Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Job 33: Elihu Speaks to Job

This essay is #39 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.

Elihu

Let's compare the first words spoken to Job by Eliphaz and Elihu:

Elpihaz: If someone should attempt a word with you, will you be impatient? But who can refrain from speaking? Look, you have instructed many, you have strengthened feeble hands. Your words have supported those who stumbled, and you have strengthened the knees that gave way. But now the same thing comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are terrified. Is not your piety your confidence, and your blameless ways your hope? Call to mind now: Who, being innocent, ever perished? And where were upright people ever destroyed? Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed. There is the roaring of the lion and the growling of the young lion, but the teeth of the young lions are broken. The mighty lion perishes for lack of prey, and the cubs of the lioness are scattered. (Job 4:2-11)

Elihu: But now, O Job, listen to my words, and hear everything I have to say! See now, I have opened my mouth; my tongue in my mouth has spoken. My words come from the uprightness of my heart, and my lips will utter knowledge sincerely. The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Reply to me, if you can; set your arguments in order before me and take your stand! Look, I am just like you in relation to God; I too have been molded from clay. Therefore no fear of me should terrify you, nor should my pressure be heavy on you. (Job 33:1-7)

Who addresses Job by name? Who expects Job to be receptive? Who has a gentle tone? Who sees a human need and moves to meet it? When Eliphaz said, "those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble reap the same" he took all hope of comfort from Job. When Elihu says, "Look, I am just like you in relation to God" he offers help and not judgment. Elihu's wisdom begins with courtesy and humility.

Let's look at what Elihu said next:

Indeed, you have said in my hearing (I heard the sound of the words!): ‘I am pure, without transgression; I am clean and have no iniquity. Yet God finds occasions with me; he regards me as his enemy! He puts in my feet in shackles; he watches closely all my paths.’ Now in this, you are not right—I answer you, for God is greater than a human being. (Job 33:8-12)

Elihu accurately summarizes Job's points. He has been listening and he knows Job's core argument. He then succinctly offers his own thesis, "God is greater than a human being." He will develop this along the lines that just maybe God has freedom and purpose beyond our knowledge and comprehension. When Elihu says, "You are not right," he is not, as Eliphaz and company, saying that Job must be wicked. He does not accuse Job of transgression, but he does begin by suggesting that Job does not know God well enough. Job is incorrect in thinking that God regards him as an enemy.

Is transgression the only reason for which God will bring suffering? Is pain only to punish? That has been the underlying proposition for everything Job and his friends have spoken. Elihu introduces a new notion: pain to chasten. Pain to correct before punishment is needed. Here are his next words:

Why do you contend against him, that he does not answer all a person’s words? For God speaks, the first time in one way, the second time in another, though a person does not perceive it. In a dream, a night vision, when deep sleep falls on people as they sleep in their beds. Then he gives a revelation to people, and terrifies them with warnings, to turn a person from his sin, and to cover a person’s pride. He spares a person’s life from corruption, his very life from crossing over the river. Or a person is chastened by pain on his bed, and with the continual strife of his bones, so that his life loathes food, and his soul rejects appetizing food. His flesh wastes away from sight, and his bones, which were not seen, are easily visible. He draws near to the place of corruption, and his life to the messengers of death. (Job 33:13-22)

Elihu says to Job, "God is speaking to you through the pain." Elihu has described Job's condition and related it not to punishment for wickedness, but as a wakeup call to:

  • Turn a person from his sin.
  • To cover a person's pride
  • To spare a person's life from corruption

By combining the above with the notion of sparing a "life from crossing over the river." We see chastening as pre-emptive. The picture emerges of someone on the correct side of the river about to step in and perhaps begin to cross to the wrong side. Look at what Elihu has said and compare it to Job's final monolog. What occupied Job's mind the most, that God was no longer with him or the honor he received in the public square? Elihu hints that God saw a subtle change in the heart of Job and moved to correct it.

Elihu continues:

If there is an angel beside him, one mediator out of a thousand, to tell a person what constitutes his uprightness; and if God is gracious to him and says, ‘Spare him from going down to the place of corruption, I have found a ransom for him,’ then his flesh is restored like a youth’s; he returns to the days of his youthful vigor. He entreats God, and God delights in him, he sees God’s face with rejoicing, and God restores to him his righteousness. That person sings to others, saying: ‘I have sinned and falsified what is right, but I was not punished according to what I deserved. He redeemed my life from going down to the place of corruption, and my life sees the light!’ (Job 33:23-28)

Elihu predicts the end of the matter. Job will come to a place where he will acknowledge God's mercy. God will chasten and send the angel, or messenger, to intercede. Unlike the terrifying words of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, Elihu sees the message, ransom, and restoration coming form the hand of God and not from the chastened person. 

Elihu finishes this section with this:

Indeed, God does all these things, twice, three times, in his dealings with a person, to turn back his life from the place of corruption, that he may be enlightened with the light of life. Pay attention, Job—listen to me; be silent, and I will speak. If you have any words, reply to me; speak, for I want to justify you. If not, you listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.” (Job 33:29-33)

Elihu again asserts a purpose for suffering as one to make a person change course, to bring greater understanding, to bring one into the realm of light. Elihu then offers Job a chance to respond. There is such a difference in Elihu's attitude over Job's friends. He tells Job, "I want to justify you." Elihu wants Job's restoration in terms of truth. Elihu is not force fitting Job's situation into a simplified theology, but lets the situation be itself and expands the knowledge and power of God to meet the test of the situation.

Elihu sees God's works in terms of mercy. Job and the others see God's works in terms of wrath. By comprehending God's preference for mercy, Elihu sees the purpose behind Job's sufferings.

Elihu gave Job a chance to respond. Job remained silent.

Wednesday: Elihu Speaks to the Friends

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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