Sermon for July 31: Job Replies

Job Replies

Pentecost XI (O. T. 18); July 31, 2016

Job 38:25-27, 41:1-8, 42:1-6

Last week I introduced God's aria at the end of the book of Job: the Lord God sings rapturously from the whirlwind about the morning stars and the sea, and then reflects on sunlight and snow. There is this brief piece (38:25-27) from a long section about the rain (Note that it says that God sends rain where no human beings are; why bother to send rain there, if it's all about us?), and then God sings about the constellations and the clouds. Before long, God has given Job an extensive tour of the sky.

And then God turns to the earth and takes Job on a safari. God sings about lions and mountain goats, some creatures that are now extinct and many that live in the wilds. God admires horses and hawks and asks Job leading questions, such as, "Is it by your wisdom that that the hawk soars, and spreads its wings toward the south?" (39:26). Now perhaps God is backing Job into a corner, since the answer to this and all the other questions is, "No." Perhaps God is saying, "Look what I can do and you can't!" but I doubt it.

When our dear friends were visiting from Ohio, they went with Kathleen and me to the Henry Doorly Zoo. As we watched the giraffes grazing, we noticed they were wandering over to one end of their enclosure, near an observation platform. It occurred to me that the giraffes could get a better view of the humans from there. Often at zoos it has seemed to me that the residents are given the opportunity to view humans in our natural conditions: wandering in groups, sipping on large sodas. Who is watching whom?

God takes Job not to the zoo but on a safari, to see a wide variety of wild creatures free in their native habitat. Why? I think it is not to prove to Job that God is so much more powerful than Job is, but rather to remind Job that there is a whole lot more in the world than just Job. It is not Job's wisdom that makes the hawk soar; the hawk soars by its own wisdom, doing what hawks do.

My Mother used to say to me, "The world doesn't revolve around you!" I never thought it did, but I suppose my behavior suggested that I thought it did. It is easy to act as though it's all about me, especially when I'm around eleven years old. The Book of Job is a good reminder to us as a species that the world isn't all about us, although we generally behave as though it is. It's our planet, and we can use it up if we want to. So what if several thousand other species go extinct?

I realize that I could uncover a simmering pot of controversy if I follow that train of thought to its logical implications. I am not opposed to controversy, particularly in the service of applying the truths of the Bible to our lives, but I want to get to the other two passages of Job assigned for today. So I'll just say this: at this point, Job stands for all of us human beings, and God reminds us that the earth is for lions and wild oxen and horses and hawks just as much as it is for humans.

Then God turns away from the tour of the wilderness and takes a brief jaunt through mythology, considering two great fabulous monsters that are part of the Bible's folklore: Behemoth and Leviathan. In 41:1-8, God asks some more preposterous questions, and then for the rest of the chapter admires the power and strength of Leviathan. In Hebrew folklore, Leviathan is a sea-monster. Maybe they're thinking of whales, but I doubt it. I've never heard of a whale that breathes fire (41:19-21). God is singing about a sea-monster that frightens all those land-loving humans like Job, but with a twist. In Hebrew folklore, Leviathan is the sea monster that God subdues, an enemy to be conquered. But here in Job God takes a very different attitude. God celebrates the way Leviathan leaps through the waves, its mighty rows of teeth, the flames it breathes, the way javelins and spears bounce off its scale-covered hide.

The Book doesn't say this, but this is what I hear in the voice of God. "Do you know why I made Leviathan? Do you think I made him for you to tame, for you to harvest his flesh, for you to catch him with harpoons and boil down his blubber into lamp oil? You seem to think that the value of everything on earth is what you humans can use it for, how you can make money from it. Do you think that is why I made Leviathan? No, I made Leviathan because I like to watch him swim. He makes me smile."

When God is done singing about Leviathan, God stops and Job finally gets a chance to reply (42:1-6). Now, I have heard an alternative translation for verse 6; in the NRSV it says, "Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Some scholars[1] translate it instead, "Therefore I waste away, and am comforted in dust and ashes." Whether Job despises himself and repents or wastes away and is comforted, this much seems clear. God's tour of the sky and of the wilderness and of mythology has changed Job's perspective.

The world doesn't revolve around him. It doesn't even revolve around human beings. The life of the world is bigger than he is and bigger than we are. The mistake that Job made was to think that his life was all about him: since he was virtuous, nothing bad should happen to him. The mistake that his friends made was also to think that it was all about Job: since bad things happened to him, he must have been wicked, or God was trying to teach him a lesson. It wasn't about him at all. To put it briefly: Stuff happens (Pick other words if you like).

Now, if you've been following this whole story you remember that the bad stuff happened to Job because of a bet between God and the Satan. But it didn't happen in order to teach Job a lesson; it was a byproduct of trying to teach the Satan a lesson. Next week Pastor Sara gets to tie up the story, but I find this much worth mentioning today: at the end of the story the Lord is still in charge, and Job figures prominently, and his wife and the three friends are still in the picture, but the Satan is nowhere to be found. I guess the Satan learned his lesson and went sniveling out the side door.

Meanwhile, Job has had the chance to hear the voice of God from the whirlwind, and Job has learned a sobering lesson that, strangely enough, sets him free to start his life all over again. His life isn't his life. His life doesn't belong to him, any more than the lions and the stars and the hawks and Leviathan belong to him. Whether he repents or is comforted, depending on how you translate a difficult Hebrew verb, his eyes are certainly opened to the reality that the world is filled with wonder and his life is part of that wonder, and it isn't all about him. And so he finds himself free to start over again.

Funny thing, I guess, that it got me thinking about the wonderful Gospel verse, John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that God gave the only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." When you and I quote that line, we often point to individuals and say "God loved you and you and you" and that's good, for starters. We need to know that God loves us. But it isn't enough. It says that God loved "the world," the whole world, the "cosmos,"[2] so that Christ has come not only out of God's love for Job and for his wife and his friends and for Dave and for Karen and for Norma and for Mike… but that Christ has come out of God's love for the morning stars and the rain and the lions and the hawks and for Leviathan, who makes God smile. God so loved the world. And we have our place in it.

My colleague Bill told a story from his childhood that he gave me permission to repeat. When he was twelve years old his mother died, leaving him and his siblings with an abusive and alcoholic father. Bill would wail, "Why did this happen to me?" One day he was in the garden with his grandmother, and he can still remember her in her printed dress and her bonnet, and how she had finally had enough of his wailing. She said, "Billy, don't you understand? She was my daughter. I mourn her too. You have a brother and two sisters. They mourn her too. I don't know why she died, but she did and these things happen. Now hoe the potatoes."

Bill's grandmother was the voice of God from the whirlwind. "Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?" No, I can't. But I can hoe the potatoes.

Robert A. Keefer

Presbyterian Church of the Master

Benson Presbyterian Church

Omaha, Nebraska

[1] See William Brown, The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder (Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 124 and 279n106. [2] The actual word in the Greek New Testament is "cosmos."
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