Commentary on Job 38-42 (Job Meets God)

Through Job 37, Job has listened to three “friends” and Elihu speak to him about why he is suffering so badly. Job, in turn, has responded to each of them, declaring his innocence and demanding that God give him answers. Finally, in Job 38, Job gets his wish.

Out of a violent storm God speaks to Job, but his message will not at all be what Job was hoping for. Instead of answering Job’s questions about whether God is just in his treatment of Job, God challenges Job. Eugene Peterson’s translation of verses 1-3, in The Message, captures the force of God’s challenge:

Why do you confuse the issue? Why do you talk without knowing what you’re talking about? Pull yourself together, Job! Up on your feet! Stand tall! I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers.

Over the next few chapters, God asks Job more than 70 questions having to do with the creation and control of the natural world, none of which Job can possibly answer. In verses 4-7, God asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” In verses 8-11, God asks Job who it was that placed boundaries around the seas and controls where they are allowed to go.

If Job wants to question God’s dealings with human beings, then Job needs to prove that he has the knowledge and wisdom that God has. If he can’t even understand how the inanimate objects of the natural world were made or how they are controlled by God, then what chance does Job have of understanding God’s treatment of mankind?

Roy Zuck, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, explains:

What was the purpose of God’s rebuking response? By displaying His power and wisdom, God showed Job his ignorance and impatience. How could Job comprehend or control God’s ways with man, when he could not comprehend or control God’s government in nature? Since Job could not answer God on these matters how could he hope to debate with God? Since God has His own ways and designs in the sky and with animals, does He not also have His own purposes in His dealings with people? Though people cannot understand God’s doings, they can trust Him. Worship should stem from an appreciation of God Himself, not a comprehension of all God’s ways. Though puzzled, people should still praise.

In chapter 42, Job, after having been questioned by God, responds. Instead of demanding more answers from God, instead of questioning God further, Job answers the only way a man can who has seen the living God face to face, with awe and repentance.

Again, Eugene Peterson captures Job’s thoughts well in Job 42:1-6:

I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans. You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water, ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’ I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talk about wonders way over my head.  You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking. Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’ I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise! I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.

So how did God answer Job’s questions about the justice of his suffering? God showed Job Himself. There is no greater answer to any question a man could have than coming face to face with God. Once we understand who God is, our questions vanish into thin air because we realize that our doubts about God’s justice, knowledge, wisdom, and goodness are preposterous. As the Creator of everything, the sovereign ruler of the universe, can we really stand in judgment over God? No, and that is what Job finally realized.