We began to study the book of Job together two Sundays ago when I made the obvious point that the book of Job is a book about suffering. The opening two chapters tell us about how Job suffered. On one extra-ordinary day, he lost his possessions and his family when one servant after another came to him with the news that enemies came and stole his oxen and donkeys and killed his servants who were there; and that lightning struck and killed his sheep and his servants who were there; and more enemies came and stole his camels and killed the servants who were there; and when his sons and daughters were feasting together, a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house so that the house collapsed and all of his children died. All of his possessions and all of his family were taken from him on that one extra-ordinary day.
And then, not long after that, he lost his health when he was afflicted with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. He lost his possessions and his family and his health.
And so, this is a book about suffering. And therefore it’s a book for all of us, because all of us have suffered or all of us will suffer, because our life in this fallen world is a life of sorrow and suffering and trials and troubles.
But I said the last time that Job’s suffering was extra-ordinary. In fact, his whole experience was extra-ordinary, because when we first meet Job, he was extra-ordinarily rich. He owned seven thousand sheep; and three thousand camels; and five hundred yoke or pairs of oxen; and five hundred donkeys. He also had a large number of servants as well as seven sons and three daughters. We were told he was the greatest man among all the people of the East. He was extra-ordinarily wealthy at the beginning. And his loss was extra-ordinary, because on that one extra-ordinary day he lost his possessions and his family. And then he lost his health. He started off in the heights and he plunged down into the depths.
But then, at the end of the book, we read about what happened to Job after his suffering was over, when God blessed the latter part of his life even more than the first part of his life. He ended up with twice the number of sheep and camels and oxen and donkeys. He ended up with another seven sons and three daughters. The end of his life was extra-ordinary too. Job starts off in the heights; he plunges down into the depths; and then he’s raised up to the heights again. Job’s experience was extra-ordinary. It was remarkable.
And, as I said last time, most of us will never experience what he experienced, because I don’t suppose any of us will ever be extra-ordinarily rich as Job was in the beginning; and while we might suffer, I don’t suppose any of us will ever suffer as severely as Job suffered. His experience was remarkable. And therefore his experience points us to Christ our Saviour, who, from all eternity, was highly exalted, because he was enthroned in heaven as the Eternal Son of God and angels worshipped him. But, for us and for our salvation, he left the glory of heaven and he came to earth as one of us and he lived a life of sorrow and suffering before dying on the cross and being buried afterwards. He went from the heights of heaven to the depths of a grave. But then, afterwards, he was raised from the dead and he was exalted to sit at God’s right hand in heaven where he received a name that is above every name. The extra-ordinary things which happened to Job point forward to what happened to our Saviour. And so, as we read this book, and study it, it not only tells us about our suffering, but it speaks to us of Christ’s suffering for sinners. And it will also speak to us of the joy which God has set before us when we enter his glory in the world to come.
But then I also said last time that the book of Job is about the great spiritual conflict between the Lord God Almighty and Satan. Job was a righteous man. God said of him that he was blameless and upright. And therefore Satan hated him. And by causing Job to lose his possessions and his family and his health, Satan was hoping that Job would renounce his faith and curse God. Satan wanted to prove to God that Job only worshipped God for what he could get out of God in this life. And so, if Satan could take from Job what God had given Job, Job would curse God.
That was Satan’s plan. But Satan was wrong, because when Job lost everything in this life, he did not sin, but he continued to worship and serve the Lord. And when believers suffer today and continue to worship and serve the Lord, we demonstrate to the world and to Satan and to all his demons that we believe that God is worthy of our worship, because he is God and there is no other. And, of course, the reason Job remained faithful is because God keeps his people from falling. And so, when you suffer in this world, you can look to God to keep you as well.
So, those are some of the things I said when we began to study the book of Job two weeks ago. In today’s passage we’re introduced to Job’s three friends who came to sympathise with him and to comfort him. That’s at the end of chapter 2. And then, chapter 3 contains Job’s first speech when he curses, not God, but the day he was born. And chapter 3 is a dark, dark passage. It compares with Psalm 88 where the psalmist cries out to God because of his suffering and wonders why God seems to have rejected him and why God seems to have hidden his face from him and how from his youth he has been afflicted and close to death. And that psalm ends with the psalmist saying that darkness is his closest friend. Psalm 88 is a dark psalm. And Job 3 matches it. Up to now we have heard what happened to Job. Now we hear his inner thoughts and the suffering he felt deep down in his heart.
But first we meet his three friends. As we’ll see in the weeks to follow, it turns out that his three friends are no help to Job. They make clear by what they say to him later on that they think Job must have done something wrong and that God is punishing him. We know, of course, that Job is a righteous man. We know he’s blameless and upright. He’s not wicked, but righteous. And therefore what Job’s friends go on to say about him is completely wrong. However, they deserve our praise at the end of chapter 2, because when Job was all alone, these three men came to comfort him.
One of the commentators (Green) says we have reason to believe they are eminent men, wise men and good men. We have reason to believe that they were eminent, because Job himself was eminent, being the greatest man in the East. And since Job was the greatest man in the East, it’s likely his friends were also very great. And we have reason to believe that they were wise. This is clearest in the case of Eliphaz who, we’re told, was a Temanite. Teman was a town in the land of Edom and the people of Edom were renowned for their wisdom. Less is known about the other place-names mentioned, but we can suppose that if Eliphaz was wise, his friends were wise too. And we have reason to believe that they were good, because when they heard about Job’s trouble, they set out from their homes to come and see him. And they came to sympathise with him and to comfort him. They wanted to help him in his time of trouble. We’ve all heard of fair-weather friends who are happy to be with us when everything is going well for us. But when we’re in trouble, those fair-weather friends cannot be found. They abandon us. But Job’s friends did not abandon him; instead they came to support him.
We’re told that when they saw Job, they barely recognised him. Presumably his appearance had changed because of his illness. But instead of being repelled by him, they sat down with him. And they wept and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. These are signs of mourning. And they sat silently with Job for seven days and seven nights.
Preachers often remark that sometimes this is the best thing we can do when someone is suffering. When someone is suffering, they don’t want our advice, but our presence, which can sometimes be a comfort to them. However, some of the commentators point out that remaining silent for seven days and nights is a little eery. And it’s possible that these eminent, wise and good men were silent because they didn’t know what to say to Job. They had come to sympathise with him and to comfort him, but they did not know what to say or to do. Nothing they had experienced up to now in their lives and nothing they had learned over the years equipped them for helping Job. They had come to support Job, but Job was really on his own. And that’s often what happens when people suffer. Friends and family may gather round to support the one who is suffering. But no one really knows what the one who is suffering is going through; and no one else cannot experience that’s person’s sorrow.
And so, Job’s friends came to sympathise with him and to comfort him. But even though they had come to be with him, he was still all alone in his suffering.
And that brings us to chapter 3 which is this dark, dark chapter. And it begins with Job opening his mouth and cursing the day of his birth.
Do you know what he’s doing? He’s saying that he wished he had never been born. He has suffered so much outwardly and inwardly that he wishes he had never been born. He had suffered so much outwardly, because he’d lost his possessions and his family and his health. But he also suffered inwardly. That becomes clear from what we read in chapter 3 which bears testimony to the things he was thinking and feeling. Often we keep these thoughts and feelings to ourselves. We bottle them up. We hide them from our loved ones. But here is Job expressing with words what he was feeling inside. And because of what he had suffered, and because of what he was still suffering, he wished he had never been born.
Take a look at verse 3. The NIV refers in both lines to the day he was born. However, in the original Hebrew text, he refers in the first line to the day he was born; and he refers in the second line to the night he was conceived. And then, in verses 4 and 5 he refers to the day he was born; and in verses 6 and 7 he refers to the night he was conceived. But he says much the same about both days, because he wants those two day blotted out and erased.
The day is the time for light, but Job wants the day of his birth to be turned into darkness. God displays his care for his people, by letting his light shine on them. But he doesn’t want God to shine his light on that day. He wants the day of his birth to be covered in darkness and deep shadow and by thick cloud. May blackness overwhelm it. And may thick darkness seize the night he was conceived. May that night be deleted from the calendar. That night had been a night for producing new life, but he wishes it had been a barren and joyless night.
And so, he says, may those who curse days curse that day. And he refers to those who raise Leviathan. We’ll hear more about Leviathan later in the book. But it was regarded as a monster who brought chaos into God’s good world. And Job wants someone to call up Leviathan to undo that day and to fill it with darkness, because that day did not shut his mother’s womb. If his mother’s womb has been shut, he wouldn’t have been born. And if he hadn’t been born, he wouldn’t have seen any of the trouble he was now suffering.
And it’s possible that, by mentioning the day and the night and darkness and light, Job is recalling the time of creation. But Job is wishing for creation in reverse. He’s wishing for de-creation. In the beginning, the world was covered in darkness until God made the light and the first day. But Job wants the reverse. He wants that day to be destroyed. And he wants the light of that day to be replaced by darkness. He wishes that day had never existed. He wishes he had never been born.
And in the following verses — verses 11 to 19 — he’s saying that if his parents had to conceive him and if he had to be born, why couldn’t he have died at the time of his birth. If he had to be born, why couldn’t he have been a stillborn?
And so, he asks in verse 11: why did I not perish at birth? Why could I not have died as I came out of my mother’s womb? Why were their knees to receive me? He’s thinking of his mother who was ready to take him on her lap and put him to her breast to feed him. Think of that time when his mother fed him for the very first time. For her, it was no doubt a wonderful moment, which she had longed for. But Job wishes it had never happened. He wishes that there was no need for him to be fed, because he wishes he had died at birth.
And he thinks to himself that then he would by lying down in peace. So, if he had died at birth, he wouldn’t be suffering now. He would be lying down in peace. He would be sleeping and at rest. And he mentions kings and counsellors and rulers who built places for themselves and houses filled with silver. He may be referring to the homes they once lived in. Or he may be referring to the tombs they built for themselves. In either case, what they built is now in ruins. But what does it matter if what they built is in ruins, because those kings and counsellors and rulers are now at rest. All their troubles and all their toil is over. He also mentions captives who, during their lifetime, had to listen to the shouts and orders of the slave-driver. But now those captives are dead and they’re able to enjoy rest at last. And slaves are finally freed from their masters once they die. In verse 17 he mentions the wicked and the weary. The wicked are now dead and the trouble they once caused is over. And the weary are now dead and their toilsome labour is finished. They are now at rest and Job wishes he was at rest too. If he had died when he was born, he would be resting now.
So, he wishes he has never been born. And if he had to be born, he wishes he had died at birth. And then, in verses 20 to 26, he asks why must his life continue?
So, why is light given to those in misery? And why is life given to the bitter in soul? When they’ve had enough of life, why must their life continue? And he refers to those who long for death the same way other people long for hidden treasure. If only I find that treasure, things will be okay! If only I find death, things will be okay! And so, they look forward to dying just as someone looks forward to finding buried treasure.
In verse 23 he refers to the man who has been hedged in by God. He’s using the same expression Satan used in chapter 1 when he said God had put a hedge around Job. Satan meant God had put a protective hedge around Job. But Job is now referring to a man who is trapped. There’s a hedge around him which is keeping him from escaping his trouble. Wherever he turns, his way is blocked. There’s no escaping his troublesome life. There’s no escaping his sorrow. He’s trapped. And so, he’s more familiar with sighing than with eating. We normally eat three meals a day, but he’s sighing many more times throughout the day. Groaning comes to him. What he fears comes to him. What he dreads comes to him. And therefore he has no peace. No quietness. No rest. All he has is turmoil. All he has is trouble. His life was once filled with good things. He had lots of sheep and lots of camels and lots of oxen and lots of donkeys and lots of servants and lots of children. Once he had it all. He was the greatest man in the East. But it was all taken from him. And his health was taken from him and all he has now are painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. And as well as that, there are all these dark thoughts going through his head and these unhappy feelings which are disturbing his heart so that he can’t get any rest and he’s constantly in turmoil.
This is a dark, dark chapter as Job expresses his innermost thoughts and how he wishes he had never been born. And if he had to be born, he wonders why he couldn’t have died immediately? And why can’t I die now? When all I want to do is lie down and die, why must my life continue?
What are we to make of a chapter like this? The first thing to say is that if you have never felt like this, then you should give thanks to God for keeping you from it. Some of you may read these things and it’s all seems strange to you. Baffling even. How could someone ever feel like this and think like this? And so, if you have never experienced anything like this, and if this is entirely foreign to you, then you should give thanks to God for his kindness to you and for protecting you from this kind of trouble and sorrow.
And you should also give thanks to God if you did once feel like this, but don’t feel like this any longer. When we go through troubles and trials, when we’re cast down, when we’re broken, we wonder will it ever end? Can we get through this? Can we reach the other side of it? We wonder how we will cope. And yet, here you are today. Though you were suffering, the Lord was with you and he helped you. He upheld you and kept you from being crushed by sorrow. He upheld you through it all. Just as the Lord gave the Apostle Paul the grace he needed to withstand the thorn in his flesh, so the Lord graciously helped you. And the days of suffering came to an end. They passed. And so, if you have felt like Job, but no longer feel that way, you should give thanks to God for his faithfulness and his kindness in bringing you through it.
But then let’s also remember what I said before about how Job’s experience points us to the Saviour. Job’s suffering was extra-ordinary because he began in the heights and plunged down to the depths. He was the greatest man in the East before he lost everything in one extra-ordinary day when Satan took away his possessions and his family. And then Satan took away his health. His suffering was extra-ordinary. And he suffered as an innocent man. He did not deserve what happened to him. He had always been blameless and upright. He deserved blessings from the Lord and not curses. Job’s suffering was extra-ordinary.
And therefore it anticipates the suffering of our Saviour, who was highly exalted as God over all. But then he came into the world as one of us. And though he never did anything wrong, and was always blameless and upright, nevertheless his life was a life of troubles and sorrow. And then he was arrested and beaten and killed on the cross and buried in the ground. Just as Job went from the heights to the depths, so our Saviour went from the heights of heaven down to the depths of the grave.
And remember what we said about Job’s loneliness? His friends came to support him, but there was really nothing they could say. And Job’s loneliness also anticipates the loneliness of our Saviour, because on the night he was arrested, the Lord Jesus was left all alone, because when he was arrested by soldiers, the disciples ran away and left him on his own. And when he was suffering on the cross, he cried out in anguish because for the first time ever his Heavenly Father left him on his own. Just as Job suffered on his own, so our Saviour suffered on his own.
But the good news for us is that our Saviour, who suffered on his own, has promised to be with us always. He has promised never to leave us or to forsake us. ‘Surely I am with you always’, he said to his disciples.
And the good news for us is that our Saviour, who suffered so very much, and is present with us, is able to sympathise with us, because when he suffered, he suffered as one of us. Isn’t that what we learned from the book of Hebrews? He’s God’s Only Begotten Son. He’s Eternal God. He’s Everlasting God. But he came into the world as one of us so that he was made like us in every way apart from sin. He shared our humanity. And so, when he suffered, he suffered as one of us. And because he suffered as one of us, he’s able to sympathise with us. He’s not like Job’s friends who did not know what to do or what to say, and all they could do was sit in silence for seven days and nights. Our Saviour is not like them, because our Saviour knows exactly how to sympathise with us and how to comfort us. And as your Great High Priest in heaven, he’s able to go to God the Father and intercede on your behalf before the Father. And since the Saviour is also mighty God, he’s able to send you the help you need. He’s able to uphold you by his mighty power and to keep you from being crushed when you go through trials of your own. He’s able to help you through every trouble and trial while you go on living in this world.
And the final thing to say is to point out one important difference between Job and the Lord Jesus apart from the fact that the Lord Jesus is alive today and able to help us. And it’s this. Job longed for death, because he thought death could bring him peace and rest. He longed for death. I won’t say the Lord Jesus longed for death. In fact, when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed for the cup of God’s wrath to be taken from him so that he would not have to die. However, he was willing to die. And he was willing to die, not because dying would bring him peace, but because it would bring you peace. He suffered and died in order to give you everlasting peace in the presence of God. And so, while you may suffer in this world, your suffering will not be forever, because Christ died to give you eternal life in the presence of God, where there will be no more sorrow or suffering, because the old order of things will have passed away and there will only be fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore for you and for all of God’s people. That time has not yet come. You must wait for it. And while you wait for it, we can look to the Saviour to help you to endure all things now.