DEFENDING THE JUSTICE OF GOD INVOLVES WRESTLING WITH DIFFICULT QUESTIONS
This is going to be a sermon of Questions rather than Answers.
Roy Zuck: Job’s Complaint: God is unconcerned. He does not reward me for my innocence (10:7; cf. 35:3). . .
In this speech Elihu defended God’s sovereignty in answer to Job’s charge that God did not reward him for his innocence. Elihu’s answer was twofold:
(a) Since God is supreme, He is not affected one way or the other by man’s innocence or sin, and
(b) God was not answering Job’s cries because of his pride.
David Clines: The structure of this third speech is straightforward. It has two parts, corresponding to the two main points Elihu is making. The first part is also distinguished from the second by its being couched entirely in the second person as an address to Job; in the second part, only vv 14–15 are addressed to Job (and even then only v 14 contains second-person verbs). . .
The two nodal verses reflect the twin interests of Elihu in this speech: v 8 communicates the theme of justice as a human-to-human relation: “It is your fellows who suffer from your wickedness; it is other humans who benefit from your righteousness,” and v 13 addresses the theme of suffering that does not deserve deliverance: “God does not of course listen to an empty plea; the Almighty pays it no attention.”
In this speech he treats two further questions about justice: first, whether justice is best understood as what is due to a person and, second, whether justice in God demands that he deliver victims of oppression from their suffering.
Pulpit Commentary: In this short chapter, once more Elihu addresses himself to Job, first (verses 1-8) answering his complaint that a life of righteousness has brought him no correspondent blessings; and then (verses 9-14) explaining to him that his prayers and appeals to God have probably not been answered because they were not preferred in a right spirit, i.e. with faith and humility. Finally (verse 15, 16), he condemns Job for haughtiness and arrogance, and reiterates the charge that he “multiplies words without knowledge” (comp. Job 34:35-37).
(:1) PROLOGUE – ELIHU’S THIRD SPEECH
“Then Elihu continued and said,”
I. (:2-8) QUESTION #1: WHAT IS THE POINT OF BEING GOOD?
Tremper Longman: Elihu starts the next part of his speech by once again (33:8–11; 34:5–6, 9) providing a summary of Job’s position (35:2–3). In 34:5 he said that Job claimed to be righteous; now (35:2) he says that Job claims to be righteous in a way that implies God is not. In 34:9 he represented Job as saying that people get no benefit from God; in 35:3 Job, according to Elihu, repeats this thought. In responding to Job and his friends (v. 4), Elihu argues against Job’s view by saying that God does not benefit from people, whether they are good or bad (vv. 5–8).
Elmer Smick: Elihu begins (vv.1–3) by showing Job how inconsistent he has been to claim in one breath that God will vindicate him and then in another to complain he gets no profit out of not sinning (cf. 34:9). In other words, if God is so unjust, why does Job want to be vindicated by him? A colloquial way of phrasing the question would be: What is the use of being good if God does not care? Elihu has missed Job’s point, namely, that he wants to be vindicated because he does believe God is just. Of course Job, in his struggle to understand what God is doing, has sent out two signals, one of which Elihu, like the others, has not been able to hear.
Roy Zuck: How could Job ever hope to vindicated by God (cf. 13:18) as being innocent while at the same time he insisted that his innocence was of no value before God? Such a position was inconsistent, Elihu argued.
A. (:2-4) Is It Inconsistent to Demand Vindication from a God Whose Justice You Challenge?
1. (:2) Who Determines What is Right?
a. How Can You Tell If God Is Treating You Fairly?
“Do you think this is according to justice?”
David Clines: The connection between the two parts of the speech hangs on the initial clause, lit. “Do you consider this for justice?” (v 2a). In the first part, the issue is the more theoretical one whether there is any injustice in the working of the principle of retribution, in the second it is a general question why sufferers are not always delivered, which develops into the more practical question of whether there is any injustice in Job’s not being answered by God.
David Whitcomb: Our sense of justice expects God to reward the righteous and punish the wicked. But our sense of justice can be, and often is, skewed. We are finite and do not always know or understand what God is doing at any given time with any given person. Nor do we perceive God’s goals either temporary or eternal. Nor do we truly know how wicked or how righteous any given person is. Nor do we always have a perfect understanding of righteousness. And what is considered righteous or wicked by finite humans changes with time.
b. Do You Think You Are More Right Than God?
“Do you say, ‘My righteousness is more than God’s ‘?”
2. (:3) What Does It Profit You to Do Good?
“For you say, ‘What advantage will it be to You?
What profit shall I have, more than if I had sinned?’”
3. (:4) Elihu Attempts to Answer
“I will answer you, And your friends with you.”
B. (:5-8) Are You Asking the Right Questions?
1. (:5) How Can You Figure Out Why the Transcendent God Is Treating You This Way?
“Look at the heavens and see;
And behold the clouds– they are higher than you.”
L. M. Grant: “Do you think this is right? Do you say, My righteousness is more than God’s? (v.2). This was very clearly what was implied in Job’s words, for he had said he was righteous and God was remiss in His not recognising Job’s righteousness. How careful we should be when we are tempted to complain, for we are saying in effect that God is not treating us rightly! Job had questioned if there was any advantage or profit in being righteous, more than if he had sinned (v.3), that is, he thought, “what is the use of being righteous if the results are not what I imagined thy should be?” How can a believer entertain such unbelieving thoughts?
Elihu answers this by directing Job’s eyes to heaven. Just to observe the heavens should make anyone bow with awe at the greatness of the glory of God. Both the heavens and the clouds are “higher than you.” The obscurity caused by clouds should move us to realise that it is impossible for mere man to perceive why God deals as He does: His ways are hidden from human observation.
2. (:6-7) How Does Your Behavior Impact God?
a. (:6) Your Sins?
“If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against Him?
And if your transgressions are many, what do you do to Him?”
David Whitcomb: But a person’s sin or righteousness also effects God. He is not a distant, uncaring spirit being. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all people. Therefore, everyone’s sins grieve God. God hates all sin and even individual’s sins. And God is glorified and caused to be praised when His people whom He has redeemed live righteously.
b. (:7) Your Righteousness?
“If you are righteous, what do you give to Him?
Or what does He receive from your hand?”
Elmer Smick: In answer to Job’s inconsistency (vv.4–8), Elihu claims it is God who gets no benefit from Job whether or not he does right. God is far too transcendent for humans to affect him by their little deeds. Job’s righteousness or lack of it affects only people like himself (v.8). . . To Elihu God is too transcendent to be either helped by righteousness (v.7) or hurt by sin (v.6). And this is further refined by alluding to two kinds of sin, omission (ḥṭ ʾ) and commission (pš ʿ), which can neither deprive God nor hurt him in any way.
David Clines: In the first part, Elihu takes up Job’s complaints,
(a) that he is no better off than if he had sinned (v 3b) and
(b) that there is no benefit in righteousness (v 3a).
There are two ways of reading Elihu’s response. Either, he regards Job’s first complaint as an impious statement, since it implies that God is not operating the principle of retributive justice, and thus that God is unjust. Naturally, if you say that God is unjust, it means that you think you are more just than God (v 2b). Or, Elihu is simply arguing that talk about my rights and my benefit is not how we should speak about justice: a truly pious person would not be so self-centered. Indeed, piety should not even be focused on the question of its value to God (vv 5–7). The mark of true piety is whether it brings benefit to others, while justice is not a matter of my getting what I deserve but of others benefiting from my virtue. This seems the preferable reading. . .
Right behavior, including justice, is in his view not a theological but a humanistic virtue. Job’s fixation on what is due to him neglects the social dimension of the practice of justice.
John Hartley: One’s righteous character cannot be presented as a gift to God. No amount of good works benefits God or puts him under obligation to anybody (cf. 22:2-3). There is nothing that God wants or needs from human hands. Since God is not dependent on human beings for anything, a person has no leverage with God.
3. (:8) How Does Your Behavior Impact Others?
“Your wickedness is for a man like yourself,
And your righteousness is for a son of man.”
Francis Andersen: Nothing that a man does either hurts or helps God; its repercussions are felt only among his fellow-men. This thought is so similar to the position that Elihu purports to be refuting, that there would seem to be something wrong, either with the text or with the usual interpretations. A solution will probably be found by tracing a closer connection between verse 8 and verses 2f. The parallelism invites this, and the grammatical difficulties in verse 8 might be helped out if it completes the statement begun there. As it is, Elihu seems to have finished up in a corner, affirming that God is quite unaffected by human wickedness or righteousness. If he is saying that God’s intrinsic righteousness is perfect, not capable of being augmented by human goodness, not capable of being diminished by human wickedness, then the idea is a very abstract one, and an evasion. If it means that God couldn’t care less about human conduct either way, then he is echoing the opinions quoted in verses 6 and 7 and has undermined his whole case, saying in effect that justice means nothing to God. Beginning with impartiality, he has ended with indifference.
David Clines: From Elihu’s point of view, Job has still a lot to learn about justice. Job has been worrying about the benefit (or rather, lack of benefit) to himself of his pious life, asking how he, in all his suffering, can possibly be better off than if he had been a great sinner. Elihu’s significant move in this chapter is to open up the issue—as none of the friends nor Job has—of the benefits of right living. Job has been asking about the benefits to himself, and while Elihu does not negate Job’s question, he is concerned rather with the benefits of piety to God and to other humans. In Elihu’s view, the key point is that God does not benefit from human goodness (nor does he suffer because of human wickedness), but other mortals do. In so saying, Elihu is advocating an interestingly utilitarian ethics that, on the one hand, dispenses with the (theological) theory of retribution and, on the other, makes ethics not so much a duty toward God as a duty toward one’s fellow humans. . .
If Elihu’s doctrine were one of the impassivity of God to human actions, it would hardly be in accord with the program of the book of Job as a whole, in which God stands to gain or lose a great deal from the response of Job to his suffering. But it is not divine impassivity that Elihu is urging, nor does he imply a cosmology in which “the earthly domain is a self-contained universe where human actions are restricted in their influence to fellow humans in that world” (Habel). No, Elihu everywhere sees God as actively involved with human affairs, communicating with humans in various ways (33:14), delivering mortals from destruction (33:29–30), requiting evil (34:11), sustaining creaturely life (34:14–15), judging rulers (34:17–19), investigating wrongdoing (34:21–22), and visiting it with punishment (34:25–28). In what he says here his theme is that the justification of right behavior must be its effects in the world of humans, not its influence upon the divine, whom he represents as unharmed by human evil, unblessed by human goodness (note the interesting parallel in Rom 11:35).
II. (:9-16) QUESTION #2: WHY IS THERE NO ANSWER FROM GOD?
Tremper Longman: The second half of his speech in chap. 35 attempts another argument. Elihu says that people suffer because, when they cry out in their suffering, they do not cry out for help to God. Thus God ignores them since they ignore him. In this speech, Elihu continues his attempt to paint Job’s speeches as “words heavy with ignorance” (v. 16).
David Atkinson: He gives three quick reasons why prayer is not answered:
– pride (35:12);
– wrong motives (35:13);
– lack of faith (35:14).
This is all very worthy at the theoretical level, but Elihu is holding on to his theory at the expense of missing Job’s predicament. None of these reasons counts for Job, for what matters to him is that from a clean heart he has sought the Lord, but so far he has always seemed to receive the stern reply, ‘No answer.’
Elmer Smick: Another issue grows out of that last statement and centers around Job’s concern over God’s apparent indifference to the cries of the oppressed (cf. 24:1–12). Elihu maintains that God is not indifferent to people, but people are indifferent to God. People want God to save them; but they are not interested in honoring him as their Creator, Deliverer, and Source of wisdom (vv.9–11). Human arrogance keeps God from responding to the empty cry for help (vv.12–13). That is why God has not answered Job. The silence from God derives from Job’s complaints, questions, and challenges that reveal the same kind of arrogance (vv.14–15). They are words without knowledge (v.16).
David Clines: In the second part (vv 9–16), Elihu explains why God does not always answer cries for help, and why therefore Job is not receiving any response to his case. When a sufferer remains unanswered by God, it is not because God is unjust, as Job alleges, but because there is some fault in the person who is calling for help. Those victimized by powerful oppressors may not be answered because they are proud or evil themselves (v 12) or because their cry is “empty” (v 13), whatever that means. Job too is not being answered, despite his conviction that he has laid his case before God and is awaiting a decision (v 14), because there is something wrong with Job himself—which Elihu does not further specify here. . .
The justice that Job seeks would lie in a response from God, justifying Job and declaring his innocence. It is agreed between Job and Elihu that such a response has not been forthcoming, and in this second phase of the speech, Elihu argues that the absence of a response from God does not mean, as Job thinks it does, that God cares nothing about what happens in the world of humans.
Peter Wallace: People cry out because of oppression, but their cries are selfish, proud, or empty – and yours, O Job, are worse!
Meredith Kline: God’s transcendent immutability is not equivalent to indifference to human virtue and vice; it is not a distant disinterest in the multitudes who cry . . . because of the pride of evil men (v. 12), as Job had complained (cf. 24:12). Such prayer rather goes unheeded because God will not hear an empty cry (v. 13a, ASV), a mere animal cry (v. 11) for physical relief. . . It is not that God is indifferent to men but that men are indifferent to God. They do not seek God for God’s sake, content to sing doxologies in the midst of desolation if only he be their portion.
A. (:9-12) What Are the Motivations of People Crying Out to God for Help?
Ray Stedman: Why is God silent? Men cry for help, but God knows that what they are crying for is merely relief, that is all. They want to be taken out of the harmful, painful effects of their selfish ways and then allowed to go right back to being selfish. Nobody is concerned about God’s glory and about being taught by God and learning at his hand and at his feet. Rather, they are simply crying out for deliverance, they want to use God, and to that kind of an appeal God is silent. I think this is why our prayers are often unanswered. Our selfishness has produced agony in our life and all we want is to escape the penalty; we are not at all concerned about God himself. And that is one reason for God’s silence.
1. (:9) Does Oppression Require a Response from God?
“Because of the multitude of oppressions they cry out;
They cry for help because of the arm of the mighty.”
David Clines: Being oppressed is no proof of innocence, says Elihu. . . the general point has a direct bearing on Job: Job is suffering, he allows, but is he innocent? Job is crying out, but is he directing himself towards God?
2. (:10-11) Are People Truly Seeking God for Who He Is?
“But no one says, ‘Where is God my Maker,
Who gives songs in the night,
11 Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth,
And makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?’”
David Atkinson: There is, though, a further gem in this third speech of Elihu which we must not miss. It is a phrase of beauty and comfort. Job 35:10 describes God as one ‘who gives songs in the night’. In the darkness, Elihu knows it is possible to sing the song of the Creator. Elihu himself so far seems a long way from showing Job how. But that is a phrase of great comfort for people searching for a hand in the darkness. The Creator God is one who ‘gives songs in the night’. May he give us grace so to know him in the darknesses we face that we may with joy be enabled to sing his songs.
David Clines: What these verses show is how Elihu thinks of God: though God is deeply involved in human affairs (see above on v 7), he is not primarily a savior but a creator (“my Maker”), who is the author and sustainer of life (e.g., with “songs in the night”) and a teacher (cf. 36:22 “Who is a teacher like him?”) whose blessings for humans are above all on the intellectual and cognitive plane (teaching and making wise, v 11). If you are in distress, he means to say, it would be better to understand that distress than merely to escape from it. The victims of oppression would find their prayers answered if they saw their suffering as a learning opportunity, first for endurance (“songs in the night”) and secondly for wisdom about its meaning as intended by God (“teaches us,” “makes us wise”). Simply to cry out in pain is to align oneself with the animals, who lack understanding.
E.S.P. Heavenor: The thought of God as a Teacher, intent on steering man through a rough and thorny maze of pain to a deeper experience of Himself, gives us an important distinction between Elihu and the friends. For them, God appears more characteristically as a Sovereign or Judge.
L. M. Grant: Does God not teach us more than the beasts? Does He not give greater wisdom to man than to birds? (v.11). Yet beasts and birds are cared for by God’s preserving mercy. Why does man not consider this and realise that he too is dependent on his Creator? In other words, since God has given greater understanding to men than to beasts and birds, why do men not show it by relying on God?
3. (:12) Are People Approaching God in Humility or in Pride?
“There they cry out, but He does not answer
Because of the pride of evil men.”
John Hartley: It is false to claim that God does not hear or regard these cries. The truth is that God cannot be coerced or pressured by such pleas into acting in any set way. God’s apparent silence indicates that there is some fault in those making the petition, not in God.
B. (:13-16) How Should You Respond When God Is Silent?
1. (:13-14) Is Something Wrong with Your Approach to God?
a. (:13) Is Your Cry Empty and Faithless?
“Surely God will not listen to an empty cry,
Nor will the Almighty regard it.”
b. (:14) Are You Waiting Patiently for God to Respond?
“How much less when you say you do not behold Him,
The case is before Him, and you must wait for Him!”
David Clines: What is the connection of vv 14–15 with what precedes? It seems to be that if God does not respond to the misery of the oppressed merely because they have omitted to address themselves explicitly to him (vv 9–13), “how much less” can Job expect to be heard when he treats God with insolence and denigrates his governance of the world (vv 14–15).
John Hartley: Elihu exhorts that the proper attitude that he should have is to wait for God.
Warren Wiersbe: Elihu dismisses Job’s complaint that he can’t see God. The important thing is that God sees Job and knows his case completely (Job 35:14). Job’s situation won’t be changed by his empty talk and many words (v. 16), so the only thing for Job to do is wait and trust (v. 14).
2. (:15-16) Are You Lashing Out with Verbal Retorts?
“And now, because He has not visited in His anger,
Nor has He acknowledged transgression well,
So Job opens his mouth emptily;
He multiplies words without knowledge.”
Roy Zuck: Elihu felt that Job could not be cleared by God (35:2) as long as he questioned the value of serving Him (v. 3) and prayed from a heart of pride (v. 12), while thinking that God does nothing about wickedness (v. 15).
Francis Andersen: Since verse 15 is quite obscure, we are left to guess that it means that Elihu is accusing Job of completely misunderstanding God’s unresponsiveness as heedlessness, whereas in fact God is holding His anger in. Job is guilty of despising God’s longsuffering.
John MacArthur: Elihu suggested that although Job had suffered, his suffering was not the fullness of God’s anger or He would have punished Job more for the sinfulness of his speeches. He thought God had actually overlooked the folly of Job in his useless words.
Elmer Smick: Job might not be wicked, but he shares this arrogance and so gets no answer (v.14). Elihu seems offended by the idea that Job should consider himself a litigant at God’s court. With his multiplicity of empty words, Job should not expect to be heard (vv.14–16). Even worse is Job’s rebellious spirit chiding God for hiding his face (13:24; 23:3; cf. v.14) and seeking to march into his presence as an impatient litigant (13:15; 31:35–37). And now, with his case before God, Job dares to complain about waiting for an answer (30:20; cf. v.14c–d) and continues to accuse God of injustice (21:4; 24:1–12; cf. v.15).
John Hartley: Elihu is less concerned to prove that Job has committed some hidden sin that has led to his plight than to show that Job’s asseverations of innocence and his charges against God are presumptuous folly. While he has made Job appear to be more arrogant than he really has been, he helps Job reflect on the presumptuous nature of his bold claims. In this manner he prepares Job for the possibility that he might have to surrender his avowal of innocence when God addresses him.