JOB CHAPTER 3
STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK OF JOB
Chapter 3 consists of Job’s opening speech wishing that he had never been born rather than having to suffer in life, apparently for no just or intelligible reason. In chapters 4-5, Eliphaz HaTeimni, the leader of the three companions, answers Job, after which the latter speaks again in chapters 6-7. Job is then answered in chapter 8 by the second of his three companions, Bildad HaShoohi, and Job answers back in chapters 9-10. Next, in chapter 11, the third companion, Tzophar HaNaamasi, answers Job, who replies in chapters 12-14.
The cycle repeats itself in exactly the same way in chapters 15-21, where the three companions successively answer Job, who answers them back after each of their speeches. There is then the third cycle of speeches in chapters 22-31, in which Eliphaz and Bildad (but not Tzophar) again address and are answered by Job. Job’s answer to Bildad is contained in chapters 26-31, in which Job gives a lengthy defense of himself, finally silencing his three companions, who despair of persuading him to change his view of his situation in any way.
A new interlocutor – Eli-hoo ben Barach-el – then enters and embarks on a lengthy address to Job in chapters 32-37. After this, God Himself addresses Job in chapters 38-41 in what is surely one of the most beautiful passages in all of Biblical literature. Finally, in chapter 42, God “adjudicates” in the debate between Job and his companions, and at last restores the chastened Job to a life of prosperity, well-being and honor.
Chapter 3 vv 1-2: “And Job spoke and said, Oh that the day on which I was born had perished.”
An invaluable insight into Job’s stance is provided by the outstanding Talmudic scholar and Biblical commentator RaMBaN (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, or Nachmanides 1197-c.1270) in his comment on how Job “cursed his day”: “We find the prophets cursing in this way, for Jeremiah also said ‘cursed be the day on which I was born’ (Jer. 20:14) but in Job’s case the intention was bad and his companions understood what he was thinking from what he said. When Job saw the many terrible troubles and evil that came upon him – and he himself knew his own righteousness – he thought that perhaps God is neither aware of nor makes a reckoning of men’s deeds and that there is no watchful providence over them. He started by saying that it is the influence of the planets and stars on the day and hour of people’s birth that determine the good and evil that will befall them. He inclined to the view of the astrologers and therefore opened by cursing the day on which he was born, thinking that this was what caused him this evil. He argued that because of man’s inferiority and God’s exaltedness, He pays him no attention. This man is under the rule of chance according to what the stars determine and how they rule on earth. Thus Job believed that the same applies to man as we believe applies to animals – that there is no supreme guardianship over them except to keep their species in existence, but that no individual member of the species receives either punishment or reward. In the case of animals, we do not say they sinned when they get slaughtered or that they must have been meritorious if they have a long life, and we see that their livelihood is available in plenty [and not governed by a higher Providence ]. This is his meaning in this first speech” (Ramban on Job 3:2).
The Biblical commentator Metzudas David, who provides a brief summary after each of the speeches of Job and his companions, takes a line similar to that of Ramban in his summary of Job’s opening speech: “Job was perplexed and fell into doubt, thinking that everything that happens to man is determined by the heavenly order of the stars and planets in accordance with the way they rule at the moment of conception and birth. This is why Job cursed his day of birth and the night when he was conceived. He also complains against God, who laid down this governmental order, asking why He did not so arrange things that someone who was born under the order that ruled when he was born should not die either in his mother’s womb or at the moment of birth so as not to suffer such evil, for it would be better for him to die” (Metzudas David on Job 3:25).
From the fact that Job curses the DAY on which he was born but the NIGHT on which he was conceived, the Rabbis learned that it is not fitting for man and wife to come together by day (Niddah 16b).
Verses 1-8 elaborate on Job’s curse of his day of birth and night of conception, while in verses 9ff he explains WHY he was cursing them – because it would have been better for him to have died in the womb or immediately after being born rather than having to endure his present suffering. In verses, 12-18 Job explains that death would have been better because – according to his understanding – death is a “sleep” and a “rest” (v 12). In verses, 12-18 Job expresses how death is the great equalizer because death comes to all, great and small.
In verses, 19-25 Job asks why God gives life to those who are suffering when in fact they are longing to die.
V 24: “For the thing that I had feared has come upon me.” We are all uncomfortably aware that but for the grace of God, we could also be in the same terrible position as Job, and indeed many of those suffering from illness and other troubles and afflictions are only too familiar with Job’s frustration at having been born and his longing to die.
Eliphaz of Teiman’s reply to Job is contained in chapters 4 and 5.
Rashi (on Job 4:1) states that Eliphaz is identical with Eliphaz, the firstborn son of Esau (Genesis 36:4) and that because he was raised on Isaac’s lap he merited that the Shechinah rested upon him. Rashi states that Teiman (=Yemen/Aden) was part of the land belonging to Esau.
Vv 2-6: Eliphaz chastises Job for complaining against God’s government of the world. Job had chastised others and given them support in their suffering, but now that his turn came to suffer he was already “exhausted” and unable to come to terms with it and accept that it was just. In verse 6 Eliphaz says that this showed retroactively that the “fear” of God Job had displayed in better times was not based on pure love but rather on the expectation of reward.
Vv 7-11: Eliphaz argues that calamity and suffering come upon men because of their sins and evil.
V 12: “Now a word came stealthily to me.” Having chastised Job for complaining about his suffering, Eliphaz now states that on Job’s account a prophecy has been sent to him. Verses 12-16 evoke the way in which he experienced the prophecy. Rashi (on v 12) comments that the prophecy came in this stolen manner “because holy spirit is not revealed to the prophets of the heathens in a manifest way [as in the case of the prophets of Israel, who say, “Thus said HaShem.”]. This can be compared to the case of a king who has a wife and a concubine. When he comes into his wife he comes openly, but when he comes into his concubine he does so secretly and with stealth. This is how the Holy One blessed be He comes to the prophets of the heathens. ‘And God came to Avimelech in a dream of the night’ (Gen. 20:3), and this was how He came to Laban (Gen. 31:24). Likewise, Bilaam was ‘fallen and with open eyes’ (Numbers 24:4). But in the case of the prophets of Israel, it is written: ‘Mouth to mouth shall I speak in him, in a vision and not in riddles’ (Numbers 12:5).
Verses 17-24 express the content of Eliphaz’s prophetic message for Job. This is that it is not possible that man could be more pure and righteous than God who made him. It is inconceivable that a fully-rounded and mature man who had to establish some system for governing people would arrange things such that good and bad people would be treated in one and the same way. If so, how could anyone imagine that God would have given over everything into the hands of the heavenly order of stars and planets – for in that case the righteous and the wicked would be treated in exactly the same way, and the man (who would not arrange things in such a way) would be more righteous than God (see Metzudas David on Job 4:17).