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Bible Commentaries
Job 38

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

Verse 1


The Lord speaks to Job out of a whirlwind, and challenges him to answer. He convinces him of ignorance and weakness, by an enumeration of some of his mighty works.

Before Christ 1645.

Job 38:1. Then the Lord answered Job, &c.— The Chaldee paraphrast, by the addition of a word, has given a very bold exposition of this text thus, Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind of grief; taking the word סערה seaarah rendered whirlwind, not in a literal, but a metaphorical sense. As if the meaning were only this: That amidst the tumult of Job's sorrows, God suggested to him the following thoughts, to bring him to a sense of his condition. But the generality of expositors agree to understand it of a sensible and miraculous interposition of the Deity, appearing in a cloud, the symbol of his presence, not to dispute, but absolutely to decide the controversy. It is, perhaps, of no great moment to inquire into the manner of the revelation: supposing the appearance and speech to have been nothing more than a prophetic vision; yet, if we allow that speech to be divine, its authority will be the same, whichever way we may suppose it to have been impressed on the mind of Job; whether by an immediate voice from the Deity, or in a prophetic trance. It is certain, that God, who formed our minds, can enlighten them to what degree he pleases; and whenever he inspired his prophets or holy men in an extraordinary way, with an intent of conveying through their hands some useful truths to mankind, there can be no doubt but that they in some way or other a certainty of the inspiration, and perhaps as clear a perception of the things suggested, as if they had been delivered to them by an audible and external voice. But whatever was the way of communicating, if it be possible to discover the divinity or inspiration of a writing by its own light, I think we cannot hesitate to pronounce this speech to be divine. The subject of it is, "God's omnipotence, as displayed in the works of creation." Many are the pens which have adorned this noble argument; philosophers, poets, and divines, have laid out all their eloquence upon it; and seemed raised above themselves whenever they have been led to touch upon this agreeable topic; but as the Holy Scriptures far surpass all human compositions in those sublime descriptions which they give us of the majesty of God, and of the wisdom and magnificence of his works; so, if we may be allowed to make the comparison, it will be difficult to find any thing in the sacred writings themselves that comes up to this speech. Who is this that darkeneth counsel, &c.?—It proceeds all along in this majestic strain; and every step that we advance, there is still presented to the imagination something new, and something great and wonderful. The descriptions scattered here and there are pictures drawn in such a lively manner, and withal so just, that they might instruct a Phidias or a Raphael. But what is most observable in this speech, as it gives a life and energy to the whole, is, the distribution of it for the most part into short questions, falling thick upon each other, and darting conviction, each like a flash of lightning, with a suddenness and force impossible to be resisted. Peters. See Longinus on the Sublime, sect. 18: de Interrog.

Verse 2

Job 38:2. Who is this that darkeneth counsel, &c.— Nothing can be conceived more awful, than this appearance of Jehovah; nothing more sublime, than the manner in which his speech is introduced. Thunders, lightnings, and a whirlwind, announce his approach: All creation trembles at his presence: At the blaze of his all-piercing eye, every disguise falls off; the stateliness of human pride, the vanity of human knowledge, sink into their original nothing. The man of understanding, the men of age and experience; he who desired nothing more than to argue the point with God; he that would maintain his ways to his face, confounded and struck dumb at his presence, is ready to drop into dissolution, and repents in dust and ashes. With a single question the Almighty shews the absolute emptiness of human abilities, and puts an end to the dispute: "Canst thou give account of any one of my works? How then, presumptuous creature, darest thou attempt to censure my conduct in the government of the world; with the various relations of all whose parts thou art so far from being acquainted, that thou art not able to account for any one of them?" The present verse might be rendered, Who is this that maketh a great display of wisdom about reasoning above his comprehension? See Heath.

Verse 5

Job 38:5. Who hath laid the measures thereof See 2 Samuel 8:2.

Verse 7

Job 38:7. When the morning stars sing together It is observable from many passages in the prophets, that the angels are compared to, or spoken of, under the metaphor of stars: See particularly Isaiah 14:12. The beauty and propriety of these allusions of the prophets will appear with greater lustre, when it is considered that the hosts of heaven were the objects of heathen idolatry; both the visible and invisible host, as well the angels as the light of heaven; for the superstition seems to have been originally the same, as the worship of the heavenly bodies terminated in the worship of those angels or intelligences who were believed to animate or conduct them; and hence we see a reason why the angels are called stars, and morning stars in Scripture. Peters.

Verse 8

Job 38:8. When it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb When it burst forth as an infant, that cometh out of the womb. Heath.

Verse 10

Job 38:10. And brake up for it my decreed place When I fixed my boundary against it; when I placed a bar and gates.

Verse 16

Job 38:16. Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? Hast thou been at the sources of the sea? Hast thou traversed the depths of the abyss? Heath.

Verse 17

Job 38:17. Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? It has been objected against the famous passage in the 19th chapter, which we have interpreted of the doctrine of a resurrection, that neither Elihu nor Jehovah, in their determination of the debate, mention any thing of that doctrine; the mention of which, say the objectors, would have rendered every thing plain and easy. Now, in answer to this, let it be observed, that the great question in debate between Job and his friends was, whether this miserably-afflicted man were innocent or guilty. In the conclusion, God himself pronounces him innocent. Here then is a decision made in Job's favour, and, moreover, the question of a providence satisfactorily determined; namely, that great sufferings are not always an argument of great sins; but that a very good man may sometimes be extremely wretched in this life: and what other solution could possibly have been expected? As to God's not mentioning the doctrine of a resurrection, we may ask, for what should it be mentioned? It appears from the text above referred to, that Job firmly believed it; and whether his friends believed it or not, yet they understood what he meant when he urged it, and would not allow it to be decisive of the point in dispute between them; namely, whether Job were innocent or not. But God's pronouncing him innocent, was certainly instead of all other arguments, and must put an end to the controversy at once. It may be proper, however, to observe a few things much to our present purpose, from this speech of the Deity; and, first, that the divine omnipotence as displayed in the works of creation, which is here set down with astonishing sublimity, was an argument, if duly attended to, sufficient to remove all the doubts and perplexities into which these over-warm reasoners had fallen: for if God created all things, he must have a concern for all his creatures; and if he can do all things, he can have no temptation to do wrong; and, therefore, his infinite power gives a certain assurance that he must and will set every thing to rights at one time or another. If he does not do it in this life, he will certainly do it hereafter. And this, no doubt, is the inference which they have left to draw for themselves. But farther yet; the divine omnipotence is likewise a full answer, in particular, to all the objections which have been, or can be made, I think, to the doctrine of the resurrection; and therefore was extremely apposite and proper to confirm Job in the belief of it, and to convince the others, if they doubted or disbelieved it. For the wonders of God's creation, which this speech describes in the most lively colours, is a visible proof and demonstration, how easy such a new creation, as we may term it, (the restoring man again out of the dust, from whence he was taken, and into which he is resolved) must needs be to God. This therefore is an argument which we find very much insisted on by the first apologists for christianity; Minutius Felix, Tertullian, Athenagoras, and others; and with which they answer all the cavils of their heathen adversaries: and I am persuaded that it is an argument which will stand all trials. The next thing in order we shall observe from this speech at present is, that God, by his display of his omnipotence, not only shows Job what large amends he could make good men for all their sufferings in the great day of the resurrection; but hints to him by the question in this verse, that he could as easily do it before; and admit them to what degree of happiness he pleased, immediately upon their dissolution: Have the gates, &c. i.e. "Hast thou looked into Sheol, the intermediate state, the region of departed spirits?" Hast thou seen, says God, how the souls of men are disposed of after death, and how amply the afflictions of good men may be made up to them there? What room then for such complaints as you have now been uttering? This seems apparently the drift of the question. In short, the great lesson that we are to learn from this divine speech, and the decision here put to the controversy, is, that our disputes about the providence of God proceed from ignorance and folly: that the first duty of a creature is to resign himself to the will of his creator; to do his commands with pleasure; receive his dispensations with submission; be thankful to him for the good, and patient under the evil which he sends; to consider life, with its appendages, as the free gift of God; which therefore we should employ in his service, be ready to give freely when he calls for it, and trust him for a future happy state. Peters.

Verse 20

Job 38:20. That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof Surely thou canst guide us to its border: yea, certainly thou canst shew the roads which lead to its dwelling.

Verse 23

Job 38:23. Against the day of battle and war? Though the expression here is general, and means only that the Almighty reserves these powers in nature as the instruments of destruction on wicked men; yet particular cases may well be referred to as explanatory hereof. See therefore, Exo 9:23 and Joshua 10:11. Respecting the treasures of snow and hail, the philosophical reader will find great satisfaction by referring to Scheuchzer on the place; who, with much care and labour, has enlarged on the principal topics of natural enquiry in this book, in a manner which must give pleasure to all who read him.

Verse 30

Job 38:30. The waters are hid as with a stone How do the waters harden like a stone? and the face of the waters, how is it congealed? Houb.

Verse 31

Job 38:31. Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades See the note on chap. Job 9:9.

Verse 33

Job 38:33. Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Dost thou know the laws of the heavens? hast thou appointed their dominion over the earth? Houb.

Verse 35

Job 38:35. Canst thou send lightnings that they may go, and say unto thee, Here we are? Nothing can be more elevated and sublime than this verse. How strong the image! how simple the expression! We read of winged lightnings in the heathen ports; but where do they live, and act, and speak, and wait for orders with impatience, as here? See Peters, and Longinus on the Sublime, sect. 9 and Dr. Smith's notes on sect. 18.

Verse 36

Job 38:36. Or who hath given understanding to the heart? Or who hath given discernment to the eyes? Heath: who renders the last clause of the next verse, Who can cause the bottles of heaven to pour down abundantly? which seems to connect much better with Job 38:38.

Verse 41

Job 38:41. Who provideth for the raven his food? The reason given why the raven is particularly mentioned as an object of the care of Providence, is, because by his clamorous and importunate voice he particularly seems always calling upon him; thence κορασσω from corax, a raven, signifies to ask earnestly, Elian, lib. ii. c. 48. See Dr. Young's Notes on his Paraphrase of the Book of Job.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Behold the present Deity! what mortal but must tremble before him, with deep silence bow into the dust, and hear with solemn attention what GOD is about to speak!

1. The person who appears is the Almighty Jehovah, probably the eternal Son, visible in human form. See chap. Job 42:5. Out of the whirlwind, in terrible majesty, he utters his voice, and, as Job had so earnestly requested, directs his speech to him. Note; (1.) God hath various ways of speaking to the souls of men: sometimes in the small still voice of secret consolations, sometimes in the awfully distressing thunders of heart-rending convictions; yet in both it is alike the voice of mercy. (2.) They who contend against God, must be made to know at last, how vain their struggle against him, who, when he judgeth, will overcome.

2. The charge laid against job. Who is this that darken-eth counsel, by words without knowledge? Shall a worm dare presume to judge of God's perfections? Shall Job, the righteous Job, object to his wisdom and goodness? Shall he by speeches of folly darken and misrepresent the counsels of providence? How insolent, as well as ignorant, the attempt!

3. God challenges him to answer, since that was what he had so eagerly desired; bids him gird up his loins as a man of war, and produce his strong reasons; or answer his questions concerning things natural and obvious, before he dared pretend to fathom the secrets of Providence.
2nd, With what majesty! with what unutterable dignity, doth God describe his own glorious works! and how can Job pretend to dispute with him, when he is unable to answer one of a thousand of his enquiries.
1. Where was he, when God, alone existing from eternity, began his wonders of creation, and laid the strong foundations of the earth? Was he present, or his wisdom consulted, in proportioning the quantity of matter to be consolidated; or fitting in exact proportion the several parts, to compose the exquisite machine? Could he explain the causes of attraction and gravitation; how the parts cohere? by what basis supported; or by what cornerstone the glorious fabric was held together? How unthought of, without a being, was he, when on the rising glories of creation, the morning stars, spoke into being at God's word, shone forth his praises; or rather bright angelic hosts beheld with enraptured admiration the teeming womb of nature, and heaven's high arch resounded with shouts of joy, and songs of seraphic spirits, adoring the great creator. Note; (1.) God alone is the great author of all; and he who made all with such consummate wisdom, must needs best know how to govern. (2.) If angels in heaven are adoring, should man be silent, to whom the earth is given, and for whose sake it was formed? (3.) In heaven no discord is heard; there they all unite in the great congregation. When shall the sons of God on earth resemble them; divided no more by schisms, sects, and parties; but with one heart, and one mouth, unite together in universal love, and worship God in the same beauty of holiness!

2. He knew no more concerning the limiting of the sea with bounds, than about the creation of the earth. It was God alone, without his help or consultation, who from the embrio of matter first separated the swelling floods, that burst forth at his word, as waters from the travailing womb. Then by his spirit moving on the face of the deep, the separation first was made, and the dry land arose: the ocean retired to its appointed place, laid as a babe in a cradle, and wrapped with swaddling bands of darkness. There, though the billows rage, and lift their curling heads on high, his decree hath fixed their limits, more firm than bars of adamant; Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.

3rdly, God proceeds to confound Job with questions infinitely above mortal understanding; and thereby to teach him his folly in arraigning any of his works and ways.
1. Respecting the light of the morning. Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days? to break sooner, or retard the dawn beyond its appointed moment; and caused the day-spring to know its place? when or where to arise? Never: how then could he pretend to alter the dispensations of providence? Swift the morning beam darts to earth's farthest verge, bringing unwelcome light to the deeds of darkness; then the wicked are discovered and seized, and shaken out of the world. Turning to the sun, as clay to the seal, the enlightened hemisphere, which before was darkness and confusion, now appears beautifully illuminated with the beams of day; and all its verdant beauties, trees, plants, herbs, and flowers, like garments clothe and adorn it on every side. But though the light of day returns, spiritual darkness is still spread upon the sinner's soul, and eternal darkness awaits him; or, confined for his crimes in dungeons, he sees no cheering beam; and the arm that he lifted high in iniquity is broken by just judgment. Note; Like the morning-light did Christ, the day-star, arise, and his bright truth has been diffused to the ends of the earth; and though wicked men choose darkness rather, and hate this gospel-day, they shall be seized, convicted, condemned, and executed, doomed to that outer darkness, where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

2. As ignorant was he, [1.] Of the springs of the sea; what fed it in such exact proportion, that it should not be exhausted by the vapour arising from it, or swoln beyond its limits by the rivers which flow into it; as ignorant also was he of its depth, which is unfathomable; and of its treasures, which are unsearchable. [2.] Of the state of the dead, by what diseases or accidents men shall come to the grave; how the union of body and soul is dissolved; by what path we go into the unseen world; in what place the soul remains; who in that world are happy or miserable; and what is there transacted. Note; In awful curiosity the soul now steps sometimes to the verge of time, and casts an eye into the boundless ocean of eternity; but "shadows, clouds, and darkness rest upon it." Yet, though sight fails, and reason is lost, faith can pierce through the thick cloud, and dare, unterrified, launch forth with confidence and comfort into the untried abyss. [3.] Of the dimensions of the earth. Who ever made the survey of all its kingdoms, provinces, hills, dales, with the several measures and extent of each? How much is yet unknown after all human researches; and of what is discovered, how small a part can any one man know by actual survey? and how much less of the breadth and length of the divine counsels? [4.] Where light dwells, and where darkness has its place; and how in succession they go and return, till day and night shall have an end? Secrets these, into which the deepest philosophic inquiries can never adequately penetrate. [5.] Of the snow, hail, and wind. Where the treasuries for each are placed; how they are sent forth in measure and duration; in what manner marshalled, when God employs them as instruments of vengeance to punish guilty mortals? In all which points, a worm of yesterday, as Job was, must confess his ignorance, and therefore ought in silence to adore, without a murmur against any thing that God doth, all of whose works far exceed his understanding.

4thly, How impotent, as well as ignorant, is man, when compared with his Maker! Who can do as God doth? Therefore how dare we contend with him?
1. From him alone cometh the rain; each drop falls from the clouds in its appointed place, and in the exact channel formed for it through the air. The lightning flashes not uncircumscribed, but in the way, extent, and order that he prescribes. The desolate wilderness partakes of the divine care, and herbs and flowers arise where no human footsteps tread, and the beasts of the forest alone maintain their empire. Great parent of all, the rain calls him Father, and the smallest drop of dew distinctly acknowledges him the Maker. The hoary frost that whitens the earth, he only can produce; and when he sends forth his ice, the waters are congealed as the rock, and the face of the deep is solid as the marble pavement. Note; Our hearts are like the desolate and parched ground, till watered with the dew of heavenly grace, but then bring forth fruit unto God.

2. God appeals to him for his weakness. He can do nothing: the clouds will not drop at his bidding, nor the lightnings execute his commands; much less can he reach the higher regions of the stars. He cannot bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades, which usher in the general spring, to retard or hasten it; nor loose the bands of Orion, whose constellation reigns during the cold of winter, that the stormy winds should not blow, nor the frost harden the earth. The southern stars own not his government, nor do the constellations of the north move by his direction. So far from guiding them, he knew not by what laws they were governed; and if their dominion were left to him confusion would soon ensue, and he be at a loss to direct the vast machine. The understanding that man possesses, of whatever kind, in things natural and spiritual, is all derived from him, and therefore it were folly to pretend to be wise above him, from whom all our wisdom comes. We know little, and can do less. Who can number the clouds, or stay the bottles of heaven, when by profuse rain the dust becomes mire, and cleaves fast together in clods? Therefore, with humble acknowledgments of our weakness and ignorance, it becomes us to resign ourselves and our all to his government, who alone is the all-wise Director. Note; (1.) If some pretend to judge of men's fortune by the knowledge of the stars, and others credit their astrological predictions, we may safely conclude the knavery or impudence of the one, and the folly of the other. (2.) Since God is the author of our rational soul, let us improve the measure of knowledge that he hath bestowed upon us, not in endless researches, or vain questions, much less in finding fault with his ways; but in meditation on his glory, and reflecting on the arguments for perfect submission under all his dispensations; and this shall be indeed our wisdom.

3. God proceeds, from the works of his glory above, to his care and providence over the brute creation, in which the next chapter is entirely occupied, and might properly begin here. The lion, as the king of beasts, is first mentioned: man neither can nor durst provide the lions' prey, nor approach them in their hiding-places; but God feeds and fills them. The ravens likewise prove his providential care: useless as they may appear in the creation, their young ones are not suffered to perish for want; but God hears their cry of hunger, and provides for their support. Note; (1.) Doth the providence of God extend to the fierce lion, and the unclean raven? shall they share his kindness; and can his own children have cause to complain of his neglect? No, in no wise. (2.) If the cry of the young raven is heard, surely the prayers of the poor shall not be disregarded. While on our knees we beg for daily bread, we shall not want it.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Job 38". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/job-38.html. 1801-1803.
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