Job 38(01)–40(05)


The book of Job began with the Lord drawing Satan’s attention to Job who was blameless and upright and a man who feared God and shunned evil. And Satan scoffed, saying that Job only worshipped God because of what he got out of God in this life. Job only worshipped God because God had made him wealthy. But take away his wealth and his health, and he’ll no longer worship you. That was Satan’s challenge to God; and God gave Satan permission to take away Job’s wealth and to take away Job’s health. In one extraordinary day, all that he owned — including his family — was either destroyed or stolen. But Job did not curse God. And so, Satan took away his health when Job’s body was covered with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. But still Job did not curse God. He remained God’s faithful servant.

That was in chapters 1 and 2. In chapter 3, Job began to speak. He did not curse God, but he did curse the day of his birth. He wished he had never been born. And if he had to be born, he wished he had died as a baby. And now that he’s an adult, he wished his life would come to an end. He wished he was dead because he was suffering so much.

And then, from chapter 4 to chapter 28, we had three cycle of speeches between Job and his three friends who came to comfort him. However, they were no comfort to him and only made things worse. Some of the commentators suggest they were — unknowingly — agents of Satan, sent by Satan to discourage Job. In each of the three cycles, Job’s friends took it in turns to speak to him and he responded to each one in turn.

And we’ve seen that they believed in vending machine theology. You put your money in the vending machine and out comes a snack. And so, if you put evil in the vending machine, then out comes punishment. If you put good in the vending machine, then out come blessings from God. It’s vending machine theology. And since Job was suffering, then he must have put evil in the vending machine. God must be punishing him for some wicked deed. And so, Job needs to repent. But Job insisted that he had done nothing to deserve his suffering. And, of course, we know that Job was right, because God had declared him to be a blameless and upright man who feared God and who shunned evil. The friends were wrong.

In chapters 29 to 31 we had Job’s final speeches. In the first, he described his former happiness, when God watched over him to bless him. In the second, he lamented his present suffering and how his harp is tuned to mourning and his flute to the sound of wailing. And the the third, he once again protested his innocence.

And after Job and his three friends had finished their speeches, Elihu began to speak. And his speeches were in chapters 32 to 37 and we’ve been studying them recently. And one of the points he made was that Job was not suffering because he had sinned, which is what the three friends believed. No, Job was not suffering because he had sinned, but he had sinned because he was suffering. Job had not done anything to deserve his suffering. But now that he was suffering, he said things about God which were not right. He had dishonoured God by suggesting that God was being unfair and unjust to Job. But God is not unjust. He is the just and mighty one.

And Elihu said that Job had dishonoured God by complaining that God was silent and would not answer him. But God is not silent. He speaks to us through special revelation and he also speaks to us through our suffering. Suffering is God’s megaphone which we cannot ignore. And through our suffering he speaks to us to keep us from sinning against him. If God did not send some trouble into our life, who knows what sins we might have committed? And furthermore, God uses our suffering to expose the sin that is hidden in our hearts. As I said last week, it’s easy to serve God and to honour him when everything is going well. But it’s not so easy to serve God and to honour him when trouble comes into our life. When trouble comes into our life, we begin to complain and moan and we become impatient and short-tempered and other sins appear in our lives. A window is opened up into our soul and we see how much sin still lurks inside us.

And while some commentators dismiss Elihu as being a bit of a clown and a show-off who is full of his own importance, others — and I’m on their side — believe that what Elihu said is right. And Elihu serves as a fitting forerunner to the Lord and he begins to state God’s case against Job and his friends before the Lord himself appears.

And that leads us to today’s passage, where the Lord finally comes and speaks to Job. Chapters 38 and 39 contain God’s first speech. His second speech is in chapters 40 and 41. After the first speech, Job responds briefly in 40:3–5. And after the second speech, Job responds briefly in 42:1–6.

In both speeches, God addresses Job out of the storm which Elihu had described at the end of his speeches. And in both speeches, God summons Job to prepare for combat. ‘Brace yourself like a man’ he says in 38:3 and in 40:7. The Hebrew word for ‘man’ in this verse denotes a great man or warrior. And God is saying to Job to gird up his loins and get ready for a fight. They’re going to wrestle one another: not physically, of course, but they’re going to wrestle with one another verbally. God is going to speak and Job must respond. Who will win this debate?

And in both speeches, the Lord asks Job to instruct him. ‘I will question you’ he says to Job in 38:3 and in 42:7. ‘I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ So, will you be my teacher? Will you instruct me? Will you help me understand. But, of course, the point is that Job cannot answer the Lord’s questions. He does not have the answers.

In his speeches, Job was questioning the way God runs the world. He was complaining that God was unfair and unjust. He was implying that if he was in charge of the world, he would do things differently. But when the Lord questions him about the way the universe is run, Job does not know the answer. He does not know how the world operates; but God knows, because he’s the Creator who made all things and who sustains all things and who controls all things according to his most holy and perfect will.

From time to time you come across people who think they can do a better job than their boss. They think and often they say: ‘If only I was in charge, things would be so much better.’ And perhaps that person eventually gets the boss’s job. But soon that person discovers that it’s not so easy. From the outside looking in, it seemed easy. But once you’re in the inside — and you become aware of all the details of the job — you discover it’s much harder than it first appeared. And Job had been thinking that he would have done a better job that God. But when God appeared and questioned him about the universe, Job soon realised how little he really knows and understands.

And the final point to make before we look more closely at the Lord’s first speech to Job, is to note that the name LORD in capital letters is used at the beginning of both speeches. This is the first time LORD in capital letters has been used since chapters 1 and 2. And you’ll perhaps remember that in our English Bibles LORD in capital letters is God’s special covenant name. The nations would say that their god is Dagon or Baal or whatever. But the Israelites would say that their God is the Lord.

And it’s a name which speaks to us of his faithfulness and his commitment to his people. And so, the one who speaks to Job — and makes him feel insignificant at the end of the first speech and in need of repentance at the end of the second speech — is the Lord who loves his people with an everlasting love and who is merciful and gracious and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and who does not deal with us according to our sins, but he removes them from us as far as the east is from the west for the sake of Christ our Saviour who loved us and gave up his life for us.

Yes, Job was made to feel insignificant and he felt the need to repent. In this verbal battle, he was beaten to submission. But the one who did it to him is the Lord who loves his people with an everlasting love; and everything he does to us and for us is good.

Having said that, let’s turn to the Lord’s first speech.

Part 1

According to verse 1 of chapter 38, the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. And he asked: ‘Who is this who darkens my counsel with words without knowledge.’ God’s counsel is the way he runs the world. And by means of this question, the Lord is implying that Job has been speaking about the way God runs the world without knowing what he’s talking about. And the Lord is going to demonstrate how little Job knows about the running of the world by asking him a series of questions. So, I will question you, Job; and you shall answer me.

And from verse 4 to verse 38 of chapter 38 the focus of the questions is on the inanimate world; and from verse 39 of chapter 38 to the end of chapter 39 the focus is on the animate world. In other words, the first part is about the sea and the dawn and the weather and so on, while the second part is about various wild animals such as the mountain goat and wild donkey and ostrich.

In verse 4 of chapter 38 the Lord asks Job if he was there when the Lord laid the foundation of the earth. The Lord depicts himself as a builder and he depicts the creation as a building project. So, were you there at the beginning when I laid the foundation and when I marked off the dimensions of the world and stretched out my measuring line? Can you tell me on what was it set? Who laid its cornerstone? Were you there? And, of course, Job was not there and the point the Lord is making is how can he possibly understand the world better than God understands it when God was there at the beginning and Job was not.

In verses 8 to 11 he asks Job about the sea. This time the Lord depicts himself as a parent and the sea is like an unruly child. So, when the sea burst forth from the womb, who was it who shut the door to keep it in place? Who fixed limits for the sea and set its doors and bars in place? I remember when the children were young and we’d go to a park for a picnic and how the children would want to run off and explore. And so, we’d say that you can go as far as that tree over there, but no further. We’d set limits for the children and God has set limits for the sea. The sea can go come this far, but no further so as not to flood the dry land. This is where the waves must halt. So, who shut in the sea? It wasn’t Job, but God. And, of course, in the Bible the sea often signifies chaos and danger. And so, the Lord might also be making the point that what seems chaotic and wild to us is under his control.

In verses 12 to 15 he refers to the dawn. Who commands the morning to show itself? He’s depicting the dawn as a sleepy person who must be roused. And just as we shake the duvet in the morning, so the morning takes hold of the earth and shakes the wicked out of it. Do you see that in verse 13? He probably means the wicked, who come out at night to do their wickedness, are driven away when the morning comes. And when the sun rises, the wicked are stopped in their tracks. Their upraised arm is broken because they have to stop what they were doing now that the morning has come. And who commands the morning? It’s not Job, but God.

Verses 16 to 18 are about the place of the dead. Have you travelled down to the depths of the sea and to the gates of death? It’s possible that he’s referring to the underworld in verse 18. That is, he’s referring to the place of the dead. So, have you, Job, comprehended the vast expanses of the underworld? Well, Job has not been to the depths of the sea to explore the underworld. But God knows all about it.

In verses 19 to 21 he refers to light and darkness. In biblical times, the light was said to dwell in the east and the darkness was said to dwell in the west. So, what is the way to their dwelling places? Can you take them there? Can you take the light and lead it home? Can you take the darkness and lead it back to where it belongs? He’s referring in a poetic way to the rising and setting of the sun which is under God’s control and not under Job’s control.

In verses 22 to 24, snow and hail and lightning and wind are portrayed as being kept in a storehouse. When necessary, God takes snow from the storehouse and drops it on the ground. Or he throws some hail on the earth. Or he fires bolts of lightning down. Or he sends the east wind to do his bidding. And he says that he reserves these things for times of trouble and for days of war. The weather does not just happen by chance, but according to God’s will and for his purpose. And who controls it? Not Job, but God.

He then mentions in verses 25 to 27 a channel for the rain and a path for the thunderstorm which presumably refers to the path the rain takes from the sky down to earth and the path the storm takes across the sky. And God sends rain to water a land where no man lives. The rain satisfies a desolate wasteland and makes it sprout with grass. What’s the point of sending rain there when no one will benefit from it? But this is one of the mysteries of God’s world which God understands but Job does not.

He asks in verses 28 to 30 whether the rain has a father. In other words, who made the rain and the dew? Who made the ice and frost? Not Job, but God.

And in verses 31 to 33 he turns Job’s attention upwards to the heavens and to the stars. Can you bind and loose them? Can you bring them out at night and lead them to their place? Do you know the laws of the heavens? And Job knows very well that he doesn’t; and only God knows.

And in verses 34 to 38 he goes back to the clouds and the rain and the lightning. Do you command them and give them their orders? Do they report to you? Who has the wisdom needed to count the clouds? Counting the clouds really means controlling the clouds. So, who knows how to control them? Who knows how to tip the clouds — which are described here as water jars of the heavens — so that they pour water on the earth? Who knows how to do these things? Not Job, but only the Lord.

Part 2

And having drawn Job’s attention to the inanimate world, he next turns his attention to the animate world. From verse 39 of chapter 38 to the end of chapter 39 he refers to different wild animals. Job doesn’t understand the stars above. He can’t control the weather. Well, these animals are closer to Job. They are perhaps around and about him. They might be nearby. Does he know how to control them?

In verses 39 to 41 of chapter 38 he refers to the lionness and lions and also to the ravens? Where does their prey come from? Who supplies it? Who provides these creatures with the food they need? This is not something Job does, but God does it every day.

Then he refers to the mountain goat in verses 1 to 4 of chapter 39. Do you know when they give birth to their young? It happens without Job’s knowledge or intervention. And their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds. They did not need Job’s help, but the Lord enables it to happen.

Verses 5 to 8 are about the wild donkey. It’s not a domesticated donkey and so it’s able to wander freely over the wasteland and across the pastures and it searches for food. And it is God who made it this way and gave it its freedom and it cannot be controlled by humans.

And no one is able to tame the wild ox. This is in verses 9 to 12. Will it serve you? Will he stay by your manger at night? Can you harness the wild ox and use it to plough your fields? Will you rely on its great strength? Can you trust it to work for you? No, Job cannot tame a wild ox, because it’s too wild and too strong. You can’t control it.

And the Lord then refers to the ostrich in verses 13 to 18. He says that he did not endow it with wisdom, because it foolishly steps on her eggs which she buried in the sand and crushes them. And if any young are hatched, she treats them harshly. The ostrich is a foolish bird and it’s an odd bird, because it has wings, but cannot fly. And yet God created the ostrich with the ability to run faster than a horse. We might look at an ostrich and think, ‘Who designed this strange bird?’ Well, God designed and made that strange bird. And why God made this strange bird is another of the mysteries of God’s world which God understands but Job does not.

Verses 19 to 25 are about the war horse. Do you give him strength? Do you cloth his neck with his flowing mane? Do you make him leap like a locust and cause him to strike terror with its proud snorting? The war horse rejoices in his strength and charges into the fray. He is afraid of nothing and he doesn’t shy away from the sword. He — in a sense — eats up the ground as he gallops over it, with a quiver of arrows and a spear and lance at its side. He is unstoppable. Did you make him like that, Job? No, it wasn’t you, Job. It was God.

And in verses 26 to 30 he refers to the hawk and the eagle, high up in the sky. Does the hawk fly because of your wisdom, Job? Does the eagle soar at your command? No, it wasn’t because of Job’s wisdom or his command. The Lord created these creatures by his wisdom and he sustains them and controls them just as he sustains and controls all of his creatures and all of their actions.

Challenge and response

And after drawing Job’s attention to all of these things and having asked Job all these questions, the Lord said to Job in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 40: ‘Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!’ At the beginning of the speech, the Lord referred to Job as one who darkens his counsel with words without knowledge. Now he describes him as one who contends with the Almighty. Or, as the ESV puts it, he is a faultfinder. Imagine finding fault with the Almighty God? But that’s what Job had done because of his suffering. He faulted God for treating him unfairly and unjustly. He accused God of being unjust. And he had also said that he wanted an opportunity to present his case to God. So, what are you waiting for? Answer God’s questions and state your case before the Lord.

That’s the Lord’s challenge. And Job replies by saying that he is unworthy. That is, he is of small account. He is small and insignificant compared to God and God’s greatness. And he has nothing to say in reply; and therefore he’s going to place his hand over his mouth to stop himself from saying anything more which might be foolish or dishonouring to God. He says: I’ve spoken time and time before, but now I’m going to remain silent.

And by means of this reply Job acknowledges that he cannot answer God’s questions. Though he once thought he could run the world better than God could, now he realises that he does not know how the world works. He wasn’t there are the beginning. He can’t control the sea. He can’t control the morning or the light or darkness. He doesn’t know how to direct the stars and he can’t control the snow and rain and lightning and wind. He doesn’t know how to provide food for the lionness and raven. He doesn’t know when the mountain goat gives birth to its young. He can’t control the wild donkey or ox. The ostrich is a puzzle to him and the war horse is terrifying. He does not know how to control or direct the hawk or eagle. These things are all beyond Job’s understanding. It is God who knows all these things and who does all these things and therefore Job falls silent before God.


A number of the commentators make the point that if Job cannot understand how God governs the natural world, then there’s no way he would understand how God deals with us. If Job can’t understand how God governs the stars and the weather and wild animals, then there’s no way Job can understand why God has sent suffering into his life. How can he understand God’s ways with us when he can’t understand how God sustains and controls the rest of his creation? God’s way are higher than our ways. His providential control of our lives is a mystery.

As I said, a number of the commentators make that point. And while there is truth in this, and while we all have to acknowledge with humility that we are not God, I don’t think it’s all we can say about God’s first speech to Job. I think we need to remember the point I made near the beginning that the name LORD in capital letters appears at the beginning of the speech. This is God’s special covenant name which speaks to us of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness and his commitment to his people. The Almighty God — who made all things in heaven and on earth and who sustains and controls all his creatures and all their actions and who spoke to Job out of the storm — has bound himself to his people with a promise to love us and to take care of us. He promises to be our God and to watch over us and never to leave us or forsake us. He has bound himself to us with a promise which he will never, ever break.

And God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the Mediator of God’s covenant with his people; and by his life and death and resurrection he has paid for our sins with his life and he has cleansed us with his blood and he has made a lasting peace between God and his people.

And so, when we read God’s speech to Job and when we realise that it is God and God alone who made all things and who sustains and controls all things and who knows and understands all things because his wisdom alone is infinite, then we can take comfort, because we know that this mighty God is for us and not against us. And whatever trouble he may send upon his people in this troubled life, he will turn to our good. He’s able to do it, because he’s Almighty God. And he’s willing to do it, because he’s the Lord our God who is for us and not against us.

And since he loves his people with an everlasting love, with an unbreakable love, with an unending love — which is grounded in his unbreakable promise to his people — then we’re not to think that when we suffer, his love has been temporarily interrupted. God’s everlasting love for his people is never interrupted. It can’t be interrupted, because it is everlasting as he is everlasting and eternal. And so, when he sends trouble into our lives, and sorrow and suffering, it’s not that his love has been interrupted, but he has sent it to us for some good and loving purpose. And so we need to remember and believe that he who arranges the stars in the sky and everything else in this world arranges everything that happens to us for our good and for his glory.