By Samuel Ridout
Division 3. (Job 32-37).
The manifestation of God's character of holiness and of mercy, as exhibited in the testimony of Elihu.
We have now reached a most important and interesting division of the entire book — the mediatorial address of Elihu. That we are justified in so speaking of it will be seen as we follow him in his noble words for God, and his searching and helpful words for Job. He reminds Job of his own desire for such a person: "Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both" (Job 9: 33); "Oh that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbor" (Job 16: 21). To this desire Elihu now replies: "Behold, I am according to thy wish, in God's stead; I also am formed out of the clay. Behold my terror shall not make thee afraid, neither shall my hand be heavy upon thee" (Job 33: 6, 7).
The appropriateness of Elihu's entrance just here is evident. The friends had been silenced, but apparently unconvinced; Job is left master of the situation, so far as self-vindication could give him such a place; and yet not only was the dark enigma unsolved, but God's character had been obscured. If the book had closed at this point, we would have had more difficulties raised than settled, and unbelief would have lurked among the grand but melancholy shades of the controversy, as it does to this point. On the other hand, if God had spoken directly, revealing Himself in majesty and power, as in the following division, the transition would have been too sudden, and Job's fear of being terrorized by His glory might have been justified.
Elihu therefore fits exactly into his place, giving another illustration of the divine authorship and perfection of the book. His address fittingly occupies the third place, for it is the moral manifestation of God, the display of His character, thus leading us out of the conflict of human thought on the one side, and preparing us for the right view of the "Faithful Creator" on the other.
In accordance with what has just been said, we find the address partakes, in its first part, of the style of the controversy between Job and his friends, though far different in other respects. At the close it is almost conformed to the words of Jehovah, dealing, as it does, with the grand displays of His glory and power as seen in the works of nature.
It seems strange that any other thought of Elihu could have been entertained, and yet from earliest times Christian expositors have held most contradictory views. Many have pointed out the fitness and wisdom of all that he says, but others have spoken of him as an impudent intruder — a young man puffed up with a sense of his own learning and importance! Elihu's appearance is styled "an uncalled-for stumbling in of a conceited young philosopher into the conflict that is already properly ended; the silent contempt with which one allows him to speak, is the merited reward of a babbler! "
If such contentions have a spark of truth in them, why is nothing said in the book about Elihu? Why is not he made to bring an offering with the three friends, and secure Job's intercession? Or is he too far gone even for such recovery? It has been said indeed that God rebukes him in the beginning of His reply: "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge" (Job 38: 2)? But this reply is to Job, not Elihu, and Job so recognizes it. It has also been said that Elihu himself is thrown into confusion by the appearing of Jehovah, and becomes incoherent and inane (Job 37: 19-24). We can only reply that to argue thus shows that one has failed to grasp the beauty of a most transcendent passage, viewed either as poetry or as the language of inspiration. But we turn from all this to look at the details which now come before us.
Elihu's address is divided for us practically by the language employed in the first verse of chapters 34, 35, and 36. This leaves us with but the introductory address to the friends and Job (chapters 32 and 33: 1-7), to be separated from his first main argument (Job 33: 8-33), and we have the five divisions of his address.
As already noticed, there is a manifest progress throughout the address, and well defined links with what precedes and follows.
1. — The emptiness and the failure of the controversy (Job 32-33: 7).
This portion is chiefly introductory. We have first an explanatory prelude in prose, introducing Elihu — somewhat similar to the opening and closing chapters of the book. This is followed by a courteous explanation of his silence thus far, and a scathing rebuke of the friends for their failure. He, however, is full of matter, and must speak with no uncertain sound for the honor of his Maker. He closes his exordium in words of conciliating kindness to Job, inviting any response he may have to give. The whole forms an admirable opening, in which modesty, indignation, earnestness and graciousness are blended together.
(1) This is the first mention we have of Elihu. He is not spoken of in the visit of the friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, in Job 2 11-13. While no direct statement to that effect is made, it is not improbable that persons may have come and gone during the controversy. No time limit is set, and there may have been periods of silence between the addresses. Be that as it may, Elihu had been an interested listener throughout, and was therefore in a position to speak when the others had become silent.
There is much appropriateness in the significance of his name — "My God is He." He does not speak for himself, but for God. In this way he is typical of our Lord, whose one object was to speak for the Father: "I have declared unto them Thy name" (John 17: 26).
He was the son of Barachel, "May God bless," suggesting, may we not say, that the blessing or favor of God is given to the one who stands for Him alone: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3: 17). As son of Barachel, we have a suggestion of the relationship between our Lord and the Father — "The Son of the Blessed." He was ever that; therefore, when He came into the world He could say, "I delight to do thy will, O God." Apart however from this full thought, we may gather that God's blessing produces and ever accompanies faithfulness to Him.
The family names are next given, "the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram." Buz was one of the sons of Nahor, and therefore connected with Abraham. Ram has been supposed to be abbreviated from Aram, marking the country where the family abode. Elihu therefore belonged to a well-known family and locality. But when we consider the significance of these names, we find a striking accord with what we have already seen. Buzi — "the despised;" Ram, "the exalted." We know of whom both these are true: "He is despised and rejected of men;" "He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high" (Isa. 53: 3; Isa. 52: 13). Thus we have illustrative confirmation of Elihu's typical place and work. We come now to the address.
The three friends having been silenced, and Job being left entrenched in his self-righteousness, Elihu's anger is doubly stirred — against Job for failing to glorify God by acknowledging His righteousness, and against the friends for stubbornly maintaining their accusations while unable to give a single proof. Elihu's attitude is perfectly explained in these few words. The remaining verses explain his courtesy in remaining silent, because of his youth and their age.
(2) He explains this silence now, in courteous words. However, it is not mere age which gives wisdom, but the spirit which comes from God — the breathing of God, which has made mortal man different from the beasts. So he, if he speak the wisdom of God, is entitled to be heard.
(3) He had carefully attended to all they had said, and not one of them had convinced Job, or satisfactorily answered him. We need only look back at the addresses of Eliphaz, beginning in such an elevated, dignified way, and ending in most brutal charges; at the similar, though not so harsh, words of Bildad; and at the vehement declarations of Zophar, to see how fully Elihu was justified in in his statements. Truly he could add, they had no right to claim they had found out wisdom. It was God, he declares, not man, who had thrust Job down, and made him realize his helplessness.
(4) Job has had no controversy with him, and he will not descend into the arena of the others, to strive with ineffectual words. Their present silence shows how completely vanquished they were. He now will speak — even he. For he is full, and must give utterance to the spirit that stirs within him, which is like new wine seeking a vent. He is constrained; necessity is laid upon him. How different is this from the scholarly, deliberate arguments to which Job had thus far been compelled to listen, or from a vehemence which had little of wisdom or justice in it. We are reminded of the apostle's word "Necessity is laid upon me" (1 Cor. 9: 16).
Nor will he use flattering words. He has no respect of persons, and this qualifies him to be the spokesman for God. All is most excellent. There is a tone of authority — "and not as the scribes" — that tells of one who knows whereof he speaks.
(5) Lastly, he turns to Job, not in the anger which will find a place later, but calmly and graciously. He entreats Job to listen to him, for all will be gone into fairly. His wisdom comes, not from human knowledge or experience merely, but is from the Almighty. Job is free to answer him if he does not accept his statements, for he, as well as Elihu, has a link with God. This seems to be the thought of the first part of the 6th verse. It reminds Job that God makes known His mind in a gentle way, that Job himself may learn that mind. And yet it reminds us of a divine authority which knew whereof he spoke. Then Elihu was a man, too, so Job need not be terrified. He could say, as Peter, "I myself also am a man" (Acts 10: 26).
Let us, then, not despise the youth of Elihu, but listen to the sober lessons he will give us. We may look for better things than the accusations and reasonings of man, or the wail of the afflicted.
2. — The purpose of God in chastening (Job 33: 8-33).
Having cleared the way, in his introductory address to the friends and to Job, Elihu plunges at once into the heart of the matter. We note a marked change in the manner of his treatment of the subject from the method of the three friends. There is an evident expectation of results. He does not propose to let such momentous questions as had been raised remain in the chaotic condition they now were, when all the contestants had fought to a standstill, and none were convinced. His addresses therefore are not a declamatory statement of his own principles, but an appeal to Job's conscience and reason. There is a marked absence of the abusive and insulting manner of the friends, while there is a most faithful and unsparing uncovering of Job's faults, without stirring up opposition.
Underlying all that was said by the friends was a wretched suspicion, growing into a certainty, that Job is a hypocrite. For this they had not the slightest proof, but everything to the contrary. They were forced to it by their theory, and for the sake of that they trample under foot all natural and gracious affection. Nothing wounds an upright and affectionate man as unfounded suspicions and charges growing out of this. From all this Elihu is entirely free. He takes Job as he knows him and as he finds him. He entertains no suspicions, makes no unfounded charges. Much indeed he has to say, but Job's own words are his evidence. Evil there is, but it is not evil acts, but pride, self-will, doubt as to God — things which can be brought home to Job's conscience.
As we have therefore admitted, there is a great measure of truth in what the friends have said, but it has been one-sided truth, distorted and vitiated by a wrong principle — that all suffering is for wickedness, and is a proof that every afflicted man is only a sinner found out. The contrast in Elihu will appear as we examine his address. It has been contended that he repeats, in a feebler way, the statements of Eliphaz; but as we examine the points of similarity, this will be abundantly disproved.
This much may also be said: that the long and futile controversy had prepared Job to listen to Elihu, as he probably would not at the first. He had "talked himself out," had poured out his lamentations, resented his friends' charges, declared his own uprightness, and withal had manifested his faith in God, while most gravely failing to see His character. All this had been brought out by the addresses of the friends, and to that extent they served a useful purpose. It may be well to add here that Elihu himself does not bring everything to a full conclusion. That is left to Jehovah Himself.
From its salient features, the present address may be divided into four parts:
(1) Elihu's chief concern throughout is the vindication of God's character from the aspersions cast upon it by Job. He is not so much occupied with what Job had done or what he was — although entertaining no unworthy suspicions — but Job had uttered sentiments in his own hearing which he could not allow to pass unreproved. This is as it should be. God must ever be first, His honor the chief concern of those who know Him. In this Job had sadly failed.
Elihu refers to many of Job's own statements in proof of the dishonor done to God. Some of these he quotes exactly; for others he gives the substance of much that Job had said. He quotes him as saying, "I am clean, without transgression; I am innocent, neither is there iniquity in me"(ver. 9). Compare such statements as these: "Thou knowest that I am not wicked" (Job 10: 7); "Not for any injustice in my hands; also my prayer is pure" (Job 16: 17); "Till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart will not reproach me so long as I live" (Job 27: 5, 6).
It may be said that Job was simply refuting the charges of wickedness brought by the friends; but he was also accusing God of dealing unfairly with him, in punishing an innocent man.
This is manifest in the next quotations: "Behold, He findeth occasions (or, malicious things) against me, He counteth me for His enemy" (Job 33: 10). So he had declared, "These things hast Thou hid in thy heart . . . Thou humblest me as a fierce lion . . . changes and war are against me" (Job 10: 13–17). "Wherefore hidest Thou thy face, and holdest me for thine enemy?" (Job 13: 24; so also Job 19: 11). Thus the insult against divine majesty becomes glaring — Job is pure, but God treats him as impure! "He putteth my feet in the stocks; He marketh all my paths" (Job 33: 11). This is a verbal quotation — "Thou putteth my feet also in the stocks, and lookest narrowly unto all my paths" (Job 13: 27).
So Elihu does not misrepresent Job, nor catch at a random expression. Indeed, the chief sorrow of the patriarch was he seemed to be losing that beneficent Being in whom be once delighted. It will not do to say that in spite of these doubts Job also admitted God's power and knowledge; that he also expressed his confidence in Him and a desire to plead his cause before Him. But how could this be harmonized with such statements as those quoted by Elihu? Such charges must be met, and Job convinced of their falsity, or he could never have peace in his own soul, and a dark blot would rest upon God's honor.
How then will Elihu answer? Will he imitate the friends by going into elaborate statements? Will he apologize for the apparent discrepancy in God's ways, and seek to explain it away? No; in one brief sentence he sets aside all human reasonings — "God is greater than man." In other words, God is God. If we are to reason, let it not be from the lesser to the greater, but from the greater to the less. Let us say, How could the Almighty, all-perfect Being commit an unrighteous act? "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18: 25). So Paul answers to one who would question the righteousness of God: "Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" (Rom. 9: 20). And a Greater than Paul rested in the absolute infallibility of God: "Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy. sight" (Matt. 11: 26).
So long as a soul raises a question against the character of God, he is in no state to have his difficulties met. Let the potsherds of the earth strive one with another; God will not stoop to such a conflict. "Why dost thou strive against Him? for He giveth not account of any of His matters" (ver. 13). This is the general and evident meaning of the passage. Slight changes are made in the translation — "God is too exalted for man"; He is too exalted to enter into controversy with man (Enosh, frail man). Ver. 13 is rendered, "Why hast thou contended with Him that He answereth not concerning all His doings?" — that is, Why is Job complaining at not receiving full replies to all his questionings? The soul must find its rest in God, not in our reasonings. "How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11: 33).
(2) But though infinitely above man, and beyond his comprehension, God is not indifferent to His frail creatures, nor arbitrary in His dealings with them. When once the soul is subject to God, and has taken its true place, He can unfold His ways to it. As soon as it is ready to admit that God has some wise purpose in view, He will show that affliction is but one of the methods of God's dealings with men, and that it has a definite object. This, Elihu now proceeds to explain. So long as Job accuses, he gets no answer; let him submit and God will make all plain.
There are two methods of the divine dealing of which Elihu speaks: the one is God instructing by dreams; the other, by affliction. These are closely connected, and may therefore be spoken of together.
In the days of the patriarchs, we may say that there was no revelation of God save that imparted to the individual. God thus made known His mind to Noah, to Abraham, and even to those who were largely ignorant of Him, as Abimelech and Laban (Gen. 20: 3, etc.; Gen. 31: 24). A dream or vision was often employed, but it was a divine revelation. Eliphaz refers to such a communication, in beautiful language, but not so definitely as Elihu does here (see Job 4: 12-21).
Elihu makes it plain that God thus speaks to man. When the light of nature is withdrawn, when all is silent, He speaks in "a still small voice" and makes known His mind. Thus instruction is sealed upon the heart of man. His object is to correct wrong thoughts and actions, to withdraw man from "mischief," or his purpose, and to hide pride from man (geber, the hero or mighty man). This goes deeper than action, for pride lurks in the heart, and God would hide it from man — hinder its control over him. "Keep back also thy servant from presumptuous sins" (Ps. 19: 13). Thus man is kept back from destruction. He bows to the correction of God's truth, and is thus spared from the smiting of the rod, or of the sword.
The same truth is in even fuller force now, for we need not a revelation by dreams and visions, but have it in the written word of God. He who spake in many ways (dreams among the rest) has now given us the full revelation of Himself in His Son, and this revelation — the entire word of God — we have in the Scriptures. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3: 16).
It is by this Word that God now speaks to men, to withdraw them from their purpose, to deliver His own from the snare of pride. Thus our Lord would have deterred Peter from his course of self-confidence. Had he hearkened to the word, he would have been spared the shameful experience of his failure (Luke 22: 31-34).
Alas, we must say that though God speaks thus once, yea twice, "yet man perceiveth it not."
But God has another way of speaking to men. If they do not hearken to His word, He may send them His rod. In enlarging upon this, Elihu practically describes the case of Job. Sore chastening pains come upon him, and his bones seem to wither in mortal strife. "My bones are pierced in me, and my sinews take no rest" (Job 30: 17). He is brought so low that he abhors even the food which would sustain his life. "The things that my soul refused to touch are as my sorrowful meat." "My soul is weary of my life" (Job 6: 7; Job 10: 1). His flesh is wasted away, and his bones look and stare upon him. "My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh" (Job 19: 20). He is at the last of life, drawing near to the grave, or the more dreadful "pit of destruction." "I know that Thou wilt bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living" (Job 30: 23).
Elihu does not in so many words say that Job has refused to hearken to God's admonitions, nor does he say he is describing his case exactly. He speaks of God's method of dealing with men. Has it no voice for Job? Can he not at least see that God is speaking in the affliction and that He has something to say?
(3) If man is to profit by this chastening of God, he must understand its purpose and for this is needed one who can explain it. The word for "messenger" is "angel," and this suggests a supernatural revealer of the mind of God. This we find frequently throughout the Old Testament, where the "angel" made known the will of God (see Judges 2: 1; Judges 13: 3, etc.). The "angel of Jehovah" is indeed His representative, so completely so as to be referred to as Jehovah Himself ("The angel of His presence," Isa. 63: 9, etc.). Here we have a suggestion of the Mediator, and this is accentuated by the next word, "an Interpreter," or "Mediator" (see Gen. 42: 23; 2 Chron. 32: 21) — one who, as an ambassador, is sent to make known the mind of God. Nor will an ordinary messenger suffice; it must be "one of a thousand" — a phrase reminding us of "the chiefest among ten thousand" (Cant. 5: 10).
Further than this Elihu could not go. He must let the veil remain until "The only begotten Son" should come, to declare God perfectly. But can we refuse the typical suggestion of Elihu's words?1
For who, after all, has or can explain God's ways, save Him who has "brought life and immortality to light?" By Him "we know that all things work together for good to them that love God."
"To show unto man his uprightness." Whose uprightness? Some would say man's; i.e., the interpreter would show man how to act in order to please God. Others would define this uprightness as penitence and confession; others, faith. Unquestionably man must be brought low if God is to exalt him. But does not an interpreter suggest one who reveals God? Was not Job's difficulty that he did not understand God's uprightness in His dealings with him? And was not the object of Elihu to make this uprightness plain — to produce self-judgment? Confidence in the uprightness of God is the foundation of an upright walk. "I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me" (Ps. 119: 75).
It is therefore the uprightness or righteousness of God that is declared; and here again we find the fuller light of the New Testament furnishing us with suited language: "To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus" (Rom. 3: 26). This indeed goes further than a declaration of God's uprightness in His ways; it shows us His essential attribute of justice displayed in the Cross of Christ, where justice has indeed found the suited ransom.
In Elihu's words we find a beautiful expression of the evangel of God — "Then He is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom;" or, in the language of the New Testament — "having obtained (Gk., found) eternal redemption" (Heb. 9: 12).
Thus a freshness better than that of youth is given — as Naaman furnishes an example. "His flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean" (2 Kings 5: 14). It is a new birth, by the incorruptible seed of the word of God.
Now we see the blessed results of this work of the Interpreter in the ransomed man. He can now pray with confidence, and rejoice in God's favor, beholding His face with joy. He has found a righteousness — not of his own goodness but of Another — "the righteousness which is of God by faith." Doubtless this includes the recognition of faithfulness in a child of God — as in Job's case; but the principle carries us much further.
As he is able now to speak to God in prayer, and to behold His face with joy, so the ransomed soul can speak to his fellows. "He looketh upon men," rather, "He singeth to men." It is part of the new song he has learned, which many shall hear, and be turned to the Lord. "I had sinned and perverted what was right" — Job will soon acknowledge his sin in perverting, misunderstanding, the righteous character of God. So the sinner can look back to the time when he was "a blasphemer and injurious." But this iniquity has not been requited to the once guilty one. "It was not recompensed to me" — for so should the last clause of verse 27 read. "He hath delivered my soul from going down into the pit, and my life shall see the light," ver. 28.
This, declares Elihu, is the secret of God's ways; time and time again it has been seen in the case of the sinner brought low into God's presence by the holy conviction of His word, and the sense of His hand upon him: so also in the case of the saint, who can say, "It is good for me that I was afflicted."
(4) And now, Job, what have you to say to all this? Elihu desires to bring out Job's true condition — he would not justify his wrong, but treat him with all fairness. He pauses for a reply: Job is not to be coerced, but does he not agree with what has been said? May we not interpret his silence as an acknowledgment of the truth of what we have been dwelling upon?
3. — God's Character Vindicated (Job 34).
Having paused for Job's reply, Elihu now continues his plea. The main theme of the present chapter is the vindication of God's character from the aspersions of Job. Impliedly, if not in so many words, Job had charged God with injustice. This is the main concern with Elihu. He is not taken up with reasonings as to heinous crimes attributed to Job by the friends; he indulges in no surmisings, insinuations or vituperations. His appeal is to man's reason; he states his facts, draws attention to the necessary recognition of God's character, which he vindicates from several points of view, and concludes this portion with the deliberate, yet gracious exhortation that Job should take the place of the lowly learner, in order that he may profit by his chastening. Having failed thus far to take such a place, there is nothing left but that Job should be further tried until he has learned his lesson. It is a most temperate and admirable treatment of his subject, and resembles the method of the friends only outwardly, if at all. The appeal to reason, coupled with the self-evident truth as to the nature of God, leads to the weighty conclusion that Job is the wrongdoer, not God. And this wrong is proven from the lips of the sufferer and from his attitude toward God.
We may divide the address into four main parts, the third of these being again subdivided, as indicated by its subjects.
(1) Elihu is not addressing the three friends as "wise men," nor any special individuals, apparently. It has been thought that he is speaking to the audience that had gathered round to listen to the controversy, which may be true, but the expression seems to be a general appeal to the judgment of the wise everywhere and for all time. Elihu is dealing with principles of universal application, the immediate occasion for their utterance being the examination of Job's attitude.
Quoting Job's own words (Job 12: 11), which seem to be in the form of a proverb, he reminds his hearers that the ear is the avenue for the reception and testing of words as the mouth is for food. Let them therefore accompany him in his search into the truth or falsity of Job's charges. Thus our Lord appealed to His hearers, "Why of your own selves judge ye not that which is right?" and the apostle says, "I speak as to wise men, judge ye what I say."
(2) As already noticed, Elihu deals fairly with Job's statements. He either quotes his words, or gives their substance, or draws manifest conclusions from them. Job had time and again declared he was righteous, or guiltless (so Job 10: 7). This is the whole burden of his complaint against God. He had declared that God had taken away his judgment (Job 27: 2), and that, being innocent, if he confessed sin he would be a liar; that his wound is incurable, in spite of his being without transgression (Job 23: 2; Job 30: 23, etc.).
Elihu likens such statements to the conduct of the wicked, into whose company Job, by his assertions, was putting himself. He was drinking up scorning like water (see ch. 15: 16). For surely if we lose faith in God's righteousness, what is left? This is walking "in the counsel of the ungodly," far more dangerous than outward forms of evil. The effect of such teaching is that there is no profit in seeking to please God, or have fellowship with Him. What a monstrous charge to fall from the lips of one who was a child of God! We can be thankful that Job's faith did not fail in spite of this cloud of unbelief; but Elihu in faithfulness must put the point of the knife upon the festering sore, more serious than his bodily ailments. How differently spoke our blessed Lord in His path of loneliness: "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places" (Ps. 16: 6); and who, in His darkest hour, justifies God's ways, saying, "But Thou art holy " (Ps. 22: 3).
(3) Elihu now refutes these implied and direct charges against God. He will vindicate His character, and while appealing to wisdom, he gives no uncertain sound, "Let God be true, but every man a liar" (Rom. 3: 4). He goes into the case with fulness, and we may note the various parts of his refutation. God is righteous:
(a) The very fact that God is denies that He is unrighteous. The absolutely Perfect One could not think or do evil. So James declares, "God cannot be tempted with evil" (James 1: 13). Let us mark well this method of reasoning. It turns from all second causes, from the difficult problems and dark enigmas in the world to Him who is light.
It finds its rest in God; blessed rest. "Far be it from God to do evil." "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1: 5). The Almighty — the Omnipotent — can do everything, but "He cannot lie." "He cannot deny Himself." This ensures perfect, even justice in His dealings with men; He will recompense man's own work to him, and He will cause him to find the results of his own ways. This does not mean that Job's friends are in the right as to their charges, but that God is dealing in absolute justice with Job, causing him to learn his needed lessons. How could God act wickedly or pervert the right? He would not be God if this were possible. The answer is most convincing.
(b) Let Job look at God's providential care over His creation. It is His own, and not something committed to Him by another. Suppose, instead of remembering the need of His dependent creation, He were to turn His heart only to Himself. He is absolutely self-sufficient. He needs nothing from without. In all the past of eternity, God — Father, Son and Spirit — found sufficient delight in the Divine circle. Suppose, says Elihu, He were to turn back into that Divine Sufficiency, and set His heart — not upon man, as in our version, but upon Himself — what would become of His creation? "All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again to dust" (ver. 15). "Thou takest away their breath, they die" (Ps. 104: 29). "The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works." So the apostle Peter tells the saints in the midst of suffering to "commit the keeping of their souls unto Him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4: 19). How good it is to remember that the One who "upholdeth all things by the word of His power," is also our Saviour, Lord and Friend.
(c) In this portion Elihu reminds Job of the dignity and greatness of God. If it is wrong to question the uprightness of a king, to call him Belial, who will dare to charge the All-just with evil? He looks upon princes and paupers alike, and all are the work of His hands. Their life hangs upon His will, in a moment He can cut them off — will we think of such an One as fickle, uncertain or unfair? The heathen indeed represented thus their deities, but for those who know the true God, how impossible it is to have such thoughts.
(d) Similarly, He is Judge — the all-seeing One, from whom no secret can be hid. Of Him the psalmist wrote, "Thou hast searched me and known me" (Ps. 139). His eye is upon every step of man; evil cannot hide itself from Him. He does not need to study a man's ways, but at a glance, as it were, knows him and enters into judgment with him. (Such is the meaning of ver. 23, rather than that of our version.) Similarly, in ver. 24, there is no need for "investigation" to determine the overthrow of evil men. He seeth through their works and brings upon them their crushing doom. How can we think of such an One, whose all-seeing eye pierces to the innermost recesses of the heart, being Himself in need of judgment?
(e) Lastly, Elihu with few words reminds his hearers of God's actual judgments; He smites evildoers who depart from Him; He remembers the cause of the poor and needy. So too, if He acquit, give quietness, who can condemn? "It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth?" (Rom. 8: 33, 34). If He hides His face, who can look upon. Him, whether He deal thus with a simple individual, or with mankind in general? He puts down evil men that the people be not ensnared by them.
Thus Elihu rapidly covers the ground. He does not judge according to the sight of his eyes, but drawing all his thoughts from God whom he knows, makes clear to every upright mind the correctness of his conclusions.
(4) This brings us to the conclusion of this part of his address. If Job has thus unfairly charged God, he has a most important lesson to learn. What is fitting for one in his position? — Bold assertion of self-righteousness, and accusations of God, or the humble acknowledgment of his wrong in harboring such thoughts? — with the prayer, "That which I see not, teach Thou me: if I have done iniquity, I will do no more" (ver. 32).
Had Job done this? A glance at the controversy and at Job's monologue shows the contrary. Job had found fault with God's judgments because they were not according to his shortsighted expectations. It was Job therefore who was choosing his own affliction, not Elihu, who longs to have him declare it, and clear himself. He appeals to the men of understanding again. Will not all unite with him in saying, "Job hath spoken without knowledge, and his words are without wisdom." Can we not fully agree with this conclusion?
Thus faithfully Elihu expresses the desire that Job may be tested to the end, until his answers like evil men be judged by him. He has been withstanding God, and boldly defied Him.
Elihu's desire is to be granted, and Job will, ere long, repudiate his false charges of God as completely as Elihu does here.
4. God's Testing of Man (Job 35).
In the previous chapter Elihu had devoted himself chiefly to vindicating God's character, as seen in His beneficent government, as well as in the self-evident fact that the Source of all right, justice and government, must Himself be the embodiment of what we partly see even in this fallen creation. The present chapter is so intimately connected with this that it has been taken as a part of the same division. But from the fact that there is evidently a fresh beginning in ver. 1, as well as from the contents, it seems more fitting to give it a separate place. As the fourth portion of Elihu's address it is fittingly a test of man, which is the subject, rather than a vindication of God, as in the previous chapter. This test, however, is largely along the same lines as the previous vindication of God. And how true it is that what manifests His character, in its perfection, discloses the nature and ways of man as he is.
The chapter may be divided into three portions:
We notice again the gracious tone of Elihu. He is appealing to Job's reason and conscience, seeking to win him from his hard and sinful thoughts of God to simple trust in One who may hide Himself in the darkness, but who must be good in all He does. Already we have seen flashes of this in Job, but he must yet be brought to judge everything inconsistent with the noble words he uttered at the beginning: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
(1) Quoting again Job's thoughts, if not his exact words, and drawing the proper conclusion from them, Elihu points out the monstrous deduction — "My righteousness is more than God's." For had not Job brought himself to just such a conclusion? "I have not sinned to deserve such treatment; my life is blameless before man and God; there is no reason for His afflicting except for glaring transgressions, therefore He is unjust!" Well it is for us to face our conclusions, and learn the folly of our reasonings.
The following verses, 2, 3, seem to be a repetition, with enlargement of what had been previously said in Job 34: 9. Job had declared that his claim was more righteous than God's, because (ver. 3) God was utterly indifferent to whatever he did. There was no advantage in righteousness any more than in sin! Imagine an upright, God-fearing man bringing himself to such a conclusion! It leads to, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."
Elihu's reply is not what we might have expected. He does not apparently contradict Job's conclusion; indeed he takes his thought, but uses it to vindicate God's character. "You say, O Job — and your companions are but little better in their reasonings — that your conduct cannot be of any value, whether it be good or bad, for God is indifferent to it either way. Yes, God is infinitely above you, and your conduct cannot directly interfere with Him. Why then have you charged Him with unfairness and arbitrary selfishness in afflicting you?" According to Job's reasoning, God was unaffected by what man did, was not injured by his sin, nor profited by his righteousness. Elihu therefore asks, "How is it that you say He does pay attention to man, and so much so that He most unrighteously afflicts you?" Here is manifest contradiction on Job's part.
Elihu, as usual with him, dwells upon God's side. He does not for the moment speak of His relations with man, or His intimate care and divine interest in man's walk. He would have Job look up into those very heavens which he thought were against him, and ponder the character of One who is infinitely perfect, unaffected by the puny activities of men on earth, who are as grasshoppers in His sight. How could such an One, infinitely holy, divinely sufficient unto Himself, act unjustly toward one whose conduct may and does affect himself and his fellow-men, but cannot penetrate those serene heights? This is but one side of the truth — a side already seen in measure by both Job (Job 7: 20) and Eliphaz (Job 22: 2, etc.).
(2) Having shown that his own view of God's independence of man was a reply to his accusations, Elihu at once proceeds to show that there is a divine concern in man's ways. God slumbereth not. He sees and hears. It grieves Him at His heart when men sin. His infinite perfections are outraged by evil, and it is for this reason that He does not, cannot in faithfulness, answer the cry of the oppressed for relief. Elihu is not speaking directly of Job, but of all afflicted ones, including him. There is a reason why they do not get relief from the Almighty.
And this reason is that, occupied with their own misery, seeking relief only for their own sake, they have no thought of God's will or of His glory. They do not ask, Where is God my Maker? What can I learn of Him in these things? And is not this well-nigh universal? Where do we find men turning to God in their affliction? The hungry want bread, but they do not want God. Give them bread, and they are quite content to go on in perfect ignorance of Him. "Ye seek Me . . . because ye did eat of the loaves, and are filled. Labor not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto eternal life . . . And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee." Are men grateful to God for His blessings; do they seek after Him for what He is?
And yet are we not immeasurably above the beasts? God teaches us more than they can know. Yes, He giveth songs in the night of trial. Indifference to all this is the heart-breaking fact that, "When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful." Is it any wonder, then, that God must let poor man feel the weight of his sufferings, if perchance he would seek after the only One who can, not only give relief, but prove a satisfying portion?
Pride, vanity, self-will, are what turn the heavens into brass. The Lord is nigh to them of a broken heart. This is the burden of the "Lord's prayer" — God's glory comes first. If men ignore that, they need not be surprised that their prayer for daily bread seems to be ignored.
Elihu is here dealing with principles, and it need hardly be added that he is only explaining God's silence when men cry, and not alluding to His kindness and care of His creatures. "The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works." Might not Job learn the needed lesson if he would but give heed? He had been the recipient of abundant mercies from God; must there not be a reason for His apparent silence now?
(3) There has been some difference as to the meaning of ver. 14 — some holding it as a quotation of Job, as though Elihu would say, "If God does not hear pride, much less will He hear thee, when thou sayest thou seest Him not, the cause lieth all before Him, and yet thou art obliged to wait in vain upon Him." This is quite in accord with the previous words of Elihu; but our version, which turns them into an exhortation, makes an appropriate conclusion: "Although thou sayest thou shalt not see Him, yet judgment is before Him, therefore trust thou in Him." Do not think God has forgotten; be patient; learn the lesson He would teach thee. How admirable and scriptural is this advice — exactly what Job needed. "Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thy heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord."
Elihu puts the other side also before Job. He is not to imagine that because God does not smite, He does not know. He fully sees all man's presumption. This is the probable meaning of ver. 15, which is so obscure in our version. "Extremity" has been rendered as "wide-spread iniquity," well answering to "presumption," or "sullenness." The conclusion is, "God is not mocked." Let not men despise His patience.
Therefore Job has opened his mouth in vain; he has multiplied his words without knowledge. This is what God will later on bring home to his conscience in that terrible introductory question: "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?" Thus Job is being prepared to listen to that Voice. Truly, Elihu is answering to his desire for a daysman, and Job's silence may well be taken as a token of beginning conviction.
5. Elihu' s closing Address — God' s workings among Men and in Nature (Job 36, 37).
We come now to the close of Elihu's remarkable dealings with Job. He still has much to say, and still the theme is the same — he will speak for God. This supreme object to vindicate God from the aspersions of Job — in which the friends had failed so utterly — is the great characteristic of Elihu's address, and gives us the key to what he says. He acts as a mediator, an interpreter for men, a revealer of God. The typical resemblance to our Lord's work is manifest.
This closing part begins with a summing up along the lines already followed, but concludes with a description of the workings of God in nature, which for grandeur is incomparable. If in the beginning he speaks in simple didactic manner, addressing the judgment and the conscience, the close is so vivid that it has been well thought to be a description of an actual storm whose approach heralded the presence of God — a most fitting prelude to Jehovah's word from the whirlwind.
The address therefore may be divided into two parts, each subdivided according to the indicated progress of thought.
Though the division indicated is clear, there is a close connection between the two parts of the address, marking its unity.
1. We may at once give the outline of the first part, in which the ways of God with men are dwelt upon.
(1) There is no invitation for Job to speak at the close of the previous part of the address; but Elihu presses on toward the close. Job is asked to permit him yet to speak for God; he will bring near the knowledge of Him who dwelleth afar. His constant aim is to vindicate Him, and in doing so, he will speak with a knowledge that is "perfect." This is no proud boast of personal attainment, but the solemn consciousness that he is speaking for God.
(2) In one word he sweeps away the unholy suspicions which had been harbored by Job — "God is great, and despiseth not any." Infinite in power as He is, He looks with compassion upon the feeblest of His creatures. There are two infinities in which He is equally seen — the infinitely great, and the infinitely small. How comforting is the truth, "He despiseth not any!" His greatness is never the occasion for scorn. His wisdom is infinitely powerful, but never exerted against feebleness. He does not ignore sin — will not, eventually, preserve the life of the ungodly; but we may be sure that He deals in perfect righteousness in all the afflictions He permits. The righteous are His special care; He withdraweth not His eyes from them. They are as secure as though they were kings, they will be established and exalted. Here Job's questionings are answered. As a righteous man, he need not fear; he is secure, and will be established and exalted in due time. This his own faith had seen through the darkness that closed about him; here it is stated once for all.
(3) Why then affliction? These "righteous" who are the objects of God's care, are at times "bound in fetters, holden in cords of affliction." Is it a contradiction of what Elihu had just said? To Job it had been, because he failed to see in his own heart possibilities of evil, a pride which was as real a transgression as the flagrant evils falsely charged by the friends upon Job. God's object was to lay bare to man the hidden evil of his heart, to open his ear to His warnings and to turn him from pride. If they bow to this, sooner or later will their sufferings pass — even in this life: if not, they must be chastened even to the end, and be smitten as by a speeding arrow from His hand.
Naturally Elihu cannot go beyond the present life. The veil that hung between the present and the future had not been lifted. With the added light we now have, we can speak of "our light affliction which is but for a moment," though it endure for a lifetime. The suffering for righteousness' sake, for Christ, instead of being a cloud and darkness, is the "spirit of glory and of God" (1 Peter 4: 14). Of this, necessarily, Elihu could not speak. He points out the great principles of present affliction: the refusal of the hypocrite, who nurses his wrath instead of humbly crying to God for mercy, only emphasizes this. The despiser shall meet his doom with all the unclean, but God will save the humble sufferer, "in" and indeed "by" his affliction. It "worketh out" blessing for him.
(4) This principle is applied to Job's case. God would have thus dealt with him, restoring to prosperity, as He soon will. But Job had hindered this by his unholy charges against God. This was "the judgment of the wicked" (ver. 17) — their manner of charging God — and he need not be surprised that judgment had laid hold on him. This has been rendered, "Judging and judgment lay hold on one another," but the thought is similar. If one judges God, it is closely linked with judgment upon himself. Ver. 18 has been variously explained. Our own version gives a very connected meaning, "Because there is wrath, beware lest He take thee away with His stroke: then a great ransom cannot deliver thee." Another rendering refers the "wrath" to Job — "Let not anger entice thee to scorning, and let not the greatness of the ransom mislead thee." The "ransom" is here taken as humility, the price of his deliverance. But this seems strained. The thought that the greatness of the ransom must not close Job's eyes to the truth of God's goodness, seems also out of place. On the whole, the solemn warning of our version seems most suitable to the connection. Job is warned that persistence in proud charging of God can only result in one way — death. It is a question of the present life. Job is warned against "the sin unto death" (1 John 5: 16), though not of course with the full light of the New Testament. There is evidently a chastening of the people of God that goes on to death, because of their failure to judge themselves. "For this cause . . . many sleep" (1 Cor. 11: 30). A persistent refusal on Job's part to humble himself might have resulted in this.
(5) The reading of ver. 19 is also disputed. Our version, followed by others, links it closely with what precedes, the price of a great ransom: "Will He esteem thy riches?" etc. Delitzsch links it rather with what follows: "Shall thy crying place thee beyond distress, and all the efforts of strength?" This gives a consistent meaning, for Job had been crying aloud to the limit of his strength, but without help. He had longed for the night of death to come upon him, as it eventually does upon all the nations of the earth. Let him take heed, and rather bow to affliction than choose the path of pride.
2. The remainder of the address is devoted to a description of some of God's ways in nature, almost exclusively indeed with the meteorological or heavenly sphere. This accords both with what precedes and what follows, especially the latter, as has been already noted. The subdivisions follow:
Whether viewed as poetic or didactic literature, we have in this close of Elihu's address an example of sublime diction and holy sentiment that commands our wonder and our worship. Continuing his thought, in the previous portion, of God's uprightness, he rises rapidly into the heavens and there views Him in the clouds, the rain, the lightning and the storm. The wisdom and beneficence of God are seen in these, and then as though heralding the immediate approach of the Almighty, he seems to stand trembling in presence of the great storm where God rides "upon the wings of the wind." All nature is hushed in sympathy with his unknown dread; the very cattle, startled and fearful, await the coming of the storm. The very language, with its broken, exclamatory utterances, its humility and godly fear, is in beautiful accord with the whole theme. In all we see the almighty power and majesty of God, and man's feebleness. Yet all is for purposes of wise government in mercy and blessing. Let Job ponder it all: is he like God? Fittingly Elihu closes with the basic tone of his theme — the absolute all-sufficiency of God and His abhorrence of the pride of man.
Let us look a little at the details.
(1) The transition from the previous verses to what is to come is very beautiful. In these first three subdivisions we begin with "Behold" (vers. 22, 26, 30). Who is a great God like unto Him? Who teacheth like Him, both in the mind of man and in nature? Can we charge such an One with evil? Rather let us magnify His works — the theme of men in their song. Though looking upon it from afar, and but feebly apprehending it, all nations, from the most cultured to the untutored savage, have gazed in wonder and admiration upon the scene.
(2) Again His greatness and His eternity are declared, voiced in the ever repeated recurrence of mist and cloud, rain and storm. From the great reservoir of waters — whether above or below the firmament — He causes the rain to distill in gentle and abundant showers upon men. Could modern science state more exactly the origin of the rain? Or atheistic poetry so celebrate its beauty?
But both science and poetry leave God out, and when men see Him not of what value is all the rest? Of what avail to speak of "gravity, expansion, condensation," if we do not see the spreading of His clouds, the majestic crash of the thunder in His tabernacle?
And how good He is! If He opened the windows of heaven all at once, a deluge would sweep all life away. Instead, He makes small the drops of rain, they distill in refreshing "upon the place beneath." So is it with His afflictions; the suffering and the grief are after all but blessings in disguise for faith:
(3) That blaze of lightning is but the garment with which He covers Himself (Ps. 104: 2); the
(4) The storm is upon them now, and Elihu trembles. He calls upon Job to hear God's voice in it all; and, may we not well believe, also to hear His voice in the storm of sorrow that has fallen upon him. Breach upon breach it has come, the sharp lightning stroke of affliction, the awful thunder of God's chastening. God has been doing marvelously, things beyond our comprehension, but it is God. "Be still, and know that I am God."
(5) And if the fall of snow cover the earth as a winding-sheet, and the icy hand of winter be laid upon man, checking all his activities — it is His snow, His hand, to teach man His supreme power. The beast retires into its shelter; let us too enter into the "cleft of the rock," until these calamities be over-past. Whether the storm come in the whirlwind of the south, or from the frozen north, it is but His breath. How good then to humble ourselves under His mighty hand!
All this exhibition of divine power is to accomplish His will. "Praise the Lord . . . fire and hail; snow and vapors; stormy wind fulfilling His word" (Ps. 148: 7, 8). Sometimes it is as an "overflowing scourge, "sometimes, "Thou visitest the earth and waterest it; Thou greatly enrichest it" (Ps. 65: 9), but always it is God whose actions, plans and purposes are before the eye of faith. Let Job forget himself, his troubles, his "friends;" let him "stand still and consider the wonderful works of God." Can he explain these purposes? Does he realize the light that shines behind the clouds? Does he understand the balancing of these clouds? How amazingly simple is such a statement. All nature is thus balanced, one force against another; and so too there is divine equilibrium in the clouds of life. He will "with the temptation provide the way of escape." All things work — but they work together for good to them that love God. There are the balancings of the clouds.
(7) And so we pass on to "the conclusion of the whole matter." Who or what is Job, but a frail man whose garments oppress him in the blast of the sirocco? Can be spread out the expanse which like a shining mirror arches over our heads? As he proceeds, Elihu himself becomes spokesman for all the lowly. We have undertaken to speak, who are but dust and ashes. "We cannot order our speech by reason of darkness." Let us hush our voices and listen to Him!
If we do not see the sunlight behind the clouds, it is still there, and in due time the mists will be blown away. Here comes an awful presence, a golden glow from the unknown hidden north. "Behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire enfolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the color of amber" (Ezek. 1: 4). It is the Almighty, we cannot fathom His greatness, but we know His uprightness is as great as His power. Let us bow in worship before Him: He listens not to those wise in their own conceits.
"Let us hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people and to His saints." He is here!
1 "The Jewish prayers show that the Interpreter was always identified in their minds with the exalted Redeemer of Israel thus, 'Raise up for us the righteous Interpreter say, I have found a ransom.' The whole passage is quoted at the sacrifice, still offered in many countries of Europe,on the eve of the great Day of Atonement." — Canon Cook, in Speakers' Commentary.