Friday, October 31, 2003

Job 35: Songs in the Night

This essay is #41 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.

Elihu's Third Speech

People--Trouble--God. I have heard it said that there are no atheists in fox holes. The assertion could be true for at least two reasons. The first is that atheists, having nothing but nature upon which to ground ethical decisions, tend to appease rather than confront an evil they have no basis for calling evil. The second is that for those atheists - channeled by unfortunate circumstances into a foxhole with bullets whizzing past their ears - might have second thoughts about life and the universe. If the atheist, how much more the nominal person of belief. How many of us glide through good times with hardly a whisper of thanks to our Creator. Then dark clouds gather and our prayer life picks up, "Oh God-Oh God-Oh God help me!!". 

In his third speech, Elihu has words for stormy weather friends of God.

Elihu again speaks to Job:

Then Elihu answered: “Do you think this to be just: when you say, ‘My right before God.’ But you say, ‘What will it profit you,’ and, ‘What do I gain by not sinning?’ I will reply to you, and to your friends with you. Gaze at the heavens and see; consider the clouds, which are higher than you! If you sin, how does it affect God? If your transgressions are many, what does it do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to God, or what does he receive from your hand? Your wickedness affects only a person like yourself, and your righteousness only other people. (Job 35:1-8)

According to Elihu, our sin does not impoverish God and our righteousness does not enrich Him. What then is the point of putting a price tag on obedience. It is not for sale. Most of us are self-centered most of the time. We think of ourselves, our pleasures, our pains. The more the universe revolves around us the better we feel--at least for awhile before the ripple effect of our arrogance crashes around us. What we do affects others. It has little effect upon the Creator.

But when things go wrong we want help. Note what Elihu says next:

People cry out because of the excess of oppression; they cry out for help because of the power of the mighty. But no one says, ‘Where is God, my Creator, who gives songs in the night, who teaches us more than the wild animals of the earth, and makes us wiser that the birds of the air?’ (Job 35:9-11)

People cry out because they are hurting and oppressed. The man in the foxhole wants to live, so he pleads with God. People try to bargain with God, "If you do this for me, I will do such and such." or "If you get me out of this scrape, I will never do such and such again." We have all done this.

"But no one says, 'Where is God, my Creator, who gives songs in the night?'" Drink these words like you would fine wine. 

  • God is our Creator. We are creatures. He has creator rights. This could be good or bad depending on what kind of Person He is.
  • Who seeks God because He is God? Although He might constrain our paths into the "shadow of death" or the dark night of the soul, He gives  "songs in the night." Job is going through a dark night of the soul, and Elihu says that to seek God because He is God can give a song to sing in the depths.

Note what others have said along similar lines:

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be seen by all. The Lord is near! Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, tell your requests to God in your every prayer and petition—with thanksgiving. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you. Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. Resist him, strong in your faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring the same kinds of suffering. And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him belongs the power forever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:5-11)

Paul rejoiced in prison. He sang songs in prison after a brutal beating. He knew his God and delighted in His God and his God gave him songs. 

Mankind is a special creation. Only people receive songs in the night. As Elihu says, He "teaches us more than the wild animals of the earth, and makes us wiser than the birds of the air/" Only we have songs that can spring up in times of terror and trouble. Only we can know our Creator on such close and intimate terms.

For in fact you shared the sufferings of those in prison, and you accepted the confiscation of your belongings with joy, because you knew that you certainly had a better and lasting possession. (Hebrews 10:34)

Hebrews 10:34 is Christianity with an attitude. "You accepted the confiscation of your belongs with joy." Think about this. There is a knock on the door and your house is now state property, because you have conducted Bible studies in it against zoning regulations. Do you accept this without grumbling? Do you moan, "God works all things for the good?" Might it be possible to break out in songs of joyful praise?

"Where is God, my Creator, who gives songs in the night?" Here is a prayer for us in troubled times.  To seek God because He is God is the path.

Unfortunately for the atheist in the foxhole, or for the stormy weather believer, God has little regard. Elihu concludes this speech this way:

Then they cry out—but he does not answer— because of the arrogance of the wicked. Surely it is an empty cry—God does not hear it; the Almighty does not take notice of it. How much less, then, when you say that you do not perceive him, that the case is before him and you are waiting for him! And further, when you say that his anger does not punish, and that he does not know transgression! So Job opens his mouth to no purpose; without knowledge he multiplies words.” (Job 35:12-16)

Job has been seeking the restoration of his past life. He has been seeking health. He has asked for justice. He has done everything, but seek God because He is God. Job has no song.

The Lord's speech is soon to come. Look at how Elihu lays the ground work for that coming. Elihu, who has the wisdom from God in him, has built bridges between himself and Job, between himself and Job's friends, and now he begins to build a bridge between Job and his God.

The world needs more people like Elihu.

Monday: We begin to look at Elihu's final words

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Thursday, October 30, 2003

Job 34: Elihu Continues

This essay is #40 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.


I find the second of Elihu's speeches the hardest to understand. The questions that I ponder is this, "Does Elihu agree with Job's friends? If so, why does he do so? If not, what is different with his approach?"

He begins this way:

Elihu answered: “Listen to my words, you wise men; hear me, you learned men. For the ear assesses words as the mouth tastes food. Let us evaluate for ourselves what is right; let us come to know among ourselves what is good. For Job says, ‘I am innocent, but God turns away my right. Concerning my right, should I lie? My wound is incurable, although I am without transgression.’ What man is like Job, who drinks derision like water! He goes about in company with evildoers, he goes along with wicked men. For he says, ‘It does not profit a man when he makes his delight with God.’ (Job 34:1-9)

The one immediate difference is that Elihu comes alongside Job's friends in a manner similar to how he came alongside Job. He begins with "Listen to my words.." but soon he says, "Let us evaluate..." Elihu invites participation. he is the bridge builder who first builds a bridge to Job, then to his friends, and then hopefully between the estranged parties. He says, and means, those things that invite dialog and bring down the barriers to communication.

Elihu makes clear what Job's fault is. "Job drinks derision like water." The phrase could be taken in one of two ways: 1. Job is forced to take in the derision aimed at him by his friends; or 2. It speaks of Job's deriding words to the God in heaven. Contextually we must go with the latter. Job has claimed that God turned away his right and he has implicitly claimed that all the good things that he has done has not gained him anything. He has had no profit from delighting in God.

So Elihu speaks to Job's friends, and indirectly to Job, about God's justice. In effect, he affirms that God's justice does exist and works in the present.

Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do wickedness, from the Almighty to do evil. For he repays a person for his work, and according to the conduct of a person, he causes the consequences to find him. Indeed, in truth, God does not act wickedly, and the Almighty does not pervert justice. Who entrusted to him the earth? And who put him over the whole world? If God were to set his heart on it, and gather in his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together and human beings would return to dust. (Job 34:10-15)

This sounds very similar to the words of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar about why Job is in trouble in the first place. However, there are some important differences:

  1. Elihu addresses his words from Job's premise that perhaps God is wicked. Eliphaz and company directed all of their remarks based on the premise that Job was wicked. Elihu gives God the high moral ground and directs Job and his friends to do the same.
  2. Concerning God's actions with men, Elihu refers to a person's work and conduct. God moves to connect consequences with deeds. Elihu says nothing about God seeking to bring punishment to the wicked.
  3. Elihu sees God has continuously caring for the creation by continually offering his spirit and breath to sustain it.

Moving on to the next section requires a bit of English grammar. The English word "you" has a terrible property. It will never explicitly tell you when it refers to a single person or the crowd. Consequently, we have to be told that the "you" in Elihu's next section is singular and not plural. Elihu, therefore, is once more addressing Job. I think that you will agree that this single fact makes the next section more understandable:

If you (Job) have understanding, listen to this, hear what I have to say. Do you really think that one who hates justice can govern? And will you declare guilty the supremely righteous One, who says to a king, ‘Worthless man’ and to nobles, ‘Wicked men,’ who shows no partiality to princes, and does not take note of the rich more than the poor, because all of them are the work of his hands? In a moment they die, in the middle of the night, people are shaken and they pass away. The mighty are removed effortlessly. (Job 34:16-20)

Simply put, Elihu has just told Job that God is just and that on the whole he moves as we expect Him to move. 

Elihu continues:

For his eyes are on the ways of people, he observes all a person’s steps. There is no darkness, and no deep darkness, where evildoers can hide themselves. For he does not still consider a person, that he should come before God in judgment. He shatters the great without inquiry, and sets up others in their place. Therefore, he knows their deeds, he overthrows them in the night and they are crushed. He strikes them for their wickedness, in a place where people can see, because they have turned away from following him, and have not understood any of his ways, so that they caused the cry of the poor to come before him, so that he hears the cry of the needy. (Job 34:21-28)

Elihu speaks of God's wisdom and omniscience. God really has no need for conducting a hearing. He knows it all, because He observes. No one can hide. It is with these words, that Elihu most sounds like Job's friends. The difference seems to be that he speaking about and for God, whereas Job's friends were speaking about and against Job. If Eliphaz would say, "God is going to get you for that," Elihu is saying, "God knows and will deal with it in the best way." The God of Eliphaz is constrained to act along the lines of strict justice. The God of Elihu is free to act with mercy. Notice how Elihu underscores this freedom with his next words:

But if God is quiet, who can condemn him? If he hides his face, then who can see him? Yet he is over the individual and the nation alike, so that the godless man should not rule, and not lay snares for the people. (Job 34:29-30)

Job might want God to speak and be close, but God is free to do neither. This does not mean that we can then charge God with error.

Elihu then says to Job:

Has anyone said to God, ‘I have endured chastisement, but I will not act wrongly any more. Teach me what I cannot see. If I have done evil, I will do so no more.’ Is it your opinion that God should recompense it, because you reject this? But you must choose, and not I, so tell us what you know. (Job 34:31-33) 

Elihu's questions are designed to have affirmative answers. Have you ever seen anyone change from a painful experience? Of course, you have. so has Job. Elihu has acknowledged that God will bring suffering on the wicked--as Job's friends have said. But he now again asserts that some suffering has the effect of making changes in people that might not otherwise occur.

This section concludes with Elihu's private thoughts:

Men of understanding say to me, any wise man listening to me says, 'Job speaks without knowledge and his words are without understanding.' But Job will be tested to the end, because his answers are like those of wicked men. For he adds transgression to his sin; in our midst he claps his hands, and multiplies his words against God. (Job 34:34-37)

These words of Elihu foreshadow the Lord's opening question to Job, "“Who is this who darkens counsel with words without knowledge? (Job 38:2)" Job began as a man upright, blameless, God fearing, and one who turned from evil. But his troubles have shown a man who can only love God when God gives gifts and acts according to his liking. Job will be tested to the end. That end will be a man who loves the Lord, because he now knows Him.

Friday: Songs in the Night

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

No post today

I need a bit more time for the next essay.

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.


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

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Monday, October 27, 2003

Job 32: Elihu's Anger

This essay is #38 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.


Chapter 32 of Job begins:

So these three men refused to answer Job further, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 

Then Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry. 

  • He was angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. 
  • With Job’s three friends he was also angry, because they could not find an answer, and so declared Job guilty. 

Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job, because the others were older than he. But when Elihu saw that the three men had no further reply, he became very angry. (Job 32:1-5)

Four times we are told that Elihu became angry and we are given two reasons. Job justified himself rather than God. This is certainly the case. Job's last speech ended with his claiming the high moral ground waiting for God's apology. That made Elihu angry. Job's three friends systematically failed to see the truth in Job's situation. They could not answer Job's deep questions "and so declared Job guilty." 

What is the nature of Elihu's anger? Is it like the anger that we have seen in Job against God in response to injuries? Is it like the anger that Job's friends had towards him because they did not like his attitude? 

I believe that Elihu's anger was different. The anger of Job and the anger of his friends had its origins in their own hurts. It was a self-centered and self-protecting anger. Elihu had no skin in the game. He was angry because there was a real human need for answers and nothing but injustice and self-righteousness had emerged from it. He was angry because the situation had deteriorated until no one had anything more to say. He was angry because the age of the men should have yielded a different result. What if Eliphaz had comforted Job before telling him that he needed to get right with God to make things better? What if he had the others assumed as true the innocence that Job claimed? Would things have not taken a different turn?

Elihu was not angry for himself. He was angry because if something were not done, further harm would emerge. He was angry because, as a young man, he needed the emotional support to be heard by those whose ears were closed. Elihu needed the passion to focus attention on his message. He needed it to be noticed. Nobody knew who he was.

His anger was properly and respectfully channeled as his opening words reveal:

So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite spoke up: “I am young, but you are elderly; that is why I was fearful, and afraid to explain to you what I know. I said to myself, ‘Age should speak, and length of years should make wisdom known.’ But it is a spirit in people, the breath of the Almighty, that makes them understand. It is not the aged who are wise, nor old men who understand what is right. Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me. I, even I, will explain what I know.’ Look, I waited for you to speak; I listened closely to your wise thoughts, while you were searching for words. Now I was giving you close attention, yet there was no one proving Job wrong, not one of you was answering his statements! So do not say, ‘We have found wisdom! God will refute him, not man!’ Job has not directed his words to me, and so I will not reply to him with your arguments." (Job 32:6-14)

These words contain both respect and challenge. He waited until silence dominated the situation and then he stepped in and claimed a place to speak based on the "spirit in people, the breath of the Almighty." Here then is the promise hinted to us by chapter 28. God knows the paths to wisdom, and this young man claims to have the Spirit of the Almighty directing him in the way. Elihu promises a different approach. That he will occupy the next six chapters uninterrupted suggests that he had the stage and the attention of Job and the others.

It seems to me that the next words are the unspoken thoughts of Elihu. If they are not unspoken thoughts, then they are words addressed to other bystanders. They read like personal thoughts to me. They give us deeper insight into Elihu's motivation. It is as if he did not expect to have the platform on which to speak, but now that he has it, he must reach in and make affirm his internal base and goals in order to proceed in justice and wisdom:

“They are dismayed and cannot answer any more; they have nothing left to say. And I have waited. But because they do not speak, because they stand there and answer no more, I too will answer my part, I too will explain what I know. For I am full of words, and the spirit within me constrains me. Inside I am like wine which has no outlet, like new wineskins ready to burst! I will speak, so that I may find relief; I will open my lips, so that I may answer. I will not show partiality to anyone, nor will I confer a title on any man. for I do not know how to give honorary titles, if I did, my Creator would quickly do away with me." (Job 32:15-22)

Again we have reference to the Spirit. Elihu recognizes the operation of the Spirit of God--the breath of the Almighty--in his life right now. It is constraining him. This word "constrains" seems to be a rich word. Here is how other translations have treated it:

The spirit within me urges me on. (The Living Bible)

Because I have so much to say, that I can't keep quiet. (Contemporary English Version)

The spirit within me constraineth me. (King James)

The spirit within me compels me (New King James)

The spirit in me causes me to speak (New Century)

The spirit within me constrains me (NASB95)

The translations show a combination of compulsion and restraint and I think that combined the give us a good picture. Elihu is driven into the fray, but his words remain under guard. His words will not explode from him, the will be extruded from him. He is under pressure, but that pressure is behind a directed nozzle. He will speak and he will be effective.

Tuesday: Elihu Speaks to Job

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