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Bible Commentaries
Job 38

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,

Yahweh appears unexpectedly in a whirlwind (already gathering, Job 37:1-2), the symbol of "judgment" (Psalms 50:3-4, etc.), to which Job had challenged Him. He asks him now to get himself ready for the contest. Can he explain the phenomena of God's natural government? How can he, then, hope to understand the principles of His moral government? God thus confirms Elihu's sentiment, that submission to, not reasonings on, God's ways is man's part. This and the disciplinary design of trial to the godly is the great lesson of this book. He does not solve the difficulty by reference to future retribution; because this was not the immediate question: glimpses of that truth were already given in Job 14:1-22 and Job 19:1-29, the full revelation of it being reserved for Gospel times: yet even now we need to learn the lesson taught by Elihu and God in Job.

Verse 2

Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?

This - Job.

Counsel - impugning my divine wisdom in the providential arrangements of the universe. Such "words" (including those of the friends) rather obscure than throw light on my ways. God is about to be Job's vindicator; but must first bring him to a right state of mind for receiving relief.

Verse 3

Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.

A man, [ geber (H1397)] - hero, ready for battle (1 Corinthians 16:13, "Quit you like men, be strong"), as he had wished (Job 9:35; Job 13:22; Job 31:37). The robe, usually worn flowing, was girt up by a girdle when men ran, laboured, or fought (1 Peter 1:13).

Verse 4

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.

To understand the cause of things, man should have been present at their origin. The finite creature cannot fathom the infinite wisdom of the Creator (Job 28:12; Job 15:7-8).

Hast (knowest) understanding - (Proverbs 4:1). If thou hast all the knowledge and understanding that thou thinkest thou hast.

Verse 5

Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?

Measures - of its proportions. Image from an architect's plans of a building.

Line - of measurement (Isaiah 28:17). The earth is formed on an all-wise plan.

Verse 6

Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;

Foundations - not sockets, as margin.

Fastened - literally, made to sink, as a foundation-stone let down until it settles firmly in the clay (Job 26:7). Gravitation makes and keeps the earth a sphere.

In Job 38:7, at the founding of Zerubbabel's temple (Ezra 3:10-13), the priests and Levites "sang together in praising the Lord, and many shouted aloud for joy." So hereafter, at the completion of the Church, the temple of the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:7); as at its foundation (Luke 2:13-14).

Verse 7

When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Morning stars - especially beautiful. The creation-morn is appropriately associated with these, it being the commencement of this world's day. The stars are figuratively said to sing God's praises, as in Psalms 19:1; Psalms 148:3. They are symbols of the angels, bearing the same relation to our earth as angels do to us. Therefore they answer to "sons of God" or angels, in the parallel (see note, Job 25:5).

Verse 8

Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?

Doors - flood-gates; these when opened caused the flood (Genesis 7:11); or else the shores.

Womb - of chaos. The bowels of the earth. Image from child-birth (Job 38:8-9). Ocean at its birth was wrapped in clouds as its swaddling bands (Ezekiel 32:2; Micah 4:10).

Verse 9

When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 10

And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors,

Brake up for - i:e., appointed it. Shores are generally broken and abrupt cliffs. The Greek [aktee, from agnumi] for shore means a broken place. I broke off or measured off for it my limit - i:e., the limit which I thought fit (Job 26:10).

Verse 11

And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?

Stayed - Hebrew, a (limit) shall be set to.

Verses 12-15

Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place;

Passing from creation to phenomena in the existing inanimate world.

Verse 12. Hast thou - as God daily does.

Commanded the morning - to rise.

Since thy days - since thou hast come into being.

Its place - it varies in its place of rising from day to day, and yet has its place each day according to fixed laws.

Verse 13. Take hold of the ends ... - spread itself over the earth to its utmost bounds in a moment.

Wicked - who hate the light, and do their evil works in the dark (Job 24:13).

Shaken out of it - the corners (Hebrew, wings or skirts) of it, as of a garment, are taken hold of by the day-spring, so as to shake off the wicked.

Verse 14. Explaining the first clause of Job 38:13, as Job 38:15 does the second clause. As the plastic clay presents the various figures impressed on it by a seal, so the earth, which in the dark was void of all form, when illuminated by the day-spring, presents a variety of forms, hills, valleys, etc. "Turned" ('turns itself,' Hebrew) alludes to the rolling cylinder seal, from one to three inches long, such as is found in Babylon, which leaves its impressions on the soft plastic clay, as it is turned about: so the morning light rolling on over the earth. Rich ('On the Ruins of Babylon') in Barnes, says, 'The cuneiform writing on these cylindrical seals is reversed, or written from right to left, whereas every other cuneiform writing is to be read from left to right. This can only be accounted for by supposing that they were intended to roll off impressions.'

They stand - the forms of beauty unfolded by the dawn stand forth as a garment in which the earth is clad.

Verse 15. Their light - by which they work: namely, darkness, which is their day (Job 24:17), is extinguished by daylight. High - rather, the arm uplifted for murder or other crime is broken; it falls down suddenly powerless, through their fear of light.

Verse 16

Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?

Springs - fountains beneath the sea (Psalms 95:4).

Search, [ cheeqer (H2714)] - rather, the inmost recesses: literally, that which is only found by searching the deep caverns of ocean.

Verse 17

Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?

Seen. The second clause heightens the thought in the first. Man during life does not even "see" the gates of the realm of the dead ("death," Job 10:21), much less are they 'opened' to him. But those are "naked before God" (Job 26:6).

Verse 18

Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all.

Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? - as God doth (Job 28:24).

Verse 19

Where is the way where light dwelleth? and as for darkness, where is the place thereof, 'What is the way (to the place wherein) light dwelleth?' The origin of light and darkness. In Genesis 1:1-31 "light" is created distinct from and previous to light-emitting bodies, the luminaries of heaven.

Verse 20

That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, and that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof?

Dost thou know their place (the place of darkness and light) so well as to be able to guide ("take" [ laaqach (H3947)], as in Isaiah 36:17) them to (but Umbreit, 'reach it in') their own boundary? - i:e., the limit between light and darkness (Job 26:10).

Verse 21

Knowest thou it, because thou wast then born? or because the number of thy days is great?

Or, without the interrogation, in an ironical sense (Umbreit).

Then - when I created light and darkness (Job 15:7).

Verse 22

Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail,

Treasures - storehouses, from which God draws forth snow and hail. Snow is vapour congealed in the air, before it is collected in drops large enough to form hail. Its shape is that of a crystal in endless variety of beautiful figures. Hail is formed by rain falling through cold air.

Verse 23

Which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war?

Against the time of trouble - the time when I design to chastise men (Exodus 9:18; Joshua 10:11; Revelation 16:21; Isaiah 28:17; Psalms 18:12-13; Haggai 2:17).

Verse 24

By what way is the light parted, which scattereth the east wind upon the earth?

Is ... parted - parts, so as to diffuse itself over the whole earth, though seeming to come from one point. Light travels from the sun to the earth, ninety millions of miles, in eight minutes.

Which scattereth - rather, 'And by what way the east wind (personified) spreads (scattereth) itself,' etc. The light and east wind are associated together, as both come from one quarter, and often arise together (Jonah 4:8).

Verse 25

Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder;

Waters. Rain falls, not in a mass on one spot, but in countless separate canals in the air marked out for them.

Way for the lightning - (Job 28:26).

Verse 26

To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man;

Since rain falls also on places uninhabited by man, it cannot be that man guides its course. Such rain, though man cannot explain the reason for it, is not lost. God has some wise design in it. The lovely flower that blooms in regions never explored by man, and that is watered by the rains of heaven, is seen by God, and reflects His glory, which is the ultimate end of all His works.

Verse 27

To satisfy the desolate and waste ground; and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?

As though the desolate ground thirsted for God's showers. Personification. The beauty imparted to the uninhabited desert pleases God, for whom primarily all things exist, and He has ulterior designs in it.

Bud - literally, the outgoing [ mowtsaa' (H4161)].

Verse 28

Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew?

Can any visible origin of rain and dew be assigned by man? Is man their author and creator? Dew is moisture which was suspended in the air, but becomes condensed on reaching the-in the night-lower temperature of objects on the earth.

Verse 29

Out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?

(Job 37:10.)

Verse 30

The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.

The unfrozen waters are hidden under the frozen, as with a covering of stone.

Frozen - literally, is taken: the particles [ yitlakaaduw (H3920), from laakad (H3920), to take hold] take hold of one another so as to cohere.

Verse 31

Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?

Sweet influences, [ ma`ªdanowt (H4575), from `aadan (H6029), to be delightful; whence comes Eden] - the joy diffused by spring, the time when the Pleiades [ Kiymaah (H3598)] appear. The Eastern poets Hafiz, Sadi, etc., describe them as 'brilliant rosettes.' Gesenius 'bands' or 'knot,' which answers better the parallelism. [He supposes the Hebrew is a transposition for ma`ªnadowt, from `aanad (H6029), bound.] But the English version agrees better with the Hebrew. The seven stars are closely 'bound' together (note, Job 9:9). 'Canst thou bind or loose the tie?' 'Canst thou loose the bonds by which the constellation Orion (represented in the East as an impious giant chained to the sky) is held fast' (note, Job 9:9).

Verse 32

Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?

Canst thou bring forth (into the sky) the signs of the Zodiac at their respective seasons-the twelve lodgings [Mazalowt, in the Hebrew, 2 Kings 23:5, mazaalowt, being equivalent to mazaarowt (H4216), Mazzaroth, here-namely, stopping-places] in which the sun successively stays, or appears in the sky?

Arcturus, [ `Ayish (H5906)] - Ursa Major.

His sons - the three stars in its tail. Canst thou make them appear in the sky? (Job 9:9.) The great and less Bear are called by the Arabs 'Daughters of the Bier,' the quadrangle being the bier, the three others the mourners.

Verse 33

Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?

Ordinances - which regulate the alternations of seasons, etc. (Genesis 8:22).

Dominion - the controlling influence of the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, etc., on the earth (on the tides, weather) (Genesis 1:16; Psalms 136:7-9).

Verse 34

Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee?

Canst thou at will command the clouds to send down abundance of rain? (Jeremiah 14:22; above, Job 22:11, "abundance of waters," metaphorically.)

Verse 35

Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go, and say unto thee, Here we are?

Here we are - at thy disposal (Isaiah 6:8).

Verse 36

Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? or who hath given understanding to the heart?

Inward parts ... heart - but Umbreit, 'dark clouds' [muchowt]; 'shining phenomena;' (Maurer) 'meteor' [ sekwiy (H7907)], referring to the consultation of these as signs of weather by the farmer (Ecclesiastes 11:4). But the Hebrew supports the English version. In Psalms 51:6 the same Hebrew is translated "inward parts. In Psalms 73:7 the kindred Hebrew to that for heart here is translated 'thoughts' or 'wishes' (of the heart). The connection which causes Umbreit and Maurer to stumble is, 'Who hath given thee the intelligence to comprehend in any degree the phenomena just specified?'

Heart - not the usual Hebrew word, but one from a root [saakaah] to view; perception.

Verse 37

Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven, Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven,

Who appoints by his wisdom the due measure of the clouds, accurately numbering the sum of vaporous particles (like so many grains of dust) of which they are to be composed? [ shªchaaqiym (H7834), dust and clouds].

Stay - rather, empty-literally, lay down, or incline, so as to pour out [ yashkiyb (H7901)].

Bottles of heaven - i:e., the rain-filled clouds.

Verse 38

When the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together?

Groweth ... - rather, pours itself into a mass by the rain, like molten metal; then translate Job 38:38 'Who is it that empties, etc., when,' etc.? The English version, however, is tenable: 'Is caked into a mass' by heat, like molten metal, before the rain falls;' 'Who is it that can empty the rain vessels, and bring down rain at such a time?' (Job 38:38.)

Verse 39

Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions,

From this verse to Job 39:30 the instincts of animals are discussed. Is it thou that givest it the instinct to hunt its prey? (Psalms 104:21.)

Appetite - literally, life; which depends on the appetite (Job 33:20).

Verse 40

When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait?

Lie in wait - for their prey (Psalms 10:9).

Verse 41

Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat.

(Luke 12:24.) Transition from the noble lioness to the croaking raven. Though man dislikes it, as of ill-omen, God cares for it, as for all His creatures. "He giveth (his food) to the young ravens which cry" (Psalms 147:9).


(1) When men in affliction wish to enter into controversy with God respecting His dealings, they little know how foolhardy is their desire. They could not answer one of a thousand questions which God might put to them. Their "words without knowledge" only "darken counsel," instead of shedding light on God's infinite wisdom in the ordering and governing of the world (Job 38:2).

(2) In order to have known the reason for things, man needed to have been present at their first origination (Job 38:4; Job 38:21). The angels were present when man's earthly habitation was being prepared for him, and sang thereupon joyful praises to God (Job 38:7): they do not presume to call in question God's dealings, but evermore thank and adore Him for His goodness and wisdom: yet shall man, the latest born of God's creatures, sit in judgment upon his Creator? Infinitely better it would be for him to praise God, like them, for all things, whether joyous or sorrowful, as all things alike are working together for good to them that love God.

(3) The earth is framed on a definite plan of consummate wisdom, which man knows but a very minute portion of. Since, then, he cannot explain, much less originate, the phenomena of the natural world, of which God alone is Creator, how then can he pretend to dispute with God as to the justice and goodness of His dealings in His government of the moral world? (Job 38:5-6.) Whosoever presumes to prescribe to God what He ought to have done, instead of meekly and believingly submitting to, and even justifying, God in what he hath done, betrays at once his own ignorance and impious folly.

(4) The phenomena of the natural world, combining unity with variety, law and order with free action, the alternations of light and darkness (Job 38:12-15; Job 38:19-20), the separation of land and sea by impassable barriers (Job 38:8-11), the marvels of the sky above us, the beautiful laws which regulate the snow, hail, ice, and rain, fulfilling God's purposes of love as well as of wrath (Job 38:22-30), may well silence the rebellious spirit, and fill our hearts with adoring humility. What we know of God's works is as nothing in comparison with what we know not.

(5) Our power is still less than our knowledge; little as we know, we can do still less (Job 38:31-40). With all our modern discoveries, no man ever yet has created a single particle of matter that was not in existence before. Though man has discovered some of the laws of electricity, and turned them to his purposes by the lightning conductor, the electric telegraph, etc., yet he is continually at the mercy of God, who alone can control the elements. In the case of the constellations and heavenly bodies, which exercise a controlling influence (Job 38:33) over our weather, tides, and atmosphere, it is most palpable how utterly impotent we are in exercising any command. And even in the case of things nearer us, the calling down, or else restraining, of lightnings and rains, is wholly at God's pleasure (Job 38:34-38). Also who, except God, can provide with food the dumb creatures around-beasts, birds, and fish? Not even the humblest is neglected by the common Father of all. All things on every side of us give endless scope for observing how exceedingly above all our powers of conception are the proofs of God's perfect justice, wisdom, and tender mercies toward all His creatures. So that, on every ground, our part is not to call in question with shallow reasonings, but patiently and lovingly to approve of all that God doeth, not because we see the reasons of God's doings, but simply because they are God's, 'submitting ourselves wholly to His holy will and pleasure, and studying to serve Him in true holiness and righteousness all the days of our life' ('Church of England Communion Service').

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Job 38". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/job-38.html. 1871-8.
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