probably not unlike that of captive races in Egypt, so graphically portrayed in the early chapters of Exodus. The captive, working from morning to night at exhausting labour, would long intensely for the night to arrive, when his toil would come to an end. The inference is not drawn, but clearly is - so Job may be excused if he longs for death, now that he has reached old age, and that the work of his life is manifestly ended. And as an hireling looketh for the reward of his work; rather, for his wages. The word used (פעל) has the two meanings of "work" and "the wages of work" (see Jeremiah 22:13).
So am I made to possess months of vanity, and wearisome nights are appointed to me.
Verse 3. - So am I made to possess months of vanity. "Months of vanity" are "months of which he can make no use " - "months which are no good to him." It has been concluded from this theft some considerable time had elapsed since Job was stricken by his disease. But he is perhaps looking to the future as much as to the past, anticipating a long, lingering illness. Elephantiasis is a disease which often lasts for years. And wearisome nights are appointed to me. To one stretched on a bed of sickness, the night is always more wearisome than the day. It has no changes, nothing to mark its flight. It seems almost interminable. In elephantiasis, however, it is a special feature of the disease that the sufferings of the patient are greatest at night. "In elephantiasis ansesthetica" says Dr. Erasmus Wilson, "a sense of dulness and heat pervades the surface, and there are sensations of tingling and prickling, and of burning heat. While the integument is insensible, there are deep-seated burning pains, sometimes of a bone or joint, sometimes of the vertebral column. These pains are greatest at night; they prevent sleep, and give rise to restlessness and frightful dreams" (Quain's 'Dictionary of Medicine,' vol. 1. p. 817).
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.
Verse 4. - When I lie down, I say, When shall I arise, and the night be gone? So Gesenius, Rosenmuller, and Delitzsch. Others translate, "the night is long" (Dillmann, Renan), or "the night seems endless" (Merx); comp. Deuteronomy 28:67, "At evening thou shalt say, Would God it were morning!" And I am full of tossings to and fro. Professor Lee understands "tossings of the mind," or "distracting thoughts;" but it is more probable that tossings of the body are meant. These are familiar to every bad sleeper. Unto the dawning of the day. A little rest sometimes visits the tired eyelids after a long, sleepless night. Job may refer to this, or he may simply mean that he lay tossing on his bed all through the night, till morning came, when he arose.
My flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust; my skin is broken, and become loathsome.
Verse 5. - My flesh is clothed with worms. The leas et origo mall in elephantiasis is a worm called filaria sanguinis hominid. It is a long, fine, thread-like creature, of a white colour, smooth; and devoid of markings (Quain's 'Dictionary of Medicine,' vol. 1, pp. 512, 513). And clods of dust. This is rather poetical than strictly medical. The special characteristic of elephantiasis, from which it derives its name, is that the integument, or outer skin, is "formed into large masses or folds, with a rugose condition of the surface, not unlike the appearance of an elephant's leg" (Quain, vol. 1. p. 431). But the swellings do not contain clods of dust. My skin is broken, and become loathsome. A common feature in elephantiasis is the development and gradual growth of solid papules or tubercles in the skin. These enlarge as the disease progresses, and after a time soften and break up; an nicer is then formed, and a discharge follows of a virulent and loathsome character. Presently the discharge steps; the ulcer heals; but only to break out again in another place. In the Revised Version the passage is rendered, My skin closeth up, and breaketh afresh.
My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and are spent without hope.
Verse 6. - My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle. Though each day is a weariness, yet, on looking back upon my whole life, it seems to have come and gone in a moment (comp. Job 9:25). And are spent without hope. Job does not share in the hopes which Eliphaz has held out (see Job 5:17-27). He has no hope but in death.
O remember that my life is wind: mine eye shall no more see good.
Verse 7. - O remember that my life is wind! (comp. Psalm 78:39). The wind is an image of all that is vain, shifting, unstable, ready to pass away (Job 6:36; Proverbs 11:29; Ecclesiastes 5:16; Isaiah 26:18; Isaiah 41:9; Jeremiah 5:13, etc.). Mine eye shall no more see good. Another protest against the hopes flint Eliphaz has held out (see the comment on ver. 6; and setup, Job 9:25). Job is still speaking of this life only, and not touching the question of another.
The eye of him that hath seen me shall see me no more: thine eyes are upon me, and I am not.
Verse 8. - The eye of him that hath seen me shall see me no more; that is, I shall go down to the grave, and be no more seen upon earth. Neither friend nor enemy shall behold me after that. Thine eyes. God's eyes. God still sees him and watches him; this is a certain consolation; but will it last? Are upon me, and I am not. I am on the point of disappearing. Even now I scarcely exist.
As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.
Verse 9. - As the aloud is consumed and vanisheth away. In mountainous countries one sees clouds clinging to a mountain-side, which do not float away, but gradually shrink, and at last wholly disappear. They are "consumed" in the strictest sense of the word - the hot rays of the sun drink them up. So he that goeth down to the grave; rather, to Sheol; i.e. to the lower world, the abode of the departed. What exactly was Job's idea of this world it is impossible to say, or whether it involved the continued separate identity of individual souls and their continued consciousness. In Isaiah's conception both seem certainly to have been involved (Isaiah 14:9-18), and perhaps in Jacob's (Genesis 37:35); but Job s creed on the subject can only be conjectured. It is certain, however, that both the Egyptians and the early Babylonians held the continuance after death of individual souls, their separate existence, and their consciousness (see the author's 'History of Ancient Egypt,' vol. 1. pp. 317-319; and 'Religions of the Ancient World,' pp. 62-65). Shall come up no more. The Egyptian belief was that the soul would ultimately return to the body from which death separated it, and rein-habit it. But this belief was certainly not general among the nations of antiquity.
He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more.
Verse 10. - He shall return no more to his house. This is best taken literally. Men do not, after death, return to their houses and resume their old occupations. From the life in this world they disappear for ever. Neither shall his place know him any mere (comp. Psalm 103:16).
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.
Verse 11. - Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; rather, I moreover will not refrain my lips; that is, "You may do as you like under affliction, I claim the right of complaining." Job has already pointed out that nature teaches the animals to complain when they suffer (Job 6:5). Why, then, should not he? Complaint is not necessarily murmuring; it is sometimes merely expostulation, which God allows (comp. Psalm 4:2; Psalm 77:3; Psalm 142:2, etc.). I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. Extreme "anguish" and "bitter" suffering excuse complaints that would otherwise be, blare-able (comp. Job 6:2-4).
Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?
Verse 12. - Job now begins his complaint, which is wholly addressed to God. The heads of it are:
(1) that he is confined and restrained, allowed no liberty (ver. 12);
(2) that he is terrified by visions in the night (vers. 13, 14);
(3) that he is not "let alone" (ver. 16);
(4) that so much attention is paid to him (vers. 17-19);
(5) that he is made a butt for God's arrows (ver. 20); and
(6) that he is not pardoned, but relentlessly persecuted (ver. 21). Am I a sea, or a whale? rather, Am I a sea or a sea-monster? Am I as wild and uncontrollable as the ocean, as fierce and savage as a crocodile or other monster of the deep? Do I not possess reason and conscience, by which I might be directed and guided? Why, then, am I treated as if I were without them? The sea must be watched, lest it break in upon the land; in Egypt there had been many such breaches, as the configuration of the coast, with its narrow belts of sand and its vast lagoons, shows; and crocodiles must be watched, lest they destroy human life; but is there any need that I should be watched, restrained, coerced, hedged in on every side (Job 3:23)? Am I so dangerous? Surely not. Some liberty therefore might have been safely given to me, instead of this irksome restraint. That thou settest a watch over me; or, a guard; i.e. a set of physical impediments, which leave me no freedom of action.
When I say, My bed shall comfort me, my couch shall ease my complaint;
Verses 13, 14. - When I say, My bed shall comfort me, my couch shall ease my complaint. Sometimes, notwithstanding his many "wearisome nights" (ver. 5), Job would entertain a hope of a few hours' rest and tranquillity, as, wearied and exhausted, he sought his couch, and laid himself down upon it, but only to be disappointed. Then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions. Unpleasant dreams are said to be a symptom, or at any rate a frequent concomitant, of elephantiasis; but Job seems to speak of something worse than these. Horrible visions came upon him, which he believed to be sent directly from the Almighty, and which effectually disturbed his rest, making night hideous. Probably this was one of the modes in which Satan was permitted to try and test him.
Then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions:
So that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life.
Verse 15. - So that my soul chooseth strangling; i.e. "so that I would prefer strangling to such horrid dreams," which are worse than any physical sufferings. Some see here a reference to suicide: but this is s very forced explanation. Suicide, as already observed, seems never even to have occurred to the thoughts of Job (see the comment on Job 6:8). And death rather than my life; literally, rather than my bones. Death, that is, would be preferable to such a life as he leads, which is that of a living skeleton.
I loathe it; I would not live alway: let me alone; for my days are vanity.
Verse 16. - I loathe it; rather, I am wasted away - "ulceratus tabesco" (Schultens). I would not live alway; rather, I shall not live alway. Let me alone; for my days are vanity; literally, cease from me; i.e. "cease to trouble me" - with, perhaps, the further meaning. "cease to trouble thyself about me;" for I am sufficiently reduced to nothingness - my life is mere vanity.
What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him?
Verse 17. - What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? or, make so much of him - regard him as of such great importance (comp. Psalm 8:4). It seems, at first sight, an exalted idea of God to regard him as too lofty, too great, to be really concerned about so mean a creature, so poor a being, as man. Hence, among the Greeks, the Epicureans maintained that God paid no attention at all to this world, or to anything that happened in it, but dwelt secure and tranquil in the empyrean, with nothing to disturb, displease, or vex him. And the holy men of old sometimes fell into this same phase of thought, and expressed surprise and wonder that God, who dwelt on high, should "humble himself to consider the things in heaven and earth." "Lord," says David, or whoever was the author of the hundred and forty-fourth psalm, "what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him? or the son of man, that thou makest account of him? Man k like to vanity; his days are as a shadow that passeth away" (Psalm 144:3, 4). But all, except Epicureans, agree that God does, in fact, so concern himself, and a little reflection is enough to show us that the opposite view, instead of exalting, really degrades God. To bring conscious, sentient beings into the world - beings capable of the intensest happiness or misery, and then to leave them wholly to themselves, to have no further care or thought of them, would be the part, not of a grand, glorious, and adorable Being, but of one destitute of any claim to our admiration. And that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? This strong expression is not used of God elsewhere. But it well expresses the extreme tenderness and consideration that God has for man, and the deep love from which that tenderness and consideration spring.
And that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?
Verse 18. - And that thou shouldset visit him every morning, and try him every moment? Our whole life is a probation, not merely particular parts of it. God "tries us every moment" if not with afflictions, then with blessings; if not with pains, then with pleasures. He is with us all the day long, and all our life long, equally in his mercies and in his chastisements. But Job was probably thinking only of the latter.
How long wilt thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till I swallow down my spittle?
Verse 19. - How long wilt thou not depart from me? rather, Wilt thou not look away from me? (see the Revised Version). Job does not go so far as to ask that God should "depart from" him. He knows, doubtless, that that would be the extreme of calamity. But he would have God sometimes turn away his eyes from him, and not always regard him so intently. There is something of the same tone of complaint in the psalmist's utterance., "Thou art about my path, and about my bed, and spiest out all my ways" (Psalm 139:3, Prayer-book Version). Nor let me alone till I swallow down my spittle? Even, i.e., for the shortest space of time passible. A proverbial expression.
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?
Verse 20. - I have sinned. This is not so much a confession as a concession, equivalent to "Granting that I have sinned," or, "Suppose that I have sinned." In that case, What shall I do unto thee? or, What can I do for thee? How is it in my power to do anything? Can I undo the past? Or can I make compensation in the future? Neither seems to Job to be possible. O thou Preserver of men; rather, thou Observer of men. A continuation of the complaint that God's eye is always upon him. Why hast thou set me as a mark against thee? "A mark" (מפגע) is either "a butt," "a target for arrows," or else "an obstacle," "a stumbling-block," which God, by repeated blows, is removing out of his way. The latter meaning is preferred by Schultens and Professor Lee; the former by Rosenmuller and our Revisers. So that I am a burden to myself (comp. Psalm 38:4).
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.
Verse 21 - And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity? Job feels that, if he has sinned, which he is ready to admit as possible, though he has certainly no deep conviction of sin (Job 6:24, 29, 30; Job 7:19), at any rate he has not sinned greatly, heinously; and therefore he cannot understand why he has not been forgiven. The idea that the Almighty cannot forgive sin except upon conditions, is unknown to him. Believing God to be a God of mercy, he regards him also, just as Nehemiah did, as a "God of pardons" (Nehemiah 9:17) - a belief which seems to have been instinctive with men of all nations. And it appears to him unaccountable that pardon has not been extended to himself. Like his "comforters." he makes the mistake of supposing that all his afflictions have been penal, are signs of God's displeasure, and intended to crush and destroy him. He has not woke up to the difference between God's punishments and his chastisements. Apparently, he does not know that "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth," or that men are "made perfect through sufferings" (Hebrews 2:10). For now shall I sleep in the dust. Now it is too late for pardon to avail anything. Death is nigh at hand. The final blow must soon be struck. And thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be. The idea seems to be - God will relent at last; he will seek to alleviate my sufferings; he will search for me diligently - but I shall have ceased to be.