Job 38 begins, ”Then YHWH answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:” God is not answering Elihu and will only answer the three friends at the end. He speaks out of a heavy windstorm. This is a theophany – a fancy way of saying that God appears to Job. It is meant to be in the same category as the theophany on Mount Sinai (i.e., Exodus 19).
Lindsay Wilson helpfully explains: “Some of Job’s problems (e.g., God’s apparent absence) are resolved simply by the arrival of Yahweh. Yet God’s speeches also bring about a paradigm shift in the book, and God even needs to speak twice before Job finally understands. His survey of the natural world decisively shifts the issue from Job’s question, ‘Why am I not dealt with justly?’ to the broader one of how God orders his creation.” In other words, God shows Job the bigger picture.
There is a balancing act in these words by God because He does not want to be so tough that the friends would look right nor does He want to be so timid that Job does not listen. His purpose in speaking to Job is to move Job on from staying in dust and ashes.
YHWH begins, ”Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). There is something more that Job does not know. As is typical in wisdom literature, the answer given is found in the created order.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7).
The answer that God gives is profound, not just because it answers Job but because it still works as an answer for people today. Whenever God describes the creation of all things (like in Genesis 1), He accommodates to the understanding of these ancient people rather than describing it like a modern scientist would do. But God’s answer does not depend on an ancient or a modern understanding of cosmology. It is more fundamental than that. The modern scientist is concerned with explaining how things work. God instead shows that He is in charge of creation and providence. Thus God’s knowledge is not just explanatory but knowing by doing it, which is more than anyone else can say.
Job 38 and 39 multiplies examples of God’s unparalleled wisdom and knowledge in creation and providence. Job did not set the limits for the seas and oceans, has not commanded the dawn to begin each day, has not seen the gates of death, entered the storehouses of snow or hail, etc. All of these points God makes colorfully. Such as concerning the storehouses of snow and hail being ”reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war” (Job 38:23). To be sure this is partially because the text is poetry. But it reflects what we see elsewhere in Scripture that God does.
Among the other things Job cannot do is “bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion” (Job 38:31). Thus God discusses the constellations in the night sky but all of this is with the point of showing that Job cannot do these things. Job may understand how these things work or be able to describe them (which is what calling something a constellation is doing), but He cannot command them.
Then God’s answer shifts to the animals. Among those animals mentioned are lions, ravens, mountain goats, wild donkeys, wild ox, ostriches, horses, hawks and eagles. God’s point is that He provides their food, knows when they give birth, has appointed particular places for them to live, can control them, gives them strength and makes them leap, etc. Job can do none of these things. Concerning the ostrich an interesting point is made: ”She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers; though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear, because God has made her forget wisdom and given her no share in understanding” (Job 39:16-17). Wisdom is something that you can see in the created order and you can see wild animals abandoning wisdom.
Job 40 opens with a subtitle, ”And YHWH said to Job:” What He said was, ”Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it” (Job 40:1-2). ”Then Job answered YHWH and said: ‘Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:3-5). Job’s ‘reply’ shows that he has yet to get what God was doing in His speech.
Therefore, God begins again with a line similar to the first time (Job 38:3 and 40:7). This time it is notable that God brings up ‘Behemoth’ and ‘Leviathan.’ I have written about these somewhat extensively. He co-opts the myths about Leviathan for his own purposes. Remember, of course, that Job had himself brought up the sea monsters in earlier speeches (i.e., Job 7:12, 26:12).
Concerning Leviathan, God says that He can catch Leviathan like it were a fish. The point then emphasizes God’s strength and Leviathan’s relative impotence. Therefore, it is to challenge Job for confronting God.
Concerning Behemoth, a transliteration of the Hebrew word, the picture is of a huge land animal of some kind. But the idea here is that both the great sea monsters and the great beasts on the land are creatures of God that depend upon Him. They need God for their food, shelter, strength, etc. They are strong compared to Job, but weak in comparison with God.
Then we see Job’s second reply to God: ”Then Job answered YHWH and said:” (Job 42:1). Job this time sees the point God is making – He sees the bigger picture. ”I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2), Job begins. Job then quotes God and acknowledges that God is right, saying, ”I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). It is a different word from Psalm 139:6, but the same concept. Job in the midst of his suffering had been asking heavy questions rather than just climbing up into God’s lap and letting God care for him.
The end of Job’s second reply is often misleadingly translated as ”therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Remember that Job does not need to ”repent” of sin. But playing on the Hebrew word for ”repent” which means more generally to change direction, Job uses the same word to indicate that he has changed his perspective. No longer will he wallow in dust and ashes. In other words, Job will stop his mourning and lamentation and get on with his life because he now sees the bigger picture (it is not all about Job and his suffering but God is up to bigger things).
That this was a theophany is clear in the previous verse: ”I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5).
God Answers the 3 Friends
Then YHWH turns to the three friends. Specifically God speaks to the eldest and most wise among them – Eliphaz the Temanite. And the holy anger of God is on display – ”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” (Job 42:7). (Remember that Elihu’s apparently ‘righteous’ anger is a foil for God’s truly holy anger.)
And God tells him to take seven bulls and seven rams and go to ”my servant Job” and offer up them as a burnt offering for themselves. And God says that Job will pray for them and God will accept His prayer not to ”deal with you according to your folly.” Note the wisdom theme of ”folly.” A second time in the speech God says that they have not spoken of God what is right, ”as my servant Job has.” The following verse tells us that the three friends did as they were directed and YHWH accepted Job’s prayer. Thus Job acts as a prophet interceding for the three friends.
The Epilogue Like Israel
We might say that Job is like a parable for Israel. Remember that we mentioned in an earlier post that Job is like the suffering servant in Isaiah. And at the beginning of this post we noted that he had a Sinai-like theophany. Now note the similarities to God’s promises to Israel in this epilogue:
First, we see YHWH ”restoring the fortunes” of Job. This is an idiom for ”return from exile,” as we have seen throughout Scripture. This takes place when Job prays for his friends. (Likewise the people of Israel needed to pray before the exile would end.) The text is clear: ”And YHWH gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10). (Hold onto that thought for a moment.) And his brothers and sisters and everyone who knew him before came to him and showed him sympathy and comforted him because of what God had done to him. Each one gave him money and a ring of gold.
Second, then we read that YHWH blessed ”the latter days” of Job more than his beginning. It is not insignificant that they are called ”the latter days.” The latter days is an eschatological (words about last things) word, for the end times, in which we now live. And the ”latter days” spiritual blessings are prophetically described in the form of earthly blessings, as is common in Scripture. He had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, etc. Each of these are twice the number as Job had before. Remember, ”YHWH gave Job twice as much as he had before.”
However, if this is true, then why does Job only have seven sons and three daughters (for a total of ten children) like he did before? It is very important that the text does not say that Job in the latter days has twenty children. If it did, you would miss an important point. First of all, having ten children in the latter days is a doubling of Job’s children. Just because his first ten children have died does not mean that they are not his children. He has ten more children (hence a doubling of the number of his children). Second of all, it is a hint in the Old Testament that there is life after death and even that the first ten children will be raised at the resurrection.
It is also significant that the names of his three daughters are listed, that it says, ”in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters,” and that ”their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers.” Given the example we find in the Torah, we know that this means these women were daughters with great faith in God. Job is a patriarch (much like Abraham or Jacob, i.e. ”Israel”!) and he passes this faith onto the next generation of his family. Also, it should not be lost on us who live in “the latter days” that the new covenant includes women in a way that surpasses the old covenant.
The blessing of Job includes living a full life. He sees four generations (significant that four is a wisdom number for complete). We are not sure how long he had lived before this, but the fact that he lived another 140 years decisively shows that he belongs to the era of the patriarchs as Moses only made it to 120 years in total. And like the patriarchs the book ends, ”And Job died, an old man, and full of days” (Job 42:17).