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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Job 36

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Elihu Teaches Job about God

A. Elihu teaches Job about the justice and righteousness of God.

1. (Job 36:1-4) Elihu: "There are yet words to speak on God's behalf."

Elihu also proceeded and said:
"Bear with me a little, and I will show you
That there are yet words to speak on God's behalf.
I will fetch my knowledge from afar;
I will ascribe righteousness to my Maker.
For truly my words are not false;
One who is perfect in knowledge is with you."

a. Bear with me a little, and I will show you that there are yet words to speak on God's behalf: Apparently young Elihu saw that his listeners were becoming uncomfortable with his condemnation and long-windedness. He begs for them to keep listening, and insists that he is speaking on God's behalf.

i. Young Elihu spoke with a directness Job's other friends did not use (Job 33:1, 33:31, 34:5, 34:7, and so forth). Yet he also spoke with an authority that Job's other friends did not. Job's other friends appealed to conventional, ancient wisdom and common knowledge. Elihu claimed to speak on God's behalf.

ii. "It seems as if Elihu is giving himself such a certificate of genius, as if the brash young man is all unaware of its astounding presumption." (Andersen)

iii. "I admire Elihu's attempt at brevity; I call it an attempt, for I am not quite sure that he succeeded, for he filled two chapters more. Yet he said, 'Suffer me a little'; and thereby promised to make his oration as short as he could. Some lengthy divines, with their many divisions, their 'Finallies,' and 'Lastlies,' and concluding observations, spin and spin, and cause their congregations to suffer, and that not a little, but exceeding much. It is well when we have anything good to say to use as few words as possible, for if brevity be not the garment of grace it is the soul of wit, and all our wits should be set to work to put gospel teaching into such a form that it will be the better received. Assuredly, short and pointed addresses are more likely to reach the heart than long and dreary sermons." (Spurgeon)

iv. Elihu received a better hearing than the unnamed man who spoke to Aristotle, in an anecdote mentioned by John Trapp: "When a great trifler had made an empty discourse in the presence of Aristotle, and then cried him mercy for troubling him so long: You have not troubled me at all, said he, for I scarce hearkened to any one word you said all this while."

b. I will fetch my knowledge from afar … One who is perfect in knowledge is with you: Though Elihu was obviously too confident in his knowledge and his words, the One with perfect knowledge was probably a reference to God here.

i. "It is certainly unlikely Elihu would claim for himself the same perfection he attributes to God." (Smick) Bullinger observed, "From Job 37:16, it is clear that God is meant, and not the speaker."

ii. If he was speaking of himself, then Poole has explained his idea: "And the meaning may be this, Thou hast not to do with a novice, but with one who hath accurately considered, and through God's grace doth fully understand, these matters; therefore hearken to me."

iii. "Here is the charismatic paradox in a nutshell. Probably Elihu does have a prophetic gift to receive 'knowledge from afar.' But even direct revelations from God do not make a man 'perfect in knowledge.'" (Mason)

2. (Job 36:5-12) God rewards the obedient and the disobedient perish.

"Behold, God is mighty, but despises no one;
He is mighty in strength of understanding.
He does not preserve the life of the wicked,
But gives justice to the oppressed.
He does not withdraw His eyes from the righteous;
But they are on the throne with kings,
For He has seated them forever,
And they are exalted.
And if they are bound in fetters,
Held in the cords of affliction,
Then He tells them their work and their transgressions;
That they have acted defiantly.
He also opens their ear to instruction,
And commands that they turn from iniquity.
If they obey and serve Him,
They shall spend their days in prosperity,
And their years in pleasures.
But if they do not obey,
They shall perish by the sword,
And they shall die without knowledge."

a. Behold, God is mighty, but despises no one: Here Elihu again promoted the ideas of God's power and perfect justice. In His perfect justice, God punishes the wicked and works for the oppressed.

i. There is a wonderful thought in the phrase God is mighty, but despises no one. We might have thought that the mighty God would ignore or despise man; yet He does not. "It is because God is so great that He despises none. If He were less than infinite, He might overlook." (Meyer)

ii. "If God were little, he might despise the little; if he were weak he would disdain the weak; if he were untrue he would be supercilious to those about him; but, seeing he is none of these, but is God over all blessed for ever, the only wise God, we have to deal with one who, though he be high, hath respect unto the lowly; who, though he humbleth himself even to observe the things which are done in heaven, yet despiseth not the cry of the humble. The magnanimity of God is the reason why he despiseth not any." (Spurgeon)

b. He does not withdraw His eyes from the righteous: Since Job had often said and felt that God had removed His eyes from Job, Elihu is clearly counting Job among the wicked. In Elihu's mind, the freedom God has for the righteous does not belong to Job because Job is not among the righteous.

i. "The example Elihu chooses is reminiscent of the Joseph story, in spite of the plural kings (Job 36:7), which has worried some scholars. Certainly Joseph is another classic case of a person treated unjustly, and that more than once." (Andersen)

ii. In Elihu's mind, the righteous man was marked by many things; things that were conspicuously absent from the life of Job.

- God's eyes are upon the righteous (He does not withdraw His eyes from the righteous)
- The righteous are exalted (they are on the throne with kings)
- If the righteous are bound, God convicts them, sets them free, and are restored to prosperity and pleasures (if they are bound in fetters … He tells them their works and their transgressions … if they obey and serve Him, they shall spend their days in prosperity)

c. If they do not obey, they shall perish by the sword: This was another one of Elihu's strong warnings to Job. He warned Job to repent and to not be like the disobedient who perish and who die without knowledge.

3. (Job 36:13-15) The sad fate of the hypocrite.

"But the hypocrites in heart store up wrath;
They do not cry for help when He binds them.
They die in youth,
And their life ends among the perverted persons.
He delivers the poor in their affliction,
And opens their ears in oppression."

a. The hypocrites in heart store up wrath: Elihu thought Job was a hypocrite for continuing to deny his guilt. He felt Job was putting himself under a greater and greater outpouring of God's wrath.

b. Their life ends among the perverted persons: Elihu painted a bleak future for an unrepentant Job.

i. Perverted persons: "Baqdeeshiym, among the whores, harlots, prostitutes, and sodomites. In this sense the word is used, though it also signifies consecrated persons; but we know that in idolatry characters of this kind were consecrated to Baal and Ashtaroth, Venus, Priapus, etc." (Clarke)

B. Elihu teaches Job about the greatness of God.

1. (Job 36:16-21) Elihu to Job: "What God would have done for you."

"Indeed He would have brought you out of dire distress,
Into a broad place where there is no restraint;
And what is set on your table would be full of richness.
But you are filled with the judgment due the wicked;
Judgment and justice take hold of you.
Because there is wrath, beware lest He take you away with one blow;
For a large ransom would not help you avoid it.
Will your riches,
Or all the mighty forces,
Keep you from distress?
Do not desire the night,
When people are cut off in their place.
Take heed, do not turn to iniquity,
For you have chosen this rather than affliction."

a. Indeed He would have brought you out of dire distress: Elihu here spoke to Job about what God would have done for Job, if Job would only had repented as he should have (at least in Elihu's persective).

i. If Job would only have repented then God would have:

- Brought Job out of his dire distress.
- Brought Job into a broad place where there is no restraint.
- Brought Job to a table … full of richness.

b. But you are filled with the judgment due the wicked: For Elihu, Job's problems were easy to diagnose. Job did not have the blessings God gives to the obedient and repentant; therefore Job was not obedient and repentant. Instead he was filled with the judgment due the wicked.

i. In saying "judgment and justice take hold of you," Elihu could not be clearer. There was one reason for Job's crisis and loss; it was that the judgment and justice of God was against him. It is helpful to remind ourselves that Job chapters 1 and 2 make it clear that Elihu was absolutely wrong in this analysis.

c. Will your riches, or all the mighty forces, keep you from distress? Elihu assumed what many people assume: that rich people trust in their riches. This is often true - perhaps almost always true; but it was not true in Job's case and it was wrong for Elihu to assume it.

d. You have chosen this rather than affliction: "Job, all this suffering and agony is your choice. It could all be different as soon as you repent and turn back to God." It was this kind of counsel that drove Job crazy, because it demanded that he forsake his integrity and make a show of repentance just to please his friends.

i. Job had his own faults during this extended dialogue with his friends, sins that he will later repent of (Job 42:1-6); yet he showed amazing strength to hold to his integrity in the face of this constant barrage of accusations against his friends.

2. (Job 36:22-24) Elihu again remembers the greatness of God.

"Behold, God is exalted by His power;
Who teaches like Him?
Who has assigned Him His way,
Or who has said, 'You have done wrong'?"
"Remember to magnify His work,
Of which men have sung.
Everyone has seen it;
Man looks on it from afar."

a. Behold, God is exalted by His power; who teaches like Him? Elihu here again wanted to exalt God in the eyes of Job, thinking that Job's problem was that he had too low a view of God, and too high a view of himself.

i. This begins a section where a marked change comes over Elihu. As the following verses indicate, he probably spoke with his eye upon a rapidly approaching storm with all of its rain and wind and thunder and dark clouds. A sudden and wonderful inspiration filled Elihu, and he spoke in a very different way than his previous harsh and condemning way towards Job.

ii. "The change that comes over Elihu at this point, and that continues and builds in power to the end of his discourse, is so dramatic that the reader should be bowled over by it. For here something strange and wonderful begins to happy to this young man: he opens his mouth and speaks by the unction of the Holy Spirit!" (Mason)

iii. "It has been suggested that this last part of Elihu's speech really consists in a word description of what was happening around him at the moment. When presently God speaks, He speaks out of a whirlwind, and the idea is that it was this great storm in its approach and force which Elihu described." (Morgan)

iv. "And this I dare say, saith a learned interpreter here, that there is not extant any poem, either of the Greeks or Latins, which may be compared with this stately eloquence of Elihu in describing those natural effects which are caused in the air." (Trapp)

b. Remember to magnify His work, of which men have sung: Job himself had magnified the work of God, and was well aware of the power, majesty, and glory of God.

i. As the storm approached Job and his friends, and as Elihu continued to describe it, we will recognize in Job 38 that the LORD was in this storm, ready to speak to Job.

ii. "It is also instructive to note the contrast between Job and Elihu, as evidenced by their different responses to the Lord's appearing. At the approach of God the more mature man of faith is silent; a holy hush falls over him, and his lips grow as still as his heart. But the young man Elihu keeps on babbling. Even if we grant that his babbling is inspired, there may yet be reason to suspect that it is, compared with the humble silence of Job, still babbling." (Mason)

3. (Job 36:25-33) The unsearchable greatness of God is expressed in the storm.

"Behold, God is great, and we do not know Him;
Nor can the number of His years be discovered.
For He draws up drops of water,
Which distill as rain from the mist,
Which the clouds drop down
And pour abundantly on man.
Indeed, can anyone understand the spreading of clouds,
The thunder from His canopy?
Look, He scatters his light upon it,
And covers the depths of the sea.
For by these He judges the peoples;
He gives food in abundance.
He covers His hands with lightning,
And commands it to strike.
His thunder declares it,
The cattle also, concerning the rising storm."

a. Behold, God is great, and we do not know Him: Elihu again promoted the concept of the transcendence of God. He heard and sensed how Job demanded answers from God, and counseled Job to understand that God was beyond Job and beyond explaining things to Job.

i. This was Elihu's most truthful and powerful argument, yet it itself was based on the premise that Job had to do this in light of his great transgression against God. It was a powerful, good principle wrongly applied to Job's situation.

b. For He draws up drops of water, which distill as rain from the mist: In this beautiful section Elihu analyzed the water cycle of evaporation, distillation, and rain and used it as an example of God's brilliance and beauty as a Designer.

i. "The clouds and the rain display God's astonishing control of the world in operations of such delicacy and strength that men can neither understand nor imitate them." (Andersen)

ii. Elihu's wisdom in analyzing the water cycle has led to wrongly conclude that the Book of Job must have been written later than commonly supposed. "The phenomenon of condensation (Job 36:27b) and precipitation (Job 36:28), while not technically understood, was certainly observable. But evaporation (Job 36:27) is not. Duhm therefore considered this proof that the Elihu speeches came a few centuries later than the divine speeches since meteorological knowledge would have been obtained from the Greeks." (Smick)

iii. His thunder declares it: "And it is worthy of remark that every wicked man trembles at the noise of thunder and the flash of lightning, and considers this a treasury of Divine wrath, emphatically called among us the artillery of the skies; and whenever the noise is heard, it is considered the voice of God." (Clarke)

iv. The cattle also, concerning the rising storm: "Because divers cattle are very sagacious in this matter, and do not only perceive the rain when it is ready to fall, but foresee it at some distance by the vapours, which are drawn up by the sun in great abundance, and by divers motions and actions, give men timely notice of it, as hath been observed not only by husbandmen, but also by learned authors." (Poole)

© 2007 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

Study Guide for Esther 1 ← Prior Book
Study Guide for Psalm 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for Job 35 ← Prior Chapter
Study Guide for Job 37 Next Chapter →
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