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Job 39:1-42:17

Roger Hahn

The Speeches of Yahweh - Job 38:1-42:6 (cont.)

The long poetic section of Job comes to an end with the speeches of Yahweh and Job’s replies in Job 38:1-42:6. A brief narrative epilogue corresponding to the prologue concludes the book in Job 42:7-17.

Yahweh’s First Speech – Job 38:1-40:2

The main subject of Yahweh’s first speech is questioning Job about the universe. Job 38:1-3 introduce Yahweh and challenge Job to respond. Then the main body of the speech, Job 38:4-39:30, deals with creation. Job 38:4-24 contains a series of questions about the structure of the world. Job 38:25-39:30 then shifts to questions about the way the world is maintained. The speech concludes in Job 40:1-2 with an invitation to Job to respond to Yahweh’s questions.

The introduction to this first speech declares that Yahweh answered Job out of the "tempest." The Hebrew word can also be translated "whirlwind" or "storm." The Lord has appeared in a storm of thunder, clouds, and smoke at Mount Sinai. He had spoken to Ezekiel from the wind of the tempest (Ezekiel 1:2-4). The Psalms and the prophets frequently speak of Yahweh coming in a tempest or storm to bring judgment upon the nations. The storm hid Yahweh from human scrutiny. Thus divine mystery and power are communicated and maintained by the storm.

Of course, the storm motif also challenges the claim of Baalism that Baal is lord of the storms (see Baal Worship in the Old Testament). From the storm Yahweh addresses Job. The mention of this fact in verse 1 along with the fact that Yahweh is God’s covenant name places the speech within the context of personal relationship. Though God will challenge Job’s claims he does not reject Job nor "de-christianize" him from the people of faith. Further, Yahweh’s respect for Job is shown in verse 3 when he challenges his servant to answer "like a man." The Hebrew word for man is geber which means a strong man or a mighty warrior.

Yahweh, however, does accuse Job of speaking words without knowledge and of "dark counsel." To be accused of speaking words without knowledge is a serious charge in the Wisdom literature. Fascinatingly, Yahweh does not accuse Job of sin, just of foolishness and a lack of adequate understanding. Job has demonstrated broad understanding of the ways of God and has generally conducted himself well considering the pain of his life. If God accuses Job of lack of knowledge one wonders what God must think of those whose understanding is far more limited than Job but who speak with total confidence about God and his ways. Even the wise and righteous Job lacked the understanding to explain adequately the counsels of God.

Yahweh then challenges Job in verse 3 to "gird up your loins." Girding one’s loins meant tucking the ends of one’s robe into one’s belt in preparation for serious activity. It is possible that Yahweh is calling on Job to enter the serious and difficult work of theological thought. More likely, Yahweh is challenging Job to a spiritual wrestling match. This figure of speech puts Job on the defensive. Earlier in the book (Job 13:22) he had said to God, "Call and I will answer or let me speak and you reply to me." Yahweh now calls to Job. Whether Job is capable of answering remains to be seen.

In Job 38:4-15 Yahweh asks Job to consider the beginning of creation. Three figures of speech are used in this section. Verses 4-7 compare God to a master builder who laid the foundations of the earth. Verse 6 even speaks of the trenches for footings and the cornerstone. The point of these verses is that God works with the vast expanses of the universe with the same ease and competence that carpenters demonstrate over small stones and boards to build a house. Verse 7 points out that God did not operate in isolation at creation. The "the morning stars sang together" and "heavenly beings shouted for joy". It is possible that the phrase, "morning stars" referred to spiritual beings rather than literal stars.

Verses 8-11 compare God to a midwife who delivered the sea. Verse 9 describes the clouds as the swaddling clothes of the newborn babe, the sea. However, in verses 10-11 the metaphors change. The sea is no longer a babe, but a fearful power that must be contained. Old Testament writers feared the sea. Genesis 1:2 portrayed the waters as the chaos out of which God brought creation, order, and meaning see Voice Bible Study, Genesis, Lesson 2). Verses 12-15 compare God to a general who commanded the light to shine. Yahweh’s control of the storms affirmed his superiority to the Canaanite god, Baal (see Baal Worship in the Old Testament). These verses claim God’s control over the sun. The gods of Egypt and Babylon were sun gods so this is a claim to Yahweh’s superiority to those deities.

Job 38:16-24 ask Job about his awareness of and experience with the boundaries of the universe. Whether it be the depths of the sea (verses 16-18), or the horizon where light and darkness dwell (verses 19-21), or the storehouses of the snow, hail, and wind in the heights of the heavens (verses 22-24), Yahweh challenges Job to compare knowledge with him. If Job was able to answer with understanding it would show his ability to interact with Yahweh as a peer. This would allow him to make the demands that he has made. However, Job’s ignorance of such mysteries – as all human beings both then and now are ignorant – painted in bold contrast the sovereignty of God and the smallness of any human being, even Job who is upright.

The questions shift again in Job 38:25-38. Yahweh asks Job about his understanding of the daily activity involved in maintaining and directing the universe. The very nature of the questions shows that Yahweh understands these matters and handles them as easily as a daily routine. Verses 25-27 describe the process of conveying rain from the clouds to the earth, even to the desert places where that rain causes plants to sprout. Verses 28-30 further develop the question regarding rain by asking how rain originates. It has no father or mother but Yahweh brings it into being in a variety of fascinating forms – rain, gentle dew, frost, and ice. Part of the point is Yahweh’s creative genius to be able both to create and to manage such variety and intricacy. Verses 31-33 shift to questions about the constellations, Pleiades, Orion, and the Bear.

Verse 32 contains a Hebrew word the meaning of which is unclear. The King James and Revised Standard traditions simply transliterate the Hebrew word, Mazzaroth. Attempts to give its meaning include signs of the zodiac (New English Bible), constellations (NIV), and planets (Hartley). Its place in the structure of verses 31-32 shows that it has some astronomical meaning.

The ancient world, especially Egypt and Babylon, was very interested in the stars and constellations. They believed that human destiny was controlled by the stars and constellations. Thus every effort was made to understand and thus control the stars. Those efforts usually ended up with naming the stars and constellations and a rough description of the repeated patterns of the sun and stars. Planets caused great difficulty because they did not seem to be regular in their patterns of motion across the sky. The mystery and power attributed to the stars caused most people of the ancient Near East to worship them as gods. Israel was an obvious exception as Job shows (see "Lucifer" in Isaiah 14:12-17). In fact, the Old Testament regards the sun and stars as servants of Yahweh. This is another way in which Israel proclaimed her faith that Yahweh was superior to all the rival deities of the surrounding nations. One can summarize the thrust of verses 25-38 by noting that they all deal with what modern humans would call the inanimate aspects of nature. The following verses turn to the animal world.

Yahweh’s penetrating questions about Job’s understanding of creation shifts to the animal kingdom in Job 38:39-39:30. The positive affirmation of these questions is Yahweh’s fascinating creativity and power. Some of the animals are noteworthy because of their beauty. Yahweh is the creator of that beauty. Other animals strike terror into the human heart because of their ferocious nature. No human can tame of control them. But Yahweh is their master. The animals that are mentioned include the lion, the raven, the mountain goats, the hind (deer), the wild ass, the wild ox, the ostrich, the horse, the hawk, and the eagle.

Most of these animals inhabited the desert and uninhabited areas of the ancient Near East. The biblical world also thought of these regions as the dwelling of demons and evil spirits. Thus Yahweh’s control over these wild animals also is a claim of his power of all evil spiritual forces and beings. Further, some of these animals represented a major threat against human civilization as the ancient world experienced it. For example, the lion threatened the sheep of the shepherd and the wild ass threatened the cultivated land of the farmer. Ancient picture writing in several Near Eastern cultures portrayed a king’s power by emphasizing his control over the wild animals of the region. Hartley (p. 504) points out:

With these portraits Yahweh asserts his lordship over the entire earth – the cultivated land and the wilderness, the domesticated animals and the wild beasts. No part of the world lies outside his rule. No hostile forces exist beyond his authority. That which seems unruly and demonic to mankind is assuredly subject to God’s rule…As Lord of the universe he governs the whole world for the well-being of every creature, including those mankind despises.

This powerful picture of God is important for contemporary Christians. Yahweh has challenged Job with questions about what we call nature. In the time and culture of Job there were virtually no answers to these questions. The scientific advances of the past four hundred years would cause some to feel confident about answering these questions. In fact, scientific study has pushed back the boundaries of our knowledge of nature in incredible ways. However, the powerful insights of science do not invalidate Yahweh’s claims. We know almost infinitely more about "how" nature works than people did in Job’s time. We can describe the beauty of creation with far greater precision and detail than could the author of Job. However, we still do not know the "why" of creation. Science can describe a cause and effect chain of events that moves from the present far back toward the origins. But there is still and always will be a point at which science cannot explain why the original cause worked the way it did nor why the universe is constructed with the amazing set of relationships that are there for science to study.

The ancient world resorted to demons and defied stars and storms to explain the universe. Life was fearful because one had no idea why and when natural disasters would strike. Biblical faith responded that Yahweh controlled the world. Yahweh, the God of covenant love, the God of justice and mercy, the God of order and right, rules the universe. Life with its uncertainties did not have to be feared – Yahweh was in control. The modern, naturalistic explanation of the universe reduces all reality to that which can be scientifically measured. Life is meaningless because there is no purpose for the universe. Biblical faith responds that Yahweh still controls the universe and has a purpose for human life. Though sin has derailed God’s original plan redemption through Christ has re-defined our purpose, meaning, and ultimate goals (Romans 8:18-25). Science enables the believer to understand better the infinite creativity that Yahweh has used in constructing and maintaining the universe. The awe that Job 38-39 would have inspired in its original readers is still the appropriate act of worship from us.

Yahweh’s first speech ends with the invitation to Job to respond in Job 40:1-2. The forcefulness that Job had shown throughout the book in defending his own rightness and demanding an answer from God implied that God needed correction. After two chapters of questions that revealed Job’s lack of knowledge and Yahweh’s fullness of understanding, Yahweh offers to Job the opportunity to make his speech.

Job’s Response to Yahweh’s First Speech – Job 40:3-5

Job’s response is noteworthy for several reasons. First is its brevity. Job had not lacked for words in his various speeches throughout the long dialogue section of the book but he has nothing further to say at this point. It is a bit surprising that Job has so little to say in the light of what Yahweh has said. Some interpret Job’s silence as resignation to God’s superiority. In such an interpretation it is hard to understand why Yahweh then speaks again. Others see Job as rebellious against Yahweh’s words. They see his silence as an angry refusal to back off from any of his claims of righteousness or any of his demands for God to grant him a hearing.

What Job says is that he is insignificant compared to God. Hebrew used the word "heavy" for the glory of God. Job uses the opposite word to describe himself. He viewed himself a light (we would say a lightweight) or small compared to God and his glory. It is appears that Job is neither resigned nor rebellious. Rather, he is overwhelmed by the reality of God. It is clear to him that his earlier statements don’t fit with the reality of who God is and how God operates. In that sense there is nothing Job can add to what he said to make it more persuasive. Job is in the process of realizing that God is in a totally different league. However, the impact of his tragic experience is also still powerful. He is not ready to retract what he had said either. The author portrays Job very realistically. He is in that "almost paralyzed" state of the dawning awareness that what he had said doesn’t make sense, but still convinced that he was right. A response of being almost speechless accurately reflects the human experience in such a situation. This obviously means that Yahweh must speak again.

Yahweh’s Second Speech – Job 40:6-41:34

There are some similarities between Yahweh’s first and second speeches. Yahweh continues to use rhetorical questions both to question Job’s claims and to assert his own sovereignty. He also continues to appeal to nature. However, this second speech is sharper, more to the point. It will force Job to confront the reality of who God is. This second speech has two main sections. The first, Job 40:6-14 challenges Job’s demands for justice from God. The second part, Job 40:15-41:34, presents a picture of two amazing beasts, Behemoth and Leviathan.

Job 40:6-14 confronts Job with the flaw in his earlier statements. By defending his own righteousness and angrily denouncing God for allowing his suffering to go unexplained Job has nearly charged God with injustice. Yahweh’s first point in verse 8 is translated in different ways. The NRSV has, "Will you even put me in the wrong?" The NIV translates, "Would you discredit my justice?" Hartley (p. 519) gives, "Would you impugn my justice?" Notice that Yahweh does not charge Job with any specific sin. The righteousness of Job that has been maintained throughout this book is not questioned; it is still intact. However, Job’s attitude reveals a lack of understanding of the reality of God as well as ignorance of the ways of God.

Job has two specific and related problems that Yahweh is addressing. The first is pride. By his strong insistence on his own righteousness Job is in danger of putting more confidence in his righteousness than in God’s righteousness. Hartley (p. 519) wisely notes that pride is most treacherous when it arises from commitment to the correct position. Religious history provides too many examples of that truth. Job may have the right to complain to God about his circumstances, but he must beware of missing out on purposes God has for him that he has not yet imagined.

This pride that imagines one can correct God is original sin first portrayed in Genesis 3. The upshot of it is to begin to live as if one were an equal of God or even capable of instructing God. Andersen (p. 287-8) correctly understands these verses when he states:

There is a rebuke [here] for any person who, by complaining about particular events in his life, implies that he could propose to God better ways of running the universe than those God currently uses. Men are eager to use force to combat evil and in their impatience they wish God would do the same more often. But by such destructive acts men do and become evil. To behave as God suggests in 40:8-14, Job would not only usurp the role of God, he would become another Satan. Only God can destroy creatively. Only God can transmute evil into good. As Creator, responsible for all that happens in His world, He is able to make everything (good and bad) work together into good. The debate has been elevated to a different level. The reality of God’s goodness lies beyond justice. This is why the categories of guilt and punishment, true and terrible though they are, can only view human suffering as a consequence of sin, not as an occasion of grace.

Obsession with our own rightness reduces God to our level and robs us of the opportunity to experience the fullness of his grace.

To give Job the chance to experience God in his reality God must break through Job’s insistence upon his own rightness. Yahweh’s strategy is to challenge Job to function with the god-like attributes that are implied by Job’s claims. "Put on the garments of God such as majesty, glory, and splendor," Yahweh challenges in verse 10. "Overcome the proud and the wicked," verses 11 and 12 dare Job. If Job can pull off those accomplishments then Yahweh will listen to him. In fact, verse 14 points out that if Job can do such things then he can save himself. If Job were God he wouldn’t need God. Our own need of God should be adequate confirmation of the fact that we are not God and cannot fulfill God’s role in our lives no matter how hard we try nor how much we want to do it.

The second major section of Yahweh’s second speech focuses on the amazing beasts, Behemoth in Job 40:15-24, and Leviathan in Job 41:1-34. The nature and meaning of these two beasts is debated. Some scholars believe that they were purely mythical creatures while others argue that they were actual animals in the ancient world. Scholars who argue for actual animals usually identify them with the hippopotamus and crocodile. Hartley (p. 521-2) points out that these verses contain enough realistic description to rule out purely mythical creatures. However, "into the factual description the author skillfully blends fanciful metaphors drawn from mythical accounts of monsters in order that these beasts may represent both mighty terrestrial creatures and cosmic forces." These "fanciful metaphors" contribute to a sense of irony and absurdity designed to shock Job out of his continued defense of his innocence. "Yahweh is laying bare the pride that underlies Job’s defense of his innocence. If Job realizes his own creatureliness, he may humble himself and admit anew God’s authenticating presence in his life. God’s hard questioning of Job is a witness to his grace." (Hartley, p. 521 paraphrasing Weiser’s German commentary)

Job 40:15-24 deals with Behemoth. This animal is usually identified as a hippopotamus though some scholars argue that it represents a buffalo. The strength and selected body parts of the Behemoth are described in verses 15-18. Its prominence in creation is highlighted in verses 19-20 and verses 21-23 describe selected behaviors of this strange animal. Verses 19 and 24 reveal the purpose of mentioning Behemoth. Only God the maker of Behemoth can successfully fight against it and capture it. Job would not dare to go up against such a terrifying beast, but God controls Behemoth.

Chapter 41 of Job is devoted to Leviathan. Some understand Leviathan to be the crocodile while others see him as a serpent-like sea monster. Psalm 74:14 describes the Exodus from Egypt as God defeating Leviathan and Isaiah 27:1 looks forward to the day when God will destroy Leviathan again in the final apocalyptic battle. This chapter inter-weaves descriptions of a crocodile with pictures of the mythical monster that Canaanite religions viewed as the evil deity. The point is that Job could not successfully conquer the earthly creature we call a crocodile. Much less was he capable doing battle with the cosmic figure representing the forces of evil. Job could not. But Yahweh could. Job must decide whether he will argue his case against God (and lose) or submit to God by accepting in trusting faith both the blessing and the curse, both the riches and the ash heap.

Job’s Final Response – Job 42:1-6

Yahweh’s second speech does not seem to have a satisfactory ending. The author has skillfully constructed the book in such a way that it seems that Job interrupts Yahweh with his response. He (Job) is finally convinced and it is not necessary for God to say more. He acknowledges that he has spoken beyond the boundaries of his understanding. Verse 5 powerfully declares that Job had heard of Yahweh in the past. Perhaps this is even a reference to the first speech acknowledging the beginning penetration of God’s word into his thick skull. But the final line of verse 5 is the key, "But now my eye sees you." Job had asked to see God. Now he confesses that he has seen God in the speeches of Yahweh. Verse 6 then declares the only appropriate human response to an authentic vision of God, repentance and being humbled. Though Job’s moral integrity and righteousness is not in question he understands that a vision of God in his reality must lead to confession and repentance.

The Epilogue - Job 42:7-17

The epilogue concludes the book with eleven verses of narrative. These verses correspond to the narrative prologue of the first two chapters. Some people are offended by the epilogue. They feel that the restoration of Job’s family and fortunes undermines the whole point of the book. They often argue that these verses were added on by a later writer who totally misunderstood the book. Such persons miss two important points.

First, the epilogue is a necessary literary conclusion. It answers the prologue and helps form the brackets that support the long, long section of dialogue. Secondly, for the book to be meaningful in the context of Israelite culture Yahweh must announce his judgment (decision) on the whole matter. The epilogue does this in two parts. Verses 7-9 announce Yahweh’s verdict on the friends who, siding with the satan, try to convince Job that material blessing was the only reason for and evidence of serving God. Not only are the three friends wrong; they must be atoned for by Job’s prayers.

Verses 10-17 announce Yahweh’s verdict on Job by means of a story rather than by means of a proclamation. In Israelite culture the story of Job’s restoration and being blessed more in his later years than in the earlier years effectively communicated God’s pleasure with Job. As a modern writer (named Job, no less) puts it, "God’s answer to Job is expressed not only in argument, but in action. After the severity of the sermon, there is an element of surprise in his being awarded the gold medal of divine approval, coined no longer in mere words, but in complete rehabilitation." (Job, p. 115).

Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion

These readings and study questions are a reflective review of the Book of Job.

As you study each day ask the Lord to speak to you through his word.  Ask the Holy Spirit to make the word come alive to you for that day.  The questions for days 2-6 provide a review of the whole book of Job.  You may wish to spread this final review study over a longer period of time than one week.

First Day: Read the notes on Job 39:1-42:17. Look up the Scripture references given.

1. Identify one or two new insights that were important to you. Describe why they were important.

2. Select a truth that has a personal application in your own life. Tell how it applies to you.

3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to allow you to see him in his glory and grace through the circumstances of your life and your worship.

Second Day: Read Job 1-8.

1. Summarize the drama of Job 1-2. What is at stake in the testing that God will allow Job to suffer? Have you ever felt like you were enduring a similar test? How did you feel?

2. What are the main points of Eliphaz’s speech in chapter 4-5? What does he say that seems right to you? What does he say that seems wrong to or seems to miss the point? What wrong does Eliphaz speak?

3. What are the main points of Job’s response to Eliphaz in chapters 6 and 7? Is it any different than his comments in chapter 3? If so, how? What do you find helpful in Job’s comments?

4. What is the main point of Bildad’s speech in chapter 8? What points does Bildad make that you believe are correct? How are those points helpful to you?

Third Day: Read Job 9-17.

1. Summarize Job’s reply to Bildad in chapters 9 and 10. What truths about God does Job express? What does Job say that makes you uncomfortable?

2. What main points does Job make in his response to Zophar found in chapters 12-14? Is there anything in Zophar’s speech of chapter 11 that Job actually answers? What do you most closely identify with in Job’s speech? Why do you identify with it?

3. How does Eliphaz answer Job in chapter 15? What are the most important truths in this chapter? Why are they important to you?

4. What is the main point of Job’s complaint as he responds to Eliphaz in chapters 16-17? Do you think he was justified in making these complaints? Why or why not?

Fourth Day: Read Job 18-25.

1. Does Job’s speech in chapter 19 respond to the advice given by Bildad in chapter 18? If so, how? What do you regard as the highlight of chapter 19? What application would you make of it to your own life?

2. What points does Job make in chapter 21? Which seem most important to you? Why are they important?

3. What do you find that is beneficial in the speeches of Zophar in chapter 20, Eliphaz in chapter 22, and Bildad in chapter 25?

4. What does Job want according to chapters 23-24? Have you had times when you wished for the same thing? Was Job seeking a good thing? Why or why not?

Fifth Day: Read Job 26-34.

1. What truths does Job express in chapters 26-27? What does he say that seems to apply most directly to you? Ask the Lord to help you make the right application of truth in your life.

2. Ponder the hymn to wisdom in chapter 28. What is its main point? If you were trying to communicate that same point to people today what so you think would be the most effective way to communicate it? Why?

3. Summarize Job’s final long speech in chapters 29-31. What strikes you as most important about chapter 31? Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you live in victory over the various sins listed in here.

4. How do you respond to Elihu’s speeches in Job 32-34? Do you find Elihu making a positive contribution to the book or does he irritate you? Why do you suppose you answer the way you do?

Sixth Day: Read Job 35-42.

1. What insight do you find most helpful in Elihu’s speeches in Job 35-37? Why is that insight helpful to you?

2. As you read Yahweh’s first speech in Job 38-39 how does it make you feel? What does it make you want to do? What song does it make you want to sing? What do you think is Yahweh’s main point? How would you express that point if you were to compose a book like Job for modern people?

3. As you compare Yahweh’s first speech in Job 38-39 with his second speech in Job 40:6-41:34, what differences and what similarities do you see? How does Job’s response in Job 42:1-6 differ from hat found in Job 40:3-5? Which is the better response? Why?

4. How does the epilogue of Job 42:7-17 make you feel? Are you disappointed in the renewal of Job’s blessings? If so, why? Are you encouraged by his restoration? If so, why?

5. In your own words briefly summarize what you believe to be the purpose of the whole book of Job. What spiritual growth has come to you from your study of this book? What spiritual growth has it made you realize that you still need?

-Roger Hahn, Copyright © 2011, Roger Hahn and the Christian Resource Institute
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