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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Job 14

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Job Considers the Grave and the Afterlife

A. Frail man and a mighty God.

1. (Job 14:1-2) Job muses on the frailty of man.

"Man who is born of woman
Is of few days and full of trouble.
He comes forth like a flower and fades away;
He flees like a shadow and does not continue."

a. Few of days and full of trouble: Having mentioned the idea of the frailty of men in general and his own frailty in particular, Job here expands on the idea. He considers that the days of man on this earth are short and often full of trouble.

b. He flees like a shadow and does not continue: Considering the life of man - fleeting and frail - Job also speculated on what happened to man after this fading, shadow-like life; considering that perhaps it does not continue.

i. "Job was not giving a general polemic against resurrection. On the contrary, he was saying that if God wanted to, he could hide Job in Sheol till his anger passed and then raise him (Job 14:13)." (Smick)

2. (Job 14:3-6) Job's prayer: "Consider how frail man is and have mercy on him."

"And do You open Your eyes on such a one,
And bring me to judgment with Yourself?
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!
Since his days are determined,
The number of his months is with You;
You have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass.
Look away from him that he may rest,
Till like a hired man he finishes his day."

a. Do You open Your eyes on such a one: Job here applied his previous thoughts on the fleeting and frail nature of humanity to prayer over his own situation. "God, You see that I am the rotting one; the moth-eaten garment; the fading flower and the fleeing shadow. Look upon me in mercy!"

b. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one! Job despairs that perhaps God demands something of him that he is unable to be or do. If God demands perfect cleanness before He will relieve Job's affliction, then Job knew he could never meet that standard.

i. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? "I do not say, I am clean, as Zophar pretendeth; but confess that I am a very unclean creature, and therefore liable to thy justice, if thou wilt deal rigorously with me; but remember that this is not my peculiar case, but the common lot of every man." (Poole)

c. You have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass. Look away from him that he may rest: Job continued to paint the picture of God fencing man in, restricting his movements. Under such an idea, it would be better if God would just look away so the afflicted one could rest.

B. Job's meditation of what lies beyond this life.

1. (Job 14:7-12) Job considers the idea that man does not live beyond the grave.

"For there is hope for a tree,
If it is cut down, that it will sprout again,
And that its tender shoots will not cease.
Though its root may grow old in the earth,
And its stump may die in the ground,
Yet at the scent of water it will bud
And bring forth branches like a plant.
But man dies and is laid away;
Indeed he breathes his last
And where is he?
As water disappears from the sea,
And a river becomes parched and dries up,
So man lies down and does not rise.
Till the heavens are no more,
They will not awake Nor be roused from their sleep."

a. There is hope for a tree: Job here observed that there is a sort of resurrection in the world of trees and plants; new life can sprout out of an old stump.

b. But a man dies and is laid away: As far as Job could see, death ends the existence of man and after death a man simply disappears (And where ishe?) As Job thought about it, it all seemed so unfair. Why should a tree have a better hope of resurrection than a man?

c. So man lies down and does not rise. . . . They will not awake nor be roused from their sleep: We come to another place in the Book of Job reflecting the shadowy and uncertain understanding of the afterlife. We can simply say that Job was wrong in his understanding of the afterlife.

i. We can explain Job's lack of knowledge of the afterlife by understanding the principle of 2 Timothy 2:10: that Jesus Christ brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. The understanding of immortality was at best cloudy in the Old Testament, but is much clearer in the New Testament. For example, we can say that Jesus knew fully what He was talking about when He described hell and judgment (such as in Matthew 25:41-46). We therefore rely on the New Testament for our understanding of the afterlife, much more than the Old.

ii. We also understand that this does not in any way take away from the truth of the Bible and the Book of Job. What is true is that Job actually said this and actually believed it; the truth of the statement itself must be evaluated according to the rest of the Bible.

iii. Later, God challenged and corrected Job's presumptuous assertions regarding the afterlife, reminding Job that he did not in fact know that life after death was like (Job 38:2 and 38:17).

2. (Job 14:13-17) Job longs for the grave and hopes for something beyond.

"Oh, that You would hide me in the grave,
That You would conceal me until Your wrath is past,
That You would appoint me a set time, and remember me!
If a man dies, shall he live again?
All the days of my hard service I will wait,
Till my change comes.
You shall call, and I will answer You;
You shall desire the work of Your hands.
For now You number my steps,
But do not watch over my sin.
My transgression is sealed up in a bag,
And You cover my iniquity."

a. Oh, that You would hide me in the grave: Job didn't know much about the condition of man after death, but he supposed - perhaps hoped - that it was better than his current misery. Yet Job's general uncertainty is reflected in his question, "If a man dies, shall he live again?"

i. "It was a tremendous question: but let us remind ourselves that there is no answer to it, save that which came to men through Jesus Christ and His Gospel. As Paul said, it is He 'Who brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel' (2 Timothy 1:10). The question of Job was answered by Jesus, and that so completely as to leave no room for doubt." (Morgan)

ii. "We read of that godly and learned Scotch divine, Mr. John Knox, that a little before his death he got up out of his bed, and being asked by his friends, why, being so sick, he would offer to rise, and not rather take his rest? He answered, that he had all the last night been taken up on the meditation of the resurrection, and that he would now go up into the pulpit, that he might impart to others the comforts which thereby himself had received. And surely if he had been able to have done as he desired, I know not what text fitter for his purpose he could have taken, than these words of Job, 'If a man die, shall he live again?'" (Trapp)

b. All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes: Job looked for the change he hoped death to bring, that at least it would relieve him from his present agony.

i. "Even if God kills him (before his vindication?) he will wait in hope. His readiness to go down into death in faith transforms his ideas of Sheol … It is now seen as a temporary hiding place … It is another period of contracted service. Even if silent now, God will be heard then." (Andersen)

ii. "Three glimpses of this glorious change were seen: 1. In Moses' face. 2. In Christ's transfiguration. 3. In Stephen's countenance when he stood before the council. Such a change as this is well worth waiting for."

iii. We also wait for our change to come.

- We shall be changed into immortality at the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:50-53).
- When we see Him, we will be like Him (1 John 3:2).
- Our bodies will be gloriously transformed (Philippians 3:21).
- David was confident he would be changed into God's likeness (Psalm 17:15).

iv. At the same time, there are some things that will not change for the believer when they go to heaven.

- A Christian's purpose and priority of life does not change.
- A Christian's identity does not change.
- A Christian's companions will not change very much.

c. You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of Your hands: Job here hoped for a restoration of relationship with God after death, since he no longer really hoped for a restoration during this life.

i. We see the tension (perhaps confusion) in Job regarding the afterlife. To say, "You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of Your hands" is much more hopeful and positive than previous statements.

ii. The idea that God shall desire the work of His hands is powerful. " 'Thou will pant with desire;' or, 'Thou wilt yearn over the work of thy hands.' God has subjected the creature to vanity, in hope; having determined the resurrection. Man is one of the noblest works of God. He has exhibited him as a master-piece of his creative skill, power, and goodness. Nothing less than the strongest call upon his justice could have induced him thus to destroy the work of his hands. No wonder that he has an earnest desire towards it … Even God is represented as earnestly longing for the ultimate reviviscence of the sleeping dust. He cannot, he will not, forget the work of his hands." (Clarke)

d. But do not watch over my sin. . . . You cover my iniquity: Job prayed these words not only because he desperately wanted God to not judge him according to the full measure of his sins, but also because he wanted Zophar and the others to hear that Job did in fact know that he was a sinner, and not perfect (as Zophar accused Job of in Job 11:4).

i. My transgression is sealed up in a bag: "This includes two ideas:

1. Job's transgressions were all numbered; not one was passed by.
2. They were sealed up; so that none of them could be lost. These bags were indifferently sewed or sealed, the two words in the text." (Clarke)

3. (Job 14:18-22) Job considers the limitless power of God - and despairs.

"But as a mountain falls and crumbles away,
And as a rock is moved from its place;
As water wears away stones,
And as torrents wash away the soil of the earth;
So You destroy the hope of man.
You prevail forever against him, and he passes on;
You change his countenance and send him away.
His sons come to honor, and he does not know it;
They are brought low, and he does not perceive it.
But his flesh will be in pain over it,
And his soul will mourn over it."

a. So You destroy the hope of man: Job pictured a great mountain crumbling away, or a flood sweeping away great tracts of earth; he considered that this illustrated the way that God sweeps away the hope of man. The idea is that when God sets Himself against a man, there is nothing the man can do; God will prevail forever against him, and he passes on.

i. In Job's poetic outpouring in chapter 14, in the middle of the poem he gives his glorious confidence in the resurrection; yet the poem ends back in despair (So You destroy the hope of man). Yet it would be wrong to think that it means that Job's hope of resurrection was only temporary or fleeting. We should not be of those "expecting Job to use western logic in constructing his discourse so that an argument is followed through step by step until the result is reached at the end." (Andersen)

ii. "The author's real convictions may be stated in the middle of a poem, flanked before and after by contrasting opinions which he rejects. Verse 14-17 then constitute the high point of the speech, and reaffirm the faith already expressed in chapter 13, especially in verse 15." (Andersen)

b. His sons come to honor, and he does not know it: The man swept away by God does not know the good or bad things that happen to his family after he passes from this life. Job considered how fundamentally unfair all of this seemed; that somehow, even this swept away one's flesh will be in pain over it - over the not knowing as much as anything else.

c. And his soul will mourn over it: These words fittingly conclude this section recording Job's speech to his friends and his prayers to God. His soul is genuinely in mourning, and much of what we read is the agonized outpouring of his feelings.

i. It is easy to read these emotional outbursts and the lack of theological detachment in this blameless and upright man and think that Job was less spiritual than he should be. Yet we remember that the Book of Job records many of Job's opinions (born out of great pain and frustration), opinions that are later corrected and reproved (Job 38:2 and 38:17).

ii. We are somewhat reminded of Jesus' words at Mark 15:34: My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? One the one hand, those words were a true and accurate description of how Jesus felt; He rightly felt forsaken by God the Father at that moment. He felt it because Jesus not only endured the withdrawal of the Father's fellowship, but also the actual outpouring of the Father's wrath upon Him as a substitute for sinful humanity. At the same time, we cannot say that the separation between the Father and the Son at the cross was complete, because as 2 Corinthians 5:19 says, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself at the cross.

iii. According to the same example, we can say of Job's suffering that his feelings were real and understandable; yet there was a truth that went beyond his feelings that made sense of his suffering, though that truth was completely veiled to Job.

© 2007 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

Study Guide for Esther 1 ← Prior Book
Study Guide for Psalm 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for Job 13 ← Prior Chapter
Study Guide for Job 15 Next Chapter →
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