Formations 07.19.2015: God Speaks from the Whirlwind

Job 38:1-11, 16-21

Tornado at Enid, Oklahoma, 5 June 1966

Tornado at Enid, Oklahoma, 5 June 1966

If we have read Job diligently, we arrive at chapter 38 perhaps a bit worse for wear. We have listened in on anguished expressions of pain, smug assertions of theological correctness, and fierce protests that life—to say nothing of God—is not fair.

For many chapters now, Job has demanded an audience with God. If only he could plead his case, he might find some resolution. If only God would explain himself, he might better endure the agony of his existence.

At last in chapter 38, God answers Job from the whirlwind…but what does his answer mean? God reminds Job that he is not the creator: he was not present at the world’s creation and is clueless about how God put the universe together. The chapters that follow highlight that Job does not have the knowledge or power necessary to constrain the chaos that constantly threatens God’s good creation, exemplified by the chaos monsters Behemoth (40:15-24) and Leviathan (41:1-34). The world, it seems, is far more overwhelmingly dangerous and complex than Job could ever conceive.

How is this a message of comfort for Job? Is it enough simply to affirm that God is in control, even if we do not understand God’s ways? What does this passage teach us about our place in the universe and our attitude toward God? What does it teach us about facing difficult times appropriately?

Discussion

• Do you find God’s answer to Job satisfying? Why or why not?
• How comfortable are you in living with uncertainty?
• Is it possible to trust God even when one can’t understand God? Explain.

Reference Shelf

Theophany

From two Gk. words meaning “God shines” or “God shows,” theophany in biblical studies is a technical term dealing with a specific type of divine manifestation. The Bible describes several different kinds of experiences of God’s dramatic self-disclosure. The subtly abiding divine presence with God’s people is known through the “name” and “glory” theologies of the OT as well as in the Holy Spirit in the NT. Also in the NT the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is presented as the ultimate divine self-revelation. However, these conceptions of God’s manifestation are not theophanies. Neither are those brief occurences when God’s voice is heard without any accompanying phenomena (Gen 3:8; 16:7-14), although there are often varying degrees of theophanic elements in these experiences as well as in visions and dreams.

Scholars disagree on how broadly to define theophany. One definition is J. Kenneth Kuntz’s: “a momentary manifestation of the deity during which he communicates to man something of his nature, name, and purpose”…. Such an appearance may be in order for God to speak (Exod 19) or to deliver (Judg 5:4-5, 19-21). The God-initiated revelation is one of sovereign power; in response to it, nature is disturbed and humanity becomes awestruck. The revelation is to a mediating individual, and the site of the experience frequently becomes a sacred place. An interesting aspect of biblical theophany is that although God is perceived in the experience, God is not actually seen; either there is overwhelming light (Exod 24:16-17) or a cloud of thick darkness (Exod 19:16-18) out of which God speaks. The visual experience of God in Exodus 24:9-11 may be an exception to this, although the story does not share most of the characteristics of a theophany…. Similarly, Moses’ glimpse of the back of Yahweh in Exodus 33:9-23 lacks these theophanic details in addition to being initiated by Moses rather than by God (33:18).

Carol Stuart Grizzard and Marvin E. Tate, “Theophany,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 908.

God Answers with a Question

God’s answer begins with a question, followed by a demand for Job’s response (38:2-3). It is but the first clue that understanding God’s design for the world requires more than one voice. What God has to say is not complete until Job adds his words. If this dialogue is to be meaningful for either party, then both speakers must be joined in an honest exchange of answers that lead to questions, which in turn evoke responses that have the potential to reshape the answers that launched the process.

God’s demand for a response begins with an offer to take Job along on a virtual journey through the world that promises more than either he or his friends has thus far been able to see with their limited vision. Starting with the outermost edges of the cosmos (38:4-18), God invites Job’s reflection on the intricacies of meteorological phenomena (38:19-38), like the rain, which mysteriously transforms itself into ice (38:28-30), and the stars and clouds, which mysteriously cluster into constellations with discernible shapes (38:31-33). Then, God directs Job’s attention to the mysterious habits of wild animals (38:39–39:30), which not only survive but also thrive in environments no human would consider habitable. At each stage along the journey, God asks questions that Job can only answer by conceding his limitations. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (38:4); Job’s only possible answer is, “I was nowhere.” “Can you send forth lightnings?” (38:35); Job must admit, “No, I cannot.” Or, “Can you hunt the prey for the lion?” (38:39), in response to which Job can only say, “No, only You, God, can do such things.” And yet, the journey goes on, the questions continue, and God repeats the demand for Job’s response (40:1-2). When Job retreats to silence (40:3-5), this dialogue, such as it is, seems to be over. It is not, for with a second speech from the whirlwind God will push past Job’s silence with still another request for his response (40:7).

Samuel E. Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006), 640–41.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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