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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