Recall the whole of the book of Job thus far. In chapters 1-3 we’ve seen the blameless Job encounter immense and extreme suffering for no sin of his own. Then for the next 30 chapters we’ve seen Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar go back and forth about these very things; Job arguing for his innocence and his friends arguing for his sinfulness. All the while it seems there was one other man waiting on the side. Waiting because he is younger than these four men, and waiting up until the point when he could not wait any longer. Bursting upon the scene in Job 32 and continuing all the way to Job 37 we meet Elihu.

Regardless what view of Elihu we take we do learn one massive lesson from him on he enters the scene. It isn’t age that brings wisdom, it’s the Spirit of God. Gray hair doesn’t always lead to good theology and a weathered face doesn’t always make a wise heart. Of course we must also say that youth doesn’t always produce wisdom as well.[1]John Piper commenting on Elihu says, “What Elihu has done is remove age as the dominant consideration in deciding who is wise and understanding. He teaches us that there may be folly in the old and folly in the young; wisdom in the young and wisdom in the old. When we search for a source of wisdom, we do not end our search with the question, “How old is he?” We end it with the question, ‘Who has the Spirit of wisdom and understanding?’ Therefore, Elihu gives us a very needed warning and encouragement. The warning is that as we grow older, we must never assume that the ideas we have held longest are the truest. They may be, or they may not be. Rather, we must test our oldest ideas against the standard of God as he reveals himself by his Spirit through His Word.”[2]

So, as we continue on in Elihu’s speeches this evening looking at chapters 34-35 let’s put Paul’s encouragement to Timothy into practice from 1 Timothy 4:12 and not look down on him for his youth. Elihu has proven himself to be slow to speak and quick to listen. He was angered as God was belittled. He was burdened to speak the truth. He isn’t aiming at flattering anyone. But he is aiming to teach wisdom. All this to say, let the young Elihu speak![3]

Chapters 34-35 are intense to say the least. And in his intensity Elihu works through a certain movements, we’ll move through these as they come to us in turn.

Movement 1 (34:1-9)

Though Job is surely in view here, v2 reveals Elihu is now directing these initial words at the friends (“you wise men”) and perhaps any others from the city who are within earshot of this conversation (“you who know”). What is Elihu calling for? He’s calling for an examination of his words. In 12:11 Job declared that it is the ear which tests words and it is the palate which tests food. Elihu uses this same image here in v3 asking his hearers to turn his words over and over in their mouths to see if his words taste like wisdom. Why does he ask them to do this? In v4 we see why, Elihu desires that they all would see what good and right.

So in an aim to arrive at a conclusion that is good and right Elihu lays out, in fairly serious terms, what Job has said he now believes in v5-9. First in v5, Job has said he is in the right, or that justice is on his side. But while that may be the case Job also believes God has taken his right away, or that God has denied him justice.[4]The implication in Job’s words here is that God, for doing this, has dealt with him unjustly (Elihu is correct here, Job said this exact thing in 27:2, “As God lives, who has taken away my right…the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter…”) Second in v6, Job has said that God has counted him a liar in spite of justice being on his side and in spite of his innocence and that because of these things his wound or suffering is incurable (Elihu is right again, see 16:8-14).

Then comes some serious accusations. In v7-9 Elihu accuses Job of drinking up scoffing like water, traveling and walking with evildoers and wicked men, and that delighting in God is something that profits man nothing. These are not groundless accusations that betray Elihu’s hostility toward Job or wicked accusations that align Elihu with Job’s former friends. No, all these accusations stem from Job’s words about God in the midst of his suffering and upon hearing them Elihu is horrified. Because he has spoken the way he has about God Elihu believes Job has now aligned himself with evildoers and wicked men who believe being blameless before God and delighting in God a vain pursuit. Or to say it another way, Elihu is saying that Job’s present accusations against God make him indistinguishable from the wicked.[5]Where has Job spoken like this? Think back with me. In 9:22 Job accuses God of destroying the blameless and the wicked, so what’s the point of being blameless? In 10:3 Job accuses God of showing favor to the plans of the wicked, so why not be wicked to get the favor of God?[6]In 21:15, after a lengthy description of the prosperity of the wicked where Job says the wicked do really prosper (21:7-14) Job concludes, “What is the Almighty that we should serve Him? And what profit do we get if we pray to Him?” These are the serious accusations of Elihu to Job.

Movement 2 (34:10-11)

In v10-11 we now see Elihu’s conclusion and as he gives is he asks his hearers to hear him once again. “Far be it from God that He should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that He should do wrong. For according to the work of man he will repay him, and according to his ways he will make it befall him.” This is a clear statement of the retributive principle in view that the friends simplistically applied to Job. The Reformation Study Bible comments here, “What is flawed is taking this principle as the exclusive key to understanding God’s present providential dealings.”[7]The friends did this, Elihu isn’t.

Movement 3 (34:12-35)

Elihu makes the case that God not only is fair in the punishment of the wicked, but that God is fair and just in His governance over the entire world. Why is God fair and just in His governance over the entire world? Because God is God and man isn’t. This point is made in v12-35, follow along as I read it…………in this passage it is clear that God reigns over all things. No one put him in charge, and therefore God answers to no one. He is not only just, but the One who defines what justice and injustice is. All breath is contained in God, such that if God were to take it back all flesh would return to dust in a moment. In v16 “you” returns to the singular from plural so many think a shift occurs here from Elihu addressing the friends and crowd to Elihu addressing Job personally.[8]And in his new personal address Elihu keeps going. Can anyone answer back to this God? Can anyone condemn Him, mock Him, show Him no regard, or call Him wicked or worthless? No. There is no place on earth unknown to God, and no action of any man remains unknown to God. God carries out all things with no favorites (v18-19), no uncertainty (v20), no ignorance (v21-25), no secrecy (v26-28), and even if it may seem that God is delaying or inactive, this does not contradict His justice because He still judges thoroughly (v29-30).

Movement 4 (34:36-37)

Notice then how this section ends in v31-37, “Would that Job were tried to the end, because he answerslike wicked men. For he adds rebellion to his sin; he claps his hands among us and multiplies his words against God.”

Again, see Elihu’s chief issue with Job is his answers, his words, his response to God in his suffering. Because of this Job shouldn’t speak as he has done. v36 is similar to Job’s counsel to his wife. Remember what he said to her? He didn’t say “Don’t speak you foolish woman.” No, he told her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak” (Job 2:10). Elihu is possibly saying the same thing about Job. Job you’re not a wicked man, but you’re speaking as a wicked man would. Therefore, Job must repent of the rebellious sinful things he’s said.

Movement 5 (35:1-4)

Some Jewish commentators think Elihu paused after the end of chapter 34 to allow Job to respond, and that when he didn’t he spoke up once again and gave Job his third speech. Whatever the precise details were as these events occurred, and whether chapter 35 is Elihu’s third speech or is a continuation of his second speech doesn’t really matter. What matters is to see how the two chapters are connected. Elihu isn’t done once chapter 34 ends. His speech to Job, specifically in 34:12-35, leads to questions. Questions we find and the beginning of chapter 35.

“And Elihu answered and said, ‘Do you think this to be just?’ Do you say, ‘It is my right before God,’ that you ask, ‘What advantage have I? How am I better off than if I had sinned? I will answer you and your friends with you” (35:1-4). Here Elihu returns to Job’s comment referenced in 34:9 but deals with it from a different angle. Elihu, in essence, asks “If I take trouble to live a penitent and godly life, what is the point if, despite my virtue, I experience such terrible suffering?”[9]Elihu says two things to answer this question.

Movement 6 (35:5-8)

Asking Job to look up at the vast expanse of the heavens Elihu points out that neither wickedness or godliness will change God in any way because He is transcendent, or far above this world, and nothing we do changes God in anyway. He poses this negatively in v6, saying that if you’re wicked and sin all you like you won’t damage God or diminish His essence to any degree. He poses this positively in v7, saying that if you’re righteous and obey all the time you’ll never put God in your debt as if He owed you. v8 then concludes saying man’s wickedness will only affect himself while his righteousness only affects other sons of men (NIV does well here). Don’t read this wrong. Elihu is in this very passage laboring to convince Job to see rightly once again and not think so wrongly about God. Elihu does believe our badness or goodness matters, or else he wouldn’t even be talking right now! So what then is going on here in v5-8? Elihu is making the point that while God does respond to faith and trust no man can bend the arm or will of God by either obedience or disobedience. And more so, to ask a question at all about the benefit of being blameless is the wrong question to ask. This isn’t Elihu’s only answer. He continues.

Movement 7 (35:9-16)

In v9-13 Elihu creates a situation and uses it to teach Job in v14-16. The illustration in v9-13 is that oppression is rampant all over the world and the oppressed people are crying out for help, but God doesn’t answer. Why doesn’t He answer? Because they do not cry out to Him with an awareness of who He is what He can do.[10]Instead their cries are self-centered. So, because of their pride God doesn’t respond to them. That’s the made up situation Elihu presents to Job. He then applies this to Job in v14-16 saying Job is doing the same thing. He claims to be unable to see God, but claims that his case is before God, claims that he is waiting for God in v14, believes God doesn’t punish the wicked, and believes God doesn’t notice their sins in v15. Therefore, just as the cries of the people in his illustration in v9-13 were empty cries, Elihu says in v16 that Job’s words are similarly empty and are in reality “words without knowledge.” The lesson that Elihu is giving Job is that he can’t expect God to answer his cries if he continues to speak so wrongly and arrogantly of God.[11]

Say his counsel to Job is intense all you like, but do not overlook one fact. The very first thing God says to Job when He comes to deal with him in chapter 38 is the very thing Elihu just told him in v16. Listen to 38:2, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”

Conclusion

We’ve seen the former friends come to counsel and say some strong but wrong things to Job. We’ve also heard Elihu here in these chapters speak some intense things to Job, but I urge to not see them as wrong, for not all strong words are wrong words just as not all intensity is insensitivity or cruelty.

One commentator ended his thoughts on these chapters with this thought, “Elihu and the friends deal with sin and suffering from diverse perspectives. While there can be no doubt that Elihu deals severely with Job in the light of the justice and power of God, he does so because Job had impugned God, explicitly as well as by necessary consequence. But that was done during and because of his affliction, and not prior to it (not that his words were any the less grievous on that account!). Whenever the Friends took Job to task for his sins, they were thinking of sins that Job had committed prior to his being afflicted by way of punishment. This was a supposition which they could not prove, whereas Elihu is highlighting sins that he can and does prove. What is more, they are sins that Job cannot and does not contest.”[12]

One more quote, John Piper says it well. “Though Job was an upright man who feared God, remnants of pride and rebellion lay dormant in Job’s heart. When his suffering became severe and long, his sin awakened and revealed itself. But Elihu also disagreed with Job’s comforters who saw Job’s suffering as God’s punishment for sin. He rejected the idea shared by Job and his comforters that God had become Job’s enemy. And the answer he gives instead is that the suffering which God has unleashed on Job is not punitive but curative. It is not a punishment but a cure and a purification. It is not the result of God’s anger but the remedy of his love. In love he has afflicted his son, that the vestiges of pride and self-reliance might be purged out of Job’s heart.”[13]

So Job must repent. And as God comes to Job in the end, Job will recognize he has spoken wrongly of God, he will despise himself, and he will repent, or find his comfort, in dust and ashes.

 

Citations:

[1]John Piper, Let the Young Speak – Sermon on Job 32:7-11(https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/let-the-young-speak, 8/29/82) accessed 9/4/18.

[2]Ibid., accessed 9/4/18.

[3]Ibid., accessed 9/4/18, this is the title of Piper’s message on this passage.

[4]Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary(Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014) page 345.

[5]Reformation Study Bible,note on 34:8, page 810.

[6]Ash, page 346.

[7]Reformation Study Bible,note on 34:11, page 811.

[8]Ash, page 348.

[9]Ibid., page 354.

[10]Reformation Study Bible,note on 34:9-13, page 813.

[11]Ash, page 356.

[12]Jones, quoted in Ash, page 352.

[13]Piper, accessed 9/4/18.

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