Wednesday

28 January 2015

“Let the day perish on which I was born … because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb, and hide trouble from my eyes” (v. 3, 10)

Psalm: Psalm 89:19-37


Background

A friend's four-year-old daughter recently climbed into her bed at an unholy hour of the morning and declared "Mummy, I wish I had never been made." Mummy, bleary eyed, asked why. "Because if I had never been born, I wouldn't have to be scared that one day, I won't be alive anymore."

Sometimes, it's a terrifying thought that one day our earthly life will end. On other days, like Job, we may wish we had never been born. Job's outburst in these verses follows seven days in which he sat in silence with his three 'friends', Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar - perhaps their most helpful act throughout the book (Job 2:13). Commentators have wrestled with the structure of this section, which seems appropriate, as it is a violent and hopeless outburst aimed at no-one in particular. Job's imagery is dark and terrifying - he calls on "those who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan" (v. 8), a legendary sea monster with several heads (Psalm 74:14) and "terror all around its teeth" (Job 41:14).

It is difficult for us to sit in silence and empathise with Job, as fundamental aspects of his relationship with God differ from 21st-century Christianity. Writing in The Book of Job (London, Epworth Press, 1990), C S Rodd notes that in much of the Old Testament, there is no promise of eternal life in heaven and that "the general picture of what happens after death was gloomy." Job, it seems, is simply seeking release from his suffering, rather than redemption.

In the closing verses of his complaint, Job uses the same word (spelled slightly differently) as Satan used earlier on in the text to describe his being "fenced in" by God (v. 23). Instead of being hedged in by blessings and God's protection, Job now feels imprisoned by God in a world of suffering.


To Ponder

  • Commentators are unsure whether this lament means that Job has lost his faith and is now ranting against God. What do you think? To what extent can we express anger and despair without turning against God?
  • Job's three friends have sat in silence up to this point. Afterwards, they try to convince Job that his suffering is God's punishment for an undisclosed sin. When our friends are suffering, what is the most helpful response?


Bible notes author:  Naomi Oates   

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