So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that [his] grief was very great.
Job’s three friends — Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite — come off harshly in most commentaries (as they probably will in mine), but I have to say they earn the right to criticize (if such a thing is possible) with their seven days of silence. I mean, I can rarely wait seven minutes before trying to “fix” a situation.
In addition to these names’ significance in Hebrew, Job is noteworthy for the number of puns one can get in English (e.g, “Who was the shortest man in the Bible? Blidad the shoe-height.”). I am tempted to say “tsophar so good” at this stage, as the first half of their plan to mourn with (nuwd) and comfort (nacham) Job starts off pretty well. Until Job opens his mouth:
After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day
The NIV translates this “cursed the day of his birth”, perhaps partly due to verse 3:
Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night [in which] it was said, There is a man child conceived.
Even today we treat birthdays as having special significance, so to curse one’s own day (qalal yowm) was probably doubly significant in that culture. No matter how you slice it, though, clearly Job is royally depressed. He’s not the suicidal type, though, so he does the next best thing: wishes he was never born.
Why died I not from the womb? [why] did I [not] give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?
I have to say, this really struck a chord with me. They say depression is often anger turned inward. I have probably suffered from low-level, sub-clinical depression from adolescence until, perhaps, a few weeks ago. In my case, the most plausible theory is repressed frustration and anger at my displaced life as a second-generation immigrant. Like Job, perhaps, anger at God was unthinkable, so it got rerouted into anger at myself. Even suicide can be thought of as trying to murder the whole world, by murdering one self.
What’s even more interesting is that this seems to tap into some pre-existing anxiety;
For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.
This great fear (pachad pachad) and being afraid (yagor) seem to tie into the obsessiveness we mentioned earlier. It does seem like Job’s earlier good behavior was at least partly due to fear of bad things like this happening. Or, to put it another way, Job’s self-hating inner child has been expecting something like this, and treats this crisis as vindication. Okay, perhaps I’m reading myself into the text, but its not inconsistent with the scriptural evidence.
I must say, this puts a rather different light on Job. Far from being a macho, deific patriarch, he comes across as a Woody Allenesque neurotic. Is that fair? How does that square with the glowing reviews God gave Job? Does it mean Satan was right*
Well, not quite. Despite his intense suffering, Job refuses to curse God. In fact, he quite literally chooses to curse himself instead. That may not be the healthiest response imaginable, but it bespeaks an immense loyalty. Is that loyalty well-founded, though, or just a hang-up?
God, I feel with Job. I too have known the despair born of anger, and cursed the life I’ve lived. Like him, perhaps, I was blind to the larger issues and redemptive purpose at work. Forgive me, Lord, for the anger I’ve held against you, even if I was too afraid to admit it even to myself. Lord, take away the hidden fears, and help me to mourn with you and be comforted by you. Cleanse me, that I may be clean. Restore me, that I may know hope and freedom. In Jesus name. Amen.