Lessons from Job: The Lord’s Answer

December 29, 2009

When God shows up…

PLR 1999

Naked Came I... So Will I Return

“Who is this who darkens counsel with words devoid of knowledge? Brace yourself and stand up like a man; I shall put questions to you, and you must answer.” The Book of Job 38:2-3.

When I was a kid my friends and I would often wander to the edge of our neighborhood park and into the woods and play by the creek that ran close by. Having no decent game systems, and having parents that knew the value of fresh air and exercise, we were pretty much forced to use our imagination to come up with things to do. As long as our parents knew where we were, who we were with, and that at least one of us had a watch to get back in time for dinner, we were pretty free. When we tired of games, we would often sit by the creek and just talk about silly things that kids talk about. Sitting in the midst of nature, one question that often came up for discussion was, “If you could ask God one question, what would it be?” Most of us came up with typical questions like, “Why is the sky blue?” Some of the more creative would want to find out who would win if Spiderman fought Batman, or if the water in the toilet really swirled the other way in Australia, and what is up with koala bears and kangaroos anyway? Where did they come from? The more brave among us would want to know why his parents split up, or if his big brother was in heaven or not. We never really expected to find out the answers to these questions. We all had a childlike faith that God was real, but we understood that he was busy up in heaven running the universe, and we would just have to try to be good and wait until we died so we could ask him in heaven. Throughout The Book of Job, Job continually asked God the question, “Why me?” He wanted to know why he was suffering, he wanted to know who God thought he was to allow such disaster to fall on him when as far he knew, he did everything that God required of him to be blessed. Job also made long poetic speeches about his desire to die and get relief from his suffering. He wanted answers, but I think he expected to get those answers when he was dead and in heaven. I think Job was just as shocked and surprised as everyone else when God actually showed up.

I also think he was equally as surprised by God’s answer. He was certainly humbled by the experience. Anyone who thinks that God doesn’t have a sense of humor and a sense of irony and sarcasm has not read The Book of Job. The first thing God says to Job and his friends is pretty much, “Who do you think you are to try to describe me? Not one of you knows what you’re talking about!” Then he tells them to man up and try to answer his questions. I think it is ironic that God doesn’t just come down and sit with Job, and say something like, “Well, Job, running the universe requires a lot of knowledge and understanding about everything that is going on right now and how it all relates to everything else, and how all that relates to both the past and that relationship of elements and events will determine what happens in the future, so you see it’s all very complicated and hard for you to understand, but just trust me, I’ve got my reasons for allowing the things I do.” No, God shows up and blasts Job with question after question putting Job in his place. Earlier in the text, Job questions God, “Have you the eyes of flesh? Do you see as a mortal sees? Are your days as those of a mortal or your years as his lifespan?” The Book of Job 10:4-5. He’s basically fed up with God, and he asks him, “Do you know what it’s like to be human? To feel pain? To feel the fear of death?” His tone implies he wants to end the questions with, “You big meany!” Now God responds to Job with his own set of questions in which he is really countering Job’s inquiry with, “Well, do you know what it’s like to be God?” God is not looking for Job’s pity, but he wants Job to realize that there are things about life that he simply is not able to understand. God is basically telling Job that he will answer Job’s questions if Job can first answer his. He asks Job a sequence of questions that can be divided into four sets, each revealing a deeper understanding of God’s character, and the Lord does not hide from his own sarcasm when he deals with Job.

The Lord’s first questions to Job are, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me if you know and understand. Who fixed it’s dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line over it? On what do its supporting pillars rest? Who set its cornerstone in place, while the morning stars sang in chorus and the sons of God all shouted for joy? Who supported the sea at its birth, when it burst in flood from the womb– when I wrapped it in a blanket of cloud and swaddled it in dense fog, when I established bounds, set its barred doors in place, and said, ’Thus far may you come but no farther; here your surging waves must halt’” The Book of Job 38:4-11. God is essentially saying, “Dude, I don’t remember seeing you around when I made this place. I don’t remember asking you for help or advice, so maybe you should be a little more careful about how you question me.” In this first set of questions God deals with the creation of the universe, including the vastness of stars that he keeps track of, and the cycles of nature on the earth, “Which is the way to the home of the light, and where does darkness dwell? Can you then take each to its appointed boundary and escort it on its homeward path? Doubtless you know, for you were already born. So long is the span of your life!” The Book Job 38:19-21. God is establishing himself as the Creator. He is the author and designer of life, and it was his Word that spoke it into being, his hands that brought the materials of chaos together and built them into something structured and ordered: A system in which everything works together to sustain life on this tiny little planet in the universe he designed. Modern scientists have discovered that even the very cells and molecules that we are made up of have little-engine-like parts that work together to keep us moving and growing. There is a Designer to the life that we are a part of, and the Lord is simply making it clear to Job, “I made this place; therefore, I make the rules.”

The next set of questions the Lord asks Job are about various kinds of animals. He begins with the most wild and free, the lions, the mountain goats, the wild asses, the wild oxen, the ostrich, and he asks Job if he is the one who is able to take care of all these animals and if they even need humans to tame them to survive. The Lord then speaks of who made the horse and gave it purpose, “Do you give the horse his strength? Have you clothed his neck with a mane? Do you make him quiver like a locust’s wings, when his shrill neighing strikes terror? He shows his mettle as he paws and prances; in his might he charges the armored line. He scorns alarms and knows no dismay; he does not shy away before the sword. The quiver rattles at his side, the spear and sabre flash. Trembling with eagerness he devours the ground and when the trumpet sounds there is no holding him; at the trumpet-call he cries ‘Aha!’ and from afar he scents the battle, the shouting of the captains, and the war cries.” The Book of Job 39:20-25. The Lord ends this set of questions with discussing the freedom of the hawk and the eagle. God is now establishing himself as our Sustainer. Not only did he make this place, but he is the one who keeps it going. He is the one who takes care of the wild animals, and it was he who created some to serve man, even to serve him in battle. God is telling Job, if I take care of the wild animals, I will certainly take care of you. This is much like Jesus’ statement thousands of years later, “I tell you not to be anxious…look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow and reap and store in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth more than the birds?” The Gospel of Matthew 6:25-26. This promise, however, is for those who faithfully serve God and put their trust in him. As discussed in an earlier post, those who reject God and follow their own wisdom cause trouble for themselves and eventually for others. Why shouldn’t we follow God’s rules? It is not as if he made them only to be cruel and to test our obedience. The Lord gave us rules to follow for our benefit. Let’s say you receive a gift of a brand new car from the person who designed and built it. He has left instructions for you on the best way to take care of it; how often the oil needs changed, how often you should wash and wax it, and the limits you should put on yourself when driving it. However, when it comes time to take care of the vehicle a buddy tells you not waste your time with it. “Come on,” he says, “I never change the oil in my car, and it runs fine! Let’s just ride these babies as fast as they can go! The guy who designed these things just wants to keep all the fun to himself.” Who would you trust? Your buddy, or the designer of the car?

At this point, God takes a break questioning Job about his credentials, and he deals directly with Job‘s attitude. The Lord pauses and says to Job, “Is right for a man who disputes with the Almighty to be stubborn? Should he who argues with God answer back?” The Book of Job 40:2. Earlier, Job did a lot of boasting; he said things like, “If only I could see God, I would tell him to his face how unjust this whole thing is!” God is saying, “Well, here I am. What did you want to say?” Job knows he cannot answer any of the Lord’s questions; he understands the point the Lord is making, he replies, “I put my finger to my lips. I have spoken…I shall do so no more.” The Book of Job 40:4-5. Once again, God tells Job to man up, because he has a few more questions for him. The next question God has for Job is the most dangerous of them all; “Would you dare deny that I am just, or put me in the wrong to prove yourself right? Have you an arm like God’s arm; can you thunder with a voice like his?” The Book of Job 40:8-9. Earlier we talked about Job’s weakness of character and we discussed how Job implied that he could do a better job than the Lord. While he acknowledged that he lacked God’s power, he felt that he was more just than God when he said, “I call out to you, God, but you do not answer, I stand up to plead, but you keep aloof. You have turned cruelly against me; with your strong hand you persecute me…Yet no beggar held out his hand to me in vain for relief in his distress. Did I not weep for the unfortunate? Did not my heart grieve for the destitute? Yet evil has come, though I expected good, and when I looked for light, darkness came.” The Book of Job 30:20-21,24-26. I believe that the Lord is taking direct issue with these remarks. These verses imply that Job had a problem with pride, and God is putting Job in his place. He is saying, “Do you really want to go there Job? Don’t talk trash that you can’t back up.” The Lord goes on to almost mock Job and tells him to put on all his glory and righteousness and begin to judge the wicked and proud himself and bring them to humility. “If you can do that,” God says, “then I’ll step back and let you save yourself.” When we are put in stressful situations, we often do or say things we regret, and we use the stress to excuse ourselves. I’m not really like that, we think to ourselves, I was just under pressure! The truth is, when we are under pressure, our real selves get squeezed out. All the ugly parts of our personality and soul, that we masterfully learn to hide from the world so well that we deceive even our own hearts, gets exposed. I think that God allows us to go through trials and hard situations so that we can own up to the truth of our weaknesses, so that we can repent and try to change, and so that we can live honestly with ourselves, with our fellow man, and most importantly before God. This is what God is doing with Job here; Job was so righteous, and so well-liked by his community, he was unable to see the pride hidden deep in his heart. God allowed Satan to play this little game, so that Job could discover his sin and deal with it. In this set of questions God reveals himself as our Teacher and Disciplinarian, in other words, a Parent. Not only does he have the right to make the rules because he is Creator, not only does he continue to take care of us as the Sustainer of all life, but he further expresses his love to us by teaching us the best way to live and then disciplining us when we go astray, even when (perhaps especially when) we are unaware of the problem.

While he is on the subject of pride, the Lord goes on to describe two beasts whose identity has been debated by many educated men who, like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, need to put God’s Word into their own preconceived ideas of the world. However, with a close attention to the details of the description, any child could easily identify both of these creatures. The Lord calls the two beasts he describes the Behemoth and the Leviathan. Considering that every other natural description in the text conforms to our modern understanding of the scientific world, commentators of Job have tried to describe these beasts with animals we are familiar with today. Among the many identities they try to conform them to are the hippopotamus, the elephant, the whale, and the crocodile. The only one that comes close is the crocodile, but the Lord describes these beasts as being nearly impossible for man to overpower, and they certainly cannot be captured. As fierce as crocodiles are, men who live among them are able to get the upper hand when necessary.

Read the description with an open mind: the Behemoth is clearly a dinosaur. Look at how the Lord describes him: “His tail is rigid as a cedar, the sinews of his flanks are tightly knit; his bones are like tubes of bronze, his limbs like iron bars. He is the chief of God’s works, made to be a tyrant over his fellow-creatures; for he takes the cattle of the hills for his prey and in his jaws he crunches all the beasts of the wild” The Book of Job 40:17-20. Now, you might have your Bible open right now and thinking, No way, Pete, that’s just a really big crocodile. Well, what is a really big crocodile, but some kind of a dinosaur? And since when do crocodiles wander all the way out of their swamps and rivers to devour the cattle in the hills? The reason modern scholars cannot accept these beasts as dinosaurs is because the Lord describes humans interacting with them, and according to man’s wisdom and understanding of the natural world, dinosaurs were clearly extinct millions of years before humans evolved, so these must not be dinosaurs. You can call me as crazy as Sarah Palin, but I believe that man and dinosaurs existed together. I have come to this understanding more from my literary and history background than from my religious studies. Every ancient culture from every part of the world has dragons as a part of their myth, religion and history. Every one of them. The dragon was worshiped in the ancient Orient; he was a part of creation myths for the Aborigines in Australia. In Europe he was feared and fought; the Grendal Creature that the Epic Hero Beowulf fights is clearly reptilian, and Beowulf later loses his life in a fight against a fire-breathing dragon. The legends of sacrificing virgins to dragons to appease their wrath come from Africa. Dragons were an important part of both the Mayan and the Aztec culture and religion, and a North American tribe, the Illini, tell a legend of a dragon-type creature called the Piasa who ravaged their land near the Mississippi, until the Great Spirit taught one of their warriors how to defeat it. A lot of myths and epics have their origins in real and true events, but with ancient man’s lack of understanding about the natural world, and as the “fish” gets bigger every time the tale is told, the myths and legends of the dragon became more fantastic and dragons became symbolic of powers man could not understand. However, the fact that there are dragon legends in such a variety of people groups and cultures that had no contact with each other tells me that at some point a long time ago, and probably during Job’s time, there were large reptilian creatures walking around that scared the crap out of human beings. The Lord’s description of the Leviathan is evidence of the dragon legend in Middle Eastern culture.

If the Behemoth is a dinosaur, the Leviathan is clearly a real-live-fire-breathing dragon. Look at the Lord’s description of this beast: “How fierce he is when roused! Who is able to stand up to him? Who has ever attacked him and come out of it safely? No one under the wide heaven. I shall not pass over in silence his limbs, his prowess and the grace of his proportions…Who has ever prised open the portals of his face where terror lies in the circuits of his teeth? His back is row upon row of shields, enclosed in a wall of flints…His sneezing sends out sprays of light, and his eyes gleam like the shimmer of dawn. Firebrands shoot from his mouth, and sparks come flying out; his nostrils gush forth steam like a cauldron on a fire fanned to full heat. His breath sets coals ablaze, and flames issue from his mouth. Strength resides in his neck, and dismay dances ahead of him. Close-knit is his underbelly, no pressure will make it yield. His heart is firm as a rock, firm as the nether millstone” The Book of Job 41:10-24. Have you ever seen a whale or a crocodile breath fire? You might be thinking, Dinosaurs, maybe there is some truth to that explanation, but Dragons? No way, that’s just nuts! Well, it’s not as crazy as it seems. There are many theories by credible scientists about the possibility of a fire breathing dinosaur. Let me give you a modern example of how it might have worked. Have you ever been at a party and your best friend gets really drunk and decides he wants to show everyone a cool trick? (Maybe it was you who wanted to be the center of attention!) So, he drops his drawers, bends over and sticks a lighter in front of his butt-crack while he lets one out. As a result, all of your other friends are disgusted and don‘t invite you over anymore, and your best friend has singed the hair on his butt and can’t sit comfortably for a few days. Our bodies produce methane gas, and methane gas is flammable. Some paleontologists theorize that some dinosaurs may have expelled their methane gas from their mouth, and either from clicking flint-like bones on their jaws together to make a spark, or by producing an electrical current similar to an electric eel, or even by producing other chemicals and that produce a flammable reaction when mixed, the dinosaur produces a flame coming out of his mouth. No one knows for sure how it worked if it did, but it is scientifically possible for an animal to breath fire.

No matter what the identity really is for the Behemoth and the Leviathan, the Lord wants to make it clear that no matter how fierce these creatures are, he is in control of them. He ends the description of the Leviathan with, “He has no equal on earth, a creature utterly fearless. He looks down on all, even the highest; over all proud beasts he is king” The Book of Job 41:33-34. Whether these beasts were real or not, I believe that they are symbolic of Satan himself. It is curious that Satan plays such an important role in the beginning of Job, but he is never specifically mentioned again. After the Lord proclaims himself as Creator and Sustainer of the earth and all living creatures on it, and after he shows Job he is man’s Teacher and Disciplinarian, the last point he makes is that he is even in charge of the most fearsome creature on earth. He calls that creature “the king of all proud beasts.” Certainly, that is a fitting description of Satan. It was pride that got him in trouble in the first place as he rebelled against God and tried to take the throne of heaven believing he could overpower his Creator. Since he could not defeat the Almighty, he set his sights on everything that God loves. Since God gave us free will, Satan knew that we would be vulnerable to manipulation, and he first appears in man’s narrative disguised as a snake in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve chose to believe Satan over God, they put themselves under Satan’s authority, and we’ve been subject to temptation and prone to evil ever since. Throughout scripture Satan is often symbolized with the image of a dragon. In the last book of the Bible, the Apostle John states, “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent who led the whole world astray, whose name is the Devil, or Satan; he was thrown down to earth, and his angels with him” The Revelation of John 12:9. The last revelation of the Lord’s character to Job is that he is man’s Protector. Whether he is protecting us from physical harm or from spiritual rebellion and death, God watches over us and seeks to protect us from our ultimate enemy, Satan. Recall that while Satan was the one who destroyed Job’s life, it was the Lord who gave him permission to do it. I believe that Satan needed permission from God for Job because Job was such a righteous person. God gave him permission because, as we will see, it ultimately worked out for Job’s good. However, I don’t think Satan always needs permission from God to mess with all humans. Satan often gets his permission straight from us. Through scripture, God revealed the best way man should live to receive blessing, but we often rebel against God and choose our own way. Satan’s tactics have not changed since Eden. He disguises himself as something good or innocent, and the manipulation begins. If we have a close relationship with God, he will give us the wisdom we need to avoid the temptation, but if we submit to Satan’s lies, we give him permission to wreck havoc in our lives. The Apostle Paul states, “Put on the full [spiritual] armour provided by God, so that you may be able to stand firm against the stratagems of the devil. For our struggle is not against human foes, but against the authorities and potentates of this dark age, against the superhuman forces of evil in the heavenly realms” Ephesians 6:12.

When he gave us free will, God gave us the ability to choose our masters. Since we are so prone to sin, the only way we can truly be free from Satan is through Jesus Christ, but even this does not guarantee our physical protection, Jesus himself said, “In this world you will have suffering” The Gospel of John 16:33, and he tells us that in the same way that he and all the prophets before him were persecuted, we will be also (The Gospel of John 15:20, The Gospel of Matthew 5:11-12). God often calls us to make sacrifices in this present life to achieve a higher spiritual purpose that we may not understand, but we must trust that he has an ultimate good in mind, even if it is not for us personally. For instance, he may bring someone else to a new relationship with him and eternal salvation through the witness of our suffering with dignity. This is the case with Job and with so many martyrs since. Earlier in the text, Job rebukes his friends for not trusting in his reputation of being a good man; “I beg you, turn and look at me: am I likely to lie to your faces? Think again,…for my integrity is in question. Do I ever give voice to injustice?” The Book of Job 6:28-29. But Job could not convince his friends to trust him. He was saying to them, “You guys know me; you know I’ve never done anything so bad to deserve this kind of punishment before, what makes you think I’d fail in my righteousness out of the blue like this?” God is essentially saying the same thing to Job through this series of revelations about his character. He is telling Job, “You know from your teachings and your experience that I am good; you know I don’t do anything without a reason; what makes you think I would leave you hanging now?” There are a number of reasons why God may choose to remain silent when we are struggling and experiencing trials of our own. Sometimes, like Job, he is trying to teach us a lesson, or strengthen us in some way. Often, whatever God is up to simply can’t be comprehended by human intelligence. The knowledge of the situation and the reasons behind God’s actions (or seemingly lack of action) is beyond our understanding. The Lord often says in scripture, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways…But as the heavens are high above the earth, so are my ways high above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts” Isaiah 55:8-9. In the same way, sometimes we are just not spiritually mature enough to be able handle the whole truth. Even the most mature Christian on Earth is still like a child to God. Anyone who has children knows that there are some realities about life that young children are better off being protected from, and some kids mature faster than others. God may choose to withhold certain revelation from some until they are responsible enough to handle it. The author of Hebrews says, “It comes to this: you need milk instead of solid food. Anyone who lives on milk is still an infant, with no experience of what is right. Solid food is for adults, whose perceptions have been trained by long use to discriminate between good and evil” 5:12-14. However, I think that more often God does reveal to us what is going on, and we are either too busy to listen or we simply don’t trust him, so we choose to ignore all the warning signs he places in our path. Then we cry out, “Why me, God?!?” God’s main point to Job is simply this: “Trust me. I’m God; you’re not.” He establishes himself as the Creator and states: “I made this place; I know the best way to run it.” He establishes himself as the Sustainer of Life and states: “I continue to make the universe work together in harmony for your provision.” He establishes himself as our Teacher and Disciplinarian, basically our Parent, and states: “If you humble yourself and listen for my wisdom, I will give it to you, but if you don’t follow my guidance, there will be consequences.” And lastly, he establishes himself as our Protector and states, “If you acknowledge me and seek obedience to my ways, I will place you under my protection which ultimately leads to salvation from sin and rebellion.” God is saying, “When times are hard for you, no matter how bad it gets, you need to trust in my proven character and rest in peace that I have an ultimate good that I am bringing about.” Later, the Apostle Paul states that “in everything, as we know, he co-operates for good with those who love God and are called according to his purpose” Romans 8:28. God never actually directly answered Job’s “Why me?” question, he just leaves it at the revelation that there are some things Job doesn’t understand, but he needs to trust that God is good and that he’s got a plan. We will soon see the good that God brings into Job’s life; in the next and last section of Lessons from The Book of Job we will look at Job’s redemption and restoration, and see that he gained much more than riches from his ordeal.

 

  • All scripture references are from The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha.

 

 

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2 Responses to “Lessons from Job: The Lord’s Answer”

  1. Kim Walker Says:

    Wow. A lot here to comment on. I always loved the descriptions God had of creation….it lets you see how careful and enthusiastic God is about his designs….that he REALLY is proud of what He has made. When I study science, the incredible complexity and genius of it all takes me back to these verses….that God really worked HARD on these projects…so hard that He had to rest,….and out of all His creation, we were his biggest achievement. Makes one think twice about criticizing or bashing people, even when they mess up, big time (including ourselves). Sin is sin, wrong is wrong, but God knows just exactly who we are….and He is WELL PLEASED with who we are (not the sin, but who we are). Pretty amazing to think about, especially considering how bad we mess up, and how frequently. Explains why He delays judgement, to OUR dismay, many times!!!! Good thing we are not God! There wouldn’t be many people left (including ourselves!)

    Interesting reminder about Satan, the dragon, and pride. Pride is the strongest, most powerful sin…..so insidious…and clearly, real rooted pride has to be pulled out by God himself. Why oh why, God? Ouch. (a thousand exclamation points!) Would it be safe to say, the most painful sin to get rid of?? And the irony is, that even if one achieves sainthood, you’ll know you’re good (because you kind of are), then you’ll be trapped in the strongest sin, yet again……

    ….Pretty safe to say, God does self-reformation MUCH better than us. Otherwise, we just get self-centered from TOO much self-examination, down on ourselves, or prideful. Best to keep our eyes mostly on God and others, most of the time. I heard a quote, “What others think of me, is none of my business. What I think of me, is none of my business. What God thinks of me, is my business.” 🙂

    • peterrock12 Says:

      Good stuff, Kim. Wisdom that comes from experience. Let me know when you start your own blog!


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