Job 26 Commentary: Have you ever been party to an argument in which both people are making the same points – but somehow amazingly both are in disagreement?
Well, this is exactly the situation that the biblical character Job finds himself in – in Job chapter 26. So let’s turn our attention to Job 26.
And in this chapter, Job is responding to the last short speech by his friend Bildad. And in that speech, Bildad basically pointed to God’s power and to the inability of a person like Job to be viewed as righteous by God.
And we’re going to see Job being very frustrated in chapter 26 partly because he and Bildad basically see eye-to-eye on the matter of God’s power. Job’s not at all disagreeing with Bildad on that point. And he’s going to make that abundantly clear a few verses into this chapter.
But before he gets to that, Job wants to express his utter disgust for his friend’s unhelpful speech to him in the last chapter.
Job 26 Commentary: Job’s Not Happy With Bildad’s Speech | 1-4
And so, Job begins his response to Bildad’s last speech with biting sarcasm that’s meant to inform Bildad that his words were no help whatsoever to him.
KJV Job 26:1 [But/Then] Job [answered and said/responded/replied],
2 [How hast thou helped/What a help you are to/How you have helped] [him that is without power/the weak/the powerless] [?/!]
[how savest thou/How you have saved] [the arm/the person] that hath no strength [?/!]
So, Job is the one without power. He’s the arm that has no strength. He needs to be helped. He needs to be saved – rescued – delivered from his problems.
But instead of helping and saving Job, Bildad’s speech did nothing of the sort.
And, we also need to note that Job’s not asking questions here – like how did you do that? He’s pretending to marvel – like what an excellent wonderful job you just did there!
And taken at face value, Job is being very complimentary to Bildad. But that’s the force of sarcasm. The listener will try to process it like normal communication and it makes no sense – because it’s just the opposite of what the communicator really thinks.
And surely Bildad knew that Job was not pleased with what he said in the last chapter. And to have Job basically extol his words would be unexpected, to say the least. And when Bildad figured out that Job was not literally truthful in his statements, he would have been very insulted.
Job 26 Commentary: More Sarcasm
Well, Job continues with his sarcastic statements in verse 3.
3 [How hast thou counselled/What counsel you have given to/How you have advised] him that hath no wisdom [?/!]
[and how hast thou plentifully declared the thing as it is/what helpful insight you have abundantly provided] [?/!]
Now, Job does not consider himself to be without wisdom. He’s made that clear throughout this book as he’s been trying to defend himself against the accusation of his friends that he’s secretly wicked.
But Job is saying here that if he was one of those who lacked wisdom, Bildad’s speech was so incredibly helpful! It was fantastic counsel to him. Bildad plentifully declared the thing as it is. He gave wonderfully abundant and helpful insight…
And of course, Job truly means none of this. His real feelings concerning Bildad’s speech are just the opposite.
Job would believe that Bildad proved himself to have no wisdom. His counsel was worthless. His plentiful declarations were plentiful – but not helpful at all to Job.
Bildad’s whole point in chapter 25 seemed to be that no one can possibly be righteous in God’s estimation. The friends had tried to catch Job in some particular sin. And as a last-ditch effort, Bildad as the final speaker for the friends throws out the idea that it’s just not possible to be innocent before God and so basically every punishment for sin we receive is just to be expected. Because no one’s ultimately innocent.
But this line of reasoning doesn’t help Job. He’s receiving bad from God for absolutely no cause that he’s aware of. Job has done nothing to prompt God to bring this supposed punishment on him – except for being what Bildad says is impossible for man to be – righteous before God.
Job 26 Commentary: Questions for Bildad
And so, Job moves on from sarcasm to questioning Bildad. And in verse 4, Job wants to know two things: 1) Does Bildad know whom he’s speaking to and 2) Does Bildad know what he’s saying?
4 To whom hast thou uttered words?
and whose spirit [came from/was expressed through/has come forth from the mouth of] thee?
So, Job wants Bildad to think both about who Job is and about who Bildad is.
As for Job – we know he’s righteous. God said so in the first two chapters of this book. Job is also wise. He’s thought through his situation and his theology. He’s not one to whom Bildad should feel obliged to utter simplistic and unhelpful sayings.
And as for Bildad himself – when Job asks whose spirit came from him, I wonder if he’s getting at the fact that Bildad pretty much lifted most of what he said in chapter 25 from one of Eliphaz’s earlier speeches.
So, Job doesn’t need rehashed speeches from Bildad.
And that’s how Job ends his initial volley of responses to Bildad’s short and unhelpful speech.
Job 26 Commentary: God’s Wisdom | 5-14
And so, for the rest of this chapter, Job starts to speak wisdom as he knows it. The friends keep trying to correct Job on his understanding of how God works in this world. And so now, Job wants to show them that he’s not ignorant of at least some of the ways that God works in this creation.
And Job starts to speak of God’s awesome ways in verse 5 by noting how even the dead tremble before God.
5 [Dead things/The departed spirits/The dead] [are formed from/tremble]
[under/those beneath] the waters, and [the inhabitants thereof/all that live in them].
So, dead things or dead people and all creatures who are in the waters tremble before God.
The reference to those beneath the waters is probably to dead people for two reasons. First, it’s parallel to the reference to dead things or people in the first line of verse 5.
Job 26 Commentary: Sheol
And second, Job continues in verse 6 to speak of the place of the dead – Sheol.
6 [Hell/Sheol/The underworld] is naked before [him/God],
and [destruction/Abaddon/the place of destruction] [hath no covering/lies uncovered].
So, those things that are so fearful to mortal men – those things actually fear God.
And I wonder if Job is responding here to Bildad’s first statement from the last chapter. Bildad in chapter 25 said that “fear” belongs to God – it’s owed him – he deserves people and creatures and all things to quake and tremble before him.
And Job is now saying – That’s right! I agree with you on that point! But I’ll tell you that this isn’t the case for the living only – no – even the dead tremble before God.
Job 26 Commentary: Things Above
And so, Job was just considering those below and under. But now in verse 7 he changes the direction of his thinking to those things that are above.
7 [He/God] [stretcheth/spreads] out the [north/northern skies] over [the empty place/empty space],
and [hangeth/He suspends] the earth upon nothing.
So, Job pictures God’s awesome power in that he – as it were – takes the northern sky and just stretches it like a blanket.
But if you’re going to spread a blanket out you need to have something to lay it on.
But that’s where God is so superior and awesome. He takes the blanket that is the northern skies poetically – and he stretches it out alright – but he doesn’t need anything to lay it on. It’s literally laying on nothing – absolutely nothing. Amazing.
And it’s not just the sky that God so easily manipulates in amazing ways. Think bigger – not the sky – but the earth God just hangs or suspends out in space.
But usually when you hang something – a picture or clothing – you have something to hang them on. But Job says that in God’s case, he hangs the earth on absolutely nothing.
And have you ever really thought about that? That the ground on which you live and rely on is anchored to absolutely nothing that’s visible or apparent in any way.
How does this happen? How did this come to be? Who decided that it should be this way?
It’s God who made this so. And – truth be told – we don’t understand it and never will fully. We can only marvel at this God who is so wise and powerful.
We might not understand his ways, but we must trust his wisdom. Job is starting to adopt this posture – but he’s not there yet.
Job 26 Commentary: Clouds and Rain
And so, Job keeps his focus upward in verse 8. His head is – as it were – in the clouds. Or at least his mind is.
8 He [bindeth up/wraps up/locks] the waters in his thick clouds;
and the cloud [is not rent/does not burst] [under/with the weight of] them.
And I wonder if you’ve ever noticed how heavy liquid really is.
I learned this lesson when I worked for Pepsi over a summer while I was in college at UW-Whitewater. I was amazed at how much strength it took to lift those 2-liter bottles of soda! It wore me out.
2 liters of liquid is heavy.
But have you ever thought of how much rain comes down in a typical storm? It’s enough to flood mighty rivers!
And yet, how does God – in his awesome wisdom – choose to hold that heavy abundant rain until he’s ready for it to fall?
If you were trying to figure out the best material to hold such an enormous quantity and weight of water – I’m guessing that your first choice would not be to use… a cloud!
Because – despite all appearance from here on earth – clouds are not at all solid. They’re basically floating water vapor.
So…holding water within… water? Would you have thought of that? God did!
Job 26 Commentary: Clouds Obscure the Moon
And God doesn’t use clouds only to hold rain. He has another purpose for them, according to verse 9.
9 He [holdeth back/obscures/conceals] the face of [his throne/the full moon],
and spreadeth his cloud [upon/over] it. [thereby shrouding it…]
So, God fills clouds with rain in his wisdom and in his wisdom, he doesn’t let the weight of the rain burst the clouds.
But also, God uses clouds to hold back the face of his throne.
Now, we need to realize that two words in that line seem to have another possible meaning.
The word behind “holdeth back” is also used by the KJV to mean “enclose.” So, God encloses something with his clouds. And if you look at the parallel statement – when we speak of God enclosing this something with clouds, he’s doing that when he “spreadeth” that cloud upon it.
OK, but what is the “it” that God is spreading his cloud upon? The KJV here says that it’s God’s “throne” that he’s enclosing with a cloud. And so, perhaps Job is saying that God’s throne is up in the heavens and then sometimes God in his wisdom covers the heavens – where his throne is – and thereby he covers that throne.
But there’s another issue. And that is that the word translated as “throne” is very similar to the word for “moon.” And in that case, this phrase still makes sense. God spreads clouds over the moon so that we can’t see it.
Job 26 Commentary: The Ocean
So, Job’s train of thought as he considers God’s wisdom started with dead things and things “below.” Then it moved to the heavens and things “above.”
And now Job’s mind shifts to consider the ocean – and in particular, the way that light and darkness meet there.
10 He [hath compassed the waters with bounds/has inscribed a circle on the surface of the waters/marks out the horizon on the surface of the waters],
[until the day and night come to an end/at (or as) the bounday of (or between) light and darkness].
So, Job says that God sets boundaries on something – and that this boundary is visible on the waters – the vast oceans of this world.
So, picture the globe in your mind. And imagine that the Sun is shining on this globe. But of course, the Sun can’t be shining everywhere on that globe at once – right? If the Sun is on the left side of the globe, then the right side will be dark. And vice versa.
But here’s what I’m getting at. There’s a boundary on that globe for light. It goes so far and then it stops. And when the light stops, what begins? Darkness.
Where light ends and darkness begins – and vice versa – that’s a boundary.
And that’s what Job is talking about. God in his awesome wisdom made it so that this kind of thing happens on the face of this world. And since so much of this world is water, often this boundary line is found right there – on the waters. That’s where both day and night come to an end. That’s their boundary.
Job 26 Commentary: Earthquakes and Mountains
And from there, it seems that Job goes on to discuss the effect that earthquakes have on mountains.
11 The pillars of heaven tremble
and are [astonished/amazed] at his [reproof/rebuke].
Now, I’m taking the “pillars of heaven” to be speaking of mountains – as if the mountains are so tall that they appear to hold the heavens – the sky – up [H. H. Rowley (Job [NCBC], 173)].
And – by the way – this is not how Job literally thought this worked. Job didn’t think that the heavens were held up by mountains.
How do I know that? Because in this chapter he already said that the sky is hung on nothing.
So, Job is poetically portraying what it seems like the mountains do – hold up the heavens.
But these mighty structures – which seem to be utterly immovable – have a certain reaction. They tremble. And they’re astonished.
When? Under what circumstances? When God reproves or rebukes them.
Well, when does he do that?
So, let’s think of what would cause a mighty mountain to tremble – to move back and forth… How about an earthquake? I think that’s it.
So, God is so awesomely powerful that he can bring about a natural disaster which makes one of the mightiest features of this earth – a mountain – to tremble.
Job 26 Commentary: Calming
But then Job wants to give a contrast to that picture. God doesn’t just cause fear and trembling. He also calms and stills with his wisdom.
12 He [divideth/quieted/stills] the sea [with/by] his power,
and by his [understanding/wisdom] he [smiteth through/shattered/cut to pieces] [the proud/Rahab/the great sea monster].
Now, when the KJV says “divideth” in verse 12 – we also need to recognize that that word is used elsewhere in the KJV as “rest” (5x) and “ease” (1x).
So, God gives rest and ease to the sea. And he does this with his power. God’s power doesn’t simply cause panic and dread. It can also have a calming effect.
But then that second line. The KJV makes sense when it communicates that God smites through the proud. And he does it with his understanding.
And this is a contrast to the first line. Yes, God calms the sea with his power. But at the same time, God uses his understanding to strike the proud. Sometimes God needs to strike the proud in order to achieve calm in this world.
Now, that word “proud” is the Hebrew word Rachab. And that has nothing to do with the biblical character who lived in Jericho – just in case you were wondering. No, this Rachab is apparently a mythological sea monster – in addition to being the word to label people as “proud.”
So, it could be that Job is talking about God shattering or cutting to pieces or smiting through this mythological sea monster. But, I think we’d have to recognize that God doesn’t believe in or subscribe to mythology. He’s not tricked by myths. But this isn’t God speaking here – it’s Job – who was not an Israelite and who – as we’ve seen already – had some flawed ideas in other areas of life.
So, Job could very well be speaking of a mythological sea monster. But even if he is – he’s telling these friends of his that God can kill this kind of monster if it even existed.
So, whether God is destroying the proud or a make-believe sea monster, the message is the same. God’s wisdom is not just bent on calming things and it’s not focused solely on destroying things. God is nuanced in his use of his own understanding and power.
Job 26 Commentary: The Sky
And then Job moves on from considering the sea to once again considering the sky.
13 By his [spirit/breath] he hath [garnished/cleared/made fair] the [heavens/skies];
his hand hath [formed/pierced] the [crooked/fleeing] serpent.
So, once again, the first line of this verse is fairly straightforward and the second line leaves us scratching our heads.
God clears the skies with his breath. That word translated in the KJV as “garnished” occurs only once in the Old Testament – right here. And there’s consensus nowadays that this word means “clearness.”
So, God clears the heaven or the sky with his spirit – which is the same word as is used to speak of breath – ruach. Simple enough.
But then we’re told that God formed the crooked serpent.
That word “formed” is translated elsewhere in the KJV as “pain” (6x), “pained” (4x), “grieve” (2x), and “wounded” (2x). So, God caused pain and grief and wounds to this serpent.
And the fact that Job speaks of this as if it were a historical event makes some believe that here again he’s speaking of some pagan myth. This crooked serpent is perhaps a sea monster. In fact, there’s some thought that this might be referring to Leviathan (W. F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan; idem, BASOR 53 : 39.)
And even though God later on portrays Leviathan as just an animal, perhaps Job is saying that God has power over even these pagan mythological beings.
Whatever he’s saying about this serpent, I think once again – like in the last verse – Job is pointing to the fact that God can use his wisdom – even his spirit – to clear the sky and make some beautiful weather. But at the same time, God can do violent actions – like wound this serpent – whatever it is.
Job 26 Commentary: We Know So Little of God
And finally, Job ends this chapter with an admission that though he’s spoken of several areas of God’s ways that display his awesome wisdom – Job knows that he hasn’t even scratched the surface!
14 [Lo/Behold/Indeed], these are [parts/the fringes/the outer fringes] of his ways:
[but how/and how/how] [little/faint] a [portion/word/whisper] is heard of him [?/!]
but [the thunder of his power/his mighty thunder] who can understand?
And so, I think that Job is implicitly advocating some measure of humility here. He’s praising and extolling God’s understanding that causes him to act in certain ways. And he’s admitting that neither he nor these friends of his really even get more than a glimpse of all of God’s ways.
And as an example, he ends the chapter with a mention of thunder – like how does that even work?!
And what’s so interesting is that Job speaks of God’s ways. And he implies that there are times in which humans just can’t understand God’s ways.
And that should remind us of the message of this book – when we can’t understand God’s ways, we must trust his wisdom.
Job is getting to this point where he will trust God’s wisdom. He’s marveling at God’s wisdom right here – but he hasn’t yet just rested in God to do the wise thing in his life. Job sees and praises God’s wisdom all around him in nature. But he has yet to show an ability to see and praise God’s wisdom in his own circumstance.
He’s getting there. But he’s not there yet. And so we’ll see Job next time continue speaking – and he’ll start with defending his righteousness and integrity.