Job 3:20

Job 3:20 - Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul,

Why is light given to those in misery,
and life to the bitter of soul,

Job 3:20 | NIV | Other Versions | Context


After observing a period of silence, Job speaks, and the extent of his misery is first revealed in chapter 3. There are three points that Job made in his very first speech – first of what’s going to be a long series of speeches and debates regarding God, men, and suffering. Firstly, in the first 10 verses, Job cursed the day of his birth – which means he feels that he shouldn’t have been born at all. Using a string of 12 ‘may‘s (your version may have up to 16 of them) – he expresses the depths of his anguish. We see Job’s pessimism manifested in a string of laments.  If he was never born, he wouldn’t have had to go through all that. Secondly, Job’s grief continues as he questions why couldn’t he have died immediately after his birth? It’s a very systematic process – while he felt that he shouldn’t have been born at all, he was; and since he was born, he should have died immediately after his birth. Using 4 ‘whys’ (your version may only have two) from verse 11 – 19, Job begins to question God – not doubt, but question. Thirdly, Job questions why he cannot die now, immediately, and put an end to his pain. Since he was born, and since he didn’t die immediately after his birth, then he should die now, so that he can find solace from his present suffering. Again, 2 ‘why‘s from verses 20 – 26 highlight the fact that Job has lost his passion for life and believed that death is the best escape for his suffering. In this study, we will look at one of Job’s ‘why’s and without trying to answer his question, we will attempt to understand the emotions behind his question.


Why is light given to those in misery – when Job asked this, he was probably not looking for an answer. He was merely questioning the cruelty behind such an act. It is cruel for the sun to shine on a man who is suffering greatly, for when a man is suffering, he wishes for darkness – eternal darkness. Death. And yet death continues to evade Job. He was in so much pain that he wanted to die, but he couldn’t die. He was in so much suffering that the light seems to be mocking him, allowing him to see the extent of his suffering; allowing him to see the state and the condition his body was in; allowing him to see the nakedness of his land and his family. Light would usually be a good thing, a good gift, a blessing. But only in Job’s circumstances, circumstances of extreme suffering, will a blessing as wonderful as light become the worst insult. Light was useless to a man in suffering. It only sobers you up to the pain.

why is life given to the bitter of soul – Job questions the same thing, in the same point of view – just that this time, the scope increases. Just like light is meaningless to a man in misery, life is meaningless to a soul that is bitter. Here a bitter soul likely means a bitter life – a suffering life rather more so than the feelings of bitterness. A normal life would already be hard enough. Add some suffering in life, and life becomes harder. Take away the option to die, the pain magnifies. Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? [Job 3:23]

Job was described to be a blameless and upright man; fearing God and shunning evil [Job 1:1]. Yet even for a man like him, Job had his weaknesses. He wasn’t a superman. He feels the pain too, and it affects him too. When men are suffering, it is only natural that pessimism kicks in. When men cannot seem to find solace from their pain, it is only natural that they desire death as an escape and release from it. When we are suffering, we often feel like living is not worth it. When we are suffering, we often ask God the million dollar question – why. It is human to do so. It is natural to feel so. I would even think that it’s not wrong to think so. But it is very very important to note that as much as Job declared that he desired death, he didn’t seek his own death. He could have, couldn’t he? Throw himself off a cliff. Stab himself in the gut. Starve himself to death. It wouldn’t be too hard. But he never tried – whine as he might, he never acted on his desires. Why?

Job was a man who was close to God. He was a man who knew God. As much as he questioned God, he did not doubt God. As much as he cursed the day of his birth, he never cursed God like his wife asked him to [Job 2:9|Article]. He never sought death – he never got to that point, because he never gave up on relying on God. He never gave up having faith in God, that God will ultimately right his grievances and deliver him from his suffering. Even in the midst of his extreme cries, a hopeful verse or two will pop up every now and then, like in Job 19:25 [Article] – I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. He believes that God will eventually deliver him – and he pleads for deliverance to come before his death – Are not my few days almost over? Turn away from me so I can have a moment’s joy before I go to the place of no return, to the land of gloom and deep shadow [Job 10:20-21]. If man is without the salvation of Christ, the pain and problems that will come after death will surely be more frightening than the pains and problems in life.


I count myself blessed and fortunate enough to never have been in a circumstance when I felt the desire to end my own life or to hurt myself physically. Hence, I won’t pretend to understand the feelings that Job harbored in his heart when he asked God these questions; when he thrashed around in anguish and desired death. And perhaps because I do not truly empathise with him, this entire study was done a bit too coldly. If you ask me why was Job still able to cling on to his faith in God even in such dire times – please remember, that even as he complained and argued, he was in great agony – he had such horrible sores that were so unbearable that he had to take a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it [Job 2:8]. There can only be one reason why he could still cling on to his faith. His spiritual foundation was strong and healthy – the accumulation of years and years of spiritual discipline in good times prepared Job to withstand the spiritual attacks in bad times. No human is free from suffering – big or small, major or minor. No believer of Christ should be surprised to be suffering [1 Peter 4:12|Article]. It is crucial that while we are in better times, we build up a solid spiritual foundation with God, for this is what we fall back to in bad times. I have never found myself in such anguish that I wanted to end my own life – but as much as I cannot imagine it, that day may come. I do not know the extent of the sufferings that God will allow on your life or mine, the only thing I dare be sure of is that our sufferings wouldn’t be as bad as Job’s – but let us all prepare for suffering by exercising spiritual discipline in good times.

God bless,

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