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Related Verses: Job 27-32

Leading Question: In the end, God tells Job’s three friends that they need to repent. But he doesn’t say a thing about Elihu. Does that mean that Elihu had it right where the other friends got it wrong?

Some scholars have suggested that Elihu’s voice is somewhat softer in tone than that of the friends, a kind of buffer between the anger of the friends and God’s strong words to Job out of the storm. There is reason to question that position. If I were Job, here are the elements from Elihu’s address that would anger me:

But Elihu…. became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God.”
But was Job really presenting an either/or position? Was he not maintaining his own innocence while seeking a response from God? It sounds to me like Elihu has seriously misrepresented Job’s position.

Elihu quotes Job as saying: “I am pure, I have done no wrong; I am clean and free from sin. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy.”
Maybe Job gives that impression. But perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Job complains about God’s silence, not that God has found fault with him.

“In this you are not right, for God is greater than any mortal.”
I think Job would agree with Elihu that God is greater than any mortal. But he would be outraged to hear Elihu go on to say that God responds to some but not others.

Here is Elihu’s indictment of Job:

5 “Job says, ‘I am innocent,
but God denies me justice.
6 Although I am right,
I am considered a liar;
although I am guiltless,
his arrow inflicts an incurable wound.’
7 Is there anyone like Job,
who drinks scorn like water?
8 He keeps company with evildoers;
he associates with the wicked.
9 For he says, ‘There is no profit
in trying to please God.’

The clear implication is that Job is a wicked man and furthermore that he sees no value in trying to please God. But isn’t Job tenacious in his commitment to God? He is not seeking some selfish benefit. He simply wants to understand.

Elihu’s simple reward scheme is as bad as anything his three friends have offered:

11 He (God) repays everyone for what they have done;
he brings on them what their conduct deserves.
12 It is unthinkable that God would do wrong,
that the Almighty would pervert justice.

Does Job really claim that God perverts justice? Is he not more likely to claim that if God would only answer, then Job could understand?

34:17, 24, 29, 33, 37:
These verses noted build up to a devastating indictment of everything Job stands for:

17 Can someone who hates justice govern?
Will you condemn the just and mighty One?

24 Without inquiry he shatters the mighty
and sets up others in their place.

33 But if he remains silent, who can condemn him?
If he hides his face, who can see him?
Yet he is over individual and nation alike,

37 To his sin he adds rebellion;
scornfully he claps his hands among us
and multiplies his words against God.

Job’s complaint is indeed that God has remained silent. But his insistence that God speak up is hardly rebellion. At least God did not see it that way in his final commendation of Job.

35:3, 6-8, 12, 16:
After arguing that God can stay silent if he wishes, Elihu goes on to claim that God only stays silent because of the “arrogance of the wicked,” implying that Job is indeed one of the arrogant wicked ones:

3 Yet you ask him, ‘What profit is it to me,
and what do I gain by not sinning?’

6 If you sin, how does that affect him?
If your sins are many, what does that do to him?
7 If you are righteous, what do you give to him,
or what does he receive from your hand?
8 Your wickedness only affects humans like yourself,
and your righteousness only other people.

12 He does not answer when people cry out
because of the arrogance of the wicked.

16 So Job opens his mouth with empty talk;
without knowledge he multiplies words.”

Elihu may argue that what human beings do has no affect on God. But the presence of the book of Job in the canon powerfully suggests that what people do affects the whole universe!

36:8-9, 18-21, 28; 37:5, 19, 23-24:
Elihu concludes his diatribe by implying that Job is not only arrogantly wicked, but that he is being powerfully tempted by evil, and that in the end it is hopeless to expect a response from the distant God of the universe:

36:8 But if people are bound in chains,
held fast by cords of affliction,
9 he tells them what they have done—
that they have sinned arrogantly.

18 Be careful that no one entices you by riches;
do not let a large bribe turn you aside.
19 Would your wealth or even all your mighty efforts
sustain you so you would not be in distress?
20 Do not long for the night,
to drag people away from their homes.
21 Beware of turning to evil,
which you seem to prefer to affliction.

37:5 God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways;
he does great things beyond our understanding.

19 “Tell us what we should say to him;
we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness.

23 The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power;
in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.
24 Therefore, people revere him,
for does he not have regard for all the wise in heart?

The juxtaposition of Elihu’s words with the voice of God from the storm represent a stunning rebuke of the young man Elihu who presumed to instruct his elders. Far from being “beyond our reach,” he speaks to those who question him. His regard for justice and righteousness means that with reference to the wise in heart, he will talk back. And that is precisely what he does, beginning in chapter 38.

Question: What important addition to the debate is offered by Job’s statement of his ethical principles in Job 31?

G. W. Anderson, the godly Old Testament Professor at the University of Edinburgh when I was completing my doctoral program there, described Job 31 as the “finest statement of ethics in the Old Testament.  It is worth noting the points that Job enumerates, all in his own defense as he presents his case before God – and the universe:

1 He vows not to “look lustfully at a young woman”
5 He has not “walked with falsehood” or “hurried after deceit”
9 He has not allowed himself to be “enticed by a woman” or to have “lurked at my neighbor’s door”
13 He has not “denied justice to any of my servants”
16 He has met the needs of the “poor,” the “widow,” the “fatherless,” those without clothes,
21 He has not used his influence in court to testify against the fatherless
24-25 He has not relied on wealth or gold
26-27 He has not allowed himself to be enticed by the worship of sun or moon
29-30 He has not rejoiced at his enemy’s misfortune or pronounced a curse against him
31 He has never let the members of his household go hungry
32 He has not allowed the stranger or traveler to remain in the street
33-34 He has never concealed his sins for fear of the contempt of the people
38-40 He has been a faithful steward of his land and supported his tenants

Against the backdrop of this confession, Job rests his case. And embedded in the same chapter is his passionate cry to God for openness and justification:

35 (“Oh, that I had someone to hear me!
I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me;
let my accuser put his indictment in writing.
36 Surely I would wear it on my shoulder,
I would put it on like a crown.
37 I would give him an account of my every step;
I would present it to him as to a ruler.)—

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