Does Job contradict our belief in the state of the dead?

Q: Job 14:22 makes reference to pain and mourning by the soul and body. This is confusing as Job 14:1-21 is a good summary of the state of the dead. However, verse 22 seems to suggest consciousness in death. Would you please help me to understand this particular verse? — Taurai, from Zimbabwe

A: Let’s look at Job 14:21 and 22:

“His sons come to honor, and he does not know it; They are brought low, and he does not perceive it.

“But his flesh will be in pain over it, And his soul will mourn over it.”

The two passages in verse 21 — “he does not know it,” and “does not perceive it” — clearly indicate that Job considered death as a sleep, and verse 22 does not contradict this truth. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary explains it this way:

“22. Shall have pain. By poetic personification the body in the grave is said to have pain, and similarly the soul is said to mourn. This is a graphic picture of the ravages of death. This passage must not be interpreted to mean that the dead are capable of sensation. In poetic language intelligence, personality, and feelings are often ascribed to objects or concepts devoid of these attributes (see Judges 9:8–15).”

Since we know that throughout the Bible death is clearly defined as an unconscious sleep, it makes sense that this particular verse in Job (a book filled with poetry), is speaking of death in a poetic, rather than in a literal way. I hope this is helpful in answering your question.