Friday, November 07, 2003

Job 38: The Whirlwind

This essay is #44 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.

The Lord

Job 38 begins this way:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: (Job 38:1)

I have several comments at this point in the story.

1. Elihu has provided Job everything that he needs to repent and change. 

Elihu has pointed to the character, wisdom, and broader purposes of God. He spoke from the Spirit of God within him and he spoke correctly. The Spirit of God would have given force and authority to his words and make them effective. He also spoke kindly and compassionately about the purposes of pain and suffering that a beyond mere punishment. The story could have ended here with Job repenting from a clearer knowledge of God and moving on in life. This is most often the case for us. We have troubles and we have friends who exhort and comfort us. A personal visit from the Lord is not typical and the life and story of Job does not require it for a satisfactory conclusion.

I would go so far as to say that if Job had not changed his heart from Elihu's words, the Lord may not have come. This is not to say that Job did not change further.

2. The Name of God has suddenly shifted from "God" to "Lord." This is highly significant at this point in the story and here is why:

  • Whenever you see the word "Lord" in the Old Testament spelled with the letters "ord" in small capitals, it is telling you that the Hebrew behind the word is God's personal Name: YHWH. Some English Bibles will translate this as Yahweh or Jehovah.
  • The usage of the word God (Hebrew: Elohim) and Lord (Hebrew YHWH) in the Old Testament is interesting and consistent. To illustrate consider Genesis 1. It uses Elohim throughout. Elohim is creating the universe without a hint that He has any personal interest in the Creation. He makes mankind in His image and commands them to fill the earth. In Genesis 2, the name of God switches to Lord, He forms Adam from the dust of the earth and breathes into his nostrils the breath of life. The Lord walks in the garden in the cool of the night and speaks with Adam. This is covenant and personal. Side Note: The whole nonsense of there being multiple authors of Genesis signaled by the name switching between God and Lord is explained by noting that the use of God is in sections where His actions are universal and the use of Lord is in sections where He is up front and personal.
  • In the first chapters of Job, Job called God by His personal name, Lord. Once he was stricken he refers to Him as God. This illustrates the separation that has occurred between Job and God. 

In all of chapters 3-37, the personal name of God, Lord, is only used twice. The first (12:9, 10) contains Job's comment,  “Who among all these does not know That the hand of the Lord has done this, In whose hand is the life of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind?" The second is Job 28:28, “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding.’ ”  The first is practically a quote from Genesis 2, "the breath of all mankind." The second comes from the great chapter on wisdom and uses the personal covenant name to underscore that it is the fear of the Lord--God in personal relationship--that is the beginning of wisdom.

Other than these 2 references the use of God's name in Job moves from Lord in chapters 1 and 2 to God in chapters 3-37 and returns to Lord here in chapter 38. The significance is clear. The Lord is getting up from and personal. It tells from the first lines that everything is going to be all right. If "God" had spoken from the whirlwind, we could not have been sure of the results.

3. The whirlwind theophany appears in two other Old Testament passages. 

Here is 2 Kings 2:1-11

And it came about when the Lord was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here please, for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. Then the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?” And he said, “Yes, I know; be still.” Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho approached Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be still.” Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” And he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Now fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood opposite them at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. Elijah took his mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground. When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” He said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. (2 Kings 2:1-11)

Here is Ezekiel 1:4-14

As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire. Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. Each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides were human hands. As for the faces and wings of the four of them, their wings touched one another; their faces did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward. As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each had two touching another being, and two covering their bodies. And each went straight forward; wherever the spirit was about to go, they would go, without turning as they went. In the midst of the living beings there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches darting back and forth among the living beings. The fire was bright, and lightning was flashing from the fire. And the living beings ran to and fro like bolts of lightning. (Ezekiel 1:4-14)

It is my contention that Job, 2 Kings, and Ezekiel describe the same thing. What Ezekiel sees as creatures and wheels, Elisha saw as chariots and horsemen. In all three cases, this was "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Lord."

And so the Lord has come to speak with Job person to person.

This is grace and mercy. He had provided everything that Job needed through Elihu. But His appearing and speaking will add additional dimension to our place in the Creation. It will reveal truths about Him that are important for us, because they will help us live our lives in right relationship with our Creator.

It also answers the question, "But what would have happened if Job got the audience with God that he kept asking for?"

I guess we will see.

Monday: The Lord speaks.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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