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27. Job 3:8-12, Calling for Help

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?

 

Job has brilliantly and beautifully expressed his desire for time to be unwound, and for everything about his life to become undone. Perhaps after exhausting his skills at conjuration, Job now calls on friends to help. There may have been an “Ancient Society of Conjurers” (maybe their slogan would have been, "All you have to do is ASC"), one of whom he now calls upon. Who knows? “Let them that curse it curse that day, those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.”Job now invites other conjurers to his little magic party, hoping that they, too, can add their words to his as he curses the day.  We all need help in so many things in life—why not in cursing, too? We can just imagine the scene. Job says, ‘I have exhausted my vocabulary of darkness to bury my day of birth. Anyone else have other words?’

 

In calling on others for help, Job gives us two more words for cursing—the relatively common arar (63x) and the rarer (25x) naqab. The first one greeted us on a few occasions in Genesis 3, where God cursed the serpent and the ground. The latter has several meanings, all the way from “distinguished” to “pierce” or “designate,” though the meaning “curse” seems to arise from the last two. If you “pierce” something you are pointing it out/designating it for special mention. A curse is a special kind of designation. Job uses the verb 4x, with two of them translated as “pierce” (40:24; 41:2) and two as “curse” (here and 5:3).  

 

Again, we have a pleasant rhythmic flavor in verse 8. Those who are skilled at “rousing” the sea monster Leviathan are those who orer ("rouse") Leviathan. We have the same sound and two of the same three consonants as the word “curse” earlier in the line (arar), though the latter verb is from ur, “to rouse/wake up.” Yet the euphony of “orey yom” (“curse the day”) and “orer Leviathan” (“rouse Leviathan”) ought not to be missed. We will meet Leviathan in Job 41. Suffice it to say here that he is a most interesting figure in the Bible, perhaps a leftover or remnant from the pre-Israelite stories of dangerous mythological figures whom God tamed. What would we like to find is an ancient Israelite curse tablet calling up Leviathan. Not yet. . . The rare adjective athid, usually translated as “ready” or ‘prepared,” is probably a term of the conjurer’s art, though we really don’t know. 

 

We don’t know whether Job or his co-conjurer is speaking verse 9, a verse in which more wishes for darkness are expressed. Here though we have an interesting temporal movement as the verse progresses. First we have the stars of the twilight (nesheph), then the act of looking for light throughout the night, and then the dawning of the day (shachar). All will be in darkness, as the first word of the verse is the verb chashak, the verbal form of the noun choshek (“darkness”). Arresting is the phrase “the dawning of the day,” which literally is “the eyelids of the morning.” The word aphaph (“eyelids,” 10x) perhaps even in its pronunciation mirrors the double movement of the eyelids as they open and close—aph goes one, aph goes the other or aphaph—open and shut. Three of the ten appearances of aphaph are in Job, with one of the others also combining with shachar (41:18) and one with tsalmaveth (16:16). Here Job longs for darkness for the stars through the night, with no dawn at the end.  

 

Job wants all of this to remain dark because it didn’t preemptively shut up his mother’s womb and prevent his birth. The two phrases in verse 10 are also alliterative:  it (and we aren’t sure what the subject is) didn’t close up the doors of the womb or hide trouble from his eyes. The verbs are sagar/satar (or "close/hide").  “Doors of the womb” is a strikingly picturesque phrase, and we can imagine Job’s desire for those “doors” to be sealed so tight that they never would relax to produce a child. The phrase “doors of the womb” is reminiscent of the arresting phrase Zeus used to chide Athena when the latter complained about Zeus’ governance of the world in Odyssey 1.64. Zeus wants to know how such words escaped the ἕρκος ὀδόντων, or “fence of the teeth.” Why not look at wombs and teeth as like guard posts or doors to the inner reaches of the body?

 

Our section concludes with Job’s asking two questions. He has exhausted the language of darkness; we see and understand his desire for “his day” never to have come to light. Verses 11-12 record plaintive questions that really are statements in disguise. He wanted to die at birth; he didn’t want the knees to receive him or the breasts to give him suck. But they did.  We are introduced to a second verb for dying here—the rarer gava (3:11; 24x), a word that Job will use on multiple occasions (e.g., 10:18, expressing the identical thought as here). Job’s desire for reversal of time reflects his sense of the futility of life.  It all has come crashing down so quickly.