Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 3. Moved by the sympathising presence of his friends, Job loses his self-control, and breaks out into a passionate cry for death
The expressive gestures of Job’s friends betokened the liveliest sympathy, and their silence of seven days indicated how awful they felt his calamity to be. And we often learn how to estimate our own situation from the countenances of others, and the passing movements on the faces around us rule the tide of feeling in our own breasts. From the sentiments which the three friends gave utterance to afterwards we know that very mixed feelings may have led to their silence and dismay, but if so, such a thing was unsuspected by Job. He was so conscious of his own innocence that he never supposed that others could suspect it, and he saw only sympathy and friendship and the reflection of his great misery in his friends’ demeanour. Formerly he was able to rebuke the suggestions of the woman, his wife, and restrain himself. But now he is in the presence of men his fellows, the companions of his former prosperity, and his self-control deserts him, and he breaks out into a passionate cry that he might die.
This cry of misery is thrice repeated in the chapter:
Job 3:1-10. Would God I had never been conceived or born.
Job 3:11-19. Would God I had died from my birth.
Job 3:20-26. Why does God continue life to the wretched, who long for death?
After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day.1. cursed his day] The day of his birth. Reverent minds have always found difficulty in accommodating themselves to the religious boldness of the Book of Job. A curious instance of this is given in the Catena of Greek interpreters on Job, where one writer interprets Job’s “day” to be the day when man fell from righteousness to sin. The same feeling has influenced the translation of Job 13:15 and Job 19:25.
1–10. Would God I had never been conceived or born
This is the idea really expressed when Job curses his day and wishes it blotted out of existence. First he curses the day of his birth and the night of his conception together, Job 3:3, and then each separately, the day in two verses and the night in four. Let darkness seize that day; let not God from above seek after it; let thick darkness and the shadow of death claim it as part of their heritage; let clouds and all that maketh black the day, eclipses, ominous obscurations, affright it, Job 3:4-5. Let darkness swallow up that night that it be not reckoned nor come in among the joyful troop of nights in their glittering procession; while other nights ring with birth-day gladness let it sit barren; let enchanters curse it; let it be endless, waiting always for a dawn that never breaks, Job 3:6-10.
And Job spake, and said,
Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.3. night in which it was said] Rather, the night which said. The night is personified and cursed as a conscious agent, responsible for Job’s existence, comp. Job 3:10.
There is a man child conceived] Rather, a man; “A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow; but as soon as she is delivered of the child she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world,” John 16:21.
Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it.4. regard it] lit. seek after it, or care for it. Let it perish from His mind that He cause no sun to rise upon it.
Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it.5. shadow of death stain it] Rather, claim it, lit. redeem it. Let it become part of the possession of darkness. The word, however, does not mean reclaim, as if the idea were that the day had been won from darkness by light and was to be reconquered. The translation “shadow of death” possibly rests on a false etymology; at the same time it is perhaps the best that can be given, and Hitzig’s conjecture that the Hebrews themselves came to see the word “death” in the termination of the form may not be far astray, comp. Job 38:17. The word originally means “deepest darkness.”
the blackness of the day] lit. blacknesses. The word probably means “all that makes black the day,” eclipses, supernatural obscurations and the like—all ominous darknesses that terrify a day.
As for that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the days of the year, let it not come into the number of the months.6. let it not be joined unto] Rather, let it not rejoice among. Let it not enter the joyful troop of days, glad in its existence and its beauty. Another way of spelling the word gives the meaning, let it not be joined unto.
Lo, let that night be solitary, let no joyful voice come therein.7. be solitary] Rather perhaps, barren, as Isaiah 49:21. Let it not experience a parent’s joy, and le nought that lives date its birth from it.
no joyful voice] of birthday rejoicing.
Let them curse it that curse the day, who are ready to raise up their mourning.8. The most probable sense of this verse is,
Let them that curse days curse it,
Them that are skilled to rouse up the Dragon.
They that curse days or the day are enchanters and magicians, who were believed to have power to cast their spells upon a day and overwhelm it with darkness and misfortune. Perhaps, however, the first half of the verse is explained by the second, and only one species of enchantment referred to, namely, rousing up the Dragon. The Heb. word is leviathan. This name is given in ch. 41 to a sea or river monster, probably, the crocodile, but it is difficult to find any logical connexion between rousing up the crocodile and cursing days. The word leviathan means twisted or having folds, and is an epithet for a serpent. In Isaiah 27:1 we read: In that day Jehovah with his sore and great and strong sword shall visit leviathan the fleeing serpent, and leviathan the serpent with coils. The key to the meaning of the verse, however, is found in Job 26:13, which rightly rendered means,
By His breath the heavens become bright,
His hand pierceth the fleeing serpent.
Here piercing the fleeing serpent and making the heavens clear are parallel acts. The fleeing serpent, therefore, was the cause of the darkness. In both passages in Job there is an allusion to the popular mythology, according to which the darkening or eclipse of the sun and moon was caused by the serpent throwing its folds around them, or swallowing them up. In its origin this mythology is probably nothing more than a stroke of the poetic imagination, which turned the dark cloud or eclipsing shadow into a huge Dragon. Enchanters were supposed to have power to set this Dragon in motion, and cause the lights of day or night to be swallowed up.
Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark; let it look for light, but have none; neither let it see the dawning of the day:9. the twilight thereof] that is, the morning twilight of that night. Let its morning stars, that should herald its day, go out—as the next clause explains: let it look for the light of a day that never breaks.
see the dawning of the day] lit. behold the eyelids of the morning. This beautiful figure looks like an idea from Western poetry, just as the chamber of the Sun, Psalm 19:5. All commentators quote the parallel from Sophocles, χρυσέας ἁμέρας βλέφαρον, Antigone, 103.
Because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb, nor hid sorrow from mine eyes.10. the doors of my mother’s womb] to hinder conception or fruitfulness, Genesis 20:18; 1 Samuel 1:5. The crime of the night is deferred to the last, and the curse closes with the mention of it.
Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?11–19. Would God I had died from my birth
If he must be born, Job asks, Why he did not die from the womb? his eye turning to the next possibility and chance of escaping sorrow. Had he died he would have been at peace; and 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, for life upon the earth, however lived, is full of a painful restlessness. The thought of this stillness of death brings a certain calm to the sufferer’s mind, and the passionateness of his former words subsides.
Why did the knees prevent me? or why the breasts that I should suck?12. the knees prevent me] Rather, receive, or meet me. The reference may be to the father’s knees, on which the new born child was laid, or more general. As to the expression, see Genesis 50:23; Isaiah 66:12. The sufferer’s eye runs over all the chances of death which he had miserably lost, when he came from the womb, was laid upon the knees, and pressed to the breasts. The sorrow of his later years transmutes (as it does still with others) the tender affections and solicitudes lavished on his infancy, and makes them seem bitter cruelties.
For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest,13. The words receive their pathos from the contrast of his present anguish, Job 3:26.
With kings and counsellers of the earth, which built desolate places for themselves;14. which built desolate places] The expression seems to be that which occurs several times in Scripture, e.g. Isaiah 58:12; Isaiah 61:4; Ezekiel 36:10; Ezekiel 36:33; Malachi 1:4, and means to build up or rebuild ruins, i. e. cities or habitations desolated or abandoned, and make them again inhabited. If this be the meaning the phrase must be used in a general way to indicate the greatness of those kings and counsellors when they were alive and the renown they won. To this idea the words in Job 3:15, princes who had gold, form a parallel. The speaker wishes to indicate that instead of lying in squalor and being the contempt of the low-born race of men as he now is (ch. 30), if he had died he would have been in company of the great dead who played famous parts in life. This appears to be the general idea of the words, but the phrase “built desolate places for themselves” is too vague in such a connexion, and the words “for themselves” suggest something definite and well-known as that which they built, as does the parallel expression “who filled their houses with silver.” The Hebrew word “desolate places” has a distant resemblance in sound to the Egyptian word Pyramids, and some adopt this sense here. There may be some corruption of the Text.
Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver:15. their houses with silver] There is no reason for supposing that “houses” means mausoleums or tombs. The reference is not to the practice of burying treasures along with the dead, nor to the idea that the pomp of riches could thus be perpetuated in death. It is those who were famous in this life with whom Job, had he died, would have been in company in death.
Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light.16. With strong revulsion from the anguish of life Job desires even if possible a deeper death than to have died when born, even the death of having been dead born, scarcely to be distinguished from non-existence itself. Comp. Ecclesiastes 4:2-3, with Plumptre’s notes and citations from the classics.
There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.17. cease from troubling] That is, probably, not from troubling others, but from the unquiet of their own evil. Job 3:17-19 contain the two main ideas, first, that all, evil and good, great and small, are the same in the place of the dead; and second, that this common condition is one of profound rest. Even the wicked there are no more agitated by the turbulence of their passions. Comp. Isaiah 57:20.
the weary] lit. the wearied as to strength, the exhausted.
There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor.18. the prisoners rest together] The “prisoners” are not those immured in prison, but captives driven to forced labour.
the oppressor] The taskmaster, Exodus 3:7. The prisoners are there all together, and they hear not the voice, the shouts and curses of the driver ch. Job 39:7).
The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master.19. small and great are there] i. e. are there alike, the same.
Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul;20. Wherefore is light given] This is a possible translation, but more probably we should render, wherefore gives He light? the Author of light and life being alluded to obliquely and not named. The bitter is plur., those that are bitter in soul. Job’s eye looks over mankind and sees many in the same condition of misery as himself. Comp. ch. Job 7:1 seq.
20–26. Why does God continue life to the wretched, who long for death?
The vision of the peacefulness of death passes away, and Job awakens again to the consciousness of his real condition, and his words, which had sunk into calmness as he contemplated the peace of death, now seem to rise again like the storm after a lull, Wherefore gives He light to him that is in misery? He does not name though he alludes to God, and the indirect reference though partly due to reverence betrays a rising alienation in his heart. His question is one of anguish and impatience. His own condition throws its gloom over all human life, and he puts the question first generally, Job 3:20-22; there are many like him seeking death and unable to find it, who would exult for joy if they could find the grave. Then he comes to the individual, Job 3:23, meaning himself, Wherefore gives He life to the man whose way is hid? the man who cannot see and cannot move, who can discover no solution of the riddle of his life, and find no course of action to relieve himself, who lies in the grasp of a calamity which has too surely come from God, and which has introduced confusion among all the principles of religion which he has hitherto held and into the relation to God in which he has hitherto stood, Job 3:23. And finally he adds some touches to the picture of his misery, his constant moaning, and the unbroken succession of troubles that afflict him, which come so thick that he has no respite from one before another overtakes him, Job 3:24-26.
Which long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more than for hid treasures;
Which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they can find the grave?22. rejoice exceedingly] lit. rejoice even to exultation, Hosea 9:1.
Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?23. whose way is hid] Job now narrows his view from the general sorrows of mankind to himself. His way is hid or lost, the clear path of his former life has suddenly broken off, or as the second clause of the verse expresses it, has been shut in by a hedge, set by God across it. The reference is not merely to his physical calamities, but much more to the speculative and religious perplexities which his calamities wove about his mind, and from which he can find no outlet, cf. Job 19:8.
For my sighing cometh before I eat, and my roarings are poured out like the waters.24. before I eat] lit. before my meat, as margin. The temporal meaning of before gives no sense here. In 1 Samuel 1:16 the same expression occurs, “Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial.” Therefore render, my sighing cometh for (instead of, or, like) my meat; it is his constant, daily food.
like the waters] Rather, like water, i. e. a broad, unbroken stream.
25, 26, the thing which I feared] These two verses read thus,
For let me fear an evil, and it cometh upon me,
And whatsoever I dread, it overtakes me;
I have no ease, neither quiet nor rest,
But trouble cometh.
The whole passage from Job 3:20 describes Job’s present condition. The speaker says, if he but imagines an evil, if he but “fears a fear,” it is immediately upon him. The words are put hypothetically in the past tense: Have I feared a fear, it cometh upon me; but the reference cannot be to the real past, as in the English Version, because it would be contrary to the idea of the poem to suppose that Job even in the days of his golden prime was haunted with indefinite fears of coming misfortune. On the contrary the picture he gives of himself, ch. 29, shews that his piety reflected itself in a full and trustful peace of mind; see his own words ch. Job 16:12, Job 29:18 seq.
Job 3:26 means that Job has no pause between the waves of his affliction, no time to recover from one before another overwhelms him.
“Trouble” here is the fit or paroxysm of trouble.
Job’s three friends sat silent before him seven days. Then Job spake and cursed his day. His speech opened his friends’ mouths and probably also their eyes. Job’s language and demeanour were not what they would have looked for from one in his condition. His violent complaints and his indirect allusions to Heaven were not only unbecoming in themselves, but cast an unwelcome light upon his past life. Job speaks no doubt with the passion of despair and in the bitterness of his misery, and his indirect allusions to God betray impatience and are uttered with a tone of resentment, though there is as yet no direct charge of injustice against God, only an impatient demand why He continues life to one in such misery. His tone of mind is very different from that exhibited when his trials had newly befallen him or when he replied to the suggestions of his wife. And it is this tone, suggesting so much more than it expressed, that the three friends lay hold of and attach their exhortations to, and which is thus the point out of which the whole succeeding debate developes itself.
For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.
I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.