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Bible Commentaries
Job 38

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-2

1. God’s first speech 38:1-40:2

God’s first speech "transcends all other descriptions of the wonders of creation or the greatness of the Creator, which are to be found either in the Bible or elsewhere." [Note: Samuel R. Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, p. 427.]

Verses 1-3

God’s introductory challenge to Job 38:1-3

God sometimes made His self-revelations to people in a storm, symbolic of the disturbing effects His awesome presence produced (cf. Exodus 19:16-17; 1 Kings 19:11-13; 2 Kings 2:1; 2 Kings 2:11; Isaiah 6:4; Ezekiel 1:4; Zechariah 9:14). One wonders if Job’s friends thought God was about to strike Job dead with a bolt of lightning.

"Job’s troubles began when a great wind killed his children (Job 1:19). The Lord was in that storm, and now He speaks from the tempest (cf. Ezekiel 1:4)." [Note: Andersen, p. 273.]

God began His speech with a challenge to His opponent’s understanding, as the five human debaters on earth had done. He accused Job of clouding the truth about Him by saying things that were not true. Job should have defended God’s justice rather than denying it, since he claimed to be God’s friend. His lack of adequate revelation led to this error. Likewise, every believer should be slow to affirm that he knows God’s will about the affairs of an individual’s life, his own or someone else’s. We still do not know all the facts concerning why God is allowing what takes place. God then told Job to prepare for a difficult job: to explain His ways in nature. If God had done wrong, Job must have known what was right!

Verses 1-6

G. The Cycle of Speeches between Job and God 38:1-42:6

Finally, God spoke to Job and gave revelation that Job had been demanding for so long (cf. Job 13:22; Job 31:35). There was now no need for the middleman that Job had requested who could mediate between them (cf. Job 9:33; Job 16:19). Yahweh spoke directly to Job, and Job had the opportunity to respond directly to God.

"God challenged both Satan and Job by confronting them with his wondrous works. And since Job himself is the divine work by which Satan was challenged, it is through the success of this challenge to Job that God perfects the triumph of his challenge to Satan." [Note: Kline, p. 486.]

What God did not say to Job is as surprising as what He did say. He did not mention Job’s suffering, He gave no explanation of the problem of evil, and He did not defend Himself against Job’s charge of injustice. God simply revealed Himself to Job and his companions to a greater degree than they had known, and that greater revelation silenced them. He proved Himself to be the truly wise Person.

"The reader is told why Job was suffering in the Prologue, but that is to show that Job was innocent. Job was never told this; had he been told, the book would immediately lose its message to all other sufferers. So the book is teaching us through the divine theophany that there is something more fundamental than an intellectual solution to the mystery of innocent suffering. Though the message reaches Job through his intellect, it is for his spirit." [Note: Smick, "Job," p. 1029.]

"To Elihu the suffering may bring enrichment; to the author of the book of Job it is the presence of God that is enriching, and that presence is given to men of integrity and piety in prosperity and in adversity alike." [Note: Rowley, pp. 20-21.]

". . . whereas the advice of Elihu is to learn his lessons that his prosperity may be restored, the effect of the Divine speeches is to make Job realize that he may have the Divine fellowship in his sufferings, and not merely when he has been delivered from them." [Note: Ibid., p. 229.]

God’s role in His speeches was not that of a defendant on trial, whom Job the prosecutor charged with injustice. Rather, He was the Prosecutor asking the questions of Job, the defendant. He asked him more than 70 unanswerable questions and proved him both ignorant and impotent. Wiersbe found 77 questions that God asked Job in chapters 38-41. [Note: Wiersbe, pp. 23 and 76.] Since Job could not understand or determine God’s ways with nature, he obviously could not comprehend or control God’s dealings with people. Who is the truly wise person? It is not Job, or his three older friends, or his younger friend, Elihu, but God. He alone is truly wise.

"In the end the point is that Job cannot have the knowledge to make the assessments he made. It is wiser to bow in submission and adoration of God than to try to judge him." [Note: The NET Bible note on 38:1.]

Verses 4-30

God’s questions of Job 38:4-39:30

As Job’s friends had done, God began to break Job down blow by verbal blow. Finally all his pride was gone. However, where Job’s friends had failed, God succeeded.

"The function of the questions needs to be properly understood. As a rhetorical device, a question can be another way of making a pronouncement, much favoured by orators. For Job, the questions in the Lord’s speeches are not such roundabout statements of fact; they are invitations, suggestions about discoveries he will make as he tries to find his own answers. They are not catechetical, as if Job’s knowledge is being tested. They are educative, in the true and original meaning of that term. Job is led out into the world. The questions are rhetorical only in the sense that none of them has any answer ventured by Job. But this is not because the questions have no answers. Their initial effect of driving home to Job his ignorance is not intended to humiliate him. On the contrary the highest nobility of every person is to be thus enrolled by God Himself in His school of Wisdom. And the schoolroom is the world! For Job the exciting discoveries to which God leads him bring a giant advance in knowledge, knowledge of himself and of God, for the two always go together in the Bible." [Note: Ibid., p. 269.]

God gave Job an oral science examination covering aspects of cosmology, oceanography, meteorology, astronomy, and zoology. He began with the origin of the earth (Job 38:4-7). God’s point was that since Job was absent when He had created the earth, he lacked the information that God had which enabled Him to govern the earth better than Job could. The phrase "sons of God" (Job 38:7) evidently refers to the angels (cf. Job 1:6; Psalms 148:2-3). The "morning stars" may be stars or planets, but it seems more likely that they, too, are angels since there is synonymous parallelism in this verse.

God next asked Job about the origin of the oceans (Job 38:8-11). Obviously Job had nothing to do with this major aspect of God’s creative activity, so his knowledge again proved inferior. [Note: See Hans-Jurgen Hermission, "Observation on the Creation Theology in Wisdom," in Israelite Wisdom: Theological and Literary Essays in Honor of Samuel Terrien, pp. 52-54.]

Job had no experience causing the sun to rise and thereby sustaining the earth, either (Job 38:12-15). The rising sun shakes the wicked out of the ends of the earth (Job 38:13) in the sense that the wicked love darkness rather than light (cf. John 3:19). The "light" of the wicked (Job 38:15), that element in which they flourish, is darkness. By causing the sun to rise God withholds the darkness, their "light," and so frustrates (breaks) their work. Another interpretation holds that this verse (Job 38:15) may be an ironic statement saying that God does not break the wicked but only controls them. [Note: E.g., Hartley, p. 497.]

Even though "the dawn of every day provides an occasion to punish the wicked . . . this possibility is not in practice realized and is therefore not in the plan of the world." [Note: Matitiahu Tsevat, "The Meaning of the Book of Job," Hebrew Union College Annual 37 (1966):99.]

"Although a major thrust of the Lord’s speeches (Job 38:1 to Job 40:2; Job 40:6 to Job 41:34) was to polemicize against all potential rivals to His lordship over the cosmos, there is also a subtle refutation of the dogma of divine retribution. Although granting that the control of chaotic forces of evil (which in some instances is inherent in the design of the universe-38:12-15) is somewhat consistent with the principle of divine retribution, God demonstrates that the universe is not always geared to this principle." [Note: Parsons, p. 145.]

Job was likewise ignorant of the springs of the sea, the gates of death, and the scope of the earth (Job 38:16-18)-none of which he had seen. Nor did he know where the light (sun) went when it apparently set or where the darkness came from and went at sunset and sunrise (Job 38:19-20). Job 38:21 presents Yahweh as a master of sarcasm.

The next subject on God’s quiz was the weather (Job 38:22-38). "Light" (Job 38:24) may refer to "lightning." The "channel for the flood" appears to be the "path" through the sky that rain takes on its way to the earth (Job 38:25).

Yahweh referred to the constellations next, to impress Job’s lack of insight and his impotence on the patriarch further (Job 38:31-33; cf. Job 9:9).

Next, God turned to the animal world and pointed out six mammals and four birds-only one of which was evidently a domesticated creature in Job’s day: the horse (Job 38:39 to Job 39:30). They include "the ferocious, the helpless, the shy, the strong, the bizarre, the wild." [Note: Zuck, Job, p. 170.] They illustrate God’s creative genius and His providential care. The animal world exists for partially unknown reasons, not merely to meet the needs of humankind. People cannot explain why animals live as they do. This is another mystery that only God understands fully.

Lion and ravenJob 38:39-41How do they get food?
Goat and deerJob 39:1-4How do they bear young?
Donkey and oxJob 39:5-12How are they tamed?
Ostrich and horseJob 39:13-25Why do they act strangely?
Hawk and vultureJob 39:26-30How do they fly?

One writer wrote the following about the wild ox (or aurochs, Job 39:9-12).

"Extinct since 1627, this enormous animal was the most powerful of all hoofed beasts, exceeded in size only by the hippopotamus and elephant." [Note: Andersen, p. 281. See Zuck, Job, pp. 171-74, and George Cansdale, Animals of Bible Lands, for more information about these animals.]

God’s point in asking Job to consider each of these animals was this. Even upon careful examination, there are many things about their individual characteristics, behavior, and life that people simply cannot explain. That is still true today. For reasons unknown to Job, God allowed each animal to experience what was His will for that species. Similarly, He permits every human being to experience what he or she undergoes for reasons partially unknown to us. Only Yahweh is powerful enough and wise enough to do this.

"A main function of the Lord’s speeches is to show the absurdity of Job’s attempt to manipulate God by a ’lawsuit,’ which assumed that his relationship to God is a juridical one." [Note: Parsons, pp. 149-50.]

God rarely used legal metaphors in His speeches to Job, which Job had so often utilized. From now on, Job stopped using them. This is an important observation because it shows that the basis of Job and God’s relationship was not a legal one, as Job had assumed. A legal relationship requires just compensation by both parties for what each of them has done to the other. The basis of God’s dealings with Job was gracious, not legal (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:7).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Job 38". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/job-38.html. 2012.
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