Job 38:1-41

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The setting is an approaching storm. Out of the tempest, YHWH is represented as answering Job. According to the Septuagint, this took place after Elihu had stopped speaking. Then the Lord spoke to Job “through a whirlwind and clouds.” (38:1)

The question directed to Job was, “Who [is] this [who is] darkening” or obscuring “counsel with words without knowledge?” In this context, “counsel” may denote God’s purpose in the exercise of his sovereign will. Job had questioned the manner in which he perceived God had treated him but did so without the essential knowledge to judge how God governed. Therefore, he obscured the truth that God’s “counsel” or predetermined purpose is right and just in every situation. According to the Septuagint rendering, the question is, “Who [is] this [who] is hiding counsel from me and holding fast words in the heart, and thinks to hide them from me?” This rhetorical question suggests that Job thought to hide his purpose and inner expressions from God, but this wording does not fit the context. Job had been unrestrained in his expressions, never concealing his thoughts and feelings. (38:2)

YHWH is portrayed as asking Job to prepare himself to be attentive, girding up his loins like a man ready to listen and to respond. This is because he would question Job and wanted him to reply if he could do so. The literal act of girding up the loins for activity required pulling up one’s robe between the legs and then securing it under the sash. (38:3)

In poetic language, founding the earth or the land is likened to starting construction on a building. Job was to answer the question, “Where were you when I founded the earth?” This question is followed by the words, “Tell [me], if you know understanding.” The reference to knowing “understanding” could simply mean whether Job was in possession of the understanding respecting the development that was the focus of the question. Possibly, however, as in the book of Proverbs (8:27-31) where “wisdom” is personified and associated with creation, this is also the case here in the book of Job regarding “understanding.” If so, the point would be whether Job had acquaintance with the understanding that was at work when earth’s foundation was laid. (38:4)

With reference to the earth or the land, the questions directed to Job continued to be framed in terms of building construction. He was asked, if he knew, who determined its measurements and who stretched out the measuring line upon it. (38:5)

In its formation, the earth or land is likened to a building on a secure foundation. Job is asked on what “its bases [rings (LXX)] were sunk [fastened or firmly fixed (LXX)] or who laid its cornerstone.” The Septuagint rendering represents the cornerstone as being laid on the earth or the land, but this does not fit the context that portrays the earth or land in the process of having been constructed like a building. (38:6)

At the time the earth or land was founded, the “morning stars” sang together. In the parallel expression, these “morning stars” are referred to as “sons of God” (“angles” [Qumran Targum of Job]). All these “sons of God” shouted joyously. The Septuagint depicts a different development. When the stars came into being, “all” of God’s “angels praised” him “with a mighty voice.” (38:7)

In view of the earlier questions regarding the founding of the earth or land, one may rightly conclude that the words relating to the sea are to be regarded as applying to the distant past. The sea was then restrained from overwhelming the land as if “shut up” with “doors.” At its beginning, the sea is portrayed as though it burst forth from a womb. The Septuagint rendering quotes God as saying, “And I shut up the sea with gates when it rushed forth, going from its mother’s womb.” (38:8)

In its primeval state, the surface of the sea was concealed as if a cloud mass covered it as a garment. Dense darkness over the sea proved to be like the swaddling band of an infant. (38:9)

God is quoted as saying that he “broke” his “decree,” prescribed limit, or bounds for the sea, setting a “bar and doors.” There is a measure of uncertainty about the meaning of the initial Hebrew phrase. Translators have variously rendered it (“when I fixed limits for it” [NIV]; “when I cut out the place I had decreed for it” [NJB]; “when I made breakers My limit for it” [Tanakh (JPS, 1985 edition)]; “when I established its bounds” [REB]; “and prescribed bounds for it” [NRSV]). The Septuagint rendering is, “And I set limits for it.” (38:10)

God is quoted as telling the sea just how far it could come and no farther, with the “proud waves” being limited to that point. According to the Septuagint rendering, the waves would be “broken up” within the sea, suggesting that they would be stopped from overwhelming the land. (38:11)

The expression “from your days” could denote from the start of and continuing through the course of Job’s life. For him to command the morning would mean for him to be able to tell the morning to arrive or for the sun to rise. Causing the “dawn to know its place” would be by causing sunrise to occur at a fixed location on the horizon, which varies according to the season. The Septuagint rendering poses the question as to whether it was by Job, or at his request, that God ordered the “morning light and [that] the morning star saw its place” or its designated location. (38:12)

Dawn takes hold on the “wings” or ends of the “earth” as the darkness disappears from the entire area under the celestial dome. Evildoers engage in their criminal activities, particularly breaking into houses and robbing, under the cover of darkness. Daylight “shakes” them from the “earth” or the land, forcing them to leave the scene where they engaged in their lawless deeds. (38:13)

During the night, the earth or land and its features cannot be seen clearly. When the sun rises, the land and everything on it becomes visible in form and color. This is comparable to the effect a cylindrical seal produced when it was rolled over moist clay. The seal left behind a clear impression. Likewise, light makes visible features and objects that cannot be seen in the dark. Everything the dawn reveals is comparable to making things appear as though they were standing like a garment in full color (literally, “they stand forth as a garment”). The Hebrew phrase is somewhat obscure, and translators have added words to convey a more comprehensible meaning (“all things stand out like the folds of a cloak” [REB]; “[its hues] are fixed like those of a garment” [Tanakh (JPS, 1985 edition)]; “it is dyed like a garment” [NRSV]; “dyed as though it were a garment” [NAB]; “its features stand out like those of a garment” [NIV]; “early dawn outlines hills like stitches on clothing” [CEV]). The Septuagint rendering conveys a completely different meaning. “Or did you, having taken earth’s clay, shape [it into] a living creature and set him on the earth [or land] as one able to speak?” (38:14)

So as not to be seen, the wicked choose darkness as their light for carrying out their corrupt practices. Daylight withholds their light, and “their uplifted arm” or power is broken when the light of day stops lawless ones from continuing their activities or from using their power to do harm. In the Septuagint, the words are directed as a question to Job. “And did you remove the light of the impious and break the arm of the haughty ones?” (38:15; see the Notes section.)

Verse 16 contains the only occurrence of the word névekh in the Scriptures, and it is included here in its plural form as part of the question directed to Job as to whether he had gone there. The Septuagint contains a singular form of pegé, meaning “spring” or “fountain.” In relation to the “sea,” the plural form of névekh appears to designate water sources at the bottom of the sea. This is suggested by the next rhetorical question about whether Job had walked the entire explorable area of the deep or, according to the Septuagint, the “tracks of the abyss.” (38:16)

Job was questioned regarding his acquaintance with the realm of the dead, which is represented as a place with gates. The question directed to him was whether the “gates of death” had been opened to him, granting him the opportunity to view everything, and whether he had seen the gates of “death’s shadow.” In the Septuagint, the question is whether the “gates of death” opened to Job “out of fear” and whether the gatekeepers of Hades cowered when they saw him. (38:17; see the Notes section.)

If Job had comprehended the breadths of the “earth” or land, having come to discern the extent of the area, he was asked to make a declaration to this effect, provided he knew “all this.” The Septuagint rendering refers to the “breadth under heaven” or the total area under the celestial dome. If Job had been informed about this, he should declare just how great or extensive it is. (38:18)

Light and darkness are poetically represented as entities, each with its own residence. Job was asked whether he knew the way to the abode of light, and the location of the “place” of darkness. In the Septuagint, the question pertains to the kind of land in which light resides and the kind or nature of the place of darkness. (38:19)

Concerning light and darkness, Job was questioned whether he could lead each one to its respective boundary or territory and knew the paths to its “house.” (38:20)

When light and darkness first became a feature in relation to the earth, Job would know their respective abodes if he had been born then and if the “number of [his] days” were “great” or his life reached back to that ancient time. This, however, was not the case. (38:21)

Snow and hail are represented as if they are piled up in storehouses. The question for Job was whether he had entered the “storehouses of snow” and seen the “storehouses of hail.” (38:22)

God is represented as having reserved snow and hail “for a time of distress” and “for a day of battle and war.” The Hebrew word for “distress” (tsar) can also mean “enemy” or “foe.” In the Septuagint, the reference is to the “hour” or time of “enemies.” Both the Hebrew text and the Septuagint rendering indicate that God, at a time of his choosing, can use snow and hail for his purpose against those who oppose him. (38:23)

The question that includes the Hebrew word ’ohr (“light” or “lightning”) may be variously understood. It could relate to the way or manner in which light is distributed over the entire area under the celestial dome. Another possibility is to view the words as raising a question about the path by which lightning or light travels. Still another way in which to understand the text is to consider the question as applying to the place or source from which light is distributed. While the Septuagint rendering could be used to support the meaning that relates to the place from which light comes, it does not contain a corresponding word for light. The Septuagint rendering may be translated, “And from where does hoarfrost come?” The next phrase of the Hebrew text refers to the scattering of the “east wind upon the earth” or the land. In the Septuagint, the reference is to the “south wind” (“or the south wind is scattered [over the land] under heaven” [the sky or the celestial dome]). (38:24; see the Notes section regarding the various renderings of modern translations.)

Job was asked to identify the one who cut a channel for torrential rain and a way for the thunderbolt (“turmoils” [LXX], probably denoting the rumblings of thunder during a storm). (38:25)

The question about who cut a channel is continued, with the focus being on what the channel made possible. This was “to bring rain on a land” where no man resided, “on a desert” where no earthling could be found “in it.” The Greek text for this verse (according to the marks of Origen) was added from the version of Theodotion and reads like the Hebrew text. (38:26)

Although no humans would be in the arid region that could benefit from rainfall, the precipitation served “to satisfy the waste and desolate land,” making it possible for vegetation to sprout. These words apparently were to impress upon Job that he could neither control nor bring about these developments and that God alone could. (38:27; see the Notes section.)

Man can produce neither rain nor dewdrops. The question directed to Job was, “Is there a father for rain or who has begotten drops of dew?” For Job, the answer would have been that God is the one responsible for the rain and dewdrops. (38:28)

As in the previous verse, a similar question is raised regarding ice and hoarfrost. “From whose womb did ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of the heavens?” Hoarfrost comes about through the freezing of moisture in the atmosphere. In the case of the ancients like Job, there would have been an awareness that hoarfrost came from above the ground, and this may be why the reference here is to the “hoarfrost of the heavens,” provided that “hoarfrost” is, in fact, the correct meaning for the Hebrew word. (38:29)

The freezing of waters is referred to as their becoming hard “like stone.” In the Septuagint, the question about the “hoarfrost” continues. The complete question may be rendered, “And who has given birth to the hoarfrost in heaven that descends like flowing water?” This is followed by the question, “Who froze the face [or surface] of the abyss” or of the “deep”? In the Hebrew text, the verse concludes with the words, “and the face [or surface] of the deep is frozen.” This transformation of a liquid into a solid must have been astonishing to the ancients like Job, and they would have attributed it to God. (38:30)

The Hebrew word kimáh is commonly considered to designate the stars of the Pleiades constellation, and kesíl to apply to the stars of the Orion constellation. This identification has the support of the Septuagint. As recognizable groups in the night sky, the stars appear as though they are bound together. This seems to be the basis for the question Job was asked, “Can you bind the bonds of Kimah or can you loosen the cords of Kesil?” The Septuagint rendering differs somewhat. “And did you comprehend the bond of Pleiades and open the barrier of Orion?” (38:31)

The Hebrew designation mazzaróhth has been linked to the signs of the zodiac. This identification, however, is by no means certain. The rendering of Theodotion (which, according to the marks of Origen, was added to the Greek text) provides no support for it. In the version of Theodotion, the Hebrew designation is transliterated as mazouroth, indicating that the translator was unacquainted with a Greek equivalent for the Hebrew mazzaróhth. The question for Job was, “Can you bring out the Mazzaroth in its time?” He knew that he could not cause the stars of a constellation to appear. The Hebrew word ‘áyish has been linked to the Great Bear (Ursa Major) constellation, with its “sons” possibly being the stars of the Little Bear (Ursa Minor) constellation. Regarding the constellation and the “sons,” Job was asked, “Can you guide them?” In the version of Theodotion, the question (“Will you guide them?”) relates to the “evening star” (Venus) with its “hair,” possibly meaning its “rays.” (38:32)

The question for Job was whether he knew the “ordinances of the heavens” and could establish the “rule on earth.” These ordinances may be understood as applying to everything the ancients could observe as occurring on a regular basis in the sky. This would have included the appearance of constellations, the movement of planets, the waxing and waning of the moon and its movement, the rising and setting of the sun, and weather-related phenomena. As far as developments on the earth were concerned, the question was whether Job could bring these about by establishing the laws that he observed governing in the sky. For example, he must have known that the position of the sun in the sky bore a relationship to the seasons, and he would have recognized that he could not control the seasons and associated developments. He had no power to establish any rule on earth that corresponded to what he observed as governing in the sky. According to the Septuagint rendering, the question for Job was, “And do you know the changes [movements or cycles] of heaven [the sky or celestial dome] or the things occurring together [or correspondingly] under heaven [on earth beneath the sky]?” (38:33)

In answer to the next rhetorical question, Job would have been forced to acknowledge that his raising his voice to the clouds to command them would not have resulted in his being covered with an “abundance of waters” from a downpour. In the Septuagint the question is, “And will you call a cloud by voice, and will it obey you with a trembling of violent water” (a torrential downpour)? (38:34)

Regarding “lightnings,” Job was asked whether he could send them and whether they would go, saying to him, “Here we [are]!” According to the Septuagint rendering, the response of the thunderbolts or lightnings is, “What is [it]?” The question impressed upon Job that this was just another one of many things over which he had no control. (38:35)

There is considerable uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew words tuchóhth and sékwiy. One view is to relate tuchóhth to the “inward” or “hidden” parts and sékwiy to the reasoning faculty. The question then could be rendered, “Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?” This rendering suggests that God is the one to be acknowledged as having granted wisdom to humans. On the basis of the context and the conjecture that sékwiy may mean “celestial appearance,” tuchóhth has been thought to refer to “cloud layers.” The putting of “wisdom” into cloud layers could then be understood to refer to the God’s granting the cloud layers the wisdom to respond to his command to have it rain or snow. Likewise any celestial appearance as, for example, lightning would possess the understanding to respond to God’s directive. There is support in ancient Jewish sources indicating that sékwiy may designate a “cock,” and the Vulgate contains gallo, a form of the Latin word for “cock” (gallus). This has given rise to the conjecture that tuchóhth applies to a bird. The bird commonly suggested is the ibis. As the ancients looked to the ibis as a predictor for the flooding of the Nile and the cock as a predictor for the coming of rain, these birds have been thought of as having been given wisdom and understanding. Modern translations have incorporated various conjectures in their renderings. “Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind?” (NIV) “Who puts wisdom in the heart, and gives the cock its understanding?” (NAB) “Who endowed the ibis with wisdom and gave the cock his intelligence?” (NJB) “Did you teach birds to know that rain or floods are on their way?” (CEV) “Who put wisdom in depths of darkness and veiled understanding in secrecy?” (REB) It may be that the Septuagint translator linked tuchóhth to the Hebrew verb for “spin” (taváh), and the significance the Septuagint conveys does not correspond to the conjectural renderings of the Hebrew words. According to the Greek text, the question is raised as to who gave women the wisdom or skill to spin and the understanding for doing embroidery. (38:36)

“Who can number the clouds by wisdom?” The numbering probably denotes more than just counting the clouds. Just as men were numbered for military service, the numbering of the clouds could also relate to marshaling them for use. In this context, God’s wisdom could be understood as including complete knowledge of each cloud and how it would serve his purpose. The clouds are likened to skins, jars, or vessels filled with water and which are tilted to pour out the water in the form of rain. Job was asked, “Who can tilt the jars of the heavens?” In the Septuagint, the question is, “Who inclined heaven [the sky] to the earth?” The allusion may be to the manner in which the celestial vault appears as though it had been bent down to meet the land. Another possibility is that the reference is to the sky when it seems bent down with low-lying clouds. (38:37)

The state of the ground to which reference is made after the words about the tilting of the “skins” or “jars” could apply either before or after the rain. Both meanings are found in modern translations. “Can you count the clouds or pour out their water on the dry, lumpy soil?” (CEV) “Who is wise enough to marshal the rain-clouds and empty the cisterns of heaven, when the dusty soil sets in a dense mass, and the clods of earth stick fast together?” (REB) “Or who tilts the water jars of heaven so that the dust of earth is fused into a mass and its clods made solid?” (NAB) “Whose skill details every cloud and tilts the water-skins of heaven until the dust solidifies and the cracks in the ground close up?” (NJB) “Who can tilt the bottles of the sky, whereupon the earth melts into a mass, and its clods stick together?” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) The Septuagint contains a somewhat different rendering. It refers to “dust” as being poured out “like earth” or soil, and God appears to be quoted as saying that he had fused heaven or the sky like a cube or block of stone, with one block being joined to another. (38:38)

By means of additional rhetorical questions Job was reminded of acts that were far beyond his capacity. He would be forced to acknowledge that he could not hunt prey for a lion or satisfy the appetite of young lions (“dragons” [LXX]). (38:39)

The lions are described as crouching in their dens or lying in wait “in [their] covert” or their lairs. In the Septuagint, the animals are represented as being fearful in their lairs and positioned “in woods” or thickets, “lying in wait.” (38:40)

Job knew that he could not provide food for the raven. The young of the raven are represented as crying out to God and wandering about for lack of food. This appears to be a reference to fledglings that are out of the nest and unaccustomed to being on their own. They fly from branch to branch, hungering for food that they formerly did not have to procure. The Septuagint rendering is more specific in referring to the young ones as searching for food. (38:41)


In verse 15, the reference to the “arm” has been interpreted as an Arabic astral idiom. This is the basis for a rendering that bears little resemblance to the wording of the extant Hebrew text and that of the Septuagint. With reference to the effect the dawn or the morning produces, the interpretive rendering is, “when the light of the Dog-star is dimmed and the stars of the Navigator’s Line go out one by one.” (REB)

The wording of verses 16 and 17 and that of others in the section attributed to YHWH reveals that it is not to be understood as direct divine revelation conveyed through spoken words. This section is an important part of a poetic composition that deals with the troubling question as to why upright people can be among those who are severely afflicted. No definitive answer is ever given to this question, and nothing in the poetic language suggests communication that could only have God as its ultimate source.

In the case of verse 24, modern translations vary considerably in their renderings of the Hebrew text. “From where does lightning leap, or the east wind blow?” (CEV) “What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?” (NRSV) “What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?” (NIV) “Which way to the parting of the winds, whence the east wind spreads over the earth?” (NAB) “By what paths is the heat spread abroad or the east wind dispersed worldwide?” (REB) “From which direction does the lightning fork, where in the world does the east wind blow itself out?” (NJB) “By what path is the west wind dispersed, the east wind scattered over the earth?” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) The rendering “west wind” is based on an Aramaic word (’urya).

The Greek wording of verse 27 (according to the marks of Origen) was added from the version of Theodotion and corresponds to the reading of the extant Hebrew text.