The Speeches of Elihu - Job 32:1-37:24 (cont.)
The speeches of Elihu began in Job 32. The first speech made by this young man expressed his anger at Job’s friends for not adequately answering Job. Then in chapter 33 Elihu addressed Job directly and urged him to learn the lessons God wanted to teach him. The final verses of Job 33 reflect well the immature character of Elihu. In verse 31 he appeals to Job to be quiet and listen to him. Perhaps Elihu felt that Job’s responses to the comforters had interrupted their train of thought. He wants the privilege of speaking his whole piece before Job replies. Yet, such a request was highly inappropriate for a young man in that culture to make of an older man who had been as respected as Job. So in verse 32 he offers Job the privilege of the floor if he has something significant to say. But verse 33 flip-flops back and urges Job to be quiet and listen.
Elihu has not enjoyed a good reputation in the history of biblical interpretation. Several of the early church fathers thought him to be overly arrogant. Some modern scholars have been so disgusted with Elihu that they skipped commenting on his speeches with a few dismissing sentences. However, Elihu’s role in the book of Job is different from that of the three comforters. They were Job’s peers and were committed to seeking his restoration. Elihu, on the other hand, was a young man with a promising future. He attempts to offer a change in perspective that will encourage Job and provide hope while everyone waits for God to respond. To his credit Elihu focuses more on God than on human susceptibility to sin and error. His point that God may permit or even bring suffering to cause growth and maturity is a valid point. It is not the answer in every case, but it does reflect a genuine biblical insight that is expressed frequently in Hebrews 12:1-17 and in 1 Peter.
Elihu’s Second Speech – Job 34:1-37
Since Job did not speak up when Elihu offered him the opportunity in Job 33:32, the young philosopher’s second speech follows in chapter 34. The primary point of this speech is to defend God’s righteousness against Job’s complaint. Elihu especially emphasizes the fact that God does not show partiality in judgment. He seems to fear that Job would or perhaps already had rejected God’s discipline of suffering. If so, Job would face God’s final punishment of death – an end Elihu hoped could be avoided. The first four verses are a summons to listen. The main part of the chapter, verses 5-33, present Elihu’s argument. The final verses voice Elihu’s judgment against Job.
The invitation to listen in verses 1-4 reflects Israelite culture and Old Testament values. Israelite culture is noteworthy in its lack of pictures and sculpture. God had forbidden the construction of any image that would claim to be a visual representation of himself. This prohibition of idolatry appears to have been extended by the Israelites into a rejection of most kinds of visual art. Perhaps it was a way of marking themselves off against the pagan cultures that surrounded them. For Israel the ear rather than the eye was the focus of artistry. Thus verse 3 celebrates the delight that comes from words with zest and taste. However, words simply for the sake of word artistry fall short of the biblical standard. Verse 4 speaks of the two values most prominently urged in the Old Testament. That which is right and that which is good stand above other values for the Old Testament and Elihu urges those who are wise to choose those values. The emphasis on choosing the right and the good brings to mind Joshua 24:15, "choose this whom you will serve."
The main argument begins in verses 5-9 with Elihu’s summary of Job’s position. Though the three comforters were never accurate in their presentation of Job’s position, Elihu is. He correctly states four points that represent Job’s complaint. Job declares that he is innocent. The word translated "innocent" in most modern versions is the Hebrew word for "righteous" (as the King James correctly shows). The second part of verse 5 complains that God had deprived Job of justice. The Hebrew word (mishpat) includes both the idea of due process to achieve justice ("right," NRSV) and the resulting fair treatment. By refusing to answer, God was denying Job the due process by which he could understand what God had against him. The two parts of verse 5 express the heart of Job’s complaint. Though Job had never used the exact words of verse 6a they express his concern. Though Job claims to be innocent God is treating him as if he were guilty and thus treating him as a liar.
Elihu is most concerned about Job’s attitude. Verses 7-9 reveal this concern. The scorn or scoffing of the community should have brought humility to Job along with the humiliation. Instead Job’s persistent claim of innocence seemed liked hardened arrogance to Elihu. Such arrogant rejection of public criticism moved Job into the company of the wicked. Verse 9 reveals the smallness of Elihu’s mind. Job’s questioning implied that there was no advantage to serving God if God was going to treat him as he had. Elihu then accuses Job of teaching such a position when, in fact, Job was struggling to understand why life wasn’t working the way he had been taught.
Verses 10-30 then state and defend Elihu’s main point that God is righteous. Verses 10-15 state the point. Verse 12 makes the point most concisely, "the Almighty will not pervert justice." Verse 11 states the matter in terms of the practical procedures – God repays people according to their deeds. Verse 10 puts the matter negatively – God does not do wrong.
These verses approach the central problem of the book of Job but they do not answer it. If verse 11 is correct why is Job suffering? If verse 12 is wrong then Job has no basis for appeal and the whole biblical world view is wrong. The pagan gods of Israel’s neighbors were capricious. They threw thunderbolts in their anger and humans frantically tried to appease them, but with no way of knowing what the gods really wanted. In contrast the God of Scripture acts on the basis of righteousness rather than whim. His wrath is unleashed against wickedness. That means that we always know how to live in a way that pleases God. Elihu’s point is quite correct, but it fails to explain why Job has suffered.
Verses 16-30 defend this position. Elihu points out God governs the universe. Such responsibility without justice and judgment is inconceivable. Verse 19 notes God’s impartiality. This is a frequent biblical theme. The Hebrew expression for showing partiality is very interesting. It literally means "to lift up a face." The picture is of a king who moves along a row of people bowed before him lifting their face to see if he recognizes them before deciding what to do with them. Verse 19 points out that with God rich and poor alike receive the same treatment. James 2:1-9 points out that equal treatment of all people regardless of their appearance, wealth, or status is expected of the church. James 2:8-9 makes it clear that the commandment to love one’s neighbor as one’s self forbids showing partiality. This is a point in which our cultural bias and prejudices are condemned by biblical teaching.
Contrary to much popular opinion today Elihu declares in verse 23 that there is not a set time for a person to appear before God. The Hebrew text is not completely clear and English translations offer a variety of opinions. The New Revised Standard Version follows many recent scholars in rendering it, "For he has not appointed a time for anyone to go before God in judgment." The popular idea that a person dies "whenever their number is up" has no basis in Scripture. Elihu’s point here is that God is free to act in any way at any time. Neither kings nor fate force God into any specific timetable or course of action. God can judge without investigation for he is accountable to no one. Verse 29 appears to confirm this perspective.
The Hebrew text of verses 29-30 are also difficult to decipher. However, the point appears to be that there are times when God remains silent and allows the course of human history to carry out his will. Elihu suggests that no one can condemn God at such a time because humans do not know how the course of events will finally turn out.
Elihu is very correct assuming that we can know that God is using the events of human history to accomplish his will. Such an assumption is part of the faith of the Old Testament. However, as Andersen (p. 254) points out, there are potential dangers to such a view. Some Christians have taken this view point as a reason not to resist injustice and evil. Rather than denouncing oppression some people have shrugged their shoulders and said that God would eventually work things out. No doubt God will work things out through the course of history eventually, but God works through human decisions. If we will resist evil and fight injustice we will be part of the human history that God uses to accomplish his will.
Elihu returns to a common theme in Job 34:31-37 as he calls for Job to repent. The words that Elihu suggests Job pray in verse 32 are appropriate for anyone at any point of spiritual life. It is a prayer for God to teach us what we do not understand and a promise to stop any evil that is part of our lives.
Elihu’s second speech has moved in a different direction from his first speech. The sense of compassion and openness of the first speech has given way to an urgency to defend God. Elihu has become concerned that he must protect God’s righteousness from the kind of questioning that Job is doing. The three friends of Job believed God was punishing their friend for some sin that if he would repent God would relent. Elihu believed that Job’s error was in questioning God. This second speech then warns Job "that he will have to abandon his complaint against God and his avowal of innocence if he is ever to find reconciliation with God. In this way Elihu prepares Job for a proper response to" God’s speeches that will follow (Hartley, p. 462).
Elihu’s Third Speech – Job 35:1-16
Elihu’s third speech focuses in more intently on the issue of Job’s complaints against God. Verses 1-4 paraphrase the position taken by Job and verses 5-16 contain Elihu’s speech on God’s sovereignty and justice.
Job has never stated that he is more righteous than God as verse 2 claims. However, he has defended his own innocence so strongly and has accused God of treating him unjustly that he seemed to assume that he was more righteous than God. The issue of verse 3 is more subtle. Once again Job has not exactly said what Elihu says that he has, "How am I better off than if I had sinned?" However, Job’s rejection of the theology of retribution held by his three comforters amounts to the same thing.
In fact, Elihu has hit on one of the major issues of the book of Job, namely, why serve God? Job has claimed that God has treated him as a sinner when he was righteous. It is a fair question to then ask, how was Job better off than if he had sinned? The answer is clearly that Job is better off because his integrity is intact, his faith is recovering, and he has been obedient in the most difficult time of his life. However, the payback has been entirely spiritual rather than physical. If a person believes in serving God for material blessings that person must conclude that Job might as well have sinned.
Because Elihu is so bound up in retribution theology he assumes that Job must have served God just for the material benefits. As a result he concludes that Job would now be wishing that he had eaten, drunk, and been merry for all the good his righteousness had done. Job has not drawn that conclusion, but Elihu makes his speech in verses 5-16 on that assumption. He begins by appealing to nature in verse 5. If Job would only ponder the universe’s vast expanse he would surely conclude that he could accomplish nothing against the Creator of such a world. Wisdom literature often appeals to various aspects of creation as instructive of how human beings should live. Elihu emphasizes the contrast between God’s greatness and human smallness.
Verses 6-7 point out that neither sinfulness nor righteousness affects God. Neither an individual sin nor a multitude of sins can reduce God’s majestic holiness. On the other hand righteousness is not a gift that God "needs." God seeks righteousness but not to make up for something that he lacks within himself. Elihu’s point is correct, but it does not address Job’s complaints. Job already understands this truth and has said nothing contrary to Elihu’s statements here.
Verse 8 then affirms the impact of both sin and righteousness on other human beings. Once again Elihu’s actual words are true, but his implication is wrong. It is true that wickedness has a powerful social impact that often snowballs by encouraging others in their wickedness. It is also true that righteousness affects others by encouraging them in their uprightness. However, Elihu implies that such social impact is the only result of either wickedness or righteousness. That is not true and Job has never implied such a position.
Job 35:9-16 then address the question, "Why doesn’t God answer prayer?" This is a very practical question in many people’s lives who, like Job, do not seem to be getting the answer from God they want to hear. There are many quick and easy answers to the question of unanswered prayer. "You didn’t have enough faith," or "You prayed from the wrong motive," or "You must have some hidden and unconfessed sin," are answers that are often given to people desperate to know why God doesn’t answer them. There is enough plausibility in these answers that many people accept them as the real answers. Of course, it is possible that a person has prayed without faith or from the wrong motive or with hidden sin. However, often God does not answer prayer and none of those reasons are true. That was Job’s case and the typical human answers were of no use to him. Andersen (p. 257) points out that if perfect faith, totally pure motives, and perfect sinlessness were required probably no prayers would be answered.
Elihu points to wrong motives and sinfulness as the reasons God does not answer in verses 12-13. In his mind answers to prayer are as automatic as punishment of the wicked. Therefore it is the fault of the one who prays if his or her prayer is not answered. Pride or emptiness is the reason God does not respond. Clearly Elihu is not just speaking theoretically here. He specifically has Job in mind as verse 16 makes clear. For Job to complain that God does not answer him and that he can not see God is "impertinence" since the fault clearly lies with Job (Andersen, p. 258).
Elihu’s Fourth Speech – Job 36:1-37:24
Elihu’s fourth and final speech returns to a more compassionate tone. There are two major sections in this speech though not all scholars agree on the exact point of transition from the first to the second part. The first portion of this speech appears in Job 36:1-21 and contains the culmination of the human arguments that have appeared throughout the book. The second part of the speech is found in Job 36:22-37:24 and it prepares the way for the speeches of God that will characterize the final section of Job.
Elihu begins with an appeal for patience in Job 36:1-4. It is possible that the author of Job is being ironic at this point. Though Elihu pleads for patience the readers’ patience with human answers is nearly exhausted by this point. The arrogance of Elihu in verses 3-4 leaves one wondering if the author intends for the readers to react with disgust. The final line of verse 4 is literally a claim in the Hebrew text to be perfect in knowledge. In support of those who believe the author intends the readers to take Elihu seriously is the fact that the following verses present "a more mature and engaging statement of orthodox theology than anything found elsewhere in the book" (Andersen, p. 258).
Verses 5-12 restates the theme that God sends trouble to test and train people. Elihu affirms in verse 6 that God will not preserve the wicked forever but will bring judgment to them. On the other hand God "does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous" according to verse 7. Verse 9 assures us that God will always let the righteous know if they stray from the right. Verse 10 further develops the idea by promising discipline or instruction (the frequent word from Proverbs, musar) to those who need to change their lives.
Verses 11-12 present the two possible responses to this discipline. Verse 11 points out that the erring righteous can listen to God’s direction and serve him. Two important Hebrew verbs are used in verse 11. The first is shema and means both to listen and to obey. Hearing without obedience was an expression of rebellion against God in Old Testament thought. The second word is ‘abad which means to serve and also to worship. It is an important insight of Hebrew thought that to listen obediently to God and to serve him is an act of worship. Thus worship is not confined to the sanctuary but is obedient service to God in every moment of the day. Authentic worship in the sanctuary sums up a life of obedience service to God throughout the week.
Verse 12 poses the alternative response. One can refuse to listen obediently to God. The pain and problems of life are words of discipline and instruction. Those who will not hear and obey those instructions will "die without knowledge." The author of Job has an intriguing play on words in the Hebrew text of verses 11-12. One may (and should) hear (shema) and serve ('abad) God. However, it is also possible not to hear (lo shema) and to cross ('abar) the river of death. From the perspective of the Wisdom literature to die without knowledge reflects the worst possible end to which a person could come.
Verses 13-14 further describe that end of an unrighteous person and verse 15 sums up Elihu’s teaching on God’s discipline. The second person singular "you" addressing Job personally marks a new section in verses 16-21. These verses call on Job to accept God’s discipline that is coming through his tragedy and to be careful to not continue on the way to sin to which Job’s questioning spirit is leading.
The final section of Elihu’s speeches turns our attention to God. Job 36:22 begins with the Hebrew word that calls for attention, "Beware" or "Behold." That verse states that God is exalted in his power. But the sovereignty of God is linked to God as an effective teacher. Verse 24 calls on Job (and us) to extol God’s work. Praise of God through the songs of God’s people is the best antidote for self pity and discouragement.
Verses 26-33 exemplify this praise as Elihu sings the greatness of God. God’s eternality (verse 26), creativity (verses 27-30), and providential guidance (verse 31) are extolled. Job 37:1 turns to Elihu’s personal response to God’s greatness as he testifies to his heart leaping out in joyful praise. The theme of God’s power over the weather is a connecting theme throughout Job 36:26-37:13. Thunder, lightning, snow, rain, wind, ice, and clouds are mentioned as vehicles of revelation of the greatness of God. Any people of any culture could appropriately sing such praises. However, these words would have been especially powerful in their original Old Testament context. The claim of Baal worshippers was that Baal controlled the weather and especially the storms (see Baal Worship in the Old Testament). Elihu sings the praise of a God who is more powerful than the rival gods of the surrounding nations because he controls the weather that they claim as their territory.
In Job 37:14-20 Elihu appeals to Job to give personal attention to God’s greatness that is demonstrated in the weather. It is no advantage to know all this about God theoretically if no application is made to one’s own life. Verses 21-24 conclude Elihu’s final speech by exalting God. Verse 24 specifically calls on all people to fear God. The final line is difficult to translate but Hartley (pp. 483-484) argues for, "Indeed, all the wise of heart see him." The fear of God and the opportunity of wise persons to see him prepare us for the revelation coming in the speeches of God. Verse 24 agrees with the final line of the hymn of wisdom in Job 28, "Behold, the fear of the Lord is wisdom."
The Speeches of Yahweh - Job 38:1-42:6
The climax of the book of Job comes with the speeches of Yahweh beginning in chapter 38. After 35 chapters of human discussion that has often seemed futile and meaningless, God finally speaks. Yahweh has not spoken since Job 1-2 and there he had only spoken to the satan. The covenant name "Yahweh" has not appeared in Job since chapter 2 (many versions translate this proper name as Lord in small caps). All the chapters of human discussion used the impersonal term of the God of power, El, to refer to God.
Yahweh responded to Job out of the whirlwind. The emphasis on God’s control of the weather in Elihu’s final speech has prepared the way for the author to present Yahweh speaking from the whirlwind or tempest. Hartley (p. 487) catches the mood when he writes:
For all the sense of anticipation and now fulfillment that comes with Yahweh’s speeches they do not answer directly the questions that have filled the book of Job. No mention is made of Job’s claim to innocence; his complaints are ignored; and no punishment or reprimand for wrong doing is directed toward Job. Instead God the Teacher (Job 36:22) begins to open up the truth that pertains to Job.
The Yahweh speeches consist of two speeches by Yahweh each followed by a brief response by Job. The Lord’s first speech appears in Job 38:1-40:2 with Job’s response coming in Job 40:3-5. The second Yahweh speech is found in Job 40:6-41:34 with Job’s response appearing in Job 42:1-6.
A variety of literary techniques and genres have been used to develop these speeches. Analyzed from the response that these speeches elicit it is most appropriate to call them hymns of praise. Yet the most common feature within them is the rhetorical question. Rhetorical questions were not used in Old Testament hymns of praise. From the perspective of Israelite culture the rhetorical questions suggest the literary form called disputation. A disputation is not a formal indictment but it offers the accused (Yahweh) an opportunity to challenge the complaints of the accuser (Job). The rhetorical questions draw Job (and us) into agreement with God and create a fellowship of shared convictions. Rather than using his power or authority to force Job into submission Yahweh invites his servant into the fellowship of agreement by use of the rhetorical questions. This breaks down Job’s defensiveness and offers him the opportunity to shift from demanding God’s acknowledgment of his innocence to accepting God’s true character. As Hartley (p. 489) notes, "Then Job may trust his honor and his destiny to Yahweh, confident that Yahweh is sovereign and that he rules in justice and in kindness."
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you study each day ask the Lord to speak to you through his word. Ask the Holy Spirit to make the word come alive to you for that day.
First Day: Read the notes on Job 34:1-38:41. Look up the Scripture references given.
1. Identify some new concept or bit of information that seemed important to you. Why did you find it important?
2. Select a spiritual insight that has a significant application in your life and describe how it applies to you.
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to speak to you in response to some difficult question that you may have found impossible to answer with human resources.
Second Day: Read Job 38:1-40:2. Now focus in on Job 39:1-40:2.
1. What is the general subject of Job 39? What impression of God do you get by reading chapter 39?
2. What does verse 17 specifically say about God? Read James 1:17. What application does it have to Job 39:17? What application does it have for your life?
3. Do God’s questions become more pointed near the end of chapter 39? If so why do you think that happened? What conclusion(s) do you think God was wanting Job to draw?
Third Day: Read Job 40:1-41:34. Now focus your attention on Job 40:1-14.
1. Read Job 7:20-21; 9:2-3, 14-19; 13:3, 17-28; 23:2-7; and 33:13. In light of these verses what is God’s point in Job 40:2? Have you ever wanted to argue with God? What would you say if he invited you to speak?
2. From Job 40:3-5 what would you say Job has learned? Compare his attitude with that revealed in Genesis 18:23-27:32:9-10; 2 Samuel 24:10 and 1 Timothy 1:12-17. With which passage do you most closely identify? Why?
3. Compare Job 40:6-9 with Psalm 50:3-11 and Isaiah 1:18-20. What does God expect Job to do? What would you say if you were in Job’s position?
Fourth Day: Read Job 40:1-41:34. Focus in on Job 40:10-24.
1. Do you think God is speaking seriously or sarcastically to Job in Job 40:10-14? Why do you think so? Compare verse 11 with Psalm 4:4 and Ephesians 4:26. What conclusions do you draw?
4. What do the focus verses say about "behemoth?" What is the significance of the author mentioning in verse 15 that God created the behemoth just like he created Job? What conclusions can you draw for the way Christians should treat the environment?
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you appreciate the world which he has created. Ask him to guide you in the appropriate ways you can help take care of his world.
Fifth Day: Read Job 40:1-41:34. Focus your attention on Job 41:1-34.
1. What do verses 1-11 imply about God’s relationship with Leviathan? What larger conclusions can you draw about God’s relationship with all creatures?
2. What further claims does God make about Leviathan and his relationship with Leviathan in verses 12-24? Based on chapter 41 what do you think a Leviathan is? Why would God use the Leviathan as an illustration?
3. Verse 24 portrays the terror the hardness of Leviathan’s chest or heart. What do Isaiah 48:4; Jeremiah 5:3; and Zechariah 7:12 say about human hardness? What solution is given in Ezekiel 36:25-29?
Sixth Day: Read Job 41:1-42:17. Now focus in on Job 42:1-17.
1. Does Job make the right response to God in verses 1-6? Why do you think so or why do you think he did not?
2. What was God’s response to Job’s three friends? Do you think he was too hard, too soft, or just right in his response to them? Why?
3. Do you think the account of Job’s renewed blessings is an appropriate ending to the book or does it leave a "bad taste" in your mouth? Why do you answer the way you do?