Verses 1-10: I Wish I Was Never Born!
After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job said: “Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it. Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it.
“That night—let thick darkness seize it! Let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. Behold, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry enter it. Let those curse it who curse the day, who are ready to rouse up Leviathan. Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none, nor see the eyelids of the morning, because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb, nor hide trouble from my eyes.”
In the entirety of this chapter, Job laments over his agonising condition like any other human creature would. Having received no comfort from his friends, Job grieves over himself to the point that he was never born. He is addressing the day of his birth, not God. Though Job does complain against God here and in other places, he never curses God as Satan predicted and as his wife insisted. Rather than cursing God, he curses the day of his birth.
Job’s lamenting is shockingly poetic. I’m not entirely surprised. In my own depression, as a poet, I wrote a lot of poems expressing my emotional and spiritual agony. In abysmal despair, Job perceived his birth as a great disaster. His soul is tortured by the thought that God has forsaken him (I’m sure some of you can relate). He is so deeply troubled that, in this poetic masterpiece, he wishes he never saw the light of day. Darkness is a more fitting occasion for the day of his birth.
Verses 11-19: I’m Better Off Dead—To Have Never Been Born at All!
“Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse? For then I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept; then I would have been at rest, with kings and counsellors of the earth who rebuilt ruins for themselves, or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver.
“Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners are at ease together; they hear not the voice of the taskmaster. The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master.”
Job wishes he had died at birth. It would’ve been better if he had been stillborn in the womb. In Old Testament times, it was customary for a father to place the newborn on his knees to show he accepted the child. In agony, Job wonders why his father accepted him and why his mother bothered breastfeeding him. It would have been better if they had neglected him altogether so that he would die and not experience the pain of life. He desired the peace and quiet of the grave.
He calls death the great equaliser. Death shows no partiality. In death, there are no masters and slaves, conquerors and captives, kings and knaves, rich and poor, old and young. They all have one thing in common: they are dead.
Verses 20-26: Better to Die than to Suffer
“Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?
“For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. For the thing that I fear comes upon me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes.”
Job asks a question we still ask ourselves today: Why should anyone live when their suffering is too much? Why can’t they just get their desire: an end to their pain in death? Although Job complained against God, he still left his life in God’s hands. This is ultimately what every person is to do if their suffering becomes too great for them to bear. Like Job, one is to trust their life in the hands of their Creator. It is also our duty to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).
The major problem in Job’s situation was that no one was helping him bear his burdens—not his friends and not his wife. Even though comfort and encouragement do not make one’s agony go away, it still makes it easier on the one who is in pain. Either way, we pray God’s will be done. Whether it is healing or a natural death in the hands of Christ, God’s good and gracious will is always done.
In verse 23, Job uses the same expression Satan used in 1:10, being “hedged in,” though in a different sense. Satan uses it to accuse God of sheltering Job from trouble. Conversely, Job uses it to mean that he is confined in great suffering; he is utterly helpless.
In verse 24, he describes his loss of appetite (“my sighing comes instead of my bread”), so he was likely malnourished just as cancer patients often lose their appetite and become a little malnourished during their chemotherapy treatment.
Job describes a fourfold torment: no peace, no quietness, no rest, but only trouble. In spite of all his dark, morbid thinking, we cannot say Job was considering suicide since God knew him to be blameless, upright, who fears God, and shuns evil (1:8). A person of this character would not consider suicide. Job desired death, but he would not kill himself.
Job was in severe agony; Satan was greatly torturing him. Yet these are the words of a desperate man, not an unbelieving man. Job is being greatly tested, but knowing his heart God knew Job would persevere. By God’s grace, Job’s faith was not destroyed. Though he certainly did not know it in his time of suffering, God preserved his faith, allowing him to persevere in spite of the Devil’s severe and cunning tactics.
I can immediately relate to Job here. I suffered with depression for a long time. Truth be told, it never completely goes away; I still suffer with the remnants of depression, though to a much lesser extent. Perhaps some of you reading this can relate to Job like I can.
Like Job, I once despaired of life so much that I, too, lamented over the day of my birth. Like Job, I wondered, “Why was I born just to go through this? I’m better off dead!” Also like Job, I was very poetic with my suffering (though I did not suffer physically to his extent at all). Here’s an old poem that describes the depression I went through, called No. 12, Cold:
Cold fingers, —
forming cold lint
of the desire of death.
Cold eyes, —
bringing grey to life.
The cold wind is senseless
against my cold lips.
My cold heart beats no more.
My cold lungs inhale cyanide, —
I only wish that were so.
I am a cold person;
I care not for happiness any longer.
Happiness only angers me.
A cold death, —
my personal desirable apocalypse.
Grey clouds, —
my true home.
Grey skies, —
the symbolism of my life.
Shivering winds, —
clipping my skin away
until I finally deteriorate.
Naked trees, —
the essence of my ugly heart.
Dirty snow, —
my infected mind.
Peace in my life, —
Job’s poetic speaking is much more masterful than mine, but the darkness and coldness in this old poem of mine best relates to what Job was also going through, at least inwardly.
Also like Job, I felt I had no peace, quietness, or rest. I was constantly exhausted. I literally desired a sleep where I would never wake up again. Here’s another old poem describing this morbid desire, called No. 603, Morning Heartache:
Do not wish me good morning, heartache;
you are dull and gloomy.
I don’t wish you good morning, heartache;
I thought you would no longer be.
You were my insomnia last night,
and here you are with the dawn.
I thought I forgot you,
but now here you are.
I wish you’d stop haunting me;
I can’t shake you off.
From Monday to Sunday mornings,
you never leave me alone.
I think it’s time I gave up,
so good morning, heartache;
please make yourself at home
whilst I make some tea.
I genuinely went to bed every night with the hope of dying in my sleep. I had minuscule strength to face the morning, let alone the whole day.
Not that it should be used as a point of comparison, but I’m certain Job’s depression was far worse than mine. After all, his suffering was far greater than mine, objectively speaking. He lost all 10 of his kids, all his possessions, and even his way of living. On top of this, the Devil caused him to tremendously suffer physically as well through the boils and blisters he scraped off himself with a shard of pottery. I didn’t go through anything like this. (This doesn’t negate the seriousness of the depression I had, but I recognise Job suffered to a much greater extent than I did.)
Even more, still, his wife failed to comfort him and even insisted he curse God. His friends failed to comfort him as well and, as we shall see in the majority of the book, are responsible for making him feel even worse about his condition. As theologians of glory, they tried arduously to persuade Job that he certainly did something wrong to lose God’s favour, though God Himself said Job did nothing wrong to suffer these things (2:3).
What about you, the reader, however? If you suffer with depression—if, like Job, you wish you were never born and even desire death—be like Job here. I mean it; be like Job. What is Job doing? Remember, he’s lamenting. The psalmists, too, lamented (e.g. Psalm 13). Yes, even complain against God if you so feel like doing!
Nevertheless, like Job and the psalmists, trust in God’s will. “How?” you might wonder. There is no easy answer. I don’t think I can give you the silver bullet Bible verse to make all your suffering to away. Silver bullets are for werewolves. Yet what I do know is this: It is the same confession as Job, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25). Though the Messiah had not yet come, Job hoped in the promise and resurrection of the Messiah. By this faith, God enabled him to persevere. And indeed, he did.
This Messiah is your Messiah, too. He is Jesus the Christ. He came, suffered (even worse than Job and you), died, and rose for you. And He is coming again “with glory to judge both the living and the dead” (Nicene Creed, 2nd article). “But how do I put my hope in this promise?” Do what Job did: lament. Cry out to the Lord! Pray fervently! Go to Him in the Word! Read the Psalms! Talk to your pastor! Seek counseling! God provides!
In my commentary on Job 2, I talked a little bit about the theology of the cross. The beauty of the theology of the cross is the reality it teaches that God, in Christ, meets us in our suffering. Like Job, you might feel God has forsaken you, but God is not one who forsakes His people. Job did not know it, but God was present. After all, God limited Satan’s power; He would not allow him to take Job’s life. Today, He is with you in Word, Spirit, and Sacrament, as well as the Body of Christ (the Church). Talk it out. Talk it out with God, with your pastor, with a brother or sister in Christ. Come to Christ in Word and Sacrament (cf. Matthew 11:28-30).
The God who suffered in the person of Christ is perennially present with His people who suffer daily.