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Job 3:20-22

Context
Longing for Death 1 

3:20 “Why does God 2  give 3  light to one who is in misery, 4 

and life to those 5  whose soul is bitter,

3:21 to 6  those who wait 7  for death that 8  does not come,

and search for it 9 

more than for hidden treasures,

3:22 who rejoice 10  even to jubilation, 11 

and are exultant 12  when 13  they find the grave? 14 

1 sn Since he has survived birth, Job wonders why he could not have died a premature death. He wonders why God gives light and life to those who are in misery. His own condition throws gloom over life, and so he poses the question first generally, for many would prefer death to misery (20-22); then he comes to the individual, himself, who would prefer death (23). He closes his initial complaint with some depictions of his suffering that afflicts him and gives him no rest (24-26).

2 tn Heb “he”; the referent (God) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

3 tn The verb is the simple imperfect, expressing the progressive imperfect nuance. But there is no formal subject to the verb, prompting some translations to make it passive in view of the indefinite subject (so, e.g., NAB, NIV, NRSV). Such a passive could be taken as a so-called “divine passive” by which God is the implied agent. Job clearly means God here, but he stops short of naming him (see also the note on “God” earlier in this verse).

sn In vv. 11, 12, and 16 there was the first series of questions in which Job himself was in question. Now the questions are more general for all mankind – why should the sufferers in general have been afflicted with life?

4 sn In v. 10 the word was used to describe the labor and sorrow that comes from it; here the one in such misery is called the עָמֵל (’amel, “laborer, sufferer”).

5 tn The second colon now refers to people in general because of the plural construct מָרֵי נָפֶשׁ (mare nafesh, “those bitter of soul/life”). One may recall the use of מָרָה (marah, “bitter”) by Naomi to describe her pained experience as a poor widow in Ruth 1:20, or the use of the word to describe the bitter oppression inflicted on Israel by the Egyptians (Exod 1:14). Those who are “bitter of soul” are those whose life is overwhelmed with painful experiences and suffering.

6 tn The verse simply begins with the participle in apposition to the expressions in the previous verse describing those who are bitter. The preposition is added from the context.

7 tn The verb is the Piel participle of חָכָה (khakhah, “to wait for” someone; Yahweh is the object in Isa 8:17; 64:3; Ps 33:20). Here death is the supreme hope of the miserable and the suffering.

8 tn The verse simply has the form אֵין (’en, “there is not”) with a pronominal suffix and a conjunction – “and there is not it” or “and it is not.” The LXX and the Vulgate add a verb to explain this form: “and obtain it not.”

9 tn The parallel verb is now a preterite with a vav (ו) consecutive; it therefore has the nuance of a characteristic perfect or gnomic perfect – the English present tense.

sn The verb חָפַר (khafar) means “to dig; to excavate.” It may have the accusative of the thing that is being sought (Exod 7:24); but here it is followed by a comparative min (מִן). The verse therefore describes the sufferers who excavate or dig the ground to find death, more than others who seek for treasure.

10 tn Here too the form is the participle in apposition “to him who is in misery” in v. 20. It continues the description of those who are destitute and would be delighted to die.

11 tn The Syriac has “and gather themselves together,” possibly reading גִּיל (gil, “rejoicing”) as גַּל (gal, “heap”). Some have tried to emend the text to make the word mean “heap” or “mound,” as in a funerary mound. While one could argue for a heap of stones as a funerary mound, the passage has already spoken of digging a grave, which would be quite different. And while such a change would make a neater parallelism in the verse, there is no reason to force such; the idea of “jubilation” fits the tenor of the whole verse easily enough and there is no reason to change it. A similar expression is found in Hos 9:1, which says, “rejoice not, O Israel, with jubilation.” Here the idea then is that these sufferers would rejoice “to the point of jubilation” at death.

12 tn This sentence also parallels an imperfect verb with the substantival participle of the first colon. It is translated as an English present tense.

13 tn The particle could be “when” or “because” in this verse.

14 sn The expression “when they find a grave” means when they finally die. The verse describes the relief and rest that the sufferer will obtain when the long-awaited death is reached.



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