We have come now to the climax of the Book of Job, the speeches of the Lord. There are actually two speeches, the first in 38:1-40:2 (with a brief reply by Job in 40:3-5); and the second in 40:6-41:34 (with a brief reply by Job in 42:1-6). Even though these speeches are the dramatic centerpiece of the book, there is widespread disagreement as to what the the Lord’s speeches actually mean. A common view is that the Lord is essentially rebuking Job, asserting His incomparable power and wisdom, leading Job to repent for his rash, ill-conceived accusations. I hope to show that this understanding of what the Lord says is crucially inadequate. But first, let’s look at these speeches in the context of the book.
Throughout the book, Job repeatedly expresses his desire to bring his complaint directly to God. Some examples:
For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him,
that we should come to trial together.
There is no arbiter between us,
who might lay his hand on us both.
Let him take his rod away from me,
and let not dread of him terrify me.
Then I would speak without fear of him,
for I am not so in myself. (9:32-35)
Behold, I have prepared my case;
I know that I shall be in the right.
Who is there who will contend with me?
For then I would be silent and die.
Only grant me two things,
then I will not hide myself from your face:
withdraw your hand far from me,
and let not dread of you terrify me.
Then call, and I will answer;
or let me speak, and you reply to me. (13:18-22)
Oh, that I had one to hear me!
(Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!)
Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary!
Surely I would carry it on my shoulder;
I would bind it on me as a crown;
I would give him an account of all my steps;
like a prince I would approach him. (31:35-37)
Further, the friends and Elihu insist throughout their speeches that this will never happen – although they wish it would occur so that God would rebuke Job even more pointedly than they have!
But oh, that God would speak
and open his lips to you,
and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom!
For he is manifold in understanding.
Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves. (11:5-6)
For his eyes are on the ways of a man,
and he sees all his steps.
There is no gloom or deep darkness
where evildoers may hide themselves.
For God has no need to consider a man further,
that he should go before God in judgment. (34:21-23)
Surely God does not hear an empty cry,
nor does the Almighty regard it.
How much less when you say that you do not see him,
that the case is before him, and you are waiting for him! (35:13-14)
In light of Job’s repeated desire for God to answer him, and in view of the repeated claims of the friends and Elihu that God will not answer him, it seems to me that Job 38:1 is enormously significant:
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.”
Contrary to the ardent belief of the friends and Elihu, God does indeed answer Job. And while the speeches of God take a dramatically different turn than the lawsuit between plaintiff and defendant that Job envisioned, it is striking that God does indeed manifest himself to Job.
How many people in the Bible receive an extended one-on-one with the Creator of the universe? Moses, Elijah, Isaiah…the list isn’t much longer. To put this in perspective, I have often complained about various elected officials, and I have even boasted of how much I would enjoy letting them have it in person. Amazingly, Air Force One has never touched down on my street! The President would never give me a private audience, but the Lord came to Job in the whirlwind.
The first speech of the Lord focuses on something that other speakers in the book also touched on – God’s work as the Creator (Job discussed this in 9:4-10; Elihu in 37:1-16). We may divide it in terms of the inanimate creation and the animate creation. The inanimate creation includes things like the foundations of the earth (38:4-7); the limits of the sea (38:8-11); the storehouses of snow (38:22-24); and the constellations (38:31-33). The animate creation includes animals like the mountain goats (39:1-4); the wild donkey (39:5-8); the wild ox (39:9-12) and the ostrich (39:13-18).
But what is the point of this survey of God’s work? May I suggest that there is more going on here than the simple assertion of brute power and wisdom. It is certainly true that Job has questioned God’s wisdom, and that part of God’s answer to Job is that man’s wisdom and power are too limited to accuse God of injustice. We just don’t possess the ability to see and understand all of God’s works.
But there is something else we should get from this first speech. What is it that ties together the examples of the inanimate creation and animate creation mentioned by God? In all these examples, God is at work even though this work is inaccessible to human observation. The angels – not human beings – sang God’s praises when the foundations were laid. No man or woman was around when God ordered the inanimate world.
The same is true of the creatures God highlights. It isn’t domesticated animals, but mountain goats, wild donkeys, and wild oxen that God singles out for Job’s consideration. In all of these instances, God is intimately involved in the sustenance of his creation – but none of us can see him at work.
Why is this important to Job? Because Job feels like God has abandoned him. Recall this lament-
O, that I were as in the months of old,
as in the days when God watched over me…
as I was in my prime,
when the friendship of God was upon my tent,
when the Almighty was yet with me (29:2, 4-5a).
And yet God is showing that his presence pervades all of creation, even those creatures none of us can see.
This is made all the more poignant because Job used many of these same creatures as examples of God’s absence. In 6:5 he compared his discontent to the braying of the wild donkey and ox. In 24:5 he described the mistreated poor as “wild donkeys in the desert” left to fend for themselves while God (seemingly) does nothing. And in 30:20 he portrayed his isolation in terms of the animals that haunted abandoned cities –
I am a brother of jackals
and a companion of ostriches.
What the Lord wants Job to understand is that just because Job cannot see God’s presence, that doesn’t mean God is absent. God brings rain “on a land where no man is” (38:26). And if God is at work in all of these other areas where Job cannot see it, then just maybe God is at work in his life, even though he cannot see it.
And of course, it just so happens that we as the readers know from the opening chapters that this is precisely the case.