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Vol.VIII, September 2002

 

"Look at...the First of the Works of God" (Job 40:19)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The last chapters in the book of Job, chapters 40-42, are almost a repetition of the preceding two (38-40): finally, God speaks directly to Job. He does not give a direct answer to the question, why Job had suffered so much. Rather, God points to His sovereignty, to His wisdom and freedom in doing what He wants and thinks to be best (cf. Lk 20:15; Rom 9:14-23). The following, second discourse is very similar in structure and leads Job to the essentially same insight: "I know that You are all-powerful: what You conceive, You can perform. I was the man who misrepresented Your intentions... I retract what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes" (42:2-43:6). How did God proceed with Job? God referred first to Himself, then to the fallen angels who were the cause of the tremendous test of Job.

1. Man questions what God allows to happen in his life. God takes this seriously. However, He does not answer man as a student responds to a teacher. He asked Job first to compare himself with God, His Creator: "Do you really want to reverse My judgment, put Me in the wrong and yourself in the right? Has your arm the strength of God’s?" (Job 40:8-9). In other words: Are you like God in that you want to understand and judge what I am doing? Have you the power I have? Then "display your majesty and grandeur, robe yourself in splendor and glory" (v.10). Do even more, defeat the enemies, "at a glance, bring down all the proud, strike down the wicked...Bury the lot of them in the ground, shut them, every one, in the Dungeon" (vv. 11-13). When man is able to act like this, that is like God, then He "shall be the first to pay you homage, since your own right hand is strong enough to save you" (v.12, 14). Then and only then are you in the right, and God will justify Himself before you, and explain the reasons of His actions to you.

2. In a second part of His answer, God asked Job to consider the greatness of the pure spirits, even if they had fallen. It is a reality that God put the angels much higher in the natural hierarchy of creatures than man. Their higher degree in being is due to a higher measure of natural goodness (intellectual capacity), which the love of God granted them. God’s greatness in wisdom and power is manifested through them more splendidly than through man. That the fallen spirits abused their natural gifts does not change anything in this, it just provokes the still undiminished sovereignty of God, a sovereignty underscored both by His refusal to render an accounting to man for his decisions and by his absolute dominion over the devils. To make this clearer to Job, God helped Job discover his nothingness and helplessness not just before God, but also before the higher creatures.

a) "Look at Behemoth, My creature,...the first of the works of God"(v. 15, 19). Job should behold, "what strength he has in his loins, what power in his stomach muscles! His tail is as stiff as a cedar, the sinews of his thighs are tightly knit. His bones are bronze tubes, his frame like forged iron" (vv. 16-18). However great, strong and threatening Behemoth may be before mankind, however similar to God "his Maker" in strength before all the others, God nevertheless prescribed him very clear limits: He "threatened him with the sword, forbidding him the mountain regions and all the wild animals that play there" (v. 19-20). –Job may have intuited already the indirect questions, "Has your arm the strength of God's"? Have you the power I have?...Can you do the same with him as I do?

b) Before actually articulating these questions, God pointed to still another beast: "Leviathan, too! Can you catch him with a fishhook or hold his tongue down with a rope?...Will he plead lengthily with you, addressing you in diffident tones? Will he strike a bargain with you to become your slave for life?" (39:25, 27-28). When man thinks he would be strong enough to confront him, God warns: "You have only to lay a finger on him never to forget the struggle or risk it again!...Who could ever stand up to him? Who has ever attacked him with impunity? No one beneath all heaven!" (40:32; 41:2-3).

Such a description causes surprise! God continued further: "Next I will talk of his limbs and describe his matchless strength...Who dare open the gates of his mouth? Terror reigns round his teeth!...His sneezes radiate light, his eyes are like the eyelashes of the dawn. From his mouth come fiery torches, sparks of fire fly out of it...His heart is as hard as rock...Sword may strike but will not stick in him, no more will spear, javelin or lance. Iron means no more to him than straw, nor bronze than rotten wood...He has no equal on earth, being created without fear. He looks the haughtiest in the eye; of all the lordly beasts he is king" (41:4,6,10-11,16,18-19,25-26).

c) Who are these beings about whom God speaks here? It does not really make much sense if they should be understood as pure animals. On the one hand, the entire first discourse of Yahweh showed almost all the material and animated creatures man knew. On the other hand, Behemoth is called "the first of the works of God". Further, how could God say of an animal that it "will strike a bargain with you to become your slave for life"? Does this not suggest that one is dealing with a person?

St. Thomas Aquinas writes in his commentary on the book of Job that the description of Behemoth and his evil work in the lives of men serves to describe the malice of the devils. He goes further and explains on this occasion: As the angels who remained in their dignity have a certain excellence higher than that of man and therefore appear to men in a certain splendorous clarity, even so the devils, who in sin turned away from the high and intelligible goods and desired earthly things, exceed the malice of men and therefore are described and appear frequently to men in the figures of wild and monstrous animals. Behemoth would be the biggest animal on earth, Leviathan the biggest in the sea ("Of all the lordly beasts he is king"[41:26]). That is what all tradition says, based on other different passages of Scripture (cf. Ps 74:14, 104:26; Is 27:1; Ezek 29:3ff., 32:2ff.). The Jerusalem Bible remarks in the note to our text, that Leviathan "symbolized all powers hostile to God" (to 41:17). After a detailed interpretation of the biblical description of these animals, St. Thomas concludes saying: "By this is affirmed that no human power is able to violate the devil really or to resist him; rather, all human power is considered by the devil as nothing."

3. Now, why then this chapter? Why did God ask Job to look at the demons; why did He describe their power before him?

a) When we remember the beginning of the story, we understand that these chapters are somehow like a frame around the entire book, the final conclusion. In the beginning, Satan went before God and asked permission to attack the friend of God, Job; and God allowed it to him within certain limits. Here now, God does not present to Job His ultimate reasons for granting that permission. But He does describe the natural greatness of the fallen spirits, and consequently also of their natural capacities to act within creation, capacities which God does not completely block. Why not? As a trial and exercise in virtue for man. St. Thomas speaks of a providential fittingness in allowing the evil spirits to act "lest they should fail to be of service in the natural order" (Summa Th. I,64,4c). God in His infinite power and wisdom "knows how to make an orderly use of evil by ordering it to the good" of the saints (of Job! cf. ibid. I,114,1,c). Thus, God mentions His sovereignty over the devils and explains how they are before Him practically without power. Man, in turn, is powerless before the devils. Or in other words: As the devil considers man as nothing, so God the devil.

b) Furthermore, God certainly wanted to instruct Job that he has to reckon with the influence of the devil in his life. "It is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the principalities and the ruling forces...the spirits of evil in the heavens" (Eph 6:12; cf. Rev 12:17). Job certainly experienced the power of the devil, how he destroyed house and animals, his health and even took the lives of his family. But he should not just look at the power of the devils.

c) Much more important is that we, first of all and even totally, lift up our minds to God in blind faith and humble adoration, so much so that we do not need to understand everything nor even be concerned with or advert to the devils’ presence. We looked already to the final response Job gave to Yahweh: "I know that you are all-powerful...I was the man who misrepresented your intentions with my ignorant words. You have told me about great works that I cannot understand...I retract what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes" (42:2-3, 5-6). This answer of Job shows us the lesson God wants to give through the entire book of Job: The recognition and the confession of the omnipotence of God, which leads to the reflection about man’s littleness and weakness, which is manifested by imprudent statements. The best attitude therefore is to live with a contrite heart and protect ourselves through humility against every form of pride. God defends the humble of heart and the holy angels associate themselves with them.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

As servants of God and helpers of our fellow man on his way to God we should never deny the existence of the devils; we should even be concerned to learn how to "handle" them. But first of all, we should take care to cultivate a firm faith in God’s omnipotence and deepen our own humility. These permit joyful trust in God and a freedom like that of the angels in heaven, who basically disregard the enemy, keeping their gaze fixed on the face of God.

May God grant these dispositions to us all through His holy angels,
especially through St. Michael!

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC