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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 11–19
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Verses 11–19

Job, perhaps reflecting upon himself for his folly in wishing he had never been born, follows it, and thinks to mend it, with another, little better, that he had died as soon as he was born, which he enlarges upon in these verses. When our Saviour would set forth a very calamitous state of things he seems to allow such a saying as this, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the paps which never gave suck (Luke 23:29); but blessing the barren womb is one thing and cursing the fruitful womb is another! It is good to make the best of afflictions, but it is not good to make the worst of mercies. Our rule is, Bless, and curse not. Life is often put for all good, and death for all evil; yet Job here very absurdly complains of life and its supports as a curse and plague to him, and covets death and the grave as the greatest and most desirable bliss. Surely Satan was deceived in Job when he applied that maxim to him, All that a man hath will he give for his life; for never any man valued life at a lower rate than he did.

I. He ungratefully quarrels with life, and is angry that it was not taken from him as soon as it was given him (Job 3:11, 12): Why died not I from the womb? See here, 1. What a weak and helpless creature man is when he comes into the world, and how slender the thread of life is when it is first drawn. We are ready to die from the womb, and to breathe our last as soon as we begin to breathe at all. We can do nothing for ourselves, as other creatures can, but should drop into the grave if the knees did not prevent us; and the lamp of life, when first lighted, would go out of itself if the breasts given us, that we should suck, did not supply it with fresh oil. 2. What a merciful and tender care divine Providence took of us at our entrance into the world. It was owing to this that we died not from the womb and did not give up the ghost when we came out of the belly. Why were we not cut off as soon as we were born? Not because we did not deserve it. Justly might such weeds have been plucked up as soon as they appeared; justly might such cockatrices have been crushed in the egg. Nor was it because we did, or could, take any care of ourselves and our own safety: no creature comes into the world so shiftless as man. It was not our might, or the power of our hand, that preserved us these beings, but God’s power and providence upheld our frail lives, and his pity and patience spared our forfeited lives. It was owing to this that the knees prevented us. Natural affection is put into parents’ he arts by the hand of the God of nature: and hence it was that the blessings of the breast attended those of the womb. 3. What a great deal of vanity and vexation of spirit attends human life. If we had not a God to serve in this world, and better things to hope for in another world, considering the faculties we are endued with and the troubles we are surrounded with, we should be strongly tempted to wish that we had died from the womb, which would have prevented a great deal both of sin and misery.

He that is born to-day, and dies to-morrow, Loses some hours of joy, but months of sorrow. 4. The evil of impatience, fretfulness, and discontent. When they thus prevail they are unreasonable and absurd, impious and ungrateful. To indulge them is a slighting and undervaluing of God’s favour. How much soever life is embittered, we must say, “It was of the Lord’s mercies that we died not from the womb, that we were not consumed.” Hatred of life is a contradiction to the common sense and sentiments of mankind, and to our own at any other time. Let discontented people declaim ever so much against life, they will be loth to part with it when it comes to the point. When the old man in the fable, being tired with his burden, threw it down with discontent and called for Death, and Death came to him and asked him what he would have with him, he then answered, “Nothing, but to help me up with my burden.”

II. He passionately applauds death and the grave, and seems quite in love with them. To desire to die that we may be with Christ, that we may be free from sin, and that we may be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven, is the effect and evidence of grace; but to desire to die only that we may be quiet in the grave, and delivered from the troubles of this life, savours of corruption. Job’s considerations here may be of good use to reconcile us to death when it comes, and to make us easy under the arrest of it; but they ought not to be made use of as a pretence to quarrel with life while it is continued, or to make us uneasy under the burdens of it. It is our wisdom and duty to make the best of that which is, be it living or dying, and so to live to the Lord and die to the Lord, and to be his in both, Rom. 14:8. Job here frets himself with thinking that if he had but died as soon as he was born, and been carried from the womb to the grave, 1. His condition would have been as good as that of the best: I would have been (says he, Job 3:14) with kings and counsellors of the earth, whose pomp, power, and policy, cannot set them out of the reach of death, nor secure them from the grave, nor distinguish theirs from common dust in the grave. Even princes, who had gold in abundance, could not with it bribe Death to overlook them when he came with commission; and, though they filled their houses with silver, yet they were forced to leave it all behind them, no more to return to it. Some, by the desolate places which the kings and counsellors are here said to build for themselves, understand the sepulchres or monuments they prepared for themselves in their life-time; as Shebna (Isa. 22:16) hewed himself out a sepulchre; and by the gold which the princes had, and the silver with which they filled their houses, they understand the treasures which, they say, it was usual to deposit in the graves of great men. Such arts have been used to preserve their dignity, if possible, on the other side death, and to keep themselves from lying even with those of inferior rank; but it will not do: death is, and will be, an irresistible leveller. Mors sceptra ligonibus aequat—Death mingles sceptres with spades. Rich and poor meet together in the grave; and there a hidden untimely birth (Job 3:16), a child that either never saw light or but just opened its eyes and peeped into the world, and, not liking it, closed them again and hastened out of it, lies as soft and easy, lies as high and safe, as kings and counsellors, and princes, that had gold. “And therefore,” says Job, “would I had lain there in the dust, rather than to lie here in the ashes!” 2. His condition would have been much better than now it was (Job 3:13): “Then should I have lain still, and been quiet, which now I cannot do, I cannot be, but am still tossing and unquiet; then I should have slept, whereas now sleep departeth from my eyes; then had I been at rest, whereas now I am restless.” Now that life and immortality are brought to a much clearer light by the gospel than before they were placed in good Christians can give a better account than this of the gain of death: “Then should I have been present with the Lord; then should I have seen his glory face to face, and no longer through a glass darkly.” But all that poor Job dreamed of was rest and quietness in the grave out of the fear of evil tidings and out of the feeling of sore boils. Then should I have been quiet; and had he kept his temper, his even easy temper still, which he was in as recorded in the two foregoing chapters, entirely resigned to the holy will of God and acquiescing in it, he might have been quiet now; his soul, at least, might have dwelt at ease, even when his body lay in pain, Ps. 25:13. Observe how finely he describes the repose of the grave, which (provided the soul also be at rest in God) may much assist our triumphs over it. (1.) Those that now are troubled will there be out of the reach of trouble (Job 3:17): There the wicked cease from troubling. When persecutors die they can no longer persecute; their hatred and envy will then perish. Herod had vexed the church, but, when he became a prey for worms, he ceased from troubling. When the persecuted die they are out of the danger of being any further troubled. Had Job been at rest in his grave, he would have had no disturbance from the Sabeans and Chaldeans, none of all his enemies would have created him any trouble. (2.) Those that are now toiled will there see the period of their toils. There the weary are at rest. Heaven is more than a rest to the souls of the saints, but the grave is a rest to their bodies. Their pilgrimage is a weary pilgrimage; sin and the world they are weary of; their services, sufferings, and expectations, they are wearied with; but in the grave they rest from all their labours, Rev. 14:13; Isa. 57:2. They are easy there, and make no complaints; there believers sleep in Jesus. (3.) Those that were here enslaved are there at liberty. Death is the prisoner’s discharge, the relief of the oppressed, and the servant’s manumission (Job 3:18): There the prisoners, though they walk not at large, yet they rest together, and are not put to work, to grind in that prison-house. They are no more insulted and trampled upon, menaced and terrified, by their cruel task-masters: They hear not the voice of the oppressor. Those that were here doomed to perpetual servitude, that could call nothing their own, no, not their own bodies, are there no longer under command or control: There the servant is free from his master, which is a good reason why those that have power should use it moderately, and those that are in subjection should bear it patiently, yet a little while. (4.) Those that were at a vast distance from others are there upon a level (Job 3:19): The small and great are there, there the same, there all one, all alike free among the dead. The tedious pomp and state which attend the great are at an end there. All the inconveniences of a poor and low condition are likewise over; death and the grave know no difference.

Levelled by death, the conqueror and the slave, The wise and foolish, cowards and the brave, Lie mixed and undistinguished in the grave.—Sir R. BLACKMORE. 20 Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul; 21 Which long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more than for hid treasures; 22 Which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they can find the grave? 23 Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in? 24 For my sighing cometh before I eat, and my roarings are poured out like the waters. 25 For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. 26 I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.