Thus far in our venture into Job we’ve sat back and watched as the extreme suffering of Job was permitted in the heavens and carried out on the earth. Job 1-2 have introduced us to Job’s no doubt immense and deep suffering, and once his friends heard of it from afar they came to him and sat in silence for seven days. The initial narrative of Job is now behind us and as we move into the poetical section of the book notice that it is Job himself who breaks the silence…with one of the darkest laments in the entire book of Job. The author of Job begins chapter 3 in v1-2 saying, “After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job said…”
We can call what follows a lament because it truly is a lament. Job is mourning and grieving all the suffering that’s come upon him. Yet by the way he forms his lament we can also call this chapter a protest because Job is angry and wants to know the answer to one question, ‘Why?’ Here Job isn’t addressing his friends and he’s not even addressing God either, no, Job is a tea pot of suffering that’s reached the boiling point of sorrow and he bursts out in steaming anguish. It’s as if Job is trying to bring his faith and his experience together into something that makes sense to him in this present suffering. By talking the way he does here we get a window into his heart. Remember his friends also hear his words but as the book goes on we understand that they haven’t heard his heart, and let us not forget that though God seems dark and shrouded in the present He also is hearing Job’s words as well.
Two divisions are present in Job 3. We’ll work through them one at a time.
The Lament (v3-10)
“Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it. Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. That night—let thick darkness seize it! Let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. Behold, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry enter it. Let those curse it who curse the day, who are ready to rouse up Leviathan. Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none, nor see the eyelids of the morning, because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb, nor hide trouble from my eyes.”
We’ve seen a few special and specific days before in Job 1-2, now in chapter 3 Job has brings up two more specific days in view. Specifically, in v4-5 we see the day he was born and in v6-10 we see the day (or night) he was conceived. Satan and Job’s wife had tried to get Job to curse God, and here Job is cursing. But God isn’t in view, his birthday is. In light of his current state Job, in v3, looks back and curses these days desiring that he had never been born. He now wishes the sun had never risen that day and that darkness would’ve reigned instead of light. When Job wishes that the gloom and deep darkness would claim it, the word ‘claim’ is the Hebrew word for redeem. So in an ironic reversal of creation and redemption where God speaks into and redeem the dark with His light, Job wishes the opposite would’ve happened. That darkness would’ve redeemed that day so no light or life would’ve come forth. In essence, Job is now in so much pain that he wishes God would hit the rewind button and erase his very existence from history.
Usually birthdays are a celebration of life, of maturing, and of growing older and wiser. But Job doesn’t wish to have another birthday, in v6 he goes even further back to speak of the night he was conceived wanting it to be stripped of all its happiness and wiped off the calendar. In v7 he yearns for the joyful cry of his parents intimacy would be filled with barrenness rather than fertility. Similar to the Lord of the Rings when Pippin aroused the horrific Balrog from the depths of Middle Earth when he knocked the skeleton down the well inside the Mines of Moria and watched in utter dismay as he unleashed his full power on the fellowship, so too in v8 Job wishes that someone or something powerful who has the ability to curse would come and curse this day, letting loose the Leviathan on it so destruction and chaos would have their way. And as we read in v9-10 that his wish is for there to be no stars, no light, no hope, no sight, and no open door for birth we see that Job in looking back wants that night to be a night that never ends in day.
After seeing his lament in v3-10 we as the reader must recognize the futility of his desires. All his lamenting is fantasy. The past is the past and nothing desired in the present will change what has already occurred. This poetic lament is powerful then, not because his desires will happen, but because they truly reflect the darkness of his heart. His present is so dark that he cannot see any light in the future, and he wishes he never had a past to begin with. Or to say it another way, Job wishes he had never been born because his conception and birth are the very things that opened the door to the death he is now living in.
The Protest (v11-26)
The futility of these laments probably hit Job hard after v10 because in v11 there is a clear shift in language. He began expressing desires, desires that won’t ever come to pass, and that these desires won’t ever come to pass brings Job to protest. In this protest there are five questions, and the one word common to all the questions he asks is, ‘Why?’
-Question 1: v11, “Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire?”
-Question 2: v12-15, “Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse? For then I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept; then I would have been at rest, with kings and counselors of the earth who rebuilt ruins for themselves, or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver.”
-Question 3: v16-19, “Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners are at ease together; they hear not the voice of the taskmaster. The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master.”
-Question 4: v20-22, “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave?
-Question 5: v23, “Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?”
Moving from the womb, to the knees, and then to the breast to nurse is usually a pattern of health, of loving nurture, and a sustained life. But for Job all this pattern did for him was launch him out into a sea with waves too high for him to stay afloat. These things fill out the first three questions of his protest and each time the answer seems to be that while life is now horror and misery to him death would be rest and peace to him. While some could seemingly develop a strange doctrine of the afterlife in this passage (particularly v17-18), namely that death and even death for the wicked doesn’t bring anyone into suffering or agony or hell but something like rest or peace, to do so would be to ask questions of this text that the text isn’t attempting to answer. What then is meant by these verses? What does Job intend to communicate? Normal human experience I think. In the evening we lay down to rest, we are quiet, and we are in peace. This is what Job wants most. His daytime is nothing but terror, so he wants the rest and peace of night. Or switch his analogy around a bit and perhaps see it like this. There are times of suffering so deep and so vast that an evening’s sleep is a break from the nightmare of the day. This is Job’s current experience here in chapter 3.
I do not think when we reach v20 that a change in tone is dramatic enough to merit a whole new point in Job 3 because the theme is still largely the same protest as before. But I do think that in v20 Job’s personal and inner angst moves outside of himself and is portrayed on a global scale. Irony is in view. Why are those who want death unable to find it? The striking thing about this struggle is that Job likens it as a treasure hunt. Similar to those who rejoice at finding hidden treasures are those who are in despair in life and are glad to find the rest of the grave. For Job, suffering is so deep that only death would give him peace. Then in the last question in v23 Job brings up the idea of a hedge. We saw earlier in 1:10 that Satan’s complaint to God was that God had hedged Job in so that no lack or pain would come his way. Now Job turns this protective hedge on it’s head and says he now experiences a new kind of hedge. This one doesn’t feel safe, it rather makes him feels like a prisoner inside a cell of suffering and God who brought him into it, has thrown away the key.
Because of all these things when we come to v24-26 it feels like a climax to all his pain. “For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groaning’s are poured out like water. For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes.” Job’s daily diet is not bread, water, ease, or quiet, but sighing, groaning, fear, and dread. Because he cannot answer the question ‘Why?’ Job has no rest and remains in trouble.
What are we to make of this chapter? We can conclude that language like this in the midst of our suffering is inappropriate, uncalled for, and sinful. This would be a wrong conclusion, not only because we find similar vocabulary given to us by God to express back to Him all over the Bible, but because here in Job we must remember that God has already spoken of Job’s quality. That Job isn’t suffering for his sin but because, ironically, he is a godly man. And after all the poetic back and forth of Job and his friends God again reminds us that Job hasn’t sinned with his lips. Therefore the only conclusion we can rightly make about Job in chapter 3 and Job in general is that sometimes those who walk with God can walk in such darkness that death seems to be the only source of relief.
C.S. Lewis explains how this was true for him after his wife died saying, “This is one of the disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him…if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be – or so it feels – welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once.”
Christians can have seasons, and even years and years, of life just like Job 3. And when we see others in seasons like this we would not serve them well if we made them feel as if their suffering were sinful or faithless. We could go on and on and on about those who’ve struggled like this in history and found hope, gospel hope, in their own suffering by remembering how the deeper and darker suffering of Christ (that innocent Job points to) brings us such rich gospel hope, but I fear we’d go on forever (so maybe we can give one or two examples during the question time).
So let me end by just saying this. Job 3 is dark, for sure, but even in Job’s protest see a ray of hope. All throughout this chapter we see him energized to find out why God has done this to him (v20 indicates he’s dealing with God here who gives life or light to men, think also of 1:20-22). This shows us that Job, even here, wants to struggle with God rather than without Him and that ought to give us hope and leave us an example in our own suffering.
 David Atkinson, The Message of Job – TBST, page 34.
 Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 70.
 Ash, page 71-72.
 Ash, page 73.
 Ash, page 73.
 Ash, page 73.
 Ash, page 76.
 While a discussion of the nature of OT Sheol would be in order after a passage like this, only an absurd interpreter would develop a whole doctrine of the afterlife from this passage.
 Both Atkinson and Ash form a new point from v20-26, why? Are we so entrenched in our three part sermons that we cannot bear one with two? I may be wrong, but I don’t think there’s enough to merit a new point here.
 Ash, page 81.
 C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, quoted in Ash, page 83.