Job No. 8: Woe is Me

In chapter 3, Job himself breaks the silence after a seven day reprieve with his friends. He has probably talked to himself since all this has happened, but this is his first auditory monologue. It is very contrastive to Job’s initial reaction to this suffering in 1:20-22. In fact, it seems a far cry from the man who did not sin with his lips. If you simply read the words below you find a man in agony unable to solve his problems.

Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, who long for death, but it does not come, and search for it more than hidden treasures; who rejoice exceedingly, and are glad when they can find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, and whom God has hedged in? For my sighing comes before I eat, and my groanings pour out like water. For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, for trouble comes.

Job 3:20-26

A closer look reveals that something fascinating is going on in this chapter. While Job asks “why?” five times, he declares “may” thirteen times. That simple comparison shows us that God’s sovereignty (i.e. His dominion over all events) is still at the forefront of Job’s thoughts. We could conclude then that saying “why” in the midst of a trial does not mean a person has forgotten God’s sovereignty.1 Job certainly didn’t. With the contrast we find between chapter 1 and 3, we must ask an uncomfortable question.

In Chapter 3, is Job still a faithful man?

It is interesting to note that when Job finally opens up his mouth it is not to curse God, but rather to curse the day of his birth and to complain to God. Here, Job is beginning to voice the abandonment he felt from God. This is incredibly similar to David in Psalm 22 and Christ in Mark 15:34-35.2 Job will present to God some heavy indictments later in the book and perhaps, this is the moment when he began to present his case verbally. If we’re uncomfortable jumping to conclusions about his relationship with God, we can at least say he is frustrated at his parents who were merely fulfilling their obligation to bring forth life (see Genesis 1:28). Clearly, the toll of his suffering had pushed Job to the point that he simply wished his life had never even been a thought, let alone a reality. Take that in for a moment and reflect on it.

It’s possible the actual creation account of Genesis 1 is on Job’s mind as he speaks these words. He not only wishes that he was never born, but his words should remind us about the world during those early days of creation. As he describes his wish for the day of his birth Genesis 1:2-3 is a perfect set of text to match his wish.

The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

Since God is the One who brings order, Job believes his life is chaotic because it appears God has abandoned him. Death or the thought of never having lived at all would be the best solution to this present chaos.3 

Ironically, in his frustration he presents a valid defense of the inherent value each life possesses in its earliest forms. Even in this charge against the days He was conceived and born, Job shows that life is precious. Jeremiah – who was told of the precious calling on his life (see Jeremiah 1:5) – would later on in his ministry have similar thoughts to Job in Jeremiah 20:14-18. Both of these men had “woe is me” moments, but they did not reject God nor curse him.

Could it be these words were used as words of hope?4 God had not caused them to die at birth. God had not caused them to die because of present circumstances. This should be remembered when going through trials. You still have breath in your body to make a complaint before God.  Job did not give up and God affirms him at the end as “my servant” again as he did in the beginning (see Job 42:7; cf. 1:8; 2:3).5

How much do we value life, especially when the harshness of the world beats on our door?

Did Job value his life and the great things he was blessed with and the joy that he shared with friends or family in the past? Of course he did. Yet when those things were no longer present in both his mind and heart, the present calamities clouded his memory. The Psalmist in 42:1-3 also felt overwhelmed, but he remember going up to the house of God in 42:4.

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they continually say to me,
“Where is your God?”

When I remember these things,
I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go with the multitude;
I went with them to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and praise,
With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.

Life, with all of its heartaches is not entirely terrible. There is always some good mingled with the bad. If life is a blessing, we must be willing to take all of it as a blessing, not just the parts we celebrate. 

It is possible to see the section of 3:11-19 as a lament much like we see in the Book of Psalms. There are two sections in this lament which begin with the word ‘why’ and with Job describing death. Most thoughtful readers of the Old Testament will soon realize there is not a deep theology of death. Sheol would be the most common place associated with both the death of saints and sinners but as a whole, they viewed death ambiguously.

In other words, it was merely the place or way of all men. That worldview has a profound impact upon Job’s statements and surely his thoughts about the afterlife. There doesn’t seem to be a thought of heaven and hell in his statements, merely rest from his trials. It is in Sheol that the justice that Job is longing for can only be meted out fairly. He pictures this type of utopian society in 3:17-19.  For a person who’s gone through his ordeals, that must have been an appealing thought.6 They say:

There the wicked cease from troubling,
And there the weary are at rest.
There the prisoners rest together;
They do not hear the voice of the oppressor.
The small and great are there,
And the servant is free from his master.

Our suffering brings with it loneliness. In both chapters 2 and 3, Job is surrounded by dear friends and yet he feels the pain and agony of each lonely moment. Thinking that he has somehow been abandoned by God, he still acknowledges that God is sovereign even over his life. What a paradoxical world Job found himself in.

When we face our trials and sufferings, we might also feel lonely and it might seem that God is far off from us as well, but do not despair. In these moments, be like Job and call out to God. Continue to bring all that is left within you to God, knowing that He knows and cares. Knowing that the son of God can sympathize (see Hebrews 4:15), run to the cross and lay your burdens down knowing that this present suffering will not compare to the glory that is coming!

Notes

1 Derek Thomas, The Storm Breaks: Job Simply Explained, 62.

2 Gustavo Gutiérrez, On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent, 7-8.

 3 Gustavo Gutiérrez, On Job, 8.

4 Gustavo Gutiérrez, On Job, 8-9.

5 Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross, 69.

6 Gustavo Gutiérrez, On Job, 8-9. 

All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Zack Martin is the minister for the Cedar Springs Church of Christ in Louisville, Kentucky and a graduate of both Freed-Hardeman University and the Southern Baptist Seminary.