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JOB 38

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
God Speaks Now to Job The Lord Reveals His Omnipotence to Job
(38:1-40:2)
First Speech of the Lord
(38:1-40:2)
The Lord Answers Job
(38:1-40:1)
YHWH's First Discourse
(38:1-40:5)
        Job Must Bow to the Creator's Wisdom
38:1-7
(1-7)
38:1 38:1 38:1 38:1-21
(1-21)
  38:2-3
(2-3)
38:2-7
(2-7)
38:2-7
(2-7)
 
  38:4-7
(4-7)
     
38:8-11
(8-11)
38:8-11
(8-11)
38:8-11
(8-11)
38:8-15
(8-15)
 
God's Mighty Power        
38:12-15
(12-15)
38:12-18
(12-18)
38:12-15
(12-15)
   
38:16-18
(16-18)
  38:16-18
(16-18)
38:16-21
(16-21)
 
38:19-24
(19-24)
38:19-21
(19-21)
38:19-21
(19-21)
   
  38:22-24
(22-24)
38:22-24
(22-24)
38:22-24
(22-24)
38:22-30
(22-30)
38:25-30
(25-30)
38:25-30
(25-30)
38:25-27
(25-27)
38:25-33
(25-33)
 
    38:28-30
(28-30)
   
38:31-33
(31-33)
38:31-33
(31-33)
38:31-33
(31-33)
  38:31-41
(31-41)
38:34-38
(34-38)
38:34-38
(34-38)
38:34-38
(34-38)
38:34-38
(34-38)
 
38:39-41
(39-41)
38:39-41
(39-41)
38:39-41
(39-41)
38:39-41
(39-41)
 

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. Job 38:1-40:2 is God's first personal response to Job.

1. It does not inform Job of the dialogue of Job 1-2.

2. It does not address the problem of the deaths of Job's children and servants.

3. It does not answer Job's legal case (i.e., the unfairness of his situation).

4. It does not address the problem of human suffering.

5. It does not explain the hiddenness of God.

6. It does not reframe "the two ways" (i.e., it even seems to reinforce it, cf. Job 42:10-17).

 

B. I must admit how disappointed I am at the Judean sage's (i.e., my view of authorship) composition of God's response to Job. As "A" above shows, it does not answer any of the questions; it simply states the inappropriateness of all human questions! The fact of the sovereignty and power of God has been affirmed by all the speakers in the book of Job (i.e., Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, Elihu). They all have this theology at the center of their worldview.

Commentators differ widely on the purpose of these last chapters (and for the book itself, for that matter; see Introduction to Job, IX.). I want to be positive but I cannot! The unfairness of Job's life and the hiddenness of God drives me to want an answer but none is given! "Why" screams out in my mind!

The main truth of Job seems to be that trust is superior to knowledge (i.e., another example would be the salvation of Nineveh in the book of Jonah with so little knowledge of God). Mystery is a valid theological category. Thank God for

1. His revelation to Israel

2. His revelation in His Son

The best modern book for me on evil and suffering has been John William Wenham's The Goodness of God. I have found that the issue of evil and suffering is a major stumbling block to modern people. Job does not help! It does not answer the questions.

I thought I understood Job, but the more I do a detailed verse-by-verse exposition, the more I do not understand! Job has become, for me, the most emotionally and theologically difficult biblical book I have tried to explicate! I fear my thoughts and pen have offended God! That is not my intent.

 

C. God's answer to Job is His greatness and sovereignty, expressed by using rhetorical questions about nature themes.

 

D. In some ways God's response is foreshadowed in Elihu's speeches, especially Job 37.

 

E. There are two key texts in the first response from YHWH.

1. Job 38:3b, "I will ask you, and you instruct Me!" (sarcasm)

2. Job 40:2, "Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it."

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 38:1-7
 1Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,
 2"Who is this that darkens counsel
 By words without knowledge?
 3Now gird up your loins like a man,
 And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!
 4Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
 Tell Me, if you have understanding,
 5Who set its measurements? Since you know.
 Or who stretched the line on it?
 6On what were its bases sunk?
 Or who laid its cornerstone,
 7When the morning stars sang together
 And all the sons of God shouted for joy?"

38:1-7 This initial strophe identifies the speaker (i.e., YHWH, not El, same as in Job 1-2) and the recipient (i.e., Job).

1. who darkens counsel (cf. Job 42:3)

2. by words without knowledge

This begins an extended series of questions aimed to show the inability of Job, or any human, to understand God's creative and sustaining power and presence.

On a positive point, earlier in Job's dialogues, he mentioned that God would never speak to wicked people, so if God spoke to him it would be a way of asserting his innocence!

Job's desire to speak to God personally is answered (cf. Job 13:23; 23:3-7; 30:20; 31:35; 35:14), but not in the way he expected!

Job's words in Job 9:14-19 foreshadow this experience.

1. How can I answer Him? – Job 38:14

2. He answers in a storm. – Job 38:19

3. He is overpowering. – Job 38:19

 

38:1 "YHWH" This is the special covenant name of Deity. It is first mentioned in Genesis 2; also note Gen. 4:26 (but compare Exod. 6:3). See the SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY.

It is uncertain why this special name given to Israel appears in the prose prologue and epilogue, but only once in the dialogues (cf. Job 12:9; some Hebrew MSS have "Eloah").

▣ "the whirlwind" Contextually this seems to relate to the powerful storm front and thunderstorm of Job 36:24-37:13, but the word used here (BDB 704, KB 762) does not appear.

The word is often used of an appearance of God (i.e., theophany) in Ezek. 1:4; Job 38:1; 40:6; Zech. 9:14; YHWH comes in a storm when giving the Law on Mt. Sinai but a different Hebrew word is used. It was what transported Elijah to heaven (cf. 2 Kgs. 2:1,11). In the later Psalms it is simply used for a powerful storm (cf. Ps. 107:29; 148:8).

38:2 "darkens counsel" The first word is a Hiphil participle (BDB 364, KB 361), which denotes

1. "hiding" or "concealing" in Ps. 139:12

2. "obscure" or "confuse" in Job 38:2

The word "counsel" (BDB 420, KB 558) can refer to "wisdom," "advice" (i.e., Pro. 12:15). It is used in an evil sense in Job 10:3; 18:7 (i.e., "schemes") and in Job 21:16; 22:18; Ps. 1:1 (i.e., "the counsel of the wicked").

Job is not "wicked," but he does speak out of partial knowledge. God is not totally pleased with Job. Job has implied and stated negative things about God. Job's attitude in chapters 1-2 has degenerated! He has become a bitter person, caught between his faith in God and fear of God.

38:3 "gird up" This (BDB 25, KB 28, Qal imperative) is a Hebrew idiom referring to turning a robe into a garment for activity or labor by taking the back of the robe and pulling it through the legs to the front, where it is tucked into the waistband, thereby making trousers (cf. 1 Kgs. 18:46; Job 40:7; Jer. 1:17).

This idiom is often used by Paul (Eph. 4:14) and Peter (1 Pet. 1:13) in the NT for mental activity, so too, here. YHWH is calling on Job (as He did Ezekiel, cf. Ezek. 2:1, and many other places) to stand up, take courage, and speak to Him.

▣ "I will ask you, and you will instruct Me" Grammatically, the first verb (BDB 981, KB 1371, Qal imperfect used in a cohortative sense) sets the literary stage for YHWH to address Job with a series of questions.

The second (BDB 393, KB 390, Hiphil imperative, cf. Job 38:4,18) is a sarcastic way of showing the ridiculousness of a human answering questions about creation (cf. Job 38:21). Although Genesis 1-2 records God's actions as if a human observer were recording the events, there was no human observer!

The command about knowledge is continued in the chapter by the use of a synonym (BDB 393, KB 390, "know," cf. Job 38:4,5,12,18,21,33). The issue is one of "knowledge" (i.e., true wisdom). It is with God, not mankind (cf. Job 38:4b,5a).

Job has used this very verb, in the same grammatical form, in calling on God to answer him (cf. Job 10:2; 13:23).

38:4-6 One of my favorite authors for ANE culture is John H. Walton. He covers ANE cosmology in Job 7, "Cosmic Geography," in his book ANE Thought and the OT: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (see pp. 174-175).

38:4 "the foundation of the earth" ANE imagery describes the earth as firmly set on pillars that reach to the sea floor (cf. 1 Sam. 2:8; 1 Chr. 16:30; Ps. 24:2; 75:3; 104:3a,5).

38:5 "its measurements" This is a masculine noun (BDB 551, KB 595), found only here in the OT. There is a feminine form which is found often (i.e., in Job 11:9; 28:25).

▣ "Since you know" This is sarcasm, as are Job 38:17,18,21,33b,34,35. Of course, Job cannot know these things or control them!

▣ "stretched the line on it" This (i.e., "line," BDB 876, KB 1081) refers to the ANE way of measuring (cf. Jer. 31:39; Zech. 1:16) construction projects.

38:6 "On what were its bases sunk" See note at Job 38:4a.

▣ "cornerstone" See SPECIAL TOPIC: CORNERSTONE.

38:7 This verse speaks of the angels. "The morning stars" is parallel to "the sons of God" in Job 1:6; 2:1. See SPECIAL TOPIC: "THE SONS OF GOD" IN GENESIS 6, "C."

Apparently, angels were not involved in the initial creation (i.e., by the spoken word of God, Genesis 1), but they rejoiced in it. Although Genesis 1-2 does not mention angels, Psalm 103-104 (Psalm 104 is about creation) form a literary unit, and Ps. 103:20 does, along with Ps. 148:2 (cf. Job 38:106).

They were apparently part of the "heavenly council" (cf. Job 1:6; 2:1; 5:1; 15:15; Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Exod. 15:11; 2 Kgs. 22:19; Ps. 29:1; 82:1; 86:6-8; Isa. 6:8).

▣ "shouted for joy" Many parts of God's created order shout for joy (initially and at its restoration; Rom. 8:18-25 expresses the sorrow of creation at the Fall).

1. dawn and sunset – Ps. 65:8

2. meadows and flocks – Ps. 65:13

3. mountains – Ps. 89:12; 98:8; Isa. 44:23; 55:12

4. fields and trees – Ps. 90:12; Isa. 55:12

5. rivers – Ps. 98:8

6. wilderness and desert – Isa. 35:1-2

7. heavens and lower parts of the earth – Isa. 44:23

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 38:8-11
 8"Or who enclosed the sea with doors
 When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb;
 9When I made a cloud its garment
 And thick darkness its swaddling band,
 10And I placed boundaries on it
 And set a bolt and doors,
 11And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther;
 And here shall your proud waves stop'?"

38:8-11 This strophe deals with the boundaries God set on salt water (cf. Ps. 104:9; Pro. 8:29; Jer. 5:22, see Special Topic: Waters). Job 38:25-30 deals with fresh water, so important for agriculture in the ANE.

The imagery of "doors" (BDB 195, KB 223) on the sea is found only here.

It is interesting that all things (except Adam by special, personal forming, Gen. 2:7) are spoken into existence, but not water (cf. Gen. 1:2). This text (Job 38:8) implies the creation of salt water by the imagery of "birth" (i.e., "from the womb") and baby clothing (Job 38:9).

38:9 This verse seems to relate to Gen. 1:2, the initial fog on the waters that covered the earth.

38:10 "I placed boundaries" This verb (BDB 990, KB 1402, Qal imperfect) means "to break." Only here does it have the sense of "set boundaries." The UBS Handbook (p. 700) asserts it refers to sea waves breaking on the shoreline. The LXX and Vulgate have "prescribed bounds for it." Both of these suggestions fit the parallelism of Job 38:10b and 11.

God sets limits or boundaries on the created order. It is a symbol/sign of His sovereignty.

1. water – Job 26:10; 38:10; Pro. 8:27-29

2. light/dark – Job 26:10; 38:19-20,24

3. rain/seasons – Job 28:26; 37:6,11-12; Ps. 147:8; Jer. 3:3; 5:24

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 38:12-15
 12"Have you ever in your life commanded the morning,
 And caused the dawn to know its place,
 13That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
 And the wicked be shaken out of it?
 14It is changed like clay under the seal;
 And they stand forth like a garment.
 15From the wicked their light is withheld,
 And the uplifted arm is broken."

38:12-15 This strophe addresses the creation of the heavenly lights (i.e., sun, cf. Gen. 1:14-19; Ps. 19:1-6).

These verses seem to speak of light in two senses.

1. sunlight, Job 38:12-13a (i.e., it runs its course, as in Ps. 19:5-6)

2. light as imagery for God's truth or ways. The wicked are revealed by it (Job 38:13b-14) and destroyed by it (Job 38:15). The wicked flee from the light (cf. Job 24:13-17; John 3:19-21).

 

38:14 This cryptic verse seems to refer to how light brings better vision. The perception of things changes as the light of day increases.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 38:16-18
 16"Have you entered into the springs of the sea
 Or walked in the recesses of the deep?
 17Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
 Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
 18Have you understood the expanse of the earth?
 Tell Me, if you know all this."

38:16-18 This strophe seems to deal with Sheol (i.e., the holding place of the dead in the OT, see Special Topic: Sheol).

Often Sheol is connected with underground water, either in the sea bed or below the springs of water.

Sheol is called "the land of darkness and deep shadow" in Job 10:21-22.

38:17 "the gates" This noun (BDB 1044, KB 1614) is used figuratively for

1. gate of heaven – Gen. 28:17

2. gate of Sheol – Isa. 38:10

3. gate of death (parallel to #2) – Ps. 9:13; 107:18

Sheol was viewed as a prison with gates from which no one could return (i.e., Job 16:22; 10:21).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 38:19-24
 19"Where is the way to the dwelling of light?
 And darkness, where is its place,
 20That you may take it to its territory
 And that you may discern the paths to its home?
 21You know, for you were born then,
 And the number of your days is great!
 22Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
 Or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
 23Which I have reserved for the time of distress,
 For the day of war and battle?
 24Where is the way that the light is divided,
 Or the east wind scattered on the earth?"

38:19-24 This strophe deals with things related to weather (i.e., snow, hail). Often, weather can be directed at YHWH's bidding to cause defeat in battle (cf. Exodus 9-10; Jos. 10:11; Ps. 18:11-15; Isa. 28:2,17; 30:30) or to discern God's will (cf. 2 Kgs. 20:8-15; Isaiah 38).

God uses weather (i.e., rain, dew) as a way of blessing and (i.e., hail, floods, snow) as a way of judgment (cf. Job 38:23).

38:21 This is biting sarcasm (cf. Job 38:3b). This may reflect Eliphaz's words against Job in Job 15:7-9.

38:22 "the storehouses of. . ." This (BDB 69, KB 23) may be parallel to "chambers" of Job 37:9 (BDB 293, KB 293).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 38:25-30
 25"Who has cleft a channel for the flood,
 Or a way for the thunderbolt,
 26To bring rain on a land without people,
 On a desert without a man in it,
 27To satisfy the waste and desolate land
 And to make the seeds of grass to sprout?
 28Has the rain a father?
 Or who has begotten the drops of dew?
 29From whose womb has come the ice?
 And the frost of heaven, who has given it birth?
 30Water becomes hard like stone,
 And the surface of the deep is imprisoned."

38:25-30 This strophe deals with God's regular (i.e., seasonal) gift of fresh water for agriculture (i.e., rain or winter precipitation).

38:25 God provides channels for the water (i.e., river beds, creeks, etc., cf. Ps. 65:9-10). This implies He gives the rain and limits its damaging affects (i.e., floods).

38:28 This powerful anthropomorphic imagery is found here only. See SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN (ANTHROPOMORPHISM) (anthropomorphic langauge).

▣ "the drops of dew" The word "drops" (BDB 8, KB 10) is found only here in the OT, but is parallel to "rain" of line 1.

38:29 "heaven" See SPECIAL TOPIC: HEAVEN.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 38:31-33
 31"Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, 
 Or loose the cords of Orion?
 32Can you lead forth a constellation in its season,
 And guide the Bear with her satellites?
 33Do you know the ordinances of the heavens,
 Or fix their rule over the earth?"

38:31-33 This strophe deals with the constellations. In the ANE, astral worship was common. As the plagues of Egypt depreciated the idols of Egypt, so too, Genesis 2 depreciates the astrology of Babylon. This strophe asserts God's control over stars (cf. Gen. 1:16; Job 9:9; Ps. 8:3; 136:9; 148:3,6; Jer. 31:35-36).

The exact constellations referred to are uncertain (see NIDOTTE, vol. 2, pp. 611-612).

38:32

NASB,
NET Bible(plural) "constellation"
NKJV,
NRSV,
JPSOA,
Peshitta"Mazzaroth"
NJB"the Crown"
REB,
amplified"the signs of the zodiac"

The MT has "constellations" (BDB 561, cf. 2 Kgs. 23:5). KB 565 suggests the REB translation comes from another Hebrew root.

38:33 "ordinances" Does Job know the operating rules of the heavens? Can we apply them to the earth? See SPECIAL TOPIC: TERMS FOR GOD'S REVELATION.

▣ "rule" The noun (BDB 1009, KB 1475) occurs only here. The same root in Akkadian means "writing." Another allusion to astrology.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 38:34-38
 34"Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
 So that an abundance of water will cover you?
 35Can you send forth lightnings that they may go
 And say to you, ‘Here we are'?
 36Who has put wisdom in the innermost being
 Or given understanding to the mind?
 37Who can count the clouds by wisdom,
 Or tip the water jars of the heavens,
 38When the dust hardens into a mass
 And the clods stick together?"

38:34-38 This strophe deals with God's control of nature (personified).

1. clouds

2. rain

3. lightning

4. dust (affected by rain)

 

38:34 The LXX helps the parallelism of line 1 by translating "answer you" for the MT's "cover you" in line 2 (BDB 491, KB 487, Piel imperfect). The UBS Text Project cannot decide between the two options.

38:35b The lightning is personified. It answers God with a Hebrew idiom of availability (i.e., Exod. 3:4; 1 Sam. 3:4-6; Isa. 6:8).

38:36 There are two unusual words in Job 38:36. One in line a and one in line b.

1. line a

NASB "the innermost being"

NKJV "mind"

NRSV, JPSOA,

Peshitta "inward parts"

TEV, NJB "ibis"

REB "darkness"

LXX "weaving"

RSV "clouds"

For a fuller discussion, see NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 358.

2. line b

NASB,

NRSV,

JPSOA "the mind"

NKJV "the heart"

TEV, JPSOA (footnote) "rooster"

NJB "cock"

REB "in secrecy"

LXX "embroidery"

Peshitta "understanding"

RSV "mists"

The MT has BDB 967, but the meaning of the word is greatly disputed, as seen from the different translations. The UBS Text Project (p. 143) gives "to the cock/rooster" a "B" rating (some doubt). The parallel "inward parts" (BDB 376) does not seem to fit here. BDB suggests "cloud-layers," and for its parallel (line b) or "celestial appearance," possibly referring to "clouds" or "meteors."

The UBS Handbook (p. 715) suggests that there are four lines of interpretation.

1. psychological terms (NASB, NKJV, NRSV, JPSOA)

2. meteorological terms (RSV)

3. mythological terms (AB, Thoth. . .Sekui)

4. zoological terms (TEV, NJB, some ANE people believed that birds predicted weather)

The LXX would form another line of interpretation (sowing skills).

The strophe has several weather related terms which support the RSV.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 38:39-41
 39"Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
 Or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
 40When they crouch in their dens
 And lie in wait in their lair?
 41Who prepares for the raven its nourishment
 When its young cry to God
 And wander about without food?"

38:39-41 This strophe goes with Job 39:1-12. The exegesis will be included in Job 39.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. What is the purpose of God's response to Job?

2. Why does God not mention Elihu?

3. Is God pleased or irritated with Job?

4. Explain the sarcasm of Job 38:3b,4b,18b.

5. List the elements of this chapter that have

a. mythological imagery

b. idolatry connotations

6. Why is Job 38:36 so hard to interpret?

 

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