AS WE APPROACH THE END OF THE DRAMA, God addresses Job directly for the first time (Job 38); he will continue to address Job through chapter 41. Elsewhere God speaks to Elijah in a still, small, voice (1 Kings 19); here God speaks to Job out of a storm (Job 38:1), for he wants even the form of his communication, or its venue, to substantiate the large points he wishes to make.
God’s first words are terrifying: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (Job 38:2-3). This opening salvo might lead the unwary to think that Job is the one with whom God is primarily displeased, and that the three miserable comforters have got off rather lightly. But like a drama that teeters back and forth between this perspective and that, this book is not finished yet. After all, the opening chapter records God’s estimate of Job, and nothing in these chapters reverses that estimate. Further, I have already drawn attention to Job 42:7, where God says he is angry with the three friends (something he never says about Job), because they did not speak what was right about God (as God’s servant Job did). God’s terrifying challenge to Job in these four chapters must be placed within the larger framework of the book, if we are to make sense of the whole.
Job has repeatedly said that he wishes to question God. Now God says that he will question Job (Job 38:3). Yet the nature of the barrage of rhetorical questions God raises in these chapters is scarcely the kind of questions Job wants to address. Job wants to talk about his own sufferings, about the justice of them, about God’s role in sanctioning such sufferings, and the like. He wants to do this not least because he desires to maintain his justifiable reputation for integrity and righteousness. But God’s questions focus on a much bigger picture. God asks, in effect: “Job, were you present at the dawn of creation? Do you have intimate knowledge of the entire world, let alone of the heavens? Do you control the course of the constellations—Pleiades and Orion, let us say? Were you the one who constructed the human mind, so that you can explain how it works? Does your word exercise the kind of providential sway that grants food to hungry ravens or to a hunting lioness?”
At one level, of course, this response does not at all answer the kind of questions Job was raising. At another level, it does. It warns Job that his capacity to understand is more limited than he thinks. It prepares us for the conclusion that God wants something more from us than mere understanding.