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387. The Structure of Job 38-39


Job 38-39 presents the first of God’s two speeches. Though we have made God’s acquaintance in the prologue to the book, where God permits the Satan to wreak havoc on Job’s life, this is the first time that God speaks in a continuous way. We will not only be concerned here with what God says but also how God says it. Of course, we can’t hear the divine tone of voice, but we can infer from small hints here and there how God looks at Job, his distress and his questions.  


The structure of these two chapters is relatively clear, with more and more clarity emerging as the speech develops. Beginning about halfway through the speech, in 38:39, we have a catalogue of about a dozen animals, neatly divided into seven small sections of text (see the exposition on Job 38:39-39:30 below), about whom God quizzes Job. Job 38:1-3, which we discuss in the next section, is clearly a prologue for God’s speech. Thus, from a structural point of view, the major problem of these two chapters is how properly to divide Job 38:4-38.


My best attempt to do so is to is this:


38:4-11. A barrage of questions. Were you there…when I laid foundations? Who did the work. . .?  Who shut the sea in. . .?  

38:12-15. What authority do you, Job, have?.  

38:16-18. Where have you been? Have you been to the springs of sea. . .gates of death. . .expanse of earth. . .?

38:19-21. Have you been to the places of origin?. . .where light dwells, etc. Then, a cynical or derisive conclusion in verse 21: ‘You must know it all. . .because your days have been so many.'

38:22-24. Have you been to the snow and hail treasuries?

38:25-27. Do you know who made channels for the rain, which causes things to bud?

38:28-30. What do you know about the rain and the ice, hoarfrost, frozenness?

38:31-33. Do you control the heavenly bodies?

38:34-38. Can you speak and make things happen? 


But unlike the subsections of 38:39-39:30, where the introduction of a new animal signals a new subsection of text, the subsections of 38:4-38 aren’t so clearly marked.  Sometimes the same theme, such as the presence of light or darkness or rain, appears in multiple sections. Sometimes God’s questions have to do with Job’s knowledge (or ignorance); sometimes with Job’s authority (or lack thereof). But there doesn’t seem to be a logical order to the questions. What I will argue below, in considering 38:4-11, is that God may be under the same kind of pressure as was Job when he first opened his mouth in poetry in Job 3 or Elihu as he began his long introduction in Job 32. Elihu, as we saw, was ready to burst. Maybe we should see God’s appearance in the tempest (38:1) as a literary indication that God’s emotions, too, are swirling here.

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