Posted: 03 Feb 2011 11:00 PM PST
FROM JOB 3 UNTIL THE FIRST PART of the last chapter of the book, with a small exception at the beginning of chapter 32, the text is written in Hebrew poetry. The book is a giant drama, like a Shakespearean play. Speech follows speech, the movement of the drama carried forward on the sustained argument between Job and his three "friends." Eventually another character is introduced, and finally God himself responds.
The opening speech belongs to Job. The burden of his utterance is unmistakable: he wishes he had never been born. He is not ready to curse God, but he is certainly prepared to curse the day that brought him to birth (Job 3:1, 3, 8). Everything about that day he wishes he could blot out. If he could not have been stillborn (Job 3:11, 16), then why couldn't he have just starved to death (Job 3:12)?
Implicitly, of course, this is criticism of God, however indirect. "Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?" (Job 3:23). What Job is experiencing is what he feared throughout his years of plenty (Job 3:25). He has no peace, no quietness, no rest, but only turmoil (Job 3:26).
Four reflections will put this first address in perspective:
(1) This is the rhetoric of a man in deep anguish. So many of the things about which we complain are trivial. Even our most serious grounds for complaint are usually only some fraction of what Job faced.
(2) Before we condemn Job, therefore, we must listen attentively, even fearfully. When we come across those who for good reason are in terrible despair, we must cut them some slack. It would have been wonderful if one of the "friends" had put an arm around Job's shoulder and wept with him, saying, "We love you, Job. We do not pretend to understand. But we love you, and we'll do whatever we can for you."
(3) Job is transparently honest. He does not don a front of feigned piety so that no one will think he is letting down the side. The man hurts so much he wishes he were dead, and says so.
(4) Both here and throughout the book, for all that Job is prepared to argue with God, he is not prepared to write God off. Job is not the modern agnostic or atheist who treats the problem of evil as if it provided intellectual evidence that God does not exist. Job knows that God exists and believes that he is powerful and good. That is one reason why (as we shall see) he is in such confusion. Job's agonizings are the agonizings of a believer, not a skeptic.
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