Devotional: Job 3 Laments

In Job chapter 1 and 2 we learned that Job was a righteous man who lost everything. Those chapters were narrative sections that told the story of Job and gave us the facts we need as we now enter the poetic section. We must keep in mind the genre to understand what is being communicated. The narrative sections should be understood more literally than the poetic section. Just as poetry today, we should understand that this poetic section is communicating pictures and emotions rather than explicit facts. Many, surprisingly even some commentaries, make the mistake of treating poetry too literally without looking at the whole picture described in the context given.

1) After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day.
2) And Job spake, and said,
3) Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.
4) Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it.
5) Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it.
6) 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.

The first thing that Job does is curse his birthday. He paints a picture of it just falling out the calendar and being erased from memory. I find it interesting that this is his first thought rather than bemoaning his pain more directly. Instead, it implies that he was born on an unlucky day and that he would not wish others to be born on the same day and have his same fate. In other words, he does not wish his current suffering on anyone else.

7) Lo, let that night be solitary, let no joyful voice come therein.
8) Let them curse it that curse the day, who are ready to raise up their mourning.

One commentary I read talked of a culture that mourned when a baby was born because of all the hardships it would endure in its life. That culture would rejoice when a baby died and was spared the relief of not experiencing pain in this world. Job is describing the wish that people who understand the pain of this life doing something similar when he had been born. I have known people who did not want to have children because this world was so difficult. As a mother who has lost babies as well as have living children, I actually do understand this sentiment. Some people use this argument to abort children with disabilities because their lives would be full of pain. The problem with this logic is everyone experiences pain in this life, yet we typically find life preferably to death. Why is that? Because, there is also joy even in the mundane. There is hope in the next morning’s promise of refreshing. There is sweet with the bitter.

Still, Job makes a sweeping statement in his anguish that maybe untrue or an exaggeration, but this is common to all of us when we are hurting. In my own experience, I struggle to remember the good times when pain is all I see. For the moment, as with all who mourn, we allow that Job feels this and leave it alone.

9) 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:
10) Because it shut not up the doors of my mother’s womb, nor hid sorrow from mine eyes.
11) Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?
12) Why did the knees prevent me? or why the breasts that I should suck?

We know from the narrative section that Job is not suicidal. When his wife suggested such an idea, Job rejected it as foolish. So then why does he talk about death now? Job believes in the sovereignty of God and his divine right over life and death. Job may wish for God to kill him, but he does not speak of doing it himself. Job’s wish is also that he had never seen his current day in a preventative manner rather than die as he is.

13) For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest,
14) With kings and counsellors of the earth, which built desolate places for themselves;
15) Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver:
16) Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light.
17) There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.
18) There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor.
19 )The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master.

Job envisions death as a place of rest and peace. He sees it as the great equalizer that stops all the conflicts, unfairness, and injustice of life. He does not speak of an afterlife, but he also does not speak of people just ceasing from existence.

20) Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul;
21) Which long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more than for hid treasures;
22) Which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they can find the grave?
23) Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?

“Why is light given…?” Is a rhetorical question for why is he still alive. The light is the light of the sun each day and darkness is the image of death and burial. Job is pondering why God would preserve his life when he longs for death. It is strange how quickly and easily people can be taken by death, yet sometimes it is also amazing just how many dangerous situations God preserves people through. Job is pondering why does God maintain the lives of those who would rejoice to die? Today, people who are perhaps terminally or tired of medical treatment at the end of a long life can decline medical help to control the timing of their lives, but this was not an option at that time. Those who fight for medically assisted suicide may agree with Job’s sentiments, but Job still does not speak of self-harm and is not advocating human control over his own death. Though we see his argument from a very dark point of view, Job is still trusting in God’s sovereignty over the days of his life. He, in his grief and despair, is questioning God’s ways, as we are allowed to do without it being a “sin.”

24) For my sighing cometh before I eat, and my roarings are poured out like the waters.
25) For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.
26) I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.

Job describes his physical expressions of grief and his hidden fears. When Job says what he had feared has come upon him, he is not describing himself as a paranoid person. Rather, he is describing himself as actively cautious without being in a bubble of safety. In other words, he did what all wise people are supposed to do and trouble still came.

Job’s lament in this chapter was described by the New American Commentary as being the most depressing in the whole book of Job. I don’t see it that way. If you are a reader who is in depression or contemplating suicide, I think this chapter really speaks into those emotions. Rather than plotting and planning self-harm, Job gives voice to the deep darkness of his emotions in poetic form. This expression of grief through beautiful art is a powerful form of healing and cleansing. When I say beautiful art, though, I don’t mean happy art. I mean expressing to hard dark truth of art in things that edifying. Job is not describing the trials he’s experiencing as a monument to always remember and dwell in. Job is describing his emotional response to it as a working out of the vague turmoil inside.

Depression is often a lot like a storm on the ocean with our souls being the fish or a boat in the waves. The mores of my you fight the storm, the more it will destroy you. Instead, a boat pulls up anchor, lowers their sails, and rolls with the waves. The fish too will not fight the current, but will allow it to pull at them and roll over them. To give expression to our dark emotions is to let them roll over us and to separate them out from the essence of who we are. The emotions do not control us and we do not have to fight them. They will pass like any storm…eventually.