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388. Job 38:1-3, God Enters


1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,

2 “Who is this that darkens counsel

By words without knowledge?

3 Now gird up your loins like a man,

And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!


This section (38:1-3) introduces God’s two speeches. We are told that God “answered” (anah) Job from the sa’ar (24x). The traditional translation of sa’ar is “whirlwind,” but Clines and others have pointed out that a better rendering is “tempest” or “storm.” A “whirlwind” is, he says, a tornado though the author probably had mind here simply a storm or great storm. Biblical Hebrew has the term suphah (16x), which is more properly translated "tornado.” It also has the rare searah (2x, including Job 9:17) or the hapax saah (Psalm 55:8), both of which are probably alternate forms of sa’ar.  More interesting, and memorable, are some appearances of sa’ar outside of Job. Elijah was caught up to heaven in a sa’ar (II Kings 2:1, 11); the great storm that buffets Jonah’s boat is called a sa’ar (Jon 1:4,12). God appears to people in the Bible in dreams or visions, in private conversations, through a still small voice, and in storms.  


How do we read God’s first words in verse 2?  


    “Who is this who makes counsel dark by words without knowledge?”


We first need to clarify that though Elihu is the person who has most recently spoken, almost all scholars see God addressing Job here rather than Elihu. Elihu is ignored by God, though God will mention the three friends in 42:7. Some argue that God’s ignoring Elihu here confirms that the speeches of Elihu were inserted later into the book; others say that this might indicate that the Elihu speeches really ought to be placed earlier in Job, with the current Job 29-31 being the final words before God enters. Yet I think there are good reasons for maintaining that traditional order of the Book of Job. I will also argue below that God may not mention Elihu because God has a good reason for wanting to ignore what Elihu has said.  


The crucial middle phrase includes the common words for “darkness” (choshek) and “counsel” (etsah). A similar thought is uttered by Job (probably quoting God) in 42:3, though the verb “hides” rather than “darkens” appears in 42:3. In a word, God is accusing Job of “darkening” or confusing things rather than clarifying them. Instead of bringing light, Job brings darkness. What could God mean by that? Well, Job has cast doubt on God’s moral governance of the world (21:7-26), on God’s mercy (16:7-14) and even God’s justice (19:7; 31:1-35). That is probably why God sees Job as bringing darkness rather than light.


When God says that Job makes “counsel” dark, God uses the common wisdom tradition word for “counsel” (etsah, 89x/9x Job/10x Proverbs). Etsah appears at least three dozen times in the historical books to describe either the wise counsel of an individual (e.g., Ahithophel) or the counsel of those supporting the king. Jeremiah’s description of God in Jeremiah 32:19 as “great in counsel (etsah) and mighty in deeds” shows that this is a divine, as well as human, attribute.


Of course we can’t hear the divine tone in verse 2, but to me it suggests divine impatience at Job’s impertinence. By framing his first words in an accusatory and somewhat derogatory way, God hints that his method here will not be a gentle alluring of Job into intimate connection with God, as Elihu suggested, but will be more of a challenge or even an attack on Job. God, we think, may want to escalate rather than cool down the confrontation.


Verse 3 confirms our first impression of God.  


    “Gird up your loins like a man/warrior; and I will ask the questions, and you will bring me                      knowledge."


The verb translated “gird” (azar, 16x) is usually connected with the nouns “strength” or “might” in the Bible. The Psalmist says, “You have girded (azar) me with strength for battle” (18:39), while earlier in that Psalm the author talked about the God who simply “girded” (azar) him with strength. God can gird warriors with strength because God has first done so for Himself. God is “girded about with might” (azar, Psalm 65:6) or “with strength” (Psalm 93:1). While one might gird up one’s loins (by tucking hanging parts of clothes into the belt) to do unspecified things (e.g., Jeremiah 1:17), the primary thing one does by this action is prepare for battle.


Job is called a geber here, a noun whose meaning reaches from “man” to “warrior.” It probably isn’t justified to translate it as “warrior” here, since all eleven appearances of the word previously in Job are best rendered “man,” though the rendering of “warrior” is attractive, especially if we see God summoning Job to a kind of combat here.  


Note what God doesn’t say to Job. God doesn’t say, 'Let me answer your questions' or 'You have brought up some interesting points; let me clarify.' Rather God uses the common verb for asking questions (shaal) and then the common verb for knowing (yada). Interesting to note is that God isn’t just asking Job to “answer” the questions; God, too, seems to be a seeker of knowledge. The appearance of yada in verse 3 also has a bit of an ironic twist. God seems to express an interest in knowledge, even in learning from Job, but the tone of the divine questions beginning in verse 4 stresses that God wants to expose Job’s lack of knowledge. “Enlighten me” might be a good way to render the final verb in verse 3. We can’t hear God’s tone, but I think I detect a bit of mockery already, a mockery that will be expressed most baldly in 38:21—“Surely you know, Job. . .since you were there from the beginning.”


God has invited Job into a contest of questioning, knowledge and making things known. If we want to defend God’s approach at this point, all we need to do is to point to what Job requested in 13:21-22. Job had said, 


    “Withdraw your hand far from me; let not your terror make me afraid.

    Then call and I will answer; or let me speak and You answer me.”

God is opting for suggestion one from 13:22 (“call and I will answer”). God will call (“question” in 38:3) and Job will answer (“make God know” in 38:3). The great discussion is about to begin!

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