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Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Job 14

 

 

Verse 1

1. Born of a woman — Like produces like. If woman be frail, feeble, and subject to suffering and infirmity, man, her offspring, shall be subjected to like frailty. “Every one,” says an Arabian poet, “who is born of woman, however long his prosperity may endure, must one day be carried forth on a bier.”

Full of trouble — Or, unrest, רגז . The famous hymn which resounds in heaven when the luminous rays of the smile of Buddha penetrate through the clouds is, “All is transitory, all is misery, all is void, all is without substance.” — Max Muller. The estimate of life that the Buddhist thus sings is not more sad than that of Goethe, “They have called me a child of fortune, nor have I any wish to complain of the course of my life. Yet it has been nothing but labour and sorrow; and I may truly say, that in seventy-five years I have not had four weeks of true comfort. It was the constant rolling of a stone that was always to be lifted anew.” — Cited by Rauch.


Verses 1-6

Second strophe — Man’s physical and moral estate (the best he possesses) pleads with God that he should rather turn from (look away from him) than deign even to open his eye upon so contemptible a creature, Job 14:1-6. “Job’s appeal is for mercy; his argument is weakness, constitutional and moral.” — Davidson.


Verse 2

2. Like a flower — But as for the flowers and their perfumes, nature has given them birth but for a day — a mighty lesson to man. (PLINY, Hist., xxi, chap. 1.) The flower rises from the dark recesses of its mother earth; so man cometh forth from eternity, which in like manner is עולם, hidden and dark. Ever frail and perishable, they both abide, for a little while, the sport of change and storm, and at last sink into the unknown whence they came. (Compare Ecclesiastes 6:4 .)

Is cut down Withereth. Aristotle defined man to be “the spoil of time,” and St. Augustine compares his frailty to the fragility of glass.

A shadow — “What shadows we are, what shadows we pursue.” — Edmund Burke. (See note Job 4:19.)


Verse 3

3. Open thine eyes — Dost Thou condescend even to look upon such a being, much less to arraign him in judgment for the deeds of a life so vain?


Verse 4

4. Who can bring — Literally, who will give. In almost every case in the Old Testament this form of question is idiomatic, and is used (as in Job 14:13) to express a desire. Some would accordingly read, “Could but a clean thing come out of an unclean!” — Schlottmann. The idea would still be, that such a result, however much to be desired, is an impossibility. Not one pure being comes forth. Compare the not one of Psalms 14:3. The law of evil is such that a pure nature cannot spring from an impure one. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Hence the intervention of the Holy Ghost was indispensable that one pure being might be born of a woman. Luke 1:35.


Verse 5

5. Seeing — Literally, “If his days are determined,” (as is the case.) This entire verse, with its three conditions, the two latter of which spring out of the former, is an hypothesis on which Job rests his touching appeal in ver.


Verse 6

6. Accomplish — The Hebrew also signifies delight in, as a hireling does in the days — “to wit: as past, in the rest and quiet of the evening.” — Gesenius. The text is better. It is unbecoming God to treat cruelly so ephemeral a being. Man’s lot at best is that of a hireling. Job 7:1. But the hireling, however degraded his lot, has a natural right to sympathy and to rest. Job, in behalf of man, lays claim to the common rights of the serf.

Third strophe — Another reason why God should be merciful to man is, the hopelessness of his death. Throughout all nature, other than human, death springs to life, but man dies forever, so far as this world is concerned, Job 14:7-12.


Verse 7

7. For — Introduces another reason for the plea in Job 14:6.

Tender branch — Sprout. The description from Job 14:7-9 is specially applicable to the palm-tree, which is endowed with a wonderful vitality, whence it becomes a figure for youthful vigour. The Greeks gave the same name phoenix (palm-tree) to the wondrous bird which fable represented as rising again from its own ashes. “Even when centuries have at last destroyed the palm,” says Masius, whom Delitzsch quotes, “thousands of inextricable fibres of parasites cling about the stem.” In the country east of the Jordan, the walnut-tree ceases to bear much after one hundred years, and becomes hollow and decayed. It is then cut down to within two or three yards from the ground. If the trees are well watered, new shoots spring up in a year in uncommon luxuriance, and bear fruit the second year. (Wetzstein.) “The Romans,” says Rosenmuller, “made those trees to be the symbol of death which, being cut down, do not live again, and from whose roots no germs arise, such as the pine and cypress.” The revivification of nature, in contrast to the hopeless death of man, has often inspired the muse to elegiac strains, as with the poet Moschus bewailing the death of Bion; also the poets Catullus and Horace, and even the Yajur Veda. See Wordsworth, Good, or Barnes. Compare with Job’s melancholy strains the exquisite, but quite as hopeless, lines of Beattie’s Hermit: “‘Tis night,” etc., and closing with —

But when shall spring visit the mouldering urn?

O! when shall it dawn on the night of the grave?


Verse 8

8. Though If. The poet supposes another case: that the tree, instead of being cut down, grows old and dies.


Verse 9

9. The scent of water — In Judges 16:9 a thread of tow is represented as smelling the fire (margin); the verb corresponding to the noun of our text. Daniel 3:27. Wherever the palm-tree grows, though in the midst of a desert, the traveller may be justified in digging for water. Such was the opinion of Sir Sydney Smith.

Like a plant — “As if newly planted.” — Septuagint.


Verse 10

10. Wasteth away Lies powerless. (Furst.) Lies stretched out. (Delitzsch.) A like epithet is applied to death by Homer, (Il., 8:70,) τανηλεγης, “laying one out at length.” Like the tree when cut down, man, “the mighty man,” (geber,) has no inward power of recovery; he “lies powerless.” He who swayed the sceptre of a world cannot now lift an eyelid.

And where he? — The very question seems to imply the continued existence of the man; but where? It has often rang through the caverns of the grave, but without response. The ancient custom (still perpetuated at the death of a Roman pontiff) was a most touching one, that of thrice calling the name of the dead man over his own pale corpse.


Verse 11

11. The sea — The word sea is sometimes used for the River Nile, and sometimes for the Euphrates. (Jeremiah 51:36.) The point of comparison, according to Umbreit, lies between the dried-up and rugged channel of a once flowing stream or lake, and the outstretched corpse of a once living and acting man. Compare Isaiah 19:5, where the Hebrew is almost a literal citation.


Verse 12

12. Riseth not — Among the most ancient and universal beliefs was that of the transmigration of souls. It was man’s natural recoil from annihilation. He preferred to live in any mode, even in the grossest form of the brute, rather than that his being should be extinguished. Job is thought by some to have in view this false belief: he means rather to affirm that at death man ceases forever from this world. There is no root, shoot, bough, or form of being that can spring out of the man when once he is dead.

Till the heavens be no more — “That is, never. For things unchangeable and eternal are in Scripture compared in duration to the heavens.” Such is the view of Noyes and the German commentators. The passage really has respect to the restoration of present life in this world. The law that involves man in complete and hopeless destruction shall forever prevail, or, in Job’s language, “till the heavens be no more.” Of the same heavens of which Job speaks the psalmist says, (Psalms 102:26,) “they shall perish;” ( אֶבד the strong Hebrew word for “perish,” — used alike of men and animals.) Isaiah (Isaiah 51:6) also says of the heavens, “They shall vanish away like smoke,” נמלחו, literally, “be rubbed to pieces,” resolved into atoms like smoke. Compare Isaiah 65:17 ; 2 Peter 3:10, etc. So that, many think, this dark passage has in it the germ of hope, or at least, that it falls into the category of unconscious foreshadowings of scripture truth. It is evident there was a very ancient belief that the heavens and earth should be destroyed. Ovid speaks of such a prediction (Met. 50:256), Esse quoque in fatis reminiscitur, etc. It was a common opinion of the Stoics that the whole world would catch fire, (Minucius Felix, 34:2,) and in its destruction “involve the very elements and the frame of the universe.” Compare Lucretius, lib. 5:97. The ancient Hindu held a similar belief. At the end of the last calpa the whole creation, nay, the host of gods themselves, will be overwhelmed in one common destruction. The sagas of the Scandinavian, and the old Runic mythology, confirm the great antiquity of this dogma, which may have had its origin in Egypt, (see PRITCHARD’S Mythology, pp. 181, 192,) or more probably in some primeval revelation. It does not appear improbable that such a tradition was in the mind of Job. If so, to say that the dead shall not be raised out of their sleep till the heavens be no more is equivalent to saying that when the heavens are no more the dead shall be raised out of their sleep. “And man that has lain down (in death) shall certainly not rise again till the heavens be dissolved.” — Septuagint.


Verse 13

Fourth strophe — Job’s abiding faith in God’s deep love for his intelligent creatures illumes the regions of the dead with the hope that the time shall come when God’s wrath will “turn,” and the dead be released from sheol — a hope which is immediately beclouded by the thought that God has already been preternaturally severe in punishing his transgressions, Job 14:13-17.

13. Thou wouldest hide me — As men, for protection, hide treasures in the earth. The dead in the grave are God’s hidden treasures. Compare Psalms 83:3. In the grave In sheol. See Excursus, p. 72. Gloomiest life in sheol is better than extinction of being.

Wrath be past — Death itself was the great wrath for whose turning ( שׁוב ) the pious dead in the earliest times were represented as waiting. (See LANGE’S Genesis, 275.) The ancients buried their dead in caverns or sepulchres of the rocks. These naturally suggested the idea of a covert from the tempest. The Hebrew hoped that a time would come for the storm to cease, and that the dominion of death, though long protracted, would have an end.

A set time — In the opinion of Dr. Adam Clarke this refers to the resurrection: “for what else can be said to be an object of desire to one whose body is mingled with the dust?”


Verse 14

14. Shall he live? — That which follows is equivalent to an affirmative answer to this momentous question, since Job is emboldened, to wait or hope (yahhal) till his change or reviviscence shall come. “Upon closer reflection it is clear to him that the wish of the preceding verse comprehends within itself a renewal of life from the dead. Also he asks himself, ‘If man dies, lives he again?’ and without giving himself an answer, he proceeds to take pleasure in the thought, and, full of ecstasy, to set before himself the consequences that follow ‘all the days,’” etc. (Dillmann.) Even Renan makes here an important admission; “Job floats,” he says, “between despair and confidence. Sometimes he is struck with the fact that man is never restored to life, (ressuscite;) sometimes he thinks that God could well recall him to life, and compares himself in sheol (l’enfer) to a soldier on duty who waits till he may be relieved.” If a man die — the strong man, the being of might, (geber,) — shall he live? If such a being as man die! (A proper emphasis of the question gives the aroma of hope.) The Chinese philosopher Confucius evaded a similar question. “I venture to ask about death,” said Ke Loo. He was answered, “While you do not know life, how can you know about death?” (Analects, xi, sec. 11.)

Appointed time צבא, warfare. Compare Job 7:1 . “The miserable state of the shades in sheol is compared to the hard service of soldiers on guard.” — Gesenius.

My change חליפתי. This wondrous word hhalipha is sometimes used for the relief of a guard or the release of a sentinel from his post. Some change from, or in, the estate of death is plainly indicated by the use of this word. In the seventh verse it designated the reviviscence of a tree, and it is strongly presumable that it is used here for renewal of life, whether in the military sense of relief from a darksome post, or in the sense of reanimation. With consummate skill Job may have blended the two in a mixed metaphor, a rhetorical form common with the Apostle Paul. The Septuagint reads it, “I will wait till I am made again.” Though mingled with gloom, the thought is a sublime one: The dead, the righteous dead, in their dismal abode, await a coming One who shall bring deliverance. Job’s spirit already pierces through the darkness of sheol, and descries the day-spring of hope. The lineaments may not be distinct, yet even here he catches a glimpse of “THE LAST” — of Him who shall stand upon the dust. Job 19:25.


Verse 15

15. Have a desire Pine or yearn for; primarily, become pale, (like silver,) as when, under strong emotion, the blood withdraws from the face. The figure is a forcible one to express the divine yearning over the dead, a yearning that culminates in their recall to life.

Thou shalt call — And that “call” shall penetrate into sheol.

The work of thine hands — The human body (comp. Job 10:9). This passage (Job 14:13-15) is one of prime significance in the olden theology of hope. Hitherto Job’s despair had surrounded the abode of the dead with the deepest gloom. To his disconsolate mind it was “a land of darkness, as darkness itself.” Job 10:22. But now, trembling rays of light arise from the distant horizon — from the other side of sheol. As in the total eclipse of the sun the opposite horizon is lighted up with the bright tints of an early dawn, so here, where there was apparently an entire extinction of hope, a dawn rises upon the sky. “The hope of eternal life,” says an old commentator, “is a flower which grows on the verge of the abyss.”


Verse 16

16. For now — Returning to his complaint concerning the evils of life, he gives the reason why he desires the release or respite spoken of in the preceding verse. It is that God “numbers his steps;” that is, holds him as a transgressor, (as in Job 13:27,) and keeps watch for his sins, lest, perchance, any of them should escape punishment. Dost thou not watch, etc. — Some (as Delitzsch) construe this phrase to be an affirmation that God does not keep back wrath, but punishes immediately. To this there is the twofold objection of weakened and unharmonious sense and of the necessity of supplying aph, wrath.


Verse 17

17. Sealed… in a bag — The money that is collected together in the treasuries of eastern princes is told up in certain equal sums, put into bags, and sealed. (Chardin.) The ancients used a seal where we use a lock. Even to the present day, in eastern countries, bags of money pass current without being counted, so long as the seal remains unbroken. Sins are treasured up for a day of final reckoning. They are thus declared to be of moment in the sight of God. All sins are against God, and involve not only his law, but his entire being. One by one, and silently, they enter into the divine remembrance, and none can be lost.

Sewest up — Literally, sewest on; the taphal of Job 13:4, which leads some to interpret it, “Thou addest iniquity to iniquity, one upon the other,” (Mercerus,) thus charging upon God that he makes the sins of his creature to be greater than they are. But such a sense is incongruous. Job means simply to say that God takes the greatest precaution lest any sins should be lost — even to the sewing them up against any possible rending of their receptacle.

Fifth strophe — Job’s final outcry to God feelingly urges man’s dismal fate, with nature, God, and sheol against him, Job 14:18-22.


Verse 18

18. And surely But. He now proceeds to sum up.

Cometh to nought Decayeth. Literally, withereth like a leaf. A bold metaphor. Zophar had promised Job, if he would repent, enduring prosperity, (Job 11:15-20.) In a world, Job tacitly replies, where there is nothing substantial — where things most stable are overwhelmed with destruction — there is nothing for man to hope. Nature is at war with itself, and God with man. Instability characterizes every conceivable work of God’s creative power. AElian says, that it was the general opinion in his time that mounts Parnassus, Olympus, and Etna had much diminished in size.


Verse 19

19. Washest away, etc. — Its floods (referring to “waters,” used collectively) wash away the dust of the earth, leaving desolation in their track. The gradation of the passage is peculiar — it follows the course of disintegration: from mountains to rocks, from rocks to stones, thence to the dust of the earth; and thus the mountain comes to nought. Nature and man alike decay away into dust.


Verse 20

20. Thou prevailest — Existence is made up of assaults upon the health and life of man. Subtle disease, unforeseen calamity, fickle temperatures, carking sorrow, “the arrow that flieth by day,” and the terror that lurketh in the night, are God’s agents ever hurtling against the citadel of life and calling aloud, “Eternity is near.”

Thou changest his countenance

Decay is the seal death stamps upon its victim in token of victory. “I am not so much afraid of death as ashamed thereof. ‘Tis the very disgrace and ignominy of our nature, that in a moment can so disfigure us that our nearest friends, wife and children, stand afraid, and start at us.” — Sir Thomas Browne.


Verse 21

21. He knoweth it not — The dead are ignorant of what takes place among the living. Compare Ecclesiastes 9:5-6. The poet laureate has transferred to his page the painful thought of Job.

His little daughter, whose sweet face

He kissed, taking his last embrace,

Becomes dishonour to her race

His sons grow up that bear his name,

Some grow to honour, some to shame;

But he is chill to praise or blame.

TENNYSON Two Voices.

On the contrary, the religion of Confucius, which consists of the worship of ancestors, hinges upon the knowledge that the dead still retain of the living. “They are regarded as watching with affectionate interest all the varied fortunes of their progeny, and urging them along the beaten road of duty to a higher and happier state of being.” — HARDWICKE, Christ, etc. This dogma, apparently harmless, deteriorated into the dethronement of Deity and the worship of the dead. The ethics of Aristotle (i, chap. ix) read almost like a comment upon our text. He argues that “if any thing does pierce the veil and reach them, it must be something trivial and small, either in itself or to them.”


Verse 22

22. Upon him and within him are the same, ( עליו,) and signify either “on his own account,” or better, in him. “He no longer knows and perceives the things of the upper world, he is henceforth conscious only of his pain and sorrow.” — Dillmann. The repetition of in him is significant; as much as to say, flesh and soul are equally essential to the identity of the man. In the intimation that man’s condition in sheol is by no means one of abstract personality, we have the germ of the vastly expanded disclosure given Job 19:26-27, of a future substantial union of the two. Some weakly suppose that Job speaks of the infirmities of age; others, (Delitzsch, Umbreit. etc.,) that he means the literal grave. According to the latter, Job employs a figure which attributes life to things inanimate. The dead body is regarded as suffering pain on account of its disconsolate, isolated condition. Job elsewhere speaks in like figure of the clods of the valley, that they shall be sweet to him. Job 21:33,

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 14:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/job-14.html. 1874-1909.

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