Job 3
Pulpit Commentary
After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day.
Verse 1. - After this opened Job his mouth. The first to take the word is Job, as, indeed, etiquette made necessary, when the visit paid was one of condolence. It can only be conjectured what the feelings were which had kept him silent so long. We may, perhaps, suggest that in the countenances and manner of his friends he saw something which displeased him, something indicative of their belief that he had brought his afflictions upon himself by secret sins of a heinous character. Pharisaism finds it very difficult to conceal itself; signs of it are almost sure to escape; often it manifests itself, without a word spoken, most offensively. The phrase, "opened his mouth," is not to be dismissed merely as a Hebraism. It is one used only on solemn occasions, and implies the utterance of deep thoughts, well considered beforehand (Psalm 78:21; Matthew 5:2), or of feelings long repressed, and now at length allowed expression. And cursed his day; "cursed," i.e., the "day of his birth." Some critics think that "cursed" is too strong a word, and suggest "reviled;" but it cannot be denied that "to curse" is a frequent meaning of קָלַל and it is difficult to see in Job's words (vers. 3-10) anything but a "curse" of a very intense character. To curse one's natal day is not, perhaps, a very wise act, since it can have no effect on the day or on anything else; but so great a prophet as Jeremiah imitated Job in this respect (Jeremiah 20:14-18), so that before Christianity it would seem that men were allowed thus to relieve their feelings. All that such cursing means is that one wishes one had never been born.
And Job spake, and said,
Verses 2, 3. - And Job spake, and said, Let the day perish wherein I was born. An idle wish, doubtless; the vague utterance of extreme despair. Days cannot perish, or, at any rate, one day cannot perish more than another. They all come, and then are gone; but no day can perish out of the year, which will always have its full complement of three hundred and sixty-five days till time shall be no more. But extreme despair does not reason. It simply gives utterance to the thoughts and wishes as they arise. Job knew that many of his thoughts were vain and foolish, and confesses it further on (see Job 6:3). And the night in which it was said; rather, which said. Day and night are, both of them, personified, as in Psalm 19:2. There is a man child conceived. A man child was always regarded in the ancient world as a special blessing, since thus the family was maintained in being. A girl passed into another family.
Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.
Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it.
Verse 4. - Let that day be darkness; i.e. let a cloud rest upon it - let it be regarded as a day of ill omen, "carbone notandus." Job recognizes that his wish, that the day should perish utterly, is vain, and limits himself now to the possible. Let not God regard it from above; i.e. let not God, from the heaven where he dwells, extend to it his protection and superintending care. Neither let the light shine upon it. Pleonastic, but having the sort of force which belongs to reiteration.
Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it.
Verse 5. - Let darkness and the shadow of death. "The shadow of death" (צלמות) is a favourite expression in the Book of Job, where it occurs no fewer than nine times. Elsewhere it is rare, except in the Psalms, where it occurs four times. It is thought to be an archaic word. Stain it; rather, claim it, or claim it for their own (Revised Version). Let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. The hot, stifling "blackness" of the khamsin wind is probably meant, which suddenly turns the day into night, spreading all around a thick lurid darkness. When such a wind arises, we are told, "The sky instantly becomes black and heavy; the sun loses its splendour, and appears of a dim violet hue; a light, warm breeze is felt, which gradually increases in heat till it almost equals that of an oven. Though no vapour darkens the air, it becomes so grey and thick with the floating clouds of impalpable sand, that it is sometimes necessary to use candles at noonday" (Russell, 'Ancient and Modern Egypt,' p. 55).
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.
Verse 6. - As for that night. The night, that is, of Job's conception (see above, ver. 3). Let darkness seize upon it. The Revised Version has thick darkness but this is unnecessary. Let it not be joined unto the days of the year. According to the Massorites' pointing, we should translate, "Let it not rejoice among the days of the year;" and so the Revised Version. But many of the best critics prefer the pointing which is followed by the LXX. and by King James's translators. The succeeding clause strongly supports this interpretation. Let it not come into the number of the months (comp. ver. 3, and the comment on it). Job wishes the day of his birth and the night of his conception to be utterly blotted out from the calendar; but, aware that this is impossible, he subsides into a milder class of imprecations.
Lo, let that night be solitary, let no joyful voice come therein.
Verse 7. - Lo, let that night be solitary; or, sterile; "let no one be born in it." Lot no joyful voice come therein; literally, no song. Perhaps the moaning is, "Let no such joyful announcement be made," as that mentioned in ver. 3.
Let them curse it that curse the day, who are ready to raise up their mourning.
Verse 8. - Let them curse it that curse the day. Very different explanations are given of this passage. Some suppose it to mean, "Let those desperate men curse it who are in the habit of cursing their day," like Job himself (Job 3:1) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:14). Others suggest a reference to such as claimed power to curse days, and to divide them into the lucky and the unlucky. In this case Job would mean, "Let the sorcerers who curse days curse especially this day," and would thus seem, if not to sanction the practice, at any rate to express a certain amount of belief in the sorcerers' power. The second clause has also a double interpretation, which adapts it to either of these two suggested meanings (vide infra). Who are ready to raise up their mourning. This is an impossible rendering. Translate (with the Revised Version), who are ready to rouse up leviathan. "Rousing leviathan" may be understood in two ways. It may be regarded as spoken in the literal sense of those who are rash enough and desperate enough to stir up the fury of the crocodile (see the comment on Job 41:1), or in a metaphorical sense of such as stir up to action by their sorceries the great power of evil, symbolized in Oriental mythologies by a huge serpent, or dragon, or crocodile. On the whole, the second and deeper sense seems preferable; and we may conceive of Job as believing in the power of sorcery, and wishing it used against the night which he so much dislikes.
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:
Verse 9. - Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark; i.e. "let not even the light of a star illuminate the morning or evening twilight of that night; let it be dark from beginning to end, uncheered even by the ray of a star." Let it look for light, but have none. Again a personification. The night is regarded as consciously waiting in hope of the appearance of morning, but continually disappointed by the long lingering of the darkness. And let it not see the dawning of the day; rather, as in the margin and in the Revised Version, let it not behold the eyelids of the morning (compare Milton's 'Lycidas,' "Under the opening eyelids of the morn," and Soph., 'Antigone,' χρυσσέης ἁμέρας βλέφαρον).
Because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb, nor hid sorrow from mine eyes.
Verse 10. - Because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb; literally, of my womb; i.e. "of the womb which bare me." By a stretch of imagination, the night is supposed to have power to open or shut wombs, and is blamed for not having shut up the womb in which Job was conceived. Nor hid sorrow from mine eyes; i.e. "and did not so prevent all the sorrows that have befallen me."
Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?
Verse 11. - Why died I not from the womb? "From the womb" must mean, "as soon as I came out of the womb," not "while I yet remained within it" (comp. Jeremiah 20:17, "Because he slew me not from the womb"). Many of the ancients thought that it was best not to be born; and next best, if one were born, to quit the earth as soon as possible. Herodotus says that with the Trauri, a tribe of Thracians, it was the custom, whenever a child was born, for all its kindred to sit round it in a circle, and weep for the woes that it would have to endure now that it was come into the world; while, on the other hand, whenever a person died, they buried him with laughter and rejoicings, since they said that he was now free from a host of sufferings, and enjoyed the completest happiness (Herod., 5:4). Sophocles expresses the feeling with great terseness and force: Μὴ φῦναι τὸν ἅπαντα νικᾷ λόγον τὸ δ ἐπεὶ φαςῆ βῆναι κεῖθεν ὅθεν περ ἥκει πολὺ δεύτερον ὡστάχιστα (Ed. Col., 1225-1228): "Not to be born is best of all; once born, next best it is by far to go back there from whence one came as speedily as possible." Modern pessimism sums up all in the phrase that "life is not worth living." Why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly? As so often, the second clause of the distich repeats the idea of the first, merely varying the phraseology.
Why did the knees prevent me? or why the breasts that I should suck?
Verse 12. - Why did the knees prevent me? i.e. "Why did my mother take me on her knees and nurse me, instead of casting me on the ground, where I should have perished?" There seems to be an allusion to the practice of parents only bringing up a certain number of their children (see Rosenmuller, 'Scholia in Vit. Test.,' vol. 5. p. 101). Or why the breasts that I should suck? i.e. "Why were breasts offered to me, that I should suck them? How much better would it have been if I had been allowed to perish of inanition!"
For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest,
Verse 13. - For now should I have lain still and been quiet. "In that case, I should now (עתָּה) have been lying still and resting myself," instead of tossing about, and being full of restlessness and suffering." I should have slept. The life in the intermediate state is called "sleep," even in the New Testament (Matthew 9:24; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:18, 51, etc.). Job, perhaps, imagined it to be, actually, a sound, dreamless slumber. Then should I have been at rest; literally, then (אז) would there have been rest for me."
With kings and counsellers of the earth, which built desolate places for themselves;
Verse 14. - With kings and counsellers of the earth. As a great man himself, nobly born probably, Job expects that his place in another world would have been with kings and nobles (see Isaiah 14:9-11, where the King of Babylon, on entering Sheol, finds himself among "all the kings of the nations"). Which built desolate places for themselves. Some understand "restorers of cities which had become waste and desolate;" others, "builders of edifices which, since they built them, have become desolate;" others, again, "builders of desolate and dreary piles," such as the Pyramids, and the rock-tombs common in Arabia, which were desolate and dreary from the time that they were built. The brevity studied by the writer makes his meaning somewhat obscure.
Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver:
Verse 15. - Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver. This may either mean simply," princes who were rich in silver and gold during their lifetime," or "princes who have gold and silver buried with them in their tombs." It was the custom in Egypt, in Phoenicia, and elsewhere throughout the East, to bury large quantities of treasure, especially gold and silver vessels, and jewellery, in the sepulchres of kings and other great men. A tomb of a Scythian king in the Crimea, opened about fifty years ago, contained a golden shield, a golden diadem, two silver vases, a vase in electrum, and a number of ornaments, partly in electrum and partly in gold (see the author's 'Herodotus,' vol. 3. p. 59, 3rd edit.). Another Scythian tomb near the Caspian, opened by the Russian authorities, contained ornaments set with rubies and emeralds, together with four sheets of gold, weighing forty pounds. A third, near Asterabad, contained a golden goblet, weighing seventy ounces; a pot, eleven ounces, and two small trumpets. The tombs of the kings and queens in Egypt were so richly supplied with treasure that, in the time of the twentieth dynasty, a thieves' society was formed for plundering them, especially of their golden ornaments (Brugsch, 'History of Egypt,' vol. 1. p. 247, 1st edit.). The tomb of Cyrus the Great contained, we are told (Arrian, 'Exp. Alex.,' 6:29), a golden couch, a golden table set out with drinking-cups, a golden bowl, and much elegant clothing adorned with gems. Phoenician tombs, in Cyprus especially, have recently yielded enormous treasures (Di Cesnola, 'Cyprus,' pp. 310-316). If the "gold" and "silver" of the present passage refer to treasures buried with princes and kings, we must understand by the "houses" of the second clause their tombs. The Egyptians called their tombs their "eternal abodes" (Diod. Sic., 1:51).
Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light.
Verse 16. - Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light. This is added as another way in which Job might have escaped his misery. Though conceived and brought to the birth, he might have been still-born, and so have known no suffering.
There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.
Verse 17. - There. The word has no expressed antecedent, but the general tenor of the passage supplies one. "There" is equivalent to "in the grave." The wicked cease from troubling; i.e." cease from their state of continual perturbation and unrest" (comp. Isaiah 57:20, "But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt "). This is their condition, so long as they live; nothing satisfies them; they are always in trouble themselves, and always causing trouble to others. In the grave alone do they rest, or seem to rest. And there the weary be at rest; literally, the weary in strength or "in respect of strength;" i.e. those whose strength is utterly exhausted and worn out. Here Job undoubtedly alludes to himself. He looks to the grave as his only refuge, the only hope he has of recovering peace and tranquillity.
There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor.
Verse 18. - There the prisoners rest together. "There those who in life were prisoners, condemned to work at enforced labours, enjoy sweet rest together." They hear not the voice of the oppressor; rather, of the taskmaster (comp. Exodus 3:7; Exodus 5:6, where the same word is used). The task. master continually urged on the wearied labourers with such words as those of Exodus 5:13, "Fulfil your works, fulfil your daily tasks. In the grave these hated sounds would not be heard.
The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master.
Verse 19. - The small and great are there; i.e. "all are there, the small and great alike;" for

"Omnes eodem cogimur, cranium
Versatur urna serius ocius
Sors exitura, et nos in aeternum
Exilium impositura cymbae."

(Her., ' Od.') And the servant is free from his master; rather, the slave (עֶבֶד).
Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul;
Verse 20. - Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery? Why, Job asks, is the miserable man forced to continue on the earth and see the light to-day? Why is he not sent down at once to the darkness of the grave? Surely this would have been better. Man often speaks as if he were wiser than his Maker, and could have much improved the system of the universe, if he had had the arranging of it; but he scarcely means what he says commonly. Such talk is, however, foolish, as is all captious questioning concerning the ways of God. The proper answer to all such questioning is well given by Zophar in Job 11:7, 8, "Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell (Sheol); what canst thou know?" And life unto the bitter in soul (see the comment on ver. 11, ad fin.).
Which long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more than for hid treasures;
Verse 21. - Which long for death, but it cometh not; literally, which wait for death' anxiously and longingly (comp. Psalm 33:20). And dig for it more than for hid treasures; i.e. "seek it more earnestly than even they seek who dig for hid treasures." As Professor Lee remarks, "From the great instability of all Eastern governments, treasures were in Eastern countries often hid away" ('Book of Job,' pp. 200, 201). And hence treasure-seeking became a profession, which was pursued with avidity by a large number of persons. Even at the present day Orientals are so possessed with the idea, that they imagine every European, who is eager to unearth antiquities, must be seeking for buried treasure.
Which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they can find the grave?
Verse 22. - Which rejoice exceedingly; literally, to exultation or "to dancing;" i.e. so that they almost dance with joy. And are glad, when they can find the grave. Job speaks as if he knew of such cases; and, no doubt, the fact of suicide proves that among men there are some who prefer to die rather than live. But suicides are seldom altogether in possession of their senses. Of sane men it may be doubted whether one in a thousand, however miserable, really wishes to die, or is "glad when he can find the grave." In such thoughts as those to which Job here gives expression there is something morbid and unreal.
Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?
Verse 23. - Why is light given to a man whose way is hid? "Obscured," that is, "darkened," "placed under a cloud" (comp. ver. 20, where the sentiment is nearly the same). And whom God hath hedged in. Not in the way of protection, as in Job 1:10, but of obstruction and confinement: (comp. Job 19:8 and Hosea 2:6). Job feels himself confined, imprisoned, blocked in. He can neither see the path which he ought to pursue nor take steps in any direction.
For my sighing cometh before I eat, and my roarings are poured out like the waters.
Verse 24. - For my sighing cometh before I eat literally, before my meat; i.e. "more early and more constantly than my food" (Professor Lee). And my roarings are poured out. The word translated "roaring" is used primarily of the roar of a lion (Zechariah 11:3; comp. Amos 3:8); secondarily, of the loud cries uttered by men who suffer pain (see Psalm 22:1; Psalm 32:4). (On the loud cries of Orientals when suffering from grief or pain, see the comment on Job 2:12.) Like the waters; i.e. freely and copiously, without let or stint. Perhaps the loud sound of rushing water is also alluded to.
For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.
Verse 25. - For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me; literally, for I fear a fear, and it comes upon me. The meaning is not that the affliction which has come upon him is a thing which Job had feared when he was prosperous; but that now that he is in adversity, he is beset with fears, and that all his presentiments of evil are almost immediately accomplished. The second clause, And that which I was (rather, am) afraid of is come unto me, merely repeats and emphasizes the first (see the comment on ver. 11).
I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.
Verse 26. - I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came. Some Hebraists give quite a different turn to this passage, rendering it as follows: "I am not at ease, neither am I quiet, neither have I rest; but trouble cometh" (see the Revised Version, and compare Canon Cook's rendering in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' vol. 4. p. 29, "I have no peace, nor quiet, nor rest; but trouble cometh "). Professor Lee, however, certainly one of the most eminent of modern Hebraists, maintains that the far more pregnant meaning of the Authorized Version gives the true sense. "If I rightly apprehend," he says, "the drift of the context here, Job means to have it understood that he is conscious of no instance in which he has relaxed from his religious obligations; of no season in which his fear and love of God have waxed weak; and, on this account, it was the more perplexing that such a complication of miseries had befallen him" ('The Book of Job' pp. 201, 202); and he translates the passage (ibid., p. 121), "I slackened not, neither was I quiet, neither took I rest; yet trouble came." Job's complaint is thus far more pointedly terminated than by a mere otiose statement that, "without rest or pause, trouble came upon trouble."

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