Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? - Margin, or, warfare. The word used here צבא tsâbâ' means properly a host, an army, see the notes, Isa 1:9; then it means warfare, or the hard service of a soldier; notes, Isa 40:2. Here it means that man on the earth was enlisted, so to speak, for a certain time. He had a certain and definite hard service to perform, and which he must continue to discharge until he was relieved by death. It was a service of hazard, like the life of a soldier, or of toil, like that of one who had been hired for a certain time, and who anxiously looked for the period of his release. The object of Job in introducing this remark evidently is, to vindicate himself for the wish to die which he had expressed. He maintains that it is as natural and proper for man in his circumstances to wish to be released by death, as for a soldier to desire that his term of service might be accomplished, or a weary servant to long for the shades of the evening. The Septuagint renders it, "Is not the life of man upon the earth peirateerion " - explained by Schleusner and rendered by Good, as meaning a band of pirates. The Vulgate renders it, militia - miltary service. The sense is, that the life of man was like the hard service of a soldier; and this is one of the points of justification to which Job referred in Job 6:29-30. He maintains that it is not improper to desire that such a service should close.
The days of an hireling - A man who has been hired to perform some service with a promise of a reward, and who is not unnaturally impatient to receive it. Job maintained that such was the life of man. He was looking forward to a reward, and it was not unnatural or improper to desire that that reward should be given to him.
As a servant earnestly desireth - Margin, gapeth after. The word here שׁאף shâ'aph means to breathe hard, to pant, to blow, and then to desire earnestly.
The shadow - This may refer either to a shade in the intense heat of the day, or to the night. Nothing is more grateful in oriental countries, when the sun pours down intensely on burning sands, than the shadow of a tree, or the shade of a projecting rock. The editor of the Pictorial Bible on this verse remarks, "We think we can say, that next to water, the greatest and deepest enjoyment we could ever realize in the hot climates of the East was, when on a journey, any circumstance of the road brought us for a few minutes under some shade. Its reviving influence upon the bodily frame, and consequently upon the spirits, is inconceivable by one who has not had some experience of the kind. Often also during the hall of a caravan in the open air, when the writer has been enabled to secure a station for repose under the shelter of a rock or of an old wall, has his own exultation and strong sense of luxurious enjoyment reminded him of this and other passages of Scripture, in which shade is mentioned as a thing punted for with intense desire." Probably here, however, the reference is to the shades of night, the time when darkness falls upon the earth, and the servant is released from his toil. It is common in all languages to speak of night as enveloped with shadows. Thus, Virgil, En. iv. 7:
Humentemque aurora polo dimoverat urnbram.
The meaning of Job is, that as a servant looked impatiently for the shades of the evening when he would be dismissed from toil, so he longed for death.
And as an hireling looketh - That is, he anxiously desires his work to be finished, and expects the reward of his labors. So Job looked to the reward of a life of toil and piety. Is there not here an undoubted reference to a future state? Is it not manifest that Job looked to some recompense in the future world, as real and as sure, as a hired servant looks for the reward of his toils when his work is done?
So am I made to possess - Hebrew I am made to inherit. The meaning is, that such sad and melancholy seasons now were his only portion.
Months of vanity - That is, months which were destitute of comfort; in other words, months of affliction. How long his trials had continued before this, we have no means of ascertaining. There is no reason, however, to suppose that his bodily sufferings came upon him all at once, or that they had not continued for a considerable period. It is quite probable that his expressions of impatience were the result not only of the intensity, but the continuance of his sorrows.
And wearisome nights are appointed to me - Even his rest was disturbed. The time when care is usually forgotten and toil ceases, was to him a period of sleepless anxiety and distress - עמל ‛âmâl. The Septuagint renders it, nights of pangs (νύκτες ὀδυνῶν nuktes odunōn), expressing accurately the sense of the Hebrew. The Hebrew word עמל ‛âmâl is commonly applied to intense sorrow, to trouble and pain of the severest kind, such as the pains of parturition; see the notes at Isa 53:11.
When I lie down - I find no comfort and no rest on my bed. My nights are long, and I am impatient to have them passed, and equally so is it with the day. This is a description which all can understand who have been laid on a bed of pain.
And the night be gone - Margin, evening be measured. Herder renders this, "the night is irksome to me." The word rendered night (ערב ‛ereb) properly means the early part of the night, until it is succeeded by the dawn. Thus, in Gen 1:5," And the evening (ערב ‛ereb) and the morning were the first day." Here it means the portion of the night which is before the dawning of the aurora - the night. The word rendered "be gone" and in the margin "be measured" ( מדּד mı̂ddad), has been variously rendered. The verb מדד mâdad means to stretch, to extend, to measure; and, according to Gesenius, the form of the word used here is a noun meaning flight, and the sense is, "when shall be the flight of the night?" He derives it from נדד nâdad to move, to flee, to flee away. So Rosenmuller explains it. The expression is poetic, meaning, when shall the night be gone?
I am full of tossings to and fro - (נדדים nâdûdı̂ym). A word from the same root. It means uneasy motions, restlessness. He found no quiet repose on his bed.
Unto the dawning - נשׁף nesheph, from נשׁף nâshaph, to breathe; hence, the evening twilight because the breezes blow, or seem to breathe, and then it means also the morning twilight, the dawn. Dr. Stock renders it, "until the morning breeze."
My flesh is clothed with worms - Job here undoubtedly refers to his diseased state, and this is one of the passages by which we may learn the nature of his complaint; compare the notes at Job 2:7. There is reference here to the worms which are produced in ulcers and in other forms of disease. Michaelis remarks that such effects are produced often in the elephantiasis. Bochart, Hieroz. P. II, Lib. IV. c. xxvi. pp. 619-621, has abundantly proved that such effects occur in disease, and has mentioned several instances where death ensued from this cause; compare Act 12:23. The same thing would often happen - and particularly in hot climates - if it were not for the closest care and attention in keeping running sores as clean as possible.
And clods of dust - Accumulated on the ulcers which covered his whole body. This effect would be almost unavoidable. Dr. Good renders this, "worms and the imprisoning dust," and supposes that the image is taken from the grave, and that the idea in the whole passage is that of one who is "dead while he lives;" that is, of one who is undergoing putrefaction before he is buried. But the more common and correct interpretation is that which refers it to the accumulated filth attending a loathsome disease; see Job 2:8. The word which is used here and rendered clods (גוּשׁ gûsh) means a lump of earth or dust. Septuagint, βώλακας γῆς bōlakas gēs; Vulgate, sordes pulveris," clods of earth." The whole verse is rendered by the Septuagint," My body swarms with the putrefaction of worms, and I moisten the clods of earth with the ichor (ἰχῶρος ichōros) of ulcers."
My skin is broken - - רגע râga‛. This word means, to make afraid, to terrify; and then to shrink together from fear, or to contract. Here it means, according to Gesenius, that "the skin came together and healed, and then broke forth again and ran with pus." Jerome renders it, aruit - dries up. Herder, "my skin becometh closed." Dr. Good, "my skin becometh stiff;" and carries out his idea that the reference here is to the stiffened and rigid appearance of the body after death. Doederlin supposes that it refers to the rough and horrid appearance of the skin in the elephantiasis, when it becomes rigid and frightful by the disease. Jarchi renders it, cutis mea corrugata - my skin is rough, or filled with wrinkles. This seems to me to be the idea, that it was filled with wrinkles and corrugations; that it became stiff, fixed, frightful, and was such as to excite terror in the beholder.
And become loathsome - Gesenius, "runs again with pus." The word here used מאס mâ'as means properly to reject, contemn, despise. A second sense which it has is, to melt, to run like water; Psa 58:7, "Let them melt away (ימאסוּ yı̂mâ'asû) as waters." But the usual meaning is to be preferred here. His skin became abhorrent and loathsome in the sight of others.
My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle - That is, they are short and few. He does not here refer so much to the rapidity with which they were passing away as to the fact that they would soon be gone, and that he was likely to be cut off without being permitted to enjoy the blessings of a long life; compare the notes at Isa 38:12. The weaver's shuttle is the instrument by which the weaver inserts the filling in the woof. With us few things would furnish a more striking emblem of rapidity than the speed with which a weaver throws his shuttle from one side of the web to the other. It would seem that such was the fact among the ancients, though the precise manner in which they wove their cloth, is unknown. It was common to compare life with a web, which was filled up by the successive days. The ancient Classical writers spoke of it as a web woven by the Fates. We can all feel the force of the comparison used here by Job, that the days which we live fly swift away. How rapidly is one after another added to the web of life! How soon will the whole web be filled up, and life be closed! A few more shoots of the shuttle and all will be over, and our life will be cut off, as the weaver removes one web from the loom to make way for another. How important to improve the fleeting moments, and to live as if we were soon to see the rapid shuttle flying for the last time!
And are spent without hope - Without hope of recovery, or of future happiness on earth. It does not mean that he had no hope of happiness in the world to come. But such were his trials here, and so entirely had his comforts been removed, that he had no prospect of again enjoying life.
O remember - This is evidently an address to God. In the anguish of his soul Job turns his eye and his heart to his Maker, and urges reasons why he should close his life. The extent of his sufferings, and the certainty that he must die Job 7:9-10, are the reasons on which he dwells why his life should be closed, and he released. The language is respectful, but it is the expression of deep anguish and sorrow.
That my life is wind - Life is often compared with a vapor, a shadow, a breath. The language denotes that it is frail, and soon passed - as the breeze blows upon us, and soon passes by; compare Psa 78:39 :
For he remembered that they were but flesh;
A wind that passeth away and cometh not again.
Mine eye shall no more - Margin, as in Hebrew not return. The idea is, that if he was cut off, he would not return again to behold the pleasant scenes of this life.
See good - Margin, To see, that is, to enjoy. The sense is that he would no more be permitted to look upon the things which now so much gratified the sight, and gave so much pleasure. There is some resemblance here to the feelings expressed by Hezekiah in his apprehension of death; see the notes at Isa 38:10-11.
The eye of him that hath seen me shall see me no more - I shall be cut off from all my friends - one of the things which most distresses people when they come to die.
Thine eyes are upon me, and I am not - see Job 7:21. Dr. Good renders this, "let thine eye be upon me, and I am nothing." Herder, "thine eye will seek me, but I am no more." According to this the sense is, that he was soon to be removed from the place where he had dwelt, and that should he be sought there he could not be found. He would seem to represent God as looking for him, and not finding him; see Job 7:21. The margin has," I can live no longer." It may be possible that this is the meaning, that God had fixed an intense gaze upon him, and that he could not survive it. If this is the sense, then it accords with the descriptions given of the majesty of God everywhere in the Scriptures - that nothing could endure His presence, that even the earth trembles, and the mountains melt away, at his touch. Thus, in Psa 104:32 :
He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth;
He toucheth the hills, and they smoke.
Compare the representation of the power of the eye in Job 16:9 :
He teareth me in his wrath who hateth me;
He gnasheth upon me with his teeth
Mine enemy sharpeneth his eyes upon me.
On the whole, I think it probable that this is the sense here. There is an energy in the original which is greatly enfeebled in the common translation. God had fixed his eyes upon Job, and he at once disappeared; compare Rev 20:11 : "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them."
As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away - This image is taken from the light and fleecy clouds, which become smaller and smaller until they wholly vanish. For an illustration of a similar phrase, see the notes at Isa 44:22.
To the grave - - שׁאול she'ôl. Septuagint, εἰς ᾅδην eis hadēn, to Hades. The word may mean grave, or the place of departed spirits; see Isa 5:14, note; Isa 14:9, note; compare the notes at Job 10:21-22. Either signification will apply here.
Shall come up no more - Shall no more live on the earth. It would be pressing this too far to adduce it as proving that Job did not believe in the doctrine of the resurrection. The connection here requires us to understand him as meaning only that he would not appear again on the earth.
He shall return no more to his house - He shall not revisit his family. Job is dwelling on the calamity of death, and one of the circumstances most deeply felt in the prospect of death is, that a man must leave his own house to return no more. The stately palaces that he has built; the splendid halls which he has adorned; the chamber where he slept; the cheerful fireside where he met his family; the place at the table which he occupied, he will revisit no more. His tread will be no more heard; his voice will no more awaken delight in the happy family group; the father and husband returning from his daily toil will no more give pleasure to the joyous circle. Such is death. It removes us from all earthly comforts, takes us away from home and kindred - from children and friends, and bids us go alone to an unknown world. Job felt that it was a sad and gloomy thing. And so it is, unless there is a well-founded hope of a better world. It is the gospel only that can make us willing to leave our happy dwellings, and the embraces of kindred and friends, and to tread the lonely path to the regions of the dead. The friend of God has a brighter home in heaven. He has more numerous and better friends there. He has there a more splendid and happy mansion than any here on earth. He will be engaged in more blissful scenes there, than can be enjoyed by the most happy fireside here; will have more cheerful employments there, than any which can be found on earth; and will have higher and purer pleasures there, than can be found in parks, and lawns, and landscapes; in splendid halls, in music, and the festive board; in literary pursuits, and in the love of kindred. How far Job had the means of consolation from such reflections as these, it is not easy now to determine. The probability, however, is, that his views were comparatively dim and obscure.
Therefore I will not refrain my mouth - The idea in this verse is, "such is my distress at the prospect of dying, that I cannot but express it. The idea of going away from all my comforts, and of being committed to the grave, to revisit the earth no more, is so painful that I cannot but give vent to my feelings."
Am I a sea? - That is, "am I like a raging and tumultuous sea, that it is necessary to restrain and confine me? The sense of the verse is, that God had treated him as if he were untamable and turbulent, as if he were like the restless ocean, or as if he were some monster, which could be restrained within proper limits only by the stern exercise of power. Dr. Good, following Reiske, renders this, "a savage beast," understanding by the Hebrew word ים yâm a sea-monster instead of the sea itself, and then any ferocious beast, as the wild buffalo. But it is clear, I think, that the word never has this meaning. It means properly the sea; then a lake or inland sea, and then it is applied to any great river that spreads out like the ocean. Thus, it is applied both to the Nile, and to the Euphrates; see Isa 11:15, note; Isa 19:15, note. Herder here renders it, "the river and its crocodile," and this it seems to me is probably the meaning. Job asks whether he is like the Nile, overflowing its banks, and rolling on impetuously to the sea, and, unless restrained, sweeping everything away. Some such flood of waters, and not a savage beast, is undoubtedly intended here.
Or a whale - תנין tannı̂yn. Jerome, cetus - a whale. The Septuagint renders it, δράκων drakōn, a dragon. The Chaldee paraphrases it, "Am I condemned as the Egyptians were, who were condemned and submerged in the Red sea; or as Pharaoh, who was drowned in the midst of it, in his sins, that thou placest over me a guard?" Herder renders it, "the crocodile." On the meaning of the word, see Isa 13:22, note; Isa 51:9, note. It refers here probably to a crocodile, or some similar monster, that was found either in the Nile or in the branches of the Red sea. There is no evidence that it means a whale. Harmer (Obs. iii. 536, Ed. Lond. 1808) supposes that the crocodile is meant, and observes that "Crocodiles are very terrible to the inhabitants of Egypt; when, therefore, they appear, they watch them with great attention, and take proper precautions to secure them, so as that they should not be able to avoid the deadly weapons the Egyptians afterward make use of to kill them." According to this, the expression in Job refers to the anxious care which is evinced by the inhabitants of countries where crocodiles abound to destroy them. Every opportunity would be anxiously watched for, and great solicitude would be manifested to take their lives. In countries, too, which were subject to inundation from waters, great anxiety would be evinced. The rising waters would be carefully watched, lest they should burst over all barriers, and sweep away fences, houses, and towns. Such a constant vigilance Job represents the Almighty as keeping over him - watching him as if he were a swelling, roaring, and ungovernable torrent, or as if he were a frightful monster of the deep, whom he was anxious to destroy. In both respects the language is forcible, and in both instances scarcely less irreverent than it is forcible. For a description of the crocodile, see the notes at Job 41.
When I say, My bed shall comfort me - The idea in this verse and the following is, that there was no intermission to his sorrows. Even the times when people usually sought repose were to him times of distress. Then he was disturbed and alarmed by the most frightful dreams and visions, and sleep fled from him.
Shall ease my complaint - The word rendered "shall ease" ישׂא yı̂śâ' means rather, shall bear; that is, shall lighten or sustain. The meaning is, that he sought relief on his bed.
Then thou scarest me - This is an address to God. He regarded him as the source of his sorrows, and he expresses his sense of this in language indeed very beautiful, but far from reverence.
With dreams - see Job 7:4. A similar expression occurs in Ovid:
Ut puto, cam requies medicinaque publica curae,
Somnus adest, soliris nox venit orba malis,
Somnia me terrent. veros imitantia casus,
Et vigilant sensus in mea damna mei.
Do Ponto, Lib. i. Eleg. 2.
And terrifiest me through visions - See the notes at Job 4:13. This refers to the visions of the fancy, or to frightful appearances in the night. The belief of such night-visions was common in the early ages, and Job regarded them as under the direction of God, and as being designed to alarm him.
So that my soul - So that I; the soul being put for himself.
Chooseth strangling - Dr. Good renders it "suffocation," and supposes that Job alludes to the oppression of breathing, produced by what is commonly called the night-mare, and that he means that he would prefer the sense of suffocation excited at such a time to the terrible images before his mind. Herder renders it, death. Jerome, suspendium. The Septuagint, "Thou separatest (ἀπαλλάξεις apallaceis) my life from my spirit, and my bones from death;" but what idea they attached to it, it is impossible now to tell. The Syriac renders it, "Thou choosest my soul from perdition, and my bones from death." The word rendered strangling (מחנק machănaq) is from חנק chânaq, to be narrow, strait, close; and then means to strangle, to throttle, Nah 2:12; Sa2 17:23. Here it means death; and Job designs to say that he would prefer even the most violent kind of death to the life that he was then leading. I see no evidence that the idea suggested by Dr. Good is to be found in the passage.
And death rather than my life - Margin, as in Hebrew, bones. There has been great variety in the exposition of this part of the verse. Herder renders it, "death rather than this frail body." Rosenmuller and Noyes, "death rather than my bones;" that is, he preferred death to such an emaciated body as he then had, to the wasted skeleton which was then all that he had left to him. This is probably the true sense. Job was a sufferer in body and in soul. His flesh was wasting away, his body was covered with ulcers, and his mind was harassed with apprehensions. By day he had no peace, and at night he was terrified by alarming visions and spectres; and he preferred death in any form to such a condition.
I loathe it - I loathe my life as it is now. It has become a burden and I desire to part with it, and to go down to the grave. There is, however, considerable variety in the interpretation of this. Noyes renders it, "I am wasting away." Dr. Good connects it with the previous verse and understands by it, "death in comparison with my sufferings do I despise." The Syriac is, - it fails to me, that is, I fail, or my powers are wasting away. But the Hebrew word מאס mâ'as means properly to loathe and contemn (see the note at Job 7:5), and the true idea here is expressed in the common version. The sense is, "my life is painful and offensive, and I wish to die."
I would not live alway - As Job used this expression, there was doubtless somewhat of impatience and of an improper spirit. Still it contains a very important sentiment, and one that may be expressed in the highest state of just religious feeling. A man who is prepared for heaven should not and will not desire to live here always. It is better to depart and to be with Christ, better to leave a world of imperfection and sin, and to go to a world of purity and love. On this text, fully and beautifully illustrating its meaning, the reader may consult a sermon by Dr. Dwight. Sermons, Edinburgh, 1828, vol. ii. 275ff. This world is full of temptations and of sin; it is a world where suffering abounds; it is the infancy of our being; it is a place where our knowledge is imperfect, and where the affections of the best are comparatively grovelling; it is a world where the good are often persecuted, and where the bad are triumphant; and it is better to go to abodes where all these will be unknown. Heaven is a more desirable place in which to dwell than the earth; and if we had a clear view of that world, and proper desires, we should pant to depart and to be there. Most people live as though they would live always here if they could do it, and multitudes are forming their plans as if they expected thus to live. They build their houses and form their plans as if life were never to end. It is the privilege of the Christian, however, to EXPECT to die. Not wishing to live always here, he forms his plans with the anticipation that all which he has must soon be left; and he is ready to loose his hold on the world the moment the summons comes. So may we live; so living, it will be easy to die. The sentiments suggested by this verse have been so beautifully versified in a hymn by Muhlenberg, that I will copy it here:
I would not live alway; I ask not to stay
Where storm after storm rises dark o'er the way;
The few fleeting mornings that dawn on us here
Are enough for life's sorrows - enough for its cheer.
I would not live alway; no, welcome the tomb;
Since Jesus hath lain there, I dread not its gloom;
There sweet be my rest, till he bid me arise,
To hail him in triumph descending the skies.
Who, who would live alway, away from his God,
Away from yon heaven, that blissful abode,
Where rivers of pleasure flow o'er the bright plains,
And the noontide of glory eternally reigns?
Where the saints of all ages in harmony meet,
Their Saviour and brethren transported to greet;
While anthems of rapture unceasingly roll,
And the smile of the Lord is the feast of the soul.
Let me alone - This is an address to God. It means, "cease to afflict me. Suffer me to live out my little length of life with some degree of ease. It is short at best, and I have no desire that it should always continue." This sentiment he illustrates in the following verses.
For my days are vanity - They are as nothing, and are unworthy the notice of God. Life is a trifle, and I am not anxious that it should be prolonged. Why then may I not be suffered to pass my few days without being thus afflicted and pained?
What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? - That thou shouldst make him great, or that thou shouldst regard him as of so great importance as to fix thine eye attentively upon him. The idea here is, that it was unworthy the character of so great a being as God to bestow so much time and attention on a creature so insignificant as man; and especially that man could not be of so much importance that it was necessary for God to watch all his defects with vigilance, and take special pains to mark and punish all his offences. This question might be asked in another sense, and with another view. Man is so insignificant compared with God, that it may be asked why he should so carefully provide for his needs? Why make so ample provision for his welfare? Why institute measures so amazing and so wonderful for his recovery from sin? The answers to all these questions must be substantially the same.
(1) It is a part of the great plan of a condescending God. No insect is so small as to be beneath his notice. On the humblest and feeblest animalcula a care is bestowed in its formation and support as if God had nothing else to regard or provide for.
(2) Man is of importance. He has an immortal soul, and the salvation of that soul is worth all which it costs, even when it costs the blood of the Son of God.
(3) A creature who sins, always makes himself of importance. The murderer has an importance in the view of the community which he never had before. All good citizens become interested to arrest and punish him. There is no more certain way for a man to give consequence to himself, than to violate the laws, and to subject himself to punishment. An offending member of a family has an importance which he had not before, and all eyes are turned to him with deep interest. So it is with man - a part of the great family of God.
(4) A sufferer is a being of importance, and man as a sufferer is worthy of the notice of God. However feeble may be the powers of anyone, or humble his rank, yet if he suffers, and especially if he is likely to suffer forever, he becomes at once an object of the highest importance: Such is man; a sufferer here, and liable to eternal pain hereafter; and hence, the God of mercy has interposed to visit him, and to devise a way to rescue him from his sorrows, and from eternal death. The Syriac renders this, "What is man, that thou shouldst destroy him?" - but the Hebrew means. "to magnify him, to make him great or of importance."
That thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? - Not with affection, but to punish him - for so the expression in this connection evidently means. The phrase itself might mean, "Why shouldst thou love him?" - implying that there was nothing in a creature so insignificant that could render him a proper object of the divine regard. But as used here by Job it means, "Why dost thou fix thy attention upon him so closely - marking the slightest offence, and seeming to take a special pleasure in inflicting pain and torture?" The Psalmist makes use of almost the same language, and not improbably copied it from this, though he employs it in a somewhat different sense. As used by him, it means that it was wonderful that the God who made the heavens should condescend to notice a creature so insignificant as man.
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers;
The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
And the son of man, that thou visitest him:
And that thou shouldest visit him? - That is, for the purpose of inflicting pain. This language Job intends undoubtedly to be applicable to himself, and he asks with impatience why God should take a pleasure in visiting with suffering each returning day a creature like him?
Every morning - Why is there no intermission even for a day? Why does not God allow one morning, or one moment, to pass without inflicting pain on a creature so feeble and so frail?
And try him - Or, prove him; to wit, by afflictions.
Every moment - Constantly; without intermission.
How long wilt thou not depart? - How long is this to continue? The same word occurs in Job 14:6. The word rendered "depart" שׁעה shâ‛âh means to look, to look around, and then to look away from anyone or anything. The idea here is, that God had fixed his eyes upon Job, and he asks with anxiety, how long this was to continue, and when he would turn his eyes away; compare the notes at Job 7:8. Schultens supposes that the metaphor here is taken from combatants, who never take their eyes from their antagonists.
Till I swallow down my spittle - For the shortest time. But there has been considerable variety in the explanation of this phrase. Herder renders it, "Until I draw my breath." Noyes, "Until I have time to breathe;" but he acknowledges that he has substituted this for the proverb which occurs in the original. The Hebrew is literally rendered in the common version, and the proverb is retained in Arabia to the present day. The meaning is, Give me a little respite; allow me a little time; as we would say, Suffer me to breathe. "This," says Burder, "is a proverb among the Arabians to the present day, by which they understand, Give me leave to rest after my fatigue. This is the favor which Job complains is not granted to him. There are two instances which illustrate this passage (quoted by Schultens) in Harris's Narratives entitled the Assembly. One is of a person, who, when eagerly pressed to give an account of his travels, answered with impatience, 'Let me swallow down my spittle, for my journey hath fatigued me.' The other instance is of a quick return made to a person who used the proverb. 'Suffer me, ' said the person importuned, 'to swallow down my spittle;' to which the friend replied, 'You may, if you please, swallow down even the Tigris and the Euphrates; ' that is, You may take what time you please."
The expression is proverbial, and corresponds to ours when we say, "in the twinkling of an eye," or, "until I can catch my breath;" that is, in the briefest interval. Job addresses this language to God. There is much impatience in it, and much that a pious man should not employ; but we are to remember that Job was beset with special trials, and that he had not the views of the divine existence and perfections, the promises and the high hopes, which as Christians we have under the fuller light of revelation; and before harshly condemning him we should put ourselves in his situation, and ask ourselves how we would be likely to think and feel and speak if we were in the same circumstances.
I have sinned - חטאתי châṭâ'tı̂y. This is a literal translation, and as it stands in the common version it is the language of a penitent - confessing that he had erred, and making humble acknowledgment of his sins. That such a confession became Job, and that he would be willing to admit that he was a sinner, there can be no doubt; but the connection seems rather to require a different sense - a sense implying that though he had sinned, yet his offences could not be such as to require the notice which God had taken of them. Accordingly this interpretation has been adopted by many, and the Hebrew will bear the construction. It may be rendered as a question, "Have I sinned; what did I against thee" Herder. Or, the sense may be, "I have sinned. I admit it. Let this be conceded. But what can that be to a being like God, that he should take such notice of it? Have I injured him? Have I deserved these heavy trials? Is it proper that he should make me a special mark, and direct his severest judgments against me in this manner?" compare the notes at -Job 35:6-8. The Syriac renders it in this manner, "If I have sinned, what have I done to thee?" So the Arabic, according to Walton. So the Septuagint, Εἰ ἐγὼ ἥμαρτον Ei egō hēmarton - "if I have sinned." This expresses the true sense. The object is not so much to make a penitent confession, as it is to say, that on the worst construction of the case, on the admission of the truth of the charge, he had not deserved the severe inflictions which he had received at the hand of God.
What shall I do unto thee? - Or, rather, what have I done unto thee? How can my conduct seriously affect thee? It will not mar thy happiness, affect thy peace, or in any way injure a being so great as God. This sentiment is often felt by people - but not often so honestly expressed.
O thou Preserver of men - Or, rather, "O thou that dost watch or observe men." The word rendered "Preserver" נצר notsēr is a participle from נצר nâtsar which means, according to Gesenius, to watch, to guard, to keep, and is used here in the sense of observing one's faults; and the idea of Job is, that God closely observed the conduct of people; that he strictly marked their faults, and severely punished them; and he asks with impatience, and evidently with improper feeling, why he thus closely watched people. So it is understood by Schultens, Rosenmuller, Dr. Good, Noyes, Herder, Kennicott, and others. The Septuagint renders it, "who knowest the mind of men?"
Why hast thou set me as a mark? - The word rendered "mark" מפגע mı̂phgâ‛, means properly that which one impinges against - from פגע pâga‛, to impinge against, to meet, to rush upon anyone - and here means, why has God made me such an object of attack or assault? The Septuagint renders it, κατεντευκτήν σου katenteuktēn sou, "an accuser of thee."
So that I am a burden to myself - The Septuagint renders this, ἐπὶ σοὶ φορτίον epi soi phortion, a burden to thee. The copy from which they translated evidently had עליך ‛alēykā - to thee, instead of עלי ‛ālay - to me, as it is now read in the Hebrew. "The Masoretes also place this among the eighteen passages which they say were altered by transcribers." Noyes. But the Received Text is sustained by all the versions except the Septuagint and by all the Hebrew manuscripts hitherto examined, and is doubtless the true reading. The sense is plain, that life had become a burden to Job. He says that God had made him the special object of his displeasure, and that his condition was insupportable. That there is much in this language which is irreverent and improper no one can doubt, and it is not possible wholly to vindicate it. Nor are we called to do it by any view which we have of the nature of inspiration. He was a good, but not a perfect man. These expressions are recorded, not for our imitation, but to show what human nature is. Before harshly condemning him, however, we should ask what we would be likely to do in his circumstances; we should remember also, that he had few of the truths and promises to support him which we have.
And why dost thou not pardon my transgression? - Admitting that I have sinned Job 7:20, yet why dost thou not forgive me? I shall soon pass away from the land of the living. I may be sought but I shall not be found. No one would be injured by my being pardoned - since I am so short-lived, and so unimportant in the scale of being. No one can be benefited by pursuing a creature of a day, such as I am, with punishment. Such seems to be the meaning of this verse. It is the language of complaint, and is couched in language filled with irreverence. Still it is language such as awakened and convicted sinners often use, and expresses the feelings which often pass through their hearts. They admit that they are sinners. They know that they must be pardoned or they cannot be saved. They are distressed at the remembrance of guilt, and under this state of mind, deeply convicted and distressed, they ask with a complaining spirit why God does not pardon them? Why does he allow them to remain in this state of agitation, suspense, and deep distress? Who could be injured by their being forgiven? Of what consequence to others can it be that they should not be forgiven? How can God be benefited by his not pardoning them? It may not be easy to answer these questions in a manner wholly satisfactory; but perhaps the following may be some of the reasons why Job had not the evidence of forgiveness which he now desired, and why the convicted sinner has not. The main reason is, that they are not in a state of mind to make it proper to forgive them.
(1) There is a feeling that they have a claim on God for pardon, or that it would be wrong for God not to pardon them. When people feel that they have a claim on God for pardon, they cannot be forgiven. The very notion of pardon implies that it must be when there is no claim existing or felt.
(2) There is no proper submission to God - to his views, his terms, his plan. In order that pardon may be extended to the guilty, there should be acquiescence in God's own terms, and time, and mode. The sinner must resign himself into his hands, to be forgiven or not as he pleases - feeling that the whole question is lodged in his bosom, and that if he should not forgive, still it would be right, and his throne would be pure. In particular, under the Christian method of pardon, there must be entire acquiescence in the plan of salvation by the Lord Jesus Christ; a willingness to accept of forgiveness, not on the ground of personal claim, but on the ground of his merits; and it is because the convicted sinner is not willing to be pardoned in this way, that he remains unforgiven. There should be a feeling, also, that it would be right for God to pardon others, if he pleases, even though we are not saved; and it is often because the convicted sinner is not willing that that should be done, because he feels that it would be wrong in God to save others and not him, that he is not forgiven. The sinner is often suffered to remain in this state until he is brought to acquiesce in the right of a sovereign God to save whom he pleases.
(3) There is a complaining spirit - and that is a reason why the sinner is not forgiven. That was manifestly the case with Job; and when that exists, how can God forgive? How can a parent pardon an offending child, when he is constantly complaining of his injustice and of the severity of his government? This very spirit is a new offence, and a new reason why he should be punished. So the awakened sinner murmurs. He complains of the government of God as too severe; of his law, as too strict; of his dealings, as harsh and unkind. He complains of his sufferings, and thinks they are wholly beyond his deserts. He complains of the doctrines of the Bible as mysterious, incomprehensible, and unjust. In this state how can he be forgiven? God often suffers the awakened sinner, therefore, to remain under conviction for sin, until he is willing to acquiesce in all his claims, and to submit without a complaint; and then, and not until then, he extends forgiveness to the guilty and troubled spirit.
For now shall I sleep in the dust - On the word sleep, as applied to death, see the notes at Job 3:13. The meaning is, that he was soon to die. He urges the shortness of the time which remained to him as a reason why his afflictions should be lightened, and why he should be pardoned. If God had anything that he could do for him, it must be done soon. But only a brief period remained, and Job seems to be impatient lest the whole of his life should be gone, and he should sleep in the dust without evidence that his sins were pardoned. Olympiodorus, as quoted by Rosenmuller, expresses the sense in the following manner: "If, therefore, I am so short-lived (or momentary, πρόσκαιρος proskairos) and obnoxious to death, and must die after a short time, and shall no more arise, as if from sleep, why dost not thou suffer the little space of life to be free from punishment?"
And thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be - That is, thou shalt seek to find me after I have slept in the dust, as if with the expectation that I should wake, but I shall not be found. My sleep will be perpetual, and I shall no more return to the land of the living. The idea seems to be, that if God were to show him any favor, it must be done soon. His death, which must happen soon, would put it out of the power even of God to show him mercy on earth, if he should relent and be inclined to favor him. He seems not to doubt that God would be disposed yet to show him favor; that he would be inclined to pardon him, and to relax the severity of his dealings with him, but he says that if it were done it must be done soon, and seems to apprehend that it would be delayed so long that it could not be done. The phrase "in the morning" here is used with reference to the sleep which he had just mentioned.
We sleep at night, and awake and arise in the morning. Job says it would not be so with him in the sleep of death. He would awake no more; he could no more be found. - In this chapter there is much language of bitter complaint, and much which we cannot justify. It should not be taken as a model for our language when we are afflicted, though Job may have only expressed what has passed through the heart of many an afflicted child of God. We should not judge him harshly. Let us ask ourselves how we would have done if we had been in similar circumstances. Let us remember that he had comparatively few of the promises which we have to comfort us, and few of the elevated views of truth as made known by revelation, which we have to uphold us in trial. Let us be thankful that when we suffer, promises and consolations meet us on every hand. The Bible is open before us - rich with truth, and bright with promise.
Let us remember that death is not as dark and dismal to us as it was to the pious in the time of the patriarchs - and that the grave is not now to us as dark and chilly, and gloomy, and comfortless an abode. To their view, the shadow of death cast a melancholy chillness over all the regions of the dead; to us the tomb is enlightened by Christian hope. The empire of Death has been invaded, and his power has been taken away. Light has been shed around the tomb, and the grave to us is the avenue to immortal life; the pathway on which the lamp of salvation shines, to eternal glory. Let us not complain, therefore, when we are afflicted, as if the blessing were long delayed, or as if it could not be conferred should we soon die. If withheld here, it will be imparted in a better world, and we should be willing to bear trials in this short life, with the sure promise that God will meet and bless us when we pass the confines of life, and enter the world of glory.