Lessons From The Whirlwind (Five)

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It is written:

Job 38:1-Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:

Job has made some very serious accusations against God by this point. He had insisted that God give him a fair hearing. He would interrogate God, and show God that He is unjust!

Job 9:32-For He is not a man, as I am, That I may answer Him, And that we should go to court together.

Job 23:3-7-Oh, that I knew where I might find Him, That I might come to His seat! 4  I would present my case before Him, And fill my mouth with arguments. 5  I would know the words which He would answer me, And understand what He would say to me. 6  Would He contend with me in His great power? No! But He would take note of me. 7  There the upright could reason with Him, And I would be delivered forever from my Judge.

Now, in Job 38, God appears to Job.

The first thing that stands out about this passage is the fact that God speaks to Job “out of the whirlwind.” This is couched in Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) terminology that is very powerful.

“As we will soon see, however, the way in which yhwh engages with the debate completely contradicts what both Job and his friends expect, and perhaps what the reader expects as well. But the surprising way in which God addresses Job in no way means that he fails to give a satisfying response…“The one difference between yhwh’s introduction and those of Job and the friends is that yhwh speaks ‘from the storm’ (sĕʿārâ; esv has ‘whirlwind’). While this word sometimes refers to purely natural storms (Pss 107: 25, 29; 148: 8), it more frequently refers to a storm within which God appears theophanically to battle against chaos and evil (Isa. 29: 6; Jer. 23: 19; Nah. 1: 3; Zech. 9: 14; cf. Ezek. 1: 4). With these other uses of the word in mind, the way yhwh finishes his second speech from this storm to Job by describing the chaos monster Leviathan takes on new significance. It looks as if the ancient Old Testament pattern of theophanic storm warfare is being activated. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, yhwh’s appearance in the storm, with thunder and lightning, is a way of presenting God’s victorious warfare against supernatural chaos and evil and the salvation of those who trust him (see Job 26: 11–14; Pss 18; 29; 74; 89; Isa. 27: 1; 51: 9–11; Joel 3: 15–18; Hab. 3: 3–15). 5 This connection between God’s appearance in the storm and his warfare on behalf of his people is easy for modern readers to miss, for the symbolic resonances of the storm in Old Testament poetry are very foreign to our context. It is probably easy for us to assume that yhwh’s thunder and lightning in these texts are a way of describing divine power in a general sense, yet fail to appreciate the full implications of God’s action in the storm. In the symbolic world of Old Testament poetry, however, the thunder and lightning of God’s storm have a dual function: they both repel the raging sea and the monsters in it and renew creation with rain after the battle. In other words, yhwh’s manifestation in the storm occurs not just as a display of divine power but specifically for the purposes of driving back darkness and chaos and restoring order, fertility and fullness of life. The same thunder and lightning that drive back the raging waters also bless and nourish creation. As modern readers, we must constantly remember that in this cultural and religious context, thunder and lightning are not just fireworks but divine weapons by which God saves and renews his people and all creation. 6 The exact manner of God’s appearance would have been very significant to Job as an ancient Semite. Even if the pattern of divine warfare from the storm does not take exactly the same form at the end of the book of Job as it does elsewhere in the Old Testament, it is no accident that after yhwh describes Leviathan and promises his defeat (41: 1–11), Job is restored to fullness of life before God (42: 7–17). Even if there is no battle in Job 38–41, there are indications that God’s appearance in the storm in 38: 1 should be read in line with other texts describing divine warfare–a very hopeful sign for someone who has repeatedly mourned how close he is to death, how dominated he is by darkness (e.g. 30: 26). All this is to say that God’s introduction in 38: 1, unassuming as it may appear at first glance, gives Job the best of both worlds: his long-lost divine friend speaks in a way perfectly intelligible to him, but God speaks (as it were) dressed in full battle armour, ready to defeat enemies no human can. Entirely contrary to Job’s complaint in 9: 17 that God is crushing him in the storm, 7 yhwh’s appearance in the storm here (so it is implied) shows he is ready to go to battle on Job’s behalf as his saviour.” (Eric Ortlund, Piercing Leviathan: God’s Defeat of Evil in the Book of Job (New Studies in Biblical Theology 56), 61-64 (Kindle Edition, emphasis added); Downers Grove, IL; InterVarsity Press)

Stop and let the implications sink in.

When God finally appears to Job in the whirlwind, it is not as an enemy. He is not an angry and furious Deity ready to lash out and destroy Job for being mouthy with Him. No, God appears as Job’s Friend, as his Savior. He is ready to help Job through the trials that he has been facing, ready to encourage Job and bring him salvation from the attacks he has endured.

Sometimes when we go through difficult times, we believe that God has turned against us. Sometimes when we feel discouraged and our faith has been injured, we mistakenly conclude that God has forsaken us.

Yet He has not forsaken us, just as He did not forsake Job.

God is going to help Job and remind him that He is a good God. In Job 38-41, God asks Job a series of questions which are designed to remind Job about two key facts.

First, the questions remind Job that God is perfect in knowledge-He knows what He is doing!

Second, the questions that God asks Job are designed to reinforce to Job something which Job had known but forgotten: the fact that God is morally good and perfect!

“But these questions also point to God’s wisdom and care. These are not simply questions about power. Their function is not simply to remind Job of God’s power, but also to remind him of God’s wisdom and care. The questions are not arbitrary; they move from God’s creative work when he laid the foundations of the world (38:4-7) and controlled the chaotic waters (38:8-11) to his transcendence over the chaos of the wicked and death (38:12-21), control over the waters (snow, rain, rivers) of the earth (38:22-30, 34-38), and his regulation of the stars and seasons (38:31-33). The questions then move to the animal kingdom and God’s management of his living creatures. The questions are not just about knowledge but about care. God asks if Job “knows” (e.g., 39:1), but he also asks whether Job can manage this creation and care for it the way God does. Does Job hunt for the lion (38:39), feed the young ravens (38:41), give the wild donkey his home (39:6), use the wild ox in hi service (39:9-12), care for the ostrich even though she has no sense (39:12-18), and give the horse his strength (39:19)? God asks, “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom (39:26), or “does the eagle soar at your command? (39:27). Through his power God manages his creation with wisdom and care. God’s creation is not the playground of his power but the nursery of his care. The world is not out of control; God is managing it quite nicely. (John Mark Hicks, Yet Will I Trust Him: Understanding God In A Suffering World, 173-174 (emphasis added, M.T.); Joplin, MO; College Press Publishing Company)

In fact, as we look at the questions in Job, it is easy for us miss the gentle nature of these questions. We read this passage coming from the mindset of a Western context. We do not look at these passage in their original Hebrew, nor do we look at it in the context of ANE background. The gentle manner in which God responds to Job, as well as the nature of the questions asked, reinforces the goodness of God in light of Job’s accusations.

As Ortlund points out:

“This is an extraordinarily mild way to respond to the man who has portrayed God ‘as a merciless hunter, an insidious spy, a capricious destroyer, and a sinister ruler’! 9…Rather, it is implied that the essential orderliness and goodness of God’s manner of ruling over creation are evident and available for anyone to see–Job included.…The sternness of the challenge implies no hostility or severity on God’s part, however: to ‘brace yourself’ or ‘dress for action’ like a man is not condescending, but meant to engage with Job as a worthy participant.’…Whenever the stability of creation is in focus in the Old Testament, the consistent goal is to highlight God’s goodness and care for everything he has made; this ‘building’ shows not just divine power, but God’s attentive goodness to his world….But second and more importantly, the earth is not the sinister, chaotic mess Job has portrayed, where innocent lives are trampled and God does nothing (9: 22–24; 24: 1–17). When God put creation together, beings higher than Job could not restrain themselves, but burst out singing in joy over what God made (v. 7). God redirects Job’s vision away from Job’s wish that the twilight stars will go dark (3: 9) or his claim that God snuffs the stars out (9: 7) to reveal the whole host of heaven hymning the Creator as he put together the place Job earlier cursed into darkness in chapter 3. The imagery of dawning light at the beginning of creation in verse 7 is especially significant because it speaks directly to the cosmic darkness Job evoked in his first speech. 18 The difference between God’s joyful view of creation in these verses and Job’s curse on it in chapter 3 could hardly be starker or more striking. Surely Job has been ‘darkening’ God’s counsel! And surely God’s all-encompassing perspective on the place he founded at the beginning of time means his happier view of creation has more validity than Job’s. Whereas Job sees only a tiny part, God sees the whole–and it is a much more joyful whole than Job ever suspected…First, Fox points out that if straightforward indicatives were given instead of questions in verses 4–7–‘You were not there when I founded the earth’–the tone would be more obviously harsh. As questions, however, the tone becomes gentler, ‘drawing Job in’ so that he can ‘participate in the knowledge’ the questions are meant to provoke. Straightforward indicatives would more easily run the risk of ‘merely rubbing Job’s face in his own feebleness’. 21 Rhetorical questions, on the other hand, have the effect of drawing Job back to what he should have known about God but has forgotten. Related to this is the consistent use of rhetorical questions, one aspect of instruction in wisdom, as elsewhere in Old Testament wisdom literature. In a wisdom text, whenever the father asks the son rhetorical questions about things the son may not fully understand, the intent is not to humiliate but to help the student grow so that he can receive the blessings of wisdom. 22 God is, in other words, passing wisdom on to Job through these questions as teacher to student, not demeaning or embarrassing him. As a result, the questions in Job 38–39 and 41: 1–7 need not be read as condescending or humiliating any more than those found in, for example, Proverbs 5: 16, 6: 27–28 or Isaiah 40: 12–2823 (significantly, this last passage is addressed to a similarly wounded audience). Second, Fox points out that although many of the questions God asks in chapter 38 have to do with things Job does not understand, they are always phrased in such a way that points to the one Creator who enjoys effortless mastery of what is beyond Job. 24 In other words, if God were to phrase verse 5 as, ‘What are the dimensions of the earth?’, it would be easier for Job to feel humiliated: What ancient Semite would know that? But this is not the question. Job is asked only who the one person is who does know the earth’s dimensions, because he has personally measured them. The answer is obvious. In fact, we will quickly see that this very obvious answer is the same to all the questions of chapters 38–41: only God understands and can control whatever aspect of creation is under review. In the light of this, it becomes clear that his intention with Job is not to win an argument or score points against him by demonstrating Job’s ignorance, but to refocus Job on God himself, giving him a different vision of creation and the deity ruling it. 25 As a result, although it is possible to hear sarcasm when God says to Job, ‘surely you know’, the obviousness of the answer makes it more likely God is speaking as an encouraging teacher, reminding a student of something he or she knows very well: 26 ‘I know you know this, Job!’ In Fox’s words, God speaks in chapter 38 ‘with compassion and gentleness, albeit a stern gentleness’. 27 The question of 38: 5 is meant to evoke ‘awe, not information’. 28 [I] f God had merely tried to shut Job up by demonstrating Job’s ignorance, he would be saying that there was no possible way for Job to see God’s equity and orderly rule and thus would in effect be excusing him for speaking of God as arbitrary and immoral. Rather, God is saying to Job, You know very well that I and I alone created order and maintain it in the world, and I know that you know, and you know that I know that you know. 29 In fact, far from sarcastically humiliating Job or bullying him into submission, God’s questions in these chapters can be said to draw Job even closer to God. This is the case because, as Fox writes, rhetorical questions create a ‘special intimacy of communication’ between God and his scarred servant as Job is made aware ‘of a body of knowledge he shares’ with God. God’s questions ‘thus bind speaker and auditor closer together while making the auditor accept the speaker’s claims out of his own consciousness rather than having the information imposed on him from the outside’. 30 In engaging with Job this way, God avoids ‘bully[ ing] Job into submission’ (as Job feared would happen in 9: 20) and ‘invites him into his counsel, making him an intimate’. 31” (Eric Ortlund, Piercing Leviathan: God’s Defeat of Evil in the Book of Job (New Studies in Biblical Theology 56), 64-71 (Kindle Edition, emphasis added); Downers Grove, IL; InterVarsity Press)

The answer of God from the whirlwind provides some powerful insights for us regarding both the goodness of God and the problem of evil, pain, and suffering that we face and experience in our lives.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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