Lockdown thoughts from Job 3:1-10

Day 6 of #nzlockdown. We’re going through Job as fast as my rusty Hebrew takes us.

Previously: Job 1:1-5 | Job 1:6-12 | Job 1:13-22 | Job 2:1-6 | Job 2:7-13 |

3:1-2 After this, Job opened his mouth, and he cursed his day.
2 And Job answered, saying:

3 “May it perish – The day I was born.
And the night [that] said: “A baby boy is conceived.”

4 That day – let it be darkness!
May God from above not seek it,
and may light not shine upon it.
5 May darkness and deep darkness claim it;
may rainclouds dwell over it;
may darkness of day overwhelm it.

6 That night – may darkness take it,
may it not rejoice among the days of the year
into the number of months may it not come.

  • After two chapters of the barakh / “bless” riddle (see previous discussion), the words for “curse” finally appears three times in this chapter. Job finally curses – not God, but the day he was born (v1). Has the adversary been proved wrong?
  • From verse 3, the book moves from simple narrative prose into some of the most artful poetry in the Hebrew bible (so apologies in advance for that slowing us down!).
  • A key feature of Hebrew poetry is parallelism, where one idea is stated in different but complementary ways (e.g. “day” vs. “night” in v3; “days of the year” vs. “number of months” in v6);
  • You know how when you’re feeling depressed, it’s hard to find words to describe how you feel? Job is searching for words too – he uses four different Hebrew words throughout vv4-6 (חֹ֥שֶׁךְ in v4, 5; צַלְמָוֶת and כִּֽמְרִ֥ירֵ in v5; אֹ֥פֶל in v6) to describe the darkness he feels.
  • In contrast to how God said “Let there be light” at creation, Job says: “Let there be darkness” (v4). For him, his suffering feels like a de-creation of everything around him.

7 Behold that night – let it be barren!
May no rejoicing come from it.
8 Let those who curse the day curse it,
the ready ones to rouse up Leviathan.
9 Let the stars of twilight darken
let it hope for light and have none;
and let it not see the gleam of dawn (lit: eyelashes of the morning).
10 For it did not shut the door of my [mother’s] womb,
and did not conceal trouble from my eyes.

  • The “de-creation” language continues: Job wishes the stars and lights all go dark like he feels.
  • Regarding the mention of Leviathan, it’s as if Job is so distraught that wishes that the “day cursers” (possibly professional mourners) could summon a chaos monster to swallow up the day he was born (also alludes to creation language).
  • The key point is in verse 10 – Job curses the night because it didn’t prevent his birth, and thus all the sorrow he’s now experiencing. At this point, he feels like it’s better not to have been born than to be alive and to suffer.

Some reflections:

  • We know the Job from chapters 1-2, but how often do we consider chapter 3 onwards? How often have you and I ventured into this kind of lament speech in the Bible? Could you and I pray these prayers? Sing these lyrics? Remember that Job is “blameless” yet God’s Word records him expressing deep, sorrowful lament. The Psalmists aren’t afraid to cry out to God, “How long, O Lord?” (e.g. Psalm 13, Psalm 88). And if even Jesus wept, then we have permission too as well.
  • Lindsay Wilson puts it this way: “Job offers two schemas for faithful Christians to follow. One is to imitate the patience of Job in the prologue. Then, when it is no longer bearable, the second is to model the laments and protests of Job in the dialogues.” The protests will come in this book, but for now, lament is presented as an appropriate response to suffering.
  • It’s not un-Christian to cry out to God in our sorrows. I fear that COVID will turn us all into a “stiff upper lip” people who just bury suffering in unhealthy ways, or glosses over it in denial. Cry out to God in your pain. Even if all you can wish for right now is that He’d just swallow everything up. If He’s your Dad, no conversation is off-limits. Pour out your pain to Him.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 2:7-13

Day 5 in Job, sitting in this riddling but relevant part of Wisdom Literature together.

Previously: Job 1:1-5 | Job 1:6-12 | Job 1:13-22 | Job 2:1-6

2:7 So the adversary departed from the presence of Yahweh,
and he struck Job with evil ulcers from the sole of his foot up to his crown.

2:8 And he took pottery to scrape himself, while sitting in the midst of ashes.

  • It’s a pretty frightful disease that renders him disfigured beyond recognition (2:12), with foul breath and smell (19:17, 20), and with worm-filled sores (16:8). This last point has led some to suggest it’s a parasitic disease of some sort (e.g. lymphatic filiarisis)
  • The ashes will reappear at the end of the story (42:6); it could signify repentance, mourning (in line with Job’s actions in 1:20), or a specific location – the LXX translates it as “the dung heap outside the city”.

2:9 Then his wife said to him,
“Until now you hold fast to your integrity. ‘Bless’ God and die!”

2:10 And he said to her:
“You speak like one of the foolish women would speak.
Shall we receive the good from God, yet the evil we don’t receive?”

In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

  • Job’s wife gets a bad rap – so much so that other versions (LXX, Targum) add rather fanciful narratives in defence of her. But what she actually says in the Hebrew is caught up in the barakh riddle too (see previous discussion). But even if she doesn’t say “curse”, but what does she mean? “Bless” God and die? “Farewell” God and die? “Speak well” (eulogise) of God and die? Let’s not be too quick to judge her.
  • It’s also important to note that Job doesn’t say she is a foolish woman, only that she speaks like one. In our suffering we’re prone to say and do things that don’t necessarily characterise our normal attitudes to God. Remember too that Job’s wife is never rebuked at the end of the book.
  • Job saying “Shall we receive” means she is included in his suffering – When someone is afflicted, those around them also suffer to some degree too (i.e. syn + pathos, “sympathise”). Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to be a Job’s wife…

2:11-13 And Job’s three friends heard of all this evil coming upon him.
So they came, each from his place:
Eliphaz the Temanite,
and Bildad the Shuchite,
and Zophar the Naamathite.

And they decided together, to go and to comfort him.

Then they lifted up their eyes from a distance,
but they could hardly recognise him.
And they lifted their voices and they wept,
and each of them tore his robe,
and they sprinkled dust upon their heads into the heavens,
and they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights.

Now there was no speaking [of any] word to him, for they saw how great the pain [of his was] – exceedingly [so].

  • We’re introduced to Job’s friends. While most people import their counselling paradigms into this narrative (e.g. “isn’t it wonderful that they sat and said nothing for seven days? When someone suffers, the best thing is to say nothing.”), the text is again ambiguous about the meaning of their actions – are they sympathising with him as a friend, or mourning for him as one already good as dead? Perhaps Job’s initial response to them in the following chapters will tell us.
  • The last two words of this narrative block (chapters 1-2) sums up Job’s state – “the pain [was] great”. At least they recognise that.

Personal thoughts:

  • Job 1-2 presents suffering as a riddle. It’s a riddle what Job, his wife and others are doing throughout this book. It’s a riddle why some suffer and others don’t. This ambiguity contrasts with the cause-and-effect view we get in Proverbs, Deuteronomy and other places. And it flies in the face of our unbiblical and prepackaged ideas about health, wealth and prosperity, e.g. “if I bless God, He’ll give me health/happiness/wealth”; “If I have enough faith, God will give me this”. God is still God, but in ways that do not fit our neat and tidy — and dare I say it, pagan — formulas.
  • This section also presents the right response to our friends who suffer as a riddle. It’s a riddle — we’re conflicted between wanting to comfort them or to rebuke them; wanting to say nothing, to wanting to say everything! Wisdom is often learning not just God’s truth, but God’s timing.
  • Was not the cross of Christ the ultimate riddle of suffering? Why should Jesus, despite a perfect unblemished life, have to suffer and die for sinners? That does not fit into our neat and tidy formulas of what should happen in life, yet in God’s mysterious plans it’s precisely how He chooses to bring repentance and restoration for the world.
  • My prosperity doesn’t mean I have loved God more. My poverty doesn’t mean I have loved God less. Job’s condition must be altered for us to see the genuineness of his faith. Perhaps God’s brought such a massive change to our lives through coronavirus for this reason too: “that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at Jesus Christ’s revelation” (1 Peter 1:6-7). How will we respond?

Lockdown thoughts from Job 2:1-6

Day 4 in Job. Sorry it’s late. Happy Lord’s Day everyone.

Previously: Job 1:1-5 | Job 1:6-12 | Job 1:13-22

2:1 Now there was a day,
When the sons of God came to present themselves before Yahweh. And the adversary also came in their midst to present himself before Yahweh.

  • We’re back in the heavenly court. Notice that the adversary presents himself this time as opposed to the previous assembling (1:6). Does it imply that he’s conceded defeat?

2:2 And Yahweh said to the adversary,
“From where have you come?”

And the adversary answered Yahweh and said:
“From wandering the earth, and patrolling it.”

2:3 Then Yahweh said to the adversary,
Have you set your mind upon my servant Job? For there isn’t one like him on the earth:
a man blameless,
and upright,
and God-fearing,
and one who shuns evil.

All this is repeated word-for-word from Job 1:6-12 so far. Until Yahweh says…

And still he holds fast to his integrity,
though you incited Me against him, to destroy him for nothing.

  • Random fact: the word for “his integrity” in Hebrew is tomato. Yum.
  • The last sentence could be read several ways, depending on how the first letter (waw) is translated. Is it “Though you incited me”? Or “So you incited me”? Or “Yet you incited me?”
  • The “for nothing” is the word hinnam (חִנָּֽם) which we’ve already seen in verse 9. It’s related to the Hebrew word for grace hēn (חן), so perhaps it means “gratis” or “gratuitously”.
  • Is Yahweh confessing to being capricious (“incited me to destroy him for no reason”)? Or to being unjust (“incited me for no reason to destroy him?”) Either one poses uncomfortable questions of neat and tidy depictions of God’s character.
  • Whatever Yahweh is saying exactly, He has admitted to being incited.

2:4-5 And the adversary answered Yahweh, saying:
“Skin for skin! And all that belongs to a man he will give for his life.
However, please stretch out your hand and touch his bone and flesh.
[See] if he doesn’t ‘bless’ you to your face.”

2:6 Then Yahweh said to the adversary:
“Behold him, [he is] in your hand. Only keep his life.”

  • “Skin for skin” is a phrase that highlights retribution (e.g. “an eye for an eye”). The adversary holds to cause and effect thinking – if he can go hard enough, then Job will crack.
  • The Hebrew for “stretch out your hand” has a suffix that means it’s best translated as a request or entreaty. The adversary acknowledges that only Yahweh has permission and power to afflict Job.
  • The barakh (ברך) riddle reappears in verse 5 (see previous discussion) Why does the Hebrew text say barakh (to bless) and not qalal (to curse)? The LXX captures it as εὐλογήσει (he will bless), so it’s unlikely a later correction. What does it mean to ‘bless’ God in suffering?

Own reflections:

  • Here is a God who is sovereign over the adversary’s ability to stretch out his hand, yet will say that he “incited Him”. God is God “in ways that won’t fit our minds.”
  • This should make me careful of either giving clichéd assertions about God’s character in light of coronavirus as some Christians are quick to do. The God of the Bible is neither capricious nor cowardly. He is in control, but in complex ways.
  • The reappearance of the phrase “for no reason” reminds us of one of this book’s key questions: retribution. Is life governed by cause and effect (like Proverbs), or do things happen hinam – for no reason? Diving deeply into these puzzles will make us wiser men and women in our chaotic, COVID-riddled world.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 1:13-22

Using Day 3 of our nationwide lockdown to lock down some rusty Hebrew. A rough translation and thoughts on the way. Some of it will be familiar to friends who have journeyed through Kirk Patston’s classes.

Previously: Job 1:1-5 | Job 1:6-12

1:13-15 Now there was a day,
When his sons and daughters [were] eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house.

And a messenger came to Job, and said:

“The oxen were plowing, and the donkeys were feeding beside them…
and Sabeans fell [upon them]
and took the servants
they struck them by the edge of the sword.
And I have escaped — only I, alone — to tell you.”

  • This section starts the same as verse 6: “Now there was a day…” – the camera’s shifted back from heaven to earth.
  • The Sabeans literally “fell” – in the same way fire from God will fall from heaven in v16. The narrator emphasises that each , as horrifying as it is, was heaven-sent as previously decreed.
  • The Hebrew captures stammering speech: “I’ve been delivered… I alone… only me…” – and highlights the severity of the calamity

1:16 [While] this one [was still] speaking, [another] came and said:

“Fire of God fell from the heavens,
and it burned the flock and the servants and consumed them.
And I escaped — only I, alone — to tell you.”

1:17 While this one was still speaking, another came and said:

“Chaldeans appointed three captains (lit. heads)
and they fell upon the camels
and took them
and the servants they struck with the edge of the sword,

and I escaped, only I, alone to tell you.”

  • The key word in the Hebrew that connects all the calamities is niphal (נפל), “it fell”. They were not just chance accidents, but they fell from heaven. It’s a difficult truth.
  • The narrator saves the worst news for last…

1:18-19 While this one was still speaking, another came and said:

“Your sons and daughters [were] eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house,
and behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness

and struck the four corners of the house
and it fell upon the servants [actually, Job’s children].
and they died.

And I escaped, only I, alone to tell you.

  • “And they died.” The servant can’t bear to say what Job dreads: his ten treasured children have died.

1:20 Then Job arose.
And he tore his robes
and shaved his head.

And he fell to the earth, and worshipped.

And he said:
“Naked I departed from my mother’s womb,
And naked will I return there.
Yahweh gave and Yahweh took;
May Yahweh name be ‘blessed’.”

1:22 In all this, Job did not sin. And he did not give offence to God.

  • His actions are impeccable – he falls to the ground, he worships.
  • Yet his own speech verse 21 is ambiguous. Remember how barakh could mean “blessed” or “farewelled”, and how it’s been used as a euphemism for “cursing” God (see previous discussion).
  • Perhaps that’s why the narrator has to emphasise that Job does not sin or do wrong (v22).

My own reflections:

  • Suffering often occurs in a relentless cluster. Job barely has time to catch his breath before the next messenger announces disaster. Many of us in NZ have shared this feeling this week – Alert Level 2 introduced on Saturday, Level 3 on Monday, a Level 4 nationwide lockdown by Wednesday night. That’s what it’s feeling like for healthcare workers on the frontline – the next patient arrives, then the next one, then the next one.
  • We talk about blessings falling from heaven, but how comfortable am I with believing that our sufferings also fall, fall, fall, fall from heaven?
  • How will I respond when everything is taken away from me – work, study opportunities, freedom to move around? Job falls to the ground and gives a faithful answer (that’s enshrined in Matt Redman’s song) we can follow – “Blessed be the name of the Lord”. Yet the ambiguity of barakh raises the possibility that those who suffer will not always stoically “bless” God. When troubles fall upon me, will I “farewell”, even curse God? Which route will Job take in the chapters to come? That’s the riddle of suffering.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 1:6-12

Using our nationwide lockdown to lock down some rusty Hebrew. A rough translation and thoughts on the way. Some of it will be familiar to friends who have journeyed through Kirk Patston’s classes. Lord willing we’ll make some progress over the next four weeks.


1:6 Now there was a day,
when the sons of God came to present themselves before Yahweh.
And the adversary also came in their midst.

  • The narrator switches to a scene in heavenly courts. It’s a rare glimpse in Scripture behind the curtain, into the spiritual realm.
  • What we see is not just one spiritual power, but the “sons of God” – perhaps angelic beings (see Job 2:1, 38:7). Whoever they are, they all present themselves before Yahweh in submission.
  • Yet the narrator singles out one being, who is literally called הַשָּׂטָ֖ן (“the Satan”) – it’s not so much a personal name here, but more an adversary (see also 1 Chronicles 21:1, Zechariah 3:1-2).
  • There is more behind the scenes in our chaotic world than we think. Our world is filled with unseen forces and adversaries, but they all must present themselves before Yahweh, our King of Kings.

1:7 And Yahweh said to the adversary, “From where have you come?”
And the adversary answered Yahweh, and he said:
“From wandering the earth, and from patrolling it.”
1:8 Then Yahweh said to the adversary, “Have you set your heart upon my servant Job? For there isn’t one like him on the earth:
a man blameless,
and upright,
and God fearing,
and one who shuns evil.

  • Yahweh allows the adversary to roam about the earth. Whoever this being is, He is free to patrol the earth at Yahweh’s command.
  • Yahweh’s description of Job is identical to the narrator’s in 1:1 – he is someone who is wholly devoted to God. The repetition emphasises that Job is innocent of all the later accusations against him.

1:9-10 And the adversary answered Yahweh, saying:
“Does Job revere God for nothing?
Have you not put a hedge around him
and around his house
and around all that belongs to him
from all around?

You have blessed the work of his hands,
And You have expanded his estate over the earth.

  • Does Job worship God because of the things he’s been given, or does he revere Him hahinnam (הַֽחִנָּ֔ם) – for no reason? That’s the key question of the book of Job for us. Will we worship God even when we have nothing left?

1:11 But now stretch out Your hand and strike all which is his.
[See] if he doesn’t “bless” You to Your face.

1:12 And Yahweh said to the adversary:
“Look, all that belongs to him is in your hand,
Only against him you may not stretch your hand.”

Then the adversary departed from the presence (lit: the face) of Yahweh.

  • There is an element of request in the adversary asking God to stretch his hand out. He knows that only God can decree this, and to what extent (v12).
  • The barakh (ברך) riddle continues here in verse 11. Why does the Hebrew text say barakh (to bless) and not qalal (to curse)? In context, the adversary clearly believes that Job will not bless, but rather curse God to his face.
  • In any case, this word will keep riddling us in the upcoming verses: what does it mean to ‘bless’ God?

My own reflections:

  • Is our wealth a curse or a blessing? Is suffering a curse or a blessing? It’s easy to assume that if we have stuff (toilet paper, a stocked pantry, work from home) we are blessed, but this heavenly conversation reminds us not to quickly assume what “blessing” means in our lives
  • For example, I think of how being in lockdown could be a blessing (time together, a simpler life, no traffic) yet also a curse (time to waste, be lazy with devotionals, become addicted to our smartphones, become bitter or selfish)
  • On the flipside, suffering may not necessarily be a curse. Perhaps there’s wisdom in what J.C. Ryle observes regarding sickness: “I know the suffering and pain which sickness involves. I admit the misery and wretchedness which it often brings. But I cannot regard it as completely evil. I see in it a wise plan and purpose of God. I see in it a useful provision to reduce the ravages of sin and the devil among men’s souls. If man had never sinned I should have been at a loss to discern the benefit of sickness. But since sin is in the world, I can see that sickness is good. It is a blessing quite as much as a curse. It is a rough schoolmaster, I grant. But it is a real friend to man’s soul.”
  • Re: God’s sovereignty. How powerful do I believe my King of Kings is over the chaos of this world? Job 1:6-12 paints him as Lord over all powers and adversaries. Do I believe this?
  • Do I love and serve God only because He gives me benefits (respect, appreciation from others, a paycheck)? Or when there’s no benefit to doing so? When no one is watching online? In the quietness of my heart? When everything is taken away from me? Will I love and serve God “for nothing”?