Job has lost so much. He has lost all of his possessions. His children have died. His body is afflicted with sores from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. He has been sitting in the ashes, grieving and mourning while scraping the sores on his body with a broken piece of pottery. His three friends have come to him to give him comfort and sympathy, yet Job’s suffering was so great that they did not even recognize him. According to Job 7:3 months have passed by before these friends arrive. We should not read about Job’s suffering as something that only lasted for a few days. This suffering has continued for many months. In his pain, shock, and grief, Job opens his mouth and breaks the silence between him and his three friends.
Cursing The Day of Birth (3:1-10)
Job 3 opens with the words that Job cursed the day of his birth. We must not think of Job cursing the day of his birth in the way that we use the word cursing. We speak of cursing as an anger-laced tirade upon anyone or everyone. But that is not what God is doing when he pronounces curses nor does it appear to be what Job is doing. As you read these first 10 verses you can tell that Job is wishing that the day of his birth did not exist. Job’s posture toward his own pain and circumstances is extreme distress. Job is not the only person who speaks like this. Job’s lamentation belongs with other biblical psalms of grief, including Jeremiah 20:14–18 and Lamentations 3:1–18. When we read verses 3-4 we see Job declaring that his birthday is not a day of celebration, but a terrible day. Pregnancy and birth are regarded as a time of joy and celebration. But Job says that for him, the news of his pregnancy and birth should have been regarding as grief. In verse 6 we see Job say that the day of his birth should be taken off of the calendar. Job simply feels the crushing weight of hopelessness. He is the darkness of his pain. You will notice how often Job speaks of his circumstances as darkness in this chapter. It is black, it is darkness, and there is no light. All is dark and there is no hope for Job. All his happiness has vaporized. All his joy has disappeared. It is a time of utter despair, a pain that is so great that he views his birthday as a disaster. Job breaks the seven day silence with a cry from his heart and soul. Job is not speaking to anyone. He is not speaking to his friends. He is not speaking to God. He is just expressing his pain. Please notice that we are not seeing Job curse God. Even the questions we will read Job express is not Job questioning God but just questioning life.
Job’s Lament (3:11-19)
In verses 11-19 we see Job expressing the thought that death is the only way for him to have rest and peace. He speaks about why he is living through this anguish and the reason he thinks this way is declared in verses 17-19. In death the weary are at rest, wicked cease from turmoil, prisoners are at ease, and the slave is free. Death appears to be the only relief from his suffering. Job is not the only person to express this idea. We see Isaiah declare that for the righteous only death brings peace from the pains of life (cf. Isaiah 57:1-2). Job’s desire is for peace from the suffering and pain he is experiencing.
We need to consider what Job is not saying. You will notice that Job does not bewail his financial losses. He does not bewail the loss of his health. He does not say that he cannot believe he has lost so much or how he is so sick. When he speaks of his health he just describes what he looks like but does not bewail his poor health. He does not cry out about the death of his children. His concern is not the health or the wealth he lost. We need to consider what these events mean to Job. Job thinks he has lost his relationship with God. This is what the common thinking was. The standard belief was that the righteous are blessed by God and the wicked are cursed by God. Therefore, if one is cursed, then this must mean he is out of God’s favor. This is the essence of Job’s cry. If this is the fate of the righteous, then when did God bother to make the world at all? Why is all of this going on if this is the fate of the righteous? We can validate that this is Job’s thinking through the book as we read it carefully. We see this point particularly expressed in Job 29:2-4.
1 And Job again took up his discourse, and said: 2 “Oh, that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me, 3 when his lamp shone upon my head, and by his light I walked through darkness, 4 as I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent,
5 when the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were all around me, 6 when my steps were washed with butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil! (Job 29:1–6 ESV)
Notice that Job is saying that he lost the friendship of God. He misses life months back when God was with him, watched over him, and blessed him. But now those days are gone and God is not with him. Job is grappling with tough questions. Is a God who would allow such things to happen worth holding on to in faith? Is it possible to continue to believe in a good God in a world where righteousness no longer has any apparent reward?
You will notice the repetition of these “why” questions in verses 11-26. In verses 11, 12, 16, 20, and 23 Job asks why questions. But in poetic language this is not the seeking of a reason intellectually but forms the part of the complaint. This does not make sense and Job wants rest from this. When April and I received Grace’s diagnosis, our why questions were not for logic or against God. They are just expressions of pain and signify the great loss experienced. This is one of the problems of the trial of Job as it is for the rest of us. The suffering is not only external but it is internal. We are internally restless and externally shattered. Pain in the flesh and lacking peace internally. Job is at a loss and he just wants peace from this turmoil internally and externally. In verses 13-19 Job says that it does not matter who you are or what status you enjoy in life, death brings rest to all and this is what makes death seem delightful to him.
Darkness of the Soul (3:20-26)
Job continues to describe the darkness he sees and feels. There are days too dark for the sufferer to see any light at all. There are experiences too extreme for the hurting to have hope. There are valleys too deep for the anguished to find relief. Job feels hedged in to misery (3:23). This is an interesting declaration because Satan said that Job was hedged in by God’s blessings. Job says he is hedged in by God to misery. His misery is so great that he cannot eat (3:24). His food is groaning and sighing. Ultimately, there is no ease, no quiet, and no rest. Only trouble comes (3:26). So what are we to make of this chapter and what can we learn about God from this?
Messages For Today
First, faith is not two dimensional. What I mean is that we are not supposed to look at Job and draw the conclusion that he suffered and he trusted God. To boil down the message of Job to this level of simplicity hurts us when we suffering because suffering is not this simple. There is despair in suffering. There is darkness is trials. One of the great things we learn from Job in this third chapter is that faith and despair are not incompatible. I can have faith in God and yet feel the crushing weight of trials that cause me to feel broken. Christianity is not happy, clappy, sunshine, and rainbows. Christianity is not “put a smile on your face” and pretend you have no pain. Stoicism is not a godly response to suffering. Sometimes I think we communicate to others that the way to handle suffering is to pretend that there is no pain. Friends, trials hurt us. Trials can hurt us so deeply that we can be like Job and see no light but only darkness. Consider that Job is not the only person in the scriptures that we see experiencing this difficulty. Listen to what happened to Elijah.
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. (1 Kings 19:1–5 ESV)
Listen to Moses:
Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the Lord blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.” (Numbers 11:10–15 ESV)
Listen to Paul:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. (2 Corinthians 1:8 ESV)
Faith and despair are not incompatible. We can feel these things and still have full faith in God. There is not something wrong with us when we hit the dark times. David said this beautifully in Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Friends, we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death sometimes. Pain and darkness will be in our lives. But what will we do when we enter the darkest valley? What will be our response?
Second, we serve a God who allows such unfiltered questions and laments. I love this chapter because it shows the despair of trials. God can handle us crying out in pain and expressing our feelings. Things are not happy, Lord! Things are painful and difficult! God can handle this. God does not tell us to limit our feelings or expressions of pain. Please consider how many psalms are expressions of this kind of hurt, pain, suffering, and questioning! One of the reasons we are drawn to the Psalms in pain and suffering is because we are reading about others who feel the same way as we do. Here is Job, feeling the same way we do through the pain of the trial. But listen to what we are told to do by God.
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14–16 ESV)
We have Jesus who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. He is our friend who has also endured temptations and trials. Jesus was deeply distressed and troubled (Mark 14:33). He sympathizes with us. So let us draw near to the throne of grace and receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need. Pain is not incompatible with faith. Sitting of the darkness of the trial does not mean you have to hide your pain and pretend that you do not hurt. We will enter the darkest valley. What will be your response? God says to come to him because we have Jesus as our sympathetic high priest, who hears our cries of pain, and will give mercy and grace to help. Where could I go but to the Lord?