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Job 3:20-26

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 

3:23 Why is light given 15  to a man 16 

whose way is hidden, 17 

and whom God has hedged in? 18 

3:24 For my sighing comes in place of 19  my food, 20 

and my groanings 21  flow forth like water. 22 

3:25 For the very thing I dreaded 23  has happened 24  to me,

and what I feared has come upon me. 25 

3:26 I have no ease, 26  I have no quietness;

I cannot rest; 27  turmoil has come upon me.” 28 

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.

15 tn This first part of the verse, “Why is light given,” is supplied from the context. In the Hebrew text the verse simply begins with “to a man….” It is also in apposition to the construction in v. 20. But after so many qualifying clauses and phrases, a restatement of the subject (light, from v. 20) is required.

16 sn After speaking of people in general (in the plural in vv. 21 and 22), Job returns to himself specifically (in the singular, using the same word גֶּבֶר [gever, “a man”] that he employed of himself in v. 3). He is the man whose way is hidden. The clear path of his former life has been broken off, or as the next clause says, hedged in so that he is confined to a life of suffering. The statement includes the spiritual perplexities that this involves. It is like saying that God is leading him in darkness and he can no longer see where he is going.

17 tn The LXX translated “to a man whose way is hidden” with the vague paraphrase “death is rest to [such] a man.” The translators apparently combined the reference to “the grave” in the previous verse with “hidden”

18 tn The verb is the Hiphil of סָכַךְ (sakhakh,“to hedge in”). The key parallel passage is Job 19:8, which says, “He has blocked [גָּדַר, gadar] my way so I cannot pass, and has set darkness over my paths.” To be hedged in is an implied metaphor, indicating that the pathway is concealed and enclosed. There is an irony in Job’s choice of words in light of Satan’s accusation in 1:10. It is heightened further when the same verb is employed by God in 38:8 (see F. I. Andersen, Job [TOTC], 109).

19 tn For the prepositional לִפְנֵי (lifne), the temporal meaning “before” (“my sighing comes before I eat”) makes very little sense here (as the versions have it). The meaning “in place of, for” fits better (see 1 Sam 1:16, “count not your handmaid for a daughter of Belial”).

20 sn The line means that Job’s sighing, which results from the suffering (metonymy of effect) is his constant, daily food. Parallels like Ps 42:3 which says “my tears have been my bread/food” shows a similar figure.

21 tn The word normally describes the “roaring” of a lion (Job 4:10); but it is used for the loud groaning or cries of those in distress (Pss 22:1; 32:3).

22 tn This second colon is paraphrased in the LXX to say, “I weep being beset with terror.” The idea of “pouring forth water” while groaning can be represented by “I weep.” The word “fear, terror” anticipates the next verse.

23 tn The construction uses the cognate accusative with the verb: “the fear I feared,” or “the dread thing I dreaded” (פַחַד פָּחַדְתִּי, pakhad pakhadti). The verb פָּחַד (pakhad) has the sense of “dread” and the noun the meaning “thing dreaded.” The structure of the sentence with the perfect verb followed by the preterite indicates that the first action preceded the second – he feared something but then it happened. Some commentaries suggest reading this as a conditional clause followed by the present tense translation: “If I fear a thing it happens to me” (see A. B. Davidson, Job, 24). The reason for this change is that it is hard for some to think that in his prime Job had such fears. He did have a pure trust and confidence in the Lord (16:19, 29:18ff). But on the other hand, he did make sacrifices for his sons because he thought they might sin. There is evidence to suggest that he was aware that calamity could strike, and this is not necessarily incompatible with trust.

24 tn The verb אָתָה (’atah) is Aramaic and is equivalent to the Hebrew verb בּוֹא (bo’, “come, happen”).

25 tn The final verb is יָבֹא (yavo’, “has come”). It appears to be an imperfect, but since it is parallel to the preterite of the first colon it should be given that nuance here. Of course, if the other view of the verse is taken, then this would simply be translated as “comes,” and the preceding preterite also given an English present tense translation.

26 tn The LXX “peace” bases its rendering on שָׁלַם (shalam) and not שָׁלָה (shalah), which retains the original vav (ו). The verb means “to be quiet, to be at ease.”

27 tn The verb is literally “and I do/can not rest.” A potential perfect nuance fits this passage well. The word נוּחַ (nuakh, “rest”) implies “rest” in every sense, especially in contrast to רֹגֶז (rogez, “turmoil, agitation” [vv. 26 and 17]).

28 tn The last clause simply has “and trouble came.” Job is essentially saying that since the trouble has come upon him there is not a moment of rest and relief.

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