Job’s Final Exam
The book of Job is one of the most profound pieces of writing ever to grace the world’s literature. Noted novelist Victor Hugo once said that if all the world’s literature were to be destroyed, and he could save one sample, it would be the book of Job.
The basic theme of the document is familiar to most Bible students. Job was a prominent and wealthy man of the ancient Arabian world. More importantly, he was a godly person who was a trophy of spirituality among his contemporaries.
When the sons of God came together on a certain occasion, Satan appeared as well. The Lord challenged this enemy: “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is no one like him on the earth?”
The devil acknowledged that the patriarch revered Jehovah, but his accusation was that this devotion was not without “strings” attached; the Lord made it worthwhile for Job to serve him. In other words, Job was a “bought” person. This malicious charge was not merely an assault upon Job; it was a “slap” at Jehovah. The implication was that the Lord is not worthy of human service on his own merit. Without the “bribes” he doles out, God would be undeserving of man’s devotion.
And so, in order that men might know that Jehovah God is worthy of service on the ground of his very nature (Psalm 18:3), the Lord allowed Satan the latitude to afflict Job. The patriarch lost his wealth, most of his family, his health, and the confidence of his friends. He was put to the test sorely.
Much of this ancient document revolves around a series of “debates” that Job had with three of his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They believed Job’s suffering was the result of some heinous, secret sin; if he would just confess his transgression, his life would resume normalcy. These fair-weather companions, of course, had no earthly idea what was behind the great man’s suffering—nor, as a matter of fact, did Job! But this trio of “miserable comforters” (16:2) hounded their anguished friend, hoping to bludgeon him into submission. Though they thought they were laboring in his best interest, in reality, they were mere “physicians of no value” (13:4).
At the beginning of his ordeal, the patriarch’s faith shone brightly. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21). Again: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10).
However, after months of agony (7:3)—both mental and physical—Job’s renowned “patience” (cf. James 5:11) began to wear a bit thin. At times he exhibited blinding bursts of tremendous faith—"Though he slay me yet will I trust him. . . " (13:15). On other occasions, he could be caustic and accusing. He suggested that the Lord makes no distinction between people who are good and those who are evil. When innocent people suffer, God mocks at their calamity. He allows wickedness to run rampant in the earth. Defiantly he asks: “If he is not responsible for all of this, just who is?” (9:22-24). His own case, he feels, has been particularly egregious. The Almighty, he charges, has virtually used him for target practice, filling his body with poisoned arrows (6:4; 16:13).
In his suffering Job increasingly waxes bold in challenges to his Maker. He suggests that he would like to meet God in a court of law. He would fill his mouth with “arguments” and lay his case before the Lord’s “seat” (23:3-4). Or else perhaps the arrangement might be reversed: God could question him, and he would be happy to respond (cf. 13:22). He would maintain his innocence of any transgression which merited the sort of “punishment” to which he had been subjected.
Job believed that God had not treated him fairly. In effect, he suggested that the Lord was not directing the affairs of this earth with wisdom. If the Creator would only seek his counsel, he would be happy to advise!
After an appropriate period of time, the Lord proceeded to “answer” Job (38:1). He warned the man of Uz to “gird up your loins,” meaning, “Get ready for some vigorous activity; you asked for it—now here it is.” Jehovah then proceeds to pound Job with a series of very difficult questions (roughly sixty). This “final exam” was designed to reveal to the patriarch how very little he knew about the earth and its environment. Job had been more than willing to criticize and advise his Creator on how to run the affairs of this planet, yet he cannot answer the most fundamental questions about how it operates. With a rigorous interrogation, the Lord will appropriately humble his critic. To his credit, Job will listen and learn.
The narrative, recorded in 38:1 through 41:34, rather easily divides itself into several sections. First, there is the opening challenge. Jehovah warns Job of the encounter that is about to commence, and urges his servant to brace for it (38:1-3).
Second, there begins a series of mind-numbing questions regarding the origin and design of the earth’s features and creatures. These inquiries probe whether or not Job understands how his Maker operates with reference to the natural order of the creation (38:4-40:5). When that is established, the Lord, arguing from the lesser to the greater, will demonstrate that if the patriarch does not comprehend those elementary matters, he certainly is not qualified to pass judgment upon how the Creator is negotiating the moral order of his earth (40:6-41:34). The narrative constitutes a crash course in the ignorance of humanity versus the knowledge and wisdom of the Almighty.
The Inanimate Creation (38:4-38)
After cautioning Job to “gird up his loins,” i.e., Jehovah begins to grill the patriarch about certain elements of the nonliving world.
Jehovah asked Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” Was the patriarch there to advise the Creator about the design and dimensions of this globe (vv. 4-7)? Obviously not. If the Lord did not need Job as a counsellor for the creation of the planet, he hardly requires his assistance in managing it!
What of the delicate balance between land and the sea? Though the waters of our globe cover three quarters of its surface, who determined their “bounds” so that they are confined to a certain place (vv. 8-11)? Was Job responsible for this amazing design, or was God?
Who created the sun that it might bathe the earth with its warmth each morning and expose the night-deeds of the wicked with the dawning of day (vv. 12-15)? Certainly it was not the man of Uz.
What does Job know of the deep recesses of the oceans? Has he peered into the realm of the dead (vv. 16-18)? He is wholly ignorant of such matters, yet he has presumed to critique God’s providential actions in this world and charge him with injustice.
Does Job understand the phenomenon of light, and how it travels in its path to earth? Does the sage of Uz understand the makeup of certain elements of the earth, e.g., snow and hail, and how the Lord providentially uses these things to bring about his purposes (vv. 19-24)? Was Job old enough to recall the details of the commencement of these earth-features? Of course not. Yet he has become an expert in criticism.
Was Job the head of the weather department, manipulating the lightning and thunder, sending rain, producing frost, and even causing the “deep” to become frozen (vv. 25-30)? No, the patriarch knows little, if anything, regarding the intricacies of these activities. Yet, in his pain, he has been inordinately generous with his advice to the Almighty.
Does Job control the movement of the starry constellations? Does he comprehend the “ordinances” that regulate the heavenly bodies (vv. 31-33)? No, he can only speculate about such matters.
Back to the matter of weather—does the critic from Uz operate the laws of physics? Has he the wisdom and understanding to fathom such matters (vv. 34-38)? If he does not—and he surely doesn’t—then he would be wise to hold his peace. He must learn to trust when groping in the darkness of human ignorance.
The Animate Creation (38:39-39:30)
The Lord now proceeds to give Job a tour of his zoo. Since it is obvious that the patriarch has flunked his quizzes in geology, astronomy, oceanography, meteorology, etc., we will now see whether he fairs any better in zoology!
Job, do you understand who has given the regal lioness her instinct to hunt food for her young ones? Can you fathom how the despised raven is able to provide sustenance for its offspring (vv. 39-41)? It is I, your God, who takes care of such matters. And I have hardly needed your counsel!
Who cares for the wild animals, as they, with some pain, bring forth their offspring in the wilderness (39:1-4)? I do, Job. Can you not understand that I care for you as well, even though, in your suffering, you cannot comprehend such right now?
Can Job explain the amazing fact that certain creatures, so similar physically (e.g the wild donkey/domestic donkey, and the wild ox/tame ox), are so different in disposition (vv. 5-12)? If these features, reflecting design, are evident among the lesser creatures, is that not an argument that God loves man—and especially you, Job?
The ostrich seems to be introduced almost as a curious example of a creation innovation that was designed to “boggle” the mind of man. She has wings, but can’t fly. She has the reputation of being stupid and neglectful, as man judges things, but she survives. Just when she appears to be the scorn of the animal kingdom, she laughs and runs away, leaving the galloping horse and his rider in her dust (vv. 13-18). Stop trying, Job; you can’t get everything figured out. Cease your doubt about Heaven’s operations!
This document contains the most magnificent description of the ancient warhorse in all literature (vv. 19-25). The noble horse trusts his master implicitly, and is ready to charge into battle, forfeiting his very life if need be. Cannot Job, even in his anguish, trust his Master? Is he more obtuse than the horse?
Since Job, by his complaints against the Lord, had implied that his own wisdom was superior to his Maker’s, he is quizzed about the marvelous abilities of the hawk and the eagle. Was it by Job’s wisdom that the hawk was designed with the ability to soar in the clouds above? Had the patriarch so constructed the stately eagle with her talent for building her strong fortress-home in the high cliffs? Had the craftsman of Uz fashioned her keen eyes with vision far sharper than man’s (vv. 26-30)? The answer is a resounding, “No!” Job must learn that his “knowledge” is woefully limited. He must refrain from this foolish criticism of the all-wise, almighty God.
The Pause (40:1-5)
There is now a brief change of pace in the divine record. Jehovah addresses “Mr. Fault-finder” (cf. ESV) and asks if he still is inclined to “argue” his case; if so, let him proceed to answer the questions just posed.
Humbly, Job concedes that he is in no position to respond. The stunning display of divine wisdom has caused him to cover his mouth, stifling any urge to further contend against his Maker. But the patriarch is still not yet where he needs to be—on his knees! He suggests that he will let his previous case stand, until he can sort out these confusing matters. He clearly has felt the devastating impact of Jehovah’s interrogation; yet, perhaps out of pride, he was as yet unable to bring his emotions under control.
Round Two (40:6-41:34)
Out of the “whirlwind” God speaks again (cf. 38:1). With a blistering question, the Lord asks: Job, will you, in an effort to defend your own integrity, discredit me by criticizing my operations as they pertain to your life? Can you, Job, exercise divine power? If so, only then, can you claim other attributes of deity, e.g., infinite wisdom (vv. 6-9).
The Lord continues: If you possess the excellency, dignity, honor and majesty of divine Being, then demonstrate such, and I will gladly observe. Otherwise, you should remain silent (vv. 10-14).
Jehovah now returns to a discussion of his creation. There is a connection between divine power and wisdom. If Job can concede the Lord’s power, he should likewise yield to his wisdom. And so, as examples of his strength, God will introduce two creatures—one of the land, and the other of the sea. These are creatures that the Almighty has made, and not even man, with all his prowess, can control them.
Behold, Behemoth (40:15-24)
The Lord urges Job to consider a huge creature that he made to live upon the earth; it is called “behemoth.” The Hebrew term simply means “beast,” but here it is in the plural form, signifying “great beast.” While the original word is used generically in most contexts, here it clearly is employed of a specific animal.
Scholars have long been puzzled at the identity of this creature. Some have speculated that this animal was an elephant, or perhaps a rhinoceros. The most common theory is that behemoth was a hippopotamus (see ASVfn). One version renders the term a “crocodile” (NEB). Actually, the descriptives detailed in the subsequent context do not fit any of these creatures precisely. (Note: We reject the notion that the traits of this creature are grounded in mythology.)
Reflect upon behemoth’s characteristics. He is a grass-eater, requiring large quantities of food (v. 15; cf. v. 20). He has great strength in his loins and powerful belly muscles (v. 16). His tail is like a cedar tree, and his massive bones are like bars of brass and iron (vv. 17-18). He is the “chief” (first in size, most powerful) of the creatures made by God, who alone can control him (v. 19). [How could this be the hippo, who, on average, weighs less than three tons, whereas some of the ancient dinosaurs are believed to have weighed more than 80 tons?] When rivers overflow, because of his size, he remains unafraid (v. 23). Man is incapable of capturing this beast (v. 24). None of the creatures mentioned above conform to the totality of these details.
Some scholars have argued that it is not unlikely that behemoth was some species of dinosaur. This idea is generally dismissed due to the fact that many have adopted the evolutionary notion that dinosaurs became extinct some 70 million years before man arrived upon the earth. However, the Scriptures are very emphatic that early man was contemporary with all of God’s creatures (cf. Genesis 1:20-28; Exodus 20:11). There is no logical or scriptural reason why this beast might not have been one of the gigantic creatures whose massive bones now adorn in our prominent museums. (For further information on behemoth see Behold, Behemoth!).
The Leviathan (41:1-34)
Next, Job is encouraged to reflect upon the monster called “leviathan,” which some believe was a crocodile (ASVfn). While “leviathan” may be used symbolicly in some contexts (cf. Psalm 74:14; Isaiah 27:1), the expression does not appear to be so employed in this narrative. The etymology of the word seems to suggest that which is “bent,” “twisted,” or gathers itself “in folds.” It was some sort of aquatic creature.
There is an extended affirmation that Ieviathan is incapable of being captured and tamed by man (vv. 1-10). [Note: Herodotus recorded that the Egyptians tamed the crocodile and adorned it with jewelry (II.69)!]. If the crocodile is meant, this variety must have been significantly larger than what is now known to man. There is fossil evidence that some crocs of the ancient world were as much as 50 feet long (more than four times the size of his modern descendant). The description of this creature, enhanced perhaps by poetic imagery, continues through the balance the chapter (vv. 12-34). For another possible dinosaur-identification, see the author’s work, The Book of Job 1983, pp. 87-88). (See also What Is Leviathan?)
The Lord’s point in providing this description is simply this: If man cannot contest successfully with the leviathan, he surely cannot stand against me (vv. 10-11), and that includes you, job.
Job’s Confession (42:1-6)
What was the result of Jehovah’s rigorous examination of his servant? The Lord’s interrogation produced the exact effect that was intended. Humbly, the patriarch acknowledged: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (v. 2 – ESV). This affirmation of the Lord’s omnipotence is significant, because, as noted in connection with 41:10, power is tied to justice. Job is confessing that whatever Jehovah has allowed to happen (even to him), it has been consistent with a divine plan. God is not only powerful; he is good!
Job reverts to a query the Lord had asked earlier (cf. 38:2), and admits that by his rash words he had denied God’s benevolent operations. His arrogant protests had been “rash” and grounded in ignorance. He retracts his charges against the Almighty, and breathes a prayer of repentance. He even has the grace to pray for those friends who had chided him so fiercely.
Blessings Restored (42:7-17)
As a result of Job’s repentance, the Lord restored to him the blessings of which Satan had deprived him. Surely this is a preview, in miniature, of the fact the divine plan will ultimately prevail over Satan’s harmful influence. Good will triumph!
This book is about God as much as it is about Job. Not only does it highlight the wisdom and power of the Creator of the universe, it throws a floodlight upon his kindness and patience toward frail, stumbling, and frequently disrespectful man. In numerous ways, it reveals what a wonderful God we have!
As we conclude this brief discussion of Jehovah’s “Examination” of Job, we must make this point. This final segment of the book of Job is one of the most powerful Iibraries of apologetic evidence anywhere in Holy Writ. The precise scientific data that are contained in the Lord’s descriptions of both his inanimate and animate creations are utterly astounding. They are far in advance of anything known in Job’s day and clearly reflect the fact that a divine Mind guided the construction of the text.
The technical points are far too numerous and complicated to have been addressed in this article. However, we have discussed them in greater detail in our volume, The Book of Job—Analyzed and Applied, 1983.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.