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Bible Commentaries
Job 38

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2484. B.C. 1520.

God begins with an awakening challenge, Job 38:1-3 . Proceeds to several proofs of Job’s inability to contend with him, because of his ignorance and weakness: for he knew nothing of the founding of the earth, Job 38:4-7 ; the limiting of the sea, Job 38:8-11 ; of the morning light, Job 38:12-15 ; the recesses of the sea and earth, Job 38:16-21 ; of the treasures in the clouds, Job 38:22-27 . He could do nothing toward the making of his own soul, the producing of rain, frost, lightning, or the directing of the stars and their influences, Job 38:28-38 . He could not provide for the lions or the ravens, Job 38:39-41 . How then should he direct God’s secret counsels? Here God takes up the argument begun by Elihu, and prosecutes it in inimitable words, exceeding his, and all other men’s, in the loftiness of the style, as much as thunder does a whisper.

Verse 1

Job 38:1. Then the Lord answered Job No sooner had Elihu uttered the words last mentioned, but there was a sensible token of the presence of that dreadful majesty of God among them, spoken of Job 38:22, and Jehovah began to debate the matter with Job, as he had desired; out of the whirlwind Out of a dark and thick cloud, from which he sent a terrible and tempestuous wind, as the harbinger of his presence. The LXX. render the clause, δια λαιλαπος και νεφων , perturbinem et nubes, by a tempest and clouds. It is true, the Chaldee paraphrast, by the addition of a word, has given a very different exposition of this text, thus: Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind of grief; taking the word סערה , segnarah, rendered whirlwind, not in a literal, but in a metaphorical sense: as if the meaning were only this: that amidst the tumult of Job’s sorrows, God suggested to him the following thoughts, to bring him to a sense of his condition. The matter is viewed in nearly the same light by a late writer in a periodical work, styled The Classical Journal, who contends that this Hebrew word properly means trouble, and may be rendered whirlwind only when it is applied to the elements, denoting the troubled state of the atmosphere; but when it has reference to man, it can have no such signification. In answer to this it must be observed, that many passages occur in the Old Testament, in which the word evidently means, and is rightly translated, whirlwind, or tempest, as that writer himself acknowledges; but probably not one can be found, at least he has not produced one, in which, as a noun, it means merely trouble, nor can it with propriety be so translated here, on account of the preposition מן , min, which properly means a, ab, de, e, ex, from, or out of, and not because of, as he proposes rendering it: for surely it would be improper to read the passage, “The Lord answered Job out of his trouble, &c.” Accordingly the generality of expositors agree to understand it of a sensible and miraculous interposition of the Deity appearing in a cloud, the symbol of his presence, not to dispute, but absolutely to decide the controversy. God appeared and spoke to him in this manner, says Poole, 1st. Because this was his usual method of manifesting himself in those times, and declaring his will, as we see Exodus 19:13; Num 9:15 ; 1 Kings 19:11; Ezekiel 1:4; Ezekiel 2:0 d, To awaken Job and his friends to a more serious and reverent attention to his words; 3d, To testify his displeasure both against Job and them; and, lastly, that all of them might be more deeply and thoroughly humbled, and prepared to receive and retain the instructions which God was about to give them. “There arose,” says Bishop Patrick, “an unusual cloud, after the manner of God’s appearing in those days, and a voice came out of it, as loud as a tempest, which called to Job.” “Nothing can be conceived more awful than this appearance of Jehovah; nothing more sublime than the manner in which this speech is introduced. Thunders, lightnings, and a whirlwind announce his approach: all creation trembles at his presence: at the blaze of his all-piercing eye every disguise falls off; the stateliness of human pride, the vanity of human knowledge, sink into their original nothing. The man of understanding, the men of age and experience; he who desired nothing more than to argue the point with God; he that would maintain his ways to his face; confounded and struck dumb at his presence, is ready to drop into dissolution, and repents in dust and ashes.” See Heath.

Verse 2

Job 38:2. Who is this, &c. What and where is he that presumes to talk at this rate? That darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Words proceeding from ignorance, mistake, and want of consideration. Who is this that disparages my counsels, and darkens the wisdom of my dispensations with his ignorant discourses about them? This language becomes not a creature, much less a professor of the true religion. The person here intended is not Elihu, who spoke last, but Job, who had spoken most, as is manifest from the former verse, in which it is said, The Lord answered Job; and from Job 42:3, where Job takes the following reproof to himself, as also from the following discourse, wherein God convinces Job by divers of the same kind of arguments which Elihu had used against him. With a single question God shows the absolute emptiness of human abilities, strikes Job to the heart, and puts an end to the dispute.

Verse 3

Job 38:3. Gird up now thy loins If thou hast the courage to argue the case with me, as thou hast often desired, make thyself ready for the debate. For I will demand of thee Hebrew, אשׁאלךְ , eshelecha, I will ask thee questions; which he does in the following verses; and answer thou me הודיעני , hodigneeni, make me know, or, inform me, concerning the things about which I inquire of thee. Give answers to my questions.

Verses 4-5

Job 38:4-5. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? When I settled it as firm upon its own centre as if it had been built upon the surest foundations? Then thou wast nowhere; thou hadst no being: thou art but of yesterday; and dost thou presume to judge of my eternal counsels? I made the world without thy help, and therefore can govern it without thy advice or direction. Declare who hath laid the measures thereof Who hath prescribed how long, and broad, and deep it should be? Or who hath stretched the line upon it? The measuring-line, to regulate all its dimensions, so that it might be as beautiful as useful; if thou knowest

But if thou art ignorant of these manifest and visible works, do not pretend to the exact knowledge of my mysterious providences.

Verses 6-7

Job 38:6-7. Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? This strong and durable building hath no foundations but God’s power, which hath marvellously established it upon itself. Who laid the corner-stone? By which the several walls are joined and fastened together, and in which, next to the foundations, the stability of a building consists. The sense is, Who was it that built this goodly fabric, and established it so firmly that it cannot be moved. When the morning stars sang together When, in the morning of time, the blessed angels, the firstborn of the Father of lights, fitly called morning stars, because of their excellent lustre and glory, joined in praising God together for his glorious works, strangely rising up to their view from non-existence, by the infinite wisdom and power of their omnipotent Maker. “It is observable from many passages in the prophets, that the angels are spoken of under the metaphor of stars. See particularly Isaiah 14:12; Isaiah 14:14. The beauty and propriety of these allusions of the prophets will appear with greater lustre, when it is considered that the hosts of heaven were the objects of heathen idolatry: both the visible and invisible host; as well the angels as the lights of heaven; for the superstition seems to have been originally the same, as the worship of the heavenly bodies terminated in the worship of those angels or intelligences who were believed to animate or conduct them; and hence we see a reason why the angels are called stars and morning stars in Scripture.” Peters. And the sons of God The angels, as before, called the sons of God, because they had their whole being from him, and because they bear his divine and glorious image; shouted for joy On the appearance of the new-made world, in the creation of which they saw new displays of their heavenly Father’s wisdom, power, and goodness, and learned to know more of his infinite perfections than they had known before, and, of consequence, to love and praise him with greater fervency and delight.

Verses 8-10

Job 38:8-10. Who shut up the sea with doors? Who was it that set bounds to the vast and raging ocean, and shut it up, as it were, with doors within its proper place, that it might not overflow the earth? When it brake forth, &c. From the womb or bowels of the earth, within which the waters were for the most part contained, and out of which they were by God’s command brought forth into the channel which God had appointed for them. When I made the cloud the garment thereof When I covered it with vapours and clouds which rise out of the sea, and hover above it, and cover it like a garment. And thick darkness Black and dark clouds; a swaddling-band for it Having compared the sea to a new-born infant, he continues the metaphor, and makes the clouds as swaddling-bands, to keep it within its bounds; though indeed neither clouds, nor air, nor sands, nor shores, can bound the sea, but God alone. And brake up for it my decreed place Made those hollow places in the earth, which might serve for a cradle to receive and hold this great and goodly infant when it came out of the womb. And set bars and doors Fixed its bounds as strongly as if they were fortified with bars and doors.

Verses 12-13

Job 38:12-13. Hast thou commanded the morning? That is, the morning light, or the sun, which is the cause of it. Didst thou create the sun, and appoint the order and succession of day and night. Since thy days Since thou wast born: this work was done long before thou wast born. And caused the day-spring to know its place To observe the punctual time when, and the point of the heavens where it should arise; which varies every day. That it might take hold of the ends of the earth That this morning light should in a moment spread itself from one end of the hemisphere to the other. That the wicked might be shaken out of it From the face of the earth. And this effect the morning light hath upon the wicked, because it discovers them, whereas darkness hides them; and because it brings them to condign punishment, the morning being the usual time for executing judgment.

Verse 14

Job 38:14. It is turned as clay to the seal As the seal makes a beautiful impression upon the clay, which, in itself, hath no form or comeliness; so the earth, which in the darkness of the night lies like a confused heap, without either form or beauty, has quite a new face put upon it by the return of the morning light, and appears in excellent order and glory. And they stand as a garment That is, the twilight and morning stand, as it were, dressed in a beautiful and magnificent garment. Or the meaning is, that the men and things of the earth, whether natural, as living creatures, herbs, and trees; or artificial, as houses or other buildings, present themselves to our view, as if covered and adorned with elegant and beautiful clothing.

Verse 15

Job 38:15. And, or, rather, but, from the wicked their light is withholden The earth, and the men and the things in it, have the comfort and benefit of the light, but so have not the wicked; they enjoy not its beautiful approach; either, because they shun it, and choose darkness rather than light, their deeds being evil; or, by the judgment of God, or of the magistrate, by whom they are shut out through imprisonment, or cut off by capital punishment, from the light of the living. And the high arm shall be broken Their great strength, which they used tyrannically to the oppression and crushing of others.

Verse 16

Job 38:16. Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea Hebrew, נבכי ים , nibchee jam, Fletus, qui, ex maris profunditatibus currunt, ut lacrymæ ex occulis. Schindler: the springs which flow from the depths of the sea, as tears from men’s eyes: the several sources from which the waters of the sea proceed. Heath renders it, Hast thou been at the sources of the sea? and the next clause he translates, Hast thou traversed the depth of the abyss? Hast thou found out the utmost depth of the sea; which, in divers places, could never be reached by the wisest mariner? And how then canst thou fathom the depths of my counsels?

Verse 17

Job 38:17. Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? Hath the earth opened all her dark caverns to thee? Or, hast thou ever gone down to the centre, or into the depths and bowels of that earth in which the generality of men are buried? Hast thou looked into שׁאול , sheol, or hades, the intermediate state, the region of departed spirits? And dost thou know how the souls of men are disposed of after death, and what are their various states and conditions? Or, hast thou observed and marked the several ways leading to, and introducing death? Death is a grand secret. 1st, We know not beforehand when, and how, and by what means we or others shall be brought to death; by what road we must go the way whence we shall not return; what disease or disaster will be the door to let us into the house appointed for all living; man knows not his time. 2d, We cannot describe what death is, how the knot is untied between body and soul, nor how the spirit of a man leaves the tenement of clay, and goes:

“To be, we know not what, and live, we know not how.”

Thus Mr. Norris, who adds:

“When life’s close knot, by writ from destiny, Disease shall cut or age untie; When after some delays, some dying strife, The soul stands shivering on the ridge of life; With what a dreadful curiosity Does she launch out into the sea of vast eternity!”

Let us make it sure that the gates of heaven shall be opened to us on the other side death, and then we need not fear the opening of the gates of death to receive us, though it is a way we are to go but once. 3d, We have no correspondence at all with separate souls, nor any acquaintance with their state. It is an unknown, undiscovered region, to which they are removed. We can neither hear from them, nor send to them. While we are here, in a world of sense we speak of the world of spirits as blind men do of colours; and when we remove thither, shall be amazed to find how much we were mistaken.

Verse 18

Job 38:18. Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? Nay, dost thou so much as understand the extent and all the parts of the earth, and the state and quality of all countries, and of the men and things in them? Declare, if thou knowest it all Give me an answer to these questions, which it is far more easy to do than to answer many other questions which I could put to thee about my secret counsels, and providences, and my reasons for dealing with thee as I do.

Verse 19

Job 38:19. Where is the way Or, rather, the place, as the next clause explains it; and, as the Hebrew דרךְ , derech, will bear, where light dwelleth That is, hath its constant and settled abode. Whither goes the sun when he departs from this hemisphere? Where are the tabernacle and the chamber in which he is supposed to rest? And seeing there was a time when there was nothing but gross darkness upon the face of the earth, what way came light into the world? Which was the place where light dwelt at that time, and whence was it fetched? And whence came that orderly constitution and constant succession of light and darkness? Was this thy work? Or wast thou privy to it, or a counsellor, or assistant in it?

Verse 20

Job 38:20. That thou shouldest take it That is, bring, or lead it, namely, principally the light, and secondarily the darkness, as the consequent of it, to the bound thereof? That is, through its whole course, from the place of its abode, whence it is supposed to come, to the end of the journey which it is to go. Didst thou direct or guide the light, or the sun, that it should at first take, and afterward constantly continue in that course which now it holds; that it should go from east to west, and rise, sometimes in one point or part of heaven, and sometimes in another; and that its day’s journey should be longer in one season of the year and shorter in another? This regular and excellent course must needs be the effect of great wisdom. And whose wisdom was it? Thine or mine? And that thou shouldest know Namely, practically so as to direct or lead it in the manner now expressed, the paths to the house thereof? Where thou mayest find it, and whence thou mayest fetch it.

Verse 21

Job 38:21. Knowest thou it, because thou wast then born? An ironical question. If thou pretendest that thou knowest these things, how camest thou by this knowledge? Was it because thou didst then exist in the full and perfect use of thy faculties, and thereby hadst the opportunity of inspecting my works, and of seeing whence the light came? Or, because thou hast gained this knowledge by long experience, as having lived ever since the creation of the world until this time? Whereas, in truth, thou art but of yesterday, and knowest, comparatively, nothing, Job 8:9.

Verses 22-23

Job 38:22-23. Hast thou entered into the treasures of snow? Dost thou know where I have laid up those vast quantities of snow and hail which I draw forth when I see fit? Dost thou know the causes of them, and the way to produce them? But if thou art unacquainted with these treasures, it is intolerable presumption in thee to pretend that thou knowest those treasures of wisdom which lie hid in my own breast. Which I have reserved That is, which snow, and especially which hail, I have prepared, against the time of trouble When I intend to bring trouble or calamity upon any country or people, for the punishment of their sins, or for their trial. Or, as the Hebrew לעת צר , legneth tzar, may be properly rendered, against the time of the enemy; that is, when I intend to punish mine or my people’s enemies, and to fight against them with these weapons. Against the day of battle and war “Though the expression here is general, and means only that the Almighty reserves these powers in nature as the instruments of destruction for wicked men; yet particular cases may well be referred to, as explanatory hereof. See, therefore, Exodus 9:23, and Joshua 10:11. Respecting the treasures of snow and hail, the philosophical reader will find great satisfaction by referring to Scheuchzer on the place.” Dodd.

Verse 24

Job 38:24. By what way is the light parted Or dispersed, or distributed, namely, in the air, or upon the face of the earth. This is variously distributed in the world, shining in one place and time, when it doth not shine in another, or for a longer time, or with greater brightness and power than it doth in another; all which are the effects of God’s infinite wisdom and power, and such as were out of Job’s reach to understand. Which scattereth the east wind Which light scattereth, or raises the east wind, and causes it to blow hither and thither upon the earth? For as the sun is called by the poets, the father of the winds, because he rarefies the atmosphere by his heat, or condenses it by drawing up and loading it with vapours, and thereby destroys the equilibrium of it which produces winds; so, in particular, the east wind is often observed to rise together with the sun. But as there is no Hebrew for which, the words יפצ קדים , japhetz kadim, would, perhaps, be better translated, By what way does the east wind scatter itself? continuing the interrogation, and making this a distinct question. That is, whence do the winds come, and whither do they go? And how comes it to pass, that they blow in so many manners, and with such various and contrary effects?

Verse 25

Job 38:25. Who hath divided a water-course, &c. For the showers of rain, which come down orderly and gradually, as if they were conveyed in pipes or channels; which, without the care of God’s providence, would fall confusedly, and overwhelm the earth. Or a way for the lightning For lightning and thunder? Who opened a passage for them out of the cloud in which they were imprisoned? And these are joined with the rain, because they are commonly accompanied with great showers of rain.

Verses 26-27

Job 38:26-27 . To cause it to rain, &c. That the clouds, being broken by lightning and thunder, might pour down rain. On the wilderness wherein there is no man? Namely, no one to water those parts by art and industry, as is usual in cultivated and inhabited places. Which makes this work of Divine Providence more necessary, and more remarkable, as hereby provision is made for the relief of the wild beasts, and plants, and other fruits of those forsaken lands, which otherwise would perish with drought. To satisfy the desolate and waste ground By raining not sparingly, but liberally and abundantly upon it. To cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth There being many excellent and useful herbs found in desert places, for the growth of which the rain is absolutely necessary. Thus, as God had before put such questions to Job as were proper to convince him of his ignorance; so he now puts such to him as were calculated to convince him of his impotence. As it was but little that he could know, and therefore he ought not to have arraigned the divine counsels, so it was but little he could do, and therefore he ought not to oppose the divine providence.

Verses 28-30

Job 38:28-30. Hath the rain a father? Is there any man that can beget or produce rain at his pleasure? No; this is my peculiar work. The hoary frost, who hath gendered it? What man can either produce, or doth fully understand where or how it is generated? The waters are hid as with a stone That is, with ice as hard as a stone. And the face of the deep is frozen Of the great sea, which is often called the deep, and which in some parts is frozen, so that its surface grows solid. The ice and the frost are very common things, and therefore do not appear to us remarkable; but considering what a mighty change is made by them in a little time, and how the waters of rivers, lakes, and oceans, are hid by them, as though a grave- stone were laid upon them, we may well ask, Out of whose womb came the ice? What created power could produce such a wonderful work?

Verse 31

Job 38:31. Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades? Generally understood of the seven stars, which, rising about the time of the vernal equinox, bring in the spring. Canst thou restrain or hinder their influences? Or loose the bands of Orion? By which it binds up the air and earth, rising in November, and bringing in the winter, attended with storms of rain and hail, or frost and snow. See note on Job 9:9. Whatever be the meaning of the words rendered Pleiades and Orion, the sense of which is disputed among the learned; by the former, כימה , chimah, we are to understand the sign which appears in the heavens at the spring of the year: and by the latter, כסיל , chesil, the sign which presents itself when the season is cold and severe: and the plain interpretation of the passage is, Is it in thy power to hinder either the mild or the rigid seasons of the year from making their regular appearance? Both summer and winter will have their course; God indeed can change them when he pleases, can make the spring cold, and so bind the influences of Pleiades and the winter warm, and so loose the bands of Orion, but we cannot.

Verses 32-33

Job 38:32-33. Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth? Namely, into view? Canst thou make the stars in the southern signs arise and appear? Or canst thou guide Arcturus? A northern constellation; with his sons? The lesser stars which belong to it, which are placed round about it, and attend upon it as children upon their parents. Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? The laws which are firmly established concerning their order, motion or rest, and their powerful influences upon this lower world. Didst thou give these laws? Or dost thou perfectly know them? Canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? Canst thou manage and overrule their influences, that they shall bring such seasons and such weather as thou wouldest have?

Verses 34-35

Job 38:34-35. Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds? Either thundering in them, or calling to them with a loud voice, and commanding them to rain. That abundance of waters may cover thee? That is, may cover thy land, when it needs and requires rain. Canst thou send lightnings that they may go? At thy pleasure, and upon thy errand? and say, Here we are? Ready to do thy will, as servants to obey their master. “Nothing can be more elevated and sublime than this verse. How strong the image! How simple the expression! We read of winged lightnings in the heathen poets; but where do they live, and act, and speak, and wait for orders with impatience as here?” See Peters and Dodd.

Verse 36

Job 38:36. Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? Namely, of a man; who gave thee that understanding which thou hast, and which thou now usest so arrogantly as to contend with me, and censure my dispensations? Or who hath given understanding to the heart? Considered by the Hebrews as the seat of understanding, and commonly put for it in Scripture.

Verses 37-38

Job 38:37-38. Who can number the clouds in wisdom? Who can wisely search, and exactly find out, the number of the clouds? which are indeed numberless, and filled with water as the next clause implies. Or who can stay the bottles of heaven? Can prevent the rain from being poured upon the earth out of the clouds, in which it is kept as in bottles; when the dust groweth into hardness When the earth grows very hard, in the time of a great drought; and the clods cleave fast together Become close and compact. Or the condition of the earth may be intended presently after a fall of rain, when the ground, which in the time of drought was much of it dissolved into dust, is now, by the rain, cemented or united together.

Verses 39-40

Job 38:39-40. Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? Is it by thy care and providence that the lions, who live in desert places, are furnished with necessary provisions? This is justly mentioned as another wonderful work of God. When they couch in their dens When, through age and infirmity, they cannot range abroad for prey as the young lions do, but lie still in their dens, as it were, expecting their food from God, from whom also they receive it. And abide in the covert, to lie in wait Watching till some beast comes that way, which they may make their prey.

Verse 41

Job 38:41. Who provideth for the raven his food? Having mentioned the noblest of brute creatures, he now mentions one of the most contemptible; to show the care of God’s providence over all creatures, both great and small. Their young ones are so soon forsaken by their dams, that if God did not provide for them in a more than ordinary manner, they would be starved to death. And will He that provides for the young ravens fail to provide for his own children?

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 38". Benson's Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/job-38.html. 1857.
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