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Bible Commentaries
Job 38

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-7



“Then Jehovah answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel By words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; And I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if thou hast understanding. Who determined the measurements thereof, if thou knowest? Or who stretched the line upon it? Whereupon were the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the cornerstone thereof? When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy.”

The most perplexing problem in the whole book of Job is in these two verses. Of whom is God speaking in Job 38:2? The question is not, “To whom does God speak”? That is clear enough. He spoke to Job. But the question is, “Of whom does he speak”? Scholars are sharply divided on the question. “Some commentators have applied Job 38:2 to Job, others to Elihu.”(F1) It is the conviction of this writer that the words cannot possibly apply to anyone other than Elihu. The reasons behind this conviction are:

(1) Applying the words to Job is a contradiction of Job 42:7-8. The advocates of that interpretation, however, are not bothered by the contradiction, “Because they assign the entire Epilogue to a different author from the poetic Dialogue, making it an argument for multiple authorship of Job.”(F2) Although we have interpreted the Epilogue and the Prologue as the work of Moses, who was inspired of God, we cannot believe that his inspired approval of Job’s words regarding God would have been given if God indeed had said in Job 38:2, here, that those words were `without knowledge.’

(2) The verse is profoundly true as an evaluation of the Elihu speeches, as we have frequently noted in the preceding notes.

(3) The application of these words to Job leaves the entire six chapters of the Elihu speeches dangling without any response whatever from any person whomsoever, thus supporting the affirmation that the six chapters are an interpolation. Our acceptance of the unity of Job, as regards the whole of it, except the Prologue and the Epilogue forbids that explanation.

(4) It cannot be denied that God interrupted and terminated Elihu’s tirade. God by that action indicated the same evaluation of Elihu’s words that Job 38:2 declares; and if Job 38:2 were placed in a parenthesis, that fact would be clearly indicated by the punctuation. The punctuation of the Holy Bible is the work of men, not of God; and where punctuation can be made to harmonize or explain difficult passages, it should be utilized for that purpose.

We shall not take the space to line up scholars on both sides of the question. The alleged problem disappears if we apply the words as God’s parenthetical and derogatory dismissal of everything Elihu said.

The big thing here is that Almighty God appeared to Job in one of the most remarkable theophanies in the Bible. What did that mean? It meant that God approved of Job, that Job’s integrity was established in the only place where it mattered, namely, with God Himself. In Job 31:5, Job had pleaded with God to answer him; and here God did so. That is the colossal fact of these concluding chapters; and it dramatically establishes the truth that God approved of Job, and that God loved him. God honored him as few men in the history of the world were honored; and the undeniable corollary of this is that Job 38:2 was in no sense whatever addressed to Job, but to Elihu.

May the Almighty answer me (Job 31:35), Job had pleaded; “And now God really answers, and indeed out of a storm.”(F3)

God would at this point speak repeatedly to Job, asking many questions about many different things. The great truth that shines like the sun at perihelion here is not so much related to the particular things about which God questioned Job as it is to the incredible and glorious truth that Almighty God Himself was here carrying on a conversation with a mortal man! How, beyond all imagination, is the character of such a man elevated and glorified by this most astonishing event, unparalleled by anything else in the history of mankind, Jesus Christ himself alone standing any higher in such a relationship than did Job.

“Then Jehovah answered Job” God’s answer, however, is a surprise. He did not answer any of Job’s questions, except in the implications of this reply. “This was not because the questions have no answers.”(F4) He answered Job with a barrage of counter-questions concerning the mysteries of the entire sidereal creation; and it is evident that this brought healing, comfort and satisfaction to Job.

God’s not giving specific answers to Job’s questions suggests that: (1) It is not possible for man to know all the answers and that, (2) It is enough to know that God loves him (as evidenced to Job in the very fact of God’s speaking to him). (3) Also, by God’s not giving Job a list of his transgressions, there is the dramatic affirmation that Job’s misfortunes did not come as punishment for his wickedness; and yet God did not reveal to Job the real secret of what had happened, namely, that exchange between God and Satan in the Prologue. (4) In this, there is another key discernment, i. e, that it is best for man not to know the reasons why this or that occurs in his life.

“Then Jehovah answered Job out of the whirlwind” Job’s troubles started when a great wind killed his children; and now in a whirlwind Job began his return to happiness and prosperity. This is not the storm that might have been described by Elihu in the previous chapter; because the final paragraph there, “Appears to describe the calm as the storm abates.”(F5) The glorious light mentioned in that paragraph indicated the cessation of the storm.

The relation between a theophany and violent weather appears often in the Bible, as for example in Psalms 18:8-16, and in Exodus 19:16.

“Gird up now thy loins like a man” The word here rendered ’man’ is translated by Pope as `hero.’ “Gird your loins like a hero.”(F6) Here is the true picture of God’s estimate of Job. In fact, Job is here invited to do the very thing he had longed to do, that is, to plead his case before God; and there is the implication that God considers Job worthy to do such a thing. This, God would most certainly not have done, if he had just finished saying that Job’s words without knowledge were darkening counsel.

All of the questions God asked were not for the purpose of humiliating Job, or mocking him. In this loving and gentle admonition God was leading Job into the knowledge that the specific answers he sought were impossible for mortal men to know. Note also, that God did not criticize Job for his tearful and aggressive search for such answers. The very questions that God asked constitute a heavenly endorsement of humanity’s ceaseless and diligent pursuit of every possible answer to the perplexing, nagging questions of all the mysteries that confront mankind in our earthly sojourn.

In the light of these considerations, we do not think that it is necessary to investigate all of these questions one by one. In the aggregate the answers to all of them were impossible for Job to know; and mankind today is no more able to answer all the questions than was he. Every great mystery that science has solved proves not to be the ultimate reality. Every door which the intelligence of men has unlocked has failed to disclose the Great Truth; but, conversely, has opened upon a corridor reaching into infinity with many doors remaining yet to be unlocked. Indeed, the Great Truth may not be any fact or formula whatever, but the Great Person, God Himself. This was the marvelous answer that came to Job. Knowing God and being loved and known by Him - that is the Great Answer, the Great Truth, the Great Joy, the Great Salvation, Eternal Life!

“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth,… when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” The mysteries of the sidereal creation are the theme here. Not Job, nor any other man, was present when such great things were done. As a matter of fact, man himself was relatively a late-arrival upon earth. “The sons of God” are here the angels, because man was last in the Creation.

Verses 8-11


“Or who shut up the sea with doors, When it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb; When I made clouds the garment thereof, And thick darkness a swaddling band for it, And marked out for it my bound, And set bars and doors, And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; And here shalt thy proud waves be staid?”

Verses 12-15


“Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days began, And caused the dayspring to know its place; That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, And the wicked be shaken out of it? It is changed as clay under the seal; And all things stand forth as a garment: And from the wicked their light is withholden, And the high arm is broken.”

“That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it” These words are, in part, ambiguous. Pope’s rendition here seems to give a hint that there is a reference to the Deluge. “Did you ever… snatch off the Earth’s skirts, shaking the wicked out of it?”(F7)

Verses 16-18


“Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? Or hast thou walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed unto thee? Or hast thou seen the gates of the shadow of death? Hast thou comprehended the earth in its breadth? Declare if thou knowest it all.”

Yes, indeed, today, men have measured the breadth of the earth, discovered its distance from the sun, weighed it, mapped it, explored most of it, etc.; but what about Job 38:17? Today, men are just as ignorant as was Job regarding what it is like one minute after death. In all of the really important things men are today just as hopelessly surrounded by darkness as was Job. Are we conscious after death? When will there be a resurrection? How did our human race begin? In all of such questions, the only answer must be sought within the pages of the Holy Bible, and nowhere else.

Verses 19-24


“Where is the way to the dwelling of light? And as for darkness, where is the place thereof?. That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, And that thou shouldest discern the paths to the house thereof Doubtless thou knowest for thou wast then born, And the number of thy days is great! Hast thou entered the treasuries of the snow, Or hast thou seen the treasuries of the hail, Which I have reserved against the time of trouble, Against the day of battle and war? By what way is the light parted, Or the east wind scattered upon the earth?”

“Hast thou seen the treasuries of the hail” One may say, Well, that was no doubt a mystery to Job, but we know all about such things! Do we? “And great hail, every stone about the weight of a talent, cometh down out of heaven upon men: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, for it was exceeding great” (Revelation 16:21). “The minimal weight of the New Testament talent is 45 pounds; and many scholars place it at 90 pounds.”(F8) This prophecy reveals that particular hail as one of the phenomena attending the Second Advent of Christ and the onset of the Final Judgment; and thus we see that there are indeed some things in the treasuries of the hail of which men must remain in ignorance until “that day”!

Verses 25-30


“Who hath cleft a channel for the waterflood, Or a way for the lightning of the thunder; To cause it to rain on a land where no man is; On the wilderness, wherein there is no man; To satisfy the waste and desolate ground, And to cause the tender grass to spring forth? Hath the rain a father? Or who hath begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb came the ice? And the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it? The waters hide themselves, and become like stone, And the face of the deep is frozen.”

Do not men know all about things such as these? The answer is no! And one of the greatest mysteries of the whole physical creation is mentioned in Job 38:30. Let it be noted that, due to freezing, the waters become like stone. Why then, should it have been the “face of the deep” the surface of ponds and rivers, that should be `congealed’ (margin) or frozen? That amazing phenomenon that water expands when it freezes (contrary to practically every other liquid known to men) is inexplicable. No scientist ever born failed to marvel at it! The answer lies with God alone.

Verses 31-33


“Canst thou bind the cluster of the Pleiades, Or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou lead forth the Mazaroth in their season? Or canst thou guide the Bear with her train? Knowest thou the ordinances of the heavens? Canst thou establish the dominion thereof in the earth?”

Four of the great constellations that adorn the heavens are mentioned here: (1) The Pleiades, always prominent in the Spring; (2) Orion which dominates the wintry skies; (3) Ursa Major (The Bear, or Great Dipper) prominent in the northern skies; and (4) the Mazaroth, “The meaning is obscure, but it is possibly the twelve Zodiacal signs, or those that dominate the southern skies.”(F9) Significantly, the entire expanse of the starry heavens is brought into view here: the skies of summer and winter, and those of the northern and southern hemispheres.

Verses 34-38


“Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, That abundance of waters may cover thee? Canst thou send forth lightnings, that they may go, And say unto thee, Here we are? Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? Or who hath given understanding to the mind? Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can pour out the bottles of heaven, When the dust runneth into a mass, And the clods cleave fast together?”

The highlight here is the question regarding the mystery of the human mind. No matter how it may be viewed, there is nothing in the entire Creation that exceeds the glory and mystery of the human intelligence. How Mozart wrote a cantata at age seven, the faculty of memory, imagination, and comprehension of the most intricate and diverse matters - there’s hardly any limit to the human mind. Someone has said that a computer with the ability to do everything that the human mind is able to do would more than fill up the state of Louisiana!

One picks up the telephone and instantly recognizes a voice he has not heard in ten years! One, from memory, is able to match colors with a thousand variations. One quotes the sacred Gospel of Matthew from memory. On and on! What an unqualified marvel is the human mind! The question here is, “Who did this”? Such ability is not in men to create it; but God has freely given a mind every man.

“Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds” The question here, “Can you make it rain”? This writer has seen the rain-dances of the Hopi Indians; and they could not make it rain any more than could Job. Also, present-day people are just as helpless as was Job.

Verses 39-41


“Canst thou hunt the prey for the lioness, Or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, When they couch in their dens, And abide in the covert to lie in wait? Who provideth for the raven his prey, When his young ones cry unto God, And wander for lack of food?”

The words of Jehovah are continued in the following chapters, where we shall find many other unanswerable questions regarding God’s care and preservation of the lower forms of life upon the planet earth. There is no species in the whole creation that does not exhibit and illustrate the fantastic intelligence of God in their creation and maintenance upon the earth. Every example of wild life around us is an example of God’s incredibly wise creation which sufficiently endowed them to survive, even in spite of human hostility. This writer once saw a cow and her new-born calf, less than an hour old, swim a swollen river in flood; and no one who ever saw a thing like that could ever doubt the Providence of God. Instinctively, that animal mother maintained the position of the calf on her side, up-stream of course; and both of them made it safely across.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Job 38". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/job-38.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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