The doctrine of original sin makes it where man always deserves to be punished, but makes him unable to have had a choice in the matter. Job explores this issue and more in this chapter.
It is a simple enough idea for the Christian to understand that because all men are sinful that they all deserve punishment. Why? Because even of the infraction is finite, the one sinned against is infinite. So, suffering is deserved. However, Job’s complaints now turn to the idea of why an infinite God would take an interest in man so that He would ordain his suffering. Man’s life is short (Job 14:1-2) and as Job observed in chapter 12, isn’t God ultimately responsible for the existence of suffering (Job 14:3-6)? Is He not the great permitter of evil?
Far be it from God for Him to be evil. However, as Job correctly observed earlier, “Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this” (Job 12:9)?
Job speculates, “Why can’t God just decide that man is too insignificant to even care about that He must put him into judgment?” Some people complain that the doctrine of original sin is unfair, because God made man liable to punishment as a default and man had no choice in it. Job appears to be making the same complaint. As Matthew Henry observes concerning Job 14:4, “If man be born of a woman that is a sinner, how can it be otherwise than that he should be a sinner?”
And, if God knowingly did this, why should He act surprised and feel the need to punish man for something He Himself ordained as the default? Job questions God why He can’t let such a man be (Job 14:6), especially in light of man’s finitude compared to other parts of God’s creation such as trees, which get a second chance (Job 14:7-9). Job’s point is clear: man not only doesn’t get a second chance like the plants. Because of original sin he never had a chance at all! Inevitably, man is punished for sin against his will. But, if man is so unimportant, why does God care so much to put man in such a vicious cycle? This is why Job begs God to “turn Your gaze from him [mankind]” (Job 14:6).
Job observes that once man dies he never returns (Job 14:10-12), and this was likely considered orthodoxy at the time.* However, Job is a man of faith and God has given him insight and hope for something more, an eternity with Him:
Oh that You would hide me in Sheol,
That You would conceal me until Your wrath returns to You,
That You would set a limit for me and remember me (Job 14:3)!
Job asks to be hidden in death so his pain may cease, but that this state not be eternal and that God would remember and restore (i.e. resurrect) him.
If a man dies, will he live again (Job 14:4a)?
All the days of my struggle I will wait
Until my change comes (Job 14:4b).
Here, Job reflects his faith that though God slay him now, he will be restored because of his faith, even if it is after his death.
You will call, and I will answer You;
You will long for the work of Your hands (Job 14:15).
All that are called from God will hear His voice (John 10:27). Because God promises He will lose none whom He has given to the Son (John 6:39), Job knows God will restore him.
For now You number my steps,
You do not observe my sin (Job 14:16).
This is why Job is confident in his restoration: by faith, God has forgiven him for his sins nor his imputed sin from Adam (Rom 5:12).
My transgression is sealed up in a bag,
And You wrap up my iniquity (Job 14:17).
Job understood what the Holy Spirit said in Micah:
He will again have compassion on us;
He will tread our iniquities under foot.
Yes, You will cast all their sins
Into the depths of the sea (Mic 7:19).
After these lofty words of faith, Job returns to despair (Job 14:18-22). Why? It is not because he lost his faith in God and what we saw before was a mere spark in the red hot ashes before they start losing their color. Job has kept his faith all along, lest Satan be vindicated. Rather, because Job does not understand why God slays him, though he hopes in God and is confident in faith that he will be restored after he is dead, he cannot make sense of the present suffering.
The thought pains Job that God can humiliate a man just as He can hew stone with soft water over time (Job 14:18-19). God totally overpowers man until the day he dies and it appears that apart from our hopes in an afterlife, man knows nothing after death, but only pain and suffering during his own life (Job 14:20-22).
*The Book of Job in general reflects an inconcise nature of the afterlife. Some passages speak very clearly about resurrection and even the existence of hell. Other passages, like some in this chapter, appear to exclude the possibility. Being that most of the debate in the book is whether the righteous get awarded and the wicked punished in this life, it appears that the contemporary viewpoint dwelt upon the here and now, while not necessarily excluding an afterlife.
Regardless, Job has not abandoned his faith. However, he still questions God as to why He operates the way he does with finite man while he is still living. If man is insignificant enough to wantonly crush, why not just leave him alone? For now, Job is left to wonder.