Erupting in Pain I (3: 1-19)
Bill Long 1/12/05
Job's First Poetic Response to his Great Loss
The purpose of these two lessons on Job 3 (this and the next page) is to enter into Job's mind in his first poetic reaction to his loss. In my judgment there are four distinct "movements" in Job 3. We will study two of them in this session and two in the next. My overriding concern is to understand how great pain is not only generative of mental limitations but also may trigger immensely creative thought. Pain tends to make us burrow into a tunnel of predictability; it also can unleash questions or different "takes" on the world that we simply were not aware of previously. It does both for Job here.
Commentator David Clines calls Job 3 "one of the great masterpieces of the work." He goes on to say, "Here we are invited to view the man Job in the violence of his grief. Unless we encounter this man with these feelings we have no right to listen in on the debates that follow; with this speech before us we cannot overintellectualize the book, but must always be reading it as the drama of a human soul (Job 1-20, p. 104)."
With these initial thoughts in our mind, let's turn to 3:1-10. Space permits only a partial quotation.
"After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2 Job said: 3 'Let the day perish in which I was born, and the night that said, 'A man-child is conceived.' 4 Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, or light shine on it. 5 Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds settle upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. 6 That night--let thick darkness seize it! let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. 7 Yes, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry be heard in it.'"
A. Job has quickly gone from blessing God (1:20-22; 2:10) to cursing the day of his birth. Other than the fact that this poetic section may have been written by a different person than the prose section (1-2), which really is no explanation at all, how do you account for the dramatic change in Job's emotions in so few verses? You might want to look at my essay on "Job and Emily Dickinson" or my two on "Job's Wife" to get some ideas.
B. Which words make this section vivid for you?
C. What is the tone of voice you "hear" from Job as you "read" these lines?
D. Another Biblical passage reflecting on God, light and darkness is Ps. 139:11-12. Read that passage. How are these two passages similar and different?
E. There are 13 appearances of the word "Let" in 3:1-10. What is the cumulative effect of all of these "let's" on the reader?
I call this next section Job's "reverie of imagined existence" in another world. Note his questions and note his mental journey.
"11 Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? 12 Why were there knees to receive me, or breasts for me to suck? 13 Now I would be lying down and quiet; I would be asleep; then I would be at rest 14 with kings and counselors of the earth who rebuild ruins for themselves, 15 or with princes who have gold, who fill their houses with silver. 16 Or why was I not buried like a stillborn child, like an infant that never sees the light? 17 There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. 18 There 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 slaves are free from their masters."
A. How does the tone of these verses differ from the preceding ten? Does the change of all the "let's" into "why's" have anything to do with a change of tone?
B. Job imagines his own death in vv. 13-15. What is Sheol like for Job in those verses? In vv. 17-19? How does he imagine the realm of death?
C. Have you ever, after a frustrating day (week? month? year? decade? I fear to go on...) ever envied your cat or dog for the seemingly undisturbed life they live?
D. Where does your mind take you when "this old world starts getting you down?" Do you go "up on the roof?" Which world do you enter?
As you leave this section of Job, look at it as the first steps of Job's mental journey into the pain that his body and heart feels. His first reaction is undifferentiated anguish, the "violence" of emotion. But even this violence has a flow to it. It goes from the insistent jackhammer of "let" and "darkness" in 3:1-10 to a more wistful longing for another world, a sort of escape from life, in 3:11-19. Now we are ready for the remainder of his meditation.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long