Connections 10.21.2018: Job Hears the Voice of God

Job 38:1-7, 28-41

So far in this unit of lessons, we’ve suffered with Job (Job 1–2) and then listened to him confess both his confidence in God (23:1-7) and his uncertainty about God (23:8-17). If we’ve read between the lesson texts, we have also witnessed his three friends comfort him and condemn him. God’s voice has been curiously absent, but that changes in today’s lesson text.

Our selected verses are part of a magnificent, poetic speech from the Lord that spans four chapters (38–41). Job, who is enduring the worst suffering humankind can imagine—loss of property, status, personal health, and loved ones—has questioned God, trying to find an answer to explain what he has been through. We might hope that God would speak through the voices of Job’s friends, but their advice is particularly unhelpful. It’s time for Job to hear what God has to say.

I’ve interpreted God’s speech in different ways depending on what I’m facing in my own life. When I’m relatively content, these words strike awe and pride and worship in my spirit. What a mighty God we serve! When I’m suffering, though, these words can be misinterpreted, as if God is saying, “How dare you question me, the God who made all of creation?” Not surprisingly, that kind of response from God only makes me feel worse.

There’s a better way to read these words from God. Instead of reading them as a condemnation of how small and stupid I am as a human being, I can read them as a triumphant exclamation of how careful and beautiful God is as our Creator. In God’s own words, the universe wasn’t thrown together haphazardly, with no regard for how it turned out. Instead, God carefully and thoughtfully crafted each aspect. When we read these words about creation, we should marvel that if God put so much care into everything from the drops of dew to the constellations, then God most certainly put great care into making us.

We’re going to face hardship. That’s the result of our creation as free beings who make choices and of our placement on an earth that runs according to its nature. But God loves us and cares for us, and if we ever doubt that, we have only to look around us at what God has made. Wendell Berry wrote about this in his poem, “The Peace of Wild Things”:

When despair for the world grows in me…
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I think I’m going to go rest in the world’s grace for a while. How about you?

Source: Excerpt from Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things,” in The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, 1999).

Discussion

1. When have you questioned God about something that is happening to you or to someone you love?
2. What kind of answer did you get from God, if any?
3. Do you think it’s healthy to question God? Why or why not?
4. How do you feel when you read God’s words to Job in chapters 38–41? What picture do they paint of God?
5. How can you find comfort in God’s care and thoughtfulness toward creation? What would it be like to “rest in the grace of the world” and be “free” (Wendell Berry)?

Reference Shelf

The words “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind” (38:1) introduce the answer that Job and we readers have now long awaited. The outline of God’s answer is clear. God has two speeches (38:1–39:30; 40:1-34 [MT: 41:26]); Job offers two responses (40:3-5; 42:1-6). Both divine speeches begin with the same narrative introduction (38:1; 40:6). In both, God challenges Job to “gird up his loins” and answer questions (38:3; 40:7-14). In the first speech, the questions cluster around the theme of God’s “counsel” or “plan” for the world (38:2: esa), which is then developed with specific attention to the cosmic boundaries (38:4-18), meteorological phenomena (38:19-38), and five pairs of animals (38:39–39:30). In the second speech, the questions focus on God’s governance of the world (40:8: mispat), with particular attention to a sixth and final pair of animals, Behemoth (40:9-15) and Leviathan (41:1-34 [MT: 40:25–41:26]). Following the first speech, God specifically invites Job once again to respond (40:1-2). He does so by saying “I am small,” then placing his hand over his mouth to indicate that he will speak no further (40:3-5). God’s second speech ends without repeating the request for response. Job answers nonetheless, this time with an enigmatic statement of what he now knows and sees about God and about himself (42:1-6).

God’s appearance initiates the last dialogue the book of Job records. From a purely rhetorical standpoint, the balance between God’s answers and Job’s responses is clearly uneven: God speaks for 123 verses, Job for but nine. Nonetheless, the exchange between these two brings heaven and earth together around the ash heap of human suffering. From Job’s perspective, and no doubt from ours as well, it is a conversation fraught with enormous importance and consequence. What is at stake, as J. Hempel suggested, is nothing less than the search by the Jobs of the world for “the last truth about God.”

Samuel E. Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 653–54.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley attends First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (13) and Natalie (11), and her husband John. Currently, she is looking for the next opportunity to be onstage in a local theater production. She also loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she will always be a writer at heart.

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