Job Pt 2 (Chapter 3)

by Glenn on September 8, 2014

We like to say, “Everything happens for a reason.” That’s not “the Royal We,” by the way—that’s the expression many Americans use to explain difficult circumstances without an apparent cause. We struggle to make sense of our situation and so we comfort ourselves with, “Well, everything happens for a reason.”

I’m not certain what’s comforting about those words or how we come to that conclusion, but there is a Job-related feeling about them. There’s a cause for what’s going on, even if we don’t see it, understand it, are given any intimations of what it might be. In that statement, too, is an invitation to accept your situation the way it is, perhaps even trust, though the object of that trust isn’t defined well. “Everything happens for a reason, so don’t get too worked up. This is how it’s supposed to be.” I wonder how Job would respond to that assertion.

Job was a textbook example of wisdom as an operating principle in life. To oversimplify, it would be something like, “Do good and prosper; be wicked and die.” Wisdom was both the way the world worked and the way you could work within the world system to get the outcomes you wanted. It was life as an equation. Job’s life had demonstrated how the system worked. But as Job’s story unfolds, the whole principle is turned on its head.

Yet Job’s story is not an invitation to throw out morality or belief in God. Job certainly doesn’t. What he does is wrestle with the cognitive dissonance of “I’ve lived my life in the way that should bring blessing and prosperity from God, but the circumstance of my life suggest I’m being punished.”

As we look at Job’s situation, we can definitely say “everything happens for a reason,” but I’m not sure that knowing the reason is all that helpful. In fact, it’s somewhat unsettling.

In chapters 1 and 2:

1. We met Job, who is both rich and good. It’s almost axiomatic—he’s rich because he’s good.

2. Next, we attended a first meeting, in Heaven, between YHWH and Satan. YHWH asks Satan if he has seen his servant Job. The question feels something like bragging. Satan, “the accuser,” tells YHWH that Job is only good because he is rich. Then he complains about the “hedge around [Job] and his household and everything he has.” It’s shocking, but YHWH removes some of that hedge. He gives Satan permission to take everything from Job with the exception that he can’t touch his physical person.

3. When everything was taken from him, Job said, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” This is an extraordinary response.

4. We attended a second meeting, again in Heaven, between YHWH and Satan. YHWH (again) asks Satan if he has seen his servant Job. Satan’s claim this time is that Job is only loyal because he still has his physical health. It’s not clear why, but YHWH gives Satan permission to afflict, though not kill, Job.

When Job receives sores from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet, his wife, (perhaps out of compassion) tells him, “Curse God and die.” Job replies, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” Job seems to accept that his circumstances are a result of God’s will.

Job's wife counseling him to

One of the tensions we live with as Christians is the balance between God’s sovereignty and human freedom. I haven’t studied the Calvinism/Arminianism debate to any real depth, but what I know so far is that you go too far in either direction and you have real problems. If God is completely sovereign, then you get a little fatalistic about things—things are the way they are because God wants them that way. He, obviously, must have wanted Joseph Stalin and millions of Russian deaths, he must have wanted Hitler and the Holocaust, and so forth. Go too far the other way, though, and God becomes totally powerless: We turn God into Tinker Bell. If we don’t believe in Him, then He is powerless. He is depending on us to act. “If it is to be, it is up to me.” I think the story of Job lives right in the middle of that tension, perhaps on the side of a more sovereignty. Whatever he has comes from God’s hand.

5. Job has three friends who, when they hear of his troubles, come and sit with him silently for seven days and seven nights.

Now, as chapter 3 begins, there is something that both Job and YHWH know but something that only YHWH knows.

What they both know is that Job is blameless. We don’t get much of an explanation about the quality of that blamelessness. The Hebrew Bible seems pretty emphatic on the sinfulness of all human beings and the apostle Paul certainly confirms this: “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one.’” (Romans 3:10) So, was Job blameless because he was perfect or had he been so careful with his life and worship that YHWH considered him blameless, like the person that Psalm 32 describes?

Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1–2)

The text doesn’t say.

As chapter 3 begins, there is something only YHWH knows. Job is denied any knowledge, although we as readers are allowed a peak. What Job does not know is these events that transpired in heaven between YHWH and Satan. For whatever reason, Job is not allowed to see behind the curtain into heavenly life. He doesn’t know about this wager that YHWH has made. He has no idea that YHWH is betting on Job’s faithfulness.

There is something that feels fundamentally unfair, here. Why does YHWH treat Job and Satan so differently? He seems to take a rather benign and friendly approach to the one who betrayed him, but Job, the blameless, on the other hand has that hedge of protection removed from him so that Satan can assault him. Job has no idea why any of this has happened. Left without answers or information, he faces the challenge to trust or not trust.

In chapter 3, Job speaks. And this time it’s long form. No pithy declaration or quiet rebuke. And where his first two utterances were rather inspiring and noteworthy, what he says here is incredibly sad—26 verses of anguish. I am not the greatest student of poetry, and English translations of Hebrew poetry more fully demonstrate my ignorance, but it’s hard to miss how much Job talks about darkness in this passage: “night … darkness … no light … gloom … utter darkness … a cloud … blackness … thick darkness …” In the seven days that Job has been sitting with his friends he has gone into the depths. It’s bleak. Look at how this language dominates the passage when these words are highlighted.

“May the day of my birth perish,
and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
That day—may it turn to darkness;
may God above not care about it;
may no light shine on it.
May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more;
may a cloud settle over it;
may blackness overwhelm it.
That night—may thick darkness seize it;
may it not be included among the days of the year
nor be entered in any of the months.
May that night be barren;
may no shout of joy be heard in it. (Job 3:3–7)

I read something in passing today that suggested this passage was kind of a reverse of Genesis 1:1–2, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

And in this midst of this darkness, God says, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)

But here in Job 3, Job says, “May the day of my birth perish … That day—may it turn to darkness.” (Job 3:3a, 4a) This is someone who wishes he could take his life but doesn’t believe he is allowed to do so. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Job is having suicidal thoughts.

It’s interesting to see how Job equates death with peace. From Job’s perspective, if he had died, “now I would be lying down in peace; I would be asleep and at rest …” (Job 3:13) Especially for those who struggle, he views death as a release: The wicked “cease from turmoil,” “the weary are at rest,” “slaves are freed.” Job asks why five times in this passage. One of those questions he asks is why are the people who most long for death denied what would be their benefit. “Why is light given to those in misery?” (Job 3:20)

What do you say to someone in this kind of pain? Someone suicidal, someone who sees death as a sweet release, someone who is truly miserable. In Job 4, Eliphaz the Temanite will be the first to address Job.