The Book of Job - Lesson 8

Job's Opening Speech (Job 3.1-26)

Job curses the day he was born. When you carefully examine what he is saying, you realize that it is more intense than just saying that he wished he had never lived.

Duane Garrett
The Book of Job
Lesson 8
Watching Now
Job's Opening Speech (Job 3.1-26)

I. Structure

II. Job cursing his birth is asking that creation be reversed

A. The day of birth is to you what creation is to the world

B. Job even invokes the name of Leviathan

C. Job desires to see creation revert to chaos

D. Life no longer makes sense

III. Preference for Stillbirth Over Birth

IV. Death is Better for Those in Misery

  • When you see what you would describe as evil and injustice in the world, how does that affect your view of God? When someone is suffering, do you assume that it’s because they are getting what they deserve? This lecture gives you an overview of book of Job by describing his situation, how he interacts with his friends and God, and what we can learn about how God is managing the world.

  • Because there is nothing specific in the text that tells you when the book of Job was written, the sections in Job that allude to other passages of scripture give you some helpful clues. The structure of the book of Job focuses your attention on the main subject of the book which is God’s wisdom.

  • Other cultures in the ancient near east created literature with themes that are similar to the book of Job. The book of Job is unique because of his character and the answer that the book provides for the situation he is in.

  • Job is one of the wisdom books of the Old Testament. It covers more “advanced” topics than Proverbs and uses a variety of literary genres and allusions to other Biblical passages to explain and illustrate profound truths about God’s nature and his involvement in the world.

  • There is limited information in the book of Job about its geographical and historical background. However, it can be helpful to understand general information about the geography and history of the area to give you a context for reading and studying the book of Job. The author of the book of Job was a Hebrew poet who had an extensive vocabulary. Being uncertain about history and geography is good because the message is timeless.

  • Job contains literary elements that are similar to what you find in other Biblical books that are Apocalyptic. These elements include depictions of events in heaven and on earth, the emphasis on specific numbers and persevering in your faith in God, the references to mythological animals and God’s supernatural control of all events. 

  • Satan appears before God with an accusation against Job. Even though Job is described as, “upright and blameless,” Satan accuses Job of serving God only because Job is prosperous. God allows Satan to take away Job’s possessions, children and health. The remainder of the book is the dialogue of Job and his friends attempting to determine why this is happening.

  • Job curses the day he was born. When you carefully examine what he is saying, you realize that it is more intense than just saying that he wished he had never lived.

  • Eliphaz begins tactfully in his remarks to Job. He did not intend to do harm. However, he thinks God is causing Job to suffer because of a sin Job committed. He speaks accurately of the justice of God, but in Job’s case he misapplies it. He also gives a message he received from the, “night spirit.”

  • Eliphaz considers the message of the, “night spirit” a revelation from God. However, at it’s core, this message is inconsistent with God’s attitude toward Job, and creation in general.

  • Job’s theological worldview has fallen apart because he knows he doesn’t deserve to suffer. Eliphaz calls Job to repent. Job responds questioning why he is suffering, because according to his worldview, he hasn’t done anything to deserve it.   

  • Bildad is direct is his rebuke and admonition of Job. He uses metaphors to get his point across.

  • When Job’s friends describe God as all powerful in an attempt to comfort Job, he becomes terrified because he sees God as causing his suffering and there is nothing that can stop it.

  • Zophar assumes that Job is being punished because he sinned and accuses him of mocking God. Job's three friends move from tactful suggestions to open hostility. As Job is searching for answers, he becomes disappointed in his friends.

  • Job agrees with his friends that God is causing his suffering, but disagrees with them about why it’s happening. Job believes that God will eventually vindicate him.

  • Eliphaz appeals to the night spirit and the tradition of the elders to tell Job that he is a babbling and blaspheming fool.

  • Job begins by criticizing what his friends are saying to him and then professes his faith in God. Bildad responds harshly to Job.

  • Even though Job’s friends have criticized him, he has grown in his faith in God. Job is worn out and begs for compassion. When he gets nothing but contempt and hostility instead, he confesses his faith and hope in God. The messianic theology of Job is different from any other book of the Bible.  

  • Zophar uses metaphors that are found in other passages of scripture as well as Job’s own words to accuse Job of being wicked. However, Zophar made a serious error, which we need to avoid in our lives.

  • Job continues to wrestle with the presence of evil in the world and the apparent injustice of God. 

  • Eliphaz attacks Job as being wicked by twisting the meaning of what Job has said previously. The irony is that Job will be reconciled to God and will pray for Eliphaz.

  • Job wants to lay out his case before God by claiming his innocence. Job says that God is hidden and does as he chooses, but that God neither judges the guilty nor helps the righteous. Bildad responds by contrasting God’s holiness and human lowliness.

  • Job sarcastically thanks the friends for their wise words, which he doesn’t think were wise at all.

  • This is a poem about wisdom that divides the content of the book and points to a deep truth. It is inserted by the author of the book and is not attributed to Job or the friends.

  • The crisis that Job is experiencing is not just the material losses and physical suffering, but also his crisis of faith. He thought he understood what his relationship with God is all about but he feels that God has abandoned him for no apparent reason. Job laments the pain he feels from being disgraced and humiliated.

  • This is the last major statement that Job makes, other than his responses to God that come later. Job is taking a series of oaths that he has not committed any of the sins he mentions. The Bible is distinctive in declaring that all people are created equally, in the image of God. In ancient cultures, some people intrinsically have more value than others because of heritage, wealth, gender, race, etc. God looks on everyone impartially.  

  • Elihu is not mentioned either before or after his speech. He claims to be perfect in knowledge. Elihu thinks that the other three did not convince Job because they did not give a satisfactory answer, but Elihu ends up repeating what they have already said. He thinks that the doctrine of retribution is the answer to Job’s situation. Elihu is a warning to us that we don’t have all the answers.

  • The questions of the book of Job are, “How does God address the problem of evil and why do we serve God? God created a world that is stable and not chaotic. Where there was chaos, God brought in light, shape and beauty. Chaotic forces are necessary for life and God controls them.

  • People in ancient Mesopotamia lived in constant fear of the chaos, danger, ferocity of nature and they valued subduing, controlling and pushing back nature. Wilderness was something to be tamed and pushed back by civilization. In the Gilgamesh epic poem, Enkidu is transformed into a civilized man who protects the domestic animals from the wild animals. In Egypt, there were gods of the Black Land and gods of the Red Land. God sees everything in the world as entirely under his control.

  • God’s care for the animals and how this relates to the problem of Job. All of the things that we see as chaos, and out of control depend on God and thrive because he provides for them and things that he manages and glories in. God describes nature as good, unlike the night spirit that describes it with contempt and loathing. God knows how to manage the chaotic elements of creation.

  • The societies of the Ancient Near East had a high concept of justice. It was the duty of the rulers to uphold justice and protect the powerless. If you are a man who leads, you need to make sure that evil is held in check. Listen to people who come to you with a grievance. God is asking Job if he comprehends what it means to bring justice to the world. It involves both power and wisdom.

  • Behemoth is the plural form of a Hebrew word that refers to animals in general also specifically to wild animals. In Job, it’s also used as a metaphor representing the composite forces of the powers of the earth that are against God.

  • Behemoth is a dangerous power that God must reckon with. Some people think this is an allusion to animals that God created in Genesis 1:24. “Lady Wisdom” is the wisdom that God built into creation. Behemoth is dangerous and a force to be reckoned with, not the embodiment of good behavior. One aspect of principalities and powers is forces outside of the world we can see. In Revelation, God protects people from the fury and wrath of the beast, which is an oppressive power that seeks to take the place of God.  

  • Job 41 describes Leviathan. Leviathan is not a natural animal like a crocodile. Sometimes Leviathan refers to a large sea creature, and sometimes death, chaos and the embodiment of evil. Satan is present at the first of the book but he is never mentioned again. In order for God to deal with evil in the world, he must defeat Leviathan.

  • Leviathan is a ferocious creature that no human can subdue. God is saying that he is willing to oppose Leviathan and  is not frightened of Leviathan or intimidated by his boasting. God is the one who will defeat this enemy who seems unbeatable to humans. God tells Job that he will deal with Leviathan but God doesn’t tell him how he will do it. Job embraced God’s answer even though Job didn’t know how God would deal with evil.

  • Job announces that he has changed his outlook on evil, God’s governance of the world and his own suffering. Job knew that God is all-powerful. Now Job knows something more about how God uses his power. Should God be merciful to people who will still be evil? Eschatological is an event that can only happen by a work of God. Emergence of divine power within the historical context. Job admits that he didn’t understand the complexity that is involved in God conquering evil. God forgives Job’s three friends because Job interceded for them. God is showing his approval with job by publicly restoring him.

  • Job’s suffering brought him to a new understanding of who God is and what God is doing in the world. Job’s hope, and our hope, is in a heavenly redeemer that rose from the dead. Legalism comes about often when people hold to essential teachings but they don’t know God. They substitute the rules for relationship.

  • Job mentions composite animals similar to those described in other apocalyptic passages. Job had faith that God would do a work of salvation but didn’t understand everything that Jesus would do. There is a hidden plan of God to redeem people and conquer evil that is a major theme in apocryphal books and also in Job.

  • Job tells us about the heavenly mediator. Prior to his afflictions, Job’s life was almost god-like because he was relatively free of suffering. Job through his affliction, faces the problem of evil and the enormity of suffering in the human race. Even though some people commit evil and violent acts, Job describes them in pitiful terms.

  • Should virtue, or piety, be disinterested? If it’s not done for it’s own sake, is it real? Job’s love for God is not disinterested, but it is real.

If God is good and powerful, why do you see suffering in the world? Why do you serve God even when you experience suffering? How do you respond to others when they ask these questions? How have you answered them for yourself? These are such important questions that the entire book of Job is devoted discussing only these issues in the context of the perspective of the experiences of one person. 

The theme of the book of Job is timeless and singular. There are clues about its geographical and historical setting but nothing in the book itself that identifies the place or time of its writing. However, the setting is irrelevant because the questions that are addressed in the Book of Job are ones that people have asked in all cultures, throughout time. It would be distracting and even limiting to frame the dialogue in a specific time or culture. There are enough clues in the text to give you a general idea of the culture and time it was written in to help you understand the logic and metaphors used by the main characters in their dialogue. 

The complete book of Job is composed of the dialogue of Job, his friends and God regarding the issues of God's goodness, his power, and evil in the world. No historical events. No other personal, corporate or theological issues. Since these questions are central to your understanding of God's character and how he works in the world around us throughout history, the book of Job compels you to consider this question deeply and exhaustively. The point is that by the end of the book, you can understand and articulate who God is and how he works in your life and in the world. 

The value of this class is that Dr. Garrett helps you understand what the text means, the historical and theological implications, and how you apply it to your life. Dr. Garrett's knowledge of the Bible, understanding of the Hebrew language and background in Ancient Near Eastern history and culture inform his insights into the message of the book and what it means to you. He is skilled at explaining technical linguistic and theological issues in a way that helps you comprehend them and see how they apply to your life. Whether you are just beginning in your study of the Bible or you have had training at an advanced academic level, studying the Book of Job with Dr. Garrett has the potential change the way you understand God and also how you live each day. 

Recommended Books

The Book of Job: A Biblical Answer to Pain - Student Guide

The Book of Job: A Biblical Answer to Pain - Student Guide

This Student's Guide is for the class on The Book of Job in BiblicalTraining.org. It contains the outlines to the lectures, a summary of each point, and reflection...

The Book of Job: A Biblical Answer to Pain - Student Guide


We had left at the point that the dialogues of Job were about to begin. Job is going to begin the whole thing by cursing the day of his birth and then we are
going to see his friends react in great alarm. So we have to figure out what Job said that was so troubling as to prompt this entire acrimonious bit of debate that takes up the first half of the book of Job.

I. Structure

First of all, the structure. You can see it is basically in three parts.

A. Job’s birth and the reversal of creation, 3:1-10.
B. Preference for stillbirth over birth, 3:11-19.
C. Death is better for those in misery, 3:20-26.

So let’s get into the text.

II. Job cursing his birth is asking that creation be reversed

First of all, Job’s birth and the reversal of creation. We have already looked at this a little, but let’s look at it in more detail. “After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. ‘May the day of my birth perish, the night they said, ‘A boy is conceived,’ that day may it turn to darkness, may God above not care about it, may no light shine in it. May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more. May clouds 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 on it. May those who curse days, curse that day, those who are ready to rouse Leviathan. May its morning stars become dark. May it wait for daylight in vain and not see the first rays of dawn, for it did not shut the doors of the womb on me to hide trouble from my eyes.‘”

On the surface of it, this just appears to be Job saying, “I wish I had never been born.” But I am going to suggest to you, there is a lot more to it than him just saying, “I wish I had never been born.”

A. The day of birth is to you what creation is to the world

First of all, let’s think in terms of what one’s birth and one’s lifetime really is. For us as people in this world, our lifetime is the time in which the world exists. We have heard about sometime prior to our lifetime, but we weren’t there. For us, the world did not exist at that time; and when we die, well, in effect, the world will cease to exist for us. So our personal existence is closely tied to our understanding of the existence of the world itself. Job in emphatic ways declares that his day of birth should be cursed and this is in effect the cursing of the whole of creation.

We looked at this a little bit previously, but let’s remind ourselves quickly. He calls upon the day of his birth to be cursed. He says, verse 5: “May gloom and darkness claim it.” This is again a kind of reversal of the first day of creation when God created life. He calls for it to be “seized with gloom.” He calls for it not to be entered into any of the months of the year; again, something that recalls Genesis, the fourth day, when God set the stars and the moon and the sun in the sky for days and seasons and months and years. He wishes that there had been no joy to celebrate his birth, the coming of his life; and he calls in verse 8: “For those who know how to issue curses, to curse that day, those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.”

B. Job even invokes the name of Leviathan

It’s interesting. Here in this one verse we have a little bit of a preview of what is coming because Job at the very beginning of his speech talks about Leviathan; and then at the end of the book, Leviathan will make a major reappearance. We might ask ourselves, what is going on with Leviathan in Job 8? First of all, the verse could be translated: “Let those who curse the day, invoke a curse against that day, and let those who are prepared, rouse up Leviathan.”

Leviathan, I think, is understood in this passage to be an agent of chaos and destruction. He is speaking of people who invoke curses; in other words, people who practice what we might call, “black magic.” They invoke dark spirits in order to bring down chaos and destruction and death on people. Job wants this monster of chaos to come and eat up the day of his birth. Leviathan is a profoundly anti-creation figure. Leviathan stands for all of the formless void and chaos that you have in Genesis 1:2. Leviathan stands for a reversion, for an end to all that is right and orderly in creation. When Job calls upon those who know how to curse, to rouse him up, the idea is, this is a creature who can swallow up the light. This is a creature who is one with those who belong to the darkness. Leviathan is a creature of darkness.

C. Job desires to see creation revert to chaos

Thus, this is a powerful call to put an end to creation, to bring it back into chaos, to side with those who are sorcerers in order to see that the whole world comes to an end. That is pretty dramatic. So here in chapter 3, verses 1-10, Job didn’t just say, “I wish I had never been born.” He says in effect, “I wish there had been no life. I wish there had been no stars. I wish there had been no seasons. I wish Leviathan would just swallow it all up and it would go back into chaos.”

Why? Why would Job say something like that, and why would his friends be so alarmed? It is not just that Job is really miserable. He lost his children. He lost his possessions. He lost his health. He is in physical pain. We might say, “I can understand why he is so miserable and says, ‘I wish I were dead.’” But that wouldn’t really alarm his friends and that would not explain why he uses all of this language that seems to speak of a return of darkness and a return of chaos and of Leviathan.

It is important to understand, as I have mentioned already, that Job and the three friends are not really that different from each other. They all have what I have called simply the doctrine of retribution. God stands up there just constantly weighing people in the balance; and if you do what is good, God rewards you; if you do what is evil, God punishes you. Why is there suffering? Because so many people are so evil and God is punishing them. That is their explanation for the justice of God. In their mind, the problem of evil has been solved. The reason there is so much evil in the world, there is so much suffering, there is so much misery, is because God is just punishing people all the time because people are so evil.

D. Life no longer makes sense

Job knows he did not deserve this. He knows, as God Himself has confessed, he is a righteous man, he fears God and shuns evil. Therefore, the old theology doesn’t work. Something is wrong. Job’s entire worldview has collapsed, everything he believed in, that he built his whole life upon. This man, who every time his kids had a get-together, would sacrifice animals in case perhaps they would blaspheme God in their mind. This man, who built his whole life on this structure of this retribution theology, now finds it completely crashing down. Job, the righteous, is suffering worse than anyone else. Therefore, as far as he can tell, the best thing that could happen is for the world to revert to chaos because the world doesn’t make sense anymore to him. The world has become an alien place, a hostile place, a place that has no orderly structure to it, no underpinning wisdom, no truth that holds it all together. It is just a place that is, in more modern philosophical terms, absurd. Bad things just happen for no reason apparently, or simply because God for his own whims, chooses to punish people.

So the first part of the book is the most dramatic speech of all in a sense. Job’s cursing of the day of his birth is his saying that it just doesn’t make any sense to me anymore, and my world as I understand it is over, has come crashing down.

III. Preference for Stillbirth Over Birth

He then moves on and declares preference for stillbirth over birth. This is chapter 3, verses 11-19. “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb? Why were there knees to receive me and breasts that I might be nursed? For now I would be lying down in peace, I would be asleep and at rest with kings and rulers of the earth, who built for themselves places now lying in ruins, with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver. Or why was I not hidden away in the ground like a stillborn child, like an infant who never saw the light of day? There the wicked cease from turmoil and there the weary are at rest. Captives also enjoy their ease, they no longer hear the slave drivers shout. The small and the great are there and the slaves are freed from their owners.”

Notice he says, “Why did I have a successful birth? Why didn’t they just let me die as soon as I came out? Better yet, why wasn’t I just stillborn? Why wasn’t I just born dead?” This is of course a very painful thing to read. It does have some precedent elsewhere in Biblical wisdom literature, in Ecclesiastes 6:3. I think it should be translated like this: “If a man begets a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his youth are many, but his soul is not satisfied with goodness, then even if it has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better than he.” So here Ecclesiastes says, it doesn’t matter how much he has; he can have a long life, he can have lots of children. If you never have joy in life, if you never know how to enjoy the good things of life, you are no better off than a stillborn child.

Job echoes the same kind of thing, only Job is saying, “My world is so shattered, is so broken, I think I should have been stillborn rather than actually coming to life alive, and to experience all the things that I have experienced.” Notice what he says about stillborn children and about death in general in chapter 3. He says, “Kings and rulers are there (that is, in the grave).” So he is in effect saying, “When it comes to the grave, the kings and the mightiest people of earth are no different from the stillborn infant, they are dead and they are put in the grave.” Then he speaks of it as a place where people at least have some relief from their suffering. He says in verse 18: “Captives also enjoy their ease, they no longer hear the slave driver’s shout.”

So he sees death in effect as a great equalizer. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a king, it doesn’t matter if you have been rich. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a slave or even if you were stillborn. Once it comes to the grave, all of that is done away with. That is very similar to what we see in Ecclesiastes. But in Job the main point here is, the world is filled with injustice, inequality and suffering; and at least in death, it is all over. When Job makes this point, what he is really stressing is not just the fact that people are all equal in death. It is the fact that the world is fundamentally an unjust place. The world is fundamentally an evil place of gross inequality and terrible suffering, much of it by people who don’t deserve it, just as a stillborn child did not deserve it.

Again, the point is not just that Job is unhappy. The point is that he sees that his way of handling life, his way of saying that everything makes sense and resolving all of these problems and contradictions has collapsed. Before, he could always chalk it up to the doctrine of retribution, the world is full of evil people. God is always punishing them, that is why there is so much suffering.

Now he looks at all the suffering in the world and he just says, “You know, it just doesn’t make any sense. It would be better if they were all dead. At least that way, all of this suffering and all of this inequality would be over.”

IV. Death is Better for Those in Misery

Finally, he says that death is better for those in misery, chapter 3, verses 20-26: “Why is life given to those in misery and life to the bitter of souls, to those who long for death that does not come, who search for more than hidden treasures, who are filled with gladness and rejoice when they reach the grave? Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For sighing has become my daily food and my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me, what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness, no rest, but only turmoil.”

Here Job says basically, When life is so filled with suffering, why do people even continue to live? Why doesn’t God just take their life away from them? Why not just let them die? And of course, Job quickly transfers or moves over from talking about death or suffering and evil kind of abstractly, to talking about it in himself, how he is the victim of so much suffering, how he has seen so much injustice pour upon him and he wishes it would just all end.

So, death is better than life for those who are in misery. Again, his misery is not just physical and it doesn’t just concern the possessions he lost or even his
children he lost. It concerns the fact that his world has collapsed. He can no longer make sense of the way the world works and the troubles that take place.

This is the speech that thoroughly alarms Eliphaz, the first of the three friends to speak. He will rebuke Job and he will try to bring him back to what Eliphaz
believes is the right way; and that will be the course of the debate of the first half of the book of Job.