Lecture 28: God and Inanimate Nature
Course: The Book of Job
Lecture: God and Inanimate Nature
I. God’s Speech and Job’s Response Have Parallel Structures
A. God challenges Job
B. God’s dominion over creation
At last we come to the speeches of God. The outline of God’s speech is fairly
straightforward. First, God challenges Job in chapter 38:1-3, telling Job to gird up
his loins and God will speak to him like a man. Then B: God’s dominion over all
creation is described, 38:4 to 40:2. This is in two parts: First, God describes
inanimate nature, 38:4-38 and then animate nature, that is the animals, 38, 39 to
C. Job answers
Job then gives a brief answer in chapter 40:3-5. Then we have a second major speech of God. God challenges Job again, 40:6-14. Then God describes Behemoth and Leviathan in chapter 40:7 to 41:34 with Behemoth in 40 especially focused on in 15-24; and Leviathan, 41:1-34. Finally Job answers again in 42:1-6.
So we can see a parallel pattern. The text is clearly in two halves. Both halves begin with God challenging Job and both end with Job answering God. That is the basic structure of it.
II. Many People are Confused by God’s Speech
A. God gives Job a lesson in natural history
Many interpreters, however, many readers are frankly confused, if not disappointed by God’s speech. He does not say what you would expect him to
say. Instead of giving profound answers that describe why Job suffered, God seems to give him a lesson in natural history, talking about the sky and the
B. God seems to berate Job for being a mortal
Worse than that, God seems to berate Job for being a mortal. God will repeatedly say, “Job, where were you when I made this? Where were you when I did that? Job, can you control the lions? Job, can you feed the wild goats? Job, can you do this? Job, can you calm the storm?” Job, of course, will only say, “No, no, I can’t do any of that.”
Of course he cannot do any of it. He is a mortal. So we wonder, why is God doing this? Why does God seem to just constantly rub Job’s face in the dirt? showing him again and again, you are just a mortal, you are just a mortal, you are weak, you are of the flesh. God is not really rubbing Job’s face in the dirt. What he is doing we will see. The main point is, we need to read the speeches of God very carefully because on a superficial reading they don’t seem to answer anything. They just talk about the fact that God is powerful; God rules the animals; God rules the storms; and God deals with these creatures Behemoth and Leviathan; and that is pretty much the end of that.
C. The book of Job does not answer the question, “Why do the righteous suffer?”
A big problem comes because people expect the book to answer the question, “Why do the righteous suffer?” But, as we described at the very beginning of the course, that is not really the question of the book of Job at all. The question is closer to Satan’s challenge, “Will Job serve God for nothing?” It is the idea, “Is service to God just something you do so that he doesn’t hit you?” It also is the question of the righteousness of God. With all the injustice in the world, how can God be good and powerful and wise and just? Why doesn’t God do something about all of this evil and all of this suffering and corruption?
We are certainly going to be disappointed in God’s speech if we come to it asking the wrong questions. The question is, “How does God address the problem of evil and why do we serve God?”
III. What does God’s Speech Do and Not Do?
A. Does not say that Job’s affliction is punishment for sin
Very quickly, what does the speech do and not do? First, as we mentioned previously, nowhere does he say that Job’s affliction was punishment for sin; and
nowhere does he even say that Job got all this affliction in order to prevent him from committing future sins, like some kind of preventative punishment.
Punishment is not the issue. Job’s sin is not the issue. We should lay that to rest once and for all. If there were any guilt to be imputed to Job or if there were even the possibility that Job was about to fall into sin, surely God would have said so; but God never does, so that is not the issue.
B. God accuses Job of having imputed injustice to God
God does, however, accuse Job of having imputed injustice to God, which Job did; not in the sense that Job turned away from God or Job lost his faith in God or something like that, but that Job essentially said, “God is not handling the world with justice. With all this evil in the world, God doesn’t do anything about it, so God is not handling things right.” God does rebuke him for that.
C. God is rebuking Job for his theological conclusion
However, we should realize, God is rebuking Job for his theological conclusion; he is not rebuking Job for the behavior and conduct of his life. That is an important distinction. Here is what it means. It means that God intends to change Job’s mind. He intends to tell Job something that will make him re-orient his thinking. He is not going to tell Job, “Job, you are an evil man and you need to repent of your sin.” That is a very different thing.
IV. God and Inanimate Nature
Now we get into God’s speech and we are going to begin by looking at the introduction and looking at how God speaks of inanimate nature. In chapter 3 Job began a series of speeches in the book of Job and you will remember he cursed the day of his birth and he spoke in terms of bringing creation down, undoing of creation. He spoke in terms of having the sun and moon go dark, the sky go dark. He spoke in terms of bringing about an end to light and allowing all to be engulfed in darkness, which I suggested to you was kind of an undoing of creation.
God in his speech will begin with creation and the importance of creation and what God has done. After his introduction God begins his account to Job. He says, 38:4: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”
Here he begins by telling Job, “Okay, were you there when I created heaven and earth, when I laid it all out, when I laid out the mathematical principles by which the whole of creation is governed?” or as he says, his term, “stretched out its boundary lines.” This is a place where God again appears to be berating Job, just saying, “Where were you? Where were you?” But there is more to it than that.
A. Things are fixed because God made it so
I want you to notice, the thing that it really focuses on, besides the fact that God made heaven and earth, is the fact of the earth’s stability. Verse 6: “On what were its footings set? Or who laid its cornerstone.” These, of course, are architectural terms. The footings, the foundation for a house or a building; the cornerstone, that is, the key stone for holding the walls together, etc. The idea is that the world, the earth, is fixed and stable and unmoving. In other words, God did not create chaos. God did not create a world in which rules don’t apply, in which everything is in upheaval. So how does this begin to answer Job?
Job has kind of described a world that is in upheaval. When he has spoken of how much oppression there is and how much injustice there is and the suffering of the poor, etc., he describes a world that is in moral chaos. But God is saying that He did not create a chaotic world, he created a world that was stable and fixed.
He says the same thing about the sea in verses 8-11:”Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?” The sea, remember, in the ancient near eastern world was thought of as an abode of the dead. It was thought of as a violent place, a place of storms, a place someone could not venture on without great risk. The seashore was thought of as a boundary that protected humanity from the raging power of the sea. God has once again declared that he is the One who did this. He uses the metaphor of a door with bars. So the sea has been kind of enclosed and has been kept in place by a door that has been shut and barred.
The idea is, again, God did not make a chaotic world. God made a world that is orderly and God knows all about how to keep things fair and right and in their proper place.
He then talks about the dawn in verses 12-15: “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken.”
Here he talks about the coming of dawn. He uses quite a remarkable metaphor. He talks about the earth taking shape like clay under a seal. What does this mean? First of all, in the ancient world they would use clay to make seals, for example for a scroll. You write a scroll and you want to identify it as yours. You would get a little lump of clay that was called a bulla and you would put it on the scroll. Then to identify it as yours, you would use your seal to stamp that little lump of clay and your seal would be on it. One way of doing a seal was what was called a cylinder seal, which is what it sounds like, it is a cylinder shape; and you would put the clay down and you would put the cylinder over it and you would roll it. As you rolled it, on one side you would have unformed, just plain clay; but as the cylinder seal rolled over it, then whatever image, whatever picture you had would slowly emerge until the whole clay had been rolled over by the seal; and then you have this beautiful image. By the way, this is an aside, some of these images are incredibly beautiful. If you go to some major museums like the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, you can find a collection of these ancient seals and see how they have been rolled out, and they have exquisite artwork on them.
What happens is, again you start out with nothing but formless clay that has no shape to it; and then slowly as you roll the seal over it, this beautiful image comes out. The metaphor here is dawn. It is describing dawn, how at darkness, everything is just shapeless, it is just black. The sun starts to come out and you start to see shapes, you start to see things appear; and as the sun rises, more and more detail emerges until once the sun is fully up, you can see everything precisely and beautifully. So it is a great metaphor for the dawn and how the dawn works.
God also speaks of how the light shakes out the wicked. Job has already spoken of how the wicked people love the darkness; how they do their deeds in the darkness; how they are people of darkness; and God drives them away with the light. The idea here, again, is not just, “God is real powerful and he made the light.” The idea is that God is a God of order and a God of justice. Where there is nothing but chaos and formlessness, God brings in light and God brings in shape and God brings in beauty; and his light also chases away the wicked. He is saying more than just, “Job, I’m really powerful and you are not.” He is saying, “Job, I am the One who gives the light. I am the one without whom there would only be darkness.”
Up till now we have looked at the earth, the sea and the dawn. What are these things? These are things that are fixed because God made them so. The earth is fixed and on a firm foundation because God made it that way. The sea has boundaries set upon it and the dawn reliably comes every day and drives out the darkness because God made it that way.
There is one other thing God describes that is also fixed and set, and that is in verses 31-33: Look at verse 31 of chapter 38: “Can you bind the chains of the
Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s belt? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?”
Here he is speaking again of the constellations. We have seen the constellations mentioned already in Job. But what we have here are heavenly bodies that are fixed in place. The ancients were fairly sophisticated in their astronomy, not withstanding they didn’t have any instruments like telescopes. But they knew good and well there are fixed stars and there are planets. They would see some heavenly bodies such as Mars or Jupiter, how they wander across the sky. But they would see also the stars that from year to year never lose their fixed positions. Dawn comes, the sun comes up, the sun goes down, all the stars parade across the sky, but they are always in the same fixed position.
What does that have to do with the book of Job? Why is it here? Again, God has made things in order. The stars are not chaotic. They are not zipping all around the sky. You don’t see the constellation Orion in one place one night and then see it relatively in a totally different part of the sky a different night. It is always going to be in the same position relative to all the other stars. The Big Dipper will always be the constellation that goes around the north star. That is not going to change.
God’s point in all of these things – the earth, the sea, the dawn and the stars – is that God is the source of order and stability in the world.
B. Distant and dangerous places
Secondly, God speaks of distant and dangerous places that sustain us, but that only God knows. He begins with the deeps in chapter 38, verse 16: “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked the recesses of the deep?” The deep-sea is the place no human can go to safely. Nowadays we can go down with some risk in very expensive, very elaborate machines. In the ancient world you couldn’t go down there at all. So it is a place of danger, a place of death. Only God can go down there and control it.
Thirdly, he speaks of the gates of death, verse 17: “Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you been shown the gates of deepest darkness?” Obviously this is a dreadful and terrible place. Only God can control it.
He then mentions the broad expanse of the earth. “Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me if you know all of this.” Of course the earth is really huge. The ancients had no concept of how big it really was; there was a great deal of it they had never seen. But they knew it was really big and there were a lot of places they couldn’t go to, a lot of places they didn’t know. The sources of light in verses 19-21: “What is the way to the abode of light and where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths of their dwelling? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!”
Here again, we miss the point if we think God is just berating Job because God is big and Job is small. That is not the point. The point is the fact that there are dangers in the world. There are terrible places. There are frightening places. There is the deep sea. There are the depths, the gates of death. There is a lot of world out there that we don’t know about, that may contain who-knows-what kind of dangers and what kind of wild animals. All of these things are out there, all of these risky things, all of these dangers; and God knows about all of it. God can control every bit of it.
Finally, the storehouses of wind and rain, verses 22-24: “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to
satisfy desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass?”
Notice what he is saying here. He is speaking of frightening, powerful forces: Lightning, hail, thunderstorms, things that clearly are dangerous; but also things that give life. These are the things that water the earth. Once again, the point is, God controls all of these things. God rules all of these things, however chaotic they are, however dangerous they are. God even uses them for good.
He speaks also of freezing weather in verses 29 and 30: “From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters
become hard as stone, when the surface is deep frozen.” These are all forces of nature that can be dangerous, that can be chaotic. These are places that we cannot go, places that are dangerous for us. But God manages all the dangers, all the chaos in the world; and out of it brings forth life.
Now, to think a little bit about what God is saying. First of all, as a matter of physical reality, we could even go into much more detail than the book of Job has done. For example, we could describe volcanoes. Volcanoes are furious, violent forces. Bright fire comes up from the heart of the earth. It can cloud the skies for hundreds and thousands of miles. It can change the climate. But of course, volcanoes are also necessary. They are an essential part of earth and earth’s history and they do a great deal to add fertility to the land.
C. Chaotic forces
What we are saying is, the universe is full of chaotic and dangerous forces, things we cannot even go to, much less control. But God controls all of it.
To kind of jump ahead, what does this mean for the argument of the book of Job? Remember, the book of Job is the problem of evil and the idea that there is chaos and that there is death throughout the world, and God doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it. The point thus far is that God knows all about it and God manages all of it, so that there can be life; and he preserves life and he protects life. Thunderstorms are violent, but God controls them and he uses them to water the earth.
It is a way of saying to Job, what looks really chaotic to you is in fact something I am managing every moment of every day. So these distant and dangerous places, these terrible and frightening phenomena are inaccessible to Job, but they are necessary for life and God controls them all. They give water, they support the ground under our feet, they provide light, they provide the seasons. Life cannot exist without all these dreadful things, but God handles them.
What we have in this passage thus far is God speaking of how he knows that the earth has a lot of chaos in it. He knows that things are not just simple and calm and easy all the time. Nevertheless, God manages all of it and from generation to generation, the earth abides, life abides, people abide. We are not destroyed, we are not dying because God cares for us all. So God has used inanimate nature just to open the discussion and to make the point, Job, if you think the world has a lot of chaos in it, you don’t begin to know how much chaos there is, but I am managing all of it.