Job 38-42: God is Not Your Enemy

When we left off yesterday, I wondered if God’s words in 38:2 applied to a great degree to Elihu because he claimed to know God’s will with perfect knowledge.  God opened his conversation with Job with the intimidating words, “who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?”  While these words probably applied to Elihu, they most definitely applied to Job.  What is the old adage?  “Be careful for what you wish for as you just might get it.”  In a stunning turn of events, Job was about to meet the God of the universe in a court like scene and it was now time for Job to answer a few questions of his own.  In 38-42, we are being brought to the realization that the reasons for our suffering may often more complex than we can imagine and we are assured that God always acts with absolute justice when dealing with his creation.  Moreover, we learn that God has a purpose in suffering that goes beyond repayment for sin; in the case of Job – his suffering led to God’s victory.

 

The title of this post, “God is Not Your Enemy,” originates from something Dr. Elmer Smick said in his commentary,

 

“it was important for Job to know that god was not his enemy as he had imagined.  This encounter with the Lord to learn the lesson that God is God was Job’s assurance that all was well.  Job did not learn why he was suffering; but he did learn to accept God by faith as his Creator, Sustainer, and Friend.  To learn this lesson he needed to get rid of his ignorant fantasies, his words without knowledge, brace himself like a man, and learn who God really was.  This he was about to do by walking with God through his created universe, and being questioned about his limitations as a creature in comparison with God’s power and wisdom in creating and sustaining the universe.”

 

The lesson that we find in this text is that God as the creator and sustainer of the universe has not forgotten to factor in our individual lives in his overall plan for the world.

 

God’s Response to Job

It is very interesting that as God begins his reply of Job, he doesn’t directly answer all the questions that Job for him throughout the narrative.  In this text we notice that God asked Job a series of questions that would eventually lead Job to the right conclusion of the matter.  We notice God’s reply to Job in three major parts.

 

In the first section (38:4-38), God begins to question Job about the complexity of his creation.  God asked for example if Job was there at the creation of the world (38-4); if he has seen the springs in the deepest parts of the oceans (38:16); if he has seen beyond the grave (38:17 [this is particularly interesting as Job spoke so often and so confidently about the grave throughout his speeches]) or if he has seen and understood the complexity of the stars, constellations and the heavens (38:31-33).  Of course, Job didn’t have any idea about any of these things and he was beginning to come to the realization that however predictable the laws of the universe might be, there is far more complexity and mysteriousness than he could ever imagine.  Near the end of the section, God closes with this critical question for this book, “Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?”  Throughout the narrative, Job, his friends and Elihu all pretend to know the working and the logic behind God’s ways.  Job’s accusers have charged that God works in the moral realm in the same predictable manner as he does in the physical realm.  Job has claimed that God has been unjust to him because his suffering has been out of order with the type of suffering he has endured.  Now Job, along with everyone else, must admit that we have no such knowledge. So, if we don’t know how God accomplishes his objectives in the physical realm, how then can we claim to know how God works in the relational or moral  or spiritual sphere?

 

In the second section (38:39- 39:30), we notice that God now turns to the animal kingdom, which would be presumably more accessible to Job’s understanding than the depths of the oceans and the vast greatness of the cosmos. God moves to ask Job a series of questions about lions, ravens, wild donkeys, the wild ox, charger, the eagle, etc.,  After Job is obviously speechless, God said to him in Job 40:2, “will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”  After God asked this question, we get a glimpse of Job’s new found humility, “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer, twice, but I will say no more” (NIV).  Obviously, Job is in no mood to talk at this point or make any further charges against God.

 

Finally, we enter a last phase where God now appears to demonstrate his authority over the national or political sphere,  as well as the celestial or spiritual realm (40:1-41:34).  Before God launches into a series of questions that demonstrate Job’s’ obvious ignorance of God’s work within his creation, a very serious question was asked in Job 40:7-8, “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?”  For Job, the answer this question is obvious given his now being faced with the presence of God himself.

 

 For many years, this section of Job has deeply troubled me. We can see from the descriptions of the creatures in these verses, particularly with the description of the leviathan.  These descriptions seem very different than anything we know of in the animal kingdom.  Most scholars think that the “behemoth” described here is a hippopotamus and the leviathan is a crocodile.  Yet there elements of the leviathan or the crocodile that seem very hard to believe as we have never seen crocodiles with some of the characteristics that the text ascribes to them.  For example,

 

 “His snorting throws out flashes of light . . . firebrands stream from his mouth; sparks fo fire shoot out.  Smoke pours from his nostrils as from a boiling pot over a fire of reeds.  His breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from his mouth” (41:18-22).

 

 So what is this section getting at here?  First we noticed that God rules over the affairs of the cosmos, then we saw how God rules over the affairs of the animal kingdom and now we see that God rules over the affairs of men.  Dr. Elmer Smick describes the language used here to describe the leviathan as “mythopoeic.”.  In essence, it is a type of language that is used metaphorically.  The creature “Leviathan” is used to describe powerful nations throughout the Old Testament. Egypt is in mind in 74:12-14, when the psalmist says,

 

“But you, O God, are my king from old; you bring salvation upon the earth.  It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.  It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert.”

 

We also see a similar use of language in Isaiah 26:21-27:1; and in the spiritual or celestial realm in Revelation 12-13 (see Smick, EBC, 1048-1051).  Job is facing his own Leviathan and this great enemy’s name is Satan, though Job still has no idea about the details of this great, unseen battle (cf. Smick).  So, based on this usage of the language, it appears that God is finally showing Job that God not intervenes in the cosmos, the animal kingdom, in the affairs of men and in the celestial realm.  This demonstrates that God’s purposes and plans in the great complexity of the universe can’t be boiled down to some immutable law of retribution or karma or whatever other descriptive term that may be attached to it. 

 

Job’s End: A New Beginning

In this text we are given the joy of sharing with Job in a wonderful “happy” ending.  While the pain of his losses probably could not be quantified, God blesses him greatly.  He is given great wealth, long life and a new respect by God.  This all comes after a moment of repentance by Job when he now concedes after concedes that he made a great mistake in his charges against God during his suffering, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.  You asked, “who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?” Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know . . . my ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).  God accepted his repentance and because of his friends’ sacrifices and Job’s prayer on behalf of his friends, God also forgave them. 

 

So, what is the great lesson that we have learned about suffering from the book of Job?  All people suffer and most religious people of all eras have ascribed to suffering to the judgment of God for a particular action.  It has also been assumed that blessing and prosperity will follow automatically from living righteously.  The deduction from all of this is that suffering people must be evil and prosperous people must be good.  The reality though, is that God has a purpose behind all the events of the universe, whether they be the events of the physical realm, the relational realm or the celestial sphere.  Very often, our suffering has not direct correspondence to our own actions and has a purpose that is beyond our understanding.  Our responsibility, when we are undergoing suffering, is to simply trust God in the midst of it.  We must remember that no event of our lives goes under the radar of God’s care.  So here is the great lesson: through his suffering and his continuing faith in the midst of it, God has used Job to slay the leviathan who is Satan. The accuser came to God and said that Job would not hold to God if everything was removed from his life.  God knew better and Job demonstrated for all of us that it always is best to trust in God, even through the most difficult experiences of our lives knowing that he will not allow our suffering to go in vain.  It is because of this that we may confidently proclaim, God is not our Enemy.

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5 Responses to “Job 38-42: God is Not Your Enemy”

  1. Chris Says:

    Thanks Bruce, What a beautiful conclusion to Job. Our suffering is not in vain for God is to be trusted, therefore, we have hope. If we have hope we can endure.

  2. Nathan Says:

    Nice series that you are going through! This was very encouraging to realize that God puts us through things for a reason, even when we can’t understand them. God’s ways are so much higher than our ways. We still can’t even begin to comprhend the things that God asked Job about, but we know that God is sovereign and in control and we should rest in that. Thanks for your hard work and your much more frequent posting on your blog than on mine!

    – Nathan

  3. Bruce Smith Says:

    Thanks Nathan, your gracious comments are a blessing . . . and I think that you are doing an awesome job on your blog!

  4. Bruce Smith Says:

    Amen Chris!

  5. John Crutchfield Says:

    Amen Bruce!

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