The LORD Almighty Responds

The LORD Almighty Responds

In our highlighting some key chapters in the Book of Job, we turn this morning to God’s initial response to Job who, from the start of his suffering, had been seeking God out that he might make his case before his Maker and Judge and be vindicated before friends who had done nothing but accuse him of having committed some evil that had brought about his suffering. But before turning to God’s breaking his silence before Job, I again want to note some of what has transpired between Job’s response to his friends’ accusations in chapter 23, which we considered last week, and this morning’s passage in chapter 38.

In chapter 24 Job began by expressing his ongoing desire to see God execute his judgment in verse 1: “Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?” Despite posing these questions, it’s evident that in his heart of hearts Job knew that God would execute judgment for the very same chapter closes with him noting how God will one day deal with those in power, namely, “For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all others; they are cut off like heads of grain.”[1] Throughout his wondering, Job’s belief in God’s sovereign rule remained strong.

Next Bildad, one of the three friends, weighed in again by asking, “how can a mortal be righteous before God?”[2] Although this is a fair enough question again we need to keep in mind that Bildad wasn’t simply asking a rhetorical question but was stating this in the context of trying to make the case, along with the other two friends, Eliphaz and Zophar, that Job was no doubt suffering due to his being unrighteous. Yet Job continued to fight back by insisting, “2 As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made my life bitter,as long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils,my lips will not say anything wicked, and my tongue will not utter lies.I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity.I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.” And then, in a chapter addressing where wisdom can be found, we find this statement affirming Job’s words as God “…said to the human race, ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.’”[3] Isn’t this the very first thing we are repeatedly told about Job? That he is one who is “blameless and upright,” who “feared God and shunned evil”?[4] It’s no wonder that the book of Job is included among the wisdom literature in the Old Testament for Job, despite having lost his sons and daughters,[5] his servants, his oxen and donkeys,[6] his sheep,[7] his camels,[8] and finally his health,[9] and having friends who insisted that surely he had done some evil that was the cause of all of this suffering, despite all of this Job continued to fear God and shun evil. He would not lie for the sake of satisfying his friends’ accusations. He knew he was innocent.

This isn’t to say that Job never longed for the way things were for he poignantly admitted, “2 How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, 3 when his lamp shone on my head and by his light I walked through darkness! 4 Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house, 5 when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me, 6 when my path was drenched with cream and the rock poured out for me streams of olive oil.”[10] And in the midst of his longing and lament he, unlike the outright lies and false accusations made by Eliphaz which we looked at last week,[11] told the truth about how he had lived:

11 Whoever heard me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me, 12 because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist them. 13 The one who was dying blessed me; I made the widow’s heart sing. 14 I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban. 15 I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. 16 I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger. 17 I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.[12]

And Job then noted how things had changed. No longer was he held in high esteem by others but instead he was mocked in song by young men who not only detested him but also didn’t hesitate to spit in his face.[13]

And so in his next breath Job turned to God saying, “20 I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. 21 You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me. 22 You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm. 23 I know you will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for all the living.”[14] So, too, in the following chapter Job cried out, perhaps rhetorically,[15]35 Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. 36 Surely I would wear it on my shoulder, I would put it on like a crown. 37 I would give him an account of my every step; I would present it to him as to a ruler.—”[16] Well, this may be a lesson in the need for us to be careful what we wish for. For after presenting the views of Elihu, yet a fourth accuser of Job over the next six chapters,[17] a man who, by his own admission, had kept quiet up until now due to his being younger than the other three friends,[18] God finally broke his silence and answered Job.

Starting with verse 1 in chapter 38 we read, “1 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm.”—some of your translations may read “out of the whirlwind”—“He said: ‘Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?’” Now Job’s questioning of God had been primarily that he might make his case before him. Yet in what follows it becomes exceedingly and painfully clear that the LORD being God owes us no explanation. He is all-wise. He is all-knowing. He is all-powerful. He is all-good. He is all merciful. He is all-just. He is all-loving. He is all-compassionate. He is the Creator who sustains and cares for and looks after the world he has created. He is the LORD Almighty. This is what he has revealed about himself.

So when Job so very understandably demanded to make his case before the LORD given his innocence and misery which was compounded by the accusations from Eliphaz, Zophar, Bildad, and then Elihu, the LORD chose to answer Job. And he did so by reminding Job about who his God and Maker is. He began by warning Job, verse 3, “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” Whereas Job had sought the LORD that he might question him, the LORD now makes clear that he is the one—he is the only one—who is in the position of posing questions. And so he asked Job starting in verse 4: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels[19] shouted for joy?” I imagine upon hearing even this much of the LORD’s questioning, Job responded with a huge “gulp!” For God began by reminding Job of who he is. The LORD is God. He is the one who made the earth. He is the one who made the angels who celebrated its goodness long before Job ever existed. He is the one who made all that ever has been; all that is; all that ever will be. So who was Job to question his Maker?

Next the LORD turned to some of the specific things he had made within that creation: the sea in verses 8–11;[20] the morning and dawn in verses 12–15;[21] the sea,[22] the gates of death,[23] the expanses of the earth in verses 16–18;[24] the creation of light and darkness in verses 19–21;[25] snow and hail in verses 22–23;[26] the lightning, east winds, rain, and thunderstorm in verses 24–30;[27] the constellations and heavens in verses 31–33.[28] All of which brings us to the second part of our passage. But this brief recounting is important because again in his questioning of Job, the LORD was making crystal clear that he is the LORD; he is the Maker of heaven and earth; he is LORD over everything. Creation didn’t come into existence of its own accord; no, creation exists because the LORD, its Creator, made it. He is the LORD Almighty.

So the LORD, in essence, turned to Job and asked, “What about you, Job. Can you do that? Can you do any of that?” Next the LORD turned to Job beginning with verse 34 and asked him about Job’s ability to rule over nature, “Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water?” Or again, verse 35, “Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?” Or again, verse 36, “Who gives the ibis wisdom or gives the rooster understanding?” Or yet again, verses 37–38, “37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens 38 when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together?” The answer clearly is, “not Job!” Not it is the LORD who not only made this world, but he also sustains and governs it. He is the LORD Almighty.

In the closing verses the LORD asked Job whether he took any responsibility in providing for God’s creatures within that creation. So we read beginning in verse 39, “39 Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions40 when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? 41 Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?” And though our passage for this morning ends here, God’s questioning didn’t for he went on to ask about other parts of his creation in the following chapter namely, the mountain goats, the doe, [29] the wild donkey, [30]  the wild ox,[31] the ostrich,[32] the horse,[33] the hawk[34] and last, but not least, the eagle.[35] Is it Job cares for the creation God has made? Clearly, not. It the LORD Almighty who cares and provides and watches over the world he created and sustains.

After all of this, the LORD allowed Job to answer by turning to him and asking: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”[36] Who are we to question God? We who are but dust? We who wouldn’t exist but for God, the Giver of Life, giving and maintaining our earthly lives? Creating this world was his idea. Creating us was his idea. He made us and all that exists “very good.”[37] We see a consistency in God’s revelation in that his words to Job here were later echoed by both the prophet Isaiah and even later by the apostle Paul as well. Listen to this word that Isaiah brought to Cyrus from the LORD,

Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’? 10 Woe to the one who says to a father, ‘What have you begotten?’ or to a mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?’ 11 This is what the Lord says—the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? 12 It is I who made the earth and created mankind on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts.[38]

And Paul echoed this understanding when he wrote in Romans, “20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”[39]

Again, in the midst of his misery Job had, quite understandably, lost his perspective. And so he had pled, “Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?”[40]

From the depths of his despair he said, “20 I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. 21 You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me. 22 You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm. 23 I know you will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for all the living.”[41]

In the thick of his anguish, Job had demanded, “35 Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. 36 Surely I would wear it on my shoulder, I would put it on like a crown. 37 I would give him an account of my every step; I would present it to him as to a ruler.”[42]

And so the LORD spoke to Job out of the whirlwind saying, “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?”[43] And after reminding Job of who he was, the LORD asked him, “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”[44] And it’s worth noting that the word used for God here is “LORD” in all caps, Yahweh, the covenantal name for God. So God was responding to Job in light of the covenant, the commitment, he had made to his servant.[45]

So what are we to make of this initial response to Job by the LORD Almighty? Well for starters, it’s evident that Job’s friends were wrong. Job wasn’t being punished for any evil he had done. However, the reason for Job’s suffering remained hidden from both them and Job himself. As one commentator notes, “Out of the awesome majesty of the thunderstorm, [God] reminds Job that the wisdom that directs the Creator’s ways is beyond the reach of human understanding—that humanity’s almost godlike wisdom should not presume to match God’s wisdom or take its measure.”[46] To try and explain why God made the world as he did or why things happen as they do is a fool’s errand. We’re not called to ask why; we’re called to exclaim what Job exclaimed at the start of his ordeal when all of his children and material possessions were taken away as he responded in worship, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”[47] And we’re called to profess what Job professed when even his health was taken away from him, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”[48] In all of this we are reminded of a fundamental principle of how we are to live in life. As the LORD said to the human race, “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.”[49] So we are called to be like Job who was “blameless and upright,” who “feared God and shunned evil”[50]

And let us remember as well how the goodness of this world reflects the goodness of our Maker, the LORD Almighty, who ever reigns and watches over us. And let us who know Christ trust in his goodness for he is also our Redeemer. And so let us praise him. And let us give him thanks knowing that during our brief earthly lives we have the enormous joy and privilege of enjoying him by faith through this broken mirror of our earthly existence and one day we will enjoy him by sight as we see him face to face for all eternity.[51]

Let us pray.

[1] Job 24:24.

[2] Job 25:4a.

[3] Job 28:28.

[4] Job 1:1, 8; 2:3.

[5] Job 1:18–19: 18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

[6] Job 1:13–15: 13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

[7] Job 1:16: 16 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

[8] Job 1:17: 17 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

[9] Job 2:7–8:So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

[10] Job 29:2–6.

[11] Job 22:6–11: 6 You demanded security from your relatives for no reason; you stripped people of their clothing, leaving them naked. 7 You gave no water to the weary and you withheld food from the hungry, 8 though you were a powerful man, owning land—an honored man, living on it. 9 And you sent widows away empty-handed and broke the strength of the fatherless. 10 That is why snares are all around you, why sudden peril terrifies you, 11 why it is so dark you cannot see, and why a flood of water covers you.

[12] Job 29:11–17. See also Job 31, a chapter devoted to Job pleading his innocence and referencing how he had lived a godly life, filled with compassion and justice, in the way he interacted with and treated others with full integrity and purity of heart.

[13] Job 30:1, 9–11: 1 But now they mock me, men younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to put with my sheep dogs…. 9 And now those young men mock me in song; I have become a byword among them. 10 They detest me and keep their distance; they do not hesitate to spit in my face. 11 Now that God has unstrung my bow and afflicted me, they throw off restraint in my presence.

[14] Job 30:20–23.

[15] The NIV places this statement in parentheses.

[16] Job 31:35–37.

[17] Job 32–37.

[18] Job 32:1–6: 1 So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned  him. Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he. But when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused. 6 So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said: “I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know.

[19] According to the Crossway ESV Study Bible (which translates the phrase as “the sons of God” rather than “the angels” as does the NIV), “This is the same expression found in the prologue (…1:6…). It refers to the members of the heavenly court surrounding God’s throne.” The Reformation ESV Study Bible notes other places where we can find the personification of natural forces. See, e.g., Psalm 104:4: [The LORD] makes winds his messengers,[or angels] flames of fire his servants.” This passage is quoted by the author of Hebrews who contrasts the Son with the angels in Hebrews 1:5–9: 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son;today I have become your Father”[Psalm 2:7]? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”[2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:13]? 6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”[Deuteronomy 32:43] 7 In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.”[Psalm 104:4] 8 But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”[Psalm 45:6, 7]. For other examples of nature being personified, see Psalm 148:2–4: 2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts. 3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. 4 Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.; Psalm 65:13: The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.

[20] Job 38:8–15: Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11 when I said, “This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt”?

[21] 12 Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, 13 that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? 14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. 15 The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken.

[22] Job 38:16: Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?

[23] Job 38:17: Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?

[24] Job 38:16:  Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.

[25] Job 38:19–21: 19 What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? 20 Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? 21 Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!

[26] Job 38:22–23: 22 Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, 23 which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle?

[27] Job 38:24–30: 24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? 25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, 26 to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, 27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? 28 Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? 29 From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens 30 when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen?

[28] Job 38:31–33: 31 Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s belt?32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? 33 Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?

[29] Job 39:1–4: 1 Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? 2 Do you count the months till they bear? Do you know the time they give birth? 3 They crouch down and bring forth their young; their labor pains are ended. 4 Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds; they leave and do not return.

[30] Job 39:5–8: 5 Who let the wild donkey go free? Who untied its ropes? 6 I gave it the wasteland as its home, the salt flats as its habitat. 7 It laughs at the commotion in the town; it does not hear a driver’s shout. 8 It ranges the hills for its pasture and searches for any green thing.

[31] Job 39:9–12: 9 Will the wild ox consent to serve you? Will it stay by your manger at night? 10 Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness? Will it till the valleys behind you? 11 Will you rely on it for its great strength? Will you leave your heavy work to it? 12 Can you trust it to haul in your grain and bring it to your threshing floor?

[32] Job 39:13–18: 13 The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully, though they cannot compare with the wings and feathers of the stork. 14 She lays her eggs on the ground and lets them warm in the sand, 15 unmindful that a foot may crush them, that some wild animal may trample them. 16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers; she cares not that her labor was in vain, 17 for God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense. 18 Yet when she spreads her feathers to run, she laughs at horse and rider.

[33] Job 39:19–25: 19 Do you give the horse its strength or clothe its neck with a flowing mane? 20 Do you make it leap like a locust, striking terror with its proud snorting? 21 It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength, and charges into the fray. 22 It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; it does not shy away from the sword. 23 The quiver rattles against its side, along with the flashing spear and lance. 24 In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground; it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds. 25 At the blast of the trumpet it snorts, ‘Aha!’ It catches the scent of battle from afar, the shout of commanders and the battle cry.

[34] Job 39:26:“Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings toward the south?

[35] Job 39:27–30: 27 Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high? 28 It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is its stronghold. 29 From there it looks for food; its eyes detect it from afar. 30 Its young ones feast on blood, and where the slain are, there it is.

[36] Job 40:2.

[37] As God himself celebrated the goodness of all he had made on the final day of creation. See Genesis 1:31: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

[38] Isaiah 45:9–12. See also the verses preceding in Isaiah 45:5–8:I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things. You heavens above, rain down my righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness flourish with it; I, the Lord, have created it.  See also Isaiah 29:13–16: 13 The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. 14 Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” 15 Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” 16 You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?

[39] Romans 9:20–21.

[40] Job 24:1.

[41] Job 30:20–23.

[42] Job 31:35–37.

[43] Job 38:1–2.

[44] Job 40:2.

[45] Yet as the Reformation Study Bible notes in its note on Job 38:1, “The divine covenant name is now used again, as in the prologue, showing that the author was an Israelite. Job and the counselors use other divine epithets, like ‘God,’ and ‘the Almighty.’` Job 12:9 is the onl place where Job or the counselors use ‘Yahweh,’ and some manuscripts have ‘God’ even there. Job was evidently not an Israelite.”

[46] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Job 38:1 (emphasis added).

[47] Job 1:20.

[48] Job 2:10b.

[49] Job 28:28.

[50] Job 1:1, 8; 2:3.

[51] 1 Corinthians 13:12: For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.