Comment

38:1-41:34 (26) For so long now Job has been calling on God for a reply, wistfully, hopefully, despairingly, tauntingly, aggressively; but we have had the feeling that he has never had much confidence that his appeal would be answered. It is no doubt a shock to him when Yahweh’s voice addresses him from the tempest; and even readers who have grown old with the Book of Job can still feel a frisson when the moment of divine utterance comes. If the proposal made in this commentary is correct, that the Elihu speeches of chaps. 32-37 originally preceded Job’s last speech in chaps. 29-31 (see Comment on 32:1-37:24), then the divine speeches follow immediately upon the last sentence of chap. 31, “The words of Job are ended”—almost as if Job’s last words have been swallowed up in the noise of the tempest that accompanies the theophany. It will be perhaps the longest speech of Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible (it is hard to tell where some of the speeches delivered by prophets in his name begin and end, to be sure), and, strange to say, he will comport himself like one of the interlocutors in the book, with a discourse that is addressed to Job and yet ignores, apparently, all his concerns.

The question of the tone of Yahweh’s speeches is an intriguing one (see also the comments on the tonality of the speeches under Form/Structure/Setting above). Most readers and commentators think Yahweh is severe, and some would say condescending, sarcastic, and bullying.

But Yahweh’s tone does not strike all readers in the same way. Terrien, for example, thinks that Yahweh speaks with a “courteous and slightly wistful irony,” 1089and Andersen finds a “kindly playfulness in the Lord’s speeches which is quite relaxing.” Carl Heinrich Cornill, in contrast, spoke of their “unparalleled brutality, which is usually palliated and styled divine irony, but which, under such circumstances and conditions, should much rather be termed devilish scorn (teuflischer Hohn)” (Einleitung in das Alte Testament mit Einschluss der Apokryphen und Pseudepigraphen [Grundriss der theologischen Wissenschaften, 1/2/1; Freiburg i.B. and Leipzig: Mohr, 2nd ed., 1896] 232). For further examples, see David J. A. Clines, “Job’s Fifth Friend: An Ethical Critique of the Book of Job,” BibInt 12 (2004) 233-50 (243-44).

We should admit that to judge what is etiquette in a culture different from our own is always difficult. It may well be that no disrespect or aggression is intended by parties to a lawsuit who address each other as Yahweh does Job. There does not seem to be much benefit in attempting to identify Yahweh’s exact tone of voice, and it is better by far to pay attention to his words. But, for what it is worth, my own view is that the tone is indeed severe and not at all gracious, yet not offensive and by no means cruel.

What then is the meaning of the divine speeches? It is a crucial question for the book as a whole, and, unsurprisingly, a plethora of answers has been given. I will distinguish between what I take to be the meaning of the speeches in themselves and their meaning when viewed as Yahweh’s response to Job.

The most important clue to the meaning of the divine speeches is given in their opening question, “Who is this who obscures the Design by words without knowledge?” (38:2). Job has not been allowing the divine Design, or plan for the universe, to become evident. Yahweh’s purpose in his speech to Job is therefore to make his Design plain. Above all, the divine speeches are to be read as Yahweh’s statement of his strategy for cosmic order. The issue here is, let us note, an issue of knowledge, and Yahweh’s intention in the speech is essentially to provide knowledge, correcting misunderstanding of his purposes. In order to do so, he will present a comprehensive, though selective, survey of the world, first of its infrastructure—the creation and then the maintenance of the physical universe—and secondly of its life forms. From these sketches he expects that his listener will be able to deduce the general principles on which the world is founded, the great Design.

We never should forget that the divine speeches are poetry; even though they are didactic, they are lightly impressionistic and lyrical and suggestive as well, and their meaning does not lie on their face. It is for the wise and sympathetic reader to discern principles and generalities that lie beneath the surface of the scenes the speaker paints. All readers will not agree on what those principles are, but here is one reader’s perception of some elements in the picture.

(1) The world, according to these speeches, has been neatly and tidily organized by Yahweh. The formal structure of the first divine speech, with its set of ten strophes about the physical universe followed by its set of seven strophes about the wild animals creates that impression at the outset. There is no chaos in the universal structure; everything that exists evidences forethought, planning, and wisdom.

(2) There is evidently a great deal of power at Yahweh’s disposal, which one would expect from the creator of a universe. Yet his power is not the principal thing about him, according to these speeches. It is rather his skill and his insight. He is omnicompetent rather than omnipotent.

1090(3) In this discourse, Yahweh knows his universe intimately. He knows how broad the earth is (38:18), the directions to the dwellings of light and darkness (38:19), the system of the stars (38:33), the birth cycle of mountain goats (39:1-3); he implants migratory instincts into birds (39:26) and maternal fecklessness into ostriches (39:16-17). “Nature for the Job poet is not a Newtonian clock operating with automatic mechanisms” (Robert Alter, “The Voice from the Whirlwind,” Commentary 77/1 [1984] 33-41 [38]). This God loves the detail, and, even when he is taking the broadest view, he only ever works with examples.

(4) Sustenance and nurture are key objectives of the universal order. Whether it is the physical universe or the animal world, the divine intimacy is directed to sustaining life. Creation is not just a past event according to this worldview; every day the morning has to be remade by its creator, calling up the dawn, grasping the fringes of the earth, shaking the Dog-star from its place, bringing up the horizon in relief as clay under a seal till everything stands out like folds in a cloak and the light of the Dog-star is dimmed as the stars of the Navigator’s Line go out one by one (38:12-15). According to this worldview, the god of all the earth is counting the months of pregnancy of each doe of the mountain goats (39:2), imbuing horses with their strength (39:19), training hawks in flight (39:26), providing fresh meat for young lions in their lairs (38:39-40), directing the raven to its quarry when its fledglings croak for lack of food (38:41).

(5) In this discourse, the world is hugely various. “World is crazier and more of it than we think, / Incorrigibly plural”; Yahweh himself revels in “the drunkenness of things being various” (Louis MacNeice, “Snow”). It lives for itself, and if anything is instrumental, if anything serves a purpose other than itself, that is coincidental. The purposes of the universal structure are infinitely multiple, each of its elements with its own quiddity and its own mission—whether it is the sea, the clouds, light, darkness, rain, stars, mountain goat, ostrich, war horse, or eagle. See further Ellen van Wolde, developing the theme of biodiversity in the divine speeches, in her “Towards an ‘Integrated Approach’ in Biblical Studies, Illustrated with a Dialogue between Job 28 and Job 38,” in Congress Volume: Leiden, 2004 (ed. André Lemaire; VTSup 109; Leiden: Brill, 2006) 355-82.

(6) This is a discourse without abstracts, without oppositions, without propositions, without generalizations. It works with images, and maximizes impact and affect. It has little time for clarity or logic. It is not the language of the Summa or the Institutes, or even of Deuteronomy—or of the Joban dialogues themselves.

(7) There is no problem with the world. Yahweh does not attempt a justification for anything that happens in the world, and there is nothing that he needs to set right. The world is as he designed it. The sea does not breach its eternal bounds (38:8-11); the onager ranges freely over the hills for pasture, oblivious to the shouts of the donkey-driver (39:7-8); Behemoth lies forever somnolent under the lotus plants in the river (40:21, 23). There is no dereliction from an original state of perfection; there is no eschaton toward which the universal order tends. God’s in his heaven; all’s well with the world.

(8) Not only is there no problem with the world: every element in it is a source of constant delight to its maker. As the divine speeches move towards their climax, Yahweh candidly confesses, “I will not keep silence about its limbs, and I will tell of its incomparable might” (41:12 [4]), as if he cannot refrain from composing an ode of praise to the crocodile. In a similar exclamation of satisfaction with the hippopotamus he exclaims, “What strength it has in its loins, what 1091vigor in the muscles of its belly!” (40:16). It is hard to miss the equal delight he feels in the freedom of the onager (39:5-8), the independence of the aurochs (39:9-12), and the confidence of the war horse (39:19-25).

(9) There is nothing about humans in the divine speeches. Job is of course addressed, and, in a way, that marks humans out as something special in the divine economy. It is true that the sea also is addressed at 38:11, and the clouds at 38:14, and the eagle is commanded to soar into the sky at 39:27; from the side of creation, the lightning bolts report to Yahweh at 38:35, and the fledglings of the raven cry to him at 38:41. But, unlike these creatures, Job is not incidentally present in the divine speeches; throughout, he is the focus of Yahweh’s attention, and both speeches are formally addressed to him. Nonetheless, apart from the direct forensic addresses to Job himself (38:2-3; 40:7-14), the human world and its concerns are totally ignored by the divine speeches (the reference to the “wicked” in 38:13 is probably a scribal error, the wicked and haughty in 40:11-14 belong to Job’s program, not to God’s, and the intersection of the world of the crocodile with humans in 41:1-11 [@@40:25-41:3~~] focalizes the crocodile rather than humans). In other words, Yahweh can give a considered and comprehensive account of his purposes in creation without considering the topic of humans! If there is one place where Job the man may stand for humankind in general, it is when the creation of humanity is equated in some sense with the creation of hippopotami: “Consider now Behemoth, whom I made as I made you” (40:15). Perhaps even more challenging to any human notion of supremacy in God’s scale of values is the stunning remark that it is Behemoth (and not the human race) that is God’s masterpiece, “the first of the ways of God” (40:19). The absence of reference to humans is not to teach Job that the universe can survive without him (as James L. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction [Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981] 110), but to show that the principles on which it is founded should be discerned from the realities of the natural world rather than from some artificial theology.

(10) And yet, though humanity is never the explicit subject, humans are, surprisingly, the measure of all things in the divine plan. The physical universe is systematically anthropomorphized: its creation was the building of a house fit for habitation (38:5-6); the primeval sea was a lusty infant (38:8-9); the morning is imaged as a seal being rolled over clay by an unseen human hand (38:14); the underworld is a city with gates and doorkeepers like any terrestrial town. And in the animal world it is no different: the raven’s starving young are crying to God for food as if in prayer (38:41), the wild ox can only be a wild ox if it does not enter the human sphere (39:9-12), and the war horse is a sentient being that desires and laughs and cries out, with anthropoid will and self-determination (39:19-25). Even Behemoth is made like humans (40:15), and Leviathan is its own unique self because it will not be a human plaything or target or comestible (@@40:25-31 [41:1-7~~]). Watching its wake, one would think the deep hoar-headed (41:24 [@@32~~]); the human observer, though invisible, is always present. Above all, we are conscious that the divine speeches are being listened to by their addressee; the human mind is the context of the divine plan. And, there is nothing in the divine speeches that has not been conceived by a human intelligence and written by a human’s pen. The substance of the universe is grander than the measure of it, and Yahweh’s speeches concern the substance; but not so as to belittle or negate the measure by which it is comprehended.

1092These have been some reflections on the significance of the divine speeches in and of themselves. What is their meaning, however, when they are read as Yahweh’s response to Job, which is of course what their position in the book leads us to believe they are? In the lawsuit Job is bringing against God, his final request has been for a statement of the charges that God would make against him, which he is confident he could defend himself against (31:35-37). With that as the background to the divine speeches, the most important thing about them is that such a statement is denied Job by Yahweh in his speeches. And why did Job want such a statement? Because he believed he was being treated unjustly, and that there was nothing in his life that deserved the punishment being meted out to him by God. What becomes then of his demand for justice? Not a word is said of the justice or injustice of Job’s treatment; Yahweh’s silence can only be understood as a deliberate denial of Job’s demand. Then what of Job’s wider claim, that the world itself is not being governed in justice by God, in that the wicked live long and prosperous lives, and the righteous die prematurely? Again, the matter is not so much as mentioned (except perhaps in the rather cryptic passage in 40:10-14), and the absence of a response is itself a most telling response.

In short, Yahweh refuses Job’s claim for justice—not explicitly, but equally effectively, implicitly. The world that God has created, if its “Design” (38:2) is properly understood, does not contain a principle of retribution. As Matitiahu Tsevat puts it so well: “No retribution is provided for in the blueprint of the world, nor does it exist anywhere in it. None is planned for the nonhuman world and none for the human world. Divine justice is not an element of reality. It is a figment existing only in the misguided philosophy with which you have been inculcated” (The Meaning of the Book of Job and Other Biblical Studies [New York: Ktav, 1980) 1-37 [31]).

38:1-39:30 This first speech of Yahweh is, after the proem in 38:2-3, and before the peroration in 40:1-2, divided into two almost equal halves: 38:4-38 (35 lines) concerning the physical universe, and 38:39-39:30 (33 lines) concerning the world of animals.

The Structure of Section I (the World), 38:4-38. There are, many would agree, 10 strophes, of 3, 4, or 5 lines, in this Section; their topics are pretty clearly distinguished from one another. But is there any larger structuring device in the Section? David W. Jamieson-Drake has suggested that there are two main elements: vv 4-21, concerning the earth, and vv 22-38, concerning the heavens (“Literary Structure, Genre and Interpretation in Job 38,” in The Listening Heart: Essays in Wisdom and the Psalms in Honor of Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm. [ed. Kenneth G. Hoglund, Elizabeth F. Huwiler, Jonathan T. Glass, and Roger W. Lee; JSOTSup 58; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1987] 217-35). But it is not so evident that vv 19-21 (the dwellings of light and darkness) concern the earth, or that vv 25-27 (rain on the uninhabited land) concern the heavens. Van der Lugt, 372-76, on the other hand, finds a tripartite structure: vv 4-15, 16-27, 28-38. Each of these units concludes, he believes, with a statement of the benefits for humans of God’s ordering of the universe; yet, as far as vv 13, 15 are concerned, the Translation above suggests that there is no reference to the removal of the wicked from the earth, and in vv 26-27 the point is the divine provision of rain precisely for regions where no human dwells, and in vv 34-38, though the ibis and the cock can predict the coming of the rain, humans are conspicuous by 1093their absence. It is difficult therefore to argue that the quintessential thought of the poem is the beneficial effects of the divine creation in the human domain (van der Lugt, 375). The only patterning device that can be discerned in the Section seems to be the grouping of elements about the world’s structure in strophes 1-5, and elements about the world’s functioning in strophes 6-10; yet the position of the strophe about the morning (38:12-15) apparently runs counter to even this simple pattern.

The Structure of Section II (the Animals), 38:39-39:30. Is there any rationale for the sequence of animals here passed in review? It is hard to find one. Westermann thought there was a distinction between 38:39-39:8, where there is an emphasis on Yahweh’s activity in the lives of the animals, and 39:9-30, where the focus is more on the qualities of the animals themselves. But it is not at all clear in the case of the lion and the raven (38:39-41) that Yahweh is doing anything at all for them beyond perhaps establishing the world order that provides prey for their sustenance. It is questionable also whether Yahweh does anything for the mountain goats (39:1-4), though he does know about their birthing habits, and in the case of the wild ass (39:5-8) it is not even clear that it is he who has given it its freedom (see Comment on 39:5).

Keel, Entgegnung, 37-38, argued that the animals are arranged in pairs: lion and raven, ibex and hind, wild ass and wild ox, ostrich and horse, hawk and vulture. However, while this analysis is true of the opening and closing strophes (38:39-41; 39:26-30; @@3~~ lines and 5 respectively), the Comment will show that there is no hind (deer) in 39:1-4, and it is doubtful if we should link together other material into much longer poetic units (8 lines if we combine ass and ox; 13 lines for ostrich and horse).