There is a sense in which all that has come before chapter 38 in the book of Job has been preparatory for the arrival of Yahweh. Job has essentially begged for an audience with God, his friends have at times assumed to speak for God, and Elihu has announced the arrival of God at the conclusion of his final speech. It is here, at the beginning of chapter 37, that Elihu prepares the way for Yahweh to speak by using metaphorical language of a storm to refer to the voice of God, as highlighted below
“Keep listening to the thunder of his voice
and the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
3 Under the whole heaven he lets it go,
and his lightning to the corners of the earth.
4 After it his voice roars;
he thunders with his majestic voice,
and he does not restrain the lightnings when his voice is heard.
5 God thunders wondrously with his voice“
At the end of this chapter, Elihu again uses storm imagery to describe the imminent arrival of Yahweh
“And now no one looks on the light
when it is bright in the skies,
when the wind has passed and cleared them.
22 Out of the north comes golden splendor;
God is clothed with awesome majesty.
23 The Almighty—we cannot find him;
he is great in power;
justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.
24 Therefore men fear him;
he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.”
All of this, and as noted the entirety of the book, prepares us for chapter 38, the long-awaited arrival as God calls Job to account through two (possibly three) speeches, which span chapters 38 to 41. Puritan James Durham notes that these speeches occur in three distinct sections, each with a key verse that functions as a challenge issued to Job. The first is found in chapters 38-39 with challenge #1 at Job 38:2. The second occurs in chapter 40 with challenge #2 being Job 40:2 and the final section occurs in chapter 40:6-41:34 with challenge #3 being issued in Job 40:8. These speeches may be organized for our interpretation by examining the introductory arrival of God, as well as the content, purpose, and accomplishment of these speeches.
As God arrives on the scene, several observations may be made from the narrator’s introduction, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said”. First, we may observe that the covenant name, Yahweh (LORD), is now being used for the first time (Job 12:9 is the lone exception) since the opening chapters. This is significant because it serves to highlight the loving relationship that God has maintained with his servant Job, despite Job’s complaint that the opposite was true. Second, we may observe that God answers Job from His own divine prerogative. God is under no obligation to respond to anyone, let alone Job, despite his integrity. Through the speech that follows, God will accomplish all that He has intended, yet it is by His condescension that He replies to Job at all, a product of His grace. Third, Yahweh speaks to Job out of the whirlwind. While not the exact word used in chapter 1 to describe the storm that killed Job’s children, nevertheless a parallel must be drawn between the scenes. Additionally, it is remarkable that God chooses here to speak to Job “out of the whirlwind” yet chose in 1 Kings 19 to speak to Elijah by a still small voice. God knows by what means to respond to His children in order to get their attention. Elijah was broken, Job had need to be broken. This relationship is noteworthy (cf. James 5).
The content of these speeches are not altogether unique, as it pertains to the Book of Job, though certainly the Orator is the origin of all truths regarding Him. Many of the sustaining acts of creation, as well as some of the creatures, have been previously mentioned in Job. In fact, the general tenor of Yahweh’s speeches, namely the highlight of His sovereignty and providence, have been a subject broached throughout the book. Some noteworthy occurrences come from the mouth of Eliphaz (Job 4:7-11; 5:8-16) and Zophar (Job 11:7-9), but most prominently from Job (Job 9:3-12; 12:7-10; 26:5-14) and Elihu (Job 35:10-11; 36: 24-33; 37:2-24).
The speeches of Yahweh consist of 77 questions, 61 if you count the question marks in the English Standard Version. The difference is due primarily to the fact that many of the questions are multifaceted serving to build upon each other and add weight to the interrogation of Job. Additionally, the questions, while rhetorical in nature, all carry an implied “no” as their expected response from Job. In the first speech, the focus is primarily on the creative and sustaining acts of God, while the second (third?) speech is focused primarily on the creatures that God has created. In all, at least 8 animals are described, plus the mysterious creatures Behemoth and Leviathan.
The deliverance of these questions are sometimes paused briefly for a moment of personal application. This occurs in Job 38:21; 38:36; 40:15; 41:8-11. Among these, Job 40:15 stands out because it sharpens the point of the sword of this discourse on the Behemoth by associating its creatureliness directly with Job’s. The attention drawn out in this relationship helps focus the true purpose behind God’s discourses on His creation.
The purposes of God’s speeches directed toward Job are numerous but begin with the exaltation of His character, namely His majesty in sovereignly creating and ordering the universe, His goodness in caring for the least of His creatures (by implication His greater care for mankind as just mentioned), and His freedom in doing whatever His hand desires. A second purpose of God’s speeches are to abase the creature, namely Job, and by extension all mankind. By exalting His own character and asking Job if he is capable of exhibiting the same providential care it serves to humble him before the Almighty through this contrast with divinity. Additionally, God does this, i.e. exalting His name, by drawing the mind to observe the creation.
Through His response to Job, God does not answer the “Why is God” nor the “Where is God” but the “Who is God.” In the midst of affliction, or more broadly in the midst of tragedy in general, too often the demand is to answer the former two questions, “Why is God allowing this to happen?” or “Where was God?” meanwhile the latter is largely ignored altogether. This is precisely how God answers Job and it is completely unexpected.
Finally, we must address the accomplishment of God’s speeches. Narrowly, the effect of God’s speeches are seen in humbling Job to the point of repentance for his errant words against Him. Broadly, God’s speeches accomplish the purpose of bringing the eyes of mankind toward the observation of His creation for the purpose of exalting the Creator. Durham summarizes this well
“God would by all this learn folks to drink in the thoughts of his greatness from his work of day and night, rain, snow, etc., out of everything, to be getting some lesson. And the great lesson of all is to exalt God and abase the creature; a suitable frame for us to be in, [which] would keep us from many debordings [deviations] that we are ready to fall out.” (pg 225)
Reading the words of Yahweh should stir our souls, particularly if we begin a few chapters prior and allow the anticipation for His arrival to carry us as it is meant to. Applying a simple interpretive grid will help us better understand the reason that God answers the way He does and open our eyes to the significance of this in the case of Job, and our own cases of affliction as well.
“It is a fault in us that we do not dwell more in meditation on the creatures, to find out God in them.” – James Durham (pg. 240)