(More Bible Studies Available At www.marktabata.com)
It is written:
Job 38:1-Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:
God appears to Job in a way that showed God was still Job’s Friend and Savior. He loved the patriarch and was going to help him through the challenges that he had endured. No, God had not forsaken Job: but Job needed to learn that God was not capricious and malevolent as Job had accused Him of being.
One of the ways that God demonstrated His goodness to Job is seen in the ways that God deals with the oceans.
Job 38:8-11-“Or who shut in the sea with doors, When it burst forth and issued from the womb; 9 When I made the clouds its garment, And thick darkness its swaddling band; 10 When I fixed My limit for it, And set bars and doors; 11 When I said, ‘This far you may come, but no farther, And here your proud waves must stop!’
“The watery abyss is the ordinary starting point for creation accounts in the ancient world. In Gen 1, we find sea and earth reduced to their true state: they are no longer feared, let alone worshiped, as primeval deities. Most ancient religions had a goddess of the earth as well as a goddess of the sea. Sea and earth are prepared for the benefit of humanity, not to rule over us, terrorize us, or prevent us from attaining happiness. Against the teaching of the pagan myths, the watery chaos of Gen 1 constitutes no ultimate threat. 74 In ancient Hebrew thought, the sea was a dangerous place. 75 Among Israel’s neighbors, Yam was the terrifying sea-god. Unlike their neighbors the Phoenicians (modern Lebanon), the Israelites were not especially fond of boats. The primeval waters of Gen 1 are frightening and chaotic. During “de-creation” (the flood), the primeval waters deluge the earth while Noah’s family is rescued (1 Pet 3: 20; Ex 14: 22). The Red (or Reed) Sea is another scene of divine rescue, although the waters flood back once the Hebrews cross over to dry land, killing the pursuing Egyptians. Joshua, too, crosses the water (near Jericho), a similar miracle preparing the way for the Israelites to enter the promised land; and the parting of the waters takes place yet again in the lives of Elijah and Elisha (Josh 3: 16; 2 Kings 2: 8, 14).” (Paul Copan & Douglas Jacoby, Origins: The Ancient Impact and Modern Implications of Genesis 1-11, 62 (Kindle Edition); New York, NY; Morgan James Publishing)
To the ancient world, the ocean represented chaos and destruction. This makes sense for at least two reasons. First, the original Creation was “without form and void” until God brought order to the chaos. Second, the world had been destroyed by the Great Flood-and this would have been well-known in the collective memories of the people in Job’s lifetime!
With that in mind, God points out to Job how He orders the Creation in subduing the sea. God-Who is all-powerful-uses His power to bring the raging sea under control. God uses His power to promote goodness in the world. The suffering that we see is not the normal course of things, because God in His goodness makes goodness the standard!
Yet there is something especially beautiful that God points out regarding His treatment of the sea. Look carefully at Job 38:9.
Job 38:9-When I made the clouds its garment, And thick darkness its swaddling band;
God speaks of making darkness as a “swaddling band” for the chaos of the sea.
“In Job 38: 9, however, when this baby is ‘born’–a metaphor for the creation of the waters–God puts a swaddling cloth on the sea! Not unfairly, Norman Habel calls the image ‘deliberately absurd’. 32 Are we to imagine the Almighty cooing and singing to this newborn as he cradles it in his arms? Even if this goes too far, the gentleness of the image against the background of the normal biblical portrayal of yhwh’s thunderous defeat of the waters is very striking, and speaks strongly to the gentleness of the God whom Job has maligned as amoral and violent. If God is this gentle with the raging waters, surely he is a much kinder person than Job has imagined? 33 A second surprising dimension of this passage is the implication that God’s care for the sea endures even as the sea continues to resist him. That the sea resists God in this passage is not universally agreed upon; in the light of the unexpected maternal imagery used for God’s care of the sea in this passage, some conclude that the ocean does not here take on the full significance of a great chaotic power over which God triumphs in battle, as it does elsewhere in the Old Testament. 34 But we should probably understand the sea to play the same hostile role described elsewhere in the Old Testament, and only God’s action to be portrayed differently. This is the case because of the limit God places upon the sea: Why else would bars and doors be needed, except that the waters are trying to overwhelm creation? The reference to the ‘proud waves’ ending verse 11 substantiates this. The word suitably translated ‘proud’ (gāʾôn) literally means ‘exaltation’, in either a positive or negative sense, either describing God’s exaltation (Exod. 15: 7; Job 37: 4; Isa. 2: 10; cf. Mic. 5: 3) or negatively for human pride (Lev. 26: 12; Job 35: 12; Ps. 59: 13; Prov. 8: 13). A different noun from the same root describes the raging, rebellious sea in Psalm 89: 9 (gēʾût instead of gāʾôn), and even though the word is not repeated, the same image is used in Psalm 93: 3. This implies that the ocean continues (but unsuccessfully!) to defy God proudly even after being ‘swaddled’. This ‘absurd’ image demonstrates God’s goodness like no other: if God nurtures even the chaos and evil present in his creation, and if he does so even as it (unsuccessfully) strikes out against him, then his goodness truly knows no bounds. 35 This is God’s ʿēṣâ, his plan or counsel or strategy, for how he administers his realm, a plan Job has obscured.” (Eric Ortlund, Piercing Leviathan: God’s Defeat of Evil in the Book of Job (New Studies in Biblical Theology 56), 72-73 (Kindle Edition, emphasis added); Downers Grove, IL; InterVarsity Press)
Yet it is equally worth considering the lessons that Job would have learned from this lesson.
“In the light of the criticisms Job has levelled against God and the way Job thinks God runs the world, these short verses would have been significant in multiple ways for him. First, Job is not God’s cosmic enemy, as Job wondered in 7: 12. Second, yhwh reveals that there is chaos which he allows to remain in creation. The world is not some kind of perfect paradise where nothing is ever allowed to go wrong; one aspect of the order God imposes on his world is to allow for some contained disorder. 36 But this in no way means that God’s world is the violent inner-city ghetto Job has decried, or that the one ruling over it is at best indifferent to injustice and wrongdoing. God both keeps this chaos within strict limits and is far kinder with it than Job has imagined–even to the point of caring for and nurturing it. In fact, since darkness is another image for chaos and death in the Old Testament, the fact that ‘thick darkness’ is used by God for the ocean’s swaddling clothes may imply that God even puts aspects of chaos to use in limiting the power and influence of chaos. 37 As it turns out, God has a much happier purpose for darkness than the one Job called for in chapter 3.” (Eric Ortlund, Piercing Leviathan: God’s Defeat of Evil in the Book of Job (New Studies in Biblical Theology 56), 73 (Kindle Edition, emphasis added); Downers Grove, IL; InterVarsity Press)
Job learned that the chaos in the world is not running rampant. God is caring for the Creation in a most amazing way. Indeed, His goodness abounds each and every day!
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.