A couple of years ago I started blogging about the Book of Job, thinking I would blog through the whole thing. Thankfully, God called me off that task because I now think that I was headed in the wrong direction. However, I have always been puzzled by God’s words to Job and Job’s response to them. They just never made sense to me. Job didn’t claim to be perfect, just faithful and his whole life has been taken from him and a kind and compassionate God shows up and says, “who do you think you are, you little peon?” and Job is satisfied. Whaaaa?
However, this summer, I re-read the Book of Job and saw some things there that I hadn’t previously seen. So, I’m going to go through the last couple of chapters of Job and share what I see. Today I’m going to look at Job 38:
The LORD Speaks
1Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
2 “Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?
12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
15 The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.
16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.
19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
20 Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years!
22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
or seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
for days of war and battle?
24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a path for the thunderstorm,
26 to water a land where no one lives,
an uninhabited desert,
27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass?
28 Does the rain have a father?
Who fathers the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb comes the ice?
Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
30 when the waters become hard as stone,
when the surface of the deep is frozen?
31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’sdominion over the earth?
34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who gives the ibis wisdom
or gives the rooster understanding?
37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
38 when the dust becomes hard
and the clods of earth stick together?
39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
and satisfy the hunger of the lions
40 when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in a thicket?
41 Who provides food for the raven
when its young cry out to God
and wander about for lack of food?
The first thing that stood out to me about this chapter was how much of it is based on human’s imaginative explanations for how the world works. I won’t go through them all, but there is the waters of the earth coming from the womb, lightening being shot off by hand, constellations, water jars in heaven, storehouses where snow and hail are kept, places where the sun and the darkness reside, etc. All of these things are our own imaginative explanations for phenomena that humanity didn’t have real explanations for.
So part of what I hear God saying here is: “all of your best explanations are just guesses.” Which I think we all need to remember. More often than not, we don’t really know what’s going on. We’re just creating explanations for ourselves that hopefully honor God and reflect some portion of what is really going on. But we’re just guessing.
It is interesting to me that most of the mythology referred to comes from other ancient near-eastern religions and not the Hebrew religion. Perhaps God is laying claim to all of the work that other religions attribute to a multitude of Gods. I also think that it shows a level of respect from God towards humanity. He knows perfectly well that the things he is talking about aren’t actually how the world works, but we humans had created some very beautiful, poetic descriptions which God seems quite willing to accept from us. It kind of reminds me in the book of Acts when Paul quotes pagan poetry to explain the reality of God.
The other element I see here is God pointing to unpleasant realities that we humans don’t want to deal with. He ends by asking who feeds starving animals and their young. The pat answer is God does. Except when he doesn’t. Because sometimes there is no prey for the lioness and the lion goes hungry. And sometimes even the raven does not have food for their children. This is the world that we live in. We humans with our big brains and imaginations who think up wonderous ideas about how the world is run live in the same world with the animals who sometimes starve to death. And we can only guess how God is working out His purposes in it.
Tomorrow: what the animals have to teach us.