Job 38–39: God’s Understanding & Wisdom

Read the Bible in 2011–2021* ◊ Week 19: Thursday

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,
“Who is this that darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Now gird up your loins like a man,
And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!”
Job 38:1–3

Today’s Bible reading is Job 38—39. Before you read these chapters, pray and ask God to teach you. If you’re having a difficult time or suffering right now, ask Him to give you understanding that will help and comfort you as you read.

God now speaks to Job and immediately begins with questions. E. S. P. Heavenor has an insightful comment about the Hebrew word for man in Job 38:3:

“The silence of heaven in face of Job’s challenging cries is broken… An interesting word is used for man: geber. ‘It denotes man, not in frailty but in his strength, man as a combatant’ (Strahan). Repeatedly Job had used language (e.g. 31:35–37; 13:22) which seemed to suggest that in him God would find a worthy combatant. Ironically God takes him at his own valuation.”1

These opening verses of Job 38 set the stage. “I will ask you, and you instruct Me!” That’s exactly what God does. His questions to Job are rhetorical—Job knows the obvious answer. (In some instances the obvious answer is that Job cannot know the answer!). All of the questions drive home obvious truths to Job.

The questions in Job 38–39 are about Creation and track with Genesis 1. God begins with the world and its environment, and at the end of Job 38 begins asking questions about animals.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Me, if you have understanding,
Who set its measurements? Since you know.
Or who stretched the line on it?
On what were its bases sunk?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
Job 38:4–7
Pleiades Star Cluster

Why is God answering Job’s questions about suffering with questions about Creation? Francis Andersen describes what is happening:

“God’s two lengthy recitals [in Job 38–41] are not replies to the questions that have tormented Job and which his friends have failed to answer. At least, on first inspection, they do not seem to have anything to do with the central issue of why Job has suffered so severely when he is done everything humanly possible to maintain a good relationship with God. The Lord apparently says nothing about this. Indeed, he makes very few positive statements or affirmations. His speeches are not oracles; he answers Job’s questions with the deluge of counter-questions.”2

This is obvious. At first glance, it’s also frustrating, but look at Andersen’s explanation as to what God is doing.

“This sustained interrogation is not a formal peculiarity. The functions of the questions needs to be properly understood…For Job the questions in the Lord’s speeches are not such roundabout statements of fact; they are invitations, suggestions about discoveries he will make as he tries to find his own answers. They are not catechetical, as if Job’s knowledge is being tested. They are educative, in the true and original meaning of that term. Job is led out into the world.”3

Derek Kidner has this to say:

“First — and of immense significance — God has changed the subject. All the obsessive talk about Job’s plight as punitive is left completely on one side. The inference could hardly be plainer: that Job and his friends have not only found the wrong answers; they have been asking the wrong questions…

“Secondly, God is enlarging Job’s horizon. The superb poetry, which brings before him the majesty, beauty and exuberance of the creation, invites him to explore in his mind the great context of his being. It will — or should — reassure him that his Maker is unimaginably wise and of infinite resource; but it will also bring it home to him that his ash-heap is not the centre or circumference of the world, and that his perplexing role is intertwined with that of innumerable others.

“For, thirdly, there is nothing soothing or explanatory about these chapters [38–41]. The argumentative Job must do some better thinking, the princely challenger must listen to a counter-challenge.”4

What is God teaching Job here? What does He want Job to learn? What does Job need to think about as he considers all of these questions about Creation in Job 38–39? There are two words used in these chapters: understanding (38:4, 18, 20 [discern], 36; 39:17, 26) and wisdom (38:36, 37; 39:17) that I want to look at.

Louis Goldberg explains what the Hebrew word translated as understanding means:

“It’s main English usage is “understanding” or “insight.” The background idea of the verb is to “discern,” and this lies behind the derivative nouns…

“The verb refers to knowledge which is superior to the mere gathering of data. It is necessary to know how to use the knowledge one possesses… a power of judgment and perceptive insight and is demonstrated in the use of knowledge.”5

Goldberg writes this about the Hebrew words for be wise, act wise(ly), and wisdom.

“The essential idea of ḥākam represents a manner of thinking and attitude concerning life’s experiences; including matters of general interest and basic morality. These concerns relate to prudence in secular affairs, skill in the arts, moral sensitivity, and experience in the ways of the Lord.6

“The source of all wisdom is a personal God who is holy, righteous, and just. His wisdom is expressed against the background of his omnipotence and omniscience. By his wisdom God numbered the clouds (Job 38:37), founded the earth (Prov 3:19), and made the world (Jer 10:12). Wisdom, being found in God, is regarded as a divine attribute (Job 12:13). He alone knows wisdom in its truest sense (Job 28:20, 23). The wisdom of God is not found in man’s speculation. He alone must provide this wisdom for man’s guidance so that man can live the best possible moral and ethical life (Prov 2:6; Job 11:6).”7

Job needs to know God: to realize God is Creator and sovereign over His Creation—God made every detail of His Creation as He desires, God rules every detail of His Creation, God directs every detail of His Creation, and God sustains every detail of His Creation. All of Creation is God’s, and His understanding and wisdom are far beyond what Job is able to comprehend.

Job 40 begins with God asking Job if he will contend with Him. After the torrent of questions, Job has come to a new depth of realization that God is God.

Then the Lord said to Job,

“Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
Let him who reproves God answer it.”

Then Job answered the Lord and said,

“Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
Once I have spoken, and I will not answer;
Even twice, and I will add nothing more.”
Job 40:1–5

Heavenor writes:

“In Job’s reply we are rather in touch with an advance to a more adequate view of God, and to at least something of what Paul called the ‘secret and hidden wisdom of God’ (1 Cor. 2:7). Man is not in a position to comprehend every aspect of the meaning of the human situation. Job came to the realization that what had been, and still was, a puzzle to him was no puzzle to God…

“From chs. 3 to 37 we have one long commentary on the inadequacy of the word of man, and the wisdom of man, to explain the mystery of suffering. Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu had all poured out words, without speaking a single word which brought conviction or comfort to Job. Job’s replies had also failed to interpret the mystery; they had also darkened God’s ‘counsel by words without knowledge’ (38:2). The Word of God came and the strife of words was over. It did not come through a carefully reasoned argument dealing a death blow to Job’s intellectual difficulties by its inexorable logic; it did not come through a cut-and-dried explanation of the strands of suffering in Job’s experience. There is silence on such issues; silence about the question of retribution, which had bulked so large in speech after speech; silence about the disciplinary aspect of suffering. The Word came through a fresh vision of God—of the mighty, majestic God behind the marvels of animate and inanimate nature, painstakingly attentive to the unexpected and the insignificant (see especially 38:26, 27, 39; 39:30) towering above human might and wisdom.

“The Word in the vision convinced Job that he could trust such a God. It brought home to his heart the realization that providence was a much more involved and painstaking affair than he had imagined it to be. He had been like a man living in a stuffy room, whose close windows had been shutting out God’s clean sweet air, and whose drawn blinds had been excluding God’s sunshine. With the appearance of God, the windows had been thrown open and the blinds had gone up. God did not answer the problems of his mind, but he did answer Job; He healed the wound of his heart and brought quiet resignation flooding back into his heart. This was not a man who was ‘cowed’ or ‘bludgeoned’, but a man who was convinced that all was well with the world because the everlasting arms would not fail.”8

Elisabeth Elliot, the well-known author and speaker, knew intense, inexplicable suffering. Her first husband, Jim Elliot, was speared to death by members of the Auca/Waodani tribe. She lost her second husband to cancer. For the last decade of her life, she endured dementia. For thirteen years she introduced her program, “Gateway to Joy,” with these words,

“‘You are loved with an everlasting love,’ that’s what the Bible says, and ‘underneath are the everlasting arms.’ This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot.”

God continues to speak to Job in Job 40. As you pray and think about these chapters from today, think also about God’s everlasting love and everlasting arms.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love.”
Jeremiah 31:3b
“The eternal God is a dwelling place,
And underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Deuteronomy 33:27a

May God use His Word to heal your heart and to entrust the whys of your suffering to Him.

Isaiah 42 Photograph: – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications. (Site has been deleted since posting).
Pleiades Star Cluster: NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, Palomar Observatory: Public Domain.
1,8E. S. P. Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, third ed., D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds. (Inter-Varsity Press, London 1970) 441, 442–443.
2,3Francis Andersen, Job (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1976) 289–290, 290.
4Derek Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1985) 70–71.
5Louis Goldberg, “239 bîn” vol. I, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, eds. (The Moody Bible Institute, Chicago IL: 1980) 103.
6Louis Goldberg, “647 ḥākam,” vol. I, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, eds. (The Moody Bible Institute, Chicago IL: 1980) 282.
7Louis Goldberg, “647a ḥokmâ,” vol. I, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, eds. (The Moody Bible Institute, Chicago IL: 1980) 283.

*In 2011 I started a year-long series of posts, “Read the Bible in 2011.” You can find the other posts in the navigation menu in the header. If a day doesn’t have a link to a post, the post was simply a brief reminder about the reading. I’m filling in some of those gaps with new posts with “Read the Bible in 2011 Redux” as a category.

Copyright ©2011–2021 Iwana Carpenter

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