World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
so that a flood of waters may cover you?
God's Sovereign Dominion and Goodness. (b. c. 1520.)
25 Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder; 26 To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man; 27 To satisfy the desolate and waste ground; and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth? 28 Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew? 29 Out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it? 30 The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen. 31 Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? 32 Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? 33 Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? 34 Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee? 35 Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go, and say unto thee, Here we are? 36 Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? or who hath given understanding to the heart? 37 Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven, 38 When the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together? 39 Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions, 40 When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait? 41 Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat.
Hitherto God had put such questions to Job as were proper to convince him of his ignorance and short-sightedness. Now he comes, in the same manner, to show his impotency and weakness. As it is but little that he knows, and therefore he ought not to arraign the divine counsels, so it is but little that he can do, and therefore he ought not to oppose the proceedings of Providence. Let him consider what great things God does, and try whether he can do the like, or whether he thinks himself an equal match for him.
I. God has thunder, and lightning, and rain, and frost, at command, but Job has not, and therefore let him not dare to compare himself with God, or to contend with him. Nothing is more uncertain than what weather it shall be, nor more out of our reach to appoint; it shall be what weather pleases God, not what pleases us, unless, as becomes us, whatever pleases God pleases us. Concerning this observe here,
1. How great God is.
(1.) He has a sovereign dominion over the waters, has appointed them their course, even then when they seem to overflow and to be from under his check, v. 25. He has divided a water-course, directs the rain where to fall, even when the shower is most violent, with as much certainty as if it were conveyed by canals or conduit-pipes. Thus the hearts of kings are said to be in God's hand; and as the rains, those rivers of God, he turns them whithersoever he will. Every drop goes as it is directed. God has sworn that the waters of Noah shall no more return to cover the earth; and we see that he is able to make good what he has promised, for he has the rain in a water-course.
(2.) He has dominion over the lightning and the thunder, which go not at random, but in the way that he directs them. They are mentioned here because he prepares the lightnings for the rain, Ps. cxxxv. 7. Let not those that fear God be afraid of the lightning or the thunder, for they are not blind bullets, but go the way that God himself, who means no hurt to them, directs.
(3.) In directing the course of the rain he does not neglect the wilderness, the desert land (v. 26, 27), where no man is. [1.] Where there is no man to be employed in taking care of the productions. God's providence reaches further than man's industry. If he had not more kindness for many of the inferior creatures than man has, it would go ill with them. God can make the earth fruitful without any art or pains of ours, Gen. ii. 5, 6. When there was not a man to till the ground, yet there went up a mist and watered it. But we cannot make it fruitful without God; it is he that gives the increase. [2.] Where there is no man to be provided for nor to take the benefit of the fruits that are produced. Though God does with very peculiar favour visit and regard man, yet he does not overlook the inferior creatures, but causes the bud of the tender herb to spring forth for food for all flesh, as well as for the service of man. Even the wild asses shall have their thirst quenched, Ps. civ. 11. God has enough for all, and wonderfully provides even for those creatures that man neither has service from nor makes provision for.
(4.) He is, in a sense, the Father of the rain, v. 28. It has no other father. He produces it by his power; he governs and directs it, and makes what use he pleases of it. Even the small drops of the dew he distils upon the earth, as the God of nature; and, as the God of grace, he rains righteousness upon us and is himself as the dew unto Israel. See Hos. xiv. 5, 6; Mic. v. 7.
(5.) The ice and the frost, by which the waters are congealed and the earth incrustrated, are produced by his providence, v. 29, 30. These are very common things, which lessens the strangeness of them. But, considering what a vast change is made by them in a very little time, how the waters are hid as with a stone, as with a grave-stone, laid upon them (so thick, so strong, is the ice that covers them), and the face even of the deep is sometimes frozen, we may well ask, "Out of whose womb came the ice? What created power could produce such a wonderful work?" No power but that of the Creator himself. Frost and snow come from him, and therefore should lead our thoughts and meditations to him who does such great things, past finding out. And we shall the more easily bear the inconveniences of winter-weather if we learn to make this good use of it.
2. How weak man is. Can he do such things as these? Could Job? No, v. 34, 35. (1.) He cannot command one shower of rain for the relief of himself or his friends: "Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, those bottles of heaven, that abundance of waters may cover thee, to water thy fields when they are dry and parched?" If we lift up our voice to God, to pray for rain, we may have it (Zech. x. 1); but if we lift up our voice to the clouds, to demand it, they will soon tell us they are not at our beck, and we shall go without it, Jer. xiv. 22. The heavens will not hear the earth unless God hear them, Hos. ii. 21. See what poor, indigent, depending creatures we are; we cannot do without rain, nor can we have it when we will. (2.) He cannot commission one flash of lightning, if he had a mind to make use of it for the terror of his enemies (v. 35): "Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go on thy errand, and do the execution thou desirest? Will they come at thy call, and say unto thee, Here we are?" No, the ministers of God's wrath will not be ministers of ours. Why should they, since the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God? See Luke ix. 55.
II. God has the stars of heaven under his command and cognizance, but we have them not under ours. Our meditations are now to rise higher, far above the clouds, to the glorious lights above. God mentions particularly, not the planets, which move in lower orbs, but the fixed stars, which are much higher. It is supposed that they have an influence upon this earth, notwithstanding their vast distance, not upon the minds of men or the events of providence (men's fate is not determined by their stars), but upon the ordinary course of nature; they are set for signs and seasons, for days and years, Gen. i. 14. And if the stars have such a dominion over this earth (v. 33), though they have their place in the heavens and are but mere matter, much more has he who is their Maker and ours, and who is an Eternal Mind. Now see how weak we are. 1. We cannot alter the influences of the stars (v. 31), not theirs that are instrumental to produce the pleasures of the spring: Canst thou loose the bands of Orion?—that magnificent constellation which makes so great a figure (none greater), and dispenses rough and unpleasing influences, which we cannot control nor repel. Both summer and winter will have their course. God can change them when he pleases, can make the spring cold, and so bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, and the winter warm, and so loose the bands of Orion; but we cannot. 2. It is not in our power to order the motions of the stars, nor are we entrusted with the guidance of them. God, who calls the stars by their names (Ps. cxlvii. 4), calls them forth in their respective seasons, appointing them the time of their rising and setting. But this is not our province; we cannot bring forth Mazzaroth—the stars in the southern signs, nor guide Arcturus—those in the northern, v. 32. God can bring forth the stars to battle (as he did when in their courses they fought against Sisera) and guide them in the attacks they are ordered to make; but man cannot do so. 3. We are not only unconcerned in the government of the stars (the government they are under, and the government they are entrusted with, for they both rule and are ruled), but utterly unacquainted with it; we know not the ordinances of heaven, v. 33. So far are we from being able to change them that we can give no account of them; they are a secret to us. Shall we then pretend to know God's counsels, and the reasons of them? If it were left to us to set the dominion of the stars upon the earth, we should soon be at a loss. Shall we then teach God how to govern the world?
III. God is the author and giver, the father and fountain, of all wisdom and understanding, v. 36. The souls of men are nobler and more excellent beings than the stars of heaven themselves, and shine more brightly. The powers and faculties of reason with which man is endued, and the wonderful performances of thought, bring him into some alliance to the blessed angels; and whence comes this light, but from the Father of lights? Who else has put wisdom into the inner parts of man, and given understanding to the heart? 1. The rational soul itself, and its capacities, come from him as the God of nature; for he forms the spirit of man within him. We did not make our own souls, nor can we describe how they act, nor how they are united to our bodies. He only that made them knows them, and knows how to manage them. He fashioneth men's hearts alike in some things, and yet unlike in others. 2. True wisdom, with its furniture and improvement, comes from him as the God of grace and the Father of every good and perfect gift. Shall we pretend to be wiser than God, when we have all our wisdom from him? Nay, shall we pretend to be wise above our sphere, and beyond the limits which he that gave us our understanding sets to it? He designed we should with it serve God and do our duty, but never intended we should with it set up for directors of the stars or the lightning.
IV. God has the clouds under his cognizance and government, but so have not we, v. 37. Can any man, with all his wisdom, undertake to number the clouds, or (as it may be read) to declare and describe the nature of them? Though they are near us, in our own atmosphere, yet we know little more of them than of the stars which are at so great a distance. And when the clouds have poured down rain in abundance, so that the dust grows into solid mire and the clods cleave fast together (v. 38), who can stay the bottles of heaven? Who can stop them, that it may not always rain? The power and goodness of God are herein to be acknowledged, that he gives the earth rain enough, but does not surfeit it, softens it, but does not drown it, makes it fit for the plough, but not unfit for the seed. As we cannot command a shower of rain, so we cannot command a fair day, without God; so necessary, so constant, is our dependence upon him.
V. God provides food for the inferior creatures, and it is by his providence, not by any care or pains of ours, that they are fed. The following chapter is wholly taken up with the instances of God's power and goodness about animals, and therefore some transfer to it the last three verses of this chapter, which speak of the provision made, 1. For the lions, v. 39, 40. "Thou dost not pretend that the clouds and stars have any dependence upon thee, for they are above thee; but on the earth thou thinkest thyself paramount; let us try that then: Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? Thou valuest thyself upon thy possessions of cattle which thou wast once owner of, the oxen, and asses, and camels, that were fed at thy crib; but wilt thou undertake the maintenance of the lions, and the young lions, when they couch in their dens, waiting for a prey? No, needest not do it, they can shift for themselves without thee: thou canst not do it, for thou hast not wherewithal to satisfy them: thou darest not do it; shouldst thou come to feed them, they would seize upon thee. But I do it." See the all-sufficiency of the divine providence: it has wherewithal to satisfy the desire of every living thing, even the most ravenous. See the bounty of the divine Providence, that, wherever it has given life, it will give livelihood, even to those creatures that are not only not serviceable, but dangerous, to man. And see its sovereignty, that it suffers some creatures to be killed for the support of other creatures. The harmless sheep are torn to pieces, to fill the appetite of the young lions, who yet sometimes are made to lack and suffer hunger, to punish them for their cruelty, while those that fear God want no good thing. 2. For the young ravens, v. 41. As ravenous beasts, so ravenous birds, are fed by the divine Providence. Who but God provides for the raven his food? Man does not; he takes care only of those creatures that are, or may be, useful to him. But God has a regard to all the works of his hands, even the meanest and least valuable. The ravens' young ones are in a special manner necessitous, and God supplies them, Ps. cxlvii. 9. God's feeding the fowls, especially these fowls (Matt. vi. 26), is an encouragement to us to trust him for our daily bread. See here, (1.) What distress the young ravens are often in: They wander for lack of meat. The old ones, they say, neglect them, and do not provide for them as other birds do for their young: and indeed those that are ravenous to others are commonly barbarous to their own, and unnatural. (2.) What they are supposed to do in that distress: They cry, for they are noisy clamorous creatures, and this is interpreted as crying to God. It being the cry of nature, it is looked upon as directed to the God of nature. The putting of so favourable a construction as this upon the cries of the young ravens may encourage us in our prayers, though we can but cry, Abba, Father. (3.) What God does for them. Some way or other he provides for them, so that they grow up, and come to maturity. And he that takes this care of the young ravens certainly will not be wanting to his people or theirs. This, being but one instance of many of the divine compassion, may give us occasion to think how much good our God does, every day, beyond what we are aware of.