As we draw near the end of the interrogatory story of Job, a twist occurs. In chapters 29-31 Job concludes his conversation with friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, with a long oath of innocence. Job asks for vindication, calling on God to answer him. Another “friend,” Elihu, seemingly less wise than the other three as he’s younger, who has been watching on the sidelines of this ongoing theological repartee, speaks (chapters 32-37). He speaks like a prophet, with divine authorization, to set everyone straight. God does indeed answer Job. He claims to speak with breath and spirit behind his words (aka the prophetic inspiration of God 32:8, 18; 33:3) Yet Job also is said to speak with the same inspiration in 27:3 and 26:4. Until now the three friends and Job have wrestled with God’s goodness and power (the question of theodicy) with questions based upon human experience and observation. Is there a wisdom from on high that we can be given in order to make all things clear?
The answer to that question is indirect. God speaks suddenly in 38:1, taking Job on a whirlwind tour of the cosmos, displaying creation in all its wildness and beauty. From 38-42 Job journeys with God throughout the cosmos and carries on a discussion with the Divine One. This section is a soaring poetic portrayal of the greatness of God who soars above the limits of human experience, observation, rationalization and even prophetic wisdom.
There is much one could say about these God-speeches. For one thing, humanity is hardly mentioned in them. In fact, there are passages that seem to suggest that humanity is not the center of creation (38:25-27; 40:15). God seems to take delight in exactly those creatures and places over which humanity has no control. The Sea, the wild animals, Leviathan — these all have an intrinsic value that has nothing to do with their usefulness for humanity. This vision, of course, has major implications in our ecologically-minded age.
Another observation: God gives a place in creation to forces of wildness, including the Sea (the ancient symbol of chaos), but God also places boundaries on them (38:8-11). The world is not allowed to descend into chaos, but neither is it rigidly controlled by its Creator. God gives his creatures the freedom to be who they were created to be, and that freedom is a great gift to human and animal alike. In this vision of creation, the world is not an entirely safe place for human beings, but it is a world of order and of beauty, and its Creator delights in it.
excerpts taken (as I couldn’t find any better words myself) from “Commentary on Job” by Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, Associate Professor of Old Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn. @ www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1364
When you put these chapters alongside the first creation story in Genesis 1 there is a significant overlap — God is the one calling creation into being and setting it in motion before humans even existed. This is a God who just has to say the word and the forces of nature obey. How do these chapters, though, with question upon question, serve as an answer to Job? They are clearly not a response to Job on Job’s terms or to his particular concerns. In fact, God’s many questions seem to be a pretty straightforward way of showing, that “God is God, and Job is not.” But is this the only point that the biblical writer is making about the relationship between God and humanity in this book? Are God’s questions intended to batter Job further, showing him how insignificant he truly is in the scheme of things and that his concerns are irrelevant?
Scholars have long tried to ascertain whether or not God’s speeches in these chapters are as straightforward as they might first appear…. There is likely far more to these divine speeches than meets the eye. If reading from the perspective of the of wisdom literature and traditions in the Bible (and the Ancient Near East more broadly), for example, then God’s response to Job highlights the notion that God is not an automaton, rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked. Understanding divine/human relationship in this way was fairly in the ancient Israelite context. In the Book of Job, both Job and his friends hold this view, although they disagree about how it is functioning for Job. For Job, this system has worked for him — he’s been good and received reward — up until now. Now he wants to know why the system seems to have broken down and why God isn’t doing God’s job. On the other hand, Job’s friends argue that God hasn’t failed but that Job has erred.
excerpts taken (as I couldn’t find any better words myself) from “Commentary on Job” by Karla Suomala; Professor of Religion; Luther College; Decorah, Iowa online @ www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2671
In the end Job – and we as extension through our reading of the text – are given two primary “answers” : the world is orderly, a continuing motion begun in the first utterance of creation; and two) tragedy and evil don’t always have a reason.
Questions for Active Reflection:
- Have you ever felt as if you heard the voice of God in your life? When? Where? What did you hear?
- What is the primary struggle for you in trusting that God is, in a chaotic world?
- What questions do you have for God?
- What would you ask if you were taken on a whirlwind tour of the universe? How do you hear hope and good news in God’s speech?