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392. Job 38:19-21, The Ways to Light and Darkness

 

19 “Where is the way to the dwelling of light?

And darkness, where is its place,

20 That you may take it to its territory

And that you may discern the paths to its home?

21 You know, for you were born then,

And the number of your days is great!

 

Though we have subdivided the sections of Job 38 fairly neatly, we start to get the feeling that the terminology in various subsections begins to overlap and the concepts begin to run together.  Perhaps aware of this literary shortcoming, God changes his method beginning in 38:39 to a consideration of individual animals, spending a few verses on almost a dozen animals that serve to highlight Job’s ignorance. At least in that instance one doesn’t have to ask oneself where in the universe one is!

 

Though I gave a rough outline of 38:1-38 above, it might be helpful now, from the perspective of repetitive thoughts, to see how it is becoming harder now for God to keep the divine categories clean and distinct. God began with the foundation and measurement of the earth (4-7) and the sea which was confined (8-11). Clear enough. Then, God moved to the concept of light—the dawn or morning (12-15)—before taking us on a tour of the depths and breadth of the earth (16-18). It is almost as if God has “covered” most of the world by the end of verse 18. But God is only halfway done. He proceeds to talk about the dwelling places of light (19-21), making us wonder how the light of verse 19 relates to the light of verse 12. It is further complicated when God speaks about ways in which the light is apportioned in verse 24. Oops, major conceptual slippage is happening.   

 

Well, God moves on to describe cold and threatening things (snow and hail), which God has reserved for battle (22-23), but then there is a pesky reference to light again (24). Reference to snow may have triggered the thought of water, so then God goes to the floods and rains, making mention also of thunder (25-27). But then, not being satisfied with the treatment of rain in verse 26, God decides to return to rain and cold things (28-30).  

 

God seems aimlessly wandering around the creation by now, and then asks Job about some constellations (31-33), which reminds us of verses 12-14. Clouds were so important for Elihu in his speeches, and God has not mentioned them at all. To redress that lack, God then twice mentions clouds in verses 34-38, throwing in the third reference to rain, and the second to lightning as well. God also has two interesting references to things congealing, either by cold (30) or by dirt clods (38). It is evident by the end of verse 38 that God needs a new method. . .

 

Yet still God isn’t finished with questions about the structure of the universe. In this section (19-21), God now moves to the basic categories of creation at the beginning of time: light and darkness.  God asks Job, literally (v 19):

 

    “Where is the way the light dwells; and the darkness, where its place?”

 

But the question isn’t just posed as an academic one:

 

    “That you should take it/them to his/their border, and that you might discern the path of its/their

     house.”

 

When God created the world, He separated the light from the darkness (Genesis 1:4); nothing is mentioned there about each having a dwelling place. The thought makes some sense, however. Light and darkness have their respective regions somewhere in the world; then they come out to dominate the world for parts of the day and night. All kinds of myths grew up about where they might live, how they interact, how they negotiated which should have precedence at which times, etc. God here just seems to want further to expose Job’s ignorance by showing that Job knows not even where light and darkness “live.”  

    

The verbs are more difficult to translate than one would imagine for common verbs:  laqach (“take”) and bin (“discern”). I have given the  standard rendering of laqach above, though making it reflexive (“betake (yourself) to its territory”) probably fits in better with the travelogue theme of these verses. More interesting is the common wisdom tradition verb bin, “to discern/know.” Though appearing frequently in the Bible (169x), Job uses it far more than his proportionate share (23x) and God has just used it in verse 18. The triad of verbs:  yada, bin, nagad or “know, discern, declare” are really the anchor verbs of God’s speech in Job 38. Finally, an unexamined, and probably meaningless, combination of letters appears at the end of verse 20:  t-b-n, then n-t-b and then b-t to finish the verse. Certainly a mysterious meaning is in view!

 

Speaking of knowledge, God brings the subject back up in verse 21:

 

    “You know, because you were born then; and the number of your days is very great."

 

For the seventh time in 21 verses, God mentions knowledge, each time trying to hammer away at Job’s lack thereof. But here there seems to be more of a dig at Job than other times when God might just have been asking about Job’s general knowledge of a phenomenon. We can’t hear the tone of the initial “You know” to know whether it is a mocking question (“Do you know?”) or a exclamation (“Surely you know!”), but it is meant once again to show Job his smallness, his pusillanimity. I think it makes most sense to read verse 21 in a mocking or even derisive tone.

 

The last clause of verse 21 reminds us of verse 4, where God asked if Job was around when God fashioned the world. If so, it must be because the number (mispar) of Job’s days must be very great. One other Scripture that mentions the “numbering” (saphar) of our days is Psalm 139:16, where the concept is given a positive spin. God knows everything about us, even the numbering of our days. Here it is used to further God’s mocking interrogation of Job. Some readers might opine that Job was “asking for it” by being so critical of God; God is just paying Job back in kind. But one wonders what kind of delight God can derive by exposing the ignorance of a person who already knows he is ignorant of the things God introduces.