Job 3
Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day.
Job's first longer utterance now commences, by which he involved himself in the conflict, which is his seventh temptation or trial.

1, 2 After this Job opened his mouth, and cursed his day. And Job spake, and said.

And Job spake, and said,
Job 3:2 consists only of three words, which are separated by Rebia; and ויאמר, although Milel, is vocalized ויּאמר, because the usual form ויּאמר, which always immediately precedes direct narration, is not well suited to close the verse. ענה, signifies to begin to speak from some previous incitement, as the New Testament ἀποκρίνεσθαι (not always equals השׁיב) is also sometimes used.

(Note: Vid., on this use of ἀποκρίνεσθαι, Quaestio xxi. of the Amphilochia of Photius in Ang. Maji Collectio, i.229f.)

The following utterance of Job, with which the poetic accentuation begins, is analysed by modern critics as follows: Job 3:3-10, Job 3:11-19, Job 3:20-26. Schlottmann calls it three strophes, Hahn three parts, in the first of which delirious cursing of life is expressed; in the second, eager longing for death; in the third, reproachful inquiry after the end of such a life of suffering. In reality they are not strophes. Nevertheless Ebrard is wrong when he maintains that, in general, strophe-structure is as little to be found in the book of Job as in Wallenstein's Monologue. The poetical part of the book of Job is throughout strophic, so far as the nature of the drama admits it. So also even this first speech. Stickel has correctly traced out its divisions; but accidentally, for he has reckoned according to the Masoretic verses. That this is false, he is now fully aware; also Ewald, in his Essay on Strophes in the Book of Job, is almost misled into this groundless reckoning of the strophes according to the Masoretic verses (Jahrb. iii. X. 118, Anm. 3). The strophe-schema of the following speech is as follows: 8. 10. 6. 8. 6. 8. 6. The translation will show how unmistakeably it may be known. In the translation we have followed the complete lines of the original, and their rhythm: the iambic pentameter into which Ebrard, and still earlier Hosse (1849), have translated, disguises the oriental Hebrew poetry of the book with its variegated richness of form in a western uniform, the monotonous impression of which is not, as elsewhere, counter-balanced in the book of Job by the change of external action. After the translation we give the grammatical explanation of each strophe; and at the conclusion of the speech thus translated and explained, its higher exposition, i.e., its artistic importance in the connection of the drama, and its theological importance in relation to the Old and New Testament religion and religious life.

Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.
3 Perish the day wherein I was born.

And the night which said, A man-child is conceived!

4 Let that day become darkness;

Let not Eloah ask after it from above,

And let not the light shine on it.

5 May darkness and the shadow of death purchase it back;

Let a cloud lie upon it;

May that which obscures the day terrify it.

The curse is against the day of his birth and the night of his conception as recurring yearly, not against the actual first day (Schlottm.), to which the imprecations which follow are not pertinent. Job wishes his birth-day may become dies ater, swallowed up by darkness as into nothing. The elliptical relative clauses, Job 3:3 (Ges. 123, 3; cf. 127, 4, c), become clear from the translation. Transl. the night (לילה with parag. He is masc.) which said, not: in which they said; the night alone was witness of this beginning of the development of a man-child, and made report of it to the High One, to whom it is subordinate. Day emerges from the darkness as Eloah from above (as Job 31:2, Job 31:28), i.e., He who reigns over the changes here below, asks after it; interests Himself in His own (דּרשׁ). Job wishes his birth-day may not rejoice in this. The relations of this his birth-day are darkness and the shadow of death. These are to redeem it, as, according to the right of kinsmen, family property is redeemed when it has got into a stranger's hands. This is the meaning of גּאל (lxx ἐκλάβοι), not equals גּעל, inquinent (Targ.). עננה is collective, as נהרה, mass of cloud. Instead of כּמרירי (the Caph of which seems pointed as praepos), we must read with Ewald (157, a), Olshausen, (187, b), and others, כּמרירי, after the form חכליל, darkness, dark flashing (vid., on Psalm 10:8), שׁפריר, tapestry, unless we are willing to accept a form of noun without example elsewhere. The word signifies an obscuring, from כּמר, to glow with heat, because the greater the glow the deeper the blackness it leaves behind. All that ever obscures a day is to overtake and render terrible that day.

(Note: We may compare here, and further, on, Constance's outburst of despair in King John (3:1 and 3:4). Shakespeare, like Goethe, enriches himself from the book of Job.)

Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine 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.
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 That night! let darkness seize upon it;

Let it not rejoice among the days of the year;

Let it not come into the number of the month.

7 Lo! let that night become barren;

Let no sound of gladness come to it.

8 Let those who curse the day curse it,

Who are skilled in stirring up leviathan.

9 Let the stars of its early twilight be darkened;

Let it long for light and there be none;

And let it not refresh itself with eyelids of the dawn.

Darkness is so to seize it, and so completely swallow it up, that it shall not be possible for it to pass into the light of day. It is not to become a day, to be reckoned as belonging to the days of the year and rejoice in the light thereof. יחדּ, for יחדּ, fut. Kal from חדה (Exodus 18:9), with Dagesh lene retained, and a helping Pathach (vid., Ges. 75, rem. 3, d); the reverse of the passage Genesis 49:6, where יחד, from יחד, uniat se, is found. It is to become barren, גּלמוּד, so that no human being shall ever be conceived and born, and greeted joyfully in it.

(Note: Fries understands רננה, song of the spheres (concentum coeli, Job 38:37, Vulg.); but this Hellenic conception is without support in holy Scripture.)

"Those who curse days" are magicians who know how to change days into dies infausti by their incantations. According to vulgar superstition, from which the imagery of Job 3:8 is borrowed, there was a special art of exciting the dragon, which is the enemy of sun and moon, against them both, so that, by its devouring them, total darkness prevails. The dragon is called in Hindu râhu; the Chinese, and also the natives of Algeria, even at the present day make a wild tumult with drums and copper vessels when an eclipse of the sun or moon occurs, until the dragon will release his prey.

(Note: On the dragon rhu, that swallows up sun and moon, vid., Pott, in the Hallische Lit. Zeitschr. 1849, No. 199; on the custom of the Chinese, Kuffer, Das chinesische Volk, S. 123. A similar custom among the natives of Algeria I have read of in a newspaper (1856). Moreover, the clouds which conceal the sky the Indians represent as a serpent. It is ahi, the cloud-serpent, which Indra chases away when he divides the clouds with his lightning. Vid., Westergaard in Weber's Indischer Zeitschr. 1855, S. 417.)

Job wishes that this monster may swallow up the sun of his birth-day. If the night in which he was conceived or born is to become day, then let the stars of its twilight (i.e., the stars which, as messengers of the morning, twinkle through the twilight of dawn) become dark. It is to remain for ever dark, never behold with delight the eyelids of the dawn. בּ ראה, to regale one's self with the sight of anything, refresh one's self. When the first rays of morning shoot up in the eastern sky, then the dawn raises its eyelids; they are in Sophocles's Antigone, 103, χρυσέης ἡμέρας βλέφαρον, the eyelid of the golden day, and therefore of the sun, the great eye.

Lo, let that night be solitary, let no joyful voice come therein.
Let them curse it that curse the day, who are ready to raise up their mourning.
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:
Because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb, nor hid sorrow from mine eyes.
10 Because it did not close the doors of my mother's womb,

Nor hid sorrow from my eyes.

11 Why did I not die from the womb,

Come forth from the womb and expire?

12 Why have the knees welcomed me?

And why the breasts, that I should suck?

The whole strophe contains strong reason for his cursing the night of his conception or birth. It should rather have closed (i.e., make the womb barren, to be explained according to 1 Samuel 1:5; Genesis 16:2) the doors of his womb (i.e., the womb that conceived concepit him), and so have withdrawn the sorrow he now experiences from his unborn eyes (on the extended force of the negative, vid., Ges. 152, 3). Then why, i.e., to what purpose worth the labour, is he then conceived and born? The four questions, Job 3:11., form a climax: he follows the course of his life from its commencement in embryo (מרהם, to be explained according to Jeremiah 20:17, and Job 10:18, where, however, it is מן local, not as here, temporal) to the birth, and from the joy of his father who took the new-born child upon his knees (comp. Genesis 50:23) to the first development of the infant, and he curses this growing life in its four phases (Arnh., Schlottm.). Observe the consecutio temp. The fut. אמוּת has the signification moriebar, because taken from the thought of the first period of his conception and birth; so also ואגוע, governed by the preceding perf., the signification et exspirabam (Ges. 127, 4, c). Just so אינק, but modal, ut sugerem ea.

Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?
Why did the knees prevent me? or why the breasts that I should suck?
For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest,
13 So should I now have lain and had quiet,

I should have slept, then it would have been well with me,

14 With kings and councillors of the earth,

Who built ruins for themselves,

15 Or with princes possessing gold,

Who filled their houses with silver:

16 Or like a hidden untimely birth I had not been,

And as children that have never seen the light.

The perf. and interchanging fut. have the signification of oriental imperfecta conjunctivi, according to Ges. 126, 5; עתּה כּי is the usual expression after hypothetical clauses, and takes the perf. if the preceding clause specifies a condition which has not occurred in the past (Genesis 31:42; Genesis 43:10; Numbers 22:29, Numbers 22:33; 1 Samuel 14:30), the fut. if a condition is not existing in the present (Job 6:3; Job 8:6; Job 13:19). It is not to be translated: for then; כי rather commences the clause following: so I should now, indeed then I should. Ruins, הרבות, are uninhabited desolate buildings, elsewhere such as have become, here such as are from the first intended to remain, uninhabited and desolate, consequently sepulchres, mausoleums; probably, since the book has Egyptian allusions, in other passages also, a play upon the pyramids, in whose name (III-XPAM, according to Coptic glossaries) III is the Egyptian article (vid., Bunsen, Aeg. ii. 361); Arab. without the art. hirâm or ahrâm (vid., Abdollatf, ed. de Sacy, p. 293, s.).

(Note: We think that חרבות sounds rather like חרמות, the name of the pyramids, as the Arabic haram (instead of hharam), derived from XPAM, recalls harmân (e.g., beith harmân, a house in ruins), the synonym of hhardân (חרבאן).)

Also Renan: Qui se btissent des mausoles. Bttch. de inferis, 298 (who, however, prefers to read רחבות, wide streets), rightly directs attention to the difference between החרבות בנה (to rebuild the ruins) and לו בנה ח (to build ruins for one's self). With או like things are then ranged after one another. Builders of the pyramids, millionaires, abortions (vid., Ecclesiastes 6:3), and the still-born: all these are removed from the sufferings of this life in their quiet of the grave, be their grave a "ruin" gazed upon by their descendants, or a hole dug out in the earth, and again filled in as it was before.

With kings and counsellers of the earth, which built desolate places for themselves;
Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver:
Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light.
There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.
17 There the wicked cease from troubling,

And the weary are at rest.

18 The captives dwell together in tranquillity;

They hear not the voice of the taskmaster.

19 The small and great, - they are alike there;

And the servant is free from his lord.

There, i.e., in the grave, all enjoy the rest they could not find here: the troublers and the troubled ones alike. רגן corresponds to the radical idea of looseness, broken in pieces, want of restraint, therefore of Turba (comp. Isaiah 57:20; Jeremiah 6:7), contained etymologically in רשׁע. The Pilel שׁאנן vid., Ges. 55, 2) signifies perfect freedom from care. In הוּא שׁם, הוּא is more than the sign of the copula (Hirz., Hahn, Schlottm.); the rendering of the lxx, Vulg., and Luther., ibi sunt, is too feeble. As it is said of God, Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 43:13; Psalm 102:28, that He is הוּא, i.e., He who is always the same, ὁ αὐτός; so here, הוּא, used purposely instead of המּה, signifies that great and small are like one another in the grave: all distinction has ceased, it has sunk to the equality of their present lot. Correctly Ewald: Great and small are there the same. יחד, Job 3:18, refers to this destiny which brings them together.

There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor.
The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master.
Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul;
20 Why is light given to the wretched,

And life to the sorrowful in soul?

21 Who wait for death, and he comes not,

Who dig after him more than for treasure,

22 Who rejoice with exceeding joy,

Who are enraptured, when they can find the grave?

23 To the man whose way is hidden,

And whom Eloah hath hedged round?

The descriptive partt. Job 3:21, Job 3:22, are continued in predicative clauses, which are virtually relative clauses; Job 3:21 has the fut. consec., since the sufferers are regarded as now at least dead; Job 3:22 the simple fut., since their longing for the grave is placed before the eye (on this transition from the part. to the verb. fin., vid., Ges. 134, rem. (2). Schlottm. and Hahn wrongly translate: who would dig (instead of do dig) for him more than for treasure. אלי־גיל (with poetical אלי instead of אל) might signify, accompanied by rejoicing, i.e., the cry and gesture of joy. The translation usque ad exultationem, is however, more appropriate here as well as in Hosea 9:1. With Job 3:23 Job refers to himself: he is the man whose way of suffering is mysterious and prospectless, and whom God has penned in on all sides (a fig. like Job 19:8; comp. Lamentations 3:5). סכך, sepire, above, Job 1:10, to hedge round for protection, here: forcibly straiten.

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?
Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?
For my sighing cometh before I eat, and my roarings are poured out like the waters.
24 For instead of my food my sighing cometh,

And my roarings pour themselves forth as water.

25 For I fear something terrible, and it cometh upon me,

And that before which I shudder cometh to me.

26 I dwelt not in security, nor rested, nor refreshed myself:

Then trouble cometh.

That לפני may pass over from the local signification to the substitutionary, like the Lat. pro (e.g., pro praemio est), is seen from Job 4:19 (comp. 1 Samuel 1:16): the parallelism, which is less favourable to the interpretation, before my bread (Hahn, Schlottm., and others), favours the signification pro here. The fut. consec. ויּתּכוּ (Kal of נתך) is to be translated, according to Ges. 129, 3, a, se effundunt (not effuderunt): it denotes, by close connection with the preceding, that which has hitherto happened. Just so v. 25a: I fear something terrible; forthwith it comes over me (this terrible, most dreadful thing). אתה is conjugated by the ה passing into the original א of the root (vid., Ges. 74, rem. 4). And just so the conclusion: then also forthwith רגן (i.e., suffering which disorders, rages and ransacks furiously) comes again. Schlottm. translates tamely and wrongly: then comes - oppression. Hahn, better: Nevertheless fresh trouble always comes; but the "nevertheless" is incorrect, for the fut. consec. indicates a close connection, not contrast. The praett., Job 3:26, give the details of the principal fact, which follows in the fut. consec.: only a short cessation, which is no real cessation; then the suffering rages afresh.

Why - one is inclined to ask respecting this first speech of Job, which gives rise to the following controversy - why does the writer allow Job, who but a short time before, in opposition to his wife, has manifested such wise submission to God's dealings, all at once to break forth in such despair? Does it not seem as though the assertion of Satan were about to be confirmed? Much depends upon one's forming a correct and just judgment respecting the state of mind from which this first speech proceeds. To this purpose, consider (1) That the speech contains no trace of what the writer means by את־האלהים ברך: Job nowhere says that he will have nothing more to do with God; he does not renounce his former faithfulness: (2) That, however, in the mind of the writer, as may be gathered from Job 2:10, this speech is to be regarded as the beginning of Job's sinning. If a man, on account of his sufferings, wishes to die early, or not to have been born at all, he has lost his confidence that God, even in the severest suffering, designs his highest good; and this want of confidence is sin.

There is, however, a great difference between a man who has in general no trust in God, and in whom suffering only makes this manifest in a terrible manner, and the man with whom trust in God is a habit of his soul, and is only momentarily repressed, and, as it were, paralysed. Such interruption of the habitual state may result from the first pressure of unaccustomed suffering; it may then seem as though trust in God were overwhelmed, whereas it has only given way to rally itself again. It is, however, not the greatness of the affliction in itself which shakes his sincere trust in God, but a change of disposition on the part of God which seems to be at work in the affliction. The sufferer considers himself as forgotten, forsaken, and rejected of God, as many passages in the Psalms and Lamentations show: therefore he sinks into despair: and in this despair expression is given to the profound truth (although with regard to the individual it is a sinful weakness), that it is better never to have been born, or to be annihilated, than to be rejected of God (comp. Matthew 26:24, καλὸν ἦ αὐτῷ ει ̓ οὐκ ἐγεννήθη ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἐκεῖνος). In such a condition of spiritual, and, as we know from the prologue, of Satanic temptation (Luke 22:31; Ephesians 6:16), is Job. He does not despair when he contemplates his affliction, but when he looks at God through it, who, as though He were become his enemy, has surrounded him with this affliction as with a rampart. He calls himself a man whose way is hidden, as Zion laments, Isaiah 40:27, "My way is hidden from Jehovah;" a man whom Eloah has hedged round, as Jeremiah laments over the ruins of Jerusalem, Lamentations 3:1-13 (in some measure a comment on Job 3:23), "I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath ... . He has hedged me round that I cannot get out, and made my chain heavy."

In this condition of entire deprivation of every taste of divine goodness, Job breaks forth in curses. He has lost wealth and children, and has praised God; he has even begun to bear an incurable disease with submission to the providence of God. Now, however, when not only the affliction, but God himself, seems to him to be hostile (nunc autem occultato patre, as Brentius expresses it),

(Note: Fries, in his discussion of this portion of the book of Job, Jahrbb. fr Deutsche Theologie, 1859, S. 790ff., is quite right that the real affliction of Job consists in this, that the inward feeling of being forsaken of God, which was hitherto strange to him, is come upon him. But the remark directed against me, that the feeling of being forsaken of God does not always stand in connection with other affliction, but may come on the favoured of God even in the midst of uninterrupted outward prosperity, does not concern me, since it is manifestly by the dispensations which deprive him of all his possessions, and at last affect him corporeally and individually, that Job is led to regard himself as one forsaken of God, and still more than that, one hated by God; and since, on the other hand also, this view of the tempted does not appear to be absolutely subjective, God has really withdrawn from Job the external proof, and at the same time the feeling, of His abiding love, in order to try the fidelity of His servant's love, and prove its absoluteness.)

we hear from his mouth neither words of praise (the highest excellence in affliction) nor words of resignation (duty in affliction), but words of despair: his trust in God is not destroyed, but overcast by thick clouds of melancholy and doubt.

It is indeed inconceivable that a New Testament believer, even under the strongest temptation, should utter such imprecations, or especially such a question of doubt as in Job 3:20 : Wherefore is light given to the miserable? But that an Old Testament believer might very easily become involved in such conflicts of belief, may be accounted for by the absence of any express divine revelation to carry his mind beyond the bounds of the present. Concerning the future at the period when the book of Job was composed, and the hero of the book lived, there were longings, inferences, and forebodings of the soul; but there was no clear, consoling word of God on which to rely, - no θεῖος λόγος which, to speak as Plato (Phaedo, p. 85, D), could serve as a rescuing plank in the shipwreck of this life. Therefore the πανταχοῦ θρυλλούμενον extends through all the glory and joy of the Greek life from the very beginning throughout. The best thing is never to have been born; the second best, as soon as possible thereafter, to die. The truth, that the suffering of this present time is not worthy of the glory which shall be revealed in us, was still silent. The proper disposition of mind, under such veiling of the future, was then indeed more absolute, as faith committed itself blindfold to the guidance of God. But how near at hand was the temptation to regard a troublous life as an indication of the divine anger, and doubtingly to ask, Why God should send the light of life to such! They knew not that the present lot of man forms but the one half of his history: they saw only in the one scale misery and wrath, and not in the other the heaven of love and blessedness to be revealed hereafter, by which these are outweighed; they longed for a present solution of the mystery of life, because they knew nothing of the possibility of a future solution. Thus it is to be explained, that not only Job in this poem, but also Jeremiah in the book of his prophecy, Job 20:14-18, curses the day of his birth. He curses the man who brought his father the joyous tidings of the birth of a son, and wishes him the fate of Sodom and Gomorrha. He wishes for himself that his mother might have been his grave, and asks, like Job, "Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, and that my days should be consumed in shame?" Hitzig remarks on this, that it may be inferred from the contents and form of this passage, there was a certain brief disturbance of spirit, a result of the general indescribable distress of the troublous last days of Zedekiah, to which the spirit of the prophet also succumbed. And it is certainly a kind of delirium in which Jeremiah so speaks, but there is no physical disorder of mind with it: the understanding of the prophet is so slightly and only momentarily disturbed, that he has the rather gained power over his faith, and is himself become one of its disturbing forces.

Without applying to this lyric piece either the standard of pedantic moralizing, or of minute criticism as poetry, the intense melancholy of this extremely plaintive prophet may have proceeded from the following reasoning: After I have lived ten long years of fidelity and sacrifice to my prophetic calling, I see that it has totally failed in its aim: all my hopes are blighted; all my exhortations to repentance, and my prayers, have not availed to draw Judah back from the abyss into which he is now cast, nor to avert the wrath of Jehovah which is now poured forth: therefore it had been better for me never to have been born. This thought affects the prophet so much the more, since in every fibre of his being he is an Israelite, and identifies the weal and woe of his people with his own; just as Moses would rather himself be blotted out form the book of life than that Israel should perish, and Paul was willing to be separated from Christ as anathema if he could thereby save Israel. What wonder that this thought should disburden itself in such imprecations! Had Jeremiah not been born, he would not have had occasion to sit on the ruins of Jerusalem. But his outburst of feeling is notwithstanding a paroxysm of excitement, for, though reason might drive him to despair, faith would teach him to hope even in the midst of downfall; and in reality, this small lyric piece in the collective prophecy of Jeremiah is only as a detached rock, over which, as a stream of clear living water, the prophecy flows on more joyous in faith, more certain of the future. In the book of Job it is otherwise; for what in Jeremiah and several of the psalms is compressed into a small compass, - the darkness of temptation and its clearing up, - is here the substance of a long entanglement dramatically presented, which first of all becomes progressively more and more involved, and to which this outburst of feeling gives the impulse. As Jeremiah, had he not been born, would not have sat on the ruins of Jerusalem; so Job, had he not been born, would not have found himself in this abyss of wrath. Neither of them knows anything of the future solution of every present mystery of life; they know nothing of the future life and the heavenly crown. This it is which, while it justifies their despair, casts greater glory round their struggling faith.

The first speaker among the friends, who now comes forward, is Eliphaz, probably the eldest of them. In the main, they all represent one view, but each with his individual peculiarity: Eliphaz with the self-confident pathos of age, and the mien of a prophet;

(Note: A. B. Davidson thinks Eliphaz is characterized as "the oldest, the most dignified, the calmest, and most considerate of Job's friends.")

Bildad with the moderation and caution befitting one poorer in thought; Zophar with an excitable vehemence, neither skilled nor disposed for a lasting contest. The skill of the writer, as we may here at the outset remark, is manifested in this, that what the friends say, considered in itself, is true: the error lies only in the inadequacy and inapplicability of what is said to the case before them.

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.
Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch [1857-78].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

Bible Hub
Job 2
Top of Page
Top of Page