Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Job 3: Lament

This post explores Job's initial outburst about his condition. It is part of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning. At the end of each post you will find a link to the next.

The Dam Breaks

After seven days of silence, Job finally poured out his heart. As I covered yesterday, it is possible that tempers had already been frayed. Either Job, as the rightful first speaker, had kept Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar politely biding their time or Job's three friends had stood by and watched him suffer with not so much as a cup of water offered. It is my opinion that by the time Job spoke some feelings were already hurt.

What kinds of things will cause arguments among people? Why do they escalate? Someone will burst out with outlandish statements and possibly scream and holler. Usually, such words were not meant and, if given time to vent, will be replaced with a more coherent and meaningful communication. Unfortunately, by the time the first speaker becomes coherent, the recipient has had time to get mad at the initial outburst. He now explodes. With both parties offended, and the argument is in full swing.

This is how we must understand Job's lament. His opening words are totally irrational, but as he speaks and vents, he moves step by step to a reasonable state of mind.

Job began by cursing the night of his conception and the day of his birth.

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day he was born. Job spoke up and said: 

“Let the day in which I was born perish, and the night that said, ‘A man has been conceived!’ 

That day—let it be darkness; let not God on high regard it, nor let light shine on it! Let darkness and the shadow of death claim it; let a cloud settle on it; let whatever blackens the day terrify it! 

That night—let darkness seize it; let it not be included among the days of the year; let it not enter among the number of the months! Indeed, let that night be barren; let no shout of joy penetrate it! 

Let those who curse the day curse it— those who are prepared to rouse Leviathan. Let its morning stars be darkened; let it wait for daylight but find none, nor let it see the first rays of dawn, because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb on me, nor did it hide trouble from my eyes! (Job 3:1-10, The Net Bible)

The first words that Job spoke to his friends asked for the night of his conception and the day of his birth to never have been. If they had never been, he would never have been. If he had never been, he would not be suffering now. There is more than just poetry here. How many more ways could Job have asked for the day of his birth to never have dark? The night, already dark, should never have been.

The following taunt is interesting, "Let those who curse the day curse it--those who are prepared to rouse Leviathan." The phrase, "those who curse" is a reference to conjurers and "leviathan" is a reference to an ancient sea monster in Semitic mythology:

To identify Rahab and Leviathan, Ms. Wakeman had to turn to the mythological lore of the ancient Near East. After analyzing the myths from Sumer, India, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Canaan, Ms. Wakeman concluded that in spite of their great variety, all the battle myths, as she puts it, "about the same thing." She discovered that regardless of the particulars, the crucial action which informs the myth remains the same. Her analysis showed that at the core of the myth three features were always present: 1) a repressive monster restraining creation, 2) the defeat of the monster by the heroic god who thereby releases forces essential for life, and 3) the hero's final control over those forces. [Waltke, Bruce K. Creation and Chaos (Portland, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, 1974) p. 6. Dr. Waltke goes on to identify other references to Leviathan and Rahab in the Old Testament.]

So Job was asking for Leviathan to be revived in order to undo the creation of the night and the day in which he found life. Since Job was one who feared God, we must understand that he was using imagery common to his culture rather than expressing religious belief. It would be the same as a Christian today, perhaps after a mugging, saying, "I wish Superman would come and beat them up." Job borrowed powerful imagery from his culture to express his frustration over his pain. Leviathan for Job was a motif of destructive and un-creating powers. The Lord, interestingly enough, would later bring Job face to face with Leviathan as a motif of pride.

Job then wished that he had died at birth.

Cursing a night and a day was not rational. It might let off some steam, but they existed and so did Job. In a first step towards a more rational view of the world, Job accepts the night and the day and wishes that he had died at birth:

“Why did I not die at birth, and why did I not expire when I came out of the womb? Why did the knees welcome me, and why were there two breasts that I might nurse at them? For now I would be lying down and would be quiet, I would be asleep and then at peace with kings and counselors of the earth who built for themselves places now desolate, or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver. Or why was I not buried like a stillborn infant, like infants who have never seen the light? There the wicked cease from turmoil, and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners rest together; they do not hear the voice of the oppressor. Small and great are there, and the slave is free from his master." (Job 3:11-19)

Job saw death as the great equalizer, "small and great are there, and the slave is free from his master." The Lord had said to Satan, "Only spare his life." Satan had just barely spared it. Job was left a man who longed to die. By wishing he had died at birth, he was willing to trade all the good years of his life for never having to experience his current pain.

Job then wished that he could die now.

But Job did not die at birth, as his present circumstance reminded him. Internally Job seems to have acknowledged that he had been conceived, was born, and grew up. He changed focus again and wished for death to overtake him now.

“Why does God give light to one who is in misery, and life to those whose soul is bitter, to those who wait for death that does not come, and search for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice even to jubilation, and are exultant when they find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, and whom God has hedged in?" (Job 3:20-23)

We can see here also, that Job has moved from venting to questioning. At this point, Job is open for kind counsel. 

Job finally announced that he hurt.

Then Job, his outburst vented, laid out his situation in plain terms:

For my sighing comes in place of my food, and my groanings flow forth like water. For the thing that I dreaded has happened to me, and what I feared has come upon me. I have no ease, I have no quietness; I cannot rest; trouble has come upon me.” (Job 3:24-26)

Job had moved from irrationally trying to curse the past to talking about his present condition. He was now rational. he was looking at his present condition and describing it in tangible terms. If Job could have begun at this point, the arguments that are about to begin would never have been. But Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had sat around for seven days waiting for Job to speak. They were on edge too. The talk about cursing days and rousing leviathan pushed the wrong buttons. They would now seek to set this man straight.

Wednesday: Eliphaz Speaks

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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