I will fetch my knowledge from afar, and will ascribe righteousness to my Maker.
This could be considered Elihu’s mission statement — to give (nathan) justice (tsedeq) to his Maker (pa`al). It sounds a little ambitious when phrased like that, but Elihu considers himself up for the challenge:
For truly my words [shall] not [be] false: he that is perfect in knowledge [is] with thee.
He sure doesn’t have a self-image problem! Then again, maybe that is his problem… Regardless, it is primarily his image of God we are concerned about:
Behold, God [is] mighty, and despiseth not [any: he is] mighty in strength [and] wisdom.
If I’m reading this right, this is the first time anyone’s directly confronted Job’s complaint about God ignoring him. Yes, God is mighty (kabbiyr) — doubly so! — but no, He does not despise (ma’ac) people. Strong medicine for Job, who sees God’s power as the reason he can not get an answer. Elihu accepts Job’s premise but denies his conclusion.
Still, its one thing to assert a contrary truth, its another to prove it (even under the somewhat loose standards of this book). His evidence is first that God punishes the wicked (rasha`), but helps the poor (`aniy) and righteous (tsaddiyq):
He preserveth not the life of the wicked: but giveth right to the poor. He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous…
So far, not much different than previous commentators. But he goes beyond that:
And if [they be] bound in fetters, [and] be holden in cords of affliction; Then he sheweth them their work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded.
In the context of everything that’s gone before, I find this stunning, both personally and theologically. God doesn’t just afflict (`oniy) us when we’re bad, He actually shows (nagad) us what we did (po`al) wrong (pesha`). And that’s not all:
He openeth also their ear to discipline, and commandeth that they return from iniquity.
I realize this may just be a Hebrew idiom, but I love the connotations of opening ears (galah ‘ozen). The implication is that even if our iniquity (‘aven) has stopped up our ears, God Himself will open them so that we might hear his commands (‘amar), and be restored:
If they obey and serve [him], they shall spend their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasures.
Amazing. If this is true, then at last we have found a valid critique of God’s response. If God is inscrutable, and Job is blameless, then suffering is pointless and God is a mocker. But if God really can, does, and will explain Himself to mortals, then we have hope. We can turn to God, not to confess the sin we already know about, but to ask Him to uncover our sin that we may follow Him. That is Job’s sin — not willful disobedience, but lacking faith that God would tell him something useful.
Even so would he have removed thee out of the strait [into] a broad place, where [there is] no straitness; and that which should be set on thy table [should be] full of fatness. But thou hast fulfilled the judgment of the wicked: judgment and justice take hold [on thee].
Of course, this revelation carries with it judgment (diyn). God desires to do good and heal you, but as long as you are full (male’) of the judgment of the wicked (rasha’), you will only receive (tamak) punitive justice (mishpat). Harsh words, but after enduring Job’s whining for 30 chapters I can sympathize.
Take heed, regard not iniquity: for this hast thou chosen rather than affliction.
Now, this is an odd statement. I first thought it said that the affliction (‘oniy) was the result of choosing (bachar) iniquity (‘aven), but it is more like the opposite. Perhaps the right way to read this is as a command to side with affliction, rather than turning (panah) to iniquity. An odd construction, but it actually makes sense to me. When I do wrong and suffer, I have two choices: I can either cling to my evil and bemoan the suffering, or I can accept the suffering as just and forsake my evil.
Ultimately, it comes down to pride. Do I really believe I have nothing left to learn from God? So whether or not the suffering is from God, yet God is in the suffering, and that is where I should seek Him.
Behold, God exalteth by his power: who teacheth like him
This is another great summary verse for Elihu: God’s exalting power teaches (sagab koach yarah). That is, far from His power making Him too high and mighty for us to approach Him, in fact it is that very power which enables Him to approach us and explain Himself to us — or at least explain ourselves to us.
Suddenly, it makes sense to me. God allows evil in the world because He wants to teach us. He wants us to cry out to Him, and forsake our iniquity, and receive his instruction and discipline. He doesn’t just want our formal obedience, He wants to prosper us, and perhaps even to relate to us. But He can’t do either if we are unwilling to let go of our complacency or fear. God whispers to us in our pleasures…but shouts in our pains.
And shouting is what comes next. I love the commentary that describes this like a screenplay, with a huge storm brewing overhead while Elihu speaks, preparing the way for God’s grand entrance:
God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways;
he does great things beyond our understanding.
I can’t wait to see what He has to say for Himself.
God. Wow. If Elihu speaks truly, then this changes everything. The point of suffering is to free and ultimately prosper us, and You have made Yourself available to help us. You are not a distant potentate waiting to judge us. You are the divine Father, preparing us for maturity. Watching over us in love, wisdom, and power. Lord, help me to cleave to that, and to your good purpose, forsaking all others, as long as we both shall live. Amen.