GOD’S POWER AND WISDOM AS DISPLAYED IN NATURE REINFORCE HIS JUSTICE AND USE OF AFFLICTION FOR DISCIPLINE TO RECOVER THE WAYWARD RIGHTEOUS
– Part 1 is introduced by the topic sentence “to ascribe justice to my Maker,”
– Part 2 by “Who is a teacher like him?”
The genre of the speech is a mixture of wisdom instruction and admonition. Unlike Elihu’s previous speech, which was predominantly disputation, with only a single sentence of wisdom instruction, this speech is very largely instruction, with occasional elements of warning and advice. . .
There are two nodal verses in this speech, reflecting its twin concerns: Job 36:3 “I will range far and wide for knowledge to ascribe justice to my Maker” headlines the material of the first Part of the speech (36:2–25), while Job 36:22 “Behold, God is exalted in his power; who is a teacher like him?” enshrines the dual themes of the instruction on the phenomena of nature:
• God’s power, to which Job’s response should be wonder, and
• God’s teaching conveyed through nature.
Elmer Smick: 36:23-26 — Elihu considers God’s power and wisdom as the themes Job should dwell on rather than God’s justice. The wisdom of the great Teacher (cf. 34:32; 35:11) assures the justice of his actions, and his power makes certain his wise purposes will be fulfilled. God’s ways derive from his sovereign freedom (v.23a), thus ruling out people’s right to question God’s moral conduct (v.23b). Because mortals see God’s work at a great distance, they cannot understand it completely; so those who are wise will look on it with delight and praise (v.24). Elihu is here preparing the way for the theophany when Job will finally see his sovereign Lord and learn about his dominion. In v.26 Elihu is not saying that we cannot know God (NEB, RSV) but that we cannot fully understand his greatness.
John Hartley: In a more compassionate tone Elihu returns to the theme of God’s disciplinary use of suffering. He teaches that God protectively watches the righteous. If they commit a transgression, he lets them know what they have done wrong, often using the cords of affliction to instruct them. If they respond to his rod of discipline, they will be restored and behold the divine splendor in awe. But if they persist in their transgression, they will die. After warning Job, Elihu focuses on God’s glory that is revealed in a thunderstorm.
Francis Andersen: Elihu’s last word falls into two parts so distinct in tone and content as to give the impression that they are independent compositions and could have been separate speeches. The first section (36:1–21) continues the themes of the preceding chapters. The second (36:22–37:24) introduces a new line of argument. It begins to move in the direction of the Lord’s speeches that follow and so serves as a transition to the concluding cycle (chapters 38–42).
David Atkinson: Now in chapters 36 to 37 Elihu is turned towards God, and the tone is softer; the pastoral sensitivity returns, and we are given not only the best statement so far of the theology of rewards and punishments, but important new insights as well.
There are some more gems here.
In the book of Job, these chapters form a bridge between the world of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, and the word of the Lord from the whirlwind. They soften us, prepare us, and begin to show us what an encounter with the Lord will be like.
(36:1) PROLOGUE – ELIHU’S FOURTH SPEECH
“Then Elihu continued and said,”
(36:2-4) INTRODUCTION – THE CREDIBILITY OF THE SPEAKER
Elmer Smick: Here, still full of words, he wants Job to become aware of his credentials as God’s messenger (vv.1–4).
A. (:2) Speaking on Behalf of God
“Wait for me a little, and I will show you
That there is yet more to be said in God’s behalf.”
John Hartley: Elihu again entreats his audience, particularly Job, to be patient with him while he defends God. He is confident that he can offer Job more insight into God’s ways.
B. (:3) Speaking in Inspired Support of God in Defense of His Justice
“I will fetch my knowledge from afar,
And I will ascribe righteousness to my Maker.”
Tremper Longman: Thus the claim of spiritual inspiration can be dangerous, and Elihu illustrates that danger. After all, we know from the continuation of the plot in the book of Job that Elihu misrepresents himself. He does not speak as God’s mouthpiece. He simply repeats the tired retribution theology of the three friends. He accuses Job of being a sinner, who is suffering because of his sin, and as a result Job needs to repent.
David Clines: Why does Elihu here refer to God as his “Maker”? . . . It must be that he views right behavior and the practice of justice as a fundamental part of the world order, set up at creation by its author.
John Hartley: Elihu insists that his knowledge may be trusted, for it has come from afar, the distant place where God dwells. The source of one’s wisdom was assumed to ensure its validity. So here, as in ch. 32, Elihu claims that his words are inspired. He also states that it is his intent to demonstrate that God, his Maker (po’el), acts rightly. He feels compelled to defend God’s integrity before Job’s complaint.
C. (:4) Speaking in Sincerity and Truth with Absolute Knowledge
“For truly my words are not false;
One who is perfect in knowledge is with you.”
John Hartley: He speaks confidently, for he possesses comprehensive knowledge (de’ot). The plural form of de’a, “knowledge,” means “full knowledge,” knowledge characterized as perfect, pure, or complete (tamim). Such knowledge is beyond contradiction or rebuttal.
I. (36:5-25) THE JUSTICE OF GOD DISCIPLINES THE WAYWARD RIGHTEOUS VIA AFFLICTION TO ATTEMPT TO RECOVER THEM
David Atkinson: vv. 5-12 — Elihu begins by repeating the thought that though God sends trouble, he is just and merciful (36:6). God protectively watches over the righteous (36:7). Elihu recognizes at last the pain of being caught in the ‘cords of affliction’ (36:8). He outlines the conventional wisdom: ‘If they obey and serve him: prosperity; if they do not listen: they perish and die’ (cf. 36:11-12).
Tremper Longman: After another rather pompous introduction, Elihu launches into his argument, which turns out to be a rehash of the retribution theology that all the characters have been putting forward. God takes care of the innocent and punishes the wicked.
Verses 8–12 return to the theme of disciplinary suffering. That is, God makes people suffer in order to teach them a lesson.
David Clines: vv. 5-15 — The theme of this section is how God treats those among the righteous who do wrong in comparison with how he treats those who are really wicked. The fate of the wicked, that they are not kept alive (6a) but die in youth (14), more or less frames the depiction of the righteous who fall into sin (7–12, 15). Because they are righteous, they are watched over by God (7a) and raised to positions of importance (7bc). But if they subsequently find themselves in an unhappy state (8), that will be for a reason, and God will tell them what the reason is (9) and instruct them in what they must do to escape from their misery (10). If they comply, they are restored to happiness (11), but if they do not they die in ignorance (12)—as if they were godless from the start. The wicked, on the other hand, do not appeal to God for deliverance from their misery (13), and their fate is to die young, in shame (14). The righteous, by comparison, receive instruction when they are suffering, and so find deliverance from their suffering (15). These generalizations will be followed by an address to Job personally in vv 16–21.
The point of the comparison of righteous and wicked at this moment in Elihu’s speech seems to be a further justification of God and proof that he is righteous in all that he does—which Elihu has proclaimed as the purpose of the speech (v 3b). Although he does not affirm explicitly in these verses that God is just, his purpose seems to be much more than simply to sketch the varying fates of the two classes of people: the way they are treated is for him further evidence of the outworking of the justice of God in human affairs. . .
It is much better to see the contrast in vv 5–16 as between the truly righteous who fall into sin and may or may not escape, and the truly wicked who come to an early grave. .
He transcends the old distinction between the righteous and wicked that is the staple of the wisdom and psalmic literature and that constrains the thinking of the other friends. Eliphaz, it is true, has allowed that the innocent never suffer permanently, and that Job’s calamity must therefore be short-lived (4:3–6), but it is Elihu’s special contribution to have thought through a whole philosophy of God’s treatment of those among the righteous who find themselves in the toils of suffering because of their wrongdoing. If they are bound with fetters, he says, God declares their transgression to them, and opens their ear to instruction. At that point, two roads open up before them: either they can hearken, in which case they complete their days in prosperity, or else they fail to hearken and they must cross the river of death (36:8–12). This recognition that even the righteous can fall into sin is of course a much more realistic view of human nature than the old bipolar structure that made a sharp division between the righteous and the wicked.
A. (:5-7) The Power of God Enforces Divine Justice
1. (:5) God’s Power in Justice Does Not Compromise God’s Compassion
“Behold, God is mighty but does not despise any;
He is mighty in strength of understanding.”
Warren Wiersbe: The fact that God is great and mighty does not mean that He ignores man or has no concern for individuals. . . Job thought that God was ignoring him, but God keeps His eyes on the righteous (v. 7; 1 Peter 3:12) and eventually transforms their circumstances.
2. (:6) God’s Power in Justice Terminates the Wicked But Delivers the Afflicted
“He does not keep the wicked alive,
But gives justice to the afflicted.”
David Clines: The afflicted who have their “right” asserted are those who, being righteous, fall into sin but learn from their suffering and so in some sense deserve their deliverance.
John Hartley: vv. 5-6 – Elihu states his premise forthrightly: God, who is mighty in strength, punishes the wicked and defends the just. Since no person can threaten him, he never governs capriciously or out of fear. Assuredly he would never despise or treat lightly the pure of heart. On the other hand, God does not continue to support the life of the wicked so that they may prosper indefinitely in spite of their evil ways. In the proper time he judges them and terminates their success. . . Moreover, God gives justice to the afflicted by delivering them from their affliction. There can be no question that God is a God of compassionate justice.
3. (:7) God’s Power in Justice Can Elevate the Righteous to Positions of Authority (Transform Their Circumstances)
“He does not withdraw His eyes from the righteous;
But with kings on the throne
He has seated them forever,
and they are exalted.”
Elmer Smick: First Elihu presents his premise that God is mighty and firm of purpose (v.5). That purpose is stated: God will not grant life to the wicked but always grants the rights of those who are wronged (v.6). He then proceeds to tell how that purpose is carried out (vv.6–10). No matter what life may bring, whether chains or affliction, God never takes his eyes off the righteous but uses their troubles to give disciplinary instruction and to call them to repentance (vv.7–10). Responding to his call determines the course of a person’s life and his fate—obey and live under his blessing; disobey and die in bitter resentment (vv.11–14).
John Hartley: Elihu accentuates the compassionate way God treats the righteous. . . he continually observes them to protect and bless them. In due time he exalts them . . . Perhaps Elihu is alluding to the theme, beloved in Wisdom literature, of the poor, afflicted, righteous person who rises to a prominent place of leadership (see, e.g., the story of Joseph, Gen. 37; 39-50 and Eccl. 4:14).
B. (:8-12) Divine Justice Afflicts the Wayward Righteous for a Purpose
1. (:8-9) Fall of the Righteous into Affliction Due to Transgressions
a. (:8) Consequence of Affliction
“And if they are bound in fetters,
And are caught in the cords of affliction,”
John Hartley: God curtails their movement with cords of affliction (‘oni). The chains not only keep them from traveling further down a wrong road, but they also inflict pain to make the errant conscious of the impending doom that lies at the end of the wayward path they have taken. After binding them, God tells them what they have done. He makes them aware that they have acted arrogantly. Whereas pride blinds their conscience, God seeks to bring them to their senses so that they might turn from their evil course. Moved by mercy he reveals to them their transgressions.
b. (:9) Caused by Transgression
“Then He declares to them their work
And their transgressions,
that they have magnified themselves.”
2. (:10-12) Fate of the Fallen Righteous
a. (:10) Call of the Fallen Righteous to Repentance
Elmer Smick: The key word in this passage is mûsār (“correction”) in v.10. As a wisdom word used often in Proverbs (1:2–3, 8; 3:11; 4:13; 5:12, 23; 6:23; 8:10, 33; et al.), it includes all that God does to teach human beings his wisdom by means of his commandments (v.10b) or by circumstances (v.8). God’s unfainting purpose is to reach the hearts of people, if necessary by “cords of affliction” (v.8b). In v.10 he makes them “listen [Heb., ‘uncovers their ears’] to correction,” or perhaps “by the correction”; that is, he gets their attention and then calls for repentance.
John Hartley: It is through discipline then that God seeks to move any of the righteous who have sinned to forsake their wrongful ways and to serve him faithfully again.
b. (:11-12) Contrast in Response of the Righteous
1) (:11) Those Who Repent and Are Restored to Prosperity
“If they hear and serve Him,
They shall end their days in prosperity,
And their years in pleasures.”
2) (:12) Those Who Rebel and Perish Without Knowledge
“But if they do not hear,
they shall perish by the sword,
And they shall die without knowledge.”
Roy Zuck: A godly sufferer, Elihu suggested, who will listen to God and will once again obey and serve Him will then prosper and enjoy contentment. Learning from suffering and turning from pride was Elihu’s point earlier (33:23-28). This sounds like the theology of the three, but they stressed that Job was guilty of sinful actions whereas Elihu was concerned more with Job’s sinful attitude of pride. . . Job should not think of his calamities as proof that he was essentially ungodly (the view of the three agitators) or as evidence that God had forsaken him (as Job maintained). Instead he should see his afflictions as a means of helping him become humble before God.
C. (:13-15) The Contrast between the Fate of the Unrepentant Wicked and the Wayward Righteous Who Listen and Repent
David Clines: A further contrast is drawn here, between the ultimate fate of the godless (vv 12–14) and that of the afflicted (v 15). It is the same contrast as we saw in v 6, between the fates of the wicked and of the afflicted. It is not at all the same contrast that has occupied us from v 7 to v 12, which was between two kinds of righteous people:
– those who respond to the message contained in their affliction (v 11) and
– those who do not (v 12).
1. (:13-14) The Fate of the Unrepentant Wicked
a. (:13a) Objects of Divine Wrath
“But the godless in heart lay up anger;”
David Clines: Perhaps it means that they are forever increasing the store of divine anger that is due to them. Less probably, they harbor the anger roused in them by their suffering (Habel), cherishing angry thoughts about God’s discipline (Peake).
b. (:13b) Oblivious to Their Need for Divine Deliverance
“They do not cry for help when He binds them.”
c. (:14a) Die Prematurely
“They die in youth,”
d. (:14b) Perish in Shame
“And their life perishes among the cult prostitutes.”
Francis Andersen: These verses complete the sketch of the person who refuses to pray when in trouble (13b). He comes to an untimely (14a) and shameful (14b) end. The word translated shame means ‘male prostitutes’ (NEB), but it is hard to see what such an allusion is doing in the present passage.
David Clines: Some have thought that there is a closer connection between the two cola of the verse: if in the first colon the wicked die “in their youth,” in the second colon dying “among the prostitutes” should perhaps also refer to an early death. “These male devotees to unchastity,” say Driver-Gray, “. . . must, worn out by their excesses, have died, as a rule, at an early age, so that they became proverbial as victims of an untimely death” (similarly Peake). “It is likely that sexually transmitted diseases claimed the lives of many, then as now” (Alden). There is, however, not a shred of evidence for these beliefs.
2. (:15) The Fate of the Wayward Righteous Who Listen and Repent
“He delivers the afflicted in their affliction,
And opens their ear in time of oppression.”
John Hartley: In summary Elihu reaffirms that God’s purpose in using the discipline of pain is to turn the afflicted through their affliction. He increases their tribulation in order to open their ears to his speaking. His purpose is to lead them into the blessings he has prepared for them. God then is mankind’s most patient, compassionate, and persistent teacher.
David Clines: “the afflicted” — The term (already in 24:4, 9, 14; 29:12; used by Elihu in 34:28; 36:6) refers to any oppressed, that is, underprivileged, persons in Israelite society; they are of course typically the economically poor, but they include other types of oppressed persons, such as the chronically ill and prisoners.
David Atkinson: This is not simply saying again that God uses suffering to chasten and to bring to repentance. It is saying much more. Elihu is here recognizing that through the very process of affliction, there can be deliverance. There can be, in the title of Martin Israel’s book, ‘the pain that heals’. It is through the suffering of God’s servant that there can be healing. . .
God’s dealings with us, though painful, says Elihu, are for healing. God is compassionate, luring us back into his ways, opening our eyes to a new world, opening our ears to new voices and new songs. He is pointing to a theme picked up by Martin Israel when he says: ‘It is one of the fundamental contributions of pain to make people wake up to a deeper quality of existence and to seek evidence for meaning in their lives beyond the immediate sensations that arrest their attention.’
Elmer Smick: It is time for Job to see the hand of God in his suffering. God uses affliction to amplify his voice and thus obtain the attention of people (v.15). Job must understand that God is wooing him from the jaws of adversity, from slavery and oppression to freedom and comfort (vv.16–17).
D. (:16-21) Danger Zone – Warning to the Wayward Righteous to Repent
1. (:16) Danger of Rejecting Opportunities for Deliverance
“Then indeed, He enticed you from the mouth of distress,
Instead of it, a broad place with no constraint;
And that which was set on your table was full of fatness.”
David Clines: There is no reason, however, why Elihu should be offering Job encouragement at this point; his purpose rather is to warn Job to accept the instruction being given him by God through his suffering.
More attractive is the interpretation of RV, which took v 16 as a depiction of where Job could be now if he had heeded the divine advice: “Yea, he would have led thee away out of distress into a broad place, where there is no straitness. . . .  But thou art full of the judgement of the wicked.”
2. (:17) Danger of Divine Judgment Multiplying
“But you were full of judgment on the wicked;
Judgment and justice take hold of you.”
David Clines: But now Job finds himself in the position of the wicked, being punished by God. He is “full of the judgment due to the wicked,” and the justice that comes to the wicked has fallen upon him. What is he to do? Certainly not what he has been doing, complaining about the injustice of his suffering. Far from it; he has before him an opportunity to discover God’s instruction and so to be restored to prosperity and happiness (v 11). But it is a risky situation to be in, for Job can so easily let his suffering lead him further away from God: that very judgment that God intends as warning and instruction can become “mockery”, the occasion for insult of God. Job is all too capable of thinking too highly of himself, and his wealthy lifestyle has to be considered a real hindrance to a humble piety.
3. (:18-19) Danger of Prosperity Preventing Repentance
“Beware lest wrath entice you to scoffing;
And do not let the greatness of the ransom turn you aside.
Will your riches keep you from distress,
Or all the forces of your strength?”
David Clines: Continuing the thought of v 18, Elihu advises Job that there is no escaping the divine justice. Job’s wealth will never keep him from the “distress” of divine punishment, nor will any strenuous “effort” he might make to resist it.
4. (:20) Danger of Viewing Death as an Escape
“Do not long for the night,
When people vanish in their place.”
David Clines: This is a most difficult verse to make sense of in its context. Gordis explains persuasively that Elihu is warning Job “not to hope for the shelter of night as do other evildoers (cf., e.g., 24:13–17) because whole nations are destroyed by God overnight (cf. 34:20, 25).” That is to say, no more than in his wealth can Job find refuge from the divine reproof in the shadows of night; for the night is a dangerous time for individuals and nations alike.
John Hartley: Possibly then Elihu is countering Job’s longing to escape his suffering through a premature death by encouraging him to learn from his suffering.
Warren Wiersbe: The second danger was that Job might consider taking his own life (v. 20). “The night” and “darkness” are images of death, and Job often expressed a longing to die (3:1-9, 20-23; 7:21; 19:18-22). Many sufferers have committed suicide in order to escape their hopeless situations, but there was not much danger that Job would take this route. Job was a man of faith and was not about to go into God’s presence uninvited.
5. (:21) Danger of Continuing Down the Wrong Road
“Be careful, do not turn to evil;
For you have preferred this to affliction.”
Elmer Smick: There are few verses in the entire OT that are more difficult to translate than vv.17–20 in this chapter. The difficulty does not arise from the meaning of individual words but from the fact that they are so difficult to put together. The text may be disturbed, but more likely it is the rare meaning of key words that escapes us (see Clines, Job 21–37, 817–23, for the most extensive study of the philology of this section). The translations vary greatly. Most make it a sharp rebuke of Job (Pope, JB, TEV) for being unjust and for misusing his power and wealth.
Tremper Longman: In the final verse of this unit (v. 21), he charges Job with choosing iniquity rather than embracing the disciplinary lesson of his suffering. That is, Job chooses to charge God with wrongdoing rather than looking at his own life, recognizing his sin, repenting, and restoring his relationship with his God.
David Clines: Elihu summarizes his whole position on the meaning of Job’s present experience. In his suffering, Job has before him two possibilities, either to learn from the divine displeasure and come to enjoy God’s favor (as in v 11), or to remain stubbornly in the guilt that has brought down upon him divine punishment and so come to an early end (as in v 12). Job’s final fate has not been settled, and even at this juncture Job can decide to “turn” toward iniquity or away from it. It is for the sake of that very choice that Job has been brought into the affliction that now overwhelms him: “that is why you are being tested, or, refined, by affliction.”
E. (:22-25) Celebration of God’s Supremacy as He Exercises Power and Wisdom in Discipline
Elmer Smick: In v.22 Elihu completes his theme on God’s purpose in human suffering by returning to his original premise: the greatness of God’s power and the uniqueness of his ways (vv.22–23). Indeed, his power guarantees his purposes, for in his sovereign freedom he has no one to whom he must give an account (v.23). He is also the perfect teacher who makes no mistakes. Job would do well to sit at the Master’s feet and learn that his hand never does wrong. Then Job will be prepared to extol God and his work (vv.24, 26).
Tremper Longman: vv. 22-33 — He wants to emphasize God’s greatness in order to demonstrate to Job the futility of trying to contend with him. Elihu begins by simply stating that God is exalted. No one or thing is on his level. He asks who is a teacher like him, a rhetorical question that does not need to wait for a response. No one teaches like God. What is Elihu’s point? In the preceding sections, he has been making the argument that God teaches sinners through inflicting suffering on them. He teaches them that they are people who need to repent. Job, however, has not yet learned this lesson.
David Clines: Now the topic has changed to God, and we find in vv 22–25 a generalizing introduction to the celebration of God in creation that will run from v 26 to the end of chap. 37. Job is indeed addressed in the imperative “remember” of v 24, as he will also be included in the “we” of v 26 who are incapable of comprehending God, but the matters of Job’s choices, his complaints against God, and his sufferings have all disappeared.
Roy Zuck: Elihu then turned Job’s attention to God and spoke of His power (cf. v. 5; 37:23), instructional ability (cf. 36:9-10), independence (no one can tell God what to do by prescribing His ways), justice (no one can prove, as Job had tried to do, that God has ever done wrong; cf. 19:6-7), incomprehensible greatness (36:26), and eternality (v. 26). God’s years are innumerable and unending in contrast with man’s few years (9:25; 14:1-2, 5; 16:22). So in view of God’s perfections, Job ought to refrain from the sin of reproving God and ought to praise His great work, as other godly people have done, even in song.
1. (:22a) Supremacy of the Power of God
“Behold, God is exalted in His power;”
2. (:22b-23) Supremacy of the Wisdom of God
a. (:22b) No Instructor over God
“Who is a teacher like Him?”
David Clines: At first sight there are two unrelated topics in this verse: the might of God, and the fact that he is an unrivaled teacher. Both are great themes of Elihu, but what does he mean by putting them together in one sentence? It must be that the power of God has some connection with his teaching. And the connection may be suggested to be this: every demonstration of the power of God is itself instruction, every aspect of his ways in creation, for example, is itself pedagogy. For Elihu, God is not some heavenly dictator who runs the universe by remote control, but humankind’s great Instructor who brings them enlightenment through every evidence of his working.
b. (:23a) No Authority over God
“Who has appointed Him His way,”
c. (:23b) No Accountability over God
“And who has said, ‘Thou hast done wrong ‘?”
David Clines: Whether in prospect or retrospect, God is not subject to direction or audit; that is the significance of these two rhetorical questions. No one gives him directions in advance on how to conduct himself; no one assesses his performance after the event.
3. (:24-25) Application: Extol God’s Awesome Works (His Power and Wisdom) Rather than Challenging His Justice and Discipline
“Remember that you should exalt His work,
Of which men have sung.
25 All men have seen it;
Man beholds from afar.”
Elmer Smick: vv. 22-26 — The stanza has a chiastic pattern:
A. God is great in power and a sovereign teacher (v.22).
B. Human beings cannot prescribe his ways or judge his purpose (v.23).
C. Therefore praise him in song (v.24).
B’. Human beings see his power from afar (v.25).
A’. God is great, beyond understanding (v.26).
John Hartley: Elihu exhorts Job to remember that he is to extol God’s works. A mere man, he is to adopt an attitude of praise toward God, not a posture of challenge. He needs to sing the songs that people have sung, praising God’s wondrous deeds. God has revealed his works in order that all humanity might behold the vistas of nature with a sense of wonder and joy. People are overwhelmed before the splendor of God’s creative deeds, even though they view them from a far distance. When Job remembers to praise God, he will leave off his complaint. Then he will reap all the benefits of his suffering.
David Clines: How exactly would Job “extol” (hiph, “declare to be great”) God’s work in creation? Presumably by joining the universal choir (Terrien), the singing of praise that is already going on (v 24b). Though there is no direct reference to the Hebrew psalms, hymns like Pss 8, 19, 29, 65:6–13 (7–14), 104, 147, 148 would fit the description well. . . And why should Job now be extolling God’s work, according to Elihu? Because to praise God’s work requires one to become occupied with it, to research it and come to know it; if Job were to do that, he would learn the lessons that God, the unrivaled teacher (v 22b), has imprinted in the book of nature.
(36:26) TRANSITION – EXALTATION OF THE INSCRUTABLE ETERNAL GOD OF WISDOM
“Behold, God is exalted, and we do not know Him;
The number of His years is unsearchable.”
David Clines: One cannot be sure whether this verse concludes the strophe that began at v 22, with the same “Behold, God,” or whether it is the start of the new strophe that runs to v 33. Either way, it is another verse where the connection of its parts is not transparent. How is God’s greatness related to the “number of his years”? . . . Now his age must be related to his wisdom. If God is infinitely old, he must also be infinitely wise (as also de Wilde, alone of modern commentators, recognizes). Ironically, Elihu has been at pains to assert that age is no assurance of wisdom (32:9), but the burden of tradition about the number of God’s years is evidently more than he can throw off. Wisdom is, in a traditional pedagogy, the principal attribute of a teacher, and for Elihu, it is God’s wisdom in creating and sustaining the world that is his greatness, and never simple power or might. The whole description of the natural world from here to the end of chap. 37 can be seen as focusing on the divine wisdom rather than divine strength.
II. (36:27 – 37:20) GOD’S GREATNESS, POWER AND WISDOM REFLECTED IN NATURE FOR MAN TO CONTEMPLATE
Derek Kidner: It is important to note that each section of this hymn is introduced with a reference to God’s incomprehensibility:
– God is “beyond our understanding” (36:26);
– “Who can understand how he spreads out the clouds . . .?” (36:29);
– “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding” (17:5).
The point which Elihu now wants to make is that if man cannot understand fully what God is doing in the natural world, neither can he understand fully what God is doing in our individual lives. Elihu is on good ground here. What he says in these verses prepares us for what is to come in the concluding chapters when God will speak to Job’s situation.
Warren Wiersbe: God’s Mighty Power in Nature – “Behold, God is great, and we know Him not” (36:26). This is the theme of the last part of Elihu’s speech; and he illustrated it with the works of God in nature, specifically, God’s control of His world during the seasons of the year.
– Autumn (36:27 – 37:5)
– Winter (vv. 6-10)
– Spring (vv. 11-13)
– Summer (vv. 14-18)
A. (36:27 – 37:5) See God in the Awesome Thunderstorm
Francis Andersen: Elihu first directs Job’s attention to the splendour of God in nature, in the storm (26–33). As the discourse continues, he will elaborate on what happens in winter (37:1–13) and on the beauty of the sky when the storm is over (37:14–24).
Elmer Smick: Elihu, at this point, is so overwhelmed by the greatness of God that he bursts forth into a hymn of praise (36:27–37:13). Its theme is the mystery of God’s ways in nature. But Elihu’s real purpose is to impress Job with the mystery of God’s ways in providence. The two sometimes coincide (37:13). The hymn extols the work of God in the autumnal rain. It is his hand that distills the drops, pours out the moisture on earth, and thus provides for the needs of humanity (vv.27–28). With flashing lightning and the crash of his thunder, God ushers in the winter season with its drenching rain and driving winds, its ice and snow, so that humans and all God’s creatures see his power on display (vv.29–30).
1. (36:27-33) Demonstration of Control and Wisdom
Francis Andersen: 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. . . God’s power in the thunderstorm is particularly terrifying, an expression of anger against iniquity (33b) and of judgment (31a). Yet it is also the means by which he gives food in abundance (31b). The one act of God can be destructive and beneficent.
Elmer Smick: God’s active greatness in his creation is demonstrated by the rain cycle. Rain in the OT world was considered one of the most needed and obvious blessings of God. . .
The stanza on thunder (36:33–37:5) has a chiastic pattern:
A. God’s voice thunders (36:33).
B. The terrifying sound of thunder (37:1–2).
C. God unleashes lightning (37:3).
B’. The majestic sound of thunder (37:4).
A’. God’s voice thunders (37:5).
a. (:27-28) Cycle of Rain Formation
“For He draws up the drops of water,
They distill rain from the mist,
28 Which the clouds pour down,
They drip upon man abundantly.”
David Clines: The production of rain must be among the least dramatic of the works of God in creation, but it is the example with which Elihu begins his account of the deeds of God that have been hymned in song (cf. v 24). It is a creative work that is current, perpetual, beneficial for humans, even essential. It is a mysterious process also, for it is obvious, to the ancients as well as to ourselves, that salt seawater is destructive while fresh rainwater is life-giving; how is the one changed into the other? We apparently have here an account of the complete cycle of rain formation,
– from the evaporation of water from the sea
– to the creation of clouds
– and the falling of rain from the clouds. . .
His conviction that the workings of the universe are a channel of divine communication: in casting his eye over the round of the seasons, he notices everywhere divine messages. Rainfall is God’s gift of nourishment (36:31), thunder the declaration of his wrath (36:33). By winter storms he grants to mortals an opportunity to reflect on the divine activity (37:7), while the storm clouds may signify his correction of evil, his covenanted loyalty to humans, or his beneficence to the physical world he has created (37:13). All in all, meteorology is chock full of significance, a revelation of God’s power (36:22; 37:23), a profusion of wonders (37:5, 14) from which humans may learn to fear the Almighty (37:24). Suffering, Elihu had said early on, is a form of divine communication (33:19–28), as also are nightmares (33:15–18); now we find that weather too is charged with theological meaning.
John Hartley: Elihu meditates on the wondrous phenomenon of a raging thunderstorm. In a land marked by months without rain, the fall rains bring great joy as they relieve the fear of drought. On the steppe, where the horizon is visible for miles, the gathering and the movement of the clouds as a storm approaches is a spectacular sight. Just as amazing is the way that God empties the clouds by pouring down drops of water on the earth.
b. (:29) Transition – Beyond Human Comprehension
“Can anyone understand”
1) Rain Formation
“the spreading of the clouds,”
2) Phenomena of Thunder and Lightning
“The thundering of His pavilion?”
c. (:30-33) Phenomena of Thunder and Lightning
“Behold, He spreads His lightning about Him,
And He covers the depths of the sea.
31 For by these He judges peoples;
He gives food in abundance.
32 He covers His hands with the lightning,
And commands it to strike the mark.
33 Its noise declares His presence;
The cattle also, concerning what is coming up.”
2. (37:1-5) Demonstration of Majesty and Power
a. (:1) Response of Awe and Fear
Tremper Longman: In 37:1 Elihu confesses that a storm has the power to make his heart drop out of his chest. We have likely all had similar reactions to storms, whether they are thunderstorms or blizzards. The booming thunder, flashing lightning, and whipping winds make one want to run to a safe shelter. Elihu, though, takes the thought further: not only does it make one stop in awe, but it also makes one think of God. Indeed, according to 37:7, it is an indication of God’s presence through his handiwork. In a phrase, it bears his stamp.
John Hartley: Before this amazing display of God’s majestic power, Elihu’s heart trembles and leaps in excited apprehension. Awestruck at this display of God’s lordship, he exhorts his listeners to hearken well to God’s voice in the thunder. Before God, people should be fearful and submissive rather than bellicose and demanding.
b. (:2-5) Observation of Majesty and Power of God at Work
“Listen closely to the thunder of His voice,
And the rumbling that goes out from His mouth.
3 Under the whole heaven He lets it loose,
And His lightning to the ends of the earth.
4 After it, a voice roars;
He thunders with His majestic voice;
And He does not restrain the lightnings when His voice is heard.
5 God thunders with His voice wondrously,
Doing great things which we cannot comprehend.”
Tremper Longman: The picture of God as in control of the storm continues from 36:22–33 into chap. 37. Elihu begins (v. 1) by describing his reaction to the storm. He is astonished and amazed. The power of the storm makes him realize just how strong God is. He becomes so excited that his heart beats wildly, almost falling out of this chest. Verse 2 speaks of the thunder as the voice of God. This reminds us of Ps. 29, which pictures God as the power of the storm, commenting on his voice in a way that clearly relates it to thunder.
David Clines: vs. 4 — After the lightning comes the thunder, which is a token of God’s “majesty”. That term is often used with the pejorative sense of “pride” (e.g., 35:12; Ps 59:12 ; Prov 8:13), but here it obviously has the positive sense of “majesty, excellence” (as at 40:10; Exod 15:7; Isa 60:15).
B. (37:6-13) See God in Control of Chaotic Forces of Nature
1. (:6-8) Directing the Forces of Snow and Rain
David Clines: vv. 5-8 — This strophe concerns the snows and rains of winter, which water the earth (v 6), keep people indoors (v 7), and drive the animals to take refuge in their dens (v 8). These phenomena are on the one hand mysterious, “great things that we cannot comprehend,” and on the other a further communication of the divine, “so that all may know his work,” recognizing in the rhythms of nature the design of the creator.
a. (:6) Commanding the Snow and the Rain
“For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’
And to the downpour and the rain, ‘Be strong.’”
Tremper Longman: Verse 6 expresses his mastery over two types of storm: the snowstorm and the rainstorm. Both were known, but both were rare in this part of the world. Snow comes to the highlands only rarely, but when it does, it is a beautiful sight to behold. Rain also comes rarely, and while it can come with devastation, its life-giving waters are welcomed in this land of low precipitation.
b. (:7) Confining the Work of Men to Exalt His Working
“He seals the hand of every man,
That all men may know His work.”
Tremper Longman: to give something a seal might also be a way of providing a reminder of ownership, and that seems the best way to take the expression in this context. In other words, the snow and rain remind people of God’s work.
David Clines: The poet speaks of a world in which agricultural labor, not industry or home work, is the primary form of production. If it should cease, humans risk their livelihood. Yet even the capacity to work for a living is subject to the will of the deity, who may have other plans. The peasant farmer will reflect on that fact while he is confined indoors, yet not so much simply to acknowledge the greater power of God (as Fohrer) as perhaps to recognize that his interests and God’s do not necessarily coincide.
Sealing up the hand is an idiom for preventing a person from acting or working, as it was when God “set a seal” on the stars so that they would not shine (9:7). . . human activity can take place only when God releases human hands for work.
John Hartley: God uses the weather to restrict human and animal activity on earth. The cold, driving rains of winter shut people indoors. Animals, too, are forced to seek cover. Even the mightiest of beasts are confined to their lairs. Since these natural forces keep human beings from doing as they would like to do, they are made aware of a higher ruler who governs their destiny. That is, God reveals himself to human beings through his works such as the torrential rains.
c. (:8) Confining the Activity of Animals
“Then the beast goes into its lair,
And remains in its den.”
Tremper Longman: The snow and the rain also drive the wild animals into their lairs to seek refuge due to the storm’s power (v. 8). Perhaps the implicit message here is that the animals naturally know how to act when God brings a storm on the land, but Job does not react properly when God brings trouble into his.
David Clines: It is a nice touch that the animals too are depicted as locked up in their dwellings by the storms (it is not their winter hibernation, against Rowley). Their “hand” or activity also is “sealed up,” though v 7 thinks only of the humans’ cessation from their normal activity. The animals have no idea why they cannot go out hunting for food (some animals adapt to the cold by huddling together and keeping still to conserve energy); humans on the other hand are supposed to be reflecting on the significance of their enforced idleness for what God may be teaching them through it. Elihu would see it as another example of God “teach[ing] us more than the beasts of the earth, mak[ing] us wiser than the birds of the heavens” (35:11).
2. (:9-13) Directing the Forces of Powerful Storms
a. (:9-12a) Unleashing of Chaotic Events in Nature
“Out of the south comes the storm,
And out of the north the cold.
10 From the breath of God ice is made,
And the expanse of the waters is frozen.
11 Also with moisture He loads the thick cloud;
He disperses the cloud of His lightning.
12 And it changes direction, turning around by His guidance,”
b. (:12b-13) Reinforcing the Sovereignty of God
1) (:12b) Demonstration of God’s Control
“That it may do whatever He commands it
On the face of the inhabited earth.”
2) (:13) Fulfillment of God’s Purposes
“Whether for correction,
or for His world,
Or for lovingkindness,
He causes it to happen.”
David Atkinson: This is a picture of a world in which harsh things happen. By the breath of God, ice is given. It is a picture of the world in which Job is struggling. He has felt the force of the storm; he has heard the crashing of the thunder. He has been frozen by God’s ice.
But it is for God’s purposes – even of love – that God causes this to happen. The storm both disciplines and refreshes the land. Both discipline and refreshment are expressions of his faithful, steadfast love. ‘He brings the clouds to punish men, or to water his earth and show his love’ (37:13).
John Hartley: The storm serves God’s purpose, for good or for ill. Skillfully God uses it as his rod of discipline, particularly if his people have been disobedient. Conversely, the rain is a great blessing as it drenches the thirsty ground so that the soil may yield its fruit. In that mode the storm is an expression of God’s faithful kindness or mercy (hesed) to his obedient people. The storm evidences that God governs the world wisely, i.e., both caringly and judiciously.
David Clines: Does Elihu mean that some clouds, with their rain, are sent for “correction” and others for “loyalty” and that we can know which is which? Or is it that there may be many reasons in God’s mind for sending rain, though we cannot know which is operative at any one moment? Probably the latter, since nowhere in these depictions of the seasons is the weather a means of discriminating between the righteous and the wicked.
Francis Andersen: Elihu draws two conclusions as men watch helplessly. God is in complete control of all these-events (12), even though their ‘whirling around’ might suggest aimless, chaotic forces. NEB brings this idea to clearer expression. Secondly (13) he causes it to happen for any one of several quite diverse reasons. Three possibilities are mentioned, each introduced by ‘if’: ‘if for rod, if for his earth, if for ḥesed (the great word for covenanted loyalty, used in 10:12)’. . .
These reasons for sending storms have to do with men, and have a moral justification along familiar lines: to punish the wicked or to rescue the just. The third reason is the most interesting, for it has nothing to do with men, and opens up a completely new line of thought. God does a great number of things in his vast universe which find no explanation by reference to mankind, just as the Lord’s own speeches will remind Job that he has many creatures besides men to look after. Sometimes he might have a storm, just ‘for himself’. . . God is free to do what he pleases without having to explain everything as part of his purpose for mankind.
Elmer Smick: Elihu sees a direct relationship between God’s rule over nature and his dominion over the affairs of human beings (v.13). He has already begun to anticipate the reasoning in the divine speeches. Critics claim this is evidence of the plagiarism of a later author. Others find it in keeping with what is evident all through the dialogue (Andersen, 266, n. 2). Still others see Elihu’s role as a divinely sent forerunner preparing the way for the theophany—a motif most notably expressed in Isaiah 40:3–5 and Malachi 4:5–6.
Verse 13 is a thematic climax that lists ways God may use the storm. Elihu wants to do more than impress Job with God’s power in nature. Here he shows how the mystery of God’s ways in nature coincides with the mystery of his ways in providence. When God’s purpose is corrective, as punishment for the wicked (Ps 18:11–19), the storm is often connected with the deliverance of his people, thus demonstrating his covenantal love (ḥesed, v.13; cf. Jos 10:11; 1Sa 7:10–11; Ps 105:32–33). God may also, however, demonstrate his covenantal love by sending the rain in season (Dt 11:13–17).
The opposite (drought) is in view in vv.17–18, and that has prompted the NIV to insert the word “water” into the phrase “to his earth” (v.13). The addition is not needed, for there appear to be three totally different purposes for the storm in v.13: to punish, to show his love, and for his own pleasure. The last anticipates a concept limited to the divine speeches (cf. 38:26)—one that could be missed without careful attention. Some things that God performs have no other explanation than that they please him. Having arrived at this amazing point, Elihu is prepared to apply this truth to Job’s situation.
C. (37:14-20) Contemplate the Wonders of God in Nature and Make Application
David Clines: Unlike in the previous passages, the wonders of nature are here not portrayed as divine instruction to humans; they are simply “wonders,” as if there were nothing to be learned from them and they were only to be marveled at in silent adoration.
Francis Andersen: Elihu now addresses Job more directly by name. He launches into a string of questions, somewhat in the mode that the Lord himself will use when he eventually speaks. Reviewing once more the marvels of the sky, he asks Job if he knows how God does such things as balancing the clouds (16) and spreading out the heavens (18).
Elmer Smick: The questioning format anticipates the divine method in the upcoming speeches. Elihu wants Job to stop and think of how absurd his position is. Elihu asks him to supply knowledge he obviously does not have and is chided for his abysmal ignorance in the light of God’s perfect knowledge (vv.15–16). Verses 17–18 go together. Sweltering in the heat of the dry season with the sky like a brazen mirror, Job sits helpless. He cannot do anything about the weather but endure it. How then can a mere creature, so lacking in knowledge and strength, expect to understand God’s justice (vv.19–20)? Elihu’s switch to the first person in vv.19–20 may be an attempt to soften the blow on Job’s ego. Has Job not drawn up his case, affixed his signature, and called for an audience with God?
Tremper Longman: Elihu now presses Job to consider the ramifications of his meteorological observations. He believes that they will get him to consider the “wonders of God” (v. 14). It is not as if Job does not recognize God’s power. He does (see, for instance, 9:4–10). A recognition of God’s power, though, has not convinced Job that God is acting justly toward him. It has only made him question whether he can get a fair hearing from a God who can strong-arm him.
Derek Kidner: Elihu asks a series of humbling questions (37:15-20) designed to underline in Job a sense of how small he is in comparison to God, who “comes in awesome majesty” (37:22). Certainly, part of Elihu’s point is to underline the foolishness of disputing with God (37:19, 20, 24).
1. (:14-18) Asking the Tough Meteorological Questions to Humble Job
Elmer Smick: After this hymn Elihu asks Job a series of humbling questions about the mysteries of nature (37:14–18). If Job cannot understand how God performs these marvels, much less assist him, how then can he understand the far less obvious mysteries of God’s providence (vv.19–20)?
a. (:14) Consider the Wonders of God
“Listen to this, O Job,
Stand and consider the wonders of God.”
b. (:15) Can You Explain how God Works?
“Do you know how God establishes them,
And makes the lightning of His cloud to shine?”
c. (:16-17) Can You Control the Weather?
“Do you know about the layers of the thick clouds,
The wonders of one perfect in knowledge,
17 You whose garments are hot,
When the land is still because of the south wind?”
Francis Andersen: Man has absolutely no control over the weather, unlike God, who changes it at his will.
Tremper Longman: It is not just the cold that God produces and controls (as in the previous section), but also the heat. If cold comes from the north wind (v. 9), so heat comes from the south wind (v. 17).
d. (:18) Can You Spread Out the Skies?
“Can you, with Him, spread out the skies,
Strong as a molten mirror?”
Tremper Longman: Elihu asks Job if he can manufacture the sky like God did at the creation. The answer, of course, is no.
2. (:19-20) Applying the Wonders of God in Nature to Quell Any Disputes
“Teach us what we shall say to Him;
We cannot arrange our case because of darkness.
20 Shall it be told Him that I would speak?
Or should a man say that he would be swallowed up?”
Tremper Longman: Elihu believes that faced with the huge gap between human and divine ability and knowledge, Job will have no recourse but to back down from his challenge to God. Due to human ignorance, it would be utterly beyond Job or any human to speak to God (“we cannot arrange our thoughts in the darkness,” v. 19b). Even if we speak, God will probably not hear a report of it (v. 20a). Job seems to have a death wish (“Did a person ever say that he wanted to be swallowed up?” v. 20b).
(37:21-24) EPILOGUE — THE DIVINE SPLENDOR
Elmer Smick: Elihu shifts his attention from his moral application back to a contemplation of the elements. But it is only to make an even more forceful moral application. After the storm, with the clearing skies (v.21), comes the sun in its brilliance; likewise in golden splendor and awesome majesty God comes from his heavenly abode (ṣāpôn, “the north,” v.22; cf. 26:7). Elihu admonishes Job that he needs to see God as God, almighty and morally perfect (v.23), and prove he is wise in heart by worshiping (fearing) him.
A. (:21) Blinding Brilliance of God
“And now men do not see the light which is bright in the skies;
But the wind has passed and cleared them.”
Tremper Longman: If the sky is bright by means of the sun and impossible to see, how much more will the “awesome splendor” of God blind people.
B. (:22) Awesome Majesty of God
“Out of the north comes golden splendor;
Around God is awesome majesty.”
John Hartley: The new storm gathering in the north forebodes God’s majestic appearance. Intertwining the terms the north and the storm, both symbolic of a theophany, Elihu sees that God is about to appear from the glorious sunset. God, the sovereign Lord, is clothed in awesome majesty. The word awesome (nora’) emphasizes the terror that a display of the divine power arouses in earthly creatures, and the word majesty (hod) represents the splendor that attends the holiness of God.
C. (:23) Exalted Power and Justice of God
“The Almighty– we cannot find Him;
He is exalted in power;
And He will not do violence to justice and abundant righteousness.”
John Hartley: In his appearing God remains far beyond human reach. Nevertheless, those who behold his coming sense his exalted power and his justice. These two qualities, power and justice, so often divided on earth, are inexorably bound together in God. Great in righteousness, Shaddai will never violate justice – he will not oppress the people capriciously. That is, when God reveals himself to Job, Job will be reduced to silence as God will convince him that he has been treated justly.
D. (:24) Response of Fear and Humility
“Therefore men fear Him;
He does not regard any who are wise of heart.”
Roy Zuck: Fearing God involves recognizing God’s supremacy and man’s inferiority because of his finiteness. Once again Elihu put his finger on Job’s problem – pride before God (cf. 33:17; 36:9).
David Atkinson: Beginning with the traditional orthodoxy of the scribal schools, the law of retribution and reward, the narrow wisdom of the three friends, Elihu has moved us on. He has taken us from an exploration of God’s power, and a meditation on the greatness of God, through the storm, to his conclusion in 37:24. The NIV reads: ‘Therefore, men revere him, for does he not have regard for all the wise in heart?’
Andersen’s translation may be better:
Therefore men fear Him,
Surely all wise men of heart fear him.
The fear of the Lord, that is where we have come to – and the fear of the Lord, as we learned earlier in chapter 28, is the beginning of wisdom.
David Clines: The theme of Elihu’s speeches remains the forms of God’s communication with humans, and God is still essentially the great Educator, whose aim it is to instill wisdom in his creatures. What they can learn about God is manifold, but, not surprisingly, it is the wonderfulness of his being and of his acts that stands in the climactic position (cf. “marvels” in recent verses, 37:5, 14, 16). While there are many proper human responses to God’s various messages, there is only one appropriate response to his absolute perfection and supremacy: it is fear, which is a recognition of the enormous gulf between the human and the divine. This is not only a natural human reaction to the divine; it is also the emotion felt by the “wise” or “everyone thoughtful” (NJB), those who have busied themselves with learning all that can be known about the ways of God. To accept Elihu’s teachings about God does not domesticate God or make his presence more comfortable; God remains fearsome.
Why is Elihu saying all this to Job? He must mean that Job has been too free with God in demanding answers from him, and even more so in charging him with wrong. What we know of God, says Elihu, should lead us to tremble at his majesty, not to conceive of him as a legal opponent or a military enemy, and it would be wisdom for Job to learn that lesson.