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23. Job 3:3-7 The Rhythms of Cursing, Introduction

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.

 

As mentioned above, Job’s curse, though full of emotion, fits into a nicely organized pattern in 3:3-7. Verse 3 is the “mini-headline” verse, including both day and night, while verses 4-5 talk about Job’s wishes for the day, while verses 6-7 speak of Job’s desires for the night. 

 

But the literary precision of this section is even more exacting: Verse 3 consists of eight (Hebrew) words: four about the day and four about the night. Verse 4, on the day, consists of three four-word phrases. Verse five, on the day, consists of three three-word phrases. Verse 4 began with the word “day” (yom); the final word of verse 5 is “day” (yom). Day having been dispatched with, the author moves to night in verses 6-7. Verse 6, on night, consists of three four-word phrases; Verse 7 (like verse 5 on day) is nine words in length, though here it is divided into two thoughts. Just the structure alone tells us that we are in the presence of an accomplished poet.

 

Job’s perfect rhythmic expression of despair commences in verse 3.  Literally we have, “Let that day perish; I was born in it—the night said, ‘a man is conceived.’” I gave a literal rendering to show that even some of Job’s clearest thoughts make the reader go very slowly so that nuances are captured. Note that the verse seems to be moving backwards in time, from Job in his present situation to his birth and finally to his conception. The first word is abad, the common biblical word for “die” or “perish.” It appears 184 times in the Bible, fifteen of which are in Job, which is more than double his fair share. Another biblical verb for “perish” is gava (24x), a third of whose appearances are in Job. Job is the master of the language of death. Death, then, or “let it die” are the first words out of Job’s mouth in verse 3. That word neatly sums up his feelings for the chapter—let it all die! Let it all come to an end! Let it all perish! We have not only felt that way but probably have said similar words to Job. One other note. Job calls himself a geber from the time of conception. A geber is either a fully-grown man or a warrior. Job is imagining the cry of the midwife being, “You have a little warrior here!” She couldn’t have been more correct.