Job 38:4 - When All the Sons of God Shouted for Joy

Job 38:4 - When All the Sons of God Shouted for Joy

A study into the reference of the “sons of God” in Job 38:4

"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4-7)

A common interpretation of this passage equates the “sons of God” with heavenly angels. At a cursory glance, this is logical. For who else could rejoice with God at the creation? There is no doubt that angels, being God’s messengers, were instrumental in creation. Nevertheless, upon closer inspection this interpretation does not merit the context of Job 38. The “sons of God” is referring here to aspects of God’s actual creation, that is, the heavenly bodies such as light, stars and clouds as well as the seas. It is figurative language used of all God’s creative works, which declare his glory and show forth to man that a great designer does exist.

The reason for this study is to invalidate that heavenly angels are a reference to the “sons of God” in any passage of scripture. The Hebrew word for God here in Job 38:4 is “elohim” and is a plural word meaning “mighty ones”. Elohim itself denotes a company of angels. So there is a problem that if the word “elohim” refers to angels then how can it be said that “sons of God (mighty ones)” also refers to angels? Do angels have children? Psalm 89:6 seems to be the only sure reference to the angels as the “sons of God” or “sons of the mighty” but here the Hebrew word for “mighty” is El, the singular form, which is to be expected.[1]

A proper understanding of this passage will also be beneficial in discussion with proponents of the perplexing false doctrine of wicked fallen angels. The passage in Job 1 (also Genesis 6:2-4)[2] is often brought into the debate for proof assuming that the “sons of God” = angels. Of course these passages only make mention of the “sons of God” which can also easily be demonstrated to be mortal men. At this point Job 38:4 is brought up as proof that the “sons of God” refers to angels. It is further argued that for the writer of Job to be consistent the scene in Job 1 must also be referring to angels. A principle pillar of the argument then either stands or falls upon Job 38:4 and its correct interpretation. The context must decide the case.

Background and Context

Job 38 begins the lengthy reproof of Job by Yahweh for questioning His omniscience. The whole reproof from chapters 38 to 41 deals with the great wonders of God’s creation. More specifically chapter 38 deals with the first four days of creation by making repeated reference to light, stars, clouds and waters. The later chapters from 39 to 41 deal with days five and six by looking at the wonders of the animal kingdom.

Throughout chapter 38, God describes his creation as being born, as if it were a child. Notice the birth language that immediately follows the reference to the “sons of God”:

"When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb? When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it" (Job 38:7-9).

If the created things of God are born then they are his sons. The breaking forth of water in creation is a fitting symbol for the birth of the world for this is what happens in natural childbirth. The “swaddlingband” is also a birth term for it is the blanket reserved for wrapping up the newborn child (cp. Ezek. 16:4).

Verses 28-29 also imply that the water is God’s child,

"Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?"

This is simply part of the poetic language of the Lord that gives to his creation a personality where even lightning can talk (v. 35). By comparing God’s ancient creation, born so long ago, to the comparably recent birth of Job (v. 21) the argument drives home Job’s own inadequate council.

Although the creation is nowhere else spoken of as a “son of God”, two areas draw close connections in other scriptures. First, there are passages that speak of God’s creation as a birth. Secondly, that these inanimate works of his hands can give him praise, sing and speak as if they had a personality.

Creation as a Birth

Proverbs personifies wisdom as a woman who has been with the Lord from before the creation of the heavens and earth. The language used in Proverbs 8:23-29 bears many striking similarities to Job 38 as it talks about the foundation of the earth, waters and clouds. Verses 23-24 pick up the birth theme,

"When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth."

The Hebrew word for “brought forth” is “chuwl” (H2342) and has a couple of meanings but in many instances it has the idea of birth (Job 39:1 “calve”; Psalm 51:5 “shapen”) as in writhing in pain (Isaiah 13:8; 26:17-18). The point to notice here is that “wisdom” was symbolically born as a child. Verse 30 continues this language,

"Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him."

It is interesting to note that “rejoicing” is mentioned here as it was in Job 38:4 when the “sons of God shouted for joy.” The word “brought up” has the idea of “to foster as a parent or nurse.”[3] Quite fitting language then for wisdom as the firstborn of God’s creation.

If the Bible speaks about the creation of wisdom as being born before the formation of the earth then it is not surprising to see similar language used about other aspects of God’s creation. Psalm 90:2 has the same words “brought forth” translated as “formed” but here in reference to the earth:

"LORD, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth[4], or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God" (Psalm 90:1-2).

Here then is a key verse that uses the birth terms in reference to God’s creation. Interestingly enough it is used to emphasis the same thing as in Job.

That the term “sons of God” does refer to chosen men is beyond doubt. This is its sole usage in the New Testament. The Old Testament uses this birth language for the Israelites (Deut. 32:18-19). Isaiah even goes as far to associate the wonders of creation with the creation of his chosen people.

"Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself" (Isaiah 44:24)

"Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me. I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded" (Isaiah 45:11-12).

"Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb” (Isaiah 46:3).

So not only are the inanimate objects of God’s creation born, but also the whole nation of Israel. The argument used here in Isaiah is similar to that of Job for God being the all-powerful Creator leaves us no place to question his authority. He will look after all the works of his hands like a Father to a child.

The Personality of Creation

Not only does God speak of his creation as a child but he also gives it personality. He does this especially in the aspects of singing and rejoicing as we’ve already seen in Job 38:4. Isaiah 44:23 uses the exact same words,

"Sing, O ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel" (see comment on v. 24 above. Cp. Isa 49:13).

There is some great symbology here but it cannot be lost that God animates his creation as a lesson. The blessings to come of the kingdom age will both be spiritual and physical. God will change mankind as well as his natural kingdom so that they both rejoice at the salvation. Isaiah 35:1-2 brings this out beautifully,

"The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God."

The Psalms also provide some examples of how God talks about the creation as being his witness so that it talks, sings and even shouts for joy.

"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof" (Psalm 19:1-6).

"They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at thy tokens: thou makest the outgoings of the morning[5] and evening to rejoice… Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness. They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side. The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing" (Psalm 65:8, 11-13).

The crowning Psalm showing all of God’s creation praising him is Psalm 148.

"Praise ye the LORD. Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights. Praise ye him, all his angels[6]: praise ye him, all his hosts. Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created" (Psalm 148:1-5).

Finally, it is interesting to compare Paul’s usage of this type of terminology in Romans 8:19-23 (RSV) where he also picks up on the phrase “sons of God”, puts it in terms of birth (i.e. groaning in travail), and associates it with the creation.

"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."[7]


The evidence before us suggests that the reference to “the sons of God” in Job 38:4 is not to angels but to God’s creation. The first clue comes from the context where birth language refers to the seas and precipitation. Other scripture provided more evidence that God’s handiwork is his child because it born. Last of all the personality of creation was presented showing that Bible language gives life to inanimate objects as if they speak, sing and rejoice for they in effect do show forth God’s greatness and power.

[1] The only other occurrence of the phrase “sons of El” is in Psalm 29:1 (mg., “mighty” = ben el) and Hosea 1:10.

[2] These are the only two places with the exact phrase “sons of Elohim”.

[3] For natural occurrences of this word see Num. 11:12; Ruth 4:16; 2 Sam. 4:4; 2 Kings 10:1 and Esther 2:7, 20.

[4] Strong’s 3205. yalad, yaw-lad'; a prim. root; to bear young; causat. to beget; med. to act as midwife; spec. to show lineage

[5] Cp. Job 38:4 “morning stars”

[6] The angels are closely associated with the creation in Psalm 103:20-22; 104:1-9.

[7] The term “the creation” could refer just to mankind but in light of the Old Testament references, we think it more probable that Paul is referring to God’s natural creation and the curse upon it from the time of Adam’s fall.