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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–6
Verses 1–6

We are here led to think,

I. Of the original of human life. God is indeed its great original, for he breathed into man the breath of life and in him we live; but we date it from our birth, and thence we must date both its frailty and its pollution. 1. Its frailty: Man, that is born of a woman, is therefore of few days, Job 14:1. This may refer to the first woman, who was called Eve, because she was the mother of all living. Of her, who being deceived by the tempter was first in the transgression, we are all born, and consequently derive from her that sin and corruption which both shorten our days and sadden them. Or it may refer to every man’s immediate mother. The woman is the weaker vessel, and we know that partus sequitur ventrem—the child takes after the mother. Let not the strong man therefore glory in his strength, or in the strength of his father, but remember that he is born of a woman, and that, when God pleases, the mighty men become as women, Jer. 51:30. 2. Its pollution (Job 14:4): Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? If man be born of a woman that is a sinner, how can it be otherwise than that he should be a sinner? See Job 25:4. How can he be clean that is born of a woman? Clean children cannot come from unclean parents any more than pure streams from an impure spring or grapes from thorns. Our habitual corruption is derived with our nature from our parents, and is therefore bred in the bone. Our blood is not only attainted by a legal conviction, but tainted with an hereditary disease. Our Lord Jesus, being made sin for us, is said to be made of a woman, Gal. 4:4.

II. Of the nature of human life: it is a flower, it is a shadow, Job 14:2. The flower is fading, and all its beauty soon withers and is gone. The shadow is fleeting, and its very being will soon be lost and drowned in the shadows of the night. Of neither do we make any account; in neither do we put any confidence.

III. Of the shortness and uncertainty of human life: Man is of few days. Life is here computed, not by months or years, but by days, for we cannot be sure of any day but that it may be our last. These days are few, fewer than we think of, few at the most, in comparison with the days of the first patriarchs, much more in comparison with the days of eternity, but much fewer to most, who come short of what we call the age of man. Man sometimes no sooner comes forth than he is cut down—comes forth out of the womb than he dies in the cradle—comes forth into the world and enters into the business of it than he is hurried away as soon as he has laid his hand to the plough. If not cut down immediately, yet he flees as a shadow, and never continues in one stay, in one shape, but the fashion of it passes away; so does this world, and our life in it, 1 Cor. 7:31.

IV. Of the calamitous state of human life. Man, as he is short-lived, so he is sad-lived. Though he had but a few days to spend here, yet, if he might rejoice in those few, it were well (a short life and a merry one is the boast of some); but it is not so. During these few days he is full of trouble, not only troubled, but full of trouble, either toiling or fretting, grieving or fearing. No day passes without some vexation, some hurry, some disorder or other. Those that are fond of the world shall have enough of it. He is satur tremore—full of commotion. The fewness of his days creates him a continual trouble and uneasiness in expectation of the period of them, and he always hangs in doubt of his life. Yet, since man’s days are so full of trouble, it is well that they are few, that the soul’s imprisonment in the body, and banishment from the Lord, are not perpetual, are not long. When we come to heaven our days will be many, and perfectly free from trouble, and in the mean time faith, hope, and love, balance the present grievances.

V. Of the sinfulness of human life, arising from the sinfulness of the human nature. So some understand that question (Job 14:4), Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?--a clean performance from an unclean principle? Note, Actual transgressions are the natural product of habitual corruption, which is therefore called original sin, because it is the original of all our sins. This holy Job here laments, as all that are sanctified do, running up the streams to the fountain (Ps. 51:5); and some think he intends it as a plea with God for compassion: “Lord, be not extreme to mark my sins of human frailty and infirmity, for thou knowest my weakness. O remember that I am flesh!” The Chaldee paraphrase has an observable reading of this verse: Who can make a man clean that is polluted with sin? Cannot one? that is, God. Or who but God, who is one, and will spare him? God, by his almighty grace, can change the skin of the Ethiopian, the skin of Job, though clothed with worms.

VI. Of the settled period of human life, Job 14:5.

1. Three things we are here assured of:—(1.) That our life will come to an end; our days upon earth are not numberless, are not endless, no, they are numbered, and will soon be finished, Dan. 5:26. (2.) That it is determined, in the counsel and decree of God, how long we shall live and when we shall die. The number of our months is with God, at the disposal of his power, which cannot be controlled, and under the view of his omniscience, which cannot be deceived. It is certain that God’s providence has the ordering of the period of our lives; our times are in his hand. The powers of nature depend upon him, and act under him. In him we live and move. Diseases are his servants; he kills and makes alive. Nothing comes to pass by chance, no, not the execution done by a bow drawn at a venture. It is therefore certain that God’s prescience has determined it before; for known unto God are all his works. Whatever he does he determined, yet with a regard partly to the settled course of nature (the end and the means are determined together) and to the settled rules of moral government, punishing evil and rewarding good in this life. We are no more governed by the Stoic’s blind fate than by the Epicurean’s blind fortune. (3.) That the bounds God has fixed we cannot pass; for his counsels are unalterable, his foresight being infallible.

2. These considerations Job here urges as reasons, (1.) Why God should not be so strict in taking cognizance of him and of his slips and failings (Job 14:3): “Since I have such a corrupt nature within, and am liable to so much trouble, which is a constant temptation from without, dost thou open thy eyes and fasten them upon such a one, extremely to mark what I do amiss? Job 13:27. And dost thou bring me, such a worthless worm as I am, into judgment with thee who art so quick sighted to discover the least failing, so holy to hate it, so just to condemn it, and so mighty to punish it?” The consideration of our own inability to contend with God, of our own sinfulness and weakness, should engage us to pray, Lord, enter not into judgment with thy servant. (2.) Why he should not be so severe in his dealings with him: “Lord, I have but a little time to live. I must certainly and shortly go hence, and the few days I have to spend here are, at the best, full of trouble. O let me have a little respite! Job 14:6. Turn from afflicting a poor creature thus, and let him rest awhile; allow him some breathing time, until he shall accomplish as a hireling his day. It is appointed to me once to die; let that one day suffice me, and let me not thus be continually dying, dying a thousand deaths. Let it suffice that my life, at best, is as the day of a hireling, a day of toil and labour. I am content to accomplish that, and will make the best of the common hardships of human life, the burden and heat of the day; but let me not feel those uncommon tortures, let not my life be as the day of a malefactor, all execution-day.” Thus may we find some relief under great troubles by recommending ourselves to the compassion of that God who knows our frame and will consider it, and our being out of frame too.