In Chapter 38 God begins His first speech of the book, essentially arguing that His sustaining of creation is proof of His goodness and that man cannot question His justice as a consequence.
Blake’s representation of God answering Job out of the whirlwind.
God’s response to Job begins with a bang and it seemingly comes right off the heels of Elihu’s introduction. Just as Elihu announced God arriving from the north in a weather event, the exact same thing occurs when his speech ends. This implicitly smiles upon what Elihu taught:
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)!
The context of what is written indicates with a rather fair degree of clarity that God is addressing Job alone, and not any of the friends including Elihu. Evidence for this can be seen in where it says in verse one that “the Lord answered Job” and when God said, “I will ask you, and you instruct me.” It is apparent that God is thereafter barraging Job with a long list of rhetorical questions, no one else.
So, if we went by the text, who darkened God’s counsel by speaking words without knowledge? Pretty clearly, Job.
To add to this mountain of evidence, it is also suggestive that God specifically has in mind Job’s contention that He “brings the deep darkness into light” (Job 12:22). Within the context of the end of chapter 12, Job was saying that God is overturning the moral order of things by sowing confusion (“revealing mysteries from the darkness” and hence bringing to light things that should have remained in the dark.) Therefore, God is responding specifically to this charge against His counsel.
However, commentators with the traditional doctrine of Job’s theological inerrancy take some pains to redirect God’s accusation to another party, namely Elihu. According to Aquinas in Chapter 38 of his work, “He said: ‘Who is that man who envelops his opinions with inept arguments [Aquinas’ translation of Job 38:2]?’ … Eliud enveloped these opinions with many presumptuous and even false statements, as should be clear already, which are called here inept arguments because every lack of order proceeds from a defect of reason.” See also Chapter 11, Book 38 from Gregory the Great’s work.
It may be best to prefer the more internally consistent interpretation that God is speaking of Job, and if this be the case, it at least gives us evidence that even though Job is “the good guy,” that unlike a cartoon the good guy is not perfect in every way. This should give us great comfort in light of some of the more disturbing statements Job makes about God. We, as Biblical interpreters, are not forced to swallow charges of Job’s such as Job 9:23 (“If the scourge kills suddenly, He mocks the despair of the innocent”) hook, line, and sinker. This will help alleviate any confusion we might have in interpreting the rest of the book.
Therefore, it is not without a sense of irony that God points Job out for darkening his counsel without knowledge and then asks him to teach him if he can (Job 38:2-3). The obvious implication is that Job cannot, rightfully humiliating Job for speaking wrongly.
In order to teach Job humility and convey man’s insignificant role in the universe when compared to God’s, He asks Job what role man had in making the foundations of the world (Job 38:4-7) and slaying Leviathan (Job 38:8-11). This points to the Theocentric as opposed to Anthropocentric origins and purposes behind the universe. Afterward God moves on to show that man does nothing to sustain the universe, which He does by controlling the daylight (Job 38:12-15), the Earth’s waters (Job 38:16-18), the seasons and weather (Job 38:19-38), and the animal kingdom (Job 38:39-41, Job 39).
Job’s response to seeing that the universe does not revolve around him in its origins and that he does not sustain it in all of its complex ways is that he realizes his complete insignificance (Job 40:4). As we will see later, merely being insignificant compared to God does not make us unable to question God’s purposes. Instead, when we fully understand how God works His righteousness and goodness in both sustaining creation and regulating evil (Job 40-41), we realize that He is totally in the right and knows what He is doing. There is a necessary connection between the sustaining of existence (with God’s implicit righteousness made visible in it, Rom 1:21) and His permitting of evil. To question Him, as Job has otherwise did thus far, is therefore wrong and needs to be repented of in Job 42:6.
The foundations of the world is an important motif in the Bible. They reflect the very beginning of creation, because “He established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter forever and ever” (Ps 104:5). Figuratively speaking, if the Earth was not held up where it belonged, the water and land would spill all over the place and existence would be chaotic as its original state was in Gen 1:2.
It is important to note again that this is figurative language. We know that the Earth literally does not have foundations. A satellite in outer space is not necessary to prove it, because the Bible itself says that it is so (Job 26:7). The point is that the Bible is speaking to the fact that there is something that God has established to sustain creation so it all does not fall apart. On the Earth itself, gravity would be one such physical law that seems to hold everything where it belongs. Obviously, God has established the natural laws.
However, it is important to look beyond natural laws when reflecting upon the origins of the universe. Physical laws that scientists study do seem to satisfy the Principle of Sufficient Reason that Aquinas has spoken of in his Summa Theologica. Space does not permit a detail discussion of cosmology, but whenever atheists make claims that “the universe always was” they are essentially saying that everything was caused by a cause by a cause infinitely into the past. The problem with this is that merely having a cause into eternity past does not offer a basis for how everything can have a reason for existing. It does not satisfy the Principle of Sufficient Reason.
One way to understand this is to speak about the “infinite pile of books.” If we were to ask the atheist what is holding up the infinite pile of books so that they do not fall, he would respond that there is always a book below the next book forever. “If this be the case,” he reasons, “there is always a book that can hold up the next one, so there does not need to be a first book.” The fallacy in this is that merely being infinite does not sustain the pile. For something to be a pile, they have to be set on some sort of foundation which prevents there being an infinitely falling pile of books within an infinite space.
So, reason demands that there ultimately is some sort of origin as to why everything is the way it is. Some will ignorantly retort that the universe in the beginning “created itself.” The problem is, if something is created it logically cannot created itself. The property of created things is that they have an origin in time. Nothingness cannot decide one day to make something. It is nothing. It just stays as nothing.
This is why for most of human history, every culture and people of every place has posited that some sort of eternal uncreated creator made everything. It is the only option that is not irrational. So, logic and intuition dictate that there is some sort of foundation to creation that was made by something.
Our present understanding of science appears to show that physical laws at some point came into effect and acted upon matter and energy that was set into motion by an uncreated first cause, which we may rightfully speculate was done by God. However, the Bible does not get into detail because quite frankly much of the speculation here from an eternal and omniscient perspective is probably radically wrong. Instead, the Scripture just says the obvious: God laid creation’s foundations so that the whole edifice will stand as it should. The Principle of Sufficient Reason has been satisfied.
God asks Job where he was during all of this (Job 38:4). This points to Job’s finite nature, for Job is not eternal and was not there. It is worth pointing out that before God even made the foundations, He predestined every soul that would spend an eternity with Him in heaven (Eph 1:4). Job was not there either. How could he understand God’s righteousness and mercy in choosing sinful people to be redeemed when he was not there to witness it? Job knows nothing about it so he cannot ever begin to question God as to what He is doing.
The Almighty then asks Job if he knows the “measurements” of the foundations (Job 38:5). Being that we cannot even begin to understand which units of measurements and how many, it is clear that we cannot even approach knowing how God did it and why.
God also asks, “Who laid its cornerstone” (Job 38:6). Christ is the Cornerstone (Is 28:16). He is the Word who created the entire universe (John 1:3, Col 1:16). Further, the Cornerstone sustains all of creation just as it would hold the foundation in place (in which the edifice of creation is built upon): “[T]here is but one God, the Father, from Whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (1 Cor 8:6). Further, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (emphasis added, Col 1:17). Lastly, Christ “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb 1:3).
This is how we know that God Himself fulfills the Principle of Sufficient Reason. God the Father is “over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:6). If He ceased to be, creation itself would cease to be. As the Father eternally begotten the Cornerstone, so Christ has always been without a beginning sustaining everything. In tandem with the Father “from Whom are all thing and we exist for Him” Jesus Christ is the means of Creation “by Whom are all thing and we exist through Him.” In the same way, the Son also is “through all” sustaining all things, because “in Him all things hold together.”
This means when God asks Job about the Cornerstone, He is asking Job whether he can peer into eternity past. Job obviously cannot. But, he can answer the questions in verses 5 and 6. Who did these things? Obviously God did.
When we read Genesis 1, it is important not to lose sight of what God is actually trying to convey instead of getting caught up in the details. Likewise, we must adopt the same attitude here. The Cornerstone of verse six was not created after the “sons of God” in verse 7 that sang for joy. God is not necessarily laying out each verse in perfect chronology (i.e. the foundation was measured and laid first, the cornerstone was fixed, then the morning stars/angels sang for joy.) God is merely conveying the general truth that when He, by His Son Jesus Christ, created the universe, the angels (who were created early enough to see significant parts of creation made after them) subsequently rejoiced.
This rejoicing by the “morning stars” was cut short by a rebellion in heaven by the “star of the morning” who we know as Lucifer (Is 14:12). In response, God “enclosed the sea” of chaos as personified in the dragon Leviathan with doors (Job 38:8). God’s mastery of this evil force is profound (Job 38:11). He made for this evil force a “garment” of a cloud and a “swaddling band” of darkness (Job 38:9). This points to the separating of the waters, and light from darkness, in Gen 1.
The gentle choice of wording shows that God is working His purposes lovingly, yet it shows His exerting of control. The swaddling band restricts Leviathan’s movement. He can only meet the boundaries that God permits for him (Job 38:10). God therefore controls the forces of evil for good and with a spirit of love, which we may infer from the use of the term “swaddling band.”
The chapter contains some further comments about this. “The springs of the sea” reference how the world always seems to have just the right amount of water (Job 38:16). The reference to the “expanse of the Earth,” in light of the “measurements” of God’s creation and details about weather later in the chapter (Job 38:18), humbles Job. God controls the minutia of everything, everywhere.
When “the foundations of the world were laid bare by the rebuke of the Lord, at the blast of the breath of His nostrils” (emphasis added, 2 Sam 22:16), God was mastering evil, when Job was nowhere to be found. It would be true to say that God was the first “superhero” fighting the forces of darkness. Who is Job, who cannot by capacity display the creative faculties that God has used to thwart evil from the beginning, question God’s justice?
God in His very act of creating was just and mastered evil. He has been doing it since the beginning. How could Job, who could not master the evils that arose out of his own heart when he was suffering, question God’s mastery of evil throughout the ages? He can’t.
The reference to the “gates of death” (Job 38:17), which were created before the existence of people in the chronology here, is the finishing touch of God’s mastery over Satan. Evil will be thrown into an eternal lake of fire. In the meantime, Satan is hedged in by “gates.” This is why the Scripture says, “[U]pon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt 16:18). How could what is enclosed by God overpower whom God has set His love upon? Job questions the One who will totally defeat wickedness and has mastered the evil one since the beginning. In light of what God just said, all of Job’s accusations simply seem out of place.
God moves on to speak of His control over the rising of the sun. There are several elements of this. It speaks again to God’s creative faculties: “ God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night” (Gen 1:4-5). It also speaks of God’s purposes: “Have you [Job] ever in your life commanded the morning and caused the dawn to know its place that it might take hold of the ends of the earth and the wicked be shaken out of it” (Job 38:12-13)?
The ordering of light so that it “knows its place” and shakes out the “wicked” appears to speak again to God’s mastery of Leviathan (who sought to overturn the creative order.) Further, the coming of the dawn every day bring safety to men both past and present, as many crimes are committed at night (Job 38:14-15). We should read the reference to God’s ordering of light and darkness within this context (Job 38:19-21).
The sustaining of the world by ordaining its weather, which is to be expected of a God who “in all and through all” are all things, gets covered next. They relate to the light, because in reality the seasons are dictated by the tilt of the Earth, affecting the directness of sunlight going through the atmosphere (Job 38:24). The more direct the sunlight is, the warmer it is. The less direct, the colder it is. Scientists would not figure this out for at least another 2,000 years, yet we have an accurate description of it in the Scripture.
God speaks of snow and hail which He has “reserved for the time of distress, for the day of war and battle” (Job 38:23). The time of distress that seems meaningless to us, just like children singing “rain rain go away come again some other day.” Yet, it is important because it “bring[s] rain on a land without people, on a desert without a man in it to satisfy the waste and desolate land and to make the seeds of grass to sprout” (Job 38:26-27).
An anthropocentric view of the universe does not allow one to really appreciate such a thing. “If the rain doesn’t help me or anyone else, what good does it do?,” he asks. Who are you to answer back to God, oh man? You might say that when a tree falls in a forest it does not make a sound when there is no one there to hear it, but it still does anyway.
God sustains the whole universe. When distress comes, who are we to question God as to what good it is? It serves purposes in sustaining this world that we cannot always observe personally.
Weather is significantly affected by the seasons of the year. First, God takes credit for creating the elements and working the miracle of having them change states (Job 38:28-30). How does God do this in an age before freezers? He changes the seasons, which He references indirectly (Job 38:31-33).
The connection between the two is not immediately obvious. In a day and age where we do not use the stars for navigation or for any other practical purposes anymore, they used to play a crucial role for the ancients in determining the seasons for the sake of agriculture. The Bible references this idea directly when it says, “Let there be lights [i.e. stars] in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years” (emphasis added, Gen 1:14).
God has this in mind when He asks, “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens, or fix their rule over the earth” (emphasis added, Job 38:33)? Being that the Bible does not endorse astrology and in fact forbids it (Deut 18:10-14), verse 33 where it says the stars “rule” the Earth can only be interpreted as a reference to the seasons. The discussion of weather in Job 38:34-38 rounds up this discussion.
Lastly, God moves on to the animal kingdom (Job 38:39-41). Their lives are directed by instinct and they are at the mercy of God. As the Scripture says, “The eyes of all look to You and You give them their food in due time” (Ps 145:15). Though we do not even know where these animals hide in their dens (Job 38:40), He provides for them. He sustains everything.
Some interpreters think that God is simply “wowing” Job with His power. However, God’s description of His own creative power and control over the world differs in a significant way with that of Job in chapter 26 and Elihu’s in chapters 36 and 37. Job and Elihu speak in awe of God’s awesomeness, wisdom, and brute strength. They definitely use the “wow factor” to put man in his place. When man realizes how much less he is than God, it becomes very difficult to question Him. However, if Job understood this, why did he still not get it? Why did he question God?
This is where God adds a new element to this equation: His purposefulness. God deals with the creation, weather, and animals in such a fashion to take care of their needs and bring good to the world. It is a purpose that is not immediately apparent when one views the universe egocentrically, or even anthropocentrically. However, it is clear that God is conveying a righteous and kind purposefulness with how He runs the universe. Job did not see this. Elihu touches on it in Job 36:31 and 37:13. God makes this abundantly clear in chapters 38 and 39.
Understanding this, we can truly move beyond Job’s contention that, “If it is a matter of power, behold, He is the strong one! And if it is a matter of justice, who can summon Him” (Job 9:18)? Though God by strength alone can compel us to submit to His will, it is His high purposes that make Him righteous. Thrasymachus would assert in Plato’s Republic that “justice is the will of the stronger.” Though this is a logical conclusion, it is not one that God relies upon.
We do not always understand what it is, but one can surmise from the order of the universe and God’s revealed nature that this is the case. Because we do not operate under any such high purposes, we are not in the position to question God. Since the beginning of creation to the present, God has the track record to show that He sustains creation in wisdom and righteousness.
Before we dive into the issue of God’s care for the animals, verse 36 warrants further discussion. God asks, “Who has put wisdom in the innermost being or given understanding to the mind?” Obviously God has. God then asks whether man can count all the clouds (Job 38:37), which he obviously cannot. God’s point is clear: man cannot understand things he was not designed with the capacity to know. This is of itself is a good point. The irony of men questioning God’s justice, when their sense of justices has been given to them by God, escapes many.
However, why is this valid point made here? We cannot give a good answer. It appears to be a verbal aside because God was speaking of the topic of the weather and the seasons, and the counting of clouds and necessary wisdom to do so was relevant to the topic. Further, God’s discussion of the weather, unlike that of the sustaining of unseen parts of the world and the setting of its foundations, is observable to man. Man must call upon his wisdom to evaluate it and understand the seasons by looking at the stars.
Yet, where does this wisdom come from? God. Just as God has His purposes for putting a swaddling band around Satan and having it rain where no men live, God has a high purpose behind man’s wisdom. Man can understand many things, but not all things. He has free will to do things, but an incapacity to will to do all things.
So, when Job questions why God man cannot escape the effects of original sin (Job 14:1-6), God finally gives an answer: there is a high purpose behind it. Just as God ordains and wills all things for good, the same is true of original sin and man’s seemingly great, but not good enough wisdom. Though it is is not made explicit here, the reason God does any of this is to glorify His name. Being that there is no higher purpose than this, then God is right in doing it. For our intents and purposes then, Job’s question has been answered.