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No. 87: Leviathan and Job, Part 1

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 87
September, 1996
Copyright 1996 Biblical Horizons

Yahweh’s two speeches at the end of the book of Job (38-41) should bring some closure to the book. The prologue has the whole cosmic order arrayed against the blameless and upright Job, "a man who feared God and shunned evil" (1:1, 8; 2:3). Yahweh’s capstone speeches affirm God’s absolute control over the entire cosmic order, including Satan. The story begins when Satan, the voraciously malevolent "son of God" is commissioned by Yahweh to prove Job’s integrity. Satan flies out of God’s presence and, in effect, brings the whole world of men and cosmic forces to bear against Job, sparing only his life. Sabeans plunder his property (1:15). Fire falls from heaven and consumes his sheep and servants (1:16). The Chaldeans carry his camels into captivity and slaughter his servants (1:17). A mighty wind strikes the four corners of his children’s house and they all die (1:19). Finally, after Job refuses "to sin by charging God with wrongdoing" (1:23), Satan secures permission to "strike his flesh and bones" (2:3).

In all of this it is crucial to read the text carefully. Satan is only Yahweh’s tool. When Yahweh calls Job’s faithfulness to Satan’s attention after the first round of devastations, He says, "he still maintains his integrity, though you incited Me against him to devour him without any reason" (2:3). Similarly, Satan himself understands his roll as a tool in the hand of the Almighty when he says to the Lord, "But stretch out Your hand and strike his flesh and bones" (2:5). Clearly, Satan is an instrument in the hand of the Lord to accomplish His will against/for Job. Job also recognizes this fundamental truth when he rebukes his wife: "Yahweh gave and Yahweh has taken away. Blessed be His Name!" (1:21).

This background is all the more important because it is precisely Yahweh’s complicity in Job’s suffering that must be explained or at least satisfactorily expounded. Yahweh has arrayed the whole cosmic order–inanimate, animate, angelic, and human–against his servant Job! This is Job’s principal and consistent complaint in all of his monologues and dialogues. This means that the problem addressed in the book of Job is not so much the problem of suffering per se, but the problem of the moral order of the world, specifically God’s maintenance of the world. Can what God does and allows be justified? It’s not just "why do people suffer?" and "why do godly men and women like Job suffer?", but can suffering people trust God? Since there is so much arbitrary suffering in the world (arbitrary from our perspective anyway), can we assume that God is managing the world well? Can we rely on Him? Does He control all things? Or is He just Dr. God, as the Arminians teach, trying to do the best He can with a bad situation?

Now, if the principle of retribution (which was foolishly offered by Job’s three friends as the solution to this problem) is not the key to unlock the reason for evil and suffering, then what is? God was not punishing Job because of Job’s secret sins. If God does not order and manage the world according to the principle of justice and retribution, if the suffering we see in the world is not a tit-for-tat punishment for particular sins, then can there be anything like an orderly, managed world given the extent of suffering and evil that man experiences? Does God do all things well? If so, should we be able to discern His ways in the world?

The answer is given at the end of the book of Job. God manages His world just fine without our knowledge or help. So what if you can’t figure out how or why God does certain things? Remember, you are just a creature. Let God be God! We can trust God, even though we do not know the "whys" of our own situation. You and I may not understand God in the particular situation in which we struggle, but we do understand why we trust God. We may not know why we are suffering, but we do know why we trust God!

This is what the final chapters of Job establish–God’s wise but inscrutable control over all things. This is why God engages Job in a wrestling match at the end of Job’s period of suffering. "Now gird up your loins like a man; I will question you and you shall answer Me" (38:3). "Girding the loins" means to tuck the skirt of your robe into your belt so that you can run or move freely. It is a call to pull together all your strength for a contest. Prepare yourself for a wrestling match with the Creator and Lord of the universe. Brace yourself like a man: God allows Himself to be wrestled with. Remember Jacob. God desires that Job wrestle with Him, not as an enemy but as a Father. One modern commentator notes that there is a kindly playfulness in the Lord’s speeches that is quite attractive and even relaxing. God’s aim is not to crush Job with an awareness of his minuteness, nor to mock him by showing how much more wise He is.

After all, it was God himself who started this whole process with Job! It was God who dispatched Satan to trouble Job. God pointed Job out to Satan! (A fact that often goes unnoticed, see 1:8.) It was God who allowed Job’s three friends to challenge him. It was God who expected Job to struggle with their accusations. It was God who was wrestling with Job all along. Now, at the end, it is God who meets Job for another struggle, another contest, the one that will enlighten Job. Why does God do this? To the end that Job might fear Him, might become strong and mighty in wisdom and discernment; that he might be restored to an even greater position than before.

You see, God does not want slaves; nor does He want His people to remain babies forever. He wants mature sons and daughters! Many readers have thought that God’s response to Job in chapters 38-41 is meant to silence him by beating him down with His almighty power. After such a display, Job should never question God again. That is unnecessary. The meaning of these speeches is not that we ought never to question or even think about the ways of God. This is a very dangerous misinterpretation. The main purpose in Yahweh’s questioning is not to browbeat Job with dazzling displays of His power and wisdom. Nor is it to overwhelm Job with His power and strength! No, not primarily. God invites Job to reconsider the mystery and complexity – even the sheer incomprehensibility– of Himself and His ways with the world. "There is a reason why you trust Me, Job, even though you can’t logically penetrate the mystery of your own situation."

The Lord’s First Speech

The Lord’s first speech interrogates Job about his non-participation in God’s creation, as well as about His own continual maintenance of the universe (Job 38-39).

1. Creation (38:4-11). "I am the Creator and Architect of the Universe, Job, good buddy. Consider the structure of the inanimate world: Are you qualified, Job, to formulate universal opinions on the nature of the universe? You were not there when I made it! You have no access to My creative wisdom. And because you do not have the knowledge to pass judgment on Me, Job, neither do you have any good reason not to trust Me. I, the Lord, have done all this well without your help or even your comprehension. You have every reason to trust Me, Job."

2. Maintenance (38:12-39:30). Next, Yahweh’s interrogation of Job focuses on His inscrutable management of the World. First, there is a reminder that Yahweh maintains the entire inanimate creation quite well without Job. "I am the Lord, the Controller of all Creation. As Lord I wisely manage and control all the inanimate elements of creation" (38:12-38). The Lord focuses on meteorological, heavenly phenomenon: sun, storms, rain, constellations, and clouds. God shows Job regions of the cosmos to which he has no access. These heavenly phenomenon are above Job and the Lord manages all of these, even though Job scarcely ever gives it a thought.

Second, the Lord reminds Job that He wisely manages and controls all the animals (38:39 – 39:30). But take note of the kinds of animals described here: lions, ravens, mountain goats, wild donkeys, wild oxen, ostriches, the wild horse, hawks, and the eagle. What do all these creatures have in common? They are all wild, non-domesticated beasts. They are all animals that have only a tenuous relationship with man. They appear to have no usefulness to man. They inhabit areas that man does not: desolate steppes, wilderness, and the mountain crags. When war wipes out a region, these are the only animals that remain to inhabit the land (Isa. 34; Ezk. 34).

What do all these creatures that appear to have no usefulness to mankind mean? Why are they there? Why should this theology of wild animals convince Job to trust His Lord? Yahweh alerts Job to the almost total inscrutability of whole tracts of the natural order. Some of these animals are also often violent and hostile to man. The wild ass is the enemy of cultivated land, and the lion the enemy of the shepherd’s flocks. Yahweh asserts His lordship over all. No part of the world lies outside of His rule. There are no hostile forces that exist beyond His control. Even that which seems so unruly and wild in the animal world is subject to God’s rule. They are all unquestionably created and managed by God, but for what reason? This is a paradigm for all knowledge of God! Domesticated, tamed animals might serve to magnify the skill of humanity. We make the animal world subservient to us by domesticating them. But wild animals serve to impress humans with the fundamental inexplicability of the world as it has been created and is maintained by God. Carefully observing the animal world will result in wisdom and insight for the wise man. Remember 1 Kings 4:32-33 and the Proverbs. The argument is basically this: Just as God is able to govern wisely that which is incomprehensible to us as humans, namely the wild animals, so also God is able to govern the rest of His world, including the world of humanity with all of its impenetrable mysteries, like evil and suffering.

With this, Yahweh’s first interrogation of Job ends. Problem: Does this really cut it for Job? Is there nothing more to be said? Job doesn’t seem to be satisfied (40:3-5). Job has acknowledged the Lord’s point, sure enough. And yet, if the book ended here, after the Lord’s first speech, there would be something missing. The Lord’s first speech is not suficient.

Maybe, if we listen carefully, and get close enough to Job, we might be able to hear Job, with his head bowed, whispering, "Yes, Lord, but. . . I understand, Lord, that I have every reason to trust You even when I don’t fully understand Your purposes. You manage the world quite well without me, especially whole tracts of Your creation to which I have no access. But, Lord, what about the forces of evil? What about those malevolent human and cosmic forces that wreak havoc on the harmony and order of your creation? It’s all well and good to ponder the subtle harmony of the world by looking at the clouds, the wild horses, and the ostrich, but. . . What about the fire that came down from heaven and consumed my estate? What about the east wind that leveled the house of my sons and daughters and killed them? What about the pride and wickedness of Sabeans and Chaldeans who raided my property killing and destroying everything? If Your world is so wisely well ordered how can these things happen? Where is the justice in all of this? Why must I, an innocent godly man, suffer such injustice? These acts are not part of Your normal order in creation. They are gross, violent transgressions of that order? What about these acts, Lord?"

The Lord’s Second Speech

Now, how does the Lord answer? He says, "Oh, yeah, Job, I almost forgot. Look at Behemoth and Leviathan. There’s your answer!"

This has always concerned me. I get the impression that it has boggled the minds of many a Christian reader. Let’s say that you have a Christian friend who has just learned that he has terminal cancer. Or parents in the church have just lost their children in a house fire. Suppose you visit the hospital and try to minister them. Would you read Job chapters 40-41 to them? Have you ever read Job 40-41 to suffering friend? Well, why not? Is this conclusion not satisfying to you? Do the Lord’s words not clinch it for you? Is it anti-climactic? Does God’s own answer to human suffering and the apparent injustice of evil sit right with you? Leviathan is the climax. The description of Leviathan is surprisingly long. And it is God’s portrait of leviathan that utterly subdues Job. Why? What’s going on here? Who is Leviathan? And why does he become God’s final illustration in the closing moments of His sermon to Job?

Well, I think that answer is that Yahweh displays Behemoth and Leviathan in order to convince Job of His comprehensive Lordship over all, especially over all cosmic forces, good and evil. These two beasts, especially Leviathan represent both the mightiest of all the terrestrial creatures as well as the cosmic forces of evil. The Lord is Master over whatever forces may lie behind Job’s ordeal. The Lord is Master over Leviathan and over Leviathan’s cosmic counterpart: Satan. God is master over all the powers in the universe, earthly and cosmic, good and evil. Nothing escapes Him. God has Job’s life under control. God has Job’s suffering under control. God has Satan under control. God is sovereign master of the universe. He is no paltry Arminian God who merely tries to "influence" the outcome of events that are really not under His control. You see, if Job cannot capture and control the most powerful creatures on earth, then neither can he control the cosmic forces of evil. He has no business questioning the justice of God’s rule. God controls all of this without man’s help.

First, there’s Behemoth (Job 40:15-24). The fundamental lesson to be learned from "looking at Behemoth" can be found in verses 19 and 24. "He ranks first among the works of God, yet his Maker can approach him with His sword" (v. 19). This animal can only be controlled by God himself! He is God’s domestic beast. (The Hebrew behemoth is just an augmented form of the word behemah, "cattle; domesticated beast.") God completely controls him. The Lord, his Maker, is able to subdue him. God holds him in check! "Can anyone capture him by the eyes, or trap him and pierce his nose?" (v. 24). "I dare you Job. Control him. Subdue him. Trap him. Pierce his nose. I can do so. Do you understand the implications, Job? If you cannot capture and control this creature, Job, how is it that you presume to sit in judgment against me, the Creator! My thoughts are not your thoughts, Job. Neither are My ways your ways. Do you understand the implications, Job? Can you extrapolate from this and understand what it means for your present situation? Who controlled all of those malevolent forces that wiped out your family, wealth, health, and reputation? It was Me, Job. Well, let Me help you a little with this. Look at just one more creature with Me. Leviathan."

(to be concluded)