For the humbling of Job, God here shows him his ignorance even concerning the earth and the sea. Though so near, though so bulky, yet he could give no account of their origination, much less of heaven above or hell beneath, which are at such a distance, or of the several parts of matter which are so minute, and then, least of all, of the divine counsels.
I. Concerning the founding of the earth. “If he have such a mighty insight, as he pretends to have, into the counsels of God, let him give some account of the earth he goes upon, which is given to the children of men.”
1. Let him tell where he was when this lower world was made, and whether he was advising of assisting in that wonderful work (Job 38:4): “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Thy pretensions are high; canst thou pretend to his? Wast thou present when the world was made?” See here, (1.) The greatness and glory of God: I laid the foundations of the earth. This proves him to be the only living and true God, and a God of power (Isa. 40:21; Jer. 10:11, 12), and encourages us to trust in him at all times, Isa. 51:13, 16. (2.) The meanness and contemptibleness of man: “Where wast thou then? Thou that hast made such a figure among the children of the east, and settest up for an oracle, and a judge of the divine counsels, where was thou when the foundations of the earth were laid?” So far were we from having any hand in the creation of the world, which might entitle us to a dominion in it, or so much as being witnesses of it, by which we might have gained an insight into it, that we were not then in being. The first man was not, much less were we. It is the honour of Christ that he was present when this was done (Prov. 8:22-31; John 1:1, 2); but we are of yesterday and know nothing. Let us not therefore find fault with the works of God, nor prescribe to him. He did not consult us in making the world, and yet it is well made; why should we expect then that he should take his measures from us in governing it?
2. Let him describe how this world was made, and give a particular account of the manner in which this strong and stately edifice was formed and erected: “Declare, if thou hast so much understanding as thou fanciest thyself to have, what were the advances of that work.” Those that pretend to have understanding above others ought to give proof of it. Show my thy faith by thy works, thy knowledge by thy words. Let Job declare it if he can, (1.) How the world came to be so finely framed, with so much exactness, and such an admirable symmetry and proportion of all the parts of it (Job 38:5): “Stand forth, and tell who laid the measures thereof and stretched out the line upon it.” Wast thou the architect that formed the model and then drew the dimensions by rule according to it? The vast bulk of the earth is moulded as regularly as if it had been done by line and measure; but who can describe how it was cast into this figure? Who can determine its circumference and diameter, and all the lines that are drawn on the terrestrial globe? It is to this day a dispute whether the earth stands still or turns round; how then can we determine by what measures it was first formed? (2.) How it came to be so firmly fixed. Though it is hung upon nothing, yet it is established, that it cannot be moved; but who can tell upon what the foundations of it are fastened, that it may not sink with its own weight, or who laid the corner-stone thereof, that the parts of it may not fall asunder? Job 38:6. What God does, it shall be for ever (Eccl. 3:14); and therefore, as we cannot find fault with God’s work, so we need not be in fear concerning it; it will last, and answer the end, the works of his providence as well as the work of creation; the measures of neither can never be broken; and the work of redemption is no less firm, of which Christ himself is both the foundation and the corner-stone. The church stands as fast as the earth.
3. Let him repeat, if he can, the songs of praise which were sung at that solemnity (Job 38:7), when the morning-stars sang together, the blessed angels (the first-born of the Father of light), who, in the morning of time, shone as brightly as the morning star, going immediately before the light which God commanded to shine out of darkness upon the seeds of this lower world, the earth, which was without form and void. They were the sons of God, who shouted for joy when they saw the foundations of the earth laid, because, though it was not made for them, but for the children of men, and though it would increase their work and service, yet they knew that the eternal Wisdom and Word, whom they were to worship (Heb. 1:6), would rejoice in the habitable parts of the earth, and that much of his delight would be in the sons of men, Prov. 8:31. The angels are called the sons of God because they bear much of his image, are with him in his house above, and serve him as a son does his father. Now observe here, (1.) The glory of God, as the Creator of the world, is to be celebrated with joy and triumph by all his reasonable creatures; for they are qualified and appointed to be the collectors of his praises from the inferior creatures, who can praise him merely as objects that exemplify his workmanship. (2.) The work of angels is to praise God. The more we abound in holy, humble, thankful, joyful praise, the more we do the will of God as they do it; and, whereas we are so barren and defective in praising God, it is a comfort to think that they are doing it in a better manner. (3.) They were unanimous in singing God’s praises; they sang together with one accord, and there was no jar in their harmony. The sweetest concerts are in praising God. (4.) They all did it, even those who afterwards fell and left their first estate. Even those who have praised God may, by the deceitful power of sin, be brought to blaspheme him, and yet God will be eternally praised.
II. Concerning the limiting of the sea to the place appointed for it, Job 38:8 This refers to the third day’s work, when God said (Gen. 1:9), Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and it was so. 1. Out of the great deep or chaos, in which earth and water were intermixed, in obedience to the divine command the waters broke forth like a child out of the teeming womb, Job 38:8. Then the waters that had covered the deep, and stood above the mountains, retired with precipitation. At God’s rebuke they fled, Ps. 104:6, 7. 2. This newborn babe is clothed and swaddled, Job 38:9. The cloud is made the garment thereof, with which it is covered, and thick darkness (that is, shores vastly remote and distant from one another and quite in the dark one to another) is a swaddling-band for it. See with what ease the great God manages the raging sea; notwithstanding the violence of its tides, and the strength of its billows, he manages it as the nurse does the child in swaddling clothes. It is not said, He made rocks and mountains its swaddling bands, but clouds and darkness, something that we are not aware of and should think least likely for such a purpose. 3. There is a cradle too provided for this babe: I broke up for it my decreed place, Job 38:10. Valleys were sunk for it in the earth, capacious enough to receive it, and there it is laid to sleep; and, if it be sometimes tossed with winds, that (as bishop Patrick observes) is but the rocking of the cradle, which makes it sleep the faster. As for the sea, so for every one of us, there is a decreed place; for he that determined the times before appointed determined also the bounds of our habitation. 4. This babe being made unruly and dangerous by the sin of man, which was the original of all unquietness and danger in this lower world, there is also a prison provided for it; bars and doors are set, Job 38:10. And it is said to it, by way of check to its insolence, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further. The sea is God’s for he made it, he restrains it; he says to it, Here shall thy proud waves be stayed, Job 38:11. This may be considered as an act of God’s power over the sea. Though it is so vast a body, and though its motion is sometimes extremely violent, yet God has it under check. Its waves rise no higher, its tides roll no further, than God permits; and this is mentioned as a reason why we should stand in awe of God (Jer. 5:22), and yet why we should encourage ourselves in him, for he that stops the noise of the sea, even the noise of her waves, can, when he pleases, still the tumult of the people, Ps. 65:7. It is also to be looked upon as an act of God’s mercy to the world of mankind and an instance of his patience towards that provoking grace. Though he could easily cover the earth again with the waters of the sea (and, methinks, every flowing tide twice a day threatens us, and shows what the sea could do, and would do, if God would give it leave), yet he restrains them, being not willing that any should perish, and having reserved the world that now is unto fire, 2 Pet. 3:7.
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