We have seen what Job has to say concerning life; let us now see what he has to say concerning death, which his thoughts were very much conversant with, now that he was sick and sore. It is not unseasonable, when we are in health, to think of dying; but it is an inexcusable incogitancy if, when we are already taken into the custody of death’s messengers, we look upon it as a thing at a distance. Job had already shown that death will come, and that its hour is already fixed. Now here he shows,
I. That death is a removal for ever out of this world. This he had spoken of before (Job 7:9, 10), and now he mentions it again; for, though it be a truth that needs not be proved, yet it needs to be much considered, that it may be duly improved.
1. A man cut down by death will not revive again, as a tree cut down will. What hope there is of a tree he shows very elegantly, Job 14:7-9. If the body of the tree be cut down, and only the stem or stump left in the ground, though it seem dead and dry, yet it will shoot out young boughs again, as if it were but newly planted. The moisture of the earth and the rain of heaven are, as it were, scented and perceived by the stump of a tree, and they have an influence upon it to revive it; but the dead body of a man would not perceive them, nor be in the least affected by them. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, when his being deprived of the use of his reason was signified by the cutting down of a tree, his return to it again was signified by the leaving of the stump in the earth with a band of iron and brass to be wet with the dew of heaven, Dan. 4:15. But man has no such prospect of a return to life. The vegetable life is a cheap and easy thing: the scent of water will recover it. The animal life, in some insects and fowls, is so: the heat of the sun retrieves it. But the rational soul, when once retired, is too great, too noble, a thing to be recalled by any of the powers of nature; it is out of the reach of sun or rain, and cannot be restored but by the immediate operations of Omnipotence itself; for (Job 14:10) man dieth and wasteth away, yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? Two words are here used for man:—Geber, a mighty man, though mighty, dies; Adam, a man of the earth, because earthy, gives up the ghost. Note, Man is a dying creature. He is here described by what occurs, (1.) Before death: he wastes away; he is continually wasting, dying daily, spending upon the quick stock of life. Sickness and old age are wasting things to the flesh, the strength, the beauty. (2.) In death: he gives up the ghost; the soul leaves the body, and returns to God who gave it, the Father of spirits. (3.) After death: Where is he? He is not where he was; his place knows him no more; but is he nowhere? So some read it. Yes, he is somewhere; and it is a very awful consideration to think where those are that have given up the ghost, and where we shall be when we give it up. It has gone to the world of spirits, gone into eternity, gone to return no more to this world.
2. A man laid down in the grave will not rise up again, Job 14:11, 12. Every night we lie down to sleep, and in the morning we awake and rise again; but at death we must lie down in the grave, not to awake or rise again to such a world, such a state, as we are now in, never to awake or arise until the heavens, the faithful measures of time, shall be no more, and consequently time itself shall come to an end and be swallowed up in eternity; so that the life of man may fitly be compared to the waters of a land-flood, which spread far and make a great show, but they are shallow, and when they are cut off from the sea or river, the swelling and overflowing of which was the cause of them, they soon decay and dry up, and their place knows them no more. The waters of life are soon exhaled and disappear. The body, like some of those waters, sinks and soaks into the earth, and is buried there; the soul, like others of them, is drawn upwards, to mingle with the waters above the firmament. The learned Sir Richard Blackmore makes this also to be a dissimilitude. If the waters decay and be dried up in the summer, yet they will return again in the winter; but it is not so with the life of man. Take part of his paraphrase in his own words:—
A flowing river, or a standing lake, May their dry banks and naked shores forsake; Their waters may exhale and upward move, Their channel leave to roll in clouds above; But the returning water will restore What in the summer they had lost before: But if, O man! thy vital streams desert Their purple channels and defraud the heart, With fresh recruits they ne’er will be supplied, Nor feel their leaping life’s returning tide. II. That yet there will be a return of man to life again in another world, at the end of time, when the heavens are no more. Then they shall awake and be raised out of their sleep. The resurrection of the dead was doubtless an article of Job’s creed, as appears, Job 19:26; and to that, it should seem, he has an eye here, where, in the belief of that, we have three things:—
1. A humble petition for a hiding-place in the grave, Job 14:13. It was not only a passionate weariness of this life that he wished to die, but in a pious assurance of a better life, to which at length he should arise. O that thou wouldst hide me in the grave! The grave is not only a resting-place, but a hiding-place, to the people of God. God has the key of the grave, to let in now and to let out at the resurrection. He hides men in the grave, as we hide our treasure in a place of secresy and safety; and he who hides will find, and nothing shall be lost. “O that thou wouldst hide me, not only from the storms and troubles of this life, but for the bliss and glory of a better life! Let me lie in the grave, reserved for immortality, in secret from all the world, but not from thee, not from those eyes which saw my substance when first curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth,” Ps. 139:15, 16. There let me lie, (1.) Until thy wrath be past. As long as the bodies of the saints lie in the grave, so long there are some remains of that wrath which they were by nature children of, so long they are under some of the effects of sin; but, when the body is raised, it is wholly past—death, the last enemy, will then be totally destroyed. (2.) Until the set time comes for my being remembered, as Noah was remembered in the ark (Gen. 8:1), where God not only hid him from the destruction of the old world, but reserved him for the reparation of a new world. The bodies of the saints shall not be forgotten in the grave. There is a time appointed, a time set, for their being enquired after. We cannot be sure that we shall look through the darkness of our present troubles and see good days after them in this world; but, if we can but get well to the grave, we may with an eye of faith look through the darkness of that, as Job here, and see better days on the other side of it, in a better world.
2. A holy resolution patiently to attend the will of God both in his death and his resurrection (Job 14:14): If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait until my change come. Job’s friends proving miserable comforters, he set himself to be the more his own comforter. His case was now bad, but he pleases himself with the expectation of a change. I think it cannot be meant of his return to a prosperous condition in this world. His friends indeed flattered him with the hopes of that, but he himself all along despaired of it. Comforts founded upon uncertainties at best must needs be uncertain comforts; and therefore, no doubt, it is something more sure than that which he here bears up himself with the expectation of. The change he waits for must therefore be understood either, (1.) Of the change of the resurrection, when the vile body shall be changed (Phil. 3:21), and a great and glorious change it will be; and then that question, If a man die, shall he live again? must be taken by way of admiration. “Strange! Shall these dry bones live! If so, all the time appointed for the continuance of the separation between soul and body my separate soul shall wait until that change comes, when it shall be united again to the body, and my flesh also shall rest in hope.” Ps. 16:9. Or, (2.) Of the change at death. “If a man die, shall he live again? No, not such a life as he now lives; and therefore I will patiently wait until that change comes which will put a period to my calamities, and not impatiently wish for the anticipation of it, as I have done.” Observe here, [1.] That it is a serious thing to die; it is a work by itself. It is a change; there is a visible change in the body, its appearance altered, its actions brought to an end, but a greater change with the soul, which quits the body, and removes to the world of spirits, finishes its state of probation and enters upon that of retribution. This change will come, and it will be a final change, not like the transmutations of the elements, which return to their former state. No, we must die, not thus to live again. It is but once to die, and that had need be well done that is to be done but once. An error here is fatal, conclusive, and not again to be rectified. [2.] That therefore it is the duty of every one of us to wait for that change, and to continue waiting all the days of our appointed time. The time of life is an appointed time; that time is to be reckoned by days; and those days are to be spent in waiting for our change. That is, First, We must expect that it will come, and think much of it. Secondly, We must desire that it would come, as those that long to be with Christ. Thirdly, We must be willing to tarry until it does come, as those that believe God’s time to be the best. Fourthly, We must give diligence to get ready against it comes, that it may be a blessed change to us.
3. A joyful expectation of bliss and satisfaction in this (Job 14:15): Then thou shalt call, and I will answer thee. Now, he was under such a cloud that he could not, he durst not, answer (Job 9:15, 35; 13:22); but he comforted himself with this, that there would come a time when God would call and he should answer. Then, that is, (1.) At the resurrection, “Thou shalt call me out of the grave, by the voice of the archangel, and I will answer and come at the call.” The body is the work of God’s hands, and he will have a desire to that, having prepared a glory for it. Or, (2.) At death: “Thou shalt call my body to the grave, and my soul to thyself, and I will answer, Ready, Lord, ready—Coming, coming; here I am.” Gracious souls can cheerfully answer death’s summons, and appear to his writ. Their spirits are not forcibly required from them (as Luke 12:20), but willingly resigned by them, and the earthly tabernacle not violently pulled down, but voluntarily laid down, with this assurance, “Thou wilt have a desire to the work of thy hands. Thou hast mercy in store for me, not only as made by thy providence, but new-made by thy grace;” otherwise he that made them will not save them. Note, Grace in the soul is the work of God’s own hands, and therefore he will not forsake it in this world (Ps. 138:8), but will have a desire to it, to perfect it in the other, and to crown it with endless glory.