Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Job 40:1-14
When God confronts Job for questioning His judgment, asking Job to point out His errors, it is not to put Job in his place (although Job cannot comprehend the complex workings of the universe). Rather, God is preserving His relationship with Job, reminding Job that he cannot save himself, and so he must trust God.
Get ready to answer me like a man. 40:7
Getting Started: Things to Think About
People *Can* Be Awesome
I've really been down on people during our time in Job. Let's face it -- people can be the worst. But people are also capable of amazing and creative things. Let's mix things up this week and start with a "people can be awesome" discussion. Several ideas to do this.
[Leadership tip: for reasons you'll discover as we go through the passage, you will want to keep this opening people-centric discussion a little short.]
1. America's Got Talent. I've Got Talent.
You or someone in your group has a cool talent. I can build a house out of playing cards. That's cool. Come ready to show it off on Sunday morning! Have some fun with it. (You want to be able to keep it short, jsyk.)
And if you're really boring, you can always play some clips from the actual America's Got Talent tv show:
(By the way, they've acknowledged that they have five main categories: singers, dancers, magicians, comedians, and stunt performers. This video is of the stunt performers.)
2. I Like to Watch People Do Amazing Things
Let's say that you don't think you're talented, and you think AGT is a gimmick. No problem -- YouTube to the rescue.
There's a channel called "People Are Awesome" that shares videos submitted of people doing awesome things. Here's their compilation of the best 2019 videos:
And if you don't like to watch videos, I pulled some screenshots from this video so you can know what you're missing. (The timestamp is in the corner in case you change your mind and want to see them in action.)
3. I Don't Like Stunts. I Like Literally Anything Else.
So let's say you don't like any of that stuff. No problem! Have a contest to see who can come up with a list of the most life-improving inventions of all time. Can you imagine life as we know it without wheels, light bulbs, or vaccines?
Here are some sample website's lists:
Top 10 Inventions That Changed the World | Live Science -- this person's list is pretty solid. Interestingly, she included contraceptives and the internet. Do you think those two should be in the top ten?
Top 20 greatest inventions of all time - Big Think -- this list added optical lenses and nuclear fissions. Interesting cases to be made.
19 Great Inventions That Revolutionized History | IE (interestingengineering.com) -- this is my favorite list, especially as someone who grew up in Houston TX. They added the calendar and concrete, which we might take for granted.
Or talk about the inventors themselves. Do a little research on Marie Curie and Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci and say a little about them.
Here Comes the Twist: No matter how great people can be, our absolute best is rather pathetic compared to what God does every moment of existence (not to mention that we wouldn't have our abilities at all if not for God's mercy).
This Week's Big Idea: God Is Awesome-er
So in actuality, this week is about the awesomeness of God. Because we can only comprehend a small piece of what it means to be God, each one of us appreciates different aspects of Him in different ways. For me, it's His creativity (across the universe). For you, it might be His foresight, or His strength, or His grace.
Rather than give you an overview of a doctrine or current event (which is usually what I do with my "Big Idea"), I'd rather just give a suggestion. If you start with a "people are awesome" topic, transition out of that with a statement like "as awesome as people are, God is so much more -- let me share with you something about God that leaves me in awe".
And then share whatever is on your heart about how great is our God. Here are some ideas:
If you love God's amazing grace, lead your class through a math exercise. Estimate how many sins you think you commit on a daily basis. Multiply that by the total number of days the average person lives (call it 35 years), then multiply that by the total number of people who have ever lived (107 billion). That's going to be your under-estimation of the number of sins God has already forgiven. Is God even more amazing?
If you love God's power, talk about the most powerful things in the universe. For example, quasars are believed to produce 1,000 times the total energy of every star in the Milky Way combined. (We aren't really sure how to describe that amount of power.) When the largest stars in the universe explode (a hypernova), they release the same amount of energy in a few seconds that our sun will release over its billions-years-lifespan. God gave them that power.
If you love God's creativity, just share some pictures of incredible things. Like this website: 32 Breathtaking Photos of Our Universe (insider.com) or this one The 50 Most Beautiful Places in the World – Big 7 Travel (bigseventravel.com)
Just pick a topic and run with it.
Because I can't help myself, here are some pictures of the universe from the website listed above. They really do take my breath away.
And here are some of the photos from the travel site. Equally astonishing.
Our God is an awesome God, amen?
Where We Are in Job
Well, we finally made it. We made it to the part that you've been looking forward to! GOD SHOWS UP. And how. Here's a quick outline reminder:
The Prologue and Job's Lament (chs 1-3)
The Dialogue among Men (chs 4-27)
Cycle 1: Will God answer a righteous sufferer's questions? (chs 4-14)
Cycle 2: Does the fate of the wicked prove God's justice? (chs 15-21)
Cycle 3: Can a sufferer ever know God's will and way? (chs 22-28)
Cycle 4: Job and Elihu (chs 29-37)
Job: Let God answer my complaint (chs 29-31)
Elihu: Don't complain to God (chs 32-37)
The Dialogue with God (chs 38-41)
God speaks: "I created the world" (chs 38-40)
Job humbly responds (40:3-5)
God speaks: "Who is like Me?" (chs 40-41)
Job humbly responds (42:1-6)
The Epilogue: God brings forgiveness and reconciliation (ch 42)
Remember, Elihu's contribution was so pointless that he is never again mentioned.
Most of what God says is something we kind of expect: God created the universe -- who are we to criticize Him? Importantly, God never answers Job's complaint. God never explains to Job why all of those things happened to him.
And this leads us to the greatest twist in the book:
The book of Job is not really about suffering and divine justice. The book is about God's relationship with humanity.
God never explains why suffering happens on earth. Instead, He demands that Job acknowledge the difference between God's divinity and Job's humanity. If it were a person saying this, we would call it the greatest "because I said so" in history.
There are lots of songs that declare this idea. One that comes to mind is "God Is God (and I Am Not)" by Stephen Curtis Chapman -- his attempt to acknowledge the fact that he can only see a very small piece of the bigger picture of the universe, and so he will trust that God is doing what is right and necessary.
And I can't help but put in Rich Mullins's "(Our God Is An) Awesome God", not just because it's such a great song and he was so underrated as a musician, but also because LOOK AT THAT 90s FASHION! #neverforgetthe90s
Anyway -- I digress.
The book of Job is about Job's relationship with God. In his demands of God, Job had created a caricature of God, and when he is reminded of who God truly is, he repents and assents. (As I said a few weeks ago, yes, God is our Father, but God is also God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.) God cannot be reduced to any of the stereotypes used of Him in this book, and when we remember that -- when we remember who He is and who we are before Him -- our relationship with Him can be made right.
For example, God asks Job for specific ways He should govern the universe better. Of course there's nothing Job can say! Pardon me for invoking a Jim Carrey movie in Sunday School, but this was basically the plot of the 2003 comedy "Bruce Almighty".
Bruce complains to God about his bad day, and God gives him a chance to be God for a week (please don't think about it very hard). And Bruce really messes things up. (Here's the official clip of the scene where Bruce decides to answer "yes" to every prayer because he doesn't have time to deal with them all.) As a thought exercise, let's say that God asked you for advice in governing the universe. What advice would you give Him, and how quickly do you think that advice would go catastrophically wrong?
To be sure, some humans look at God's words here and say that God is being a narcissist. No, He's being God. What happens when we fail to follow instructions on a new purchase? We probably break it. That's what God is protecting Job (and us) from: making the biggest mistake possible in life -- forgetting who is God. What is the consequence for misidentifying God? Not only being miserable in life, but being separated from God in death. All of these statements are for our good, not for God's ego.
Part 1: Correct Me? (Job 40:1-5)
The Lord answered Job: 2 Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who argues with God give an answer.
3 Then Job answered the Lord: 4 I am so insignificant. How can I answer you? I place my hand over my mouth. 5 I have spoken once, and I will not reply; twice, but now I can add nothing.
For this passage to make the most sense, you want to re-read a few of the verses from the previous chapters. I love chapter 38. I can't get enough of chapter 38. And chapter 39 is pretty great, too. Read that, too.
The biggest thing I take away from those previous chapters (with its references to weather and animals and trees and mountains) is that the world is not just about Job. Everything that happens to Job affects not just the people around him, but also the animals and even the earth.
We can think about that in re-reading chapter 1.
In the first calamity, Sabeans stole the oxen and donkeys and killed the servants.
In the second calamity, some sort of lightning destroyed the sheep and the servants.
In the third calamity, Chaldeans stole the camels and killed the servants.
In the final calamity, a great storm destroyed a house which killed everyone who was in it.
First, let's get away from the short-sighted idea that somehow those events are primarily about Job. I know that we tend to frame the book as being all about Job, but think about that again -- didn't those servants die? Didn't many animals die? Don't you think even more animals died on their travels? And then take a further step back -- do you think the Sabeans and Chaldeans only attacked Job's land in their long march across the wilderness? Do you think those storms didn't affect anything else living in the area?
Yes, humans are 100% the most important creatures in existence. (You can @ me all you want, PETA; you too, ASPCA. Humans being more important than animals does not make animals unimportant.) But God also cares greatly about all of His other wonderful creatures, and also the earth itself. Any "lesson" that God taught Job also irreversibly affected countless other lives (human and not). God cares about all of it.
This might give a better perspective for Jesus' words in Matthew 10:
28 Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. 30 But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
God is somehow able to comprehend the impact of every action in the world on every creature. That alone would be alone for us to be careful about how much we complain about the ways things are -- we have no idea what disasters may have happened if things were different (i.e. counterfactuals). And yet God cares enough about you and me to care how everything that happens in the universe will affect us and is able to do something about it.
And that is why Job was right in acknowledging that he had nothing to say.
Have you ever been rendered speechless when realizing that something was a lot more complex than you realized?
Recently, we got the bad news that our church's organ was going to be a lot more expensive to relocate than we had anticipated. When I complained about this to the technician, he pulled a few panels out of the way and showed me what they were going to have to do. It was so complicated that all I could say was "Oh".
This will happen to me in ministry, as well. Someone will mention a problem or difficult decision, and I'll respond with something typical type-A male like "oh that's easy -- a+b=c". And then they will say something like "well, you should probably also know this about the situation -- [x]" to which I respond with something like "oh that's not easy at all".
And God knows every detail about everything in the universe. And He can bring it all together in His actions. Truly astounding.
Part 2: Question My Justice? (Job 40:6-9)
6 Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind: 7 Get ready to answer me like a man; When I question you, you will inform me. 8 Would you really challenge my justice? Would you declare me guilty to justify yourself? 9 Do you have an arm like God’s? Can you thunder with a voice like his?
If you've noticed that I'm not really saying a whole lot about the verses, that's because there's not a whole lot to say. God isn't being vague.
Technically, verse 6 starts God's second speech to Job. It starts very similarly to the first speech in 38:1-3. God speaks "from the whirlwind", which is (I'm sure) the best way Job could describe his experience.
Verse 7 is a healthy life lesson for all of us. Job has gotten quite bold in his words to and about God. In chapter 6, his words are lamentful: "If only my request would be granted and God would provide what I hope for: that he would decide to crush me, to unleash his power and cut me off!" By the time we get to chapter 31, his words are indignant:
If only I had someone to hear my case! Here is my signature; let the Almighty answer me. Let my Opponent compose his indictment. I would surely carry it on my shoulder and wear it like a crown. I would give him an account of all my steps; I would approach him like a prince.
That's . . . bold. And God calls him out on it. The phrase "get ready" actually refers to preparation for a battle or a race, and the word used for "man" was specifically used of soldiers or athletes. If Job wants to talk like "a man", then he had better be ready to act like "a man".
Allow me to soapbox (and use "soapbox" as a verb) about social media:
There's no denying that social media has fundamentally changed human society (whether that means destroying it, unraveling it, or pushing it beyond points of no return, is another debate for another day). Even the more secular and liberal sites lament the affect it has had on human relationships.
One of the first lessons kids learn is that people will say things online that they would never say to someone's face (even when they claim otherwise). Worse, people create "burner" accounts so they can say things "anonymously" about anyone and anything they like. Instead of doing the hard work of learning how to process our thoughts, create a coherent position, and learn how that position interacts with those of other people, we do the lazy and selfish thing -- vomit up whatever is on our mind regardless of the impact or consequences (or validity) and click send.
I believe that I can best explain God's words to Job by putting them in the context of modern social media (with Job in the role of the angsty teen). Hear me out:
Verse 7 reminds us that "turnabout is fair play". If we are going to rake another person over the coals, eventually someone is going to do the same to us. If we don't like it, well, perhaps we should pay closer attention to Jesus' Golden Rule.
Verse 8 reminds us that it's a lot easier to complain about problems than fix them. Job has been running his mouth, and God takes him to task for it -- "all right, smart guy, what's your great solution to this problem?".
The rest of this passage reminds us that there's always a bigger fish, so to speak. We can feel quite bold and brave on our computer, but when we're face-to-face with our target, we might finally realize how weak we actually are.
Those things are all valuable reasons to be more careful with our social media use, right?
Yes, there are major differences between complaining on social media and complaining to/about God! For one, you can't remain anonymous with God. And for two, God can handle our complaints. But here's where I think my social media analogy works:
Remember what I said above -- the book of Job is not primarily about human suffering but about our relationship with God. Why did God show up? Why did God choose to respond to Job at all? He's certainly not obligated to, as Job has rightly noted.
Well, if you believe that the book is about human suffering, then God showed up to put Job in his place. But if you believe that this book is about relationships, then God showed up to prevent Job from doing lasting damage to his relationship with God.
God knows and understands how hurt Job is. And God knows and understands what people will say when we are despairing. And we know and understand how much damage we can do to a relationship when we speak out of heavy emotions. God is intervening to preserve His relationship with Job, a man who has demonstrated his entire life how much he loves God.
Want further proof? Note that "the Lord" in verse 6 is the name Yahweh -- God's personal, covenant name (see Exodus 3:14-15). "I Am who I Am." It establishes His self-existence and His creative power, but it's also a name (not a title). God has a name.
Does that give some value to our social media analogy? We can thoroughly ruin relationships through our social media use. And for what? Instead, let's follow some basic rules and preserve our relationships.
Verses 8 and 9 encapsulate this. Yes, God is "thundering from on high" here, but there's a lot more going on. These are not rhetorical questions. Yes, chapter 38 and 39 are full of rhetorical questions, but I think those are different. Read these verses again. Can't you hear in the background, "Job, listen to yourself! Is this really what you believe?"? People lose sight of the meaning of this book when we look at God as a literal whirlwind -- whirlwinds are just impersonal demonstrations of power. But God is a personal Being who cares about Job and Job's friends (and us), and that changes everything about this book.
Of course Job would answer no to each question. If you think about it, they're no different than the questions Job's friends had been asking him (so I guess they were right about some things!). But Job needed to stop and answer these questions for himself and realize where he was going. God did not ask these questions of Job because Job is insignificant; God asked these questions of Job because Job is important to God.
Does that put a good twist on the traditional narrative we have of this book?
What relationships do you need to stop destroying through your social media use? And then, once you've thought about that, how is your relationship with God? Are you treating Him like a "facebook friend", or are you really building something deep and lasting? God gave up His own Son in order to preserve our relationship with Him -- that should mean everything to us.
Part 3: Save Yourself? (Job 40:10-14)
10 Adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, and clothe yourself with honor and glory. 11 Pour out your raging anger; look on every proud person and humiliate him. 12 Look on every proud person and humble him; trample the wicked where they stand. 13 Hide them together in the dust; imprison them in the grave. 14 Then I will confess to you that your own right hand can deliver you.
These verses get to the heart of the matter. They remind us why debates about true Christianity matter. They remind us why we should never give up defending our faith and evangelizing the lost. What's at stake here is the eternal destiny of human souls.
Have you ever said to a child something like "I'm doing this for your own good"? (Or maybe do you remember your parents/teachers saying something like that to you?)
Only God can say that and be 100% accurate.
Retool God's words along these lines -- "Job, what I really care about is your soul. If you have the power to damn the souls of the wicked, then I will acknowledge that you have the power to save your own soul, and we can end this conversation. But you don't."
To me, it puts everything into perspective. The God/human (divine/mortal) relationship cannot be separated from this fundamental truth: God is the Creator of earth and heaven. We have no power to change the rules of salvation.
[Note: some people have interpreted Matthew 16:17-19 to mean that Jesus gave Peter the authority to keep people out of heaven, which is where we got the humorous image of Peter standing watch at the pearly gates. As I said when we studied that passage a few months ago, that's not at all what Jesus meant.]
That's why God cares so much about this discussion. People can complain about "the way it is" all they want. But some things are beyond our power to control -- things like gravity, the passage of time, death, and judgment. People might like to think that they should be able to decide their own criteria for getting into heaven, but they can't.
And so to bring this full circle, we are left with the primary lesson: God is God and we are not. And that's the best possible way it could work. So -- in retrospect -- who needs justifying in the book of Job: Job or God? What does that mean for us today?
Closing Thoughts: Behemoth and Leviathan
The rest of God's words focus on two creatures: behemoth and leviathan. God spends a chapter and a half describing these beasts to Job. Why?
Well, the more immediate question is what are these beasts in the first place?
The standard interpretation is that the behemoth is the hippopotamus (arguably the fiercest and most dangerous land animal), and the leviathan is the crocodile (an apex predator in the water).
For whatever reason, those options seem to disappoint some readers. They want mythological creatures, like fire-breathing dragons and giant shark-whale-crocs. But as I have said, the book of Job isn't mythical. Remember when it was written -- thousands of years ago! Imagine traveling the Nile in small wooden boats with spears for protection. How is the crocodile and hippo going to appear to you? Tales of the beasts spread all throughout the ancient Near East, and for good reason.
So, sorry to disappoint, but maybe God just really thinks that crocodiles and hippos are cool.
Do you have a problem with that?