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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Job 3

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Job Curses the Day of His Birth

A. Wishes he had never been born.

1. (Job 3:1-2) Job will curse his birth day, but not his God.

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job spoke, and said:

a. After this: This was after all the catastrophe, all the personal affliction, and all the demonstration of compassion from Job's friends. Now Job will begin to speak about his situation.

b. Cursed the day of his birth: Satan was confident that he could push Job to curse God (Job 1:11 and 2:5). As Job spoke in his deep distress, he cursed the day of his birth - but he did not even come close to cursing God.

i. Job's thinking was somewhat common among the ancients. The historian Herodotus described an ancient people who mourned new births (for the suffering that the new life would endure) and rejoiced in deaths (as a final release from the suffering of life).

ii. This chapter begins the battle in Job's mind and soul. He will not lose more or suffer more than he already has (though his physical pain will continue). Yet now we can say that the battle enters into an entirely other arena; the arena of Job's mind and soul. How will he choose to think about his suffering? How will he choose to think about what others think about his suffering? How will he choose to think about God in all this? These are the questions that take up the remainder of the book, and soon come to any sufferer. The catastrophic loss itself is only an entry point into the agonizing battle in the mind and soul.

iii. "One of the grimmest aspects of this story is that Job never does teeter over the brink into madness, but rather faces his entire ordeal with eyes wide-open." (Mason)

2. (Job 3:3-10) Job curses the day of his birth.

"May the day perish on which I was born,
And the night in which it was said,
'A male child is conceived.'
May that day be darkness;
May God above not seek it,
Nor the light shine upon it.
May darkness and the shadow of death claim it;
May a cloud settle on it;
May the blackness of the day terrify it.
As for that night, may darkness seize it;
May it not rejoice among the days of the year,
May it not come into the number of the months.
Oh, may that night be barren!
May no joyful shout come into it!
May those curse it who curse the day,
Those who are ready to arouse Leviathan.
May the stars of its morning be dark;
May it look for light, but have none,
And not see the dawning of the day;
Because it did not shut up the doors of my mother's womb,
Nor hide sorrow from my eyes.

a. May the day perish on which I was born: Here, in fine Hebrew poetic style, Job cursed the day of his birth. Yet if there were not enough, he goes even further back and curses the night of his conception. Job's complaint is that it would be better if he were never born than to endure his present catastrophe of affliction.

i. This begins a section that somewhat like a dialogue between Job and his friends. Sometimes a speaker in this dialogue answers what the previous speaker said; sometimes they do not. Sometimes the speeches are emotional much more than logical. When Job speaks, he often speaks to God; his friends speak much about God but never to Him.

ii. Beginning with Job 3:3, the style of speaking (and writing) is poetic. This means that we must allow for figures of speech and exaggeration of feeling in those who speak. "So when Job calls God his enemy, the reader must remember these are words of poetic passion used analogically as the total context proves." (Smick)

b. May that day be darkness: Job here is despising the day of his birth, and wishing that this day could be wiped off the calendar of history. Job does not curse God here or anywhere else in the Book of Job; but he here makes his strongest statements against God and especially against the wisdom and plan of God.

i. "As God had said in Genesis 1:3, 'Let there be light,' so Job, using the same terminology in Job 3:4, said, 'As for that day, let there be darkness' (literal translation). All this is a logical absurdity, but it is poetry, and Job meant to give full vent to his feelings." (Smick)

ii. We can say that he cursed his day, but not his God, as the devil wanted him to do. "Giving the reins wholly to his grief, he roareth and rageth beyond all reason; and had not the Spirit held him back, he would surely have run headlong into blasphemy and desperation, which was Satan's design." (Trapp)

c. May those curse it who curse the day: Without endorsing the practices of ancient sorcerers, Job calls upon them (those who curse) to also pronounce this curse upon the day he was born.

i. "Job summons the ancient soothsayers to curse his birthday. I don't believe Job personally believed in their mystical power, not was he committing himself to them. Rather, he is simply communicating vividly." (Lawson)

d. Those who are ready to arouse Leviathan: This is the first mention of this strange creature in the Bible, but Leviathan is mentioned prominently in a long discourse beginning at Job 41:1. Usually Leviathan is considered to be a mythical sea-monster or dragon that terrorized sailors and fishermen.

i. In Job's present context, the idea may be that even as sailors and fishermen would curse the threatening Leviathan with all their might, so Job wishes the day of his birth would also be cursed. "Not as if Job did justify this practice, but only it is a rash and passionate wish, that they who pour forth so many curses undeservedly, would bestow their deserved curse upon this day." (Poole)

ii. "Current mythology used the term Leviathan for a monster of chaos who lived in the sea, and the Sea itself was a boisterous deity who could be aroused professionally. But to Job, a strict monotheist, this was simply vivid imagery." (Smick)

iii. "There can be no doubt that the Leviathan is the chaos dragon of the ancient myths." (Andersen)

iv. The name Leviathan means "twisting one" and is also used in other interesting places in Scripture.

- Psalm 74:12-14 refers to Leviathan as a sea serpent, and that God broke the head of the Leviathan long ago, perhaps at the creation.
- Psalm 104:26 also refers to Leviathan as a sea creature.
- Isaiah 27:1 speaks of the future defeat of Leviathan, also associating it with a twisted serpent that lives in the sea.
- Isaiah 51:9 and Psalm 89-8-10 also speak of a serpent associated with the sea that God defeated as a demonstration of His great strength, and identifies this serpent with the name Rahab, meaning proud one.
- Job 26:12-13 also refers to God's piercing defeat of a fleeing serpent associated with the sea.

v. Ancient rabbinic mythologies suggest that an evil serpent was in the primeval sea resisting creation, and that God killed the serpent and brought order to the world (Genesis 1:1-2).

vi. Satan is often represented as a dragon or a serpent (Genesis 3; Revelation 12 and 13) and the sea is thought of as a dangerous or threatening place in the Jewish mind (Isaiah 57:20; Mark 4:39; Revelation 21:1). Therefore, Leviathan may be another serpent-like manifestation of Satan, who was the original "Rahab" (proud one).

vii. The Puritan commentator John Trapp avoided the discussion of Leviathan altogether. "If I should go about to show the reader, with the several opinions of interpreters, I should not only tire him out, but also danger doing as that vicar of Augsburgh did … at the end of his last lecture said, that both Job and himself were very glad to be rid of one another; for as he understood little or nothing of Job's meaning, so Job seemed to him to be more tormented with his enarrations [exposition] than ever he had been with all his own ulcers."

B. Job longs for the grave as a release from his present misery.

1. (Job 3:11-19) Why did I not die at birth?

"Why did I not die at birth?
Why did I not perish when I came from the womb?
Why did the knees receive me?
Or why the breasts, that I should nurse?
For now I would have lain still and been quiet,
I would have been asleep;
Then I would have been at rest
With kings and counselors of the earth,
Who built ruins for themselves,
Or with princes who had gold,
Who filled their houses with silver;
Or why was I not hidden like a stillborn child,
Like infants who never saw light?
There the wicked cease from troubling,
And there the weary are at rest.
There the prisoners rest together;
They do not hear the voice of the oppressor.
The small and great are there,
And the servant is free from his master.

a. Why did I not perish when I came from the womb? Job continued his complaint from his place of misery. Using poetic exaggeration, Job powerfully communicated his present pain and the feeling that it would be much better if he had never survived to face such catastrophe.

i. It is as if Job said at this point, "I have asked that the day of my birth be obliterated, and that has not and can not happen. So why could I have not been a stillbirth?"

ii. It is easy - but very, very wrong - to think that Job was a sinner because he was so emotional. But the Bible does not present to us a stoic, unfeeling, "stiff upper lip" approach to the problems of life. "It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the startling sentiments expressed in this speech do not mean that Job has cracked under the strain. There is no hint that Satan has finally made his point. . . . The Lord's testing is not to find out if Job can sit unmoved like a piece of wood." (Andersen)

b. For now I would have lain still and been quiet, I would have been asleep: Job was wrong in his understanding of the afterlife, perhaps believing in something similar to the modern doctrine of soul sleep, which says that the dead lie in the grave in some sort of suspended state until they are resurrected on the final day.

i. The idea of soul sleep is wrong because of what Paul clearly wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 - that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Paul understood that if he was not alive on this earth, he would be in the presence of God and not in a suspended state lying in a grave. Paul also understood that if he died it would be an immediate gain (Philippians 1:21), which also argues against the idea of soul sleep.

ii. We can explain Job's lack of knowledge of the afterlife by understanding the principle of 2 Timothy 2:10: that Jesus Christ brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. The understanding of immortality was at best cloudy in the Old Testament, but is much clearer in the New Testament. For example, we can say that Jesus knew fully what He was talking about when He described hell and judgment (such as in Matthew 25:41-46). We therefore rely on the New Testament for our understanding of the afterlife, much more than the Old.

iii. We also understand that this does not in any way take away from the truth of the Bible and the Book of Job. What is true is that Job actually said this and actually believed it; the truth of the statement itself must be evaluated according to the rest of the Bible.

iv. Later, God challenged and corrected Job's presumptuous assertions regarding the afterlife, reminding Job that he did not in fact know that life after death was like (Job 38:2 and 38:17).

c. There the wicked cease from troubling: Job was also wrong in this view of the afterlife. He had the feeling that many people have - that the world beyond this is somehow a better place for everyone. In fact, the wicked do not cease from troubling in the world beyond; their trouble only increases. The prisoners do not rest, and perhaps the only voice they hear is that of their oppressor.

i. "It implies that the wicked live in a state of emotional disturbance which happily ends for them in death. We are already near the bitter thought that being good or bad makes no difference in the end." (Andersen)

ii. This deception is remarkably widespread. One notable example involves the infamous Columbine murderers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who left behind a videotaped document spelling out their motivation. In the last segment of tape, shot the morning of the murders, Harris and Klebold are dressed and say they are ready for "our little Judgment Day." Then Klebold, looking tense, says goodbye to his parents. He concluded, "I didn't like life too much. Just know I am going to a better place than here." Incredibly, these young men believed they were going to a better place.

iii. Yet, we understand that Job was not aiming for theological certainty or to explain the afterlife. He poured out the agony of his soul. "Job meddles not here with their eternal state after death, or the sentence and judgment of God against wicked men, of which he speaks hereafter; but only speaks of their freedom from worldly troubles, which is the only matter of his complaint and present discourse." (Poole)

2. (Job 3:20-26) Job laments his state: why go on living?

"Why is light given to him who is in misery,
And life to the bitter of soul,
Who long for death, but it does not come,
And search for it more than hidden treasures;
Who rejoice exceedingly,
And are glad when they can find the grave?
Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,
And whom God has hedged in?
For my sighing comes before I eat,
And my groanings pour out like water.
For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me,
And what I dreaded has happened to me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
I have no rest, for trouble comes."

a. Why is light given to him who is in misery? Job wondered why God allowed those in misery such as his to go on living, and why life was given to those who were so bitter of soul. It is a moving, poetic expansion of the idea expressed in the previous passage, speculating that death was better than his present misery.

i. Job was among those who long for death, but it does not come. Yet, he did not commit or seem to seriously consider suicide. Again, this was the outpouring of a honest, agonizing soul.

ii. "But it is observable that Job durst not lay violent hands upon himself, nor do any thing to hasten or procure his death; notwithstanding all his miseries and complaints, he was contented to wait all the days of his appointed time, till his change came, Job 14:14." (Poole)

b. Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, and whom God has hedged in? Job's trouble did not come because he had lost faith in God. He felt and feared that God had lost faith in him. He asks, "Why continue living (why is light given) if I can't see the way and God has trapped me in this place?

i. "His concern from beginning to end is God; not his wealth or his health, but his life with God. It is because he seems to have lost God that he is in such torment." (Andersen)

ii. "Never does he whine and wail that the Lord has taken away his children, his servants, his camels, and his building. . . . What Job does begrudge, however, is that he feels to be the loss of his spiritual estate … what he is really bemoaning is the loss of his peace with God - the loss of unbroken fellowship with his Creator, the loss of any felt sense of the Lord's friendship and approval." (Mason)

iii. "As Satan invaded Job's life and brought great harm, God had built another hedge around Job's life. But this hedge is to keep Job from escaping his trials. He is now locked in. Instead of a wall of protection to keep Satan out, now there is a wall of affliction that keeps Job in." (Lawson)

iv. "The words are even more bitter, for there is an ironical echo of what the Satan had said in 1:10. The Satan saw God's hedge as a protection; Job finds it a restriction. He feels trapped." (Andersen)

v. The man here described can see no reason for the trouble he is in; his way is hidden. Yet there was actually a wonderful answer to Job's question, if he could only see it with the eye of faith.

- God allowed Job to continue on in life to teach a lesson to angelic beings.
- God allowed Job to continue on in life to teach him special reliance upon God.
- God allowed Job to continue on in life to teach him to not regard the wisdom of man so much.
- God allowed Job to continue on in life to vindicate him before other men.
- God allowed Job to continue on in life to make him a lesson and an example for all ages.
- God allowed Job to continue on in life to give him more than he ever had before.

c. For my sighing comes before I eat, and my groanings pour out like water: We sense the great emotion in Job's speech. He was not a stoic or concerned with keeping what is known as a "stiff upper lip" in the midst of all his calamity. Such an emotionless Christian life is never presented to us a Biblical ideal.

d. For the thing that I greatly feared has come upon me: Job reminds us that before this disaster came to his life, he did not live a happy-go-lucky care-free life. He was concerned that trouble might come to him or to his family, so he took precautions before God to prevent it (Job 1:5).

i. "Whereas it might be said unto him, Is it fit for thee, who hast hitherto been so happy, now to take on so heavily, because thus and thus afflicted? Truly, saith he, I was never so happy as you took me for; because (considering how movable and mutable all outward things are) I always feared lest I should outlive my prosperity; that which now also is unhappily befallen me." (Trapp)

ii. "While I was in prosperity I thought adversity might come, and I had a dread of it. I feared the loss of my family and my property; and both have occurred. I was not lifted up: I knew that what I possessed I had from divine Providence, and that he who gave might take away. I am not stripped of my all as a punishment for my self-confidence." (Clarke)

e. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, for trouble comes: With these final four blows of the hammer, Job ends his first speech. Through it all he shows us that even a great man of faith can fall into great depression and despair.

i. The great preacher of Victorian England, Charles Spurgeon, describe just such a season in his own life: "I was lying upon my couch during this last week, and my spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for - but a very slight thing will move me to tears just now - and a kind friend was telling me of some poor old soul living near, who was suffering very great pain, and yet she was full of joy and rejoicing. I was so distressed by the hearing of that story, and felt so ashamed of myself, that I did not know what to do; wondering why I should be in such a state as this; while this poor woman, who had a terrible cancer, and was in the most frightful agony, could nevertheless 'rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.' " (Charles Spurgeon, The Christian's Heaviness and Rejoicing)

ii. "Where in the world will you find a sadder strain of more hopeless, uncontrolled, and unbroken lamentation and mourning?" (Bradley) Yet, "Such outpouring is a far more healthy thing for the soul than dark and silent brooding." (Morgan)

© 2007 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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