1 - 10 The Briefness of Life
1 “Is not man forced to labor on earth,
And [are not] his days like the days of a hired man?
2 “As a slave who pants for the shade,
And as a hired man who eagerly waits for his wages,
3 So am I allotted months of vanity,
And nights of trouble are appointed me.
4 “When I lie down I say,
‘When shall I arise?’
But the night continues,
And I am continually tossing until dawn.
5 “My flesh is clothed with worms and a crust of dirt,
My skin hardens and runs.
6 “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,
And come to an end without hope.
7 “Remember that my life is [but] breath;
My eye will not again see good.
8 “The eye of him who sees me will behold me no longer;
Your eyes [will be] on me, but I will not be.
9 “When a cloud vanishes, it is gone,
So he who goes down to Sheol does not come up.
10 “He will not return again to his house,
Nor will his place know him anymore.
Job here continues his answer to Eliphaz. He continues with the justification of his vehement expressions of despair. The words in this chapter are of a general nature, but are spoken in the presence of the three friends. Later he addresses his complaint to God. That is why Job’s argument increases in vehemence. Job knows like no other mortal on earth that he has a battle to fight (verse 1). Life means struggle for every human being.
The Hebrew word for battle, tsava, originally meant heavy military service; later it took on the meaning of heavy labor in general. For one person the struggle is fiercer than for another, but struggle is there. For the Christian it is always true because he is in military service and as a soldier of Jesus Christ has a hard battle to fight (2Tim 2:3). In the case of Job, the battle is so hard that he longs for its end. For him, every day is a day of hard work, as is the case for a hired man.
Job feels like a slave who has to work in the burning sun and yearns for the shadow of evening (verse 2). He wants to escape the heat of the trial. As a hired man for whom the day cannot pass quickly enough, because he is paid his wages at the end of it, Job longs for the day of misery to be over.
That day of misery has been going on for months (verse 3). They are “months of vanity”. The days of Job’s illness are not only days of misery, but also days in which, with all your toil, you perform nothing and achieve nothing. That gives the feeling of vanity, meaninglessness and emptiness. For God it is not so. We have to learn to accept that God does have a purpose in our lives, even if in our own opinion we spend our days in vanity.
Even during the nights Job does not come loose from misery, because they are “nights of trouble”. He feels the trouble all the time. Those nights are “appointed” to him, similar to the months of vanity he has “allotted”. What is appointed to you, you get. You also get what is allotted. For both, Job didn’t have to do anything. It seems that he uses these words to indicate that he did not deserve the vanity and the trouble.
Normally you get rest by sleeping. A good sleep is refreshing and gives us new strength. Sleep can also have a healing effect (Jn 11:12), but even this effect is not given to Job (verse 4). If he wants to go to sleep, he knows that it will be another long night of trouble. That is why he longs to arise right away. But when he is risen, he thinks about how long the day will be again before God makes it evening. Until dawn he will be saturated with restlessness all day long (cf. Deu 28:67). What agony! Nowhere rest and never rest!
The unrest that torments his spirit is accompanied by terrible physical suffering (verse 5). In addition, he looks hideous. There are worms everywhere on his skin. On his wounds there is not an ordinary crust associated with a healing process, but a crust of dirt, which only makes the wound dirtier and the pain more severe. His skin is cleft, cracked open, and the pus is everywhere.
The days that have passed have always gone faster than we were aware, whether they are days of prosperity or days of adversity (verse 6). The days behind us have flown at the speed of “a weaver’s shuttle” (cf. Jam 4:14b; 1Pet 1:24). The days we experience and the days ahead of us always last longer than we wish when they are days of hopeless pain and sorrow.
Job appeals to God in verse 7 to remember that his life is but a “breath” (cf. Psa 78:39). He says this without hope that God will do it. He does not expect his eye to ever see the good again. Nor will anyone ever see him again from those who see him now (verse 8). They will no longer perceive him, for he will not be there. He has no hope that God will once again turn His eyes away from him for good.
Job feels like a cloud, also to be translated as ‘fog’ or ‘mist’, which you see for a moment and then dissolves or disappears out of sight (verse 9). That is how it is, he says, with someone who goes down to Sheol, the realm of the dead. He disappears from sight and nothing is left of him. Never will he return to live on earth. It does not mean that Job does not believe in the resurrection, but that life on earth has ended for him, and that others will not see him there once he has disappeared from the earth.
What torments him the most at this thought is that he will never return to the familiar place of his home and that his familiar place of living will not see him again (verse 10). The familiar streetscape has disappeared for him and he has disappeared from the familiar streetscape. They will no longer see his appearance, hear his footstep and his voice. Thus is death. It puts an end to all that is familiar and valued on earth. Whoever is left behind, must go on without him. The old familiar never returns.
Such are the thoughts of someone who is tormented by questions about the why of what happens to him. However, the believer may know that he is going to a better place, where countless believers have already gone before him. Above all, he may know that death brings him to the Lord Jesus, in paradise, where it is very much better (Lk 23:43; Phil 1:23).
11 - 19 God Is His Enemy
11 “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit,
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
12 “Am I the sea, or the sea monster,
That You set a guard over me?
13 “If I say, ‘My bed will comfort me,
My couch will ease my complaint,’
14 Then You frighten me with dreams
And terrify me by visions;
15 So that my soul would choose suffocation,
Death rather than my pains.
16 “I waste away; I will not live forever.
Leave me alone, for my days are [but] a breath.
17 “What is man that You magnify him,
And that You are concerned about him,
18 That You examine him every morning
And try him every moment?
19 “Will You never turn Your gaze away from me,
Nor let me alone until I swallow my spittle?
From verse 11, there is, as it were, a sudden revival with Job. After his words in verses 1-10 about the brevity and vanity of life, his resistance to the fate that God has bestowed on him flares up and he challenges God for it as it were. He calls Him to account.
He cannot keep silent about what God has done to him, he will not keep his mouth shut about it (verse 11). The anguish of his spirit seeks a way out. He finds it by complaining, by expressing the bitterness of his soul. He cannot bear the thought of his rush to the grave and thus the loss of all that is dear to him.
He calls out to God whether he is the sea, or the sea monster to Him (verse 12). Is this how God sees him? For God sets a guard over him as if he were a fierce sea or a sea monster devouring everything. He feels as if God is doing everything He can to restrain him so that he does not harm others.
He tells God that he is trying to find comfort on his couch (verse 13), by which he says that he is not a destructive sea or a sea monster. He also goes to his sleeping place to ease his complaint. He is someone who needs comfort and support, he only yearns for peace and security. How, then, does God come to think that he must be restrained like the sea or a sea monster? In addition, God frightens him with dreams and terrifies him with visions when he tries to find peace (verse 14). Eliphaz has also had visions (Job 4:14-21) and seen the greatness of God in them. But Job only experiences nightmares and sees in his dream only the horrors of God.
Through all his torments, Job experiences God as an enemy, even though he has a strong need for a Friend. But Job accuses God of making life so unbearable for him that he chooses to die by suffocation (verse 15). After all, life no longer makes any sense at all. It consists of a chain of misery that is felt uninterrupted every day and every night. Surely then it is clear that he would rather be dead than alive, isn’t it?
He despises life as it is now (verse 16). It has become a heavy burden and has nothing attractive anymore. It is a comforting thought for him that he will not live forever, not always, in this misery on earth. In itself this is a thought that also gives the Christian peace and comfort when he is in trouble. Many Christians live on earth as if they will live here forever. With them there is no desire to leave the earth in exchange for heaven because they are having a great time here.
What for Job is a flee is a desire for the dedicated Christian. Job wants to be free of misery. The Christian looks forward to the joy. Job looks to the here and now, the Christian looks to the future.
Job begs God to leave him alone. His days are a sigh, they are so over, but God does not give him a moment’s rest in the little time he has. And he has just such a need for rest. Here Job does not know what he is asking for, and fortunately God does not answer his supplication. If God really would leave him alone, He would take His hands off him. That would really mean endless unrest. If God leaves a man to himself, he is lost without salvation.
Once again Job asks God his desperate question as to why He considers the mortal, that puny man, of such great value, that He concerns Himself with him (verse 17). Why does the great God of eternity take the time and the effort to visit him every morning and to try him with plagues and pain (verse 18)? Surely it is a waste of time and effort, for it does not benefit Him at all. Job undoubtedly means himself. He impatiently asks why God enjoys tormenting and paining a mortal like him every day.
The answer to the desperate question of verses 17-18 is magnificently given in Psalm 8 by presenting Christ, the Son of Man, the last Adam (Psa 8:5-8). The value of man for God we see in the Man Christ Jesus. Every trial with which He visits one of His own is meant to make him more conformed to that unique Man.
Job asks God how long He thinks He will continue His trials before He stops paying attention to him and focuses His gaze on something else (verse 19). How long must he be the target of all God’s arrows? It feels to Job as if God is constantly pointing His gaze at him in order to hit him. God gives him so little rest that he does not even come to swallow his spittle. Swallowing spittle doesn’t take much time, it’s done in no time. But even this short time of rest is not given to him by God, as Job experiences.
20 - 21 Appeal in View of Sin
20 “Have I sinned? What have I done to You,
O watcher of men?
Why have You set me as Your target,
So that I am a burden to myself?
21 “Why then do You not pardon my transgression
And take away my iniquity?
For now I will lie down in the dust;
And You will seek me, but I will not be.”
Here Job speaks of his sin, that is, in form of a questioning (verse 20). It is not a confession. Job has a long way to go before he comes to the confession he makes at the end of the book (Job 40:3-5; 42:6). Suppose he had sinned, what should he do? It is not a question of a convinced conscience, but of calling God to account. Who can resist Him? If He seeks sin in man, He will always find it.
“Watcher of men” is a name that indicates that God cares for men and watches over them or protects them from evil (Isa 27:3; Psa 31:23). However, Job does not use this name in that sense, but in a disapproving sense. He sees in God Someone Who always looks after him and never leaves him alone. He is God’s target and how does God hit him! No arrow is amiss, every arrow hits its aim. God is aiming at him. He pours out all His displeasure on him.
It feels to Job that he has become a burden to himself. This is the heaviest burden a man can bear. We can carry another man’s burden, but there’s no one who can take over our own self as a burden. Everyone knows in depth only their own need. There is no greater deliverance than the deliverance of ourselves, of our own self.
In verse 20 Job speaks about his (possible) sin. In verse 21 he asks why God does not forgive him his transgression if indeed he should have sinned. He also asks why God does not take away his iniquity. The reason he gives is that he will lie in the dust after all. Then he is no longer there.
Job is desperate. Why can’t God forgive him instead of continuing with His punishing hand? There is a need for Job to be redeemed. If God is able to forgive and redeem, why does He keep punishing him? After all, God does not gain anything by continuing to punish him, for he is going to die anyway and will lie in the dust (Job 3:13). Then God will no longer see him at all, even if He were still looking so earnestly for him.
Although Job here speaks too humanly of God, we still hear his longing for God. He does not want to abandon God and also expects God not to abandon him, but to search for him.