WHEN TRANQUILITY ERUPTS INTO UNRELENTING TURMOIL OUR TROUBLED SPIRIT CAN STRENUOUSLY COMPLAIN
David Clines: In this speech we are suddenly plunged out of the epic grandeur and deliberateness of the prologue into the dramatic turmoil of the poetry, from the external description of suffering to Job’s inner experience. This beautiful and affecting poem is built upon a dynamic movement from the past to the future and from the experience of the man Job outwards to the experience of humankind. There is first a curse on the days of his conception and birth (vv 3–10), then, since that must inevitably fail, a wish that he had died at birth (vv 11–19), and finally the question why suffering humanity cannot be relieved of its suffering by an early death (vv 20–26).
John Hartley: Job curses the day of his birth (vv. 3a, 4–5) and the night of his conception (vv. 3b, 6–7) as a single entity. For that reason he entreats the greatest wizards (v. 8) to keep light from giving life to that day (vv. 8–9) and allowing his birth (v. 10). The motivation for his curse lies in the agonizing questions about his being allowed to live in order to experience such pain (vv. 11–12) and not experience the peaceful rest similar to God’s on the seventh day of creation (v. 13). . .
It should be noted that in his desire for death Job never entertains the option of suicide. Suicide was not acceptable for the person of faith, because it signified that one had lost all hope in God. Having this strong conviction, Job can seek relief from his pain in death only through having the day of his birth removed from time or prompting God to send him to Sheol.
John MacArthur: Job was in deep pain and despair. What God was allowing hurt desperately, but while Job did not curse God (cf. 2:8), he did curse his birth (vv. 10, 11). He wished he had never been conceived (v. 3) or born because the joys of his life were not worth all the pain. He felt it would have been better to have never lived than to suffer like that; better to have never had wealth than to lose it; better to have never had children than to have them all killed. He never wanted his birthday remembered, and wished it had been obliterated form the calendar (vv. 4-7).
Elmer Smick: The spiritual tone of Job’s life has changed dramatically here. The man of patience and faith sinks into a state of despondency and spiritual depression, so frequently a major problem to those who endure severe physical illness or impairment. In chapter 3 Job establishes an attitude that largely colors all he says in the succeeding chapters. In all his many words of despair, nowhere will he come closer to cursing God to his face (2:5) than here in chapter 3, where he sounds more like the grumblers in the wilderness described in the book of Numbers than the psalmists who approach God with their laments. By cursing the day of his birth, he is questioning the sovereign wisdom of his Creator. At this point the drama is intense, for the Accuser, whom we will never see again, seems to have triumphed. Whether he has or not will be determined by what follows.
David Atkinson: Now we are taken inside Job’s heart and made to feel his anguish. The cause of his pain is not so much his loss or his bereavement, his illness or his wife’s tempting words. It is much more the absence and silence of God which troubles him now. Here is humanity’s protest against the ways of God. Here Job is trying desperately to get his experience and his faith together. He is attempting to allow his faith to interpret his shocking experience. He cannot understand what has happened – what God has allowed to happen. What God is doing hurts desperately. But Job holds on in despairing faith that God is none the less a God of integrity, justice and truth.
Tremper Longman: Besides the Psalms and the grumbling tradition of Numbers, we might fruitfully compare Job 3 to Jeremiah’s laments. Jeremiah sounds a lot like Job when he curses the day of his birth: [Jer. 20:14-18] In spite of the similarity here, there is basic dissimilarity in that Jeremiah is speaking to God and not about him. Clearly, Jeremiah is conflicted in his speech to God, going back and forth between complaint and confidence, but still all his prayer is addressed to God.
Francis Andersen: In the first speech the spectacle of human misery is presented with a poignancy that is quite overwhelming. Job is stunned because he cannot deny that it is the Lord who has done all this to him. Even more piteous than his question ‘Why?’, which the best answers of his friends cannot satisfy, is his desperate need to find again his lost Friend. Under these conditions, the friends can hardly be blamed, even though their well-meaning efforts aggravate Job’s troubles more than they calm him (16:2). For only the Lord himself, in the end, can heal Job’s innermost mind. It is not that he answers the questions better than the friends; he does not seem to answer them at all. But after he has spoken, Job has altogether left behind the questions.
(:1) PROLOGUE – JOB SPEAKS AND CURSES HIS BIRTH
“Afterward Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.”
Elmer Smick: The words “After this” (v.1), which typically mark a literary transition (Ge 15:14 [NIV, “afterward”]; 23:19; 25:26), introduce the Dialogue, a major division of the book. In fact, the entire third chapter, though a part of the Dialogue (in that it evokes a response from the three friends), is transitional.
David Clines: Job’s “opening his mouth” first is a narrative hint that the speech cycles are to be construed as responses of the friends to Job, not responses of Job to the friends (we shall note that the narrator shows us Elihu as regarding the friends’ speeches as “answers,” 32:3, 5). They have come to “comfort” him (2:11), and at times that is what he understands to be their purpose (16:2; 21:34), however ineffectually it may be carried out. But all the real progress in the drama is made by Job, and he challenges the friends much more than they comfort him.
I. (:2-10) THE WISH THAT HE HAD NOT BEEN BORN
A. (:2-3) Curse on the Day and Night of His Birth
1. Curse on the Day of His Birth
“And Job said, 3 ‘Let the day perish on which I was to be born,’”
2. Curse on the Night of His Birth
“And the night which said, ‘A boy is conceived.’”
Elmer Smick: He personifies both the night of his conception and the day he was born.
David Clines: The point of this first stanza is to utter the vain wish that he had never been born. It is a vain wish and the curses it includes are inconsequential and ineffective because it is too late to do anything about it. . .
Strictly speaking, this is not a curse, but a wish or malediction, directed essentially against the two events that made his life possible, his conception and birth, and directed on the verbal level against the “day” and “night” when those events occurred. It is part of the surrealism of the wish that its object is the “perishing,” not of the conditions of his existence, but of the conditions for the conditions of his existence. Job is not someone to settle for half-measures (Weiser); he would like to root up his present life out of the world, carrying with it the causes of it, the moments of his conception and birth, and along with them the very calendrical time that made them possible.
B. (:4-5) Curse on the Day of His Birth
“May that day be darkness;
Let not God above care for it,
Nor light shine on it.
5 Let darkness and black gloom claim it;
Let a cloud settle on it;
Let the blackness of the day terrify it.”
C. (:6-9) Curse on the Night of His Birth
1. (:6) Let It be Dark
“As for that night, let darkness seize it;
Let it not rejoice among the days of the year;
Let it not come into the number of the months.”
2. (:7) Let It be Barren and Joyless
“Behold, let that night be barren;
Let no joyful shout enter it.”
3. (:8) Let It be Cursed and Chaotic
“Let those curse it who curse the day,
Who are prepared to rouse Leviathan.”
Izak Cornelius: In the ancient Near East the Leviathan is the primeval sea monster of chaos defeated at creation. It represents the raging floodwaters that can be destructive (22:16), and if it is aroused as part of a curse, it means that chaos will prevail. Such a magical technique may be reflected in later Jewish-Aramaic incantations.
4. (:9) Let It be Dark
“Let the stars of its twilight be darkened;
Let it wait for light but have none,
Neither let it see the breaking dawn;”
D. (:10) Reason for His Curse
“Because it did not shut the opening of my mother’s womb,
Or hide trouble from my eyes.”
John Hartley: The metaphor of shutting the doors of a womb is used both for preventing conception (Gen. 29:31) and for keeping an embryo from coming forth to life (Job 38:8). If this metaphor goes with the night of conception, the shut womb means that he would not have been conceived (1 Sam. 1:5; cf. Gen. 16:2; 20:18). But if it refers to the day of birth, it means that he would have been stillborn. Either way Job would not have experienced the trauma of leaving the warm, comfortable environment of his mother’s womb to experience the trouble (ʿāmāl) that has befallen him in the world of light.
II. (:11-19) THE WISH THAT HE HAD DIED AT BIRTH
David Clines: vv. 11-19 — In this second stanza we find no longer maledictions, but a lament. The malediction is given up because it is futile; it doesn’t alter the fact, Job is alive, and his life is turmoil (Driver). Unlike the typical OT “lament” (Klage), however, whose function is appeal, this lament sets its heart not on some improvement of the sufferer’s lot, but on the dissolution of his life (Fohrer). Developing his theme forward in time from the moments of vv 3–10, Job asks why, if his conception and birth could not have been prevented, he could not have died so soon as he was born. Then he should have had “rest” and “quiet” (v 13), the opposite of the turmoil that now engulfs him—which is the theme that will be picked up finally by the third stanza as it draws to its close (v 26). So filled is his mind with this single thought that he can disregard “not only the long years of happiness that he had previously enjoyed, but also the drearier aspects of Sheol, which elsewhere he could vividly portray” (Driver). Davidson well observes on these lines: “The picture of the painless stillness of death fascinates him and he dwells long on it, counting over with a minute particularity all classes, kings and prisoners, slaves and masters, small and great, who there drink deep of a common peace, escaping the unquietness of life.”
Elmer Smick: vv. 11-26 — Job continues his pitiable complaint with a series of rhetorical questions. There is a progression in his thought. Since the day of his birth did happen (v.10), the next possibility is a stillbirth (vv.11–12, 16). But since he is alive, he longs for a premature death (vv.20, 23). In vv.13–19 Job conceives of death as falling into restful sleep (v.13). It is clear that he does not consider it annihilation. The dead are in a place where there is no activity, where everyone finds rest; even the wicked stop making trouble there (v.17).
A. (:11-12) Why Not Die Right After Being Born
“Why did I not die at birth, Come forth from the womb and expire?
12 Why did the knees receive me, And why the breasts, that I should suck?”
Francis Andersen: At this point Job’s speech changes from cursing to questioning. There is a progression of thought. He wishes he had not been conceived; or, if conceived, that he had died in the womb; or, if not that, that he had not been born; or, if born, that he had died at once; or, since he has grown to maturity, that he might die soon.
David Clines: It is uncertain whether the knees that received the newborn child were the mother’s or the father’s knees.
B. (:13-15) Death Viewed as the Entrance into the Leveling Field of Rest
1. (:13) Desirability of Rest and Tranquility
“For now I would have lain down and been quiet;
I would have slept then, I would have been at rest,”
John Hartley: The intensity of his longing for rest is indicated by the use of four different terms: lie down (šāḵaḇ), quiet (šāqaṭ), sleep (yāšēn), and rest (nûaḥ). Perfect rest is the goal of Job’s curse-lament, for v. 13 is reiterated in v. 26.
Francis Andersen: In spite of the vagueness with which the living conditions of Sheol are described, the continuation of conscious personal existence and identity after death is clearly believed. The book knows nothing about the heaven of bliss or the hell of torment in later eschatology, but there is never a thought that death means extinction. In fact, Job provides a long list of the denizens of Sheol, ranging from those who had achieved the highest eminence (kings and others, verse 14) to those who had achieved nothing (the stillborn, verse 16). He envies them all, for nothing happens in the grave.
2. (:14) Destiny of the Highest Achievers
“With kings and with counselors of the earth,
Who rebuilt ruins for themselves;”
John Hartley: The meaning of ruins (ḥŏrāḇôṯ) is disputed. Some (e.g., Davidson, Horst, Gordis) take it to refer to cities or other great monuments lying in severe disrepair (cf. Isa. 44:26; 58:12). Frequently a great leader promoted his greatness by rebuilding a famous ruin. By such a deed he extended his authority over that which an enemy had subjugated, even over a place inhabited by evil spirits. Others think ruins refers to the monumental tombs that kings and princes built as their resting place in death. These tombs are called ruins because they were usually left unattended and slowly deteriorated. In support of taking ruins as tombs is the parallel term houses in v. 15b (cf. 17:13; 30:23; Eccl. 12:5, where “house” stands for Sheol) and the use of this word in association with “the pit,” the realm of the dead, in Ezek. 26:20. In that case Job is alluding particularly to the motivation that inspired the building of them; i.e., it was believed that the inhabitants of these monuments, regardless of their state of disrepair, had a more peaceful existence in death than the masses who were living. To enhance their existence after death these rich, powerful leaders filled their tombs with valuable objects, including gold and silver. Along this line many postulate that Job has in mind the great pyramids around which the nobles built smaller pyramid-like tombs to ensure a place in the afterlife for themselves. Lamentingly Job longs for that kind of rest.
3. (:15) Destiny of the Wealthiest Princes
“Or with princes who had gold,
Who were filling their houses with silver.”
C. (:16) Why Not Die in the Womb
“Or like a miscarriage which is discarded,
I would not be, As infants that never saw light.”
D. (:17-19) Death Viewed as Escape from Earthly Suffering
1. (:17) No More Affliction
“There the wicked cease from raging,
And there the weary are at rest.”
Robert Alden: This and the next two verses list more categories of those who are happier dead than alive: the wicked, the weary, the captives, and the slaves. It is first “the wicked” who enjoy an end to their “trouble/rage/ turmoil/agitation.” While it could refer to the trouble that the wicked cause others, it refers more likely to the unhappy and fear-filled lives that the wicked lead. “Weary” translates a redundant expression, “wearied of strength,” a combination of two well-established words that never appear elsewhere joined like this. Occasionally, one hears tired or troubled Christians say that they are going to sleep for the first century they are in heaven. Job, too, anticipated an afterlife where toil would cease.
2. (:18) No More Oppression
“The prisoners are at ease together;
They do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.”
3. (:19) No More Distinctions
“The small and the great are there,
And the slave is free from his master.”
Francis Andersen: chiastic pattern that unifies verses 14–19:
A Privileged (verses 14–15)
B Underprivileged (verses 17–18)
Robert Alden: The section ends with a merismus, “the small and the great,” and a repetition of the idea of v. 18, freedom for the slave. Job had been great; now he was small. Regardless, death levels all. “All corpses look alike,” and “Shrouds have no pockets,” the rabbis said. “Death is the destiny of every man,” said Qoheleth (Eccl 7:2). On this depressing note the section ends, but Job had not yet finished his bitter and biting lament.
III. (:20-26) THE WISH THAT HE COULD DIE NOW
A. (:20-22) Questioning God’s Blessings of Life and Light
1. (:20) Light and Life Do Not Adequately Compensate for Suffering
“Why is light given to him who suffers,
And life to the bitter of soul;”
2. (:21-22) Longing for Death
a. (:21) Value of Death
“Who long for death, but there is none,
And dig for it more than for hidden treasures;”
b. (:22) Rejoicing over Death
“Who rejoice greatly,
They exult when they find the grave?”
B. (:23-24) Questioning the Paradox of God’s Providential Ways
1. (:23) Gives Light of Life but Darkness of Experience
“Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,
And whom God has hedged in?”
John Hartley: Light and life, God’s greatest gifts to any person, only serve to increase Job’s despair beyond measure.
2. (:24) Gives Sustenance but only Sustains My Pain and Suffering
“For my groaning comes at the sight of my food,
And my cries pour out like water.”
C. (:25-26) Reason for His Lament
1. (:25) Realizing His Worst Fears
“For what I fear comes upon me,
And what I dread befalls me.”
2. (:26) Restricted to Unrelenting Turmoil
“I am not at ease, nor am I quiet,
And I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.”
John Hartley: A person with a deep sense of serenity may enjoy life to its fullest. Conversely, one lacking repose is filled with deep agitation, which encompasses physical torment, agony of mind, and social discomfort. Such is Job’s case. He exclaims, turmoil comes! The word for turmoil (rōḡez; cf. v. 17) describes the agitated state that results from complete lack of peace.
Elmer Smick: The very thing he dreads the most has happened. It thus appears to him that the very God who put a hedge of protection and blessing about him (1:10) has subsequently hemmed him in with trouble and distress (vv.23c, 26).
David Clines: What is it that Job has dreaded and that has now come upon him (v 25)? Andersen answers, “the loss of God’s favour,” which is true, but not what Job says. Habel replies, “his suffering,” which is nearer the mark, but not yet precisely Job’s point. The present verse is the answer: it is loss of ease, of quiet, of restfulness; it is the advent of turmoil. Reading the prologue again, we are impressed by the tranquility of the portrayal of Job’s condition before disaster struck. There is a tidy inevitability about the prosperity that flowed from his piety, and a decent regularity about the partying of Job’s children and his picking up the tab for any delinquency of theirs. But now his worst fear has been realized: order has descended into chaos and therewith tranquility into turmoil.