Job 32:1-33:33 Take this, Job

Standard
…the junior Elihu… burning anger… try the patience of Job… justify his own soul rather than God… active listening… hearing what Job says… God exceeds mortals… backs up with fascinating assertions…a redemptive rather than condemning view… mere rhetorical flourish?

Job 32:1-33:33

Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram:

The first string having failed, the junior squad insists on taking its turn. That would be ‘Eliyhuw, “He is my God”, or possibly “God Himself.” An auspicious name, further enhanced by his father Barak’el (“God blesses”) and clan (mishpachah) Ram (“exalted”), though he comes from the land of contempt (Buwziy). Unlike the other players, Elihu is never referred to or answered, so it is difficult to say whose side he is on, and harder to evaluate whether he speaks truly. So, at the risk of giving him more attention than he deserves, I’ll slow my breakneck pace so I can ponder his six chapters in depth.

against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God.

The first (and second) thing we notice about Elihu, besides his lineage, is that he’s ticked off, with a burning anger (charah ‘aph). I can sympathize; listening to long-winded old men spout off on important topics without actually saying anything of value would try the patience of Job! Oh yeah, I guess it did.

Anyway, Elihu’s chief complaint, we are told, is that Job chooses to justify (tsadaq) his own soul (nephesh) rather than God (‘elohiym). Is that fair? Well, it certainly seems a valid inference. Looking back on Job’s closing arguments, we see Job asserting God’s power, wisdom, and judgment of the wicked. But Job pointedly does not assert God’s integrity and justice, while asserting his own, as far as I can tell.

We are told twice more about his burning anger, perhaps to justify a horrid breach of etiquette, as he takes the rest of chapter 32 (and then some) to justify speaking out against his elders. Elihu clearly believes he has something new to add:

Now he hath not directed [his] words against me: neither will I answer him with your speeches.

What’s different? Well, first of all Elihu gets at least one point for active listening:

Surely thou hast spoken in mine hearing, and I have heard the voice of [thy] words, [saying], I am clean without transgression, I [am] innocent; neither [is there] iniquity in me.

Well, maybe half a point, since you’re supposed to stop and verify that the other person agrees with your interpretation of their statement. Still, Elihu at least appears to be hearing what Job says, rather than talking past him based on a prejudiced (prejudicing?) view of God. Job may well be nodding his head at this point, since he probably does consider himself pure (zak) and innocent (chaph), if not in those exact words.

Elihu goes on to articulate Job’s complaint against God:

Behold, he findeth occasions against me, he counteth me for his enemy, He putteth my feet in the stocks, he marketh all my paths.

Again, not a bad summary, as far as I can tell. Have established a common baseline, Elihu launches into his critique:

Behold, [in] this thou art not just: I will answer thee, that God is greater than man.

This seems to be the heart of Elihu’s position: that God exceeds (rabah) mortals (‘enowsh), the latter related to the word for sickly. He backs this up with several fascinating assertions.

1. God is not answerable (`anah) to anyone:

Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters.

2. Yet, God does speak (dabar) to us, if we have ears to hear (shuwr):

For God speaketh once, yea twice, [yet man] perceiveth it not.

3. In fact, God’s purpose is to bring about repentance (cuwr):

That he may withdraw man [from his] purpose, and hide pride from man.

4. A messenger (mal’ak) can interpret (luwts) righteousness (yosher) for a man:

If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness:

5. Thus God will detect (matsa’) a ransom (kopher):

Then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom.

6. Then man can pray (`athar ) and be restored (shuwb) to righteousness (ts@daqah):

He shall pray unto God, and he will be favourable unto him: and he shall see his face with joy: for he will render unto man his righteousness.

Powerful stuff. True, not completely different from what the others have said, yet I think Elihu is at least closer to a redemptive rather than condemning view of God (and Job). He reiterates that the purpose of God is restoration (shuwb), rather than punishment:

Lo, all these [things] worketh God oftentimes with man, To bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living.

Elihu even earns another active listening (half-)point, by giving Job a chance to respond before continuing:

If thou hast any thing to say, answer me: speak, for I desire to justify thee.

Another fascinating claim. Is Elihu really trying to justify (tsadaq) Job, or is this mere rhetorical flourish?

I don’t know. Perhaps the next chapters will make that clearer.

Prayer

God, whether or not Elihu truly speaks for you, he at least seems to be trying to help Job rather than judge him. Lord, make me a messenger of your peace. Help me to speak words of interpretation to those who are suffering, that they may learn to see you as a restoring rather than destroying God. Help me to manifest your grace and kindness that leads us to repentance. Teach me to listen to and empathize with those who cry out in pain, that together we may see You. In the name of Jesus our ransom, Amen.

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