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142. Job 14:10-12, But No Hope For Humans
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.
But not humans. That is the message of verses 10-12. The message is so troubling that the thoughts is repeated with even more eloquence and words in 14:18-22. The result may be expressed in the following couplet, ‘Hope for a tree, but not for me.’ Yet if we were to probe Job’s wrenching eloquence a bit more in these verses, it would give nuance to the hopelessness of that statement.
We immediately meet a contrasting thought in verse 10. Though a connection is made with verse 8 by the repetition of muth (“die”), here we will have things that die and stay dead. He doesn’t just say, “Humans die,” using the word enosh or adam or even the male ish. Job 14:10 says that geber die. The word can, of course, be rendered “man/humans” but is more strikingly translated “a warrior.” It emphasizes man at his seeming strongest. This one dies, and chalash. The verb chalash only appears two other times in the Bible (Exodus 17:13; Isaiah 14:12). The first talks about Joshua overwhelming Amalek, while the second talks about “weakening” or “overwhelming” the nations. So, a serviceable translation here is that the mighty warrior man dies, and is overwhelmed. The point would be that he ‘dies and stays dead.’ Rather than the plant or stump which seems to die but then almost miraculously comes back to life upon sensing water, here the warrior is, in the words of the Coroner in his little ditty in the Wizard of Oz describing the death of the Wicked Witch of the West, “And she’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.” That will be the human condition in Job 14:10-12.
Three verbs keep ringing in our ears from verse 10. The warrior dies (muth); he is overwhelmed (chalash); he perishes (gava, not as common as muth, but common nevertheless). After these three verbs of death, the author simply asks, “And where is he?” Or, “Where does that leave our strong warrior?” Verses 11-12 answer the question, first by using an image from the very nature that was used with such approbation a few verses earlier: “the waters fail (azal, 6x, which can mean “go” but also means to “fail” or “disappear,” as in Deuteronomy 32:36) from the sea and a river becomes parched (charab, 42x) or dries up (yabesh, 73x). The three verbs of verse 11 match the hopelessness of the three verbs of verse 10. But then, we think, ‘Verse 12 can reverse all that! Just as a tree can sense the presence of water, and thus spring back to life, so the dead and overwhelmed warrior might also spring back to life.’ That is the first optimistic thought that enters our mind after reading verses 10-11.
Yet verse 12 won’t let us get away with that facile way of thinking. Moving back to more usual terminology for a human (ish, “man”) in verse 12, we have
“Man lies down and doesn’t rise. Until the heavens are not, he will not awake, nor will he be roused from his sleep.”
The reboant sadness is made more final when we see the structure of the first part of verse 12. Man lies down (shakab) but does not rise (qum). Both are familiar verbs. The normal pattern of life is captured in Psalm 3:5, “I lie down (shakab) and sleep; I wake again (quts, same verb that is negated in the second part of Job 14:12) because the Lord sustains me.” Even more to the point by way of contrast is the familiar Torah recitation passage of Deuteronomy 6:7. When is one to recite the Law of God? When one lies down (shakab) and when one rises up (qum). Thus, when Job says here that humans will lie down and not rise up, he is undermining not just human hope for the future, but also the orderly course of covenantal life.
Driving a nail into the coffin of human hope are the last words of verse 12. People won’t wake up (quts, 23x, only time in Job) or be roused (ur, 80x, 6x in Job) until the heavens are no more. There is such an air of hopeless finality in these words.
Yet, even though Job is accustomed to facing and uttering hopeless lines, he never seems to let despair have the last word. So, he will take a bit of a mental break in verses 13-17, as he did in 3:14-19, to consider what it would be like if things were not as brutally true as he has just described. He imagines a scenario where God will set him aside for a time until the storminess of God’s seemingly implacable anger has been set aside. Let’s turn to that passage.