Let’s open our Bibles to the third chapter of the book of Job. (For this Job 3 Summary)
Let’s start by reminding ourselves of the message of the book of Job. It’s this: When we can’t understand God’s ways, we must trust his wisdom.
And in the first chapter of the book of Job we saw that Job could fairly well understand God’s ways. Job did right and God blessed him.
But then the rest of those two chapters went downhill for Job. Everything was taken from him – his children, his wealth, and his health.
And now, after seven days of sitting with his friends in complete silence, Job will speak and express his grief in this chapter. And he’ll inform us that he neither understands God’s ways nor really is he having a very easy time trusting God’s wisdom.
Job 3 Summary | Introduction | 1-2
So, in verses 1 and 2, we start with the introduction to what we’re going to see in the rest of chapter 3.
KJV Job 3:1 After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his [i.e., birth…] day.
3:2 And Job spake, and said,
Now, even though we were just told in chapters 1 and 2 that Job didn’t sin with his mouth – yet, we’re going to see him start to open his mouth and use it to speak in a manner that indicates very clearly that Job does not understand God’s ways – a manner that is also tending to indicate that at this point he’s struggling to trust God’s wisdom.
In chapters 1 and 2, Job refused to curse God. And yet, we’re going to see him in chapter 3 curse the day of his birth.
And before we enter this section of poetry that takes up the bulk of this book – we need to consider whether this kind of conversation could actually take place in real life.
Have you ever wondered about that? How three guys could stand around and spin poetry to one another?
Because, when we English-speaking folk think of poetry, we’re thinking of rhyming primarily. And it takes a lot of work to make the last word in each of your lines rhyme. And despite its difficulty, there are some who can do this with some success. But it’s rare and exceptional to be able to make more than a few of your statements rhyme – in an impromptu discussion.
So, how is it that Job and his friends are able to spin poetry here?
Let’s consider a few things that will help us understand this.
First, we do need to remember that these four men sat together silently for seven days. It could be that they were planning their statements as they sat and did literally nothing for an entire week.
Second, this is Hebrew poetry – not English. If there’s rhyming, it’s likely incidental – or due to the fact that so many Hebrew words end in the same sounds.
So, Job and his friends are not creating statements that rhyme. Rather, the Hebrew poetry they’re creating is rich in imagery and in parallelism.
And, while those two literary devices aren’t easy – in my estimation, they’re not nearly as difficult as making the last word in each sentence rhyme with the previous one.
We’ll look ahead to verse 3 quick to see this Hebrew poetry in action.
Job says, “Let the day perish wherein I was born.” And he doesn’t need to follow that up by adding a line that ends with a word like “scorn” or “torn” or whatever else. No, he follows it up with a concept that is very similar.
His poetry consists of him then speaking of night. Which of course is the opposite of day. He’s looking at the entire day of his birth and considers in one line the daylight part of it. And then in the next line he considers the nighttime part of it. So, that’s a parallelism that’s antithetical – he’s putting opposites together.
So, that’s what he does with the first part of each statement. But the second part of each statement he basically uses a synonym – something similar. So, in the first sentence he speaks of his birth. And the second line, he speaks of something fairly similar – his conception. Not identical – mind you – about nine months apart in time – but similar – related concepts.
And this is the nature of the poetry that these men produce on-the-fly. I think it’s easier in some ways than trying to think of words that rhyme. Instead of looking for precise little words that rhyme, these poets are going to be looking for broad concepts that are similar or different from one another.
You can try this at lunch. Husbands, speak of your wife’s delightful cooking in Hebrew poetical form. Say something like this…
“Dear, this chicken is so juicy.
My beloved wife, the desert contains just the right amount of sweetness!”
Or maybe something better than that. And if you do that, you’ve entered into something of what Job and his three friends do here in this book.
And actually, parents, you’ve probably already done this kind of poetical speaking to your children. Because, it turns out that this kind of speaking just sometimes comes out of us when we’re highly emotional.
So, have you ever said something like…
“My child, your room is a disaster area.
Is there no room left in your dresser, that everything is on the floor?
There are hangers in your closet, you know.
Surely you’re aware of the fact that dirty clothing goes in the hamper.”
And on and on with that one. If that sounds familiar, then you know that emotionally-charged situations naturally bring out the Hebrew poet in most of us. We make a statement and then elaborate on it.
And, of course, Job and his three friends were likely rather skilled in applying this kind of speech, whereas we’re mostly amateurs. And yet, for me, it’s totally believable that these four men – and then Elihu toward the end – all five of these men really did speak this way to one another – yes, with some thought and perhaps 7 or so days of preparation – there would have been more time for Job to prepare of course. But with all of these considerations taken together, it’s believable that these men spoke this way.
And so, with those thoughts considered, now we enter the poetry section of the book of Job.
Job 3 Summary | Day and Night Cursed | 3-9
And to start off, Job is going to curse both the day and the night that were associated with his conception and eventual birth in verses 3 through 9.
3:3 Let the day perish wherein I was born,
and the night [in which it was/which] said, There is a [man child/boy/man] conceived.
So, Job is in such a frame of mind that – if it were possible – he would have the whole process of his conception and birth reversed.
He starts by wishing he had never been born. And then he goes back even further and wishes that his mother would never have conceived him.
And of course, this is wishful thinking. It makes no sense. A day can’t literally perish – let alone one that has already been played out decades earlier.
And so, we learn here that oftentimes people who are suffering – and especially those whose suffering is severe – they start entertaining the impossible in their minds.
“Oh, if only I had never taken that job – or married that man – or happened to be in that place at that very time!” are the kind of words you will hear the sufferer speak. And these are ultimately vain thoughts. The man or woman who utters them is totally incapable of changing anything that God has allowed into his or her life.
When you can’t understand God’s ways – or when you even want to retroactively change them – you MUST trust God’s wisdom.
Job 3 Summary | Day | 4-5
Now, Job further speaks of the day of his birth in verses 4 and 5.
3:4 Let that day be darkness;
let not God [regard/care for] it [from above/on high],
neither let the light shine upon it.
3:5 Let darkness and [the shadow of death/black gloom/the deepest shadow] [stain/claim] it;
let a cloud [dwell/settle] upon it;
let [the blackness of/whatever blackens] the day terrify it.
So, Job wishes for the day of his birth to be obscured in darkness. We see him reference that idea several times in verses 4 and 5. He speaks of darkness, of light not shining on that day, of darkness and the shadow of death, of a cloud, and of blackness.
And of course the day of one’s birth is typically a day of great joy. What parent in here – when he receives a child into this world – is full of inner darkness and gloom? No – it’s a day of rejoicing.
But, in light of what Job has experienced – the loss of everything including his health – he is now in the frame of mind where he could wish – poetically – for the day of his birth to be exactly how he currently feels – dark, gloomy, cloudy, without any regard from God, and even terrified.
Job 3 Summary | Night | 6-9
And then Job returns to considering the night of his conception that was mentioned back in verse 3 once more in verses 6-9.
3:6 As for that night, let darkness [seize upon/seize] it;
let it not [be joined unto/rejoice among/be included amonth] the days of the year,
let it not [come into/enter among] the number of the months.
3:7 [Lo/Behold/Indeed], let that night be [solitary/barren],
let no [joyful voice/shout of joy] [come therein/enter it/penetrate it].
3:8 Let them curse it that curse the day,
who are [ready/prepared] to [raise up their/rouse] [mourning/Leviathan].
3:9 Let the stars of the twilight thereof be [dark/darkened];
let it [look/wait] for [day…] light, but [have/find] none;
neither let it see the [dawning of the day/breaking dawn/first rays of dawn]:
So, Job wants that night to be shrouded in darkness. And beyond that, he wishes that it could be erased from history. He wants it retroactively to not appear in the record of days or within the months of history.
He wishes that that night could become silent and solitary. Not a time of looking back with joy and rejoicing – but a time to observe total silence.
He even goes so far as to encourage those who curse the day to curse the night of his conception. And this could be speaking of those who curse the day of his birth – which he was speaking of in the last several verses. Or it could be speaking of those who are just kind of worthless fellows who just like to curse the day.
But if any of you have a modern English version, you see that the word translated as “mourning” in the KJV is translated in your version as Leviathan. And that’s actually a transliteration of the Hebrew word there. And so, some have suggested that Job is referencing sorcerers of his day who would claim to be able to rouse this legendary sea monster – and he’s saying that these strange men may feel free to curse the night of his conception.
At any rate, Job is calling on some group of people generally to do just that – to curse the night of his conception.
And even the light that brightens the end of night – the stars – Job wishes that those could be retroactively darkened.
He considers that time when daylight started to break after that night and he wishes that it could just have stayed dark. As if it were a person who was waiting for someone – in this case, light personified – but that someone never comes.
Job 3 Summary | Birth | 10-12
But why? Why is Job wishing these fanciful things on the day and night associated with his coming into this world? That’s what Job answers in verses 10-12.
3:10 Because it shut not up the doors of my mother’s womb,
nor hid [sorrow/trouble] from mine eyes.
3:11 Why died I not [from the womb/at birth]?
why did I not [give up the ghost/expire] when I came out of the [belly/womb]?
3:12 Why did the knees [prevent/receive/welcome] me?
or why the breasts that I should [suck/nurse]?
So, we notice this step-by-step mindset that Job is revealing. He starts with wishing that his mother had never conceived him. But she did.
And so he wishes that – even though he was conceived – that he might have died right when he emerged from the womb. But that didn’t happen.
In fact, there were knees there to catch him from falling to the ground – and a God-given source of nourishment to keep him alive from there!
So, there’s this progression of what would have happened if he would have never been born.
But since he was, then what would it have been like if he died at birth.
But since that didn’t happen, what about if he would have been neglected when he entered the world?
But that didn’t happen either.
And I think this is a really interesting phenomenon of regret that we see in people who are suffering. The sufferer tends to look for a retroactive solution at every step. And of course – it doesn’t help at all. It’s not productive thinking. It does nothing to address the problem. And yet, when we humans undergo suffering we can tend to do this.
My friend who lost two precious sons in a car accident in August this year – the two times I’ve spoken to him since then he’s engaged mostly in this kind of speech when I talk to him.
He rehearses all the steps leading up to the car accident. He wonders, “what if?” And he wonders it from every imaginable angle.
He has calculated the distance from such-and-such a point to the point of the accident. He considers what if his car was going slower or what if the other car was going faster or even what if they had hit a dog they saw on the side of the road so that they would have been delayed from that intersection. What if he hadn’t moved the car seat of the oldest son the night before? What if his eyes were glued to the road every second leading up to that accident? What if he had traveled a different road that he was more familiar with? What if his wife was more aware of the situation? What if…?
These questions have been on my friend’s mind constantly. And it’s not surprising – because it’s that very kind of thinking that we see expressed by Job, the original sufferer.
Is this kind of thinking fruitful? No.
Is it understandable? Yes.
And it’s something to move beyond on the part of the one who’s suffering. And yet – it’s not something that can be speedily moved beyond for someone who has undergone tremendous suffering.
Job 3 Summary | Death | 13-19
So, Job has considered the day and night. He’s just considered birth. And so, now he’s going to take several verses to consider the opposite of birth – death – in verses 13-19.
If Job had died, the following would be the case – in his mind…
3:13 For now should I have lain [still/down] and been quiet,
I should have slept: then had I been at [rest/peace],
So, Job views death as rest. Or that’s what he says.
And this is a good place to note that what Job and his friends say in these sections is probably not the material that is best to form our thinking when it comes to theological reality. In other words, if Job and his friends are just exuding their inner emotional turmoil – then what they say is not what we should use to prove this-or-that idea about God or death or life or sin or whatever else.
In fact, in Layton Talbert’s book on Job – Beyond Suffering – he references a commentator named Walvoord who says that there’s enough material in the book of Job to produce a full systematic theology.
Now, systematic theologies of course cover every topic the Bible speaks of – the church, the end times and afterlife, sin, man, Christ, God, angels, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, etc.
And maybe this man is right – and I guess we’ll see as we study this book. And yet, I have to think that most of this material that he claims could fill a systematic theology book is in need of serious filtering by us before we accept it.
For example, most of what Job’s friends say is just flat wrong – at least in how they apply it to Job’s case. And I think we see what Job says – especially about God – you would not want to appear in a systematic theology book in the section labeled “Theology Proper.” Why? Because he doesn’t really understand God’s ways and he’s having a lot of trouble trusting God’s wisdom!
So, I say, go elsewhere for theologically correct statements. And then go to the book of Job to see a man suffering to reconcile his systematic theology of God with the realities of life in this sin-cursed world. And Job and his friends all get it wrong a lot before God ultimately sets them straight.
So, when Job here pictures death as just this excellent time of rest – he’s at least oversimplifying it. He’s comparing non-existence to his present existence and because his life is so bad now he’s just yearning for death.
And – as strange as it sounds – Job starts to imagine the kinds of friends he’d have if he were dead – in the next three verses. Job envisions himself in death as being…
3:14 With kings and counsellors of the earth,
which [built/rebuilt] [desolate places/ruins/places now desolate] for themselves;
3:15 Or with princes that had gold,
who filled their [houses/palaces] with silver:
3:16 Or as [an hidden/a discarded/a buried] [untimely birth/miscarriage/stillborn infant] I had not been;
as infants which never saw light.
So, Job pictures himself being dead along with kings, princes, and stillborns.
And in every case, Job considers the vanity and emptiness of the lives of these folks.
The kings built places. And you know the kind of places that kings build. Luxurious. Opulent. A marvel to behold. … But now these men are dead. And their beautiful buildings are desolate. They’re ruins. How empty.
The princes hoarded silver. They fill their huge palaces with their money. And yet – they too are now dead. And who cares about their silver? How empty.
Or Job considers the stillborn. The baby who is born – but is dead.
And these groups of people – whose lives were ultimately so empty – whether they lived to become royalty or they never even saw the light of day – these individuals Job pictures as being with him in death. They’ll all have their rest together.
And surely, Job feels a kinship with these individuals who have experienced emptiness in life. We remember how much Job lost. Things seemed to be going so well with him. And then, disaster.
And if Job’s life were to end right at this point, surely he’d feel as if his life had been as empty and meaningless as these groups – dead kings, dead princes, dead babies.
Then, in the next three verses, Job pictures death as the great equalizer that makes all sorts of people equal.
3:17 There the wicked cease from [troubling/raging/turmoil];
and there the weary be at rest.
3:18 There the prisoners [rest/are at ease/relax] together;
they hear not the voice of the [oppressor/taskmaster].
3:19 The small and great are there;
and the servant is free from his master.
So, it’s like Job views everything being set at equilibrium in death.
For example, the wicked – where is he off-balance? Well, he does wrong. But in death, this kind of man ceases from troubling. He’s set at equilibrium – in Job’s mind.
Prisoners in this life in Job’s days were off-balance in the fact that there’s no rest for them. They’re being driven along by oppressors. But that all gets set right in death. No more oppressors and nothing but rest.
Small and great, servant and master are all there together. There were distinctions between them on the earth in life. But in death, there is no distinction. Death is the great equalizer. Death – in Job’s mind – sets everything at 0 – at equilibrium.
Job 3 Summary | Life | 20-23
So, Job has verbally mused on day and night, birth and death. And now in verses 20-23 he’s going to consider life – but in a very negative light. He asks…
3:20 Wherefore is light given to him [that is in misery/who suffers],
and life unto the bitter in soul;
And, by the way – that’s Job. He laments the fact that he’s given life because he’s so miserable.
3:21 Which [long/wait] for death, but [it cometh not/there is none];
and [dig/search] for it more than for hid treasures;
And again, this is Job. Job’s not being theoretical here and pondering why other people suffer. He’s not thinking about the sufferings of others right now – he’s thinking about his own misery and suffering.
So, Job is longing for death. And look at the way he describes himself as if he were actually digging for death like someone would dig for wealth. How valuable in Job’s sight had death become.
And yet, that’s what extreme suffering will do to a man.
Here’s how Job continues to view himself in relation to death…
3:22 Which rejoice [exceedingly/greatly], and [are glad/exult],
when they can find the grave?
And in a way, this way of thinking is so perverse. Who rejoices about death? Who is glad for death? That’s not how God created it. Who thinks like this??
Well – Job – that’s who! The man whose life is so bitter and full of suffering.
And my friend whose boys passed away in that car accident – when I’ve spoken to him, he’s not dwelt very much on this idea – and yet, I’ve heard him state that he wishes he would have died instead of his boys.
And we can all sympathize and imagine the feeling.
For Job’s situation, compare the trouble he went through as compared to what his children experienced.
His children died. And it would be an understatement to say that that was unpleasant for them.
And yet, that’s a relatively easy path compared to the father who is left behind to be filled with regret and pain and sorrow and anger. Who’s left behind to struggle with reconciling the confusing actions of a loving and powerful God who allows suffering into his life.
And so, Job’s grief is understandable. And yet, it’s twisted – to view death as something that’s desirable.
And then Job asks one more question in regard to death and he brings God into the picture explicitly in verse 23.
3:23 Why is light given to a man whose way is hid,
and whom God hath hedged in?
God has hidden Job’s ways so that Job cannot understand what God’s doing. God has trapped Job – hedged him in.
Job doesn’t understand his own ways – let alone God’s ways. And according to the message of this book, this is the time when he needs to trust God’s wisdom. And yet, I think we’re not seeing very much encouragement that Job is doing that at this point.
Job 3 Summary | Circumstances | 24-26
Well, why is Job asking such morbid questions about life? That’s what he’s going to explain in verses 24-26. Job’s circumstances cause him to prefer death to living.
3:24 For my [sighing/groaning] cometh [before I eat/at the sight of my food/in place of my food],
and my [roarings/cries/groanings] [are poured out/flow forth] like the waters.
And why is Job roaring and sighing? Why are his verbal expressions of grief so severe?
3:25 For the [i.e., very…] thing which I [greatly feared/dreaded] [is come upon/has happened to] me,
and that which I [was afraid of/dread] [is come unto/befalls] me.
And it did. Job expressed fear originally that his children would curse God. How much more would he have feared their premature death? And yet – that very reality and so much more has come upon Job.
3:26 I [was/am] not [in safety/at ease],
neither [had/have] I [rest/quietness],
neither [was/am/can] I [quiet/rest];
[yet/but] trouble [came/comes/has come upon me].
There’s no safety, rest, or quiet in Job’s life. Trouble has come and has not relented.
And in every case in which Job was suffering, there was no remedy. He could not get his kids back. His stuff was all gone and gone forever. He had no remedy for his health – the best he could do was to scrape the infected pus off of his skin to try in vain to minimize the infection spreading. There’s no remedy.
So, that’s Job opening lament. He’s obviously grieving. He’s not thinking right. He doesn’t understand God’s ways.
So, it’s a good thing that he has three good friends who can help encourage him to trust God’s wisdom.
Right? I mean, we saw in chapter two that these men came in order to comfort and encourage Job.
We’ll see how well they do next time.