Job 38 Study Notes


38:1 God’s speaking to Job from the whirlwind was not from a windstorm such as that which destroyed the house of Job’s children (1:18-19) or the winds of judgment (21:18). It was a theophany, a manifestation of God himself (Ezk 1:4; cp. 2Kg 2:11). In the book of Job, the divine name Lord (Yahweh) had occurred previously only in the Prologue. (It appears in Job’s first response to Zophar in Jb 12:9, though some manuscripts read “God.”) Although Job may have been upright and he was not suffering because of wrongdoing, his frequent complaints against God were tantamount to assuming the Lord’s prerogatives—playing God in his life. Job needed to be reminded of who the Lord is in order to find him sufficient for his situation.

38:2 God did not impugn Job’s integrity, but he did question his knowledge. Job had questioned God’s just governance of the world and proposed that he could talk with God as an equal. He was misguided on both counts.

38:3 The Lord addressed Job by challenging him to enter into a dialogue in full possession of his human strength and faculties. The Hebrew word translated man often reflects a man in his strength and virility (Jr 30:6). It is used at times of vigorous spiritual strength (Jb 16:21). Get ready to answer renders the Hebrew “gird up your loins.” The idiom reflects the tucking of one’s long garment between the legs and into the belt in preparation for an arduous task such as running (1Kg 18:46) or battle (Is 5:27). Job’s difficult task consisted of fully understanding and answering God’s questions.

38:4-6 God’s first round of questions to Job challenged him to understand something of the Lord’s creative power in both the inanimate (vv. 4-38) and animate (38:39-39:30) worlds. God alone brought the earth into being. The imagery here is that of a building carefully conceived, measured, and laid out. Its supporting pillars are securely fastened to its foundations (or sockets for the pillars). In an earlier image, the earth was conceived of as hanging in empty space (26:7).

38:7 The stars are personified as being able to sing. Music accompanied the dedication of Solomon’s temple (2Ch 7:6). Music and singing also accompanied the laying of the second temple’s foundation (Ezr 3:10-11). Alternatively, the morning stars may be a metaphor for the angels, who appear in the parallel line.

38:8-11 The origin of the sea is depicted in the imagery of childbirth. Although the delimitation of the oceans’ boundaries has a significant place in the Genesis creation account (Gn 1:6-7; Ps 104:6-9), neither there nor here is there any hint of ancient Near Eastern mythology in which a primeval sea god is defeated.

38:12-15 Much as the appearance of clay is altered by a seal impression, so the landscape becomes dramatically changed by the rosy rays of dawn. The imagery is that of a garment whose folds—unseen in the darkness—become visible in the light. “Light” for the wicked is the darkness in which they accomplish their evil deeds. With the true light of day their “light” is extinguished. As an evildoer’s arm is rendered impotent by being broken, so the plans of the wicked are thwarted by the light of day.

38:16-18 The extent of Job’s experiential knowledge is questioned. His limited travels cannot have included going to the hidden springs that lie in the depths of the oceans. Job had not seen even the shadow of the gates of death, let alone passed through them. Earlier Job had described the realm of death as a gloomy place (10:21-22), yet he expressed a longing to find refuge there (14:13). An alternative proposal sees an allusion to ancient mythological concepts about the afterlife. Thus there is a movement from the depths of the sea to the underlying netherworld through whose gates one enters at death into a vast subterranean world ruled by underworld deities. If so, the force is apologetic, Yahweh being shown to be the true Lord. The point is that Job, with his limited perspective, should trust in him who is infinite in wisdom, power, and knowledge.

38:19-21 Light and darkness are personified, each having a home from which they daily emerged and returned. The Lord satirically reminded Job that he had not even been born when God commanded the first light to penetrate the primeval darkness (15:7; Gn 1:2-5).

38:22-23 The imagery of these verses views God as keeping snow and hail in heavenly storehouses for his use at appropriate times. God could use them as weapons (Ex 9:18-26; Ps 68:14; 78:47-48; Is 28:2,19).

38:24 God reminded Job that his knowledge did not include the distribution of the lightning (see textual footnote; also 36:30,32; 37:3,11,15) or the place where the east wind originated. Such a mighty desert wind had swept away Job’s family (1:19).

38:25-27 Humans would never bring rain on uninhabited land. “Only God has the wisdom to make it rain in the desert, giving evidence of his wise care for the entire world” (John Hartley, The Book of Job, NICOT).

38:28-30 God reminded Job that only a master craftsman could account for the manifold forms that water can assume and the places where these may be found. The elemental forces of nature are under God’s control (5:10; 28:25-26; 36:37; Ps 147:16-18).

38:31-33 God turned Job’s attention to the constellations: the Pleiades . . . Orion, and the Bear. Job had mentioned them earlier in connection with God’s creative activity (9:9). The meaning of the term constellations is uncertain and may include the planets (2Kg 23:5). Although Job knew of their existence, he did not understand the laws of physics and astronomy and their effect on the earth. God alone exercises dominion over all of this.

38:34-35 After centuries of trying, humans still have no control over rain and lightning.

38:36-38 God’s questions implied that neither Job nor any human had the wisdom to control the weather. In a metaphor the clouds are likened to giant water jars (or skins), which are tipped to spill their water on hard, dry soil (see Dt 28:23).

38:39-41 Lions are capable of securing their own prey, but it is God who established the complex relationship of predator and prey. God also cares for the needs of the ravens, scavengers that often feed on the remains of prey. His control of ravens included using them to care for one of his prophets (1Kg 17:4-6). The stately lion and lowly raven serve as a merism, the two extremes (stately and lowly) representing the whole animal world.