"If a Man Die--?" . . . Job 14:7-15
Suddenly, Job seizes upon a great idea--if a man does not receive vindication in his lifetime, can he know of it after death? Job sadly concludes that after death a man can know only his own sorry condition. Eliphaz declared that Job is claiming all wisdom for himself. Job has said the wicked prosper; Eliphaz replies that they live in terror of the waiting sword.
Job, indulging in swift changes of topic and mood, swings between hope and despair--between search for escape, for just a little respite, and sad recognition of the inevitable. God has set for man a span of days he cannot exceed: Job is a prison laborer, denied a prisoner's relief.
Then, as a ray of light upon a dark scene, comes a longing for something more than respite. A tree that is felled can sprout again. Even if the stock dies in the ground, in nourishing water its seedlings will live and grow [14:7-12]. But this does not apply to man. A man, laid low in death, rises no more, though he waits through all the ages till the seas are dried and the heavens decayed. From this terrible finality Job recoils, shaping a stanza that contains one of the most famous lines in the Bible, one that is often quoted apart from its context and colored by later speculations undreamed of by the Poet. We must try to reach back to Job's own meaning when he exclaims (in the King James rendering): If a man die, shall he live [again]?
In the King James Version, and in some of the later versions of the English Bible, italics indicate that the word is not present in the Hebrew text but has been supplied by the translators.1 It is debatable whether "again" has any place in Job's question.