This verse is taken from:
Job 4. 1; 5. 1-7
Thought of the day for:
13 February 2024

‘Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward’. Later, we read, ‘Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trou­ble’, 14. 1. ‘How proverbial!’ we exclaim. Indeed, we find both quotations in Everyman’s Dictionary of Quotations and Proverbs, 1965, whilst a talk on steam railways in Somerset, 2008, bor­rowed part of the first one for its title.

Sitting in front of a wood or coal fire, we can ‘feel’ the truth of this first statement, especially if a spark lands on us! Moreover, it is very memorable, partly because it is a visual simile, taken from an everyday happening; we can easily see what is being conveyed: just as sparks naturally go upward, so troubles will inevitably come. It is expressing an abstract idea in concrete terms. We may also note that the Hebrew word ‘man’ is that for Adam, which points to the root cause of the trouble.

But how true is it? As a generalization, out of context, it is true, but in context it may not be. Eliphaz’s basic premise is that suffering comes to the wicked and not to the righteous, 4. 7, 8. Trouble comes to those who ‘deserve’ it, to those, for instance, who are given to anger and envy, and foolishness, v. 2. This is clearly not so in Job’s case. He uses two illustrations of this: the theft of one’s substance and one’s children being crushed in the gate. These are indirect references to the calamities that have afflicted Job, vv. 4, 5; 1. 14, 15, 18, 19. This could be viewed as insensitive, especially as those who suffer such calamities elicit no pity from him, but rather they are, in his eyes, cursed of God, v. 3. He says that trouble is our portion in this life, but makes no comment of what the early men of faith were very aware, life beyond the grave. Moreover, he speaks much of God’s justice and righteousness, but little of God’s grace and mercy. What he is saying is not the whole truth; it is rather one-sided.

Therefore, Eliphaz makes some general comments that point to basic aspects of life, but his counsel in this specific case to Job is at best unhelpful. God’s righteousness and mercy need to be held together, and specific cases cannot usu­ally be reduced to a simple formula, as witness the death of Abijah, Jeroboam’s son, 1 Kgs. 14. 13.


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