October 21, 2017

Job Opened His Mouth

Don Johnson

This article is a sequel to one from September 8, 2015.

Job 3 launches the discourse poems of Job. This section, from chapter 3 through 31, involves the back and forth discussion between Job and his three friends. I have in the past called the book of Job “the first blog.” Chapter 3 is Job’s opening post. Chapter 4 gives us the rejoinder of Eliphaz, to whom Job responds, then comes Bildad, Job responds, and Zophar with Job responding again. The cycle is repeated three times in all. As in a blog, the tension between the participants rises as Job is driven to distraction in trying to understand his suffering.[1] We know that his friends are wrong in their conclusions, but much of their theology is right.

In fact, Job and his friends all share a commitment to this principle:

God is just.

  • Job’s friends say, “God is just, you must deserve this.”
  • Job says, “God is just, but I have done no wrong.”

“Throughout the dialogue in chs. 3–31, Job is essentially arguing God’s character back to God from the belief that he is just. In so doing, Job the sufferer is structuring his lament as ultimately a posture of hope.”[2]

Eventually, Job will turn to accusing God of injustice for not disclosing his purposes, but this turn takes some time to develop. We will have to turn to it another day.

Today, our theme is the Job’s absolute despair in the midst of his suffering, before he has heard one word of rebuke from his friends, before he is goaded to speak against God. This despair is something that many of us have experienced to some degree, it is pure grief on display.

The poetic beauty of our text attracted my attention in a recent reading. As we go through the chapter, I think you will understand what I mean. The structure is strikingly beautiful even as Job declares some of the blackest thoughts of depression found anywhere in the Bible.

But we are not interested in Job in general or in this chapter in particular because of the beauty of its poetry. We are interested because of what we can learn for our own spiritual profit, both to minister to ourselves and to others. We are interested in understanding suffering and learning how to deal with it when it is our turn to suffer.

In Job’s despair, we find him not simply wishing that he was dead but rather wishing that he had never been born. His expressions of depression cover every aspect of his existence with the blackness of deep, dark, despair. The first section of chapter 3 is an extended curse against the day of his birth announcement[3] and the night of his conception (Job 3.3). In vv. 4-5, he curses that day with darkness and in vv. 6-8 he pours out curses on that night. “He wishes that the sorcerers who put a curse on days could have made it one of the unlucky days, in which it would have been impossible for his parents to have conceived him or for his mother to have given birth to him (8a, 10a).”[4] He concludes by wishing that day had never been, v. 9, “because it shut not up the doors of my mother’s womb” (v. 10).

Having been born, then, Job asks plaintively, “Why was I born alive?” (Job 3.11-19). In this section, Job moves from cursing (imprecatory “let … the day…” vv. 1-10) to depressed questioning (plaintive “why” vv. 11-26). He asks why did he not die at birth (vv. 11-15) or, alternatively, why was he not stillborn (vv. 16-19). J. Vernon McGee comments: “Job is saying loud and clear, ‘I wish I had never been born.’ It is interesting, my friend, that this attitude never solves any problems of this life. You may wish you had never been born, but you can’t undo the fact that you have been born. You may wish that you could die, but you will not die by wishing. It is all a waste of time.”[5]

As Job’s energy fades, the last questions turn to lament, “why is light given to the sufferer?” (vv. 20-26). As a living sufferer, he longs for death. He would dig for it as for buried treasurer, but it cannot be found. He is bewildered, he is trapped, God has hedged him in. He can’t eat, food sickens him. At last, Job says, “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.” (v. 25). We have some insight into Job’s service to God in this statement. To some extent, his careful devotion to God is based on fear. “Job’s previous fear of future disaster explains his extreme care to ensure that no sin attached to his household (1:5; cf. 15:20–26).”[6] He confesses that he is in completer turmoil: “I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.” (v. 26).

We who read Job can understand his suffering to some degree on a human level. We have all experienced at least some pain, and some loss in our lives. We know bitter disappointments. As we think of Job’s losses that day, we can imagine what it would be to suffer losses like this. We can imagine experiencing the same pain, and we shudder.

Of course, we have the benefit of knowing the back story, and the end of the story. Perhaps if we did not know the background, we would be less sympathetic to Job. Perhaps we would be more like his friends, accusing him of hiding something, or supposing that somehow, even inadvertently, Job had sinned and brought all his troubles on his own head. Is this the way we look at sufferers around us today, sufferers of whom we have no idea of their “back story”?

God, on the other hand, understands Job’s suffering on every level. He has revealed some of what he knows to us in the previous chapters. This revelation helps us to be sympathetic to Job, but God knows more about Job and his circumstances than he has revealed to us. It is this confidence in God, brought about by his revelation of the back story and our understanding of Him through the broader revelation of the entire Bible, that allows us to read Job’s story complacently. We are able to accept Job’s story because we know:

  • God is in complete control, and…
  • Job’s suffering occurs only because Almighty God has allowed it.

Since we know these things are true, we are better able to sympathize with the sufferings of others, especially the suffering of believers. We may not see the sense in a young life cut short, or a disaster that cuts off many lives, or causes a host of people to suffer privation and want. But we know that what seems senseless to us somehow is worked out in the mind of Almighty God who knows the end from the beginning.

We also know that the story comes to an end in Job’s renewed faith in God. He comes to the point where he stops asking questions and simply trusts the wisdom and goodness of God. This is the way to understand suffering and to deal with suffering when it is our turn to suffer. We know we can’t control our life. We are driven to simply trust God. This is the message of the Bible again and again, and especially it is the message of the book of Job.

Carson comments: “Already the theme of mystery has intruded. Neither at the beginning of the affliction nor at the end does God tell Job about Satan’s challenge and his own response. Indeed, had he done so, the purpose of the affliction would have been subverted. God’s intent, (the readers know) is to show that a human being can love God, fear God, and pursue righteousness without receiving any prompt reward. This pursuit of God is therefore independent of material comfort; it may be in defiance of material comfort. Satan’s thesis, that all religious interest is ultimately grounded in self-interest, or worse, in mercenary commitment, is thus shown to be false. But Job himself is not permitted to see this dimension to his suffering. As far as he is concerned, he faces inscrutable mystery.”[7]

When you suffer, do you find yourself able to love God, fear God, and pursue righteousness even though you have no idea how or when such faithfulness will receive its reward? It is this faith that sustains us, no matter what difficulty we face.

On a site devoted to the comments of Oswald Chambers, I found these pertinent remarks:

“An average view of the Christian life is that it means deliverance from trouble. [But] It is deliverance in trouble, which is very different. … God does not give us overcoming life: He gives us life as we overcome. The strain is the strength. If there is no strain, there is no strength. Are you asking God to give you life and liberty and joy? He cannot, unless you will accept the strain. Immediately you face the strain, you will get the strength. Overcome your own timidity and take the step, and God will give you to eat of the tree of life and you will get nourishment. If you spend yourself out physically, you become exhausted; but spend yourself spiritually, and you get more strength. God never gives strength for to-morrow, or for the next hour, but only for the strain of the minute.” ((Oswald Chambers, “The Discipline Of Difficulty,” My Utmost For His Highest, accessed August 2, 2014, http://utmost.org/classic/the-discipline-of-difficulty-classic/.))

I hope these remarks might be a benefit to someone in the midst of struggle.


Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

Earlier in this series:

The Man from Uz and His Problem

  1. Of course, most blogs do not find the participants commenting in extended poetical discourse! Nor is the back and forth so orderly. []
  2. The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 896. []
  3. “Let the day perish wherein I was born” — lit., “Let the day perish on which I was to be born.” []
  4. D. A Carson, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 463. []
  5. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 593. []
  6. Carson, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 464. []
  7. D. A Carson, “Job: Mystery and Faith,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology: Southern Baptist Seminary 4, no. 2 (2000): 42–43. Emphasis added. []


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