Saturday, February 6, 2010


The book of Job is messy. As the dialog between Job and his three friends continues, we can almost hear the volume being cranked up. Though Job seems to have come to some resolution concerning the afterlife and his desire for justice, he can’t seem to get finished with his lament. Chapters 26-31 contain his final discourse. In this speech, he lambastes his three “counselors,” reasserts his integrity and longs for the good old days. He tells of his former days when God’s “friendship” was on him, then compares his present circumstances in which he “don’t get no respect!”

In chapter 31, he gives a series of “if - thens” and calls down curses on himself if he is guilty of various sins. He concludes with a challenge both to the friends and to God.

“Oh that I had someone to hear me!
Here is my mark,
Let the Almighty answer me,
Or my accuser write up an indictment!” (31:35)

With this Job seems to have silenced his critics, though it’s not clear from the text that they were convinced. It simply says that they “… refrained from answering Job because he was right in his own eyes” (32:1).

And then another “counselor” speaks up, a young man named Elihu (chapters 32-37). Perhaps he was one among many spectators who had assembled to listen in on the debate. We’re told that “his anger burned against Job because he justified himself rather than God … and against his friends because they hadn’t found an answer and yet had condemned Job” (32:2, 3).

We may or may not like Elihu. To some, he seems a breath of fresh air, to others a bag of hot air. He seems brash and cocky and disrespectful to his elders. But he is the one who is the “opening act” before the LORD speaks. Later on, when the LORD indicts Job’s other three friends (42:7, 8), He doesn’t indict Elihu.

And he makes more sense than the others. He seems to speak truth, even though a bit more rudely and abrasively. When I first read the book of Job as a young man, I liked this guy and identified with him. I still do!

Elihu’s speech begins with a long introduction in which he explains that while he has waited out of respect till the older men have spoken, he is compelled by the Spirit of God to speak. And he tears into Job especially, but also the three friends. I’ll attempt to briefly summarize his main points.

First, we cannot demand of God that He speak; He does; we’re just not listening (chapter 33).

“Why do you complain against Him,
That He doesn’t reply to any charges?
Indeed, God speaks once or twice
Yet no one notices” (33:13, 14).

He goes on to say that God may speak through a dream or an angelic mediator, but He also speaks through pain (verses 15, 23, 19). In other words, Job’s suffering is itself one way God uses to communicate with him. As C. S. Lewis said, “Pain is God’s megaphone.”

Then in chapter 34, he asserts that we have no business demanding justice of God, because God always acts in justice.

Elihu quotes Job, “I am right, but God has taken away my justice” (verse 5) and “It profits a man nothing, when he is pleasing with God” (verse 9). Elihu sees this and some other statements as basically taking the same position as an evildoer (verses 7, 8). Job in attempting to justify himself has made some harsh statements. If one says that serving God is futile, he is siding with the wicked.

In chapter 35, he says that we cannot accuse God and at the same time demand that He answer. God does not listen to self-righteous demands. He hears the afflicted, but doesn’t hear the proud!

Finally, in chapters 36 and 37, Elihu tells his hearers that God always acts in accordance with His omnipotence, omniscience, justice and love. Even our sufferings are in agreement with these attributes of His. Suffering has a purpose.

While Elihu is expounding, a storm apparently is brewing in the distance and drawing closer and closer. From 36:27 on through 37:22, nearly every verse has a reference to some aspect of it: “drops of water”; “rain”; “the clouds”; “thundering”; and “lightning.” We can almost picture these men sitting there, out in the open in the middle-eastern desert, Job on his ash-heap, with Elihu waxing eloquent as the storm draws nearer. This is Elihu’s natural power-point presentation!

Then in 37:13, the storm becomes the tremendous illustration of his thesis: three purposes God my have for sending the storm. I believe they are applicable to any disaster or calamity or suffering:

“If for His rod,
If for His world,
If for His lovingkindness
He causes it to happen!”
Sometimes our suffering IS due to God’s “rod.” There are times when God must hit us “upside the head” to get our attention. “Whom the LORD loves, He disciplines” (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6).

Sometimes it is “for His world.” I lived for years in South Texas and near the Gulf Coast. Every time there were hurricane warnings there were mixed feelings. The same hurricane that devastates a city also brings much needed rain to the farms and communities inland. That which brings disaster to some, brings relief to others. It’s the way nature operates. And God is in charge of nature.

Sometimes it is “for His lovingkindness.” The Hebrew word is HESED and speaks of God’s loving loyalty to those with whom He has made a covenant. God uses all things – storms and sufferings to work out His purposes in the lives of His covenant people. We who belong to Jesus Christ by faith are His New Covenant people for whom “God works all things together for good” (Romans 8:28).

Our problem is that we don’t know which of these possibilities describes our suffering!

Elihu gives as his concluding statement his “big idea,” which leads us into the next chapter in which the LORD speaks:

"The Almighty – we cannot find Him;
He is great in power and justice;
And abundant in righteousness;
He will not do violence.
Therefore men fear Him.
He does not look on those who are wise of heart!" (37:23, 24)

Next: The LORD Himself has something to say.

Bill Ball

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