Job Chapters 38-42
Most people come to the concluding five chapters of Job with great anticipation. Having endured the seemingly endless cycle of repetitive speeches, the time has finally come for God to speak. Now that Job has endured indescribable suffering, now that his three friends and Elihu have had their say, what might one expect God to say? Amazingly, all the things one might think God would say are nowhere to be found. Let's begin by noting what God does not say to Job.
(1) There is no condemnation of Job, no reversal of the divine verdict on his character that was given in chapters one and two. God does not agree with the assessment of Bildad, Zophar, Eliphaz, or Elihu. He says nothing that would lead us to believe that Job's suffering was the direct result of Job's sin.
(2) There are no apologies. Nowhere do we read anything like: "O my dear child, Job. I'm so very sorry for what has happened. You've endured a great many trials on my behalf and I want you to know how much I appreciate it. You've hung in there and shown yourself to be a real trooper. I promise I'll do my best not to let this sort of thing happen again."
As Larry Crabb put it, "Job apparently expected God would listen to what he had to say, pull slowly on his beard, and reply, 'Job, thanks for sharing your perspective on things. You've got a point. Frankly, I really hadn't seen things quite the way you see them. Look, I've made a bit of an error but I'll straighten it all out right away'" (Inside Out, 146).
(3) There are no compliments. After all that Job had endured so that God might prove his point to the devil, one might have expected to hear something like this: "Job, bless your heart! You have no idea how proud I am of you. It really means a lot to me that you've persevered so valiantly. You exceeded all my expectations. We really showed that devil, didn't we!"
God says nothing to Job that one might think would be appropriate for someone who had suffered so much. There are no words of encouragement or consolation; no words of how much good his experience will accomplish in the lives of others who face tragedy. There are no words of praise for his having stood his ground when the barrage of arguments came from his three friends. There are no "Thank-you's" for having held his tongue in check from cursing God when it seemed the reasonable thing to do.
(4) There are no explanations. This is perhaps the most shocking omission of all. At the very least you would expect God to lay it all out in black and white before Job. But nowhere do we find something like this: "Job, let me begin by explaining to you how this whole thing came about in the first place. You see, one day Satan came to me and insisted that the only reason you worship me is because I treat you so well. I couldn't let him get away with that. I had to prove him wrong, and, well . . . the rest is history, as they say!"
Nor do we find: "Job, I know you've been wondering how I could permit this to occur and not be guilty of injustice and hard-hearted cruelty. Well, it's like this . . . " Nor do we find: "Job, you've struggled with why the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. Sit down and take out pen and paper. You'll undoubtedly want to take notes. There are ten reasons why you, a righteous man, suffered so horribly. Number one: . . . "
Amazingly, there is no discussion of the problem of evil, of divine justice, of human sin, or any such thing. In fact, God supplies no answers at all to any of the questions raised by Job or Eliphaz or Bildad or Zophar or Elihu, or by you and me! Instead, it is God who asks the questions! It isn't God who appears on the witness stand to undergo cross-examination in order to make sense of what has occurred. It is Job, of all people, who is cross-examined. More than 70 times God asks Job an unanswerable question.
Says Phillip Yancey:
"Sidestepping thirty-five chapters' worth of debates on the problem of pain, he plunges instead into a magnificent verbal tour of the natural world. He seems to guide Job through a private gallery of his favourite works, lingering with pride over dioramas of mountain goats, wild donkeys, ostriches, and eagles, speaking as if astonished by his own creations" (190).
For 35 chapters Job has been crying out, "God, put yourself in my place for a while!" God now responds and says, "No, Job, you put yourself in My place! Until you can offer lessons on how to make the sun rise each day or give commands to the lightning or design a peacock, don't pass judgment on how I run my world." In other words, God says, "Until you know a little more about running the physical universe, don't tell me how to run the moral universe. How do you expect to understand the complexities of my dealings with mankind when you can't even understand the simplicity of my dealings with nature?"
A. God's First Speech - 38:1-40:2
1. The challenge - 38:1-3
2. The inquisition - 38:4-41
a. creation of the universe - 38:4-7
b. creation of the seas - 38:8-11
In contrast to ANE mythology which viewed the sea as a god with awesome powers, it is here (38:8-11) portrayed as in complete submission to God's sovereign authority. "Deep in the recesses of the universe's womb, enclosed by double doors . . . Yahweh skillfully knit the sea together like a fetus. At the end of its gestation Yahweh brought it forth gushing from the womb" (Hartley, 496).
c. creation of the dawn - 38:12-15
d. the expanse of the earth - 38:16-18
e. light, darkness, snow and hail - 38:19-24
f. rain, dew, ice and frost - 38:25-30
g. the stars and constellations - 38:31-33
h. clouds and lightning - 38:34-38
i. the lion and the raven - 38:39-41
j. the mountain goat - 39:1-4
k. the donkey and ox - 39:5-12
l. the ostrich - 39:13-18
m. the horse - 39:19-25
n. the hawk - 39:26-30
3. The challenge renewed - 40:1-2
B. Job's First Response - 40:3-5
Job's former self-confidence has shriveled. Contrast 13:22 with 40:5.
God clearly asserts his absolute sovereignty over all of creation. He knows and controls every square inch of the universe, whether animate or inanimate. No snowflake or drop of rain escapes his providence. Every force of nature and every living thing within it are subject to his purposes. Such being the case with God's relation to nature, it stands to reason that he cares even more for those created in his image. It now seems ludicrous that a mere creature like Job would demand explanations from God. If Job cannot comprehend or control creation, what makes him think he can comprehend God's control of mankind?
Why, then, does God often decline to provide us with answers about his dealings with us and with our sufferings? Here are three possible reasons:
1. "Perhaps God keeps us ignorant because enlightenment might not help us" (Yancey, 191).
We ask "why? why?", on the assumption that if we had a reasonable explanation we could handle it better, be less bitter, and respond more humbly and submissively. But would we?
2. "Perhaps God keeps us ignorant because we are incapable of comprehending the answer" (Yancey, 193).
Yancey explains: "Maybe God's majestic non-answer to Job was no ploy, no clever way of dodging questions; maybe it was God's recognition of a plain fact of life. A tiny creature on a tiny planet in a remote galaxy simply could not fathom the grand design of the universe. You might as well try to describe colors to a person born blind, or a Mozart symphony to a person born deaf, or expound the theory of relativity to a person who doesn't even know about atoms" (193).
It would be like trying to pour the ocean into a thimble! God has told us: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are . . . my thoughts (higher) than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:9). And again, "as you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things" (Eccles. 11:5).
3. Perhaps God keeps us ignorant because ignorance is the most fertile soil in which faith can grow.
In other words, ignorance compels us to do one of two things: either abandon God altogether, or trust him all the more fervently.
In one sense, God did answer Job's questions. If God is truly such a majestic and sovereign being who rules every molecule with magnificent precision and purpose, then what he has done or allowed in the case of Job must make perfect sense.
Also, it is important to remember that there is something more important than knowing why God does what he does, namely, learning to cling to him in faith when everything else threatens to destroy your soul. As Don Baker has said:
"I have long since quit seeking the answer to that question ["why?"] in my own life. . . . God owes me no explanation. He has the right to do what He wants, when He wants, and how He wants. Why? Because He's God! . . . Job didn't need to know why these things happened as they did --- he just needed to know Who was responsible and Who was in control. He just needed to know God."
Note well: God's "answer" apparently was perfectly satisfying to Job. You hear no complaints from him! But God isn't finished quite yet . . .
C. God's Second Speech - 40:6-41:34
1. The challenge - 40:6-14
"Out of the storm" - cf. Exod. 19:16-17; 1 Kings 19:11-13; Isa. 6:4; Ezek. 1:4; Zech. 9:14.
In his zeal to maintain his own innocence, Job had come perilously close to charging God with sin. His reasoning was: "I'm innocent, but I'm suffering, therefore God must be guilty."
With piercing irony God challenges Job to imagine himself in control of the universe: "Play God, if you can, Job. Come and sit on the throne if you think you can do a better job of it than I can. Put on my glory and majesty and dignity and see how well you do in bringing down the proud and judging the wicked. If you can do all this, you don't need me!"
2. The inquisition - 40:15-41:34
God focuses on two animals in particular, most likely the hippopotamus and the crocodile. They are literal beasts, but were also symbolic of evil and chaos in the world. They are a personification of all forces that oppose God. See Ps. 74:12-14; Isa. 27:1. Thus in describing how he rules over Behemoth and Leviathan God is not only telling Job of his creative power and majesty and sovereign authority over the natural world, but is also revealing his sovereign authority over the moral world, over the spiritual forces of both good and evil. Job need not despair over the prosperity of the wicked or accuse God of indifference toward the plight of the righteous, for God is in sovereign control over all.
The purpose in this is two-fold: (1) to impress on Job his own feebleness and frailty in comparison with the power and majesty of a God who has revealed himself in the creation of such awesome animals, and (2) to point out to Job that if he can't subdue these mighty earthly creatures, which are symbolic of cosmic spiritual powers, it is inconceivable that he could prove that God is treating him unjustly.
[Before reading the description of these creatures, keep in mind the author's use of poetic license and hyperbole. Also remember that this was written before the advent of modern technology.]
a. the hippopotamus - 40:15-24
"Behemoth" - lit., the plural of the Hebrew word for "beast", hence super-beast, the noblest and strongest beast (the plural gives intensive force to the word). Some have suggested this might rather be the elephant or the rhino or the water buffalo. The adult hippo weighs up to 8,000 lbs.
v. 24 - a tactic in hunting the hippo was to pierce its nose so that it must breathe through the mouth; then a fatal blow could be inflicted through its opened mouth.
b. the crocodile - 41:1-34
Other suggestions are the whale or the brontosaurus. God's point is simple: if you can't even capture the crocodile, what makes you think you can contend with me? If you run in terror from the crocodile, what makes you think you could stand boldly in my presence and challenge the way I run the universe? Are you sure you want to challenge my justice and my competency?"
D. Job's Second Response - 42:1-6
Job suddenly realizes he's out of his league when challenged by God!
On vv. 1-2, cf. Ps. 115:3; Dan. 4:34-35; Eph. 1:11.
Job had been taught well concerning the nature of God. He had heard of Him through the tradition perpetuated in songs and in the teaching of the elders. But now he has seen God! That is to say, he has experienced a more direct encounter. God veiled himself in a storm or whirlwind so that his glory might not consume Job, but his presence was incomparably and unmistakably real.
Throwing dust into the air so that it came down on one's head (cf. 2:12) and sitting on ashes were signs of humility and grief over sin. But of what did Job repent? It wasn't of any of the charges leveled by his three friends nor of any sins committed before his sufferings (cf.1:1; 2:3). Rather it was of his impudent and proud assertion that he could successfully contend with God and improve on his handling of things, as well as of his insolent demandingness that God must answer his questions, as though God were answerable to anyone!
E. Epilogue - 42:7-17
1. Job's friends - 42:7-9
They had put God in a theological box of their own making, denying him his sovereign right to deal with his creatures as he sees fit. Although Job had complained, he still understood God and his ways better than they (v. 7). Four times in vv. 7-8 God refers to Job as "my servant," a title of honor in the OT and also an indication of close, intimate relationship. Note well Job's willingness to forgive them in spite of their cruel treatment of him. Also remember that he forgives them while he is still suffering!
2. Job's fortunes - 42:10-17
His three daughters are described in detail, perhaps to highlight the extent of the reversal of fortune, for women were usually given short-shrift in the OT. "Jemima" = dove, a name used for graceful birds; "Keziah" = perfume derived from a highly prized variety of cinnamon; "Keren-happuch" = a bottle of black rouge used to highlight the eyes. All of these names point to their beauty. All three share in their father's estate and inheritance, something from which women were usually excluded in the OT.
After his calamities Job lived another 140 years, making a total of 200. He lived to see his great, great grandchildren.
The story of Job ends peacefully, with him enjoying his posterity and prosperity once again. Some insist, however, that Job has caved in under the pressure. He shouldn't have let God off the hook. No amount of new prosperity could make up for the suffering he had endured. But we must let Job speak for himself, and clearly he is satisfied with the outcome.
On the other hand, some point to the happy ending and argue that if we will just be faithful God will restore our fortunes and health. But these people overlook one important point: "Job spoke his contrite words before any of his losses had been restored. He was still sitting in a pile of rubble, naked, covered with sores, and it was in those circumstances that he learned to praise God. Only one thing had changed: God had given Job a glimpse of the big picture. I have a hunch that God could have said anything --- could, in fact, have read from the Yellow Pages --- and produced the same stunning effect on Job. What he said was not nearly so important as the mere fact of his appearance. God spectacularly answered Job's biggest question: Is anybody out there? Once Job caught sight of the unseen world, all his urgent questions faded away" (Yancey, 240).