Gordon E. Johnson

DEVOTIONALS from the Book of Job


God speaks and Job listens - Round one

Job 38, 39

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute

God is about to speak and it will be Job's turn to listen and learn. There is a certain continuity between Elihu's messages off target and on target (Job 32-37) and God's approach to Job in a whirlwind in Job 38.

Ellihu's original measure was right on target "Why do you contend with Him? for He does not give an accounting to any of  His words. For God may speak in one way, or another, yet man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision . . . man is also chastened with pain on his bed . . . If there is a messenger for him, a mediator, one among a thousand . . . Then He is gracious to him, and says, ‘I have found a ransom'" (Job 33:13-19,23,24).

When Elihu concludes his final discourse, he describes in graphic terms the thunder of His voice.  "After it a voice roars; He thunders with His majestic voice . . . God thunders marvelously with His voice; He does great things which we cannot comprehend." Then in a more gentle voice: "Listen to this, O Job; as for the Almighty, we cannot find Him; for He is excellent in power, in judgment and abundant in justice; He does not oppress. Therefore men fear Him; He shows no partiality to any who are wise in heart" (37:4,5,14,23,24).

The Whirlwind and the Voice    Job 38 -39

Immediately upon Job's hearing these last words of Elihu, God enters and exclusively dominates the scene. In one sense these remaining chapters may be considered in boxing terminology: Round One and Round Two. He hardly needs two rounds to give Job the "knock-out" blow that resolves the contest in which Job has been the object and subject of discussion.

Since Job 31:40 with the terse comment, "The words of Job are ended," Job had uttered not a word.  We can only speculate on his reactions and inward responses. "The Lord does not repeat to the now strengthened Job the message He sent him by the mouth of Elihu. The way of deliverance through the Ransom has been told him; the interpretation of God's dealings with him has been given. It is not further teaching that Job needs, but a direct interview with God" [1] [author's emphasis].

Earlier when others spoke, Job talked, when he talked, few listened. When Job re-lived his soliloquy (29-31), he revealed his hidden self-righteousness; God listened.  But now the scene has changed and Job will listen, not with his ears but with his heart. The creature in the presence of his Creator is a very different audience!

The Challenge of the Voice

God moves immediately to the matter at hand: "Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me" (38:2,3). The marginal rendering is: "Gird up your loins." To respond and engage another was a call to gather up the flowing robes thus to be free from hindrances and to be equal to the challenge.  God is challenging Job in a most forthright fashion. We will see soon, it was no contest at all.

A Series of Devastating Questions with No Possible Response    Job 38

I counted the questions raised. There are some 32 questions in Job 38 [an additional 18 in Job 40-41] plus some divine assumptions of logic to be added to the number. We will hear inspired irony and even sarcasm as God humbles man's pride.

In Job 38-41 the reader must constantly bear in mind that God has really only one focus in the asking of the some 50 questions. God alone knows the heart of man; the divine accusation will be more than justified. It is to hide pride from man, the unknown hidden pride of a good man!

Remember Elihu's analysis: "Then He opens the ears of men, and He seals their instruction. In order to turn man from his deed, and to conceal [hide] pride from man. He keeps back his soul from the Pit, and his life from perishing by the sword " (33:16-18).

Pause for a moment. How would you feel if your life depended on a single exam with 50 true and false statements or multiple options, but you could not put your pen to even one single answer. Job faces precisely his Creator who, however, is seeking in love to bestow a double blessing on him, his family and his household.  Of course, Job, like us, lived by faith in the divine values offered in God's matchless grace.

The Profundities of Inanimate Nature Are Known Only to God    Job 38:4-38

The first question is a winner! "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! [note the touch of ironic glee with emphasis on "surely you know"] Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? or who laid its cornerstone. When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (vv.4-7).

A personal friend of ours just celebrated her 98th birthday! She is as alert as at fifty, leads a weekly prayer group that has prayed for us for 61 years. A friend of hers received a birthday card. On the cover: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . ." Upon opening the card, What was it like . . .? Hardly a serious congratulation.  Job could sympathize.

An oblique  reference to the "morning stars" reminds me of the habit first introduced in my life by my third mentor, Dr. F. J Huegel, for fifty years a veteran missionary to Mexico. He had the custom upon awaking each morning before any thought or duty could intrude on the day simply to thank God for his union with Christ in death to sin and resurrection life (Rom 6:6). I was honored to be his "Timothy," and so seek to join daily the "morning stars." Any day can be transformed into praise and worship.

The questions continue in uninterrupted fashion. Did Job control the "proud" waves of the sea –[note again the  word "proud"] ?  Did Job say to the tides: "This far and no farther"? (vv.8-11). Did Job command the morning and control the dawn and take hold of the ends of the earth and so shake the wicked and the hand held nigh in defiance? (vv.12-15).

"Have you entered the springs of the sea? Or have you walked in search of the depths? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the doors of the shadow of death?  Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth? Tell me if you know all this? (vv.16-18). The greatest of life's mysteries are known only to God Himself. Job as a single puny creature must stand in awe of the finalities of life.

A series of similar questions are raised about the complexities of nature. Where does light dwell (vv.19-21)?  Have you entered the treasury of the snow and hail (vv. 22)?  Have you caused the rain to fall on land where no one lives and yet bless the desolate waste? Have you been the father of rain and the frost to heaven and frozen glaciers (vv. 28-30)?

Something still more impossible has to be faced. "Can you bind the cluster of Pleiades, or loose the belt of Orion?"  God addresses the vastness of the constellations and asks Job can you manage them with your wisdom? (vv.31-33).  

God now becomes even more removed from man's finite knowledge. "Can you lift your voice to the clouds, that an abundance of water may cover you? Can you send out lightnings, that they may go, and say to you, ‘Here we are!'? (vv.34, 35)  Now the mystical is broached. "Who has put wisdom in the mind? Or who has given understanding to the heart"? (vv. 36, 37).

It is now most evident that God is speaking a language that is totally foreign to poor Job.  The breadth, length, height and depths of His knowledge, ability and control of the vast universe are far beyond the reach of Job's limited imagination.  He must have been left more than nonplussed!

God Further Confounds Job with the Animate World    Job 38:39 -39:30

If the vast reaches of the universe are the work of His fingers, God now turns to the brutish animals that Job knew but not in the depth of God's creative knowledge.   In one sense from the sublime to the ridiculous, God will silence Job. One can only imagine the confusion and abject ignorance of the one whom God had said: "there is none like him on the earth" (Job. 2:3).

From the King of beasts, the lion, to the raven unseen and forgotten, God owns and provides for their daily needs. "Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions? when they crouch in their dens, or lurk in their lairs to lie in wait? Or provides food for the raven, and wander about for lack of food? (vv.39-41). God could not have chosen two more diverse animals: the lion who reigns supreme in his world of unrivaled strength and the raven hardly noticed nor provided for. Yet they both appear daily in God's banquet hall.

The wild mountain goat has God's attention. He knows when they have their young  and His knowledge extends to the deer and the delivery of their healthy young and where they find grain and depart to return no more (vv. 39:1-4).

The wild donkey or the wild ass of Central Asia whose home is in the barren wilderness is next in line. He scorns the tumult of cities and never hears the shout of the driver; he ranges the sides of the mountains for pasture. But he is constantly in God's view and care (vv. 5-8).

An even more solitary wild ox with all his strength is of no value to bed down in a manger,  much less to bring in the harvest. Would you trust him to gather the harvest in your threshing floor? (vv. 9-12).

The ostrich is the personification of pride and ignorance. It waves its wings proudly but not like the kindly stork who cares for its own. The ostrich "leaves her eggs on the ground and warms them in the dust; she forgets that a foot may crush them, or that a wild beast may break them. She treats her young harshly, as though they were not hers; Her labor is in vain, without concern, because God deprived her of wisdom, and did not endow her with understanding. When she lifts herself on high, she scorns the horse and rider" (vv. 13-18).  It is clear that the ostrich is a veiled picture of the fool [Job] who knows not the true wisdom of God. Even nature's fool, God knows and indirectly protects. Once again the scepter of pride and ignorance go hand in hand. These comparisons were not lost on Job.

God reserves his longest description to the horse: "Have you given the horse strength? Have you clothed his neck with thunder? Can you frighten him like a locust? [note divine irony]. His majestic snorting strikes terror, he paws in the valley and rejoices in his strength; he gallops into the clash of arms. He mocks at fear, and is not frightened . . . at the blast of the trumpet he says, ‘Aha!' He smells the battle from afar, the thunder of captains and shouting"  (vv.19-25).

Hebrews poetry has its unique charms and delights. Its main feature is parallelism, apt ways of saying the same thing positively or negatively with visual and audible features.  The noble horse has been the hero of many an ancient battle. The strength, the fearlessness and the delight in danger only inspires the horse's innate bravery. The Spaniards introduced the horse in the conquest of Mexico; it produced awe and fear in the Aztec and Maya tribes.

God leaves the best to the last: the hawk and eagle confound the wisdom of Job. Again there is irony and application that Job must have deeply felt. Job was a non-entity before the animals he never considered of interest. "Does the hawk fly by your wisdom, and spread its wings toward the south?  Does the eagle mount up at your command and make its nest on high?  It dwells on the rock, and resides on the crag of the rock and stronghold. From there it spies out the prey; its eyes observe from afar. Its young ones suck up blood; and where the slain are, there it is" (vv. 26-30). 

The eagle that soars above takes everything in its full sweep of sight. Job had hardly observed  the wonder and marvel of nature, let alone could  he control its intricacies and secrets. His wisdom was limited to himself and his interests.

God was in charge of His world and involved in so many ways in His world that Job had never dreamed of. God would confound Job who saw himself as the center of his goodness toward the poor and weak, while at the same time he despised his servants. In self-pity he said: "But now they mock at me, men younger than I whose fathers I disdained to put with the dogs of my flock" (30:1).

In brief summary the marvel of the inanimate and animal worlds was more than sufficient to reduce Job's self-importance. With these devastating 32 question (Job 38,39), God had silenced him: creation from nothing by the uttering of His voice, the springs of the sea, the gates of death, the dwelling of light, the treasury of the snow, the rain, the frost of heaven, the constellations of the majestic heavens, the clouds.  As if that were not enough, He signals out the proud lion, the unknown raven, mountain goats, the wild donkey, the wild ox, the pride of the ostrich and its ignorance of its own and the majesty of the horse and finally the soaring of the hawk and kingly eagle.  

God Has Job Where He Wants Him     Job 40:1-5

God will now demand of Job a response.  Hitherto Job has not spoken, but now he must respond; he has no choice. "Moreover, the LORD [JEHOVAH] answered Job and said: Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it" (Job 40:1-2).   

God's demand of Job was a direct quote of Elihu when he began his message from God. "Why do you contend with Him? for He does not give an accounting of any of His words" (33:13). In the language of boxing the gloves are on and Job is reeling from 32 questions he cannot begin to answer. God pulls no punches; He has Job just where He wants him. But above all, God purposes in love a double blessing for Job.

[1] Mrs. Penn-Lewis, The Story of Job, A Glimpse into the Mystery of Suffering (Bournemouth: the Overcomer Book Room), 1902, p.174.