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22. Job 3, Job’s Explosion of Emotion


We might conveniently divide this chapter as follows:


3:1-12, Job’s Torrent of Emotion

3:13-19, A Reverie of Escape 

3:20-26, An insistent Question and Then Returning to Reality 


There is some debate in the literature about whether or not the first section ends at verse 10, with verses 11-12 belonging to the next, but nothing major hinges on the decision I have made. The outline suggests not only that Job expresses deeply-tamped emotion in eloquent and neatly-ordered words here, but that there is a rhythmic flow to his words. Thus, we ought not see to see these verses simply as an unconstrained explosion of emotion; rather, the words are tightly bound to form, especially in the first part. Note also that the flow of the chapter goes from Job’s personal questions to universal questions and then back to Job’s current situation.  


It isn’t easy to discern the form of the first section, after the introductory or framing words of verses 1-2, but we seem to have a magician’s curse in verses 3-7, followed by Job’s recognition of his personal inadequacy satisfactorily to curse “his day.” This leads to his desire to call up other conjurers (v 8) who will aid him in this task. I can’t imagine a stronger way for Job to express his wish to reverse everything about his life—even his birth.


We might further divide verses 1-12 as follows:


3:1-2, Introduction to the Chapter

3:3, A Neatly Balanced Curse on the Day and the Night

3:4-5, Focusing on the Day

3:6-7, Focusing on the Night

3:8, Calling for Help in Cursing

3:9-10, Summary of the Curse

3:11-12, Transitional Questions


1 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.

8 Let those curse it who curse the Sea,

    those who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan.

9 Let the stars of its dawn be dark;

    let it hope for light, but have none;

    may it not see the eyelids of the morning—

10 because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb,

    and hide trouble from my eyes.

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?


Everyone had been silent for at least the seven days while Job was suffering his great pain (keeb meod, 2:11-13). Job is the first one to break the silence. It is significant that Job speaks first. From a legal perspective, it “opens the door” and thereby invites the friends to opine on any subject Job raises. They go beyond those subjects in their words; perhaps that lies at the root of some of Job’s anger at them. He wanted to focus on his pain and the injustice of his treatment; they used his pain as an occasion to “fix” him theologically. Men often desire to solve problems. In contrast, as any woman will tell you, their greatest satisfaction comes from someone actually listening to them. In that regard, it might have been interesting had one or more of Job’s comforters been a woman. Now that would have turned the literary world on its head!


Job 3:1 starts us off. Instead of the usual “after these things,” we just have “After this” (acharey ken), which means about the same thing. We get a hint that pleasant-sounding words in the midst of great pain will become the norm when we see that Job patach pihu, or “opened his mouth.” The content of Job’s words will be to “curse his day.” The same word yomo (his day) is used in 1:4 to describe the periodic feasts of Job’s children. They were held in the house of each son “on his day.” Whereas in 1:4 the sense seemed to be similar to the English “in turn,” in 3:1 it suggests the “day” of Job’s birth. In both cases it is a special day; in 3:1 it makes most sense to see it as Job’s most special day, that of his birth. 


With all the discussion on cursing and blessing in Job 1-2, we are surprised to see immediately the appearance of the real verb for “curse” in 3:1. When we look at it more closely we see that Job 3 will unleash not just a torrent of emotions, but a torrent of different words for “curse,” using qalal (v 1), naqab (v 8) and arar (v 8). [Two other, rarer, terms for curse are qabab and alah, the former of which is confined to the Balaam narrative of Num 22-24 and the latter of which doesn’t appear in Job). This may be a signal that Job 1-2 is from a different hand than Job 3, but when we look at the Book of Job from the perspective of a unified literary work, we see the author gently laughing, or at least smiling, at the reader. It is as if the author is saying, ‘You might have thought, when I used barak for ‘curse’ several times in 1-2, that I might not have known another word for “curse.” Well, let me dump three ways to say it on you immediately, just so you see that I was playing with you in 1-2.’  


We might see the author toying with us much like God might be playing with Job. Just as the big question theologically is whether Job will lose faith in or curse God after suffering his great distress, so the big question literarily for those who want to take time with this classic is whether, because of the continual difficulty and even incomprehensibility of the language, we will lose our faith in literature. Thus, the Book of Job is about faith—on a number of levels. Oh, to make it worse from the perspective of those who like literature, sometimes the greatest torment in reading the Book of Job comes not from the torture of trying to make sense from obscure words but the torture of trying to understand the clear words. So, for example, we will be pressed to our limits to try to understand the hyper-clear statement a few verses below, “Let God above not search it (“Job’s day”) out (3:4).  


This statement just quoted from 3:4 is like Augustine’s reflection on the word “time.” Paraphrasing that great thinker, he said that as long as he didn’t think about what time was, he was clear about what it meant. It was only when he began to ask himself what time was that he became confused. So it will be with Job. As long as we don’t think too deeply on a statement we can easily translate such as “Let God above not search it out,” we understand it.  Once we think about it for a second, however, we are in deep trouble.  More below. . .


The word for “curse” in 3:1 is qalal (82x), a word that has three perfectly good and somewhat different translations: “to curse,” “to be swift” and “to make small.” Its basic meaning seems to be “to become/make small.” God “abates/made small” the waves after the Great Flood (Genesis 8:8, 11); something might be “trivial or a small thing”  (I Samuel 18:23, also using halal). We can see how something made small is something that becomes insignificant. Cursing is nothing more than trying to have the object of the curse become incredibly small and completely insignificant. Qalal is rendered “curse" in Genesis 8:21 and “make swift” as in Jeremiah 4:13. This three-fold lexical symphony of qalal is played out in miniature in Job, whose five usages of it include “swift” in 7:6 and 9:25, “to be small” in 40:4 and “to curse” here.  


The next essay will consider what Job says when he “curses his day,” qalal yomo.  

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