A Bible Lesson on Job 38-42

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is the third of three lessons on Job. The official ISSL text covers the first verses of Chapter 42. It seems to me that one is better off to read most of 38-42 and get the feel of the passage and say less about it, than to say more, and miss the awesome sense that it conveys about who God is and what is our place as humans. This is God’s answer to Job. Remember that Job has maintained his innocence in spite of the fact that conventional wisdom of his time would be that his sufferings could only be explained in terms of God’s punishment for some sin. In Chapter 31 he asked for a bill of indictment or else public vindication. Job wants an explanation. He wants a hearing. That, he doesn’t get. What he does get is a much deeper understanding of who God is and God’s loving care for him. And that is what he in all reality needs. Job’s pain began with the loss of his kids in a great wind in Chapter 1. Now God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind.

Job 38:1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

This sentence is apparently not absolutely clear in Hebrew. Another (quite possibly better) reading is more like “Who is this who is speaking without having right counsel or knowledge?” Job is in the dark because of lack of counsel and knowledge.

3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.

We hear this as harsh, and almost surely shouldn’t. It is the gentle challenge of a loving father to a foolish child, to think through a silly position that the child has taken. There’s probably a wry smile on the face of the Almighty as this conversations begins. Job is going to the school of God’s wisdom here. God takes Job on a tour of the world. This is not God slamming Job into his place, this is God gently talking to friend and helping see what really is. If Job is going to criticize God’s management of the world, he needs to first think through

4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.

5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

Surely you know! Indeed! Were you there at creation, helping out? If so, perhaps you have a basis of criticizing or questioning how things are going at the moment.

6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone,

7 when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Do you control the sea?

8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb,

9 when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band,

10 and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors,

11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

Well, then if we grant that you really haven’t been around too long, since coming onto the scene, have your duties included making sure the sun rises, marking off the days of your life?

12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place,

13 that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?

14 It is changed like clay under the seal, and its features stand out like a garment.

15 From the wicked their light is withheld, and their uplifted arm is broken.

Have you been deep into the earth? If you have, I’d like to hear about it.

16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?

17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?

18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.

In the beginning God said “Let there be light.” Job, do you know where it came from?

19 “Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness,

20 that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home?

21 You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!

Really, to have a proper perspective on how things ought to run, shouldn’t one be able to look under the hood and know how things work? How is one to fix a car engine if one has never seen one before?  Job, are you in charge of the snow and hail?

22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,

23 which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war?

24 What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?

25 “Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt,

26 to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert in which there is no man,

27 to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass?

Job (with the rest of us) is fixated on only his world. But God not only sends rain on the just and the unjust, He waters parts of the world where there are no humans! We think in terms of only ourselves. If we’re worthy to call shots in the universe, shouldn’t our vision and powers be a bit wider? God’s providence is bigger than just Job’s situation.

28 “Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew?

29 From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?

30 The waters become hard like stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.

What about the heavens?

31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?

32 Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children?

33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?

34 “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you?

35 Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’?

36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?

37 Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,

38 when the dust runs into a mass and the clods stick fast together?

What about the animal kingdom? The implication of Job’s suffering being unfair or unjust could be that God doesn’t care for Job. But God cares for the animals … or, is that Job’s job?

39 “Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,

40 when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in their thicket?

41 Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?

Job 39:1 “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the does?

2 Can you number the months that they fulfill, and do you know the time when they give birth,

3 when they crouch, bring forth their offspring, and are delivered of their young?

4 Their young ones become strong; they grow up in the open; they go out and do not return to them.

Job, if you don’t feed the animals, do you at least control them? How about something as simple as the wild donkeys or wild oxen?

5 “Who has let the wild donkey go free? Who has loosed the bonds of the swift donkey,

6 to whom I have given the arid plain for his home and the salt land for his dwelling place?

7 He scorns the tumult of the city; he hears not the shouts of the driver.

8 He ranges the mountains as his pasture, and he searches after every green thing.

9 “Is the wild ox willing to serve you? Will he spend the night at your manger?

10 Can you bind him in the furrow with ropes, or will he harrow the valleys after you?

11 Will you depend on him because his strength is great, and will you leave to him your labor?

12 Do you have faith in him that he will return your grain and gather it to your threshing floor?

No, Job, you don’t completely control the animals. Do you understand their purposes or even their behavior? How about a creature as silly as the ostrich? What do you make of it? Why does it do what it does? What utility does it have for you, if you are the center of all things?

13 “The wings of the ostrich wave proudly, but are they the pinions and plumage of love?

14 For she leaves her eggs to the earth and lets them be warmed on the ground,

15 forgetting that a foot may crush them and that the wild beast may trample them.

16 She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers; though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear,

17 because God has made her forget wisdom and given her no share in understanding.

18 When she rouses herself to flee, she laughs at the horse and his rider.

What about the horse? That’s a pretty tame creature, but did you make it? Are you altogether sure that even one that has been broken for riding will always do what you expect?

19 “Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane?

20 Do you make him leap like the locust? His majestic snorting is terrifying.

21 He paws in the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons.

22 He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword.

23 Upon him rattle the quiver, the flashing spear and the javelin.

24 With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground; he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet.

25 When the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’ He smells the battle from afar, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.

How about the birds?

26 “Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south?

27 Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?

28 On the rock he dwells and makes his home, on the rocky crag and stronghold.

29 From there he spies out the prey; his eyes behold it afar off.

30 His young ones suck up blood, and where the slain are, there is he.”

Job has been given a quick tour of creation. He’s walked with God through His garden. He’s now given an invitation.

Job 40:1 And the Lord said to Job:

2 “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Job, if you understand creation better than God, He’s ready to be instructed.

3 Then Job answered the Lord and said:

4 “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth.

5 I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”

Job has nothing to say. He spoke earlier, but given a walk through God’s garden, he’s now got less to say. The problem of “undeserved” human suffering has very few “logical” solutions. One might be that God isn’t wise enough to work it out that our circumstances match what we deserve. God has just pretty much demolished that possibility. Another might be that God isn’t really just or moral. That’s the “How could a good God let bad stuff happen?” school of human silliness. God turns to the question of His justice.

6 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

7 “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.

8 Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?

Job is innocent of the charges his friends assume him to be guilty of. Does that then make God unjust if he is in misery? Is it necessary to question God’s morality in order to maintain that it’s possible for innocent people to suffer? Here comes another challenge to Job. But it is really a very gentle rebuke from a loving parent. G.C. Morgan said there is here “satire as gentle as the kiss of a mother when she laughs at a child.”

9 Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?

10 “Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor.

11 Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud and abase him.

12 Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand.

13 Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below.

14 Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you.

If Job is going to charge God with treating him unjustly, then perhaps it’s time for him to put on his judicial robes and take care of punishing all evil in this world. Only if he’s up to that, does Job have any logical place to claim that he’s been done an injustice by God. Only then will God grant that he has a perspective from which to demand a change of circumstances. But, of course, he’s not equipped to handle God’s role as judge.

If God is wise (and the tour of nature has convinced Job of that) and moral/just (and there is surely no vantage point for a human being to contradict that), then the only logical “out” that remains for “explaining” innocent suffering is that He lacks the power to see that things go the way they should. God closes that possibility in the balance of Chapter 40 and Chapter 41 by describing two of His creatures: Behemoth and Leviathan. Commentators don’t agree as to whether these are real or symbolic creatures. If it is the former, the hippo is usually mentioned as the likely meaning of Behemoth and the crocodile the likely identity of Leviathan. The gist of the chapters is that God is the Maker of these creatures that a mere human would be foolish to even think about messing with. There is no question about His overwhelming power, should He choose to turn it on humanity.

15 “Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox.

16 Behold, his strength in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly.

17 He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together.

18 His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron.

19 “He is the first of the works of God; let him who made him bring near his sword!

20 For the mountains yield food for him where all the wild beasts play.

21 Under the lotus plants he lies, in the shelter of the reeds and in the marsh.

22 For his shade the lotus trees cover him; the willows of the brook surround him.

23 Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened; he is confident though Jordan rushes against his mouth.

24 Can one take him by his eyes, or pierce his nose with a snare?

Job 41:1 “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord?

2 Can you put a rope in his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook?

3 Will he make many pleas to you? Will he speak to you soft words?

4 Will he make a covenant with you to take him for your servant forever?

5 Will you play with him as with a bird, or will you put him on a leash for your girls?

6 Will traders bargain over him? Will they divide him up among the merchants?

7 Can you fill his skin with harpoons or his head with fishing spears?

8 Lay your hands on him; remember the battle—you will not do it again!

9 Behold, the hope of a man is false; he is laid low even at the sight of him.

10 No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up. Who then is he who can stand before me?

11 Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.

12 “I will not keep silence concerning his limbs, or his mighty strength, or his goodly frame.

13 Who can strip off his outer garment? Who would come near him with a bridle?

14 Who can open the doors of his face? Around his teeth is terror.

15 His back is made of rows of shields, shut up closely as with a seal.

16 One is so near to another that no air can come between them.

17 They are joined one to another; they clasp each other and cannot be separated.

18 His sneezings flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn.

19 Out of his mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap forth.

20 Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes.

21 His breath kindles coals, and a flame comes forth from his mouth.

22 In his neck abides strength, and terror dances before him.

23 The folds of his flesh stick together, firmly cast on him and immovable.

24 His heart is hard as a stone, hard as the lower millstone.

25 When he raises himself up the mighty are afraid; at the crashing they are beside themselves.

26 Though the sword reaches him, it does not avail, nor the spear, the dart, or the javelin.

27 He counts iron as straw, and bronze as rotten wood.

28 The arrow cannot make him flee; for him sling stones are turned to stubble.

29 Clubs are counted as stubble; he laughs at the rattle of javelins.

30 His underparts are like sharp potsherds; he spreads himself like a threshing sledge on the mire.

31 He makes the deep boil like a pot; he makes the sea like a pot of ointment.

32 Behind him he leaves a shining wake; one would think the deep to be white-haired.

33 On earth there is not his like, a creature without fear.

34 He sees everything that is high; he is king over all the sons of pride.”

In the end, Job has no place to go trying to discern a logical reason for his suffering. He is never told of the initial dispute between God and Satan about the nature of the relationship between God and Job. He’s never made aware that the ultimate test is whether God is to be loved for who He is, without buying human loyalty. But what he does know is that God is wise, just, powerful, and cares about him so much that He’s responded to Job’s cries and visited him. And that changes his heart and makes him content in God.

Job 42:1 Then Job answered the Lord and said:

2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

4 ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’

5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;

6 therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job realizes that he’s come close to impertinence. He ceases with his “I must be told why this is happening to me” routine. He doesn’t even presume that God will have to answer him in the afterlife. He simply throws himself on God’s mercy and grace in the hard things of life. It is absolutely sufficient that he’s loved by the Holy One. And this knowledge is new and deep and fresh. It was no fun coming, but it’s now as if he sees for the first time. He repents. Of what? Surely not of what his friends accuse him of. Rather, of foolish self-sufficiency, the sin of his friends and us all.

7 After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

This is interesting. Those who had indicted Job are called on to seek his help. It is also interesting that Job is called on to forgive. And it’s interesting that it’s after he behaves graciously to those who maligned him that his circumstances are restored.

9 So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.

10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.

11 Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

12 And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys.

13 He had also seven sons and three daughters.

14 And he called the name of the first daughter Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-happuch.

15 And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters. And their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers.

16 And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations.

17 And Job died, an old man, and full of days.

The end of this Gospel story is good. It is one that only makes any sense for those who know and love the Sovereign of the universe. But a good end awaits all who come to the place that Job did.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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