And the LORD said to Job:
“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
Anyone who argues with God must respond”.
Then Job answered the LORD:
“See, I am of small account what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth,
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
Twice, but will proceed no further.”
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Gird up your loins like a man;
I will question you, and you declare to me.
Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be justified?
Have you an arm like God,
And can you thunder with a voice like his?
Deck yourself with majesty and dignity
Clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
And look on all who are proud, and abase them.
Look on all who are proud, and bring them low;
Tread down the wicked where they stand.
Hide them all in the dust together;
Bind their faces in the world below.
Then I will also acknowledge to you
That your own right hand can give you victory.
Amazingly, God wants us to talk back. This passage often comes across as God shutting Job up for complaining because God is way more powerful and knowledgeable than him, so he has no right to criticize. Is this really what is being said, though? No doubt there is an element of this, but let’s look at Job’s first response again –
“See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?”
However, God’s demand is that
“Anyone who argues with God must respond.”
“I will question you, and you declare to me.”
God rightly sees that Job’s false modesty (“I am of small account” – yes, man is small, but God values him mysteriously infinitely) is a legalistic way of actually casting God in a bad light. “Oh yes, LORD, you really are so great compared to me that I am insignificant and don’t matter to you so I might as well shut up”. But no.
“Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?”
Think carefully: the answer is yes, and Yes. We are made in the image of God; unlike the ostrich and the horse, we know how to fear. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We have a voice, a voice God wants to hear: “Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on all who are proud, and abase them.”
Job is angry. Now anger is one of the trickiest things to deal with. If it comes from pride, it is sinful. But Job (we have established) has done no wrong. Perhaps he has a right to be angry. So long as he is not proud.
Why does God allow man to be angry at him? To rail against him? To Talk Back to the Ultimate Power of the Universe? Why are we allowed to be this audacious (and furthermore, why do the best of us – Donne, the prophets, the psalmists – do it?)
“Deck yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor, pour out the overflowings of your anger”
God is not describing himself here – he is commanding Job.
“Then I will also acknowledge to you that your right hand can give you victory”
God allows Man to talk back because God has made us Godlike. Human dignity and human potential is so great we have no business cowering and saying “we are of small account”. On the contrary, Christ gave the utter ultimate everything for us. On our account. Which makes our account no small thing. Christ was a man. He was fully man. When God points to Behemoth and Leviathan, it is not only to cow Job to his power and Job’s powerlessness. Listen carefully –
“Look at Behemoth, which I made just as I made you;”
This verse is not saying
“Look at Behemoth, which has so much more power than you”
What if this verse is saying
“If you think Behemoth is powerful, think about the fact that you both have the same creator and you, in addition, have been made in the image of him!”
Would we not then feel empowered rather than belittled by this contemplation?
“Can one take it with hooks? Or pierce its nose with a snare?
Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook,
Or press down its tongue with a cord?”
In the context of Job, the answer to these questions are “no”. But interestingly, for us, it is “yes, and yes”.
In our expanding, cruel mastery of our environment, we have subdued even Leviathan. This is why we lord it over creation, contemptibly proud and smug about our achievements. But should we be surprised? We are made in the image of God. We applied our Godlike reason and have become tyrants (the way people read God in this passage as tyrannical).
Let’s look at Job’s second response.
“Then Job answered the LORD
I know that you can do all things
And that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak:
I will question you, and you will declare to me
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear
But now my eye sees you;
Therefore I despise myself
And repent in dust and ashes”
God wants us to ‘utter what we do not understand; things too wonderful for us, which we do not know’, much the same way that our parents are pleased when we utter profound words we don’t know the meaning of yet, because we push the boundaries of our knowledge, because we will one day arrive at the full knowledge. How? By seeing God.
Only by talking, wrangling, cajoling, crying, wailing, railing against God can we converse with Him, can we know Him. In the face of Him, all our stupid little pride melts away, but so does our flimsy defense of false modesty.
“But now my eye sees you”
How can we look God in the eye?
Marvelous and terrible!
Only because we are mirrors of that eye – like Jason protected from the strong glare of Medusa. God’s image, with all that latent awful power that implies, stares back into that eye, and burns in it.