But a Whisper of His Power

The book of Job is fascinating for any number of reasons. It pulls back the curtain of heaven ever so briefly, allowing us to glimpse the most startling divine conversation. It details what is virtually the standard of human tragedy. It tracks the emotionally charged questioning of a man with no answers. Its dramatic attention peaks when God himself appears to Job, not to answer questions, but to ask his own. It even has a happy ending.

In addition to all of this, the language of the book (mostly Hebrew poetry) is quite capable of grabbing you by shoulders and shaking you to attention. For example, consider Job says in chapter 26:

6 Death is naked before God;
Destruction lies uncovered.
7 He spreads out the northern [skies] over empty space;
he suspends the earth over nothing.
8 He wraps up the waters in his clouds,
yet the clouds do not burst under their weight.
9 He covers the face of the full moon,
spreading his clouds over it.
10 He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters
for a boundary between light and darkness.
11 The pillars of the heavens quake,
aghast at his rebuke.
12 By his power he churned up the sea;
by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces.
13 By his breath the skies became fair;
his hand pierced the gliding serpent.
14 And these are but the outer fringe of his works;
how faint the whisper we hear of him!
Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”

Yes, there are a few things here that might make us scratch our heads. (Rahab anyone? Gliding serpent?) Even so, the thrust of the passage is straightforward and startling. First, we find that God is incredibly powerful. Nothing is veiled before his gaze, not even the realm of the dead. He establishes boundary between light and dark. He not only spreads out the skies, but also fills and clears them at will. His rebuke shakes the very heavens. Perhaps the most arresting picture: he hangs the earth on…nothing.

If we stopped here, we’d be left with a lot to contemplate. But Job here goes further than simply pointing to ways that demonstrate God’s great power. He concludes his catalogue with this: “And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”

That, at least to me, is simply mind-blowing. When God does something like hanging the earth on nothing (!), it amounts to the barest whisper of his power, the outer fringe of his works. As Christians, we’d no doubt confess that God powerful. But Job tells us that we can barely grasp the bottom rung of comprehending just how true that really is.

I’ve mentioned this passage before in relation cultivating our humility, and it certainly helps us do that. But there are a couple of other thoughts I want to draw your attention to:

1. This passage is a great example of why the Bible often employs poetry and metaphor to communicate. It’s one thing (often a good and appropriate thing) simply to state something like “God is powerful.” It’s another to describe his great works with a series of images and crown them with a metaphor that describes these things as but “faint whisper” of his power. The vividness of the language can enable us to grasp the truth more deeply, more concretely. Want another example? Compare the following:

(a) You should put your trust in the Lord to protect and provide for you.

(b) Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psa. 34:8).

2. Considered in the context of the entire Bible, this passage offers a deep encouragement. The God in whom we’ve put our trust is more than capable of fulfilling his great promises. His incalculable power is now at work for our good (see Eph. 1:19-21, Rom. 8:28). No wonder that Paul can say, “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Rom. 8:31).

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