Meditations in Job : 36. The Frailty of Mankind
Job 14:1 Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.
When reading Scripture, it is important that we always examine the context and realise that words spoken in one context may have a different purpose than when spoken in another. We say this because similar words to those found here were spoken by Eliphaz (e.g. 5:7 “man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.”) and Bildad (e.g. 8:9 “our days on earth are but a shadow.”) but in their case they sought to show that Job is part of the sinful human race and that he should repent of his sin. Now when Job says similar words he is asking the Lord why He bothers with frail mankind.
“Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” (v.1). This is his starting point and, as we’ve commented before, it is only half a picture, even though it is true. Living in this fallen world does mean that things go wrong and part of our life mission, if you like, is to learn to overcome difficulties. “He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.” (v.2) The older you get the more you realise just how fleeting life is. You look back over the years and wonder where they have gone. As you look around you, you see people who seemed to be snatched away by death in youth or middle age and realise that life is indeed very frail. You read of floods, hurricanes, train crashes and so on, and realise that we are not the masters of our destiny.
He wonders why God bothers with us. “Do you fix your eye on such a one? Will you bring him before you for judgment?” (v.3) It’s like he says, “When I look at our lives in this fallen world, our weakness and frailty, I wonder why you should bother to play around with us; you know what we’re all like.” He realises it is a fallen world and we are fallen people and so asks, “Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!” (v.4) Because we are fallen, how can God make us pure. We are inherently sinners and so it is a constant struggle to be pure – that is why he had continually offered sacrifices on behalf of his family. We are in God’s hands, so what’s the point: “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” (v.5) God can take us any time He wishes and indeed, He knows exactly how long He’s decreed we will be on this earth, so what’s all the fuss about! He concludes with a plea: “So look away from him and let him alone, till he has put in his time like a hired man.” (v.6) In other words, please leave me alone and let me work out the time you have allotted me. There’s no point in anything else (implied).
Then he turns and considers the futility of death in humans. He compares us with trees: “At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.” (v.7-9). That’s the truth; cut a tree down and shoots will come forth and life will continue, but that’s not how it is with us: “But man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.” (v.10) When we get ‘chopped down’ and die, that’s it, the end! “As water disappears from the sea or a riverbed becomes parched and dry, so man lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, men will not awake or be roused from their sleep.” (v.11,12) In the same way that a water bed dries up, so when a person dies their life ebbs away and nothing is left.
Now as we’ve commented before, in the midst of his suffering, Job loses perspective and so only sees half a picture, and indeed, because he lives so early in human history he hasn’t the revelation of the Bible. What he has just said is only half true. Yes, we do life in a fallen world and we are inherently sinners and we will one day die, but there is very much more to the picture than that. We are creatures who are made in the image of God and although we are fallen, God has worked through His Son at Calvary two thousand years ago, to redeem us, so that we can be truly called children of God, so we can live out meaningful, purposeful and glorious lives for however long we have on this earth, with all of His grace that is available to us, and then we ‘emigrate’ and go to heaven to live with God for eternity. Now if you are unsure about this, please read back over this last paragraph for this is the clear and distinct teaching of the New Testament.
We may not always understand what is going on in life – and indeed some would say we never truly know what is going on this side of heaven – yet God IS with us and He IS for us, and His grace and wisdom and power IS there for us, to help us through. Yes we can blow it and we can mess up, but even in that He IS working for our good. Trials, tests, and temptations may come but His objective in allowing them, is to teach us to overcome with His help. So important was what I said in the previous paragraph, that I am going to conclude this meditation with it again, so please read it through carefully, for this IS the teaching of the New Testament:
We are creatures who are made in the image of God and although we are fallen, God has worked through His Son at Calvary two thousand years ago, to redeem us, so that we can be truly called children of God, so we can live out meaningful, purposeful and glorious lives for however long we have on this earth, with all of His grace that is available to us, and then we ‘emigrate’ and go to heaven to live with God for eternity. We ARE people of purpose, and as the Westminster Catechism starts out:“What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.”