Job in chapter 26 begins his response to Bildad as part of a defense that stretches the next few chapters.
Job’s response between chapters 26 to 31 can be very difficult to understand, because he essentially speaks rightly all the way through, yet for chapters 32 to 41 afterward he is sharply rebuked!
Critical liberal scholars attribute this to scribal error or intentional distortion of the original message of the book. According to J. Gerald Janzen, “It has become a commonplace view among critical scholars that the third cycle of the dialogues [Job’s response to Elihu’s and Bildad’s final responses] is badly disarranged, whether accidentally or as some scribe’s (or scribes’) ‘deliberate attempt to refute Job’s argument by confusing the issue’” (Interpretation: Job, p. 171).
First, we can discount this view because not only is there no manuscript evidence to support such a contention (it is made up entirely out of whole cloth). Second, it’s central presumption is that the Bible is not “unbreakable” in the way Jesus viewed it (John 10:35). Even conservative scholars such as Elmer B. Smick and Ronald Youngblood have slipped on this issue, asserting that the original author/editor of the work is inserting his own opinions in the 28th chapter and it is not Job himself talking.
We must reject such ideas as they prevent us from approaching the Scripture in an appropriate way. If these “confusing” words are indeed coming out of Job’s mouth as the book attests and if God intends His Scripture to be understandable and useful, we should be able to understand the message in these chapters.
Let’s keep in mind that not every word that Job speaks is true, so this opens up the possibility to say things that are obviously false or confusing. Keeping this in mind, it is most useful to judge what he says by its merits and not by any preconceived notions about a man we never met.
What is Job getting at in this chapter? To many observers He sounds an awful lot like Bildad in chapter 25. Henry has a suggestion: “He shows that Bildad’s discourse was foreign to the matter he was discoursing of—though very true and good, yet not to the purpose.” In other words, Job is concurring with Bildad, but reminding him that it is besides the point.
As we will see in later chapters, Job agrees with several aspects of what his friends were getting at: the wicked do eventually receive punishment, that seeking God is the greatest possible end, and personal integrity is important. However, Job has a much deeper understanding of these matters than his friends when it pertains to faith in God and it is at this point he immensely disagrees with his detractors. This is something we have covered many times in the last 25 chapters.
The meat of Job’s speeches reiterate what he does not understand from the beginning (and it requires God Himself to answer, Elihu merely addresses the issues in Job’s responses where he went overboard.) Job has lived righteously by God’s grace. He has a faithful heart. Why are people such as him, God’s people, seemingly abandoned in the face of suffering? How is this consistent with the correct idea that we have a God that truly cares about us?
With this in mind, we must read the next few chapters as Job concurring with his friends, telling them what he knows about being right with God, and then expressing confusion as to why those right with God by all appearances are abandoned by God when He is supposedly faithful. What we will find out is that unlike what Job thinks, God is not abandoning us when we suffer. Instead, suffering is part and parcel of God’s care for us and His creation.
Back to what is immediately at hand, Job’s response in this chapter addresses Bildad’s points in the preceding one. We know this because of Job’s initial response. Job makes clear that he finds Bildad’s comments asserting the total unworthiness of man as an unsatisfying explanation for why God can arbitrarily cause his suffering (Job 26:2).
Perhaps Bildad and Eliphaz were proud of their “insight” (Job 26:3) into the nature of man’s depravity. They appeared sure that in this doctrine came the ultimate defense of God in the face of the existence of evil. Yet, the rest of the chapter appears to be Job’s attempt to humble them with superior knowledge of God.
First, he makes light of their insight (Job 26:3). Afterward, he anticipates Eliphaz’s claim that their insight is of a revealed nature from God by dismissing the “spirit” from which it came from (Job 26:4).
Job then describes the majesty of God, likely to the best of his ability, in order to show how much greater God is than his friends can even imagine. The dead, who have come to see God in some way (perhaps in judgment), tremble “under the waters” (Job 26:5). We should remember that the “waters” are associated with Leviathan (who is invoked in Job 26:12-13). So, these trembling people are the damned, biding their time in Sheol before they are thrown into the lake of fire for eternity.
It is in this way that Sheol and “Abaddon” are “naked” before God in verse six. They tremble because they are powerless before Him. We know that Sheol, which is translated as “Hades” in the New Testament, is thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14). Abaddon, translated into Greek as “Apollyon” is both a place (“the pit,” a euphemism for Hades/Sheol) and “the Destroyer” (i.e. the King of Terrors/the Satan). We believe that the latter interpretation works best, being that Job is speaking of two things rather than one. Sheol is mentioned first to differentiate it from Abaddon, which here is treated as a personification of Satan.
Beyond even what Job’s friends can contemplate, God is master over even death itself, which He will destroy. The King of Terrors is not a true king at all, as not even he operates outside of His scope. Here, Job is very close to really “getting it.” This is essentially the answer to his suffering in the book. However, Job only knows the shadows of the truth here and does not fully understand it, so he continues to discuss other aspects of God’s greatness instead of settling there.
For example, Job appears to have some understanding of Earth’s place in the cosmos. He observes that above the Earth is “empty space” and it is “suspended over nothing” flying out there in outer space (Job 26:7). Expressing knowledge of this is not so exciting in the 21st century, but it would have been Earth shattering nearly 4,000 years ago. Unless one lived near the coast and observed boats coming up over the horizon, he would probably presume the Earth was flat and that the heavens were not a vast space, but rather a blanket or some sort of covering over the Earth. In light of this, it is apparent to us that Job is marveling his friends with astronomical knowledge that would have blown their minds.
Likewise, we should interpret Job’s other observations of the created order as profound reflections of God’s greatness. For one, clouds full of rain are suspended in mid-air (Job 26:8). This is a feat that is made possible by extremely complicated physical laws that are consistent and orderly, not chaotic and arbitrary. They obviously reflect God’s “invisible qualities” (Rom 1:20).
These same clouds that God sustains can obscure the moon (Job 26:10). This does not sound very amazing, but people at this time worshipped the moon, thinking of it as a god. Being that Job’s friends are gentiles, as is Job, they may merely be Henotheists. This means that the friends may worship the God, but also other gods as well. However, Job is a faithful man and knows there is only one true God. The moon is easily within His grasp where He can obscure it when He pleases.
Job’s focus, beginning with the Earth, then raising up to the clouds, finally ascends to Heaven.
He has inscribed a circle on the surface of the waters
At the boundary of light and darkness.
The pillars of heaven tremble
And are amazed at His rebuke.
He quieted the sea with His power,
And by His understanding He shattered Rahab.
By His breath the heavens are cleared;
His hand has pierced the fleeing serpent (Job 26:10-13).
The overall point of this passage is that God has mastery over the angelic beings and the heavenly realm. The idea conveyed in verse 10 is that God sets a limit for the primordial chaos, giving order to all of existence. As we have discussed earlier in chapter three, this is an example of God’s mastery over Leviathan (Job 26:12-13). Apparently, Job is aware that the “pillars of heaven tremble and are amazed at His rebuke” (Job 26:11).
This is a keen insight into a time before creation where God defeated his angelic opposition and as a result has made the rest of the angels awestruck. It is worth noting that Aquinas concurs with interpreting the “pillars” as angels, and this interpretation makes sense given the fact that the pillars are equated with the sea in verse 12. This makes the mention of Rahab and the “fleeing serpent” make sense in verse 13.
Job ends his observations with a note of confidence: “Behold, these are the fringes of His ways” (Job 26:14). It is almost as if he is boasting in his superior knowledge above that of his friends, making light of how he has even greater insight into God, and even this insight is just the tip of the iceberg.
He then asks rhetorically, “His mighty thunder, who can understand” (Job 26:14)? Clearly Job is saying, God’s excellence makes him border on the incomprehensible. The Scripture attests to this most explicitly in Romans 11:33: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” We also have a picture of this in Isaiah 6:1: “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” Only the fringes of God’s robe can fit in the temple, so great is His majesty!
Job’s knowledge of God here is most excellent compared to his friends. In fact, as we discussed previously, he gets very close to understanding God’s role for evil and suffering when discussing God’s mastery of Leviathan. However, he is unaware of the Satanic nature to Leviathan and all that it entails. Thus, he stands in ignorance of why God wills him to suffer.