The Chambers of the South, the Mazzaroth, and the Constellations of Job

The book of Job in the Bible is a very ancient book. Though Genesis — by default — has the oldest stories contained within it, Job is perhaps one of the oldest complete books in the Bible. The character being perhaps so old that he was a contemporary of Abraham.

That is why it is so amazing that we actually get some consistent names for things mentioned in the book that stay consistent across 4,000 years or so. I’m talking about the names of constellations. We’re going to explore the constellations and astronomy that we get in Job. Though I didn’t see them all when I started writing, I can tell you that there are LOTS of surprises in this incredibly rich book.

The Book of Job and the Stars

The book of Job is a highly complex, organized, and detailed story about the meaning of suffering. If you want a helpful breakdown by video, see the following explanation from The Bible Project, which does a great job of summarizing the book:

Job Speaks of the Constellations

In Chapter 8 of Job, the companion of Job, Bildad, claims that Job should repent of some unknown sin that caused his great trouble, and that by becoming righteous, his troubles can end. We read:

“How long will you say these things,
    and the words of your mouth be a great wind?
Does God pervert justice?
    Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
If your children have sinned against him,
    he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.
If you will seek God
    and plead with the Almighty for mercy,
if you are pure and upright,
    surely then he will rouse himself for you
    and restore your rightful habitation.
And though your beginning was small,
    your latter days will be very great
. . .
“Behold, God will not reject a blameless man,
    nor take the hand of evildoers.
He will yet fill your mouth with laughter,
    and your lips with shouting.
Those who hate you will be clothed with shame,
    and the tent of the wicked will be no more.”
(Job 8:2-7, 20-22)

Job answers this advice by pointing out that this is hopeless. One cannot come to God with a checklist of accomplishments of “blamelessness” and prove to God that he is owed anything. So we read the following:


“Truly I know that it is so:
    But how can a man be in the right before God?
If one wished to contend with him,
    one could not answer him once in a thousand times.
He is wise in heart and mighty in strength
    —who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?—
he who removes mountains, and they know it not,
    when he overturns them in his anger,
who shakes the earth out of its place,
    and its pillars tremble;
who commands the sun, and it does not rise;
    who seals up the stars;
who alone stretched out the heavens
    and trampled the waves of the sea;
who made the Bear and Orion,
    the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;
who does great things beyond searching out,
    and marvelous things beyond number.

Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not;
    he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
Behold, he snatches away; who can turn him back?
    Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’
(Job 9:2-12)

In this passage, Job is trying to show how mighty God is, and how high God is above small humans like himself and Bildad who are trying to think of how to better their lives on earth. As evidence, he cites the fact that God made “the Bear” and “Orion” and “the Pleiades” and “the chambers of the south.” We’re going to explore all of these, because they are constellations.

The Bear

We know what the “Bear” is. It is called Ursa Major, which is a Latin term for “Large Bear.” You probably know it as the “Big Dipper” because…. …you know… …you’re an absolute barbarian, and don’t know your Latin. In the photo below, you can see the big bear, and above, you can see the “little bear.”

As you can see from this photo, this is a constellation in the Northern part of the sky.

As a small bit of astronomical trivia, you would be correct in knowing that the star at the tip of Ursa Minor’s tail is Polaris. However, you would be wrong to call it the “pole star” for Job. If Job lived in 2000 BC, then the spot around which all of the stars spin would not be Polaris, like it is today. Instead, it would be in a spot about where the little bear is looking, just before the tail of Draco. This is because of a very slow motion of the Earth called the precession of the equinoxes, where the axis of the Earth moves in a very slow 26,000 year long circle. This is why the “North Star” for the ancient Egyptians in 2800 BC was Thuban in Draco, and in 12,000 years from today, the “North Star” will be Vega. But don’t worry. Nothing is changing in the near future. Polaris is about 0*39′ away from the true North Celestial Point (the point around which all the stars rotate). The star will continue to get closer to this point until around 2100 AD, where it will reach as close as it will ever be to the North Celestial Point at 0*27′ away. Then it will continue to glide on by, getting further and further away from the the true “North Star.”

Orion

Job mentions “Orion,” through the Hebrew word כְּסִיל (kesil). Because of the association with the Pleiades, and the way that scripture usually pairs these bodies in the sky, it is an intuitive connection to say that “kesil” is Orion.

It is also one of the most visibly striking constellations in the sky. It is the most “human” thing in the sky.

Orion is mentioned in other old works, too (though not as old as the book of Job). Hesiod was a Greek writer active sometime between 750 B.C. to 650 B.C., which is about the time of Isaiah. Here is what he says about Orion:

But when Orion and Sirius are come into mid-heaven, and rosy-fingered Dawn sees Arcturus [in September], then cut off all the grape-clusters, Perses, and bring them home. Show them to the sun ten days and ten nights: then cover them over for five, and on the sixth day draw off into vessels the gifts of joyful Dionysus. But when the Pleiades and Hyades and strong Orion begin to set [the end of October], then remember to plough in season: and so the completed year [constellation cycle] will fitly pass beneath the earth. (Hesiod, Works and Days, 609)

Notice how the calendar is equated with the appearance of various parts of when the sky is visible. This is important. Orion is invisible in the summer (because the Sun passes directly over it, near Aldebaran, at that time), but at other times of the year, it is one of the most recognizable constellations in the sky. As far back as the time of Job, it was a well-known presence in the sky.

But Orion is also an actual character in mythology, not merely a constellation in the sky. He was one of the “giants” and one of the “mighty men of old,” as the Bible would describe him. See this previous post on that subject if you’re curious. This is what Apollodorus (writing his summary in the 2nd century B.C.) says about him.

And Artemis slew Orion in Delos. They say that he was of gigantic stature and born of the earth; but Pherecydes says that he was a son of Poseidon and Euryale. Poseidon bestowed on him the power of striding across the sea. He first married Side, whom Hera cast into Hades because she rivalled herself in beauty. Afterwards he went to Chios and wooed Merope, daughter of Oenopion. But Oenopion made him drunk, put out his eyes as he slept, and cast him on the beach. But he went to the smithy of Hephaestus, and snatching up a lad set him on his shoulders and bade him lead him to the sunrise. Being come thither he was healed by the sun’s rays, and having recovered his sight he hastened with all speed against Oenopion.

[1.4.4] But for him Poseidon had made ready a house under the earth constructed by Hephaestus. And Dawn fell in love with Orion and carried him off and brought him to Delos; for Aphrodite caused Dawn to be perpetually in love, because she had bedded with Ares.

[1.4.5] But Orion was killed, as some say, for challenging Artemis to a match at quoits, but some say he was shot by Artemis for offering violence to Opis, one of the maidens who had come from the Hyperboreans.
(Apollodorus, the Library, 1.4.3-1.4.5)

The Pleiades 

The Pleiades are a part of the constellation Taurus, the Bull. In the sky, it is against Taurus that Orion is raising his weapon and using his shield. There are several mail parts of Taurus that you should know about, as it is an enormous constellation in the sky.

There are two main parts of Taurus that you should know.

Aldebaran, the Horns, and the Hyades

First, there is the triangle of the horns and forehead. The brightest star in Taurus is Aldebaran, a reddish star in a cluster of slightly dimmer stars. The second brightest star is Elnath, which is the horn to the right and Tianguan, the horn to the left. It’s easy to find these once you see where Orion is.

Next, if you are in a particularly dark sky, you should see the star cluster of the Hyades. This cluster is right below the horns in the “picture” of the bull. But due to the tilt and rotation of the Earth, they actually rise at the same time over the horizon. In mythology, the Hyades are associated with nymphs who were daughters of Atlas. There were five of them (as the stars of the horns were not counted). They are mythologically associated with the coming of rain.

Additionally, there were important implications in the Egyptian religion, too. It is no secret that cows and bulls were important in Egyptian religion. (Do we really think the “golden calf” in Exodus 32 came out of nowhere?) And it is not at all crazy to associate Taurus as a celestial image corresponding to this important religious symbol. For instance, notice the following image of the Gerzeh Palette:

Gerzeh Culture, Naqada II, Predynastic Period, ca. 3500-3200 BC. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 43103

This is a low-resolution image of the celestial bull in the sky. You don’t have to be an expert to make that connection.

How the Pleiades Fit with the Bull

The last part of Taurus is the Pleiades. In Job, the word used for them is the Hebrew word כִּימָה (Kimah).

In ancient astrology, the Pleiades were seen as the border of the constellation, where Taurus ands and Aries begins (even though the picture extends it a bit). That’s because each sign in the Zodiac was given 30 degrees in the sky, no matter how big or small it was. But these are an even more impressive sight than the cluster of the Hyades. In mythology, these daughters of Atlas actually have names: Maia, Electra, Taygete, Celaeno, Alcyone, Sterope, and Merope.

There are dozens of stars in this bright star cluster, with a bunch of nebulous gas, as well. However, it is only possible to make them out with a telescope. The ancients could only see seven of them. The picture above is the modern adaption to the ancient name and identification.

But let’s go further back than the Greeks. From an Egyptian perspective, these stars were associated with seven deities. The Italian scholar Amelia Carolina Sparavigna wrote the article quoted below. Note what she says about the Pleiades and their Egyptian equivalent designation:

The name Hathor means the “house of Horus” in the zodiac (the Heavenly Cow). It was during the Old Kingdom that she assumed the properties of an earlier bovine goddess, Bat[12]. She is also worshipped in the form of “Seven Hathors”: these seven goddesses are the Pleiades shining in the sky [13], usually represented by seven cows, often associated with a bull, as a heaven herd providing the nourishment, bread and beer, in the Underworld [14]. We find again the Taurus, with Aldebaran its main red star, as one of the most ancient group of stars viewed as a constellation, also in Egyptian area. As the Seven Hathors, she was the goddess often present at birth. Able to foretell the future, she was connected with the Nile inundation and the abundance of the grain harvest [15] (Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, The Pleiades: the celestial herd of ancient timekeepers, 2008)

We should also note that the Egyptians did call the constellation “Orion.” That is a Greek name. Instead, the Egyptians associated Orion with Horus, the god of rebirth. In fact, some of the meanings of the name “Horus” include “the distant one” or “one who is above, over.” That sounds like Orion to me. After all, he is the most human-looking constellation of them all.

Turning the Bull Around

But we should note the difference in the way that Egyptians drew pictures in the sky. Our pictures mostly come from Greek patterns. The Egyptians were related, but independent in their civilization’s mythology of the sky. Note the following academic essay on the Constellations of Egypt:

As to the so-called northern constellations represented in astronomical ceilings and various coffins, both authors agree that mshtyw, the Bull’s Foreleg or Meskhetyu, ought to be identified with the asterism of the Plough, as already established in the 19th century by Le Page Renouf. This equivalence is accepted by most scholars, together with Spdet as Sirius, or Sah as substantial parts of Orion (see Figure 6.2). However, on some occasions, this constellation is represented by a complete Bull or a foreleg with an attached bull’s head. In such special cases, it might be extended to nearby areas of our constellation Ursa Major. (Jose Lull and Juan Antonio Belmonte, The Constellations of Ancient Egypt, from In Search of Cosmic Order: Selected Essays on Egyptian Archaeoastronomy / edited by Juan Antonio Belmonte and Mosalam Shaltout ; foreword by Zahi Hawass. Supreme Council of Antiquities Press, Cairo ISBN: 9789774794836, p.155)

In that same essay by Lull and Belmonte, the present a picture of how the Egyptians viewed the northern sky, patched together from ancient depictions uncovered through archeology. Sometimes, a pciture is the best:

In this view, there are some rather unfamiliar images. However, there are also some quite familiar ones, too. If you look carefully, you can see the constellations in the sky as the ancient Egyptians saw them. This reveals something rather interesting about Taurus.

But note what is important here.

TO THE EGYPTIANS, TAURUS IS FACING THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION.

So let’s review how significant this is to how we make pictures in the sky. The following picture is how we know the Greeks — and ourselves, their mythological heirs — saw Orion and Taurus, battling in the sky:

In contrast, the Egyptians saw Taurus is facing the opposite direction. We see he is followed by Horus. We should also notice that the scholars above identify an “asterism” (which is a mini-constellation) of the Egyptians called “the plow.” Let’s remember what “plowing” looked like to the Egyptians:

(From the circa. Burial chamber of Sennedjem, circa 1200 BCE)

Therefore, putting this all together, we can see that the following is how the Egyptians saw Horus and Taurus in the sky. it’s pretty intuitive if you think about it:

Egyptian Horus (Orion) and Taurus

If you don’t believe me on this, look again at the Gerzeh Palette that dates from 3500-3200 BC.

Gerzeh Culture, Naqada II, Predynastic Period, ca. 3500-3200 BC. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 43103

That piece of Egyptian star-art is more than 5000 years old. And it matches perfectly to the picture above of Horus, Orion, or whoever it is, the “one above” who is driving a plow with the celestial bull of the heavens. The Pleiades are the right horn-tip. Elnath is the left horn-tip. Aldebaran is the left eye. It fits the stars perfectly.

That’s the way that the Egyptians saw these constellations.

The Chambers of the South

The final thing to notice about the comments of Job are the “chambers of the south.” What exactly is that? There is apparently a great deal of confusion about this in the academic literature, but it is very clear to me. It’s clear to me because I read ancient texts on astrology, and the language matches up to the language here. For example, notice what Claudius Ptolemy says about how the planets match up to certain constellations in the Zodiac:

The planets also have familiarity with the parts of the zodiac, through what are called their houses, triangles, exaltations, terms, and the like. The system of houses is of the following nature. Since the twelve signs the most northern, which are closer than the others to our zenith and therefore most productive of heat and warmth are Cancer and Leo, they assigned these to the greatest and most powerful heavenly bodies, that is, to the luminaries, as houses, Leo, which is masculine, to the sun and Cancer, feminine, to the moon. In keeping with this they assumed the semicircle from Leo to Capricorn to be solar and that from Aquarius to Cancer to be lunar, so that each of the semicircles one sign might be assigned to each of the five planets as its own, one bearing aspect to the sun and the other to the moon, consistently with the spheres of their motion and the peculiarities of their natures. (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 1.17)

Here, Ptolemy is talking about “constellations,” but he calls the “houses.” The Greek word he uses is οἴκους. It means “house.” In Job, it is written in Hebrew, and the word is חֶדֶר (cheder) which means “chamber” or “room.” So, while this word “room” used in Job (possibly written around 1,700 BC) it’s not an exact linguistic match to “house” used by Ptolemy (written around 175 A.D.) it at least has the same idea, and the idea is clear:

A “chamber” is a constellation.

But why does Job mention the “chambers of the South” when he identifies other constellations by name? There’s an easy answer for that from astronomy.

While we don’t know where Job lived exactly, we can safely assume he lived in the northern hemisphere. He did not live in the tropics. Therefore, there is an astronomical truth that we should apply to this passage:

You cannot see all of the constellations in the southern part of the sky, even though you can see all of the constellations in the northern part of the sky, because when an observer is in the northern hemisphere, the Earth blocks the southern constellations from view.

For example, the following picture is a zoomed out view of the celestial sphere looking directly at the Northern Celestial Pole. You see a lot of familiar constellations here.

The blue line is the celestial equator, which is the equator of the Earth projected out into the sky. It divides “north” from “south.” And now, here is the same view, except it is directed in the opposite direction.

Notice the part of the sky between the boat constellation (named Argo Navis, after the ship of the Argonauts) near the center and the Piscis Austrini (which means “Southern Fish”) with the bright star Fomalhaut, near the bottom left. There really aren’t that many beautiful, mythological constellations in the South. They are all small, and many of them look quite “modern.” There’s a reason for that. They were never observed until modern times after the age of exploration. It is not an accident that the most noticeable thing in the southern sky is called the “Large Magellanic Cloud.” It was named after Ferdinand Magellan. His 1519 voyage was the first time these features came into common western knowledge.

Knowing this, we can see how this applies to Job, an observer from the northern hemisphere. The following picture gives an idea of what can and can’t be seen in the sky for an observer in the northern hemisphere:

Putting this all together, we now know what the “chambers of the south” are:

The Chambers of the South are all the constellations you cannot see in the sky, because you are in the northern hemisphere.

Look how this fits into the entire thought that Job shares:

who made the Bear and Orion,
    the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;
who does great things beyond searching out,
    and marvelous things beyond number.
who does great things beyond searching out,
    and marvelous things beyond number.
Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not;
    he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
Behold, he snatches away; who can turn him back?
    Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’

Now, understand the flow of the passage:

Who made the Bear and Orion? Who made the Pleiades and the other constellations we can’t even see? Who has done great things that we cannot even witness (like the “chambers of the south”) and marvelous things beyond number (that is, the stars themselves).

That is what that passage means.

God Speaks of the Constellations in Job

After lifting up his complaint, Job gets an answer…. ….from God, and God also mentions the constellations.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors
    when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
    and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
    and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
    and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
    and caused the dawn to know its place,
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
    and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
    and its features stand out like a garment.
From the wicked their light is withheld,
    and their uplifted arm is broken.

. . .

“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
    or loose the cords of Orion?
Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
    or can you guide the Bear with its children?
Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
    Can you establish their rule on the earth?

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
    that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
    and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts[c]
    or given understanding to the mind?[d]
Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
    Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
    and the clods stick fast together?
(Job 38:1-15; 31-38)

We get some repetition and some new words here, as well.

Chains of the Pleiades, Cords of Orion

This is a little confusing to us when we think about Orion and the Pleiades in our modern Greek way. We should also remember that the Hebrew word doesn’t say “Pleiades,” which is a Greek term. Instead, it says כִּימָה (kimah), which comes from an unused word, and just means (as best as we can tell) “star cluster.” Remember, the reason we identify it as Pleiades is because of our best guess.

But look again at the star clusters of Taurus:

I am of the opinion that the “Pleiades” in the book of Job should actually be translated as “the Hyades.” Notice how this line is translated in several different English versions:

  • (GNV – 1599) Canst thou restrain the sweet influences of the Pleiades [FOOTNOTE: which stars arise when the sun is in Taurus, which is the springtime, and bring flowers.] or loose the bands of Orion [FOOTNOTE: which star bringeth in winter]?
  • (KJV – 1611) Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?
  • (ASV – 1905) Canst thou bind the cluster[footnote: or “Chain” or “sweet influences”] of the Pleiades, Or loose the bands of Orion?
  • (ESV – 2001) Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion ?

This also applies to the previous appearance back in Job 9. We’ve started to drop the footnotes on these things, but I think we may have mis-identified the “Pleiades.” As the 1599 Geneva Bible says, it is true that the Pleiades have a heliacal rising in the late springtime. However, the Hyades rise at the same time.

But here’s the main point: If that Hebrew word is a reference to the Hyades star cluster instead of the Pleiades star cluster, the line that God speaks makes a lot more sense. The Hyades is the HEAD of the bull. The Pleiades are not. The “influence” of the bull is going to come from his head and face, not his body or horn. We should also remember that when you put a yoke on an ox, you don’t do it on the horns (which is what the Egyptians saw the Pleiades as). You put it over the head (which is the Hyades). To keep the analogy consistent, the “influence” on that bull and the thing that is “bound” would be the Hyades, the second star cluster in Taurus.

This also makes it clear what God is talking about in this passage:

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
    or loose the cords of Orion?

Here’s what that means:

  • Ooooh! Job the mighty farmer and herdsman! I heard you are pretty good at driving oxen when it comes time to plow a field in the spring-time. I heard you had something like 500 yoke of oxen, right? But hey, check it out. Look up. You see the bull up there? That’s my bull. Do you have a bull like that?
  • And another thing! I see you can probably plow a field or two with those 500 yoke of oxen you had. I bet you had a pretty nice plow with some chains on that yoke. But do you see Orion over there? You see him driving that bull across the ENTIRE WORLD in the spring-time? Can you pick up his cords and do his job?

This word picture that God is using in this passage makes complete sense when we understand the older version of the constellation of Orion and Taurus that was reflected in the Egyptian tombs and writings:

The Mazzaroth and the Bear

Then God continues with his rhetorical flex:

Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
    or can you guide the Bear with its children?

We already know what “the Bear” is — Ursa Major — and we can note that “its children” would be a reference to Ursa Minor. They go in a circle around the North Celestial Pole every single day.

But what is the Mazzaroth? The Hebrew word is מַזָּרָה (mazzaroth) and it only appears once in the Bible, and the Septuagint merely transliterates it into Greek. However, the word itself has a striking similarity to מַזָּלָה (mazzaloth) which is mentioned in 2 Kings:

And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel. And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations [Hebrew: מַזָּלָה (mazzaloth)] and all the host of the heavens.

Remember that there is about a 1,200 year time difference to transfer the word “Mazzaroth” into “Mazzaloth.” We should also note that these words mazzaroth and mazzaloth are plural. Meanwhile, “Orion,” “Bear,” and “Pleiades” are in the singular (even though the “Pleiades” is a cluster of stars). Therefore, the most logical understanding of the word “Mazzaroth” is that it refers to the twelve constellations of the Zodiac. These are the twelve constellations in the sky which the Sun, Moon, and all the planets travel throughout the course of the year:

Notice how this makes a masterful pairing in the literature. It shows the completeness of what is going on.

  • The circle that “the “Bear and its children” make is one that is daily. These constellations are always visible in the Northern hemisphere. They go in a small circle in the sky.
  • The circle that the “the Mazzaroth in their season” make is yearly. It takes the full calendar year for each of the constellations to complete a visible trip in the sky (as each constellation is invisible for half the year because of the Sun).

As we will see next, the final part of this line expands to “all time” and then brings this universal rule and power of God quite close to home.

The Ordinances of the Heavens, Their Rule on Earth

Next, God says the following in this passage:

Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
    Can you establish their rule on the earth?

What are the “ordinances of the heavens”? Well, the concept is pretty easy, but let’s go to the language first.

That Hebrew word “ordinances” is חֻקָּה (chuqqah). It is used often in scripture and means “something prescribed, an enactment, statute.” So, God is making a claim about the “statutes” in the heavens. As we can see about from context. This isn’t some “floaty place” far, far away. Instead, God is directly referencing THE SKY. Then, he says that these same “statutes” also “rule on the earth.”

This might sound like astrology to you, and yes, it does have a lot of parallels. At this point, I need to give some respect to the doctrine of ancient astrology (not modern astrology) because it at least made sense. It also might have been understood this way for a very, very long time. So we should at least explain it.

Ptolemy and Astrology

Look what Claudius Ptolemy — perhaps the most influential scientific mind in all of history — said when he was trying to explain why astrology was useful to study. [Note below that the word “mundane” means worldly, and everything above the moon is considered aetherial” or heavenly, while everything “sublunar” or below the moon, is “mundane.”]:

A very few considerations would make it apparent to all that a certain power emanating from the eternal ethereal substance is dispersed through and permeates the whole region about the earth, which throughout is subject to change, since, of the primary sublunar elements, fire and air are encompassed and changed by the motions in the ether, and in turn encompass and change all else, earth and water and the plants and animals therein. 

For the sun, together with the ambient, is always in some way affecting everything on the earth, not only by the changes that accompany the seasons of the year to bring about the generation of animals, the productiveness of plants, the flowing of waters, and the changes of bodies, but also by its daily revolutions furnishing heat, moisture, dryness, and cold in regular order and in correspondence with its positions relative to the zenith.

The moon, too, as the heavenly body nearest the earth, bestows her effluence most abundantly upon mundane things, for most of them, animate or inanimate, are sympathetic to her and change in company with her; the rivers increase and diminish their streams with her light, the seas turn their own tides with her rising and setting, and plants and animals in whole or in some part wax and wane with her.

Moreover, the passages of the fixed stars and the planets through the sky often signify hot, windy, and snowy conditions of the air, and mundane things are affected accordingly. Then, too, their aspects to one another, by the meeting and mingling of their dispensations, bring about many complicated changes. For though the sun’s power prevails in the general ordering of quality, the other heavenly bodies aid or oppose it in particular details, the moon more obviously and continuously, as for example when it is new, at quarter, or full, and the stars at greater intervals and more obscurely, as in their appearances, occultations, and approaches. If these matters be so regarded, all would judge it to follow that not only must things already compounded be affected in some way by the motion of these heavenly bodies, but likewise the germination and fruition of the seed must be moulded and conformed to the quality proper to the heavens at the time. (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 1.2)

The logic is quite simple. He notes that the Sun OBVIOUSLY has enormous effects on the world both daily and yearly. He even makes the scientifically correct observation about the Moon and the tides, and shows how the moon can affect the visibility of the stars. He notes that the passage of the stars are associated with different seasons on Earth. Since his starting observation is basically that “everything affects everything else,” he notes that it is only logical to believe that the heavens affect people and animals on earth, too. That’s why he says that astrology is useful to study.

So is God referring to astrology in Job? I believe the answer is “No,” but the truth is just as weird, because our understanding of it was 3,200 years delayed.

Newton and the Laws of Nature

After the scientific revolution and the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler, the very mainstream medieval idea of astrology began to fade. The final nail in the coffin for astrology (at least among normal people) was Sir Isaac Newton, who gave us the concept of “gravity” which explained the motions of the heavens.

However, notice what he says in his “General Scholium to the Principia” which is a very fancy way to say “General Introduction My Book on Mathematical Principles.” Note why Isaac Newton chose the metaphor of “laws” of nature:

The six primary Planets are revolv’d about the Sun, in circles concentric with the Sun, and with motions directed towards the same parts and almost in the same plan [that is, “plane”]. . . . And if the fixed Stars are the centers of other like systems, these, being form’d by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One; especially since the light of the fixed Stars is of the same nature with the light of the Sun, and from every system light passes into all the other systems. And lest the systems of the fixed Stars should, by their gravity, fall on each other mutually, he hath placed those Systems at immense distances from one another.

This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantokrator[2], or Universal Ruler. For God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God, not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: These are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually a [3] signifies Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God; a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God. And from his true dominion it follows that the true God is a Living, Intelligent, and Powerful Being; and, from his other perfections, that he is Supreme or most Perfect. He is Eternal and Infinite, Omnipotent and Omniscient; that is, his duration reaches from Eternity to Eternity; his presence from Infinity to Infinity; he governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done. . . .

Hitherto we have explain’d the phaenomena of the heavens and of our sea, by the power of Gravity, but have not yet assign’d the cause of this power. This is certain, that it must proceed from a cause that penetrates to the very centers of the Sun and Planets, without suffering the least diminution of its force; that operates, not according to the quantity of surfaces of the particles upon which it acts, (as mechanical causes use to do,) but according to the quantity of the solid matter which they contain, and propagates its virtue on all sides, to immense distances, decreasing always in the duplicate proportion of the distances. Gravitation towards the Sun, is made up out of the gravitations towards the several particles of which the body of the Sun is compos’d; and in receding from the Sun, decreases accurately in the duplicate proportion of the distances, as far as the orb of Saturn, as evidently appears from the quiescence of the aphelions of the Planets; nay, and even to the remotest aphelions of the Comets, if those aphelions are also quiescent. But hitherto I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity from phaenomena, and I frame no hypotheses. For whatever is not deduc’d from the phaenomena, is to be called an hypothesis; and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy. In this philosophy particular propositions are inferr’d from the phaenomena, and afterwards render’d general by induction. Thus it was that the impenetrability, the mobility, and the impulsive force of bodies, and the laws of motion and of gravitation, were discovered. And to us it is enough, that gravity does really exist, and act according to the laws which we have explained, and abundantly serves to account for all the motions of the celestial bodies, and of our sea. (Sir Isaac Newton, General Scholium to the Principia)

That is pretty dense, but let me break it down for you. Newton is explaining why it is appropriate to call the law of gravity “a LAW.” He observes that God is not merely a “god” which is a relative term and can apply to many different beings (see this post for more detail on that point). Instead, Newton notes that God refers to himself as the LORD God, a title that implies ruling and authority. He notes that rulers do their ruling not by constant physical presence, but instead, they do it through LAWS.

Newton also notes that “The word God usually signifies Lord; but every lord is not a God.” And that’s where he comes to his very specific idea of who the Lord God is. He is God, but he is also Lord, both of Heaven and of Earth. He does not know WHY gravity operates the way it does, which is why he says:

I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity from phaenomena, and I frame no hypotheses

Instead, he merely note THAT gravity exists, and that it operates in a certain way that he is able to explain by observing the phenomena of the heavens. To this point about the “source” of these forced, we can go to the ever-reliable XKCD comic that reflects the modern-scientific view on the source of gravity:

Fundamental Forces
Footnote to Comic: “Of these four forces, there is one we don’t really understand.” “Is it the weak force or the strong–” “It’s gravity.”

So note that Sir Isaac Newton used the way God describes himself in scripture to determine why he wanted to call the force that gravity exerts on mass the “LAW OF GRAVITY.” This “law” governs how the heavens move.

So let’s look back at what God says in Job:

Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
    Can you establish their rule on the earth?

That sentence was written in Hebrew probably around 1700 BC. In 1687 AD (3,387 years later), Newton wrote the General Scholium to the Principia. In it, he explained that the “ordinances of the heavens” could be described by a single mathematical law:

With that background, let me ask a simple question about God’s final statement “Can you establish their rule on the earth?”:

Does “gravity” also rule on the Earth?

Yes. Yes, it does, indeed.

Isn’t it weird that we’re still talking about the “laws” that govern the universe, both on earth and in the heavens, just like this passage in Job says, written about 3700 years ago?

Summary Review of the Book of Job

The last thing I’d like to note is that when Job speaks, he is in deep despair. When Job speaks of the constellations and the works of God, he only speaks in the PAST TENSE. It is difficult to see (and it doesn’t always come across in English) because the Hebrew keeps using participles as the verb form, and the tense or sense of time of that verbal action is determined solely by context. But looking at the context, you can see that Job is referring to creation, the creation of the stars above and the Earth itself.

In contrast, God is asking questions of Job in the PRESENT TENSE. He does not ask if Job could do them in the past. He does not ask if Job can do them in the future. When God asks “Can you bring out the Mazzaroth?” the question is in the imperfect tense. Unlike the creation of Orion, the motion of the Zodiac is continual and present. While God does reference past actions of his, he is also asking Job about the things God does RIGHT NOW.

This leaves a strange pattern in Job. We see the plot goes something like this:

  • Really bad things happen to Job.
  • Job is sad and doesn’t know why bad things are happening to him.
    • Job wonders aloud why bad things are happening to him.
    • Job’s friends try to provide answers.
    • Job pushes back on their answers. (This is the context of Job 9)
  • God answers Job by telling Job everything he does.
    • After hearing this, Job is like “You know what? I’ll just cover my mouth.” (See Job 40:3-5)
  • But God answers “WELL, TOO BAD! Put on your big-boy pants, because I’M NOT FINISHED!” (See Job 40:6), and he continues telling Job of all his works.
    • After hearing this, Job literally says “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6)

Here’s the weird thing to notice. God answers NONE OF JOB’S QUESTIONS. But after seeing what God showed him, Job is like…. “You know what? Never mind. I’m good.”

This is extraordinarily profound. It’s not hiding the ball at all. Instead, it is showing you how to see your place in the grand scheme of things.

Conclusion

So this past year hasn’t been so good for us. We might all be wondering why the things that have been happening to us are happening. What did we do to deserve this? You can wonder in saddened despair, but there’s another way to approach it.

  • Go outside at night, and look up at the sky. Find Jupiter. Look at it for a while, and appreciate its beauty. Then realize that God placed a gigantic planet 317.8 times the size of the entire in a nearly-perfect circular orbit that takes 12 years to complete, all so that you can see ONE SINGLE point of light out of countless other beautiful stars.
  • But don’t stop there. Wait until morning, and watch the sunrise. Notice that God fashioned the atmosphere in such a way that it acts like a lens, so that you can see the beauty of the sunrise before the sun actually rises. Because if you were actually looking at the sun when it rose, it would burn your eyes and cause blindness. Isn’t it weird that you can watch a sunrise? Did you even know that was the reason it was possible?
  • And finally, wait until evening. Then, go find Venus in the sky (it will become visible at sunset starting at the very end of April 2021, and stay visible until December of 2021). Watch it each and every evening at sunset. Watch it day by day as it changes its phases, increases in brightness, and grows noticeably larger to the naked eye.

Notice the myriad good things of enormous power that have been done and continue to be done DAILY. Knowing that, try to recognize that the same being who did all that also takes notice of you. With that knowledge, see if you can be a bit more content as you continue. And if that’s not good enough for you, call on God personally, and hope you stay safe as he answers from the whirlwind.

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