After all of Job’s suffering, God decides to speak to him from a “whirlwind” (Job 38:1; 40:6). Often, Scripture uses this tempestuous weather system as a metaphor for God’s wrath or destruction; therefore, when the Lord addresses Job from a whirlwind, readers might assume that divine demolition is imminent, either for Job’s surroundings or for the anguished protagonist himself. Yet, destruction never comes. Instead of bringing devastation to the world through the whirlwind, God’s speech does the opposite: it reminds Job that God creates and upholds the world. Thus, the author of Job upends readerly expectations by using the whirlwind not to signal annihilation, but to highlight God as a creator and sustainer concerned with Job’s preservation.
The Bible’s descriptions of divine whirlwinds often indicate impending doom. For instance, the psalmist calls on the Lord to intervene for the chosen people, saying of their enemies, “May you pursue them in your whirlwind (בסערך; ba’sa’arekha) and terrify them with your storm” (Ps 83:15). In Isaiah, God addresses the Jewish people, saying, “Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish” (Isa 41:11). To accomplish this elimination of Israel’s enemies, the prophet declares that the “whirlwind (סערה; se’arah) will scatter them, and you shall rejoice in the Lord” (Isa 41:16). The Lord even promises to employ this destructive tempest against the false prophets within Israel, saying, “Behold, the whirlwind (סערת; sa’arat) of the Lord! Wrath has gone forth, and a whirlwind (סער; sa’ar) will burst upon the head of the wicked” (Jer 23:19). When God enters into a whirlwind, it means that heavenly anger against antagonists is soon to arrive on earth.
Therefore, when we read that, after all of Job’s complaints, God appears to him in a “whirlwind,” we should expect that divine destruction is about to fall on the world—or even on Job himself. But this is not what happens. Instead, when “God answered Job from the whirlwind (הסערה; ha’se’arah),” the Lord asks Job a series of questions about creation: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth… or who shut up the sea with doors?” (Job 38:4, 8). Still, alongside these reminders of creation, God refers to fate of the wicked—an allusion to be expected in a speech from a whirlwind: “Have you commanded the day to break, assigned the dawn its place, so that it seizes the ends of the earth and shakes the wicked (רשעים; reshaim) out of it?” (Job 38:13). While the tempest of God will continue to judge evil on the earth, the Lord preserves Job to show him that despite is protestations toward Heaven, he is not among the wicked. The conclusion of the book repurposes the “whirlwind” to display the divine desire to preserve Job within God’s good creation.