The Frailty of Life, pt. 1
This article begins a three-part series on the frailty of life. Each article will focus on one of the three passages cited above, and its context.
These passages deal with the frailty of human life: life is a "fleeting shadow" (Job 14:2), a "mere handbreadth" (Ps. 39:5), a "mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:14). It is interesting that though these passages are similar, they were written by three different men, each separated by approximately a thousand years, each existing in vastly different living conditions and situations.
The first passage was authored by Job. The Book of Job is thought by many to be the oldest book of the Bible, written even earlier than Genesis (which was written by Moses). Job was a rich, Godly man whom the Lord tested by allowing Satan to afflict him. After losing all of his riches and all of his children, and then being inflicted with boils all over his body, Job spoke the words cited above concerning the frailty of life.
The second passage was authored by David. David had a very eventful life. When a shepherd as a young man, he was anointed by God to be the king of Israel, though the king at the time, Saul, was alive and well. Later, he became a hero for the people after he slew Goliath. He consoled the angry spirit of Saul by playing his harp and singing for him. He was later forced to flee from the jealous Saul, who was bent on killing him. After Saulís death, David was finally crowned king. Early on as king, he had many victories as he trusted the Lord for his strength. But later he fell into sin and became an adulterer and murderer. Though he thought he had gotten away with his sin, the Lord revealed it to a prophet who confronted David with it. Repenting from his sin, David returned to Godís favor, but not unscathed from his sin. His own son rebelled against him and turned the hearts of the people against him, forcing David to flee once again. Sometime in the midst of this eventful life, David sat down and wrote the words cited above (from Psalm 39) concerning the frailty of life.
The third passage was authored by James. He grew up in the same household as Jesus, as His step-brother. He presumably watched Jesus, as a young man, grow in knowledge, wisdom and understanding of the Holy Scriptures, far beyond His age. James witnessed his step-brother performing astounding miracles as He gathered a following of disciples who began to proclaim Him as the Messiah. Yet, during Jesusí ministry on earth, as far as we can tell, James and the rest of the members of Jesusí earthly family did not accept Him as Messiah. However, after Jesusí death and resurrection, James came to faith in Jesus and became a prominent leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem. In his epistle, James wrote the words cited above concerning the frailty of life.
Though each of the three men speak of the frailty of life, each does so for a different purpose and with a different emphasis. Job questions why God would be concerned with man, who is so frail and insignificant. David tries to ignore his need for God, but when he recognizes his frailty, he becomes aware of his desparate need for God. James uses the fact that manís life is frail to dispel the belief that we control the events of our lives, and to proclaim the fact that our lives are in Godís hands.
In this issue, we will study the context of Jobís passage concerning the frailty of life.
Manís Need for God in His Frailty
Job begins by summarizing the plight of man: "Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble" (vs. 1). When he spoke these words, Job was a frustrated man, to say the least. He had been rich, now he had nothing; he had been blessed with many sons and daughters, now all his sons and daugthers were dead; he had been healthy, now he was lying in bed with boils covering his body. Thus, Job came to the realization that manís days are "full of trouble".
Jobís afflictions also gave him the realization that manís days are "few". When we are prosperous, when affliction is absent, when our lives are going well, we feel invincible. We feel as if we could live in our present state forever. We feel as if we are in control of our destiny, and we think that, as long as we continue in the strength of our own wisdom, our lives will remain prosperous, peaceful, plightless. It takes affliction to bring us back to reality. Job came to the realization through his affliction that the glory days of man are indeed brief: "He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure" (vs. 2).
After these observations, Job went on to ask God a series of questions. In light of the insignificance and frailty of man, Job asked God: "Do you fix your eye on such a one?" (vs. 3). The rhetorical answer is "Yes". God does concern Himself with each of His creatures. Knowing this lead Job to ask his next question: "Will you bring him before you for judgment?" (vs. 3). The realization that God was watching him produced in Job a fear of Godís judgment. By our God-given consciences, we all realize that we have sinned against God and deserve His judgment. Job recognized that manís case is hopeless in the court of Godís judgment, which lead to his next question: "Who can bring what is pure from the impure?" (vs. 4). Job believed that it would be impossible for sinful man to be reconciled to God in His holiness, so he answered the last question himself: "No one!" (vs. 4).
With this answer, Job erred. Job was essentially asking the same question the disciples asked Jesus: "Who then can be saved?" (Matt. 19:25). Jesusí answer was: "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Job erred because he put the burden on man to save himself. At that moment, he did not consider that God was able and willing to save; Job did not realize that God, in His great mercy, would provide a way to "bring what is pure from the impure".
Manís situation is hopeless in the absence of Godís mercy. Job expressed the hopelessness he felt: "So look away from him and let him alone, till he has put in his time like a hired man." (vs. 6). In our sin, we know that we cannot withstand Godís holy gaze upon us. When we do not take into account Godís mercy, we desire to flee from God in our sinful state.
Through this train of thought, Job discovered the most significant predicament for all of mankind: How can sinful man be reconciled to a holy God? Later on, in verse 13, Job groped for a solution to this predicament. He realized that it could be solved if God would show mercy: "If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me!" (vs. 13). Job insightfully realized that the solution to this predicament would have to come on the other side of the grave. Job understood manís sinful nature and the impossibility of man, as man, to be reconciled to God.
By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Job realized that the predicament possibly could be remedied given a new birth: "If a man dies, will he live again?" (vs. 14). In this, Job put his trust: "All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come." (vs. 14). Job here illustrates Old Testament saving faith. First, understanding the sinfulness of man, Job realized that man needs Godís mercy. Then, understanding the nature of God, Job realized that God, in His mercy, would provide a way of salvation. As a result, Job put his faith in God for salvation.
It is noteworthy that Job came to this saving faith without the benefit of the revelation of the Bible. The Book of Job is thought to have been the first book of the Bible written, so, certainly, Job did not have any of the other books of the Bible to refer to. Rather, Job sincerely and humbly sought a relationship with God, although he knew that he did not deserve to be in Godís presence. Then, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Job came to the faith that God would provide a way for salvation. In verses 15-17, he expressed his faith: "You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made. Surely then you will count my steps but not keep track of my sin. My offenses will be sealed up in a bag; you will cover over my sin."
So, without benefit of the Bible or the church or missionaries, but by Godís revelation to him through His creation, Jobís conscience and by the Holy Spirit, Job came to a saving faith. Many people ask: "What about the native in Africa or South America or New Guinea, etc. who is not exposed to the Bible or to Christ? Can he be saved?" My answer: Does not Jobís example provide an illustration of how such a person could come to a saving faith?
Now, Father, we praise You for the salvation that You have provided through Christ. We praise You for the revelation of Your Word and Your Son so that we have the knowledge and assurance of salvation. Help us to realize how frail our lives are so that we may have a deep awareness of our need for salvation. We ask these things in Jesusí name, Amen.
(In the next issue, the series on the frailty of life will continue
with a study of Psalm 39:1-7)