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Asbury Bible Commentary – V. Speeches of Elihu (32:1–37:24)
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V. Speeches of Elihu (32:1–37:24)

Elihu has been called an angry young man. His youth is indicated by his hesitation to speak until the three comforters had nothing more to say (32:4-5). However, if he was an adjudicator he would not normally have spoken until the end of the debate. That he was angry is underscored by references to his anger (vv. 2-3, 5). He was angry with the three because they had not successfully refuted Job (v. 3). His anger with Job is due to his perception that Job believed himself to be right in the dispute with God (v. 2).

Elihu's defense of youth is admirable. Indeed, advanced years are no guarantee of wisdom (32:7). Elders are not necessarily correct. More important is spirit (vv. 8-9).

Elihu addresses Job by name (33:1), something the three friends had not done. His approach initially is courteous. The characteristics Elihu assigns to himself are indeed desirable: integrity, sincerity (v. 3), and humanity (v. 7).

Elihu's assertion that Job had claimed innocence (33:9) is an overstatement. While Job had insisted on his righteousness (9:21; 10:7; 16:17; 23:10; 27:5-6; 31:1-40), he had never insisted upon sinlessness (7:21; 13:16). His contention was that his sufferings were not commensurate with his sins; he did not deserve such terrible suffering. Since it is inconceivable to Elihu that God would punish an innocent man, he categorically denies Job's claim that God is unjust (33:10-11; cf. 13:23-27; 19:6, 11).

Elihu is clearly not modest in spite of his claims. While the others have searched and reasoned, their answers have been inadequate (32:11). He seems to imply that the three friends gave up the discussion because they believed that Job could not be refuted (v. 13). He will be more successful than they! While he insists that his arguments are new (v. 14), they are not radically different but are targeted more directly to Job's objections. His conviction that he will be so successful that there will be no need to invoke God is contradicted by what follows. Elihu assures them that he will not be partial nor will he recognize distinctions of age or class (vv. 21-22).

Ch. 33 is linked with 32:6-22 and is considered Elihu's first speech. In this speech Elihu challenges Job's claim that he is innocent and has been unjustly treated (33:8-12) and his complaint that God does not answer when addressed (vv. 13-28).

Elihu denies Job's charge that God does not answer (33:13) by stating that God responds by dreams (v. 15), by illness (v. 19), and by an angel (v. 23). These visits of God are purposeful warnings to deter or to dissuade from sin (vv. 16-18). They are remedial, serving a disciplinary purpose (vv. 19-22). Elihu's emphasis on the remedial character of suffering is an improvement over the penal emphasis of the three friends but is still not appropriate to Job. Job's sufferings are not for correction but for demonstration.

In Elihu's second speech (34:1-37) he defends the character of God against the charges of Job that God is unjust (v. 5) and that piety is without reward (v. 9). He believes that Job's assertion that he is no liar has in effect made God a liar (v. 6). Job's insistence on his innocence and undeserved sufferings is tantamount, given Elihu's theology, to making God a liar.

Elihu's insistence that God is just is self-evident (34:10-15). It is unthinkable that God would do wrong (v. 10). While Elihu has the luxury of being theoretical and general (which he is) in his comments, Job, by virtue of his sufferings, is personal and existential in his. At issue in the book is, not the justice of God in general, but his justice as it pertains to Job's sufferings.

To defend his teaching that God is impartial and infallible Elihu advances the concept of God's omniscience. God does not need to hold a trial as Job requested to determine guilt (v. 23). He knows all, and his actions are predicated on that knowledge (vv. 24-26). No inquiry is needed (v. 24). God's actions are beyond human comprehension and he does not need to offer any explanations (vv. 29-30) as Job demanded.

This chapter concludes by Elihu arguing that Job cannot dictate the terms that govern God's activities (34:33). The fact that Job continues to suffer proves his impenitence and stubbornness. He speaks without knowledge (v. 35), and he is guilty of rebellion (v. 37). As with the other participants, Elihu is forced to picture Job as a wicked person if his theological assumptions are to stand.

In his third speech (35:1-16) Elihu responds to two questions he has heard Job ask. The first one has to do with the value of virtue (vv. 2-8). The second one deals with the unanswered cry of the afflicted (vv. 9-16).

His reply to the value of virtue begins by establishing the remoteness of God (35:5). Since God is so distant, he is not harmed by human sin (v. 6) nor is he benefited by human righteousness (v. 7). Humankind's good or evil affects only humans (v. 8). Elihu has both insulated and isolated God. By stressing God's transcendence, he has protected God from the actions of people. But the reasoning here contradicts his earlier claim that God reacts to the sins by punishment and discipline and to righteousness by reward. His point may be that beneficial or destructive forces are inherent in the actions themselves and do not necessitate divine response. Such a position, given Job's suffering, would necessitate establishing his sinfulness, which is what each of the other participants has endeavored to do. By suggesting that God is indifferent, Elihu comes close to Job's position of challenging his justice.

Elihu now turns to Job's earlier claim (24:12) that God ignores the cry of the oppressed for help. His answer is one that is given frequently and one that is often pertinent. They do not deserve an answer (35:9-10). Animals by instinct turn to God (v. 11), but the wicked (i.e., the oppressed) are so preoccupied with their misery that they ignore God (v. 10). When the oppressed do pray their motives and attitudes are improper. They are characterized as arrogant (v. 12) and their prayers as empty, i.e., deceitful (v. 13). The onus of unanswered prayers rests squarely on the shoulders of the person praying. How can Job expect God to hear him since his cry is directed against rather than to God (v. 14)? While his prayers have been many, they have been without knowledge (v. 16).

Elihu's fourth speech has two distinct parts. In the first part he moves beyond the penal concerns of the three comforters and emphasizes the remedial implications of suffering (36:1-25). In the second part Elihu focuses on God's activities in nature, thereby anticipating the speeches of the Lord that follow (36:26-37:24).

Although God is mighty, he does not despise his creatures (36:5). Contrary to what Job claims (21:7), the wicked are not allowed to live (36:6). When the righteous suffer, it is to alert them to their sins (v. 9) and to lead them to repentance (v. 10). Through such suffering God speaks (v. 9). If the righteous learn from their discipline, prosperity and contentment will follow (v. 11). If they do not, doom will overtake them (v. 12). Elihu now applies this principle to Job (vv. 16-21), but this strophe is so problematic that it is not clear whether Elihu is encouraging or warning Job. While there is strong scriptural support for suffering being remedial in nature, the prologue precludes its application to Job. Job's suffering is neither penal nor remedial. It is a demonstration of his integrity.

Elihu now turns to the greatness of God as revealed in nature (36:26-37:13). This portion begins with an emphasis on the power of God as seen in the storm. God has not only created the forces of nature, he controls them. He sends the rain (vv. 27-28), the thunder (v. 29), and the lightning (v. 30). The destructive qualities of the storm suggest God's anger and his judgment (vv. 31-32). There is no break in thought here even though the speech extends into the next chapter where there is a shift from an attitude of awe to expectation. The thunder is recognized as the voice of God (vv. 29, 33; cf. Ps 29) and the medium of a theophany. It is in the storm that God frequently reveals himself (Ex 19:18ff.; Ps 18:7-15; Jn 12:29). These verses are a preparation for the theophany Job will experience. A seasonal shift is discernible in 37:6 when the precipitation now becomes snow. Agricultural activities are suspended (37:7) and the animals hibernate (v. 8). In these forces of nature, Elihu sees God at work, punishing the wicked and showing his love to the righteous (v. 13).

In anticipation of God's visit, Elihu directs a series of ironic questions at Job to humble him (37:14-18). The season has now shifted to summer (v. 17). Job is warned that his continued challenge of God (vv. 19-20) could result in destruction. God is beyond our reach and unsearchable, but he never acts unjustly (v. 23).