For a few weeks now we’ve lingered on the speeches of Elihu and have enjoyed, I hope, some thought provoking preaching and conversation about the nature of this young man, whether he is a prophet or a fool. Tonight I’m not sorry to say, the controversial elements to Elihu come to an end as we see his final words in the book. In chapters 36-37 Elihu has only two points to make: first God’s might over all people, and second, God’s might over all creation. But while these are his two main points Elihu does make a personal appeal to Job at the end of each of section.
But before we get to these two points see how he begins his final words in v1-4.
“And Elihu continued, and said: “Bear with me a little, and I will show you, for I have yet something to say on God’s behalf. I will get my knowledge from afar and ascribe righteousness to my Maker. For truly my words are not false; one who is perfect in knowledge is with you.” He first appeals to Job to continue bearing with him. He has spoken more than any other person in the book besides Job himself and perhaps Job has grown weary so an encouragement to keep on listening is appropriate. Why should Job keep bearing with Elihu? Because Elihu has words to say on God’s behalf, words he’s gotten from afar or from heaven, words that don’t flatter men but ascribe to God the righteousness He is due, words that are not false, but rather words that are perfect. Elihu isn’t claiming to be arrogant, he is claiming to be a prophet sent by God to speak to Job.
Elihu’s final words now begin.
God’s Might Over All People (36:5-15)
“Behold, God is mighty, and does not despise any; he is mighty in strength of understanding. He does not keep the wicked alive, but gives the afflicted their right. He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous, but with kings on the throne he sets them forever, and they are exalted. And if they are bound in chains and caught in the cords of affliction, then he declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly. He opens their ears to instruction and commands that they return from iniquity. If they listen and serve him, they complete their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasantness. But if they do not listen, they perish by the sword and die without knowledge. The godless in heart cherish anger; they do not cry for help when he binds them. They die in youth, and their life ends among the cult prostitutes. He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity.”
The subject of God’s might and strength begins Elihu’s final words and continues as the dominant theme throughout his final words. “Behold, God is mighty…” is not only here in v5, it’s also at other key moments throughout these two chapters as well (v22, v26, and 37:23).Whether wicked, afflicted, or righteous, God’s might and strength consists in the fact that His purposes are never thwarted or confused or limited in anyway by man. v6-7 make this clear as it shows the wicked cannot stop God’s might in judgment and the afflicted righteous cannot but enjoy God’s might in His ultimate and gracious deliverance from their trials to places of honor. In v8 God shows His might even when the righteous are bound in chains and caught in cords of suffering and affliction. In v9-10 God’s might is seen in revealing to the righteous the true nature of their hearts, the depths of their sin and arrogance, and in teaching and commanding them to repent and return to Him. This gracious gift of God toward the righteous, or we would want to say ‘those righteous in Him’, is a gift God does give to the wicked. Since they refuse to repent God allows the wicked to continue on in their sin and arrogance while humbling all who come before Him in repentance.
Elihu then expands on what this means for the righteous in v11-15 by a sandwich of contrasts. I say sandwich because the righteous are described in v11 and v15 (bread of the sandwich) and the wicked described in v12-14 (meat of the sandwich). In v11 and v15 the righteous are those who listen to God and serve God, who experience God completing their days and years in prosperity and pleasantness. This isn’t a prosperity gospel at all because v15 shows the righteous experience a kind of adversity gospel, in that God delivers the afflicted through their afflictions and opens their ears through their suffering and adversity.In v12-14 see the contrast. Here the wicked are the godless who do not listen to God or serve God but cherish anger and don’t cry out for help in distress. For this the wicked perishes, dies by the sword without knowledge, often dying young, and often dying in a stinking pile of their own sins as v14 shows. The end of wicked is as horrible as the end of righteous is beautiful. This is how God shows His might over all people. Elihu then applies this to Job next in v16-25.
First Appeal to Job (36:16-25)
“He also allured you out of distress into a broad place where there was no cramping, and what was set on your table was full of fatness. But you are full of the judgment on the wicked; judgment and justice seize you. Beware lest wrath entice you into scoffing, and let not the greatness of the ransom turn you aside. Will your cry for help avail to keep you from distress, or all the force of your strength? Do not long for the night, when peoples vanish in their place. Take care; do not turn to iniquity, for this you have chosen rather than affliction. Behold, God is exalted in his power; who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed for him his way, or who can say, ‘You have done wrong’? Remember to extol his work, of which men have sung. All mankind has looked on it; man beholds it from afar.”
We can be certain Elihu turns to speak to Job directly in v16 because his audience all of the sudden becomes very personal with the ‘you’ entering in at this point. It also remains personal until v25 when Elihu transitions to his next point about God’s might in v26. In this first appeal in v16-25 Elihu is seeking to apply God’s might over all people to Job and in general terms he does so by calling Job to remember this and not forget it. He tells Job in v16 that God has been alluring him out of distress into a broad place before a table full of fatness to enjoy. The trouble Elihu sees is that rather than Job being full of the fatness of God’s table, Job seems to be full of the kind of false judgments about God that wicked people make.Thus the counsel Elihu gives is to beware this kind of talk in v18, do not seek to save yourself in v19, do not long for the hidden dark of night in v20, and to be careful to not turn to sin instead of affliction in v21. Then in v22-25 Elihu reminds Job of God’s might over all people as the Great Teacher. No one teaches God, or has more knowledge than God does to be able to say God is doing it wrong. No. Job must remember. He must remember to respond to all that God is teaching him with “…humble praise rather than arrogant protest.”For ages mankind has sung of, rejoiced in, and beheld these very things, and Job must join the choir in his suffering, and behold the greatness of God himself. Wonderful counsel for Job. He has suffered yes, but the proper response to God in suffering isn’t any kind of protest, but humble submission to Him recognizing that He is Creator and we are creatures.
Elihu’s counsel isn’t over. He continues with his second point.
God’s Might Over All Creation (36:36-37:13)
“Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable. For he draws up the drops of water; they distill his mist in rain, which the skies pour down and drop on mankind abundantly. Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds, the thunderings of his pavilion? Behold, he scatters his lightning about him and covers the roots of the sea. For by these he judges peoples; he gives food in abundance. He covers his hands with the lightning and commands it to strike the mark. Its crashing declares his presence; the cattle also declare that he rises. At this also my heart trembles and leaps out of its place. Keep listening to the thunder of his voice and the rumbling that comes from his mouth. Under the whole heaven he lets it go, and his lightning to the corners of the earth. After it his voice roars; he thunders with his majestic voice, and he does not restrain the lightnings when his voice is heard. God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour. He seals up the hand of every man, that all men whom he made may know it. Then the beasts go into their lairs, and remain in their dens. From its chamber comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen.”
As Elihu begins his second main point he again speaks of God’s might but speaks of it in terms of His unsearchable greatness over all that He has made in creation. God’s greatness is unsearchable as the process of evaporation to precipitation was back then in v27-28. Or perhaps more dramatic, God’s greatness is as unsearchable as a thunderstorm in the sky in v29-33 where the clouds spread out thick, the lightning flashes, and the thunder rumbles underneath the pavilion of the sky. By thunderstorms God’s might is seen in both blessing and cursing. Everyone in the storm and within earshot of the storm knows God is present, even the cattle! Perhaps the point is that God can curse by storms destroying lands and homes and cities and crops just as He can bless by storms and cause fertile growth for food and harvest. God can do both of these things in the same storm, just as He can bless the righteous and curse the wicked through affliction.That’s what v31 seems to teach us.
Then as chapter 37 begins Elihu continues on with his own response to God’s might present in the storm, but not just the storm this. It’s still storm imagery, yes, but now it’s storm imagery intended to show us the might of the voice of God. v1-2 shows his heart trembling and leaping out of its place as he listens to His voice. Why? v3-4 tell us. Lightning spread from corner to corner in the sky, thunder roaring majestic and unrestrained. His conclusion to the storm is in v5, “God thunders wondrously with His voice; He does great things that we cannot understand.” What great things? Commanding the snow, mighty downpours, sealing up the hands of men, sending beasts of all kinds back into their caves or dens, letting loose the whirlwind, the freezing ice, and the fat clouds thick with moisture, making them turn round and round to accomplish His purpose. All of these things v6-13 say move immediately by one thing and one thing only, the command of God notice, “…for correction for His land or for love, He causes it to happen.” Creation is therefore the theater of God’s might, where we’re to see how God wields the weather in His power to learn how He, for correction or for love, wields us and our lives through the varying ‘storms’ of life.
This then prepares the way for Elihu’s second appeal to Job which is the final appeal we see him make.
Second Appeal to Job (37:14-20)
“Hear this, O Job;stop and consider the wondrous works of God.Do you know how God lays his command upon themand causes the lightning of his cloud to shine?Do you know the balancings of the clouds,the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge,you whose garments are hotwhen the earth is still because of the south wind?Can you, like him, spread out the skies,hard as a cast metal mirror?Teach us what we shall say to him;we cannot draw up our case because of darkness.Shall it be told him that I would speak? Did a man ever wish that he would be swallowed up?”
Hear…stop…consider…do you know…do you know…can you…shall it…are the commands of Elihu in his last appeal. He urges and pleads with Job to hear and heed and be humbled by what can be learned by watching God’s might displayed in His wielding of the weather. Only God knows how all these things work and operate, no man does. Therefore Elihu’s counsel remains consistent, it is dangerous for any man to draw up an argument and make his case against God. Rather we should bow before His unsearchable might.
Final Words End (37:21-24)
“And now no one looks on the light when it is bright in the skies, when the wind has passed and cleared them. Out of the north comes golden splendor; God is clothed with awesome majesty. The Almighty—we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate. Therefore men fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.”
In other words, when the storms of life (literal and figurative) pass people rarely look back to them and think over what they can learn from it. But we ought to. And in looking back over these storms we must unswagger ourselves, lose any sense of being wise in our own eyes, and fear God. Elihu says these things because this is what Job must do. And as God comes next to speak, unfolding more of His might and power over creation, this humbling and unswaggering is what Job will do.
Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014) page 361.