“Brace yourself like a man.” That is how the NIV translated God’s command in 38:3. That sharp statement is sage advice for Job due to what is about to occur. After Job’s constant begging and his friends fraudulent theology, God was done listening, it was time to set the record straight.
After so much time invested with Job and his story, readers may expect this moment to be one full of patience or even pity, but that’s not the case. This is not going to be a cool, calm, and collected conversation. Job needed to brace himself because God was about to speak out a whirlwind (see 38:1; 40:6) with divine authority. There’s no doubt in my mind the sheer power of the moment must have been frightening and worthy of our Creator.
God answered Job in two separate speeches with a reply of acknowledgement and repentance after each one from Job. They are not what the average reader would expect nor what Job must have hoped for (see 31:35). Ironically, God ended up answering Job without actually addressing the issues he and his friends had raised.
It is as if God took note of Job’s complaint, dismissed it thoroughly, and went to the real heart of the matter.
One character trait must be considered above all others as we study these words, humility. As human beings, we have no choice but to be satisfied with understanding what we know and not beyond. We cannot trade places with God because God is wholly (and Holy) other and is not supposed to be completely understood by such finite minds. We will always be limited by our very nature, He is not.
In other words, the created beings of this world do not have to understand the decisions of the Creator. However, we can appreciate them and should respect them. This section teaches something profound for every believer – no matter the strength of your relationship with God, there is always more to learn. In this section, Job is about to learn some things about God that he did not know and his world did not know and it will change everything.1
The key to understanding the dialogue from God is to imagine trading places with Him.
Think about the scenario. You created the world, sustained it, blessed its inhabitants, and now, one of those special creatures, made in your very own image, has the gumption to challenge your benevolence, wisdom, and judgment.
His first speech (38-39) is entirely focused on the wonder of the world’s creation and focuses on some detailed evidence from the creation. The amazing thing about this section are the things in nature we have only come to truly understand through modern science. He speaks things to Job that are “too wonderful” (see 42:3) for him to hear and comprehend completely. He puts Job in his place by asking a series of rhetorical questions for which our hero has no answer. 38:4-7 may be the most well known questions from this speech. They say:
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
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?
In the midst of these rhetorical questions, some comfort is found in a detail we may overlook. God uses His covenant name for the first time since the opening dialogues.2 You see, God’s covenant with His people is the most steadfast assurance (i.e. insurance policy) anyone can have. God may seem harsh in not answering Job’s questions and by throwing back questions at him, but He is saying “I am here, listen to me for I cannot abandon you.”3 In the same speech, God rattled off a list of animals and their ways to once again show Job, “you don’t know everything.”
The humbling circumstances were undoubtedly meant to shut up Job.
He had made statements beyond his knowledge and asked for things he couldn’t understand. Now, it was God’s turn to realign Job’s thoughts. The beauty and irony of the statements can be seen in their resounding truth. 39:19-20 paint a picture that’s always been true if we like it or not.
Have you given the horse strength?
Have you clothed his neck with thunder?
Can you frighten him like a locust?
His majestic snorting strikes terror.
It would seem the match Job was looking for with God was simply no contest. There really was no need for the second speech, yet God felt it necessary to further emphasize the point. Job had cried out for a chance to speak with God, now in God’s presence all he could do was remain silent. Even though this speech is shorter than the first God still commands Job to “brace himself.” Surely, Job felt insignificant after the first speech and continued to feel it during the second speech. His response to the first is noteworthy because it doesn’t sound like a many eager to go through another “scolding.” 40:4-5 sounds like something else entirely.
Behold, I am vile;
What shall I answer You?
I lay my hand over my mouth.
Once I have spoken, but I will not answer;
Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.
In this second speech, God uses more animal illustrations that up the ante. This time He describes the behemoth and the Leviathan. They are extraordinary creatures. Consider 41:1-9 and imagine trading places with Job.
Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook,
or snare his tongue with a line which you lower?
Can you put a reed through his nose,
Or pierce his jaw with a hook?
Will he make many supplications to you?
Will he speak softly to you?
Will he make a covenant with you?
Will you take him as a servant forever?
Will you play with him as with a bird,
Or will you leash him for your maidens?
Will your companions make a banquet of him?
Will they apportion him among the merchants?
Can you fill his skin with harpoons,
or his head with fishing spears?
Lay your hand on him;
remember the battle –
never do it again!
Indeed, any hope of overcoming him is false;
Shall one not be overwhelmed at the sight of him?
If Job were to meet these creatures in real life, he would need to brace himself. Thankfully, the world of biblical studies is not short of theories concerning these creatures. For that reason and because of limited space, it is unnecessary to go into much detail in this study. Who knows what they really were? That’s not the point. Because even if you don’t know what they are, the most obvious response to their poetic description is still “Wow!”
God described how massive and uncontrollable to human beings they are. They have freedom. So does Job. These animals and Job are both part of God’s creation and not puppets, but God is still the creator and they are still creation. Job can not control the beasts of creation because he, in a sense, is a beast as well.
Fortunately, because Job is made in the image of God, His Creator has a special interest our hero.
When we arrive here at God’s rhetorical monologue, this book is not about proving Satan wrong, it’s about showing what’s important to God. Job’s Creator is not concerned with proving Satan wrong or overlooking innocent believers, He is concerned with making sure we are faithful and Christlike. If you’re unconvinced, consider Romans 8:28-30 which says:
We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
That process is not easy, even for faithful men like Job. It requires maturity, humility, and knowing that God is always sovereign, even when we don’t realize it.4 God knows what He’s doing, Job forgot that, so can you and I. These chapters are meant to be a startling realization that forgetting who’s in charge is a grave mistake. May we all be people who say in the presence of God something similar to our titular hero in 42:2-6.
I know that You can do everything,
And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
You asked, “Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
Listen, please, and let me speak;
you said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
1 Derek Thomas, The Storm Breaks: Job Simply Explained, 302.
2 Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross, 374.
3 Thomas, The Storm Breaks, 303-304.
4 Thomas, The Storm Breaks, 305-307.
All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Zack Martin is a graduate of Freed-Hardeman University and the Southern Baptist Seminary. He is also the pulpit minister for the Cedar Springs Church of Christ in Louisville, Kentucky.