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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Job 3

Verses 1-10

A Curse on the Day I Was Born (3:1-10)

"It would have been better if I had not been born!" So Job begins his complaint, declaring that had he been given a choice, he would have chosen nonbeing rather than the kind of existence he must now endure.

The language is full of images which are not, of course, to be taken literally. The basic image throughout this section is that of darkness which overcomes and obscures the day. So Job imagines the day on which he was born and the night in which he was conceived as both so overwhelmed in thick darkness and blackness that they had never come to be numbered with the other days of the year (vss. 5-6).

Job fancifully calls upon sorcerers who supposedly could blot out the day by their curses. The reference to "Leviathan" in verse 8 may be to the serpent which, in many ancient cultures, was thought to cause eclipses by swallowing the sun, although there is no other trace of such belief among the Hebrews. More probably it is the symbol of the primeval chaos which was overcome by God as he brought about the order of creation. To "rouse" this ancient sea monster would be to destroy the even order of days in the calendar. The poetic image, "the eyelids of the morning," stands for the slanting rays of the rising sim. The reason for Job’s passionate curse is finally stated in verse 10.

Verses 1-26

THE FIRST ROUND OF DISCUSSION

Job 3:1 to Job 14:22

Job Speaks (3:1-26)

Out of the depths there comes a cry of despair. It is all the more shocking when it is heard against the background of the glad faith with which the Scriptures open. In the creation story (Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4) it is a fundamental point that when God created life he saw that "it was good." Men were to live in the midst of this good life, accepting its goodness as God’s blessing and finding in its order and beauty signs of his presence and favor. To reject life, then, amounts to a rejection of God; to curse life is to blaspheme; even to deny that life is good is virtual denial of God. All this and worse Job now does, as he breaks out, first in a curse on the day of his birth or conception (vss. 1-10), then in an agonizing wish that he had perished at birth (vss. 11-19), and in a plea that he be given death now (vss. 20-26). The entire chapter has close resemblances to the cry of another troubled soul, Jeremiah, when he found his life almost unbearable (Jeremiah 20:14-18).

Verses 11-19

If Only I Had Died at Birth! (3:11-19)

In the second part of Job’s initial protest verses 11, 12, and 16 set forth his wish that he had perished at birth. Since it is manifestly impossible to remove the day of his birth from the calendar, the next best thing would be for Job to have been as an infant that had never seen the light.

The remainder of the section is a calm, somewhat wistful statement of the imaginary consequences of such early, untimely death. Here is one of the longest and most detailed pictures of "Sheol" to be found in the entire Old Testament (see also Psalms 6:5; Psalms 88:4-12; Psalms 115:17; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Ezekiel 32:17-32). The most prominent aspect of this region of the dead is emphasized in verse 13, where four successive verbs stress its "quiet" and "rest." We would be greatly mistaken, however, if we were to identify this with the peace of true eternal life. Although the picture of Sheol here bears a startling resemblance to some common expectations of heavenly bliss, Sheol itself was never regarded as a state of blessedness. To the Hebrew, strong in his faith that God had created life and that God made his presence known in life, to be deprived of life was no blessing. And Sheol, as this passage makes abundantly clear, was not life. It was, indeed, a kind of existence, for annihilation seems never to have been considered as a possibility by the Hebrews, but because God was not known there, and because he did not work his wonders there, it was a kind of existence to be abhorred. That Job dreams of it with such apparent longing is tantamount to blasphemy. The normal cry of the Old Testament man of faith was, "Bring me not to Sheol!" Here a righteous, faithful man desires Sheol, and that itself is the strongest witness to the agony of his present life.

Verse 14 is obscure. The reference may be to the practice of building new cities on the ruined heaps of former ones. Or the "ruins" may be the capital cities of ancient conquerors, which once were "rebuilt" but have again been destroyed. In either case the main point is that in Sheol all distinctions are done away; "the small and the great are there."

This passage, it should be noted, gives the reader a clear understanding of one important aspect of Job’s problems. Whatever solutions are to be found, it is obvious that they must be found in this present life, not in the next. That is, they must so be found unless some new insight or some new revealing can, for Job, replace the gray, shadowy outlines of Sheol.

Verses 20-26

I Wish I Were Dead! (3:20-26)

The idea of "light" binds the three parts of Job’s opening soliloquy into a unity (see vss. 9, 16). In this last section it reappears in a passionate question: "Why is light given?" The same question, although absent in the Hebrew, must be understood in verse 23. Another unifying theme is to be found in the contrast of verse 26 with verses 13 and 17, where the repetition of words emphasizes the difference between Job’s troubled state and the rest of Sheol.

In this last section the climax of Job’s protest is reached. The question is now practical and immediately relevant: Why is life continued, since it offers no peace but only multiplied troubles? Job longs for death, expressing his desire in sharp images, each one underlining the bitterness of his soul, his doubts about the goodness of life, and his conviction that he has been forsaken by God.

Troubles and accompanying complaints are always before Job; like bread and water, they are his constant diet. Finally, in a last pathetic reference to his own situation, he cries that his anxieties, instead of being shown to be false, always prove to be forerunners of actual adversity. The fears devised by his imagination come to be very real happenings, so that over his whole existence are to be written the words: "Trouble comes."

Chapter 3 of Job is one of the outstanding poetic constructions of the whole book, in fact, of all the Old Testament. It is a classic statement of the "dark night of the soul," one unrelieved cry of anguish. And the depth of disaster from which the cry ascends is not at all the loss of either possessions or prestige; it is the loss of meaning. For Job it involves the loss of the sense of God’s presence and blessing. The true dimensions of his problems are yet to be revealed, but they are implicitly here. Here is a man for whose despair only God can provide an adequate remedy, but whose despair itself seems to come from God. God is his problem.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Job 3". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/job-3.html.