Some Interpretations of the Divine Speeches in Job

First Speech of Yahweh: Yahweh’s Defense of his Cosmic Design

Theophany and summons to Job 38:1-3

Where were you when I created Earth and the Sea? 38:4-11

Can you control Dawn, Darkness, and the Netherworld? 38:12-21

Can you govern the weather? 38:22-38

Do you understand wild animals? 38:39-39:12

What do you make of the Ostrich, the Horse, and the Eagle? 39:13-30

Closing Challenge (Shall a fault finder contend with the Almighty?) and Job’s Reply (I am of small account and will not answer) 40:1-5

Second Speech of Yahweh: Yahweh’s Control of Behemoth and Leviathan

Challenge to Job to Govern like God 40:6-14

God’s Subjection of Behemoth 40:15-24

Challenge to Job to Capture Leviathan 41:1-8

Yahweh’s Silencing of Leviathan 41:9-12

The Terror and Invincibility of Leviathan 41:13-29

Leviathan is Lord of Chaos and King of the Proud 41:30-34

Job’s Final Response 42:1-6: I have uttered what I did not understand. I had hear of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. On v. 6, see below.


Options currently being proposed:

1. The divine speeches are irrelevant since God’s omnipotence had never been in question. They are an evasion of the issue as Job had posed it. In 9:4 Job had conceded that God is wise and all powerful.

2. History and the events that take place in the world are not clear. This challenges the doctrine of retribution, which is present throughout the wisdom literature, or it calls into question the apparent clarity of the historical analysis in the Deuteronomistic history (note how kings are identified as "doing good" or "doing evil" in the Books of Kings). The only resort for humankind is to meditate on the wonders of creation, and that is what the reader of the divine speeches does.

3. God cannot be summoned to testify against Godself, as Job had demanded in 31:35-37 (cf. 13:21-22: Let me speak, and you reply to me). Job needed to be silenced just like Behemoth and Leviathan. He needed to give up his plan to bring litigation against Yahweh. Job: Therefore, I retract [my suit] and repent of dust and ashes.

4. After the divine speeches, Job is able to cherish God’s presence "for nothing" or for its own sake (cf. 1:9). Per contra what the Satan said in 1:9 "Has not Job good reason to be God fearing? or "Does Job fear God for nought?"

5. Job’s silence in the presence of the God who has spoken is better than the speechless indifference of God in Ecclesiastes (Vanity of vanities, all is vanity). God leaves Job in his suffering, but shows to him his proximity in his word. Elihu claimed incorrectly that God ignores those who claim to be wise. 37:24

6. In the first divine speech, Job is asked to concede God’s power and to believe in cosmic order despite the pervasive obscurity of life. In the second divine speech, Job is invited to take the place of God and abase the proud (40:11) or rule the evil beasts Behemoth (hippopotamus) and Leviathan (crocodile). Since he cannot handle Behemoth and Leviathan, he is reduced to believing in cosmic order despite the pervasive obscurity.

7. God’s message in the first speech (his presence, his power) is enough for some people. In the second speech we learn that God is caught in the same struggle between good and evil that we are--he can subdue, but cannot annihilate, Behemoth and Leviathan. Job is prepared to accept such a vulnerable God. God is accessible, honest, caring, ethical, but weak--and willing to work things out with the elect.

8. Job did not participate in creation or in the management of the world as the rhetorical questions make clear--hence his knowledge is limited. The principle of retribution is real knowledge, but it is not the whole truth. In the natural order, there is much that is incomprehensible (innocent suffering is as incomprehensible as a hippopotamus), but all of it is the work of a wise God. To suffer does not mean that one has been rejected by God. Order in the world is not contradicted by the presence of suffering in the world. God asks Job to reconsider the mystery and complexity of the world God has created. Retribution is not the central issue (though the book does affirm its validity in chap. 42), but the issue is whether God can be trusted to run the world. The criterion for determining whether people are pious is the moral quality of their life, and not their material prosperity. A truly religious attitude does not mean passive resignation in the face of the doctrine of retribution, but the courage to enter into confrontation with God.

9. The divine speeches portray a world of balance, where the forces of chaos and death are present but constrained. God is a sage.

10. The world has a clear moral pattern manifest in the daily overcoming of evil by God the Victor, who battles against the forces of chaos.

11. Job’s categories had been too narrow, his conception of God hopelessly anthropocentric. Both Job and his friends assumed that God primarily reacts to human conduct, a view of the world that puts the individual human being at its center. Note the attention to animals, even wild animals, in the divine speeches. Behemoth is one of God’s creatures, just as Job is, and Leviathan too is a proud, fearless, and magnificent creature, much like Job. God balances the needs of all creatures and is full of fierce love and delight for each thing without regard for its utility. God loves the world, not just its people.

12. In submitting to God, Job flings himself upon the impossible, for behind the impossible is God’s grace and presence.

Translations of Job 42:6: Job Replies to God

I. The following translations presuppose that Job repented:

NRSV and NIV Therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes (=in humiliation).
REB Therefore, I yield, repenting in dust and ashes.
JPS Therefore, I recant and relent, being but dust and ashes.
Therefore I retract my words, and have changed my mind (I am comforted) concerning dust and ashes (that is, the human condition). Janzen (Perdue)
Therefore, I retract [my suit] and repent of dust and ashes [=forsakes his position of lamentation among the dust and ashes]. Habel


II. The following translations presuppose that Job did not repent:

Therefore, I accept [you], and I am comforted, in the presence of Dust and Dirt (=Sheol). (Privative Piel, which turns the meaning of a verb into its opposite.) Michel
Therefore, I despise [you] and feel compassion [for you, the Most High] I, a suckling of Dust and Dirt (= a child of Sheol). Job rejects as abusive the deity portrayed in the divine speeches. Michel
Therefore, I melt in reverence before you and I have received my comfort, even while sitting on dust and ashes. Clines
Therefore I reject and forswear dust and ashes (that is, the symbols of mourning). Patrick


Does the Book of Job make sense?

Does the Book of Job make many senses?


Is Job a tangram, a puzzle whose pieces can be fitted together in a variety of ways, none of which is exclusively right or wrong?