A. Job’s Curse of the Day of His Birth (3:1–13)
1 Afterward Job opened his mouth
and cursed the day of his birth.
2 Job said:
3 “Perish the day when I was born,
4 That day—let it be darkness!
Let not God above attend to it;
let not a ray of light shine on it.
5 May darkness and deep dark claim 5 it;
may a cloud mass 6 settle over it;
may the blackness of day terrify it.
6 That night—let gloom seize it!
Let it not be counted 7 among the days of the year;
let it not enter the number of months.
7 Behold, 8 that night—let it be sterile!
Let no joyful shout enter it.
8 Let those who curse the day curse it,
those prepared to stir up Leviathan.
9 Let the stars of its twilight 9 be darkened;
let it hope for light, but have none,
nor see 10 the first rays of dawn,
or hide trouble from my sight.
11 Why did I not die at birth,
expire as I came from the womb?
12 Why did the knees receive me,
and the breasts that I should suck?
13 For now I would be lying down and quiet;
I would be asleep and at rest.”
1, 2 This chapter has a special heading (v. 1) before the standard introductory formula of the other speeches (v. 2). 13 The first introduction notes the dramatic shift from Job’s silence to his speaking with the sentence, Job opened his mouth. Then the nature of Job’s speech is defined: he cursed [qālal] the day of his birth [yômô]. 14 This wording indicates that the curse, rather than the lament, dominates this speech.
Job curses the day of his birth (vv. 3a, 4–5) and the night of his conception (vv. 3b, 6–7) as a single entity. For that reason he entreats the greatest wizards (v. 8) to keep light from giving life to that day (vv. 8–9) and allowing his birth (v. 10). The motivation for his curse lies in the agonizing questions about his being allowed to live in order to experience such pain (vv. 11–12) and not experience the peaceful rest similar to God’s on the seventh day of creation (v. 13).
Job wishes that he had never been born, but the only way that such a wish could be realized would be to have the day of his birth removed from the calendar. As long as the day of his birth is recreated every year, his existence continues until his death. But if that day never had been created, he would never have existed. The only way for the day of his birth to be removed from the calendar is to have it removed from the yearly cycle through a counter-cosmic incantation, a spell designed to turn cosmic order, in this case a day ruled by the light of life, into chaos, a gap of time dominated by darkness. A counter-cosmic incantation reverses the stages God took in creating the world. It was believed that God created each day in the same way that he created the world (Gen. 1:1–2:4). Thus every day, being a new creation, bore witness to God’s lordship and his creative powers. In contrast, chaos is an unorganized and lifeless mass of water overshadowed by total darkness (cf. Gen. 1:2). But since the day of Job’s birth had already been created, the only way that Job might vanish would be to have that day returned to the primordial chaos. If no light had shone on that day, there would have been no life, no birth, particularly Job’s. With this spell Job seeks to become totally nonexistent.
It should be noted that in his desire for death Job never entertains the option of suicide. Suicide was not acceptable for the person of faith, because it signified that one had lost all hope in God. Having this strong conviction, Job can seek relief from his pain in death only through having the day of his birth removed from time or prompting God to send him to Sheol.
3 Job’s curse encompasses both the day of birth and the night of conception. Those two moments together constitute his origin and are thus inseparable. Ancient thought drew on an analogical approach to life, current today in many parts of the world but foreign to those who adopt a scientific outlook. A magical perspective plus the freedom germane to poetic imagery push the thoughts of these lines beyond the boundary of reality for a modern person. From Job’s perspective, though, to eliminate these moments would make it as though he had never been born.
In this verse Job refers to himself as a male (geḇer). 15 The several Hebrew words for “man” emphasize various aspects of his being, e.g., ʾîš, his strength, or ʾāḏām, his earthiness and limitedness (cf. ʾăḏāmâ, “earth, ground”), but geḇer connotes a powerful man, particularly in contrast to a child or a woman. In the darkest hour of his crisis, Job refers to himself as a full-blooded, stalwart person. Thus his curse is not designed to eliminate from the human race a weakling unworthy of dignity. Rather he views himself as a distinguished person who has been shamed by misfortune.
4 In seeking to remove the day of his birth from existence Job commands, That day—let it be darkness! This curse directly counters God’s first words in creating the world, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). Any day or block of time that remained in darkness never came into being. That is the reason Job piles up words for darkness in vv. 4–6: darkness (ḥōšeḵ, vv. 4a, 5a), deep dark (ṣalmāweṯ v. 5a), 16 cloud mass (ʾănānâ, v. 5b), blackness (kamrîr, v. 5c), 17 gloom (ʾōp̄el, v. 6a).
Job reinforces this injunction by entreating: Let not God above attend to it; let not a ray of light shine on it. God’s exalted lordship is stressed by the phrase above (cf. 31:2, 28; Deut. 4:39). Whatever God attends to or seeks (dāraš) realizes its fullest potential. 18 Conversely, what God fails to attend to or support perishes. To make sure that day returns to chaos Job says, Let not a ray of light shine on it. Where there is no light there is no life. All is stagnant and dormant.
5 Job continues his curse by charging the powers of darkness to claim the day of his birth. If they hold it fast, that day would cease to exist. A massive cloud cover (ʿănānā) would settle over the world, snuffing out any ray of light. The resulting blackness (kamrîr) would terrify (baʿaṯ) that day, i.e., it would keep it imprisoned by fear. The word terrify denotes the feeling of dread one experiences in confronting the numinous or the spirit world. It is an uncanny feeling that causes every fiber of one’s being to shudder, leaving one powerless. If this incantation is effective, that day would never rise again from the sterile blackness of chaos.
6, 7 Job next addresses the night of his conception. It was a night when life was conceived, life that challenged the disordered lifelessness of darkness. That is, each birth participates in the victory of cosmos over the forces of chaos. In celebration of that victory a joyful shout (rənānâ) breaks the stillness of the night, proclaiming that a new life has been conceived and darkness has been defeated (v. 7). But the hopeful expectation of that moment has eventuated in the bitter pain of Job’s present suffering. Therefore, Job orders the gloom (ʾōp̄el) of primeval thick darkness to seize or abduct that night. If gloom has its way, that night would no longer be counted among the days of the year or enter the number of months. Job also directs a curse to rob the night of his conception of all its fertility. He asks that it be sterile (galmûḏ) like rocky soil that fails to yield crops no matter how carefully it is tended. If such were the case, no ecstatic shout of joy would enter or disrupt that night.
8 To ensure the vitality of his curse Job importunes the most skilled sorcerers in the ancient world to perform the curse against the day of his birth. 19 These sorcerers are known as those prepared to stir up Leviathan, 20 the monster that inhabits the sea and that is the personification of all forces that resist God’s rule. Leviathan continually seeks to turn beauty into dust and order into confusion. Whoever possessed the magical arts to arouse him could activate the curses of destruction against anything good and noble. That wizard could even curse a specific day and thus annihilate the existence of one who had been born on that day. Job is hereby seeking to invoke the most clandestine powers to accomplish his own annihilation.
9 Job continues his imprecations by cursing the first rays of dawn (lit. “eyelids of the dawn”) that begin to etch their way across the horizon and the stars of its twilight, Venus and Mercury, which shine brightly and announce the end of night. These first signs of light on the horizon foreshadow a new victory of light over darkness. A new day is beginning to be created. Job pronounces this curse to prevent that victory from taking place. If his curse is effective, the night will continue to reign. Light will never shine on that day.
10 Job gives the reason for cursing the day of his birth: because it [the forces of nature] did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb, or hide trouble from my sight. The metaphor of shutting the doors of a womb is used both for preventing conception (Gen. 29:31) and for keeping an embryo from coming forth to life (Job 38:8). If this metaphor goes with the night of conception, the shut womb means that he would not have been conceived (1 Sam. 1:5; cf. Gen. 16:2; 20:18). But if it refers to the day of birth, it means that he would have been stillborn. Either way Job would not have experienced the trauma of leaving the warm, comfortable environment of his mother’s womb to experience the trouble (ʿāmāl) 21 that has befallen him in the world of light.
11, 12 In agony Job asks Why did l not die at birth? If he had been given no breath, he would have expired as he came from the womb. He would simply have been transported from the womb to the grave. Next Job asks, Why did the knees, most likely his father’s, but possibly his mother’s, receive him? 22 In holding the newborn the parents bind themselves to the child, signifying their acceptance of the infant and the responsibility of raising the baby, and the breasts that I should suck? He wishes that he had been discarded, left to die unattended.
13 For now I would belying down and quiet; I would be asleep and at rest. Job expresses the intent of this curse-he wants to be at rest. This rest recalls the ideal rest that God experienced on the seventh day of the week of creation (Gen. 2:1–3). If Job had such rest, he certainly would not be in such a state of turmoil. Instead he would lie down and drift off into restful sleep. 23 All around him would be quiet; nothing would disturb his slumber. The intensity of his longing for rest is indicated by the use of four different terms: lie down (šāḵaḇ), quiet (šāqaṭ), sleep (yāšēn), and rest (nûaḥ). Perfect rest is the goal of Job’s curse-lament, for v. 13 is reiterated in v. 26.
1 The article on hallaylâ, “the night,” may be secondary, having arisen under the influence of the article on hayyôm, “the day,” in v. 4.
2 The night is personified as speaking. A relative pronoun is assumed before the verb ʾāmar, “he said”; a similar style appears in the first colon, which does not have a relative pronoun before MT ʾiwwāleḏ, “I was born.”
5 Some posit a Hebrew root gʾl II, “be defiled,” related to gʿl II, “loathe.” But the parallel relationship of drš, “seek,” and gʾl II, “claim, redeem,” as in Isa. 62:12, favors the root gʾl I here.
6 ʿănānâ, “cloud mass,” may have been chosen for assonance with nəhārâ, “a ray of light” (v. 4).
7 MT yiḥaḏ is pointed as though it comes from the root ḥḏh, “rejoice.” But in this context it seems best to revocalize it yēḥaḏ from yḥd, “be counted,” as in Gen. 49:6; see BHS. Cf. L. Grabbe, Comparative Philology and the Text of Job: A Study in Methodology, SBLDS 34 (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1977), pp. 32–35.
16 ṣalmāweṯ used to be taken most often as a compound word, ṣēl + māweṯ, and translated lit., “shadow of death” (so AV). Others (e. g., Dhorme; KB, p. 964) posited the revocalization ṣalmûṯ, i.e., it is the combination of a word for darkness, ṣelem (cognate of Akk. ṣalāmu, “be dark”) plus the abstract ending -ôṯ. But D. W. Thomas (“Ṣ$almawet in the Old Testament,” JSS 7  191–200) argues that māwe̱ṯ, “death,” possesses superlative force; thus he explains that the expression “shadow of death” means “very deep shadow, thick darkness.” It is the darkness encountered in a mineshaft (28:3) or in the region of the dead (10:21–22; 38:17). Amos also uses this term to refer to the darkness prior to creation (5:8). In Job 28:3 and 10:22 ʾōp̄el, “gloom,” accompanies ṣalmāweṯ.
17 It seems best to understand MT kimrîrê as a noun form from a root kmr, “be black,” hence “blackness” (cf. Syr.). Grabbe (Comparative Philology, pp. 29–31) seriously doubts this position; the cognate evidence is weak and the Syriac root means “be sad, mourn.” He also notes that bmryry ywm, “bitterness of the day,” appears in Sir. 11:4 and bmrwry ywm (a slight variant with the same meaning) in the Thanksgiving Hymn, 1QH 5:34 (cf. M. Mansoor, “Thanksgiving Hymns and Massoretic Text,” RevQ 3 [ 1961–62] 259–66), which for him “leaves no alternative” that the root must be mrr, not kmr. But the parallelism suggests that kimrîrê is the subject of the verb and that it connotes some type of darkness. Dhorme associates it with the mist or fog that hides the sun. Influenced by Rashi and Ibn Ezra, Gordis finds here “the demons of the day.” He thinks that mərîrê is related to Arab. mara, “pass, pass by,” and refers to demons in flight. He takes the kap̄, then, as the asseverative kap̄, also known in Ugaritic (R. Gordis, “The Asseverative Kaph in Hebrew and Ugaritic,” JAOS 63  176–78)
18 According to Isa. 62:12, the New Jerusalem will be called, “Sought Out, a City Not Forsaken.” God will create the New Jerusalem and establish its environment so that the genuine people of God will worship and live there to the full extent of their created glory. Thus “sought out” in reference to God means that he is present, caring for a place, endowing it with qualities he intended it to have when he created it, i.e., full and complete salvation (e. g., Deut. 11:12; Jer. 30:17); cf. S. Wagner, “dāŁrash,” TDOT, 111:304–305.
19 The phrase “ones who curse the day” is variously emended. The most popular view is to read “sea” (yām) for “day” (yôm) (see BHS). In Ugaritic myths Yamm, or Sea, is the primordial god of chaos that the head of the pantheon must vanquish in order to rule. Yamm thus serves as a fine parallel to Leviathan, the deep-sea monster, for Yamm and Rahab, a creature similar to Leviathan, are parallel in 26:12. But Gordis observes that in the Ugaritic literature those who would curse yām are allies of the positive forces trying to defeat chaos. He therefore emends ʾōrəerê, “those who curse,” to ʿōrərê, “those who stir up,” the same word that comes in the second line. But since this interpretation requires a double emendation, the present text is preferred, taking the second line as a specification of the first. Further, M. Fishbane (“Jeremiah ív:23–26 and Job 3:3–13: A recovered use of the creation pattern,” VT 21  160–61) finds a double entendre in yôm, “day,” and yām, “sea,” and he points out that ʾōrəerê, “those who curse,” alludes to ʿōrēr, “one who stirs up,” and ʿôr(rî), “light.” This use of assonance and wordplay heightens the magical impact of the curse. Cf. E. Ullendorff, “Job iii:8,” VT 11 (1961) 350–51. Finally, some interpreters (e.g., Hölscher, Driver-Gray) find here an allusion either to the myth of the Dragon causing eclipses by swallowing the sun or the moon or to the primordial myth in which the ruling god defeats the monsters of chaos.
21 Job uses ʿāmāl, “trouble,” as a key word for his plight (4:8; 5:6, 7; 7:3; 11:16; 15:35; 16:2; cf. Habel, OTL). It refers to the agony or the misery caused by severe hardship, such as slavery (Deut. 26:7) or cruel suffering (Isa. 53:11). It also denotes the fatigue that comes from great exertion, as well as the pain and toil that attend one’s striving toward goals. Furthermore, Habel (OTL) points out that this word stands for burdensome troubles caused by evil minds (Ps. 94:20; Prov. 24:1–2) or for an evil deed itself (Hab. 1:13). Gordis observes that the friends use it for “doing evil” (4:8; 15:35), while for Job it means “suffering evil or misery.”
22 Cf. B. Stade, “Auf Jemandes Knieen gebaren,” ZAW 6 (1886) 143–56. Although taking a child on the knees may be a father’s act to show his acceptance of and concern for his child (Gen. 50:23b; cf. 30:3), it often refers to the motherly custom of gladly taking up the newborn infant to nurse it (cf. Isa. 66:12). She thus recognizes it as her own and commits herself to its nurture and upbringing.