And Then God Instructs (or Rebukes?)… Job and Us (RJS)

And Then God Instructs (or Rebukes?)… Job and Us (RJS) September 26, 2013

In the last post we began to look at the climax of the book of Job in Chapters 38-41, when Yahweh answers Job. Many commentators seem to view this as a rebuke -a diatribe against Job who has incurred God’s wrath in his response to suffering.  Perhaps, however, the more accurate view is that God instructs Job from the whirlwind. God’s response to Job is a powerful passage and one that has, it seems to me, significant implications for the way we are to understand God and his interaction with his creation.

Job has been longing for an opportunity to present and defend his case before God. He knows that he has done nothing to deserve the suffering he endures (and we know that he is right). But he, like his companions, believes that the world operates with a justice where the righteous are rewarded and the wicked punished. The righteous simply shouldn’t suffer. Suffering is punishment and should lead one to repentance. If this is true, then Job’s situation requires that God be unjust or capricious (not unusual among ancient Near Eastern gods). When Yahweh appears to Job the conversation takes an important turn. God does not defend his justice or impugn Job’s righteousness. He does, however, correct and instruct Job.

There are a few important points here.

First, Does God speak out of anger or wrath? Both John Walton (Job (The NIV Application Commentary)) and Tremper Longman III (Job (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms)), begin with the idea that Job faces the wrath of God in this confrontation.

Walton puts it like this:

The important point is that Yahweh is not simply taking up the role of wisdom instructor; the tone of his words should be understood as a rebuke. The storm does not simply convey his power; it conveys his wrath. (p. 398)

Longman also sees the storm as an indication of God’s anger and describes the speeches as a diatribe against Job. Certainly the tone is one of rebuke and correction. Job was wrong in the way he viewed the working of the world, and he reproved God as he tried to understand and seek justice. But I don’t think this emphasis on wrath, or the description of the speeches as diatribes is either appropriate or helpful. A (good) parent rebukes and corrects a child – but not out of wrath, rather out of love. Wrath is a strong vengeful anger, and carries the implication of retributory punishment for an offense. A diatribe is a forceful and bitter criticism. The emphasis on wrath, if right, should lead us all to silent acceptance of things we do not understand rather than an active engagement and search for God.  I don’t think this is the message of the book of Job.  I also find it significant that God did not demand sacrifices of Job, although he did of Job’s friends (ch. 42).

Second, God is God, Job is not. God comes to Job and confronts him with an unanswerable set of rhetorical questions. The questions are designed to show Job the depth of his ignorance and his lack of power. He wasn’t there when the foundation of the earth was laid. He has not entered the storehouses of snow or hail. He cannot satisfy the hunger of lions, provide food for ravens of tame the wild ox. He did not give the war horse his strength.  The eagle does not soar at Job’s command. Yahweh created the earth and all that is in it. Yahweh commands the weather, provides for the wild animals, and gives the war horse strength.

When Job speaks it is simply an acknowledgement of his smallness.

And Yahweh answered Job and said:
"Will someone who contends with Shaddai instruct him?
     Let the one who reproves God answer back!"

And Job answered Yahweh and said:
"I am small; how can I answer you?
     I have placed my hand over my mouth.
I have spoken once already and will not respond;
     twice, but I won't add to that."
                                                    (40:1-5, Longman)

Confronted with God, Job does not try to put up a defense. He remains quiet and listens. He hasn’t the wisdom to respond, but he does have the wisdom to remain silent.

Third, Job Couldn’t Rule Justly. In Walton’s interpretation the next section (40:6-14) could be paraphrased the “God for a day” challenge.  God challenges Job to “demonstrate that his concept of cosmic operation could actually be sustained.” (Walton p. 406) Job has defamed God’s justice in the functioning of the world. God turns it around and now asks Job to demonstrate how justice would function. In particular God challenges Job to bring down the wicked.

If he can consistently bring judgment on the wicked alone, he will vindicate his name by establishing a cosmic system operating solely on righteousness and justice. He must demonstrate that the system he envisions (and to which he wants God held accountable) can actually work. Only in such a system would suffering be taken as evidence of unrighteousness. Only in such a system would Job need vindication in the shadow of his suffering. (Walton p. 406)

Fourth, God Instructs Job. The final part of Yahweh’s speech turns to Behemoth (40: 15-24) and Leviathan (41:1-34). Both Walton and Longman find attempts to identify Behemoth and Leviathan with real creatures to be misguided. Longman sees them as the ultimate in land and sea creatures and describes and describes these sections as the conclusion of God’s diatribe against Job.

Walton’s interpretation is more suggestive and more interesting. The Behemoth and Leviathan are creatures on the cosmic fringe. They are chaos creatures or “anti-cosmos” creatures. “Anti-cosmos creatures are creations of God, but are the thorns and thistles of the animal world.” (p. 407) Any attempt to identify Behemoth and Leviathan with a real animal, hippopotamus, crocodile, or dinosaur, is doomed to failure. (Longman agrees with this.)

Job is compared with Behemoth, and according to Walton Behemoth provides an illustration for Job to emulate. The section on Behemoth doesn’t ask Job to do anything to Behemoth.

40:15 Starts with a comparison – “along with you”
40:15 Content and well-fed (as you have been)
40:16-18 Made strong (as I made you)
40:19 Ranks first among its kind (as you do)
40:20 Cared for (as you were)
40:21-22 Sheltered (as you were)
40:23 Not alarmed by raging river (as you should not be)
40:23 Trusts and is secure (as you should be)
40:24 Cannot be captured or trapped (to which you should also be invulnerable)
40:24 Nose (=anger) cannot be “pierced” (difficult word – sometimes means named, designated, or penetrated) (to which you should also be invulnerable)

Longman translates v.24 a bit differently and does attach action to Job  “Can it be taken with hooks or can you pierce its nose with a snare?” compared with the NIV “Can anyone capture it by the eyes,  or trap it and pierce its nose?” Walton agrees with the NIV.

In contrast to Behemoth as example for Job, Walton sees Leviathan is an illustration of how Job should think about Yahweh.  Job knows better than to think that he can control Leviathan. So Job should know better than to think that he can control God. Walton also sees an outright comparison between God and Leviathan in v. 10-11: “No one is fierce enough to rouse him. Who then is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” In contrast Longman acknowledges that the Hebrew for “me” is used in these verses, but changes the translation to “it” as a reference to Leviathan suggesting that the context demands it.

Walton’s summary of the passage on Leviathan:

41:1-2 Cannot be controlled (neither can Yahweh)
41:3-6 Will not submit or beg for mercy (neither will Yahweh)
41:7-9 Cannot be wounded or subdued; hopeless to struggle against him (same is true of Yahweh)
41:10 Outright comparison: can’t rouse him, so who can stand against me?
41:11 No one (including you Job) has a claim against me.
41:12-18 Cannot force his mouth open to recieve bridle (so Yahweh cannot be controlled or domesticated),
41:19-25 Dangerous when riled (as is Yahweh)
41:26-32 Invulnerable (as is Yahweh)
41:33 No creature is his equal (nor is Job Leviathan’s equal, let alone Yahweh’s equal)
41:34 Dominates all who are proud (cf. 40:11-14, where the section was introduced). Job cannot humble the proud (40:11-12), nor can he subdue the king over the proud (41:34) Cod is also king of the proud in the sense that he rules over them.

Longman notes that v. 25 translated “When it rises up, the mighty are terrified;  they retreat before its thrashing” by the NIV is (in his opinion) better translated “when it lifts itself up, the gods are afraid, the waves miss their mark.” Even the heavenly beings (“gods”) fear Leviathan.

God is greater than Leviathan, but as Job would fear Leviathan so should he all the more fear God. According to Walton:

The point is not that God can subdue Leviathan and therefore he can subdue Job – that was never in question. Rather the passage indicates that since Job cannot bring Leviathan to heel, he cannot expect to domesticate Yahweh. (Walton, p. 410)

In Walton’s view God has moved from rebuking Job to instructing Job, and in this we too are instructed.

Behemoth is an example of stability and trust.

Leviathan is the picture of one who cannot be challenged.

There is more to be said here, and that will come in the next post.

Is Walton Right? I find Walton’s approach satisfying in a way that none of the other sources I’ve consulted really are. Longman seems to view God’s entire speech as a rebuke and diatribe against Job. This, in my opinion, leaves no message other than “shut up and know that I am God.” It doesn’t seem consistent with the book as a whole, or with the finale where God speaks to Job’s friends.

And it came about after the Lord spoke these words to Job that the Lord spoke to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My anger burns against you and your two friends because you did not speak correctly about me as did my servant Job. And now take for yourself seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job. You will offer burnt offerings, and my servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept what he says and not treat you according to your folly, for you did not speak what is correct about me as my servant Job did.” (42:7-8, Longman)

Both Longman and Walton find this passage a bit perplexing, but especially Longman. Certainly it is not true that everything Job said about God in the book is true – God does rebuke Job in his speeches (Ch. 38-41).  But there must be an essence of truth and acceptable response to God that receives correction rather than wrath.  I may be wrong here, but I expect that Walton does not go far enough when he views only Ch. 40:15-41:34 as correction and instruction. I expect that we should look at the entire set of speeches as correction and instruction.  A whirlwind does not invariably indicate wrath (although it generally does) – after all Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11).

We need to be open to correction by God, but we needn’t fear pouring out our hearts to him.

What do you think?

What does God teach Job in Ch. 38-40? What does he teach us?

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  • Phil Smith

    unless of course, interpreters completely miss the literary category of this work, and that the God who rebukes Job is a different character int he play from the God who comes to Job’s aid.

    If it’s actually a play/ theater of some kind, then there might, in fact, be two competing “voices” playing God in the action.

  • scotmcknight

    RJS, I found that last section discussion about Behemoth… where Walton and Longman differ very interesting. The issue there is the rhetorical intent and then reading it in light of that intent. Walton’s idea here is suggestive. Good post…

  • Brian s

    I do not see why rebuke and instruction cannot go together. My parents disciplined me because they loved me, but that does not mean they were not angry. “Open rebuke is better than love concealed.” We all need rebuking from time to time.

  • Phil Smith

    Yes, but what was Job being rebuked for?
    Job WAS innocent, and “god” WAS a party to his suffering….

  • RJS4DQ


    I think God did correct (even rebuke) Job, and instruct him. I don’t think that the wrath of God plays a role. That is really the distinction.

  • John McCauslin

    Job does nothing wrong in God’s eyes. He was blameless, and he remained blameless. What Job did was to lay claim to God’s justice and to reject any notion that his suffering was in any way a reflection of God’s justice. In effect Job says that God is better than this and God’s justice is nothing like this. Please, affirm that I am not wrong!

    God affirms this and rebukes Job’s friends for not viewing God and God’s justice as being more than simple rewards and punishments, he rebukes Job’s friends for presuming that calamity (and success) must always be a reflection of divine justice.
    He rebukes God’s friends for the awfulness of blaming God and the victim for terrible calamity which has nothing to do with God nor with God’s justice. Such blame is reprehensible to God, and a slander to God’s justice.

    “Gird your loins up for the challenge,” God begins his speech to Job, if you would challenge me to explain the world, then you must be up to the challenge, and since you clearly are not, let me teach you what I can in this moment. God says, “Let me be clear about this, you are are right, what has befallen you is not a reflection of my will or my justice. You were very right, and very faithful to uphold and defend my honor by disclaiming this calumny.

    And Job’s response is a heartfelt “Thank you Lord, for you have heard me crying out, and you have spoken to me, and that is enough. And I have said all I can say.”

    Not a rebuke, but a teaching.

  • Phil Smith

    I agree with this interpretation

  • RJS4DQ

    Interesting John.

    I think it is clear that God is correcting and instructing Job. Rebuke may give the wrong impression, and I think “wrath” definitely gives the wrong impression.

  • RJS4DQ

    Yes, but Job also called into question God’s justice and wisdom. If this is true I would say he was being rebuked for that, and then instructed as to why. But again, I don’t think “wrath” is an accurate term to describe God’s attitude towards Job.

  • John McCauslin

    To rebuke suggest two things, 1) that Job was not blameless and 2) Job should have done something differently. The text repeats that Job was blameless and the “instruction” from God is less to Job than to the friends and to the reader. Job on the other hand is rewarded.

    For in all of Job’s words he has spoken truthfully. God is just and God is merciful and God was not the agent of Job’s calamity. And we are invited by God to call out to God when we are beset by calamity, seeking God’s justice, compassion and salvation. All of this Job did.

    God’s harsh words (Gird up your loins…where were you….) are less a ‘rebuke’ and more a reflection of a harsh reality which all of us need to accept, and that is the reality that God is God and Job is not. And within the limits of humanness we cannot comprehend the “why” of the blessings and curses which we suffer.

  • Thomas Renz
  • Rebecca Trotter

    I did a study of the book of Job a while back and came to some surprising conclusions.

    First, I noticed that when God speaks of laying the foundations of the world, going to store houses where snow is kept, sending out lightening bolts, etc that he is basically taking very human ideas about God and how the world works as his own. He’s accepting these poetic (but factually inaccurate) ideas that humans made up. I also find it interesting that these are mythological ideas which do not have their root in Hebrew cosmology or texts, but come from other people’s mythologies. Not entirely sure of the meaning of this, but it’s interesting to me.

    Second, after going through a variety of mythological treatments of how God works, God moves on to animals. He starts by asking who feeds the lion and the raven. The answer, of course is that no one feeds them. Not even God. Sometimes these creatures starve during times of famine and drought. But then he moves onto an entirely different set of animas – animals which have a domesticated counter-part. Even the freest of the creatures listed – the eagle – has been tamed for use in falconry. Given how many animals exist which haven’t been domesticated, I don’t think this is accidental. Perhaps God is implicitely pointing to a distinction between what he creates and what man does with what he has created – the power we have to mold and shape creation even. And the difference between our ways and God’s. We provide food and water for our animals while God leaves his animals to fend for themselves.

    Third, when God addresses Job the second time in Chapter 40, I think we get a better idea of what God is doing and why it should not be considered a rebuke. First he challenges Job and Job says he will be quiet and acknowledges his own lack of knowledge. But he doesn’t repent of anything he has said. Then God highlights the power he has which Job does not. If you read this passage closely, it seems that what God is speaking of here is his power to lay low the mighty and defend the weak. He says that if Job were able to do this, then God would not be there speaking, but would remain silent. Up to the point at which God shows up, the book is basically a record of Job’s inability to convince anyone of his innocence. He also repeatedly returns to the idea that due to his downfall the proud find more reason to be proud and the wicked feel even more justified in taking the path of wickedness. Where once Job’s life and faith had been a reproof to those who were proud and wicked, now that he was in such a miserable, weak and pitiful state, his life and faith looked to the proud and the wicked as evidence that God is not to be trusted. God says that he is showing up to do for Job what he cannot do for himself – bend the arm of the mighty and rebuke the wicked.

    Fourth, regarding the behemouth and the leviathian. When I read this (and I by no means intend to say that my reading here is the only possible one), I thought that the behemouth is a very good description of the hippo. The fact that God says that he made it “along with you” indicates to me that it is a real creature. On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be any creature which fits the description of the Levianthian. My take is that the leviathian represents the sort of mythological creature which we humans dream up for ourselves. So again, we see a line of sorts being drawn between God and his ways of doing things and our own.

    Fifth, look closely at what God has to say about how the leviathian reacts to threats and attacks:

    3 Will it keep begging you for mercy?
    Will it speak to you with gentle words?
    4 Will it make an agreement with you
    for you to take it as your slave for life?
    5 Can you make a pet of it like a bird
    or put it on a leash for the young women in your house?
    6 Will traders barter for it?
    Will they divide it up among the merchants?

    The thing is that while we know that the leviathian would not do any of these things in response to a threat or attack, this is exactly what we people do when we are attacked or threatened. We barter, cajole, beg, offer ourselves for slavery and amusement, offer our goods in exchange for our lives. I think that if there is a rebuke to Job (and the rest of us) in God’s words, it’s a rebuke to the way that we respond to attack. And I think that this is the reason that God comes to Job’s defense and rebukes Job’s friends, but not Job (by demanding an offering from his friends but not him). Job has been viciously attacked both by the enemy and by his friends who are essentially trying to convince him to go along with the judgment which has been rendered on him. And Job refused. He behaved more like the Levianthian than the typical man who is willing to be made a pet when threatened. It’s also my theory that by using the Leviathian as his example of fighting back, God is implicitelly pointing to the fact that we have it in us to do this. If the Leviathian is a creature of our own imagining, that means it’s ferocious temperment comes out of something in us.

    Sixth, this is super long, so I’ll stop with this. When speaking of the Leviathian, God says that it will fight an attacker such that the attacker will not forget it nor be eager to try it again. After basically lifting Job out of the ashes and restoring him, the story ends with an odd note. It says that Job has children and then lists not his sons, but his daughter’s names. And it notes that his daughters were given the same inheritence as his sons. Obviously this treatment of daughters was very unusual for its time. I like to think that he book ends this way because when it came time to put up a fight such that the enemy would not forget it, the most potent way Job could do that was to raise up his daughters in this way.

  • Steve Puckett

    I know that this word “Leviathan” is a transliteration of the Hebrew word which immediately lends one to know that the identification of this “mammal” or “fish” or “reptile” or mythological creature with any creature we know is speculation at best. The word occurs back in Job 3:8 and in Isaiah 27:1, and Psalms 104:28 in the Hebrew text.

    My copy of William Holladay’s A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament says, “Job 40:25 suggests that the mythological creature represents the ocean encircling the earth, or the crocodile, or the whale.” I loaned out my copy of Brown-Driver-Briggs so can’t check it just now.

    Isaiah 27:1 gives some details about this creature calling him “nachash” in Hebrew (serpent). Interestingly “nachash” is the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 3:1 for “serpent”. Isaiah 27 also mentions “dragon” that has been classically associated with Satan.

    Based on the context of Job 41, I would be inclined to equate the Leviathan with some huge sea creature if pushed in that direction. Otherwise I would take it much like the apocalyptic language of Revelation as a overpowering mythological creature description designed to show Job just how powerless he is.



  • labreuer

    Longman notes that v. 25 translated “When it rises up, the mighty are terrified; they retreat before its thrashing” by the NIV is (in his opinion) better translated “when it lifts itself up, the gods are afraid, the waves miss their mark.” Even the heavenly beings (“gods”) fear Leviathan.

    Woah, that sounds like black holes. Their gravitational pull is so strong that they appreciably bend light (waves); see gravitational lens. If Leviathan is the scariest thing God created of which there are many (vs., say, Satan), black holes might just be it. We usually don’t think of them as ‘alive’, though…

  • labreuer

    I’m not sure how correct what you said is (you covered a lot of ground!), but I very much enjoyed reading it! Job is a very tricky book; I only recently ‘noticed’ the section in chapter 40 that you mention in your third point. I like what you say about God speaking where Job was unable to [effectively] speak. It’s interesting that God effectively says Job would be a god if he could put the proud in their place. (compare Job 40:14 to Is 59:16) Add in John 10:34 and things get quite interesting; perhaps the serpent in the Garden was right about us becoming like God, but it pushed us toward the long, hard route whereas God had a different path in mind: the Tree of Life, which is Jesus.

    I get the strong impression that God wishes he could speak and do less, and have people speak and do more. Hence God wanting someone to “stand in the breach before me” (Ezek 22:29-31), there occasionally being such people (e.g. Abraham, Moses), and Jesus coming when God gets frustrated that there’s nobody (Is 59:14-21; see “there was no one to intercede”). Ezek 34 is a great example of God getting really ticked that he had to do the job he had given to humans (to be priests and rulers).

  • RJS4DQ


    But the beginning of Ch. 40 and even more the beginning of Ch. 42 express the idea that Job comes out of this knowing he has been corrected. He spoke what he did not know and has been corrected. He repents in dust and ashes.

    And God is pretty explicit in 40

    “Would you discredit my justice?
    Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
    Do you have an arm like God’s,
    and can your voice thunder like his?”

    I think we have to take 42 seriously when God says Job has spoken what is true, and the fact that Job is not called upon to offer sacrifices for himself. For this reason I think the idea that we see the wrath of God or a diatribe against Job is wrong. But the idea of correction, with some rebuke is probably accurate.

  • John McCauslin

    But Job did not condemn the Lord’s justice or the Lord but only the various ideas reaffirmed by his friends that Job’s calamity was representative of God’s justice. If the Lord affirms that what Job has said is true, then how can it be said that the Lord’s words were intended to be corrective of Job? Corrective of what? That Job should be less honest? That Job should be less open with God? That Job should be more humble in speaking truths about his own life? Again corrective of what?

    All that I can surmise is that Job may have overreached when he thought he was capable of understanding the explanation from God. But can you really condemn a person for seeking enlightenment into how God’s justice works in the world? Perhaps Job’s repentance was simply the common mortal’s necessary response to being in the presence of the Divine? But that too was God’s doing and not Job’s.

    As for a thunderous voice, Job’s voice, with all of its passionate advocacy, was loud enough to be heard by the Lord. How much louder does one need to be?

  • I wonder if Professor Mcknight comes to this conclusion by analysing the book of Job as merely a religious text of the ancient near east or as part of the Inspired Word of God which has (at least in some sense) to be true.

    I quite honestly don’t know what it is the case. And Evangelicals are hardly the only ones to be biased: militant atheists will almost always consider the most uncharitable interpretation of a passage as being the most likely one.

    But it is undeniable that the book of Job called into question theologically wrong and harmful ideas about God and suffering.

  • Susan_G1

    question: Job is to emulate the behemoth. But does not man starve, weaken, become homeless, and get swept away by raging rivers? To say this was just for Job seems to imply that Job was a historical figure and not a) an ancient myth retold to say something about our relationship with God, b) an example for us all.

    Also, I hsve found your illustrations in this series to be very beautiful. Thanks!

  • RJS4DQ


    I don’t think the idea of Behemoth as an illustration for Job to emulate says anything about the historicity of Job. In the context of the story God provides Behemoth as an illustration. The story can be history or fiction and the illustration is the same. The point isn’t that Job is as impervious as Behemoth, but that he is to be stable and trusting.

    Walton puts it like this:

    Yahweh’s message would be clear: “Job, be strong and content like Behemoth, and don’t think that you can domesticate and subdue me any more than you can Leviathan.”

    Many of the illustrations come from William Blake’s “Illustrations of the Book of Job” ca. 1806-1826. A number of the watercolor versions are quite good, but I have to say that the one on this post today is my favorite.

  • Marc Drayer

    It’s also interesting that in the few previous chapters, Elihu, who is not condemned along with Job’s three “friends,” seems to play the part of a John the Baptist, a forerunner to Yahweh. It’s Elihu that mentions the coming storm which is the vehicle of God. And some of Elihu’s speeches are used as a springboard to God’s reply to Job.

  • Susan_G1

    many scholars believe Elihu was added long after the original; one confirmation is that no one in the story – not God, Job, or the friends – interacts at all with him. That may be why he is neither condemned nor commended. So many mysteries…

  • Susan_G1

    Ah, thank you. That makes sense. Like Genesis 1,2.

    Wow on the illustrations! Your find is our good fortune. The Behemoth is especially eye-catching, and the colors from top to bottom beautifully done. I think this is my favorite, too. (I never knew Blake was an artist as well!)