1 “Has not man a hard service on earth, and are not his days like the days of a hired hand? 2 Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like a hired hand who looks for his wages, 3 so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. 4 When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ But the night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn. 5 My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt; my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh. 6 My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle and come to their end without hope. 7 “Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good. 8 The eye of him who sees me will behold me no more; while your eyes are on me, I shall be gone. 9 As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up; 10 he returns no more to his house, nor does his place know him anymore. 11 “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. 12 Am I the sea, or a sea monster, that you set a guard over me? 13 When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ 14 then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, 15 so that I would choose strangling and death rather than my bones. 16 I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are a breath. 17 What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, 18 visit him every morning and test him every moment? 19 How long will you not look away from me, nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit? 20 If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind? Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you? 21 Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.”
Suffering can war against our faith in God. The following exchange occurs between Dr. Rieux and Tarrou in Albert Camus’ The Plague. Here, they are discussing the meaning of the great plague that they are facing and the suffering that it has brought in its wake.
“After all,” the doctor [Rieux] repeated, then hesitated again, fixing his eyes on Tarrou, “it’s something that a man of your sort can understand most likely, but, since the order of the world is shaped by death, mightn’t it be better for God if we refuse to believe in Him and struggle with all our might against death, without raising our eyes toward the heaven where He sits in silence?”
“Yes. But your victories will never be lasting; that’s all.”
Rieux’s face darkened.
“Yes, I know that. But’s it’s no reason for giving up the struggle.”
“No reason, I agree. Only, I now picture what this plague must mean for you.”
“Yes. A never ending defeat.”
Tarrou stared at the doctor for a moment, then turned and tramped heavily toward the door. Rieux followed him and was almost at his side when Tarrou, who was staring at the floor suddenly said:
“Who taught you all this, Doctor?”
The reply came promptly:
In Camus’ novel, suffering is depicted as a teacher of despair, a teacher who told Dr. Rieux that it would be best to abandon hope in God. It led to a kind of nihilism, a feeling of utter meaninglessness and perpetual defeat. While Job has not abandoned His belief in God, he now aims his words directly at God in chapter 7.
Robert A. Alden has offered the extremely helpful reminder that, “We who have read the first two chapters of the book know why Job suffered, but he was not privy to that council.” This is very important to remember. Imagine if we did not have access to the two scenes in heaven, the two conversations between God and Satan, in chapters 1 and 2. Imagine if all you knew of Job’s story was the story (a) of his righteousness and (b) of his calamity and suffering. How differently would you view the story if the scenes in heaven was missing? Keep in mind that as you read Job you read it in the light of a higher purpose that was communicated in those first two chapters. Job did not know this purpose. You might propose that Job should simply have trusted that there was such a higher purpose, but, in truth, that is a very easy thing for us to say.
In chapter 7 we find, then, the growing intensity of Job’s complaint, a complaint now aimed explicitly at God.
1 “Has not man a hard service on earth, and are not his days like the days of a hired hand?
Tremper Longman III points out that “saba (‘hard service’) is typically used specifically in military or cultic contexts” and that “the plural is used in the title that most directly connects God to his role as divine warrior (Yhwh seba’ot, ‘the Lord of Hosts’).” Man’s life, Job seems to be suggesting, is therefore like military service, perhaps like a long, hard, forced march, a weary exertion of labor that threatens to break the spirit of man.
2 Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like a hired hand who looks for his wages, 3 so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me.
It is interesting to note how much Job sounds like Ecclesiastes in his reference to slavery and to an unpaid hired hand. Consider the opening words of Ecclesiastes 1 and the closing words of Ecclesiastes 2.
1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. 24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
These words could be put into Job’s mouth and we would not know the difference, for Job had reached the point where he too saw all of man’s efforts as mere vanity.
Alden points out that Job’s reference to “months” in verse 3 (“I am allotted months of emptiness”) “provides one of the few clues to the time frame of Job’s ordeal” and that this means Job’s trial “lasted more than one month and probably less than a year” even though Rabbi Akiba “deduced from this word that Job’s affliction lasted one year…while The Testament of Job (5:19) assigns seven years of suffering to him.” Regardless of how long Job suffered, could any of us imagine a single day of such agony? Job continues:
4 When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ But the night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn. 5 My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt; my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh. 6 My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle and come to their end without hope.
In verse 5 we find another unsettling and grotesque depiction of Job’s physical anguish. Francis Andersen translates verse 5 as, “My flesh wears maggots as clothes; my skin is caked with dirt; it’s scabby and festering.” Once again, the point of these descriptions is not to offer us clues so that we might diagnose the exact nature of Job’s disease. On the contrary, it could be argued that Job has more than enough observers bent on diagnosing the problem! No, the point is simply to see the depths of Job’s suffering and the nature of his own despair. He is suffering inwardly and outwardly. Even though his outward despair is indeed great, who could deny this his greatest pain must have been inward? Job still bore the great grief of the loss of his children and, possibly, of a failed marriage (though we do not know if his marriage actually failed).
7 “Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good. 8 The eye of him who sees me will behold me no more; while your eyes are on me, I shall be gone. 9 As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up; 10 he returns no more to his house, nor does his place know him anymore. 11 “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. 12 Am I the sea, or a sea monster, that you set a guard over me? 13 When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ 14 then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, 15 so that I would choose strangling and death rather than my bones.
It is a bit tricky to figure out exactly when Job is speaking directly to God, but he does indeed seem to do so in verse 7 and onward. Job tells God that he yearns for death and for Sheol, which he clearly sees as a place of no return. He then asks God why it is that he is being treated like a sea monster, like some primal force in the mysterious deep that God must put fetters on lest he destroy the earth. In essence, Job is saying, “Am I not a man? Why can I not be treated as a man and not some vicious animal or beast or monster that needs to be controlled?”
Francis Andersen has proposed that verse 15 (“so that I would choose strangling and death rather than my bones”) could be more literally translated as, “Death the strangler has chosen the bones of my neck,” and that Job is referring to a terrifying dream he has been having. Regardless of how that difficult verse is translated, it is a picture of hopelessness and a desire for death. Job desires to cease to be.
16 I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.
This is a most painful passage to read. “I would not live forever. Leave me alone.”
Have you ever felt like this? Have you ever said such a thing to God? Perhaps you have. Perhaps you have felt such pain in your life that your great desire is simply to die, to cease to be, and to be left alone for all of eternity.
These are the kinds of statements that we usually whisper about in the hospital hallway: “That’s not him talking. It’s the medicine. He’s not in his right mind.” But, chilling though it is, Job appears to have reached a place of conviction even in his own pain. He seems sincerely to want to be left alone, even by God. Again, Job has not read Job. Job does not know the reason for his pain. And, in truth, had Job even read Job 1 and 2, would it answer his questions or lesson his pain?
Job’s relationship with God will be set right, but it is a long road of pain before we get there. For now, he gives vent to his fury at what God has allowed to happen to him. Or, to be more charitable, he gives vent to the exhaustion of his soul.
17 What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, 18 visit him every morning and test him every moment?
In verses 17 and 18 we find the most shocking thing to pass Job’s lips up to this point. It might not sound like it on the surface, but there is a blasphemous element to these words. This is because Job, in these two verses, appears to be sarcastically parodying Psalm 8:3-4 back to God. Psalm 8:3-4 were originally words of praise offered to God for His kind and gracious providence and attention to man.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
In Psalms, these words reflect the psalmist’s wonder that God in His greatness would still set His mind on mortal men and care for us as He does. But hear again how Job recasts these words:
17 What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, 18 visit him every morning and test him every moment?
In Job’s usage of these words, he is suggesting that the attention God gives to man is not a good thing, that it leads to a kind of perpetual harassment of man, a testing of man at “every moment.” It should be noted that Old Testament scholars do not know for certain which words were written first, the words of Psalms or Job’s words. If, however, Psalms was written first, what we have here is an intentional and sarcastic misapplication of the psalmist’s words for the purpose of pointing out to God that while some may see His attention as a blessing, he himself sees it as a curse. Great, indeed, was the despair of Job! He concludes this chapter of his complaint:
19 How long will you not look away from me, nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit? 20 If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind? Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you? 21 Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.”
Job yearns for a death that will conceal him even from the sight of God. Of course, such is not possible, but what we have here is yet another proclamation from Job that all he wants is to die alone and be left alone. Interestingly, however, he also asks God why, if he has sinned (which we know he did not but this is certainly the accusation of his friends), “do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity?”
Once again, we see the difference in how those on this side of the cross can process pain and suffering, for we who have trusted in Christ have an answer to the question, “Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity?” We know the answer is that God has done precisely this in Christ.
We once again stop short of condemning suffering Job, though we certainly do not advocate his words. Even so, they are the words of a man languishing in the pit of physical, emotional, relational, and mental despair. But we do so desire, once again, to rush into the midst of this chapter and proclaim, “Job! The God against whom you protest does indeed love you! Those sacrifices you have been offering on the altar are simply preparing the way for a greater sacrifice to come. You have lost your sons and daughters, Job, but God Himself will one day give His Son so that your iniquity can be taken away, so that your suffering can have some meaning in the light of the suffering of the Son of God for you. Do not despair, Job! God is still with you and for you, though it is hard to see this through the veil of tears before which we all struggle. Yet it is true and it is there: through the pain and tears and heartbreak, the love of God for His suffering people still stands. He has not abandoned you! Christ is coming! Suffering and death will be put on notice and defeated through the Champion who will one day stand in your place!”
All of this is true, and we who live on this side of the cross can say who this Champion is: it is Jesus. He has come and He has conquered through the cross and empty tomb.
Do not despair. Cling to the Christ who conquered for you.
 Albert Camus. The Plague. (New York: Vintage Books, 1972), 121.
 Robert A. Alden, Job. The New American Commentary. Vol. 11 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishing Group, 1993), p.113.
 Tremper Longman III, Job. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012), p.143.
 Robert A. Alden, p.107, n.79.
 Francis I. Andersen, Job. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. 14 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2008), p.145.
 Francis I. Andersen, p.148-149.