Sign in or register to download original


A Whimper and a Whisper
Job for Everyone
Job 25: 1- 26: 14

1 Bildad the Shuhite replied:

2 Rule and awe are with him;
he brings about peace in his heights.

3 Is there any numbering of his troops,
or on whom does his light not shine?

4 Or how can a mortal be right with God;
how can someone born of a woman be innocent?

5 There: even the moon is not bright,
and the stars are not innocent in his eyes.
6 How much less a mortal, a worm,
or a human being, a maggot.

26:1 Job replied:

2 How you have helped a person without strength,
delivered the arm without power.

3 How you have counseled someone without understanding,
and made known insight in abundance.

4 With whom have you addressed words,
and whose breath issued from you?

5 The ghosts are made to writhe beneath the waters
and those who dwell in them.

6 Sheol is naked before him;
there is no cover for Abaddon.

7 The one who stretched out the northern sky over the waste,
suspended earth over nothingness,

8 wrapped the waters in his clouds
(the thundercloud did not break beneath them),

9 enclosed the view of his throne,
spread his thundercloud over it.

10 He marked out the horizon on the face of the waters,
at light’s boundary with darkness.

11 The pillars of the heavens quake;
they are aghast at his rebuke.

12 By his power he stilled the sea;
by his insight he crushed Rahab.

13 By his wind the heavens were clear;
his hand pierced the twisting snake.

14 There, these are the fringes of his ways,
and what a whisper is the word that we hear of him,
so who understands the thunder of his mighty acts?

Last night our Bible study group was discussing the story of Elijah’s fleeing to Mount Horeb when Jezebel was trying to kill him. There is wind, earthquake, and fire, and also a low whispering sound—the “still, small voice” of the King James Version. What’s the relationship among these things? Someone in the group wondered whether God was changing from speaking through earthquake and fire to speaking through a still, small voice, which suits our Western cultural context. We like the idea of God communicating with us through a still, small voice, but in Scripture, there doesn’t seem to be a move from one to the other.

Job 26 sees the significance of both whisper and thunder. First, Bildad’s final contribution to the debate begins with a description of God’s sovereignty. God is the one who is in authority and who therefore draws forth awe, and God does so in the heavens (though no doubt on earth as well). There are both supernatural and earthly forces that resist God; Leviathan and Rahab have already been mentioned as symbols of such resistance. God does not take for granted that even the moon and the stars are all brightness and innocence; they may actually be working against God’s purpose. But God has the forces to overcome such powers and can shine his light in such a way as to flush out forces of resistance.

Interwoven with comments about supernatural powers are comments about human beings. The question of whether they are right with God or innocent presumably concerns whether they, too, are truly faithful, truly innocent of resistance to God. Job has argued that he is faithful and innocent and that he wishes he had the chance to face God and get God to recognize it (the continuing irony is that the story began with such an affirmation, but he does not know). Bildad ridicules the idea on the grounds of who God is and of who human beings are. If God is superior to supernatural beings, God must be even more superior to earthly beings like us, beings who are mortal, weak, and on the way to being eaten by worms and maggots. As a man clothed in maggots, Job asked why God thought a mere human being like him important enough to bother with, compared with entities such as the sea or the dragon. Couldn’t God ignore any petty rebellions of which Job is guilty (see Job 7)? Bildad throws his words back in his face but gives them a different slant.

Job in turn throws words back at Bildad. Given that Job is a man without strength, whose arm has no power, and who needs deliverance from his terrible predicament, how do Bildad’s words help him? Given that Job is a man who does not understand what on earth is happening in his life, has Bildad offered him any actual insight? Who has Bildad consulted in order to get hold of the words he utters? (Answer: no one.) Whose breath or spirit or inspiration was operating through Bildad in giving him his words? (Answer: no one’s.) We might hypothesize that Bildad has been keeping company with his own fears and has been saying what he himself needs to hear, to reassure himself that he is not like Job and will not end up like Job. Bildad is talking to himself. And since he is not listening to Job, Job is also talking to himself.

The last paragraph of this Scripture passage at first seems to continue Job’s address, but we will see that chapter 27 starts by telling us that Job starts speaking again—which implies that Job is not speaking in 26:5–14. Further, in this part of the book the contributions of the different participants become a bit puzzling (as was already the case in chapter 24). Bildad’s few lines were much shorter than anyone’s previous addresses, and Zophar never makes another contribution to complete the third sequence in the debate, while sometimes Job says things that would fit at least as well on the lips of Bildad or Zophar (as happened in chapter 24). So scholars have wondered whether the book once contained a complete third sequence of addresses that have gotten mixed up. The trouble is that there is no consensus on how to reallocate the addresses, so I work with the book as we have it. One effect of this arrangement is that the contributions of the three friends peter out; they have said all they can say. I then infer that the new beginning in chapter 27 confirms that the words in 26:5–14 are not Job’s words but are instead a statement that is not attributed to anyone. By implication it is a statement by the book’s narrator, the person who tells the story (we will see that the same is true of chapter 28).

As such, verses 5–14 comprise another declaration of God’s greatness. They begin by adding something to Bildad’s words about God’s sovereignty in relation to supernatural forces. God is also sovereign with regard to the realm of death. The ghosts (the dead) are pictured as living beneath the earth and below the sea that lies under the earth, which is itself a kind of floating island. Sheol and Abaddon are two names for that place where the dead live (see the comments on chapter 11). They are exposed to God; death is not a realm where you can escape from God. Thus the dead writhe in fear of confronted by the frightening power of God.

The poem goes on to speak of the heights of the heavens and to describe the process whereby God brought them into being. It was as if God spread a huge tent over the earth. The tent floor is then the earth (suspended over nothingness); the tent is the sky; and the area inside the tent is the space between earth and sky. The specific reference to the north links with the idea that the place where God’s cabinet meets is in the north, to which Job maybe alluded in his words about going east and west, north and south. The clouds are the storehouses of the rain, with their capacity to hold the water rather than letting it flood the earth (the same picture as in Genesis 1). They also act as a shield for God’s throne in the heavens, to make sure that the dazzling sight of God does not consume people looking up from the earth. It is kind of protective veil.

On the earth, we are surrounded by a circular horizon, which suggests an image for another aspect of God’s work. It is as if the horizon sets the limit to the inhabited world that God created and the limit to the realm where light shines; beyond is darkness. Invisible pillars hold up the tent like tent poles (maybe the mountains that rise up to the sky suggest the image of something holding up the sky), but they shake when God acts in power to put down these resistant powers, pictured as the sea or Rahab or the snake.

It’s all very impressive. But it’s only the fringes of his ways; that is, the impressiveness of the physical world gives you only the slightest impression of God’s actual acts and power. Even more significant in the context of the book of Job is that the word or message that we hear is only a whisper of the dimensions of the real truth about God. It is hardly surprising that Job can protest that Bildad offers little insight on how life works and how God works. We only understand the fringes of that. The problem with the friends is that they misconceive the fringe for the whole, the whisper for the full voice. The problem with Job is that he thinks we should be able to understand the full voice. As the debate draws toward its end, the narrator trailers a point that God will elaborate. The book thus gradually starts getting us to think in the way we will need to think in light of the story as a whole. The whisper is important, but we have to remember it is but a whisper.

Taken from Job for John Goldingay

Publisher: SPCK - view more
Log in to create a review