Commentary on Job 3:1-3, 11-17, 20-23
The Dialogue begins: Job now curses the day of his birth but not God.
As Job was there in misery and desolation, his family and all his property wiped out, his body covered with ulcers as he sat in an ashpit, he is scolded by his wife who urges him to curse the God who brought them to this state. He replies in a phrase which underlies the whole book: “If we take happiness from God’s hand, must we not take sorrow too?”
Job is then is joined by three friends: Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar who come to console him. They were appalled by his appearance; as far they were concerned, he was dead.
For seven days and seven nights they all sat together in total silence. Then Job broke the silence and uttered the words we have in today’s reading. He curses the day he was born and the night he was conceived. “Perish the day on which I was born! The night when they said, ‘The child is a boy’.” The birth of a boy would normally be good news; it would mean the continuation of the family line. But Job is now alone – his whole family wiped out. There is nothing to live for.
There now comes a series of rhetorical questions.
If he was to be born, why did he not die soon after birth?
Why was there a mother there to hold and suckle him?
Otherwise he would now be with the dead, “lying in peace” in the company of kings and princes in their magnificent tombs, crammed with all kinds of treasure (like the kings of Ur or the Egyptian pharaohs).
Or at least why did he not enter the world of the still-born to join those “unborn babes that never see the light” in that place where prisoners suffer no more, where high and low are all one and the slave is free of his master?
“Down there” (in Sheol) even the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. Sheol, a word of unknown origin, indicates the deepest parts of the earth. It is the place where the dead, both virtuous and wicked alike are, leading a colourless existence where there is no praise of God. The belief in rewards and punishments after death and of bodily resurrection only came very late in the Old Testament period (cf. 2 Macc 12:38ff).
Why allow a man to grow up and suffer like this? Why give life to those who long for a death that never comes, “who hunt for it more than buried treasure”? “Why make this gift of light to a man who does not see his way, whom God baulks on every side?”
Job can see no future for himself. A life like this is not worth living. He longs for the liberation of death and curses the day of his birth.
We ourselves may have somewhat similar experiences and surely we know of others who have gone through terrible inner and outer pain. People who wonder where a loving God can fit into such a situation. Today, there are strong inclinations to arrange an early termination of such an existence. Not a few take the way of suicide while others resort to “euthanasia”. They are very sensitive issues which need to be dealt with through compassion and understanding.
Although Job regrets now that he was born, he never contemplates suicide. And, of course, later on, when his fortunes change again for the better, his words in today’s reading will be set aside.
We, too, must always live in hope. Some of our pains and sufferings are of a temporary nature and will go away. Others, such as terminal illness, we know cannot be taken away. Yet, here too, as experience has shown many times, total acceptance and inner peace is possible. And so many good things can come from pain. In my pain, I may experience the deep sympathy and compassion of people who might otherwise ignore me. My pain can help me to understand much better the pain of others and bring a healing compassion to their situation. A world totally free of pain could become a place of total selfishness and self-indulgence.