New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Job 40:1 Moreover Yahweh answered Job- We perhaps are to imagine a pause of silence in the drama at the end of Job 39.

Job 40:2 Shall he who argues contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it-
"Argues" is the word used for "umpire" in Job 9:30. The word for "umpire" suggests 'one who is right', a reasoner, an advocate, one who pleads (s.w. Job 16:21), a reprover (Job 40:2 AV, s.w.). Job's request was not simply for a mediator; he would have used a different word if so. He seems to have wanted to put God in the dock, but knew this was not appropriate; he wants someone else to do this who can legitimately do it. And he is rebuked for this here in Job 40:2. This is all legal language. Job appeals for ‘witnesses’ (Job 9:33–35; 16:18–22; 19:20–27), an advocate in Heaven (Job 9:33), denies his guilt and demands a legal list of his sins (Job 13:19), he wishes for God to come to trial (Job 9:3), and thus Job is described as a man who has taken out a ‘case’ with God (Job 23:4; 40:2). Job 29–31 is effectively Job’s declaration of legal innocence and an appeal to God to hear his case more sympathetically (Job 31:35). And of course God pronounces a final legal verdict at the very end (Job 42:7), in response to Job’s earlier plea: “Sleeplessly I wait for His reply” (Job 16:22). It’s as if the whole experience of Job was [at least partly] in order to test out the Canaanite theories of ‘Satan’, suffering and evil in the court of Heaven; and also the various theories which arose to explain Judah's captivity in Babylon. The friends represent the traditional views of evil, and often make reference to the myths of their day about ‘Satan’ figures. They speak as if they are the final court – Eliphaz speaks of how the judges and elders of their day, the “holy ones”, had concluded Job was guilty, and that they, the friends, were right: “To which of the holy ones will you appeal [legal language]?... we have [legally] examined this, and it [Job’s guilt] is true” (Job 5:1,27). This is of great comfort to those who feel misjudged by man – above them in Heaven the ultimate Heavenly court is considering our case, and that is all that matters.

Job 40:3 Then Job answered Yahweh-
The paradox is that he answered Yahweh by saying that he cannot answer Him (:3). And that indeed is man's only possible answer to God.

Job 40:4 Behold, I am of small account-
The word for "cursed" (Job 3:1; 24:18). The one who felt cursed was to be blessed, just as the Israel whom he unknowingly represented.


What shall I answer you?- Earlier, Job in Job 31:14 had confidently boated that only if he had committed adultery would be feel before God that he was unable to speak; "What shall I answer Him?".  Job's point was that as he had not despised the cause of his servants (:13), therefore he did not have anything to fear before God's judgment. God's final appearance was proof enough that he of himself had no right to answer back to God. "What shall I answer You?" (Job 40:4) was his final word. But here, Job insists he could only be speechless before God if he had committed sins like adultery- which he was insistent he hadn't. Job is led to realize that he has sinned and fallen short of God's glory, although he had avoided the sins like adultery which counted as major sins in the view of his society.

The epilogue and prologue to Job are evidently related. Job begins sitting in dust and ashes and ends repenting in dust and ashes (Job 2:8; 42:6). The silence of the friends at the opening of the book is matched by the silence after God has finally spoken (Job 40:4). Job intercedes for his children (Job 1:5) and ends up interceding for his friends. Job begins with the description of being the Lord’s servant; and the book concludes on the same note (Job 42:7,8). The question of course is: ‘So what’s the equivalent of the ‘Satan’ figure in the epilogue?’. The omission is intended and obvious. Ultimately the answer is the essence of the whole book: the ‘Satan’, the adversary, is none other than God Himself, in His love, however and through whomsoever He was manifested.


I lay my hand on my mouth- When Job finally lays his hand upon his mouth, he is only doing what he had earlier told the friends to do in recognition of their folly (Job 13:5; 21:5). Through the pain and irritation of their speeches, Job came to value and appreciate the need for silence before God. But it was only when personally confronted by God at the end that he realizes that he too had spoken too much and he repents of that in silence. In Job 24:25 he has boasted of the strength of his own speeches: "If it isn’t so now, who will prove me a liar, and make my speech worth nothing?". Job has argued himself into an invincible position, in his own eyes. Indeed, all he says is true; but like the friends, truths are expressed but within a wrong context. Finally Job is to lay his hand upon his mouth in repentance (Prov. 30:32; Mic. 7:16) and recognize he has not spoken rightly, although he earlier demanded the friends lay their hands upon their mouths before the power of his arguments (Job 21:5). God confirms this by remarking that whoever has hope of overcoming Leviathan, His great beast (perhaps representing death and human mortality) is a liar to think he has such hope (Job 41:9 s.w. "liar"). Job has forgotten his humanity, despite being 'right' in his arguments. This is the problem with possessing truth; it can lead us to wrongly forget our humanity and consider ourselves invincible. 

Earlier, Job had confidently challenged: "Who is he who will contend with me? For then would I hold my peace and give up the spirit" (Job 13:19). Job is challenging anyone to come forward and contend with him in court by proving him wrong. If they did, then he would be silent ["hold my peace"] and willingly die. This of course is exactly what happens at the end. God does contend with Job, and he is proven guilty. He lays his hand upon mouth, and we can deduce from his challenge here that he wanted to die. He was then saved from that position by grace alone. The connection with the exiles is in Is. 50:8, where a similarly convicted Israel would be justified by Divine grace to the point they could again challenge any to convict them of sin, seeing that "He is near that justifies me".

Job fell into the trap of thinking that his terrible situation somehow allowed him to speak whatever words came into his head. Job felt he hadn’t been ‘fed’ and so he was entitled to “bray” and “low” over his misfortune (Job 6:5). Because of the weight of his sufferings, he thereby justified the fact that "Therefore have my words been rash (Job 6:3). Likewise “Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit” (Job 7:11). “I will give free course to my complaint. I will speak in the bitterness of my soul” (Job 10:1 RV). Zophar criticizes Job being “full of talk” and speaking “the multitude of words”, “for thou sayest, my doctrine is pure” (Job 11:1-4)- as if Job felt that because he held true doctrine he was justified in pouring out words as he did. “Why should I not be impatient?” (Job 21:4 RV). “Today is my complaint bitter. My stroke is heavier than my groaning” (Job 23:2)- i.e. his complaining was due to his sufferings. “If I hold my peace, I shall give up the spirit” (Job 13:19 RVmg.). Job felt that the situation he was in forced him to use the words he did, and certainly justified it [we may well have used this reasoning ourselves when justifying the use of bad language]. But in the end, Elihu on God’s behalf rebuked him for his wrong words. And Job himself recognized: “I am vile. I will lay mine hand upon my mouth” in regret of his words (Job 40:4). “Wherefore I loathe my words and repent” (Job 42:6 RVmg.). He realized his mistake: he had thought that the situation justified his words. Now he hung his head and admitted that there was no justification for speaking in the way he had. Especially in the matter of the tongue, we can so easily justify ourselves; ‘I only said / did it [or didn’t do it] because…’. And it is all so child-like. Once we leave off all attempts at self-justification, we will face up to our sins.

Job 40:5 I have spoken once, and I will not answer; Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further-
Perhaps he means 'I have spoken once in that I have just said that I have no answer. And now, I am speaking twice, I am saying this. But now I promise absolute silence'. He really appreciates that his many words have been inappropriate.

Because God sees and knows absolutely all, we must recognize that He realizes the unspoken implications of our words. Its possible that Job’s words about silence here are seen by God as Job effectively condemning God, because presumably they were said merely as a mask over Job’s inner feelings that God had been unjust with him (Job 40:8). But when Job uses effectively the same words in Job 42:6, God accepts them. God’s ability to see to the core should therefore not only affect our words but elicit in us an honesty of heart behind the words which we use.

Job 40:6 Then Yahweh answered Job out of the whirlwind-
This is God's answer to Job's silence (:5). Perhaps the implication is that Job has not yet come to recognize his humanity and repent in the way he needs to. Hence God speaks again.

Job 40:7 Now brace yourself like a man-
The idea is that Job is to answer as a human, to recognize his humanity and answer the questions as a man. Job is perhaps not so much asked to repent as to realize his humanity.

I will question you, and you will answer Me- His questions of God had been inappropriate, just as the friends had been wrong to seek wisdom by asking the sages, mere men (Job 8:8; 21:29 s.w.); it is for God to question us. For we and not God are in the dock. And Job's vow of silence in :5 was not in fact answering God's previous questions. 

Job 40:8 Will you even annul My judgment?-
As noted on :5,6, this could be seen as a criticism that Job hadn't said more. He had simply accepted he was condemned and vowed silence. The phrase is used of how Israel had broken covenant with God through breaking His judgments in the sense of His commands (Lev. 26:15). Job at this point absolutely represents the exiles, who had broken covenant and needed to repent and accept the new covenant offered to them (s.w. Jer. 11:10; 31:32).

Will you condemn Me, that you may be justified?- The final speeches of God and Elihu brought home the point that the righteousness achieved by man was not comparable with God's righteousness (e.g. 40:7-10). Any attempt at self justification is to condemn God as a false accuser. We are left to draw the conclusion: that the only way for man to be just with God is through the imputation of God's righteousness to man, by absolute grace. We must give due weight to the words of the prologue, that God saw Job anyway as "perfect", as justified. The sense may be that God is saying 'You are justified, by My grace; you don't have to condemn Me by self-justification in order to be justified. You are justified by My grace without your effort'. God's justification of Job and Job's innocence are thereby reconciled.

Job 40:9 Or do you have an arm like God? Can you thunder with a voice like Him?-
The reference is to the thunderstorm which was perhaps still ongoing. God's arm is often associated with His salvation. Man cannot save himself, as he has no saving arm like God's; and to attempt to do so is to justify ourselves, thereby condemning God (:8).

Job 40:10 Now deck yourself with excellency and dignity. Array yourself with honour and majesty-
This alludes to the garments of the priests, for glory and beauty. Job had already been stripped of his glorious priestly robes, as we learn from Job 19:9: "He has stripped me of my glory, and taken the crown from my head".  The stripping of Job recalls the stripping of the priest Aaron of his clothes and "crown" [mitre[ when his priesthood ended (Num. 20:26,28). The same word is used of the stripping of God's people of their glory (Ez. 16:39; 23:26; Mic. 3:3), which only happened because they themselves did not strip themselves of their clothing in repentance (s.w. Is. 32:11;  Ez. 26:16). Job's stripping and inability to reclothe himself was therefore to elicit repentance in him. And this is what is now finally achieved at the end of the book. God is of Himself "clothed with majesty and strength" (Ps. 93:1), "with glory and beauty" (Ps. 104:1). Job need not seek to play God by using legal rituals and religious clothing. This was not going to help Job.

Job 40:11 Pour out the fury of your anger-
Heb. "the floods of wrath", preparing the way for Job to be taught that he need not fear such floods himself (:23).

Look at each one who is proud, and bring him low- This judgment of pride is God's work, and not Job's. If God alone is the judge and the One who can condemn, all Job's struggles over issues of justice ['judging'] were thereby inappropriate. And that is true today, in a world where judging issues of justice appears to be the passion of every man.

Job 40:12 Look at each one who is proud, and humble him. Crush the wicked in their place-
Job has observed that the wicked prosper, whilst he the righteous is suffering. God reminds Job that He has the power to condemn, and He will do so- looking at literally each one who is proud, throughout time and space. Job cannot do this. His unspoken desires that the wicked be judged by himself are addressed here. He obviously felt the injustice so deeply- that he suffered, whilst the wicked prospered. God's answer is that Job is incapable of judging them. But He will. Recognizing our inability to condemn and judge will help us in coping with the painful issues of injustice which surround us.

Job 40:13 Hide them in the dust together. Bind their faces in the hidden place-
The faces of the condemned were covered, as Haman's was. The judgment of the wicked was to be death in the dust (and not eternal conscious torment). The question is, can Job condemn men and turn them to dust? No he can't. So his struggles over issues of justice were misplaced, and were actually an implication that he thought that his arm could bring salvation.

Job 40:14 Then I will also admit to you that your own right hand can save you-
The question is, can Job condemn men and turn them to dust (:13)? No he can't. So his struggles over issues of justice were misplaced, and were actually an implication that he thought that his arm could bring salvation.

Job 40:15 See now, Behemoth, which I made as well as you. He eats grass like an ox-
"Behemoth" can be read as the intensive plural of behema, a beast. Whatever actual beast is in view, perhaps the hippopotamus, it is simply presented as a beast. The argument will develop, that Job is part of the same creation as Behemoth, the most awesome and terrifying things created by God. And if he is at peace with his place within that creation, he need not fear. See on :20,23.

Perhaps we are to see in this a reference to Nebuchadnezzar being made to eat grass like an ox. The wild beasts of Judah's aggressors were all under God's control, even the most apparently mighty of them. Leviathan and Behemoth are monster figures appearing at the end of the book of Job, to form a kind of inclusio with the opening reference to Satan; and they are clearly part of God’s final answer to Job’s “case”. Behe–mot can be understood as a reference to Mot, the Canaanite god of death.

Job 40:16 Look now, his strength is in his thighs. His force is in the muscles of his belly-
These descriptions would be appropriate to a hippopotamus. "Look now" could suggest they were standing by a river, and the animal arose out of it at God's command. The theophany in a whirlwind by a river, with lightnings, is what Ezekiel experienced. The hope was that the exiles would likewise be moved to follow Job's path through repentance to restoration.

Job 40:17 He moves his tail like a cedar. The sinews of his thighs are knit together-
Again these descriptions would be appropriate to a hippopotamus. Job would have feared the beast as it moved its tail, for they arise out of rivers to feed on crops. But he need not fear, for the hippopotamus eats plants not men (:15). Again Job was being taught that in the face of apparently overwhelming opposition, his life would be preserved. And this was the lesson for the exiles too. See on :20.

Job 40:18 His bones are like tubes of brass. His limbs are like bars of iron-
Babylon's defences of brass and iron would likewise be no barrier to the restoration of God's people, for all was under His control (Is. 45:2), and Israel could be made as strong (Mic. 4:13) seeing they were part of the same creation that had made this animal (:15).

Job 40:19 He is the chief of the ways of God. He who made him gives him His sword-
The primary reference may be to the very sharp teeth of the hippopotamus. This would be a connection to how the sword of Babylon had been Yahweh's sword. Even the most awful wild beast in Israel's experience, Babylon, was under God's control and manipulated by Him. Hence LXX "This is the chief of the creation of the Lord; made to be played with by his angels". It is God who not only created Behemoth, but can effortlessly control him in accord with His purpose. That’s the comfort of the message. Indeed the descriptions of the natural world which lead up to the Leviathan / Behemoth passages are there to underline this point; and it’s interesting that those passages zoom in upon the cruelties and even brutalities within nature. Yet these are all of God’s ultimate design and creation, and under His providential control. Job had earlier perceived this; for he responds to the friends’ allusions to an evil ‘Satan’ figure as the source of his suffering by observing: “Ask the animals... The birds of the air... [they show that] the hand of the Lord [and not any supernatural ‘Satan’] has done this” (Job 12:7–9).

Job 40:20 Surely the mountains produce food for him, where all the animals of the field play-
The animals of the field don't fear the hippopotamus, although Job did (:17). But he need not fear, for the hippopotamus eats plants not men (:15). Again Job was being taught that in the face of apparently overwhelming opposition, his life would be preserved. And this was the lesson for the exiles too. Job was to recognize that he too was part of the same creation that had brought forth the hippopotamus (:15), and if he did so, then he too could live at peace in the presence of such an awesome beast.

Job 40:21 He lies under the lotus trees, in the cover of the reed, and the marsh-
LXX "by the papyrus", perhaps a reference to Babylon's mastery over Egypt. But the connection is to some words of Bildad in Job 8:11 "Can the papyrus grow up without mire? Can the rushes grow without water?". Bildad's idea is that Job's prosperity was like a quick growing papyrus which would soon wither (Job 8:12) because it had not enough water or mud. Bildad's reasoning is wrong, but clearly the Lord quarried His parable of the sower from parts of these ideas. For He speaks of the man who has no "depth of earth" as the one who responds eagerly to the word sown, but falls away "when affliction of persecution arises for the word's sake" because he has 'no root in himself' (Mk. 4:5,17). Bildad was therefore not simply saying that Job's persecution was because he had sinned; but rather he implies that Job had lost his faith after the persecution arose, because he had no real root in faith. In this Bildad was also wrong, for Job continually seeks to God in his tribulations. Behemoth was quite at home in the "mire" or "marsh" (s.w. Job 40:21); and the connection is in order to demonstrate that even the "mire" was created by God and just as He saved Jeremiah out of the mire of the dungeon, so He could save Job and the exiles. And the only other usage of the word is in the description of the healing of the "miry places" (Ez. 47:11) if the exiles were responsive to the prophetic call to restore the temple and city made in Ez. 40-48. 

Job 40:22 The lotuses cover him with their shade. The willows of the brook surround him-
Trees often represent nations, and here we have a picture of the nations being subservient to Babylon. LXX "And the great trees make a shadow over him with their branches, and so do the bushes of the field".

Job 40:23 Behold, if a river overflows, he doesn’t tremble. He is confident, though the Jordan swells even to his mouth-
As noted on :20, Job was to recognize that he too was part of the same creation that had brought forth the hippopotamus (:15), and if he did so, then he too could live at peace in the presence of overflowing, flooded rivers; which represent the invaders of God's people and His judgment of men (see on :11). Even if those rivers came up to his mouth, they would go no further. Just as Job had been promised in the prologue that his life would be preserved. And the swelling of the rivers of Israel's enemies would likewise not destroy Israel. They need not tremble as the faithless did in the times of Isaiah.

Job 40:24 Shall any take him when he is on the watch, or pierce through his nose with a snare?
- The idea is as GNB "The most amazing of all my creatures! Only his Creator can defeat him". And indeed God would overthrow Babylon and allow the exiles to return.