GOD USES DREAMS, PAIN AND MEDIATION TO COMMUNICATE HOW ONE CAN AVOID THE TRAGIC CONSEQUENCES OF SIN AND ENJOY HIS GRACE
Roy Zuck: Job’s Complaint: God is silent; He does not respond to me (13:22; cf. 33:13).
David Atkinson: Elihu argues that God knows best – so what right has Job to complain? But there is more to it than this. One of the gems comes in 33:30, where Elihu tells us of God’s purpose in suffering – it is both preventive and affirmative: ‘to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him.’
God allows his child to suffer ‘to bring back his soul from the Pit’ (RSV) – that is, to check him when he is on the wrong path; and ‘that he may see the light of life’ (RSV) – to bring him back on to the right path. In contrast to Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, therefore, Elihu has a more positive view of suffering. He is not seeing the situation in terms of past sins and Job’s need for repentance; he is open to the possibility that God is doing some positive work in Job, even though Job could not see it. God is using Job’s suffering creatively.
Elmer Smick: The refutation of Job beginning in v.8 immediately reveals Elihu’s style—direct quotation of Job’s words. In the Dialogue Job and his friends replied in a more general way to one another’s ideas. Elihu is not satisfied with this. Even though he says, “I heard the very words,” some feel Elihu has the advantage of also seeing them. Whether that is so or not, he is concerned with the very words and quotes them fairly accurately three times (33:9–11; 34:5–6; 35:2–3) as the starting points for his rebuttal of Job’s claim to innocence.
Tremper Longman: In vv. 12–30 Elihu strongly objects to Job’s putative self-righteousness. God is not unjust, but rather God is trying to teach Job a lesson through his suffering. Suffering has a disciplinary function. It may be, though, that Job can escape suffering through the intervention of a mediator, a possibility that corresponds with Job’s own desire in 9:32–35 and 16:18–22. Chapter 33 ends (vv. 31–33) with yet another appeal that Job be quiet and listen to him. Elihu is the one who has wisdom that he intends to impart to Job.
David Clines: According to Elihu, Job’s position is that
(1) he is faultless (v 9), and that
(2) God’s afflictions of him are therefore expressions of groundless hatred and
enmity (vv 10–11), and that
(3) God refuses to answer his complaints of unjust treatment (v 13).
Any response Elihu makes to the first two points are made very indirectly; his attention is concentrated on the third issue. Even here his reply is not a direct one, for he responds to Job’s complaint that God does not answer him by showing how God does indeed speak to humans generally.
Elihu’s argument will be that God has various ways of speaking to humans (and, implicitly, that therefore it is wrong to accuse him of not responding). One such mode is the dream, when God puts warnings into human minds (vv 15–17), and another is suffering (vv 19–28), which can be accepted as sent from God to bring people to their senses, acknowledging their sin. By either means, God’s intention is not to punish but to rescue humans from their sin.
Warren Wiersbe: This is a remarkable speech because it introduces into the debate a new insight into the purpose of suffering. Job’s friends had argued that his suffering was evidence that God was punishing him for his sins, but Elihu now argues that sometimes God permits us to suffer to keep us from sin. In other words, suffering may be preventive and not punitive. God does all He can to keep us from sinning and going into the pit of death, and this is evidence of His grace (Job 33:24).
(:1-7) ELIHU’S PLEADING FOR A HEARING – RECEIVE MY WORDS AND RESPECT MY ARGUMENTS
A. (:1-3) Receive My Words as Sincere Wisdom
1. (:1) My Words Deserve a Hearing
“However now, Job, please hear my speech,
And listen to all my words.”
John Hartley: In addressing Job by name he does not use any titles, showing his disregard for the position or prestige of any person, as has just promised he would do. This form of address, however, also reflects Elihu’s brash character in that he does not fear to address a distinguished elder by name.
Roy Zuck: Job had asked his three friends to listen to him (13:6, 17; 21:2); now Elihu turned that around and asked that Job hear him.
2. (:2) My Words Are Ready to Be Spoken
“Behold now, I open my mouth,
My tongue in my mouth speaks.”
David Clines: it is more probable that these are simply conventional lines of introduction to a speech, more in the nature of phatic communion than of actual communication (cf., e.g., Ps 78:2; Prov 8:6–8). We are dealing here not with a “formal summons to appear in court for a public trial” (Habel) but with a rather old-fashioned rhetoric signifying a “grave and deliberate utterance” (Cox); for the phrase “open the mouth”, cf. Isa 53:7; Pss 51:15 (17); 78:2; Job 3; 1; Dan 10:16.
3. (:3) My Words Are Sincere
“My words are from the uprightness of my heart;
And my lips speak knowledge sincerely.”
David Clines: In saying that his words are sincere, Elihu can hardly be taking a sideswipe at Job, implying that he by contrast has spoken out of a sinful heart (as Fohrer suggests). It is rather that his words are neither insincerely flattering (cf. 32:21) nor malicious. Elihu aims not at Job’s defeat (though he does want to correct him) but only at establishing the truth about the meaning of Job’s afflictions. If anything, Elihu is contrasting his intentions of honesty and sincerity with that of the three friends, whose speeches Job had found insincere and false (e.g., 6:25; 13:7–10; 16:2–5; 19:2–5; 21:27, 34).
B. (:4-7) Respect My Arguments as Inspired and Not Intimidating
Elmer Smick: the verses form an a • b/a’ • b’ pattern. Verse 4 goes with v.6 and v.5 with v.7.
1. (:4) My Arguments Are Inspired
“The Spirit of God has made me,
And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
John Hartley: In referring to his origin in this way Elihu claims two things:
– He is equal to both Job and the comforters,
– And his words are worthy of careful attention, for they are inspired.
2. (:5) My Arguments Must Be Addressed
“Refute me if you can;
Array yourselves before me,
take your stand.”
Roy Zuck: Job, he said, should prepare his response and be ready to confront Elihu as in verbal combat. The word ‘arak, translated “prepare,” means to arrange in order, often in the sense of marshaling military forces or weapons in battle order (cf. 1 Sam. 17:8, “line up for battle,” and Job 6:4, “marshaled”; 37:19, “draw up”; 13:18, “prepared”; 23:4, “state”). The word yasab here rendered “confront,” means to take one’s stand or position, sometimes in the sense of readiness for battle (1 Sam. 17:16; Jer. 46:4, 14; Job 41:10). Elihu was ready for a skirmish!
3. (:6-7) My Arguments Are Not Intended to Intimidate
“Behold, I belong to God like you;
I too have been formed out of the clay.
Behold, no fear of me should terrify you,
Nor should my pressure weigh heavily on you.”
Francis Andersen: In verse 6 he assures Job that they are both on exactly the same footing, so far as God is concerned. Their common humanity is traced to creation.
David Clines: It is important to Elihu to establish a commonality with Job. In 32:8 he had used the common creation of humankind as his justification for entering the conversation. If all humans have a share in the divine breath, all have some kind of wisdom, some entitlement to participate in dialogue and debate, he said. Here he is aligning himself with Job as a fellow human being, both equally created by the one God. Though there is a contention between them, they are essentially on the same side, both on the same footing.
David Clines: Though he thinks Job has drawn the wrong inferences from his sufferings, and though he is determined to set Job’s thinking straight, he is not against Job himself, and his avowed interest is to “justify” Job (v 32), that is, to get him to a position where Job can be in the right again.
John Hartley: Since Job had frequently expressed his fear of being so overwhelmed that he would be reduced to silence if God should enter into legal dispute with him, Elihu encourages him . . . He will not pressure Job as God has done (cf. 13:21). That is, Elihu wants to create an atmosphere that will allow Job to argue his case as he wishes, although not with God himself but with God’s representative – a man similar to himself. While the debate may be fierce, Job is encouraged to present his position free from awe of Elihu.
I. (:8-12) TRANSCENDENCE OF GOD = STARTING POINT FOR ELIHU
Francis Andersen: Elihu gives a fairly extended summary of Job’s position, his claim to innocence (9–11). Although the words You say are not present in the Hebrew of verse 9, it is clear from verse 8 that Elihu considers that he is reproducing what he heard Job say. . . Job had never gone quite this far in explicitly accusing God of malice, dishonesty or injustice, although he often came so close to this that it could seem to the listener that he had.
A. (:8) Job’s Case Reviewed by Elihu
“Surely you have spoken in my hearing,
And I have heard the sound of your words:”
David Atkinson: Elihu’s main speech starts in 33:8. He quotes some of Job’s complaints, and tries to answer them.
Elihu’s case against Job: In the first place, says Elihu, Job has been complaining that God has simply ignored his sufferings by refusing to answer his prayer (33:13). In 33:14-18 Elihu replies in effect: Job, you are not right to claim that God has been ignoring you. ‘God does speak’ (33:14) – sometimes in dreams or visions. In fact God makes himself known in many different ways. Even in your nightmares, Job, God has been speaking to you. . .
B. (:9) Job’s Claim of Innocence
“I am pure, without transgression;
I am innocent and there is no guilt in me.”
This is a much stronger statement than how Job had characterized his integrity. He never claimed sinlessness, but only that God was responding in judgment that was way overboard in light of his integrity.
C. (:10-11) Job’s Complaint of Divine Opposition
“Behold, He invents pretexts against me;
He counts me as His enemy.
11 He puts my feet in the stocks;
He watches all my paths.”
Elmer Smick: We can be sure that chapter 13 is referred to because 33:10b–11 are virtually identical to 13:24b and 27a. However, quoting accurately does not necessarily mean verbatim.
David Clines: it seems that, according to Elihu, Job has been making a fourfold accusation against God.
(1) God finds pretexts against him, i.e., unreasonable grounds for assaulting him. He has been framed.
(2) He treats him as an enemy, not as a creature, still less as a pious man.
(3) He puts Job’s feet in the stocks, i.e., limits his freedom of movement, constrains him to suffer and to be humiliated.
(4) God spies on all his doings, so that Job feels oppressed and perpetually under scrutiny.
D. (:12) Conclusion of Elihu – Apply the Doctrine of God’s Transcendence
“Behold, let me tell you,
you are not right in this,
For God is greater than man.”
Elmer Smick: In v.12 Elihu appeals to God’s transcendence as the reason Job is wrong to dispute with him. His words sound banal, for hymns have already been uttered about God’s greatness (4:8–16; 9:2–13; 11:7–9; 12:13–25; 25:2–6); but his purpose is commendable. God’s thoughts and purposes are beyond human ability to comprehend, so how can anyone know what God is doing? But for the moment, beginning in v.13, Elihu sets aside the issue of Job’s guilt or innocence and of God’s transcendence (to both of which he will return) to answer Job’s frequent complaint, that God will not give him a hearing (cf. 9:16, 35; 13:22; 19:7; 23:2–7).
David Clines: Why does Elihu want to remind Job that God is greater than humans, a very obvious fact that Job would be the first to agree with (cf. 9:1–13)? Some think it means that, since God is so much greater than humans, it makes no sense for Job to complain that God is not answering his charges; for God is not accountable to humans, he “does not fit man’s measure” (JB), he “cannot be expected to vindicate His ways to man” (Gibson). Others think that Elihu means that “God is above the petty feelings that Job has attributed to him” in vv 10–11 (Rowley; similarly Duhm “above all arbitrary, unreasoning hostility”; so too Davidson). It is less likely that he means that, because God is more powerful than humans, they cannot successfully argue with him (as Pope). Elihu is very fond of the thought that God is greater than humans (cf. also 36:5, 26)—his God is always a God of power (Fedrizzi)—and for him this is an explanation of practically everything.
II. (:13-14) THESIS STATEMENT – GOD COMMUNICATES IN A VARIETY OF WAYS THAT MAN MIGHT MISS
A. (:13) Restating Job’s Complaint = God Is Not Responsive
“Why do you complain against Him,
That He does not give an account of all His doings?”
B. (:14) Refuting Job’s Complaint
“Indeed God speaks once,
Or twice, yet no one notices it.”
John Hartley: One of Elihu’s main postulates is that God goes to great efforts to communicate with a person, above all to prevent that person from going astray. Elihu believes that God speaks to a person in many different ways and on many occasions. The sequence of the numbers one, two draws attention not to the small number of occasions on which God speaks but to God’s repetitive efforts to speak to that person.
Warren Wiersbe: This “young theologian” knew something about public speaking because Job 33 is a model address. First, he stated his thesis in verses 12-14: God is greater than man and speaks to him in ways that he may not always recognize. He then described three different ways that God may speak to man:
– dreams and visions (vv. 15-18),
– suffering (vv. 19-22),
– and the ministry of the mediating angel (vv. 22-33).
III. (:15-30) THREE METHODS OF DIVINE COMMUNICATION
A. (:15-18) God Speaks in Dreams
1. (:15-16) Manner of Communication
“In a dream, a vision of the night,
When sound sleep falls on men,
While they slumber in their beds,
16 Then He opens the ears of men,
And seals their instruction,”
David Clines: And this disquisition on dreams is meant to answer Job’s complaint that God will not answer him: God does speak to humans, responds Elihu, even if they do not always recognize it (v 14b). Nonetheless, it does not really address Job’s complaint, since he is troubled not about whether God engages in communication with humans in general but about why God refuses to answer his own particular charge of injustice. Auditions in dreams are not the kind of communication Job has been seeking (Andersen), but some kind of public announcement of his innocence, some demonstrable restoration of his good name.
2. (:17-18) Purpose of Communication
“That He may turn man aside from his conduct,
And keep man from pride;
18 He keeps back his soul from the pit,
And his life from passing over into Sheol.”
David Atkinson: God’s purpose is to turn people aside from the way they are walking, to learn something more of the ways of God: ‘to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword’ (33:17-18).
Elihu is pointing to God’s presence with Job even though Job has not been aware of it.
The second of Job’s complaints, according to Elihu, is that God has been using his power unjustly. ‘You have said… “… God has found fault with me… He fastens my feet in shackles; he keeps close watch on all my paths”’ (33:8-11).
This is answered by Elihu in 33:19-28. God may use even illness and pain as a means of bringing chastening to the human spirit. ‘A man may be chastened on a bed of pain, with constant distress in his bones’ (33:19).
God is not using his power in wanton fashion: sickness can act as a warning signal to make us sit up and take stock.
Elmer Smick: In chapters 3; 6–7; 10; 14; 16–17; 29; and 30, Job spoke about death, either longing for it or complaining that it was his only hope. The emphasis is not lost on Elihu. After each of the two descriptions of how God communicates with humanity, Elihu ends on the theme that God does so to redeem people’s life from the pit. In vv.18 and 22, after describing symptoms just like Job’s (vv.19–21), Elihu pictures the sufferer at the edge of the pit—exactly where Job found himself—about to go on “the journey of no return” (16:18–22).
David Clines: Keeping alive is the ultimate good in Elihu’s book: not to descend to the Pit is what humans most desire, if we are to believe his reiterated references to it (vv 18, 22, 24, 28, 30), and to hold humans back from the Pit is what God himself spends his energies upon. For Job, however, though Elihu will never understand this, it is all one whether he lives or dies (much of the time in fact he thinks death is a preferable state to life [3:20–21; 6:8–9]). The one thing he wants is justice, whether in this life or after he is dead (16:18; 19:25–26).
B. (:19-22) God Speaks in Pain and Sickness
John Hartley: A second method God employs to teach or to turn one from the error of his ways is the discipline of pain. The use of pain is, of course, a more severe discipline than dreams. God may suddenly bring a serious illness on an enterprising person. With his strength broken a person is no longer able to administer his estate. His suffering is continual and intense, as the phrase continual aching in his bones indicates. The pain robs him of the possibility of enjoying any pleasures. Food, above all dainty food, becomes loathsome to him, and he cannot enjoy even a piece of bread. His once muscular body, symbolic of his well-being and prosperity, wastes away to nothing. His flesh shrivels up until his bones stick out. Sapped of all strength, he is close to the brink of the grave where messengers of death stand ready to take his soul to Sheol. But God afflicts that person to awaken him to the seriousness of his situation. If the person responds to God’s message, he will avoid a premature death.
1. (:19) Manner of Communication
“Man is also chastened with pain on his bed,
And with unceasing complaint in his bones;”
Elmer Smick: As C. S. Lewis (The Problem of Pain [New York: Macmillan, 1943], 93) effectively observes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” God’s purpose in suffering is to chasten us for our own good lest we find ourselves face to face with death. But Elihu does not make the crude claim so often on the lips of the counselors—that Job’s sufferings are the proof of a wicked life.
2. (:20-22) Purpose of Communication
“So that his life loathes bread,
And his soul favorite food.
21 His flesh wastes away from sight,
And his bones which were not seen stick out.
Then his soul draws near to the pit,
And his life to those who bring death.”
C. (:23-30) God Speaks via a Mediating Angel
1. (:23) Manner of Communication
“If there is an angel as mediator for him,
One out of a thousand,
To remind a man what is right for him,”
John Hartley: Elihu says that there is a special angel who works for the redemption of the afflicted. The phrase one among a thousand is taken by some to mean an ordinary angel, but from the way the phrase is used in 9:3 it is better understood as having very restrictive force. Therefore, this mediating angel is a very special heavenly creature. He may be identified with “the angel of Yahweh.” In some OT passages (e.g., Gen. 16:7-13; Num. 22:35) there is a close identification between Yahweh and his angel. The role of this angel allows God himself to affect events on earth without compromising his exalted transcendence. In Elihu’s teaching this special angel works for the restoration of those who have strayed from the right way. This means that God does not immediately abandon any of his servants who err. The converse is the truth; he labors zealously for their full restoration to faithful service.
2. (:24-26) Purpose of Communication
a. (:24) To Discover God’s Grace
“Then let him be gracious to him, and say,
‘Deliver him from going down to the pit,
I have found a ransom’;”
Elmer Smick: So in a sense this “angel” becomes a third means of revelation from God to humans. He also provides for mercy in behalf of the sufferer and even provides a ransom to save his life (v.24). All this will happen only if one listens to the revelation and turns to God for grace (v.26a). Such a redeemed person will openly admit his sin and praise God for his grace (v.27).
So Elihu has both agreed and disagreed with Job and with the counselors. He has added the element of God’s mercy, a subject avoided by the counselors, who constantly appealed to God’s justice. We must reap what we sow even when we repent and are healed. Elihu feels there is a place for grace. A ransom may have to be paid, but the man is restored and only then comes to make his public confession.
b. (:25) To Have His Life Revived
“Let his flesh become fresher than in youth,
Let him return to the days of his youthful vigor;”
c. (:26) To Repent and Enjoy Renewed Fellowship with God
“Then he will pray to God, and He will accept him,
That he may see His face with joy,
And He may restore His righteousness to man.”
Francis Andersen: vv. 23-28 — The third reference to the pit in verse 30 marks the end of the section, and completes the ‘one, two, three’ pattern (cf. 14, 29). This section, however, does not record a further mode of revelation, but rather a response which a man might learn who makes right use of dream or illness as a message from God. He will entrust his cause to a mediator.
David Clines: vv. 23-28 — When the sick are at death’s door, an angel may take up the cause of the sufferers and beg God to spare them from death. The sufferers would then be restored to their youthful health and strength, turn to God in prayer, and publicly acknowledge both their wrongdoing and their thankfulness for deliverance. It seems clear (as Duhm stresses) that those in view here are basically good people, not the thoroughly godless, who are presumably beyond redemption. . . the nice question arises whether Elihu thinks that what he describes is the situation of Job himself. It seems that it is, for three reasons:
– Elihu never brands Job an evil man;
– he uses language very reminiscent of Job’s when he describes the illness of the sufferer (see on v 19);
– and he avers in v 32 that his desire is not to condemn but to “justify” Job.
David Atkinson: The third of Job’s complaints to which Elihu draws attention is the claim that he is innocent. ‘I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt’ (33:9). Elihu comments that if a man accepts the chastening of sickness and prays to God, then God gives joy and salvation and a song. ‘He prays to God and finds favour with him, he sees God’s face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state’ (33:26).
3. (:27-28) Testimony to God’s Grace in Redemption
“He will sing to men and say,
‘I have sinned and perverted what is right,
And it is not proper for me.
28 He has redeemed my soul from going to the pit,
And my life shall see the light.’”
D. (:29-30) Summary Purpose Statement – To Rescue and Revive
“Behold, God does all these oftentimes with men,
30 To bring back his soul from the pit,
That he may be enlightened with the light of life.”
David Clines: These summarizing sentences maintain the positive note that Elihu has been determined on striking in this chapter. The purpose of suffering, in short, is not to punish, and certainly not to bring the life of erring humans to a close, but to restore sufferers to health. That means not only bringing them back from the edge of the Pit, so that they do not die, but also, more creatively, ensuring that they are “enlightened with the light of life.”
(:31-33) ELIHU’S CLOSING APPEAL
David Clines: Elihu is not bringing his words to a conclusion, but announcing that he has not yet finished. He asks Job to continue listening to him (v 31). If Job has something he must say now, let him do so (v 32), but if not, Elihu intends to develop further his teaching of wisdom (v 33). Whichever way Elihu will proceed, Job should know that Elihu’s fundamental desire is for Job’s vindication (v 32b)—not, needless to say, that he should be proved right in his complaint against God, but that he should emerge from his experience of suffering with his righteousness fully upheld.
A. (:31) Listen
“Pay attention, O Job, listen to me;
Keep silent and let me speak.”
B. (:32) Speak
“Then if you have anything to say, answer me;
Speak, for I desire to justify you.”
C. (:33) Learn
“If not, listen to me;
Keep silent, and I will teach you wisdom.”