1 - 2 The Brevity of Life
1 “Man, who is born of woman,
Is short-lived and full of turmoil.
2 “Like a flower he comes forth and withers.
He also flees like a shadow and does not remain.
Job continues his answer to Zophar. In verses 1-2 he describes the brevity and restlessness of man’s life (Psa 90:10; 103:15; Gen 47:9; Jam 1:11). He is now going to apply the situation in which he finds himself to every human being. Just as God treats him, He treats every man, He believes (verse 1).
Just look at man. By speaking of man as “born of a woman” Job emphasizes his weakness and fragility. That is the woman par excellence, and so is what she produces. There are exceptions, but in general you observe that a human being only lives for a short time and that he is unstable in his life.
It has gone well for a moment, just like a flower that comes forth (verse 2). But how short-lived is its beauty. After a few days it has withered and its beauty has disappeared. The flee of a shadow shows it. At dusk, a shadow moves quickly and without making a sound until it has disappeared. That process cannot be stopped. The shadow is connected with night and death. There is no escape. This is how Job sees his life and the life of man in general. There is no hope and no joy, only misery, now and tomorrow.
3 - 6 God Determines the Time of Life
3 “You also open Your eyes on him
And bring him into judgment with Yourself.
4 “Who can make the clean out of the unclean?
5 “Since his days are determined,
The number of his months is with You;
And his limits You have set so that he cannot pass.
6 “Turn Your gaze from him that he may rest,
Until he fulfills his day like a hired man.
Job goes on complaining. While he is so insignificant, God perceives everything he does (verse 3). However, He does not do this to take care of him (cf. Jer 32:19), but to “bring him into judgment”. Is that fair: he the weak mortal, opposed to Almighty God? Of course God will find something that is not right. Who can stand before Him when He judges (Rev 6:17)?
He is not only weak, but also unclean by his birth from a sinful man (verse 4). In this Job is right. He speaks here of what we call “original sin” (cf. Psa 51:5; Rom 5:12). However, Job seems to pronounce this more as an apology than a recognition. Can he do anything about sinning? Surely God can’t blame him? Job indirectly blames God for his sin. In the same way many people speak about sin, both unbelievers and believers.
In Job’s weak existence God has also determined the number of days of his life (verse 5). Job also counts in months (Job 3:6; 7:3; 21:21; 29:2). It indicates the shortness of life. The times of a man’s life are in God’s hand (Psa 31:15). Man cannot change the boundaries of the various stages of life or the various periods of prosperity or adversity in which he finds himself.
If God has determined all this, so Job asks Him, let Him give him some rest to make his days on earth full (verse 6). Let God not look upon him for a moment and stop tormenting him. Then he will be able to enjoy life a little more, just as a hired man enjoys peace after a hard day’s work. He then is for a while not feeling the pressure of his boss. This is what Job misses.
7 - 12 Job Sees His Situation as Without Hope
7 “For there is hope for a tree,
When it is cut down, that it will sprout again,
And its shoots will not fail.
8 “Though its roots grow old in the ground
And its stump dies in the dry soil,
9 At the scent of water it will flourish
And put forth sprigs like a plant.
10 “But man dies and lies prostrate.
Man expires, and where is he?
11 “[As] water evaporates from the sea,
And a river becomes parched and dried up,
12 So man lies down and does not rise.
Until the heavens are no longer,
He will not awake nor be aroused out of his sleep.
Job compares the hopelessness of his situation with a tree being cut down (verse 7). It seems to be over with that tree, but it turns out not to be so. The tree sprouts out again, life reappears. This can be seen in the young shoots that constantly reappear from the tree. It may be that its root in the earth is old and that its stump is dying (verse 8). Yet it will turn out that the root is not dead as soon as it ‘smells’ water, which means as soon as any water comes near it (verse 9). While it seems to be dying, from the force of life still within it, it makes another sprig, just as happens with a young plant.
With “man” – with whom he may well mean himself again – it is different, says Job (verse 10). When he dies, his life on earth is over and done with. There is no residue of strength left in him to come to new life. Although Job says so, he does not seem to be completely without hope, for he wonders where his spirit is when he has died. A man cannot live without hope. Without hope every suffering becomes unbearable. There must be a resurrection. That is exactly what nature makes clear when, after the death of winter, new life becomes visible again in spring. Today’s suffering makes the life of a believer a frightening life if there were no resurrection (cf. 1Cor 15:19).
Job compares life to water that evaporates from the sea or that is in a river that becomes parched and dries up (verse 11). Water that has disappeared can no longer be collected (2Sam 14:14a). Thus it is with a man lying in the tomb and does not rise again to live as a man on earth (verse 12). For Job this is just as certain as the existence of heaven above the earth has no end. Once someone has died, he will not wake up by himself, nor will he be raised from his death sleep by anyone else.
13 - 17 Still a Vague Hope?
13 “Oh that You would hide me in Sheol,
That You would conceal me until Your wrath returns [to You],
That You would set a limit for me and remember me!
14 “If a man dies, will he live [again]?
All the days of my struggle I will wait
Until my change comes.
15 “You will call, and I will answer You;
You will long for the work of Your hands.
16 “For now You number my steps,
You do not observe my sin.
17 “My transgression is sealed up in a bag,
And You wrap up my iniquity.
In these verses, we hear something of hope in Job’s words, no matter how vague and distorted that hope may be by his wrong thoughts about God. He sighs against God if He would put him in Sheol (verse 13). Then he would be hidden from His wrath. It would then no longer touch him. He longs to wait in the realm of the dead for God to change His attitude toward him and stop chasing His creature. This means he presupposes a possibility of change.
In the word “until” something of a vague hope sounds that God’s wrath will not always rest upon him. He wants God to set a limit to his suffering and think of him. However hopeless his suffering may be, the hope remains dormant in him that this suffering will one day come to an end. No matter how much Job experiences that God has turned His face away from him, the thought of God thinking of him will not leave him.
Job wonders whether a man, when he has died, will live again (verse 14). Previously, in verse 12, he clearly argued that a man who has died will not return to the living. Nevertheless, he presupposes the possibility of seeking temporary refuge in the realm of the dead until the wrath of God has subsided in his life.
And then, if that had happened, he would return to the land of the living. Then God would call Job (verse 15). This calling means that God would finally not be an adversary for him. Job would then be able to answer with peace of mind, the relationship would be restored. It is no longer Job who has called God without God giving him an answer, because the opposite happens: God calls and Job answers.
In this new relationship, God would count Job’s footsteps (verse 16), which means that God would closely follow Job’s doings and dealings. But not anymore to condemn Job as an alleged criminal, because now God will not heed the (alleged) sins of Job. In any case, Job now presents God as a loving and merciful God.
This is underlined by the metaphor of the sealing up in a bag his transgression (verse 17). This metaphor implies that God will keep the iniquity of Job together and no longer remember it.
Unfortunately, all these beautiful thoughts turn out to be a fata morgana for Job, a mirage. Soon, and this happens in the following verses, he will wake up disillusioned and will have to face reality again.
18 - 22 The Strongest Man Loses out to God
18 “But the falling mountain crumbles away,
And the rock moves from its place;
19 Water wears away stones,
Its torrents wash away the dust of the earth;
So You destroy man’s hope.
20 “You forever overpower him and he departs;
[You] change his appearance and send him away.
21 “His sons achieve honor, but he does not know [it];
Or they become insignificant, but he does not perceive it.
22 “But his body pains him,
And he mourns only for himself.”
“A mountain (verse 18) is a pattern of stability. When a mountain falls, there is nothing left of its stability. The mountain has crumbled away. The same goes for “a rock” that “moves from its place”. The most impressive certainties disappear like snow in summer when God acts with it. Job’s life seemed as stable as a mountain and a rock. But his life perishes, it is taken from its fixed place.
The water of trial has done its work thoroughly (verse 19). The stones of the rock of his house of life have been wearing away by the continuing trials. The stones have become like dust of the earth. His life has become dust that is washed away by the torrents that came over his life. Job’s life and also his environment have been crushed under the heavy blows of the disasters that have come upon him. This is how God “destroy man’s hope”.
What can a powerless human, begin against Almighty God (verse 20)? God is infinitely stronger. He overpowers him forever. Never will a human being have a chance to compete against God again. He disappears from God’s presence to disappear into death. At first he had a kind face towards God. That was in his former days of prosperity. But God changed his face through His plagues, indicating that God is the cause of the change in his attitude toward Him. And then God sends him away to the grave.
In the grave he is gone from the presence of God and he is also gone from his family (verse 21). He doesn’t know how his children are doing, whether they are regarded or despised. He no longer has an eye for it.
For the present Job has enough with just himself. (verse 22). He lives with death as his only expectation. His body pains him tremendously. In addition, he has no joy whatsoever in his soul. He experiences nothing but mourning. All joy is gone. What’s the use of life? We see that Job struggles enormously with the meaning of suffering, and that in the darkness and despair of this ambiguity he continues to search for a possible way out, for a possible explanation for his suffering.
Here the first round of discussions ends. It is clear that the book cannot be closed. There will be another round of discussions.