This is where the largest, and in many ways, most complicated part of the book begins. It contains a large number of arguments, charges, accusations, imputations, denials, partly correct theories, philosophies and theology. Here we see a ray of faith and hope. Everything that is said happens in beautiful poetic language, often using beautiful oriental imagery. This is in contrast to the beginning of the book (Job 1-2) and its end (Job 42:7-17). Both parts are written as prose, narration.
Job’s complaint in this chapter is the beginning of this large section. We can divide this chapter into three more or less equal parts:
1. Job curses his birthday (verses 1-10);
2. Job curses that he be kept alive as a baby (verses 11-19);
3. Job curses the fact that he must continue to live (verses 20-26).
1 - 10 If Only I Had Never Been Born!
1 Afterward Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his [birth].
2 And Job said,
3 “Let the day perish on which I was to be born,
And the night [which] said, ‘A boy is conceived.’
4 “May that day be darkness;
Let not God above care for it,
Nor light shine on it.
5 “Let darkness and black gloom claim it;
Let a cloud settle on it;
Let the blackness of the day terrify it.
6 “[As for] that night, let darkness seize it;
Let it not rejoice among the days of the year;
Let it not come into the number of the months.
7 “Behold, let that night be barren;
Let no joyful shout enter it.
8 “Let those curse it who curse the day,
Who are prepared to rouse Leviathan.
9 “Let the stars of its twilight be darkened;
Let it wait for light but have none,
And let it not see the breaking dawn;
10 Because it did not shut the opening of my [mother’s] womb,
Or hide trouble from my eyes.
“Afterward” (verse 1) means after all the preceding days and events, up to and including the past seven days, that his friends sit with him silently. But during the silence the thoughts do not stand still. That appears when Job and then the friends open their mouths.
Job’s patience has run out, he can no longer remain silent. He sees no hope of enlightenment or consolation in his fate. He can no longer stand it and collapses. His first words are words of curse. This curse concerns the day of his birth (cf. Jer 20:14-18). His curse does not concern God! He does not curse God, but holds on to Him all through everything. He who wrestles with someone is at the same time very closely connected to such a person (cf. Gen 32:24). He who struggles with someone does not want to get rid of him, but wants to overcome him.
It is more often the case that a person endures a great trial, but collapses when, over time, the pain of the situation begins to penetrate. Especially overwhelming events sometimes give a superhuman strength to endure the shock. But when silence comes after the shocking events, the struggle often comes too.
Job is the first to break the silence (verse 2). He takes the floor to give an answer to the situation in which he has ended up. The spiritual tone of Job’s life changes dramatically here. The man of patience and faith sinks into a state of despair and spiritual depression. This is a situation that is so often the main problem for those who have to endure severe and prolonged physical illness or weakness.
It is conceivable that the change in Job’s behavior is the result of a change of thoughts about God. The word ‘God’ is here for the first time the singular Eloah instead of the common Elohim (God in the plural). This shows the question marks that Job has here about God. First Job saw Him as the good Director and Controller of the elements. But it seems that as the trial continued, Job began to doubt God’s righteousness and goodness.
It feels to him as if he is in the hands of a judiciary that makes him suffer for what he has not done, without a way to escape. This makes him desperate, and that is why he wishes he had never been born. The only one who has ever been declared that it was better if he had not been born – and that by the Lord Jesus Himself – is Judas, the traitor of the Lord (Mt 26:24-25).
As long as his suffering is external or physical, Job is calm; but when doubts about God enter his heart, he collapses. Nevertheless, satan does not triumph here either, for never does Job curse God. He curses the day of his birth, but not God. He continues to hope on God, no matter how much he despairs because of what God has done to him (Job 13:15a).
This chapter is a source of consolation for those who are similarly tested when they see that even a great man like Job can have such a struggle with faith. God prefers that we speak frankly to Him, even in moments of deepest somberness, rather than express ourselves in vague clichés that are far removed from reality.
We must also consider the following. In Job we have an example of unprecedented suffering, and we can take comfort from his history when something bad happens to us. Job did not have such an example. He had to settle it all by himself with God. That aspect also makes him unique.
Only the Lord Jesus rises above Job. He has gone through all the suffering that can afflict any human being. He has never been rebellious in this, for He entrusted everything to Him Who judges righteously (1Pet 2:23). On top of that, He has also been in a suffering that could only afflict Him and that is the substituting suffering because of sin.
In a terrible complaint Job pours out his heart over his birth (verse 3). It is a wild outburst of a stuffed-up and unstoppable stream of feelings. The bomb bursts. He wishes that he had not been born, or even better, he wishes that that day and that moment had not existed at all. The day that is a day of remembrance every year must disappear from the calendar. It must become a day that never existed, because there is no joy attached to that day, but deep misery. In addition to the day he was born, he also mentions the night nine months before, when he was conceived. This will be worked out later in verses 6-9.
That day must be a dark place on the calendar (verse 4). No man should be able to discover it. And God, for Whom the darkness is light as the day, should not ask for it. Nor should He concern Himself with it from His exalted abode, as Job seems to suggest to Him. That day must disappear into the darkness as if he never existed. No ray of light must fall on it, for there is no ray of light connected with that day. We can also think of the darkness in Genesis 1 when God began the creation of light (Gen 1:3). With this, Job wants to ask God to reverse the act of creation of his birth.
That day may be claimed by the darkness and shadow of death (verse 5). This is where his day of birth belongs and not in the land of light and life. The sun must not shine over it; that is why Job wishes there to be clouds settle on that day. That day is presented as a person who is frightened by sudden eclipses.
But the night must also be taken away by darkness (verse 6) – the shadow of death (Job 10:21-22). The night must remain night and not see daylight. The joy of the daylight of its birth is undesirable and inappropriate. There is no reason to rejoice at his birth. That night must remain barren and not be united with the daylight of life; that day must disappear from the days of the month.
The night of his conception must be barren (verse 7). The joyful chanting of his birth, “a boy is conceived” (cf. verse 3) – to which greater expressions of joy were attached than to the birth of a girl – is completely out of place. The expressions of joy must be silent, for there is no reason to be cheerful about the birth of someone who has been struck by such terrible disasters without any cause.
The day of his birth is so terrible for him, that he not only pronounces the curse on it himself, but also calls upon all those who can curse that day, who have made it their profession, such as a Balaam (verse 8; Num 22:5-6). A believer should not seek the help of a conjurer. But we must imagine here that Job’s need is so great that he would, so to speak, accept the help of conjurers.
These conjurers are described as those who are able to awaken the Leviathan. This Leviathan, a destructive sea monster (Isa 27:1), could then disrupt creation in such a way that the night of Job’s conception and the day of Job’s birth would be nullified.
Not even the twilight of the stars should be seen, for all that is fitting for that day is utter darkness (verse 9). Therefore the twilight of the stars, which does not make it completely dark after all, must be eclipsed. The night may wait for the light, but it will not come. In beautiful language Job speaks of the dawning of a new day as the opening of “the eyelids of dawn”, as it is literally. By this he can also mean the newborn life that opens its eyes to a new world.
Job was born because the womb did not remain closed, because the doors of the womb in which he was, opened (verse 10). That is why it has come so far that the troubles in which he now finds himself have not remained hidden from his eyes, but must now be seen by him. He no longer sees life as a gift of God and in relation to Him, but now measures the value of his life according to the misery in which he finds himself.
11 - 19 If Only I Had Died as a Baby!
11 “Why did I not die at birth,
Come forth from the womb and expire?
12 “Why did the knees receive me,
And why the breasts, that I should suck?
13 “For now I would have lain down and been quiet;
I would have slept then, I would have been at rest,
14 With kings and [with] counselors of the earth,
Who rebuilt ruins for themselves;
15 Or with princes who had gold,
Who were filling their houses [with] silver.
16 “Or like a miscarriage which is discarded, I would not be,
As infants that never saw light.
17 “There the wicked cease from raging,
And there the weary are at rest.
18 “The prisoners are at ease together;
They do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.
19 “The small and the great are there,
And the slave is free from his master.
In verse 11 Job asks God the first “why” question. More ‘why’ questions follow (Job 3:12,20; 7:20,21; 10:18; 13:14,24; 21:7; 24:1). To none of them does God answer Job, for He is God. But He doesn’t blame Job for it either.
God already sees the time as present that all ‘why’ questions have turned into praise. Then Job, and we, will see that every day, the happy and the sad, was there because He wanted it. And His will is good. Then we will praise Him retrospectively, as it were, for every day that has been given to us on earth.
In verses 1-10 Job has cursed his day of birth. However, He could not prevent his birth. “But,” he exclaims, “why did I not die immediately at my birth instead of giving me the spirit when I came out of the womb?” (cf. Gen 49:33). Any love service after his birth, the care given to the infant Job, he sees as a cruel act.
Job abhors the lovely sight of a mother who lovingly takes a newborn child to her knees and gives him the breast (verse 12). Those knees or the womb on which he was laid and pampered and by which he was carried (Gen 50:23; Isa 66:12) and the breasts that fed him have caused him so much misery now. Had they not done so, he would at least have died.
Job prefers death to life. Compared to his present existence, death is an enviable fate for him. To describe the benefit of this situation he uses four expressions (verse 13). He would
“be at rest.”
“Laying down” gives the thought of beneficent rest. “Be quiet” means not to be in trouble or to be afraid of them coming. “Sleep” is not only silence, but also not being aware that there might be danger somewhere. He would then “be at rest” instead of experiencing the present misery.
He sees the realm of the dead as a dwelling place where he is together with kings and counselors who were so powerful that they rebuilt cities to keep their names alive (verse 14). He also sees himself together with princes, people who had succeeded in life and who had gold and abundance of silver (verse 15).
Another option is that he would not be there as a miscarriage, as a small child which never saw the light of day (verse 16; Ecc 6:3-5; Psa 58:8). In any case, there is rest in the realm of the dead, both for the wicked and for those who are exhausted (verse 17). There is also rest for the prisoners there (verse 18). They no longer have to do forced labor. They don’t hear the voice of the slave-driver there. In the realm of the dead there is no distinction between large and small, old and young, considerable and despised (verse 19). Also the slave is free.
For Job the kingdom of the dead is the liberation from all misery, unrest and bondage. But Job seeks in death what only God can give. What Job says of the realm of the dead in these verses, is only so externally. The Lord Jesus shows how it really is and that there is a distinction between believers and unbelievers in the realm of the dead (cf. Lk 16:22-23).
20 - 26 What Is the Sense of an Existence Like Mine?
20 “Why is light given to him who suffers,
And life to the bitter of soul,
21 Who long for death, but there is none,
And dig for it more than for hidden treasures,
22 Who rejoice greatly,
[And] exult when they find the grave?
23 “[Why is light given] to a man whose way is hidden,
And whom God has hedged in?
24 “For my groaning comes at the sight of my food,
And my cries pour out like water.
25 “For what I fear comes upon me,
And what I dread befalls me.
26 “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet,
And I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.”
Job cannot erase the day of his birth (verses 1-10) or undo his birth (verses 11-19). Then the question remains as to what further sense his life has, now that he is in such misery. He wonders why God leaves people alive who prefer to die. This is what the verses 20-26 are about. Such a question probably didn’t occur to him when he was in prosperity. He measures the value of his life according to his circumstances, not to God’s intention. Don’t we do that often?
Job is a wretched man and counts himself among those who are “bitter of soul” (verse 20). He speaks in plural. It is a category of people longing for death (verse 21). For them death is the end of all their bodily suffering and all the bitterness of their souls. But death does not show itself.
Then they will look for death, searching for it, that is to say, searching for it with the greatest possible effort, for they are eager to find it. They will search for it with even more zeal than they would search for hidden treasures. Even if they were to find so much hidden treasure, they know that the greatest treasure cannot deliver them from their suffering and bitterness. According to them, only death can do that. That’s why they are happy “rejoice greatly and exult when they find the grave” (verse 22). Then they finally have peace.
Job does not see how his path will be able to continue (verse 23). Despairingly, he asks why God gives the light of life to someone who doesn’t know how to go on, what path to take. In all his struggles there is nothing to detect an indication that he wants to take his life into his own hands and commit suicide. That was not an option for Job. Suicide means that all hope and sight of God is lost. That is not the case with Job. On the contrary, he is engaged in a passionate conversation with God, that is to say, he expresses everything that is in his heart of incomprehension about what God has allowed to happen to him.
Job even blames God for obstructing him in every way (cf. Lam 3:9). For Job it is as if God, Who first protected him and his possessions from all sides and thus shielded him from all evil (Job 1:10), now places him in the midst of all evil and hedged him in in such a way that he cannot escape, gives him no way out (cf. Lam 3:2-7). If we find ourselves in such a situation and do not see a way out, God wants to focus our gaze on the only way out that always remains: the way up (2Cor 4:8b).
For Job, God is the causer of the evil that has afflicted him, not satan. Nowhere does Job speak of satan as the author of his disasters. He has not, like us, looked behind the scenes and does not know about the actions of satan. He doesn’t think about the possibility of that. He only thinks of God, also in his further struggle. This is a hallmark of true godliness.
He knows that God gave him food (verse 24). There is nothing left of that. Everything has been taken away from him. The only thing that gives him any relief is groaning. Nor does he have water. His lamentation has taken its place. It also indicates that the pains go over him like a never-ending stream.
In verse 25 we see that Job, during all the prosperity he enjoyed, was also plagued by the fear that his prosperity would one day be taken away. He was afraid of disaster. A great number of catastrophes have come upon him in all their ferocity. In his prosperity Job already had no peace and security. And now he has none at all (verse 26). The silence has disappeared. Already he was not at all calm, but now the inner turmoil has come to pass to the full, and has taken on such great proportions that it has driven him to despair.