OT Encounters: Job 38:1-11 – Unanswered Questions

By Jeff Pulse

Our text is from the book of Job. The text is Job 38:1-11 and begins the section in Job frequently called Yahweh’s first speech. In truth, this is the moment that Job and even his friends have been waiting for. They have been hoping that the LORD will break His silence and set things straight, answer the questions, and reveal the “why” of what is going on in Job’s miserable life. However, it is important to note that the LORD does NOT answer the questions that Job and his friends have been wrestling with. He ignores Job’s complaints and claims of innocence and refuses to support the accusations of Job’s friend—He just does not go there! This disappoints the readers of Job even today.

Job, as a book, is where most Christians turn in the hope of finding the answer to suffering. They also seek to understand the LORD’s role or power in all the slings and arrows we struggle with in this life. The term frequently used is “theodicy,” which is an apology for God in the face of evil. What is God doing? What can God do? When will He do something? What is He trying to accomplish? Why does He allow/put up with/bring suffering/give suffering? These are heavy and difficult questions.

The first place man tends to go is toward retribution theology—good things happen to good people; bad things happen to bad people. This is the argument of Job’s three friends, as well as Elihu. “Job you must have done some terrible thing to be in the midst of this kind of suffering!” And eventually, after a long struggle with his friends and with the suffering itself, Job himself falls into the same trap…because as Scripture clearly shows, retribution theology is nothing other than “works righteousness.” “Do good, and God will love you, bless you big, and bring you to heaven,” “Do bad, and it is H-E-L-L for you…both on earth and in the bowels of Sheol!” Human nature first turns this direction, but God turns us back, just as He is about to do to Job in our pericope.

Truthfully—maybe disappointedly—Job does not answer any of our questions. Neither does Yahweh in His address to Job. The fact that the LORD answers Job is a great gift of love and mercy, but He does provide the answer that Job seeks. Rather, he teaches him about the relationship between God and man—who God is and who man is in relationship to Him. So, Yahweh’s address begins basically saying: “You wish to question me Job? Stand up, gird your loins, I have some questions for you!” It is doubtful that this is the direction Job was hoping this conversation would go!

38:1 Grammatically, we see a Kethib—Qere set forward in this verse. Kethib is what was written, and qere was what was spoken. At issue is that strange, grammatically incorrect connection of the “min” to the noun. Thus, what is spoken is the preposition and noun as being separate. There is no change of meaning at all.

min hasearah “from/out of the whirlwind/tempest”

The whirlwind/tempest is the place or origin of many theophanies in Scripture. Elijah (in the cave and at his ride to heaven); Nahum 1:3; Zechariah 9:14; etc.

38:2 machshiyk—root: chashak; hiphil “to obscure; make dark” etsah “counsel; plan”

“Who is this that causes counsel to darken”

bemiliyn beliy—daath “with words lacking knowledge” It is important to remember that Job is not guiltless, nor is he correct in his theology.

In this discourse of Yahweh’s first speech, He first presents Himself as Creator. Later, in verses 25-38 He more specifically presents Himself as LORD.

38:3 ezar—root: azar “to gird up; gird”

kegever from gever “as a man; as a young man; as a strong, mighty man”

chalatseika “loins; your loins”

The girding of loins is how one prepares for battle or a wrestling match. The language that the LORD uses would have brought no little fear into Job’s heart!

wehodiyeni—root: yadah—hiphil imperative “make me to know”

38:4 eyphoh “where?”

byasdiy—root: yasad “to found; establish”

viynah “understanding”

38:5 memadeyah from memad “measure; trace out; measurement”

qaw “string; measuring line”

38:6 adaneyah from eden “pedestal; base”

hatbau—root: taba—hophal “to be sunk; settled; planted”

yarah “to lay; cast; set”

pinathah “corner”

38:7 beran—root: ranan “to rejoice; to give a ringing cry; to give a cry of jubilation”

yachad “together”

wayariyu—root: rua—hiphil “to rejoice; shout in triumph; cheer”

The LORD begins His questioning using the language of construction, as in the building of a building. God had a plan and implemented it, but no man, certainly not Job, was there to bear witness. The inference is clear—how can you question the LORD when you do not have enough knowledge? Job is undoubtedly hearing the message loud and clear.

38:8 The rest of this text deals with the origin of the sea. This would be understood as the original element of the world as seen in Genesis 1:2. As unfathomable and frightening as the sea is to a Hebrew of this era, the LORD makes it clear that even the sea is obedient to Him. Small wonder that Jesus calms the Sea of Galilee, showing His power.

wayasek—root: sakak—hiphil “to shut off; shut in”

begiycho—root: gayach “to burst forth”

38:9 waaraphel “thick darkness; heavy cloud”

chathulatho “swaddling bands” Note the use of “womb” in verse 8 and now “swaddling band” in verse 9. The sea is a mere infant in complete submission to Yahweh.

38:10 beriyach “bar”

38:11 wupho—yashiyth bigon galeyka “here shall your proud waves/waters break/be stayed”

While our reading ends here, the questioning continues, and Job, of course, has no answers. But why does the LORD God even bother to show up and question Job? The LORD is teaching Job concerning who he is, who the LORD is, and what their relationship is to one another. This is the important thing for Job to understand, not the nature of suffering, etc.