Job 34 – “Elihu’s Second Speech”

gavelHebrew-English Text
I. Photo
Elihu defends God’s ability to judge fairly: “Would one who hates justice govern? Would you condemn the Just Mighty One?” (v. 17)

II. Summary
Elihu’s speech contains two sections, one addressed to the friends and one addressed to Job. In both sections he explains that God is a righteous and fair-minded judge.

III. Important Verses
vv. 7-9: What man is like Job, Who drinks mockery like water; Who makes common cause with evildoers, And goes with wicked men? For he says, “Man gains nothing When he is in God’s favor.”
v. 12: For God surely does not act wickedly; Shaddai does not pervert justice.
vv. 21-22: For His eyes are upon a man’s ways; He observes his every step. Neither darkness nor gloom offers A hiding-place for evildoers.
v. 27: [God kills people] because they have been disloyal to Him And have not understood any of His ways.

IV. Outline

1. Introduction
2-15. Elihu addresses the friends
    2-4. Summons
    5-6. Quotation of Job
    7-8. Job’s wickedness
    9. Quotation of Job
    10-15. God controls the world and must therefore judge fairly
16-37. Elihu addresses Job
    16-20. God is unbiased
    21-30. God judges the wicked at undetermined times
    31-33. Job did not turn to God
    34-37. Everyone knows Job speaks sacrilegiously

V. Comment
Elihu’s speech is made up of two sections. The first section (vv. 2-15) is an address to the friends, and Elihu says that Job doesn’t understand God. The second half (vv. 16-37) is an address to Job, and Elihu says that Job is misguided. In terms of form/structure, this speech is similar to other speeches in the book. For example, it is filled with rhetorical questions (vv. 7-8, 13, 17-19, 29, 33) and begins by mentioning “words” or “speech” (v. 2, cf. vv. 4:2, 8:2, 9:2, 11:2–3, 15:2–3, 16:2–3, 18:2, 19:2, 20:2, 21:2, 32:6–33:3, 36:2, and 38:2). Yet, the speech is unique in that it contains many quotations (roughly one quarter of the speech is quotation, cf. vv. 5-6, 9, 18, 31-32, 35-37).

Elihu asks the friends in vv. 7-8, “What man is like Job, Who drinks mockery like water; Who makes common cause with evildoers, And goes with wicked men?” A question one might ask is, “Is Elihu accusing Job of any sin?”While Eliphaz did accuse Job of sin in 22:6 (“You exact pledges from your fellows without reason, And leave them naked, stripped of their clothes”), most commentators follow Ibn Ezra in their understanding of this verse. Ibn Ezra writes (translation my own), “[Job’s] words makes it seem as if he belongs to a wicked crowd.” Hakham writes (p. 260, translation my own): “Unlike Eliphaz, Elihu doesn’t think that Job sinned. Elihu recognizes Job’s righteousness, and subsequently asks how a righteous man like Job could speak like the wicked ones.”

Elihu’s fundamental argument is that God is a just ruler: “Would one who hates justice govern? Would you condemn the Just Mighty One?” (v. 17) As a proof to his position he explains that God removes wicked rulers: “He is not partial to princes; The noble are not preferred to the wretched; For all of them are the work of His hands. Some die suddenly in the middle of the night; People are in turmoil and pass on; Even great men are removed — not by human hands.” (vv. 19-20) While it might seem pointless to judge the merits of Elihu’s argument from a modern perspective, Clines does so in order to clarify what the speech must have meant to Job. He writes, (786): “There are just two flaws in Elihu’s argument. First, the evidence of history is against it. Tyrants may fall in an instant, but do they, as a matter of course? Secondly, he does not allow for the possibility that the supreme governor of the universe is himself an arbitrary tyrant. If the second rung of world governors, kings and princes and the like, can include evildoers who should be deposed, who is to say that the very top rung is not occupied by the ultimate malign force? It is not a question that very often arises, for most of those who do not believe in an all-just God do not believe in any God at all. But it is precisely Job’s question, for while he does not for a moment doubt the existence of God, he deeply questions God’s integrity. And so Elihu, like all the ohter frineds, talks right past Job.” Thus, Elihu’s dogmatic words probably fell on Job’s deaf ears.

VI. Works Used
(See “Commentaries” page)
Clines, Job 21-37 (Word Biblical Commentary)
Hakham, Sefer Iyov (Daat Mikra [Hebrew])
Clifford, Wisdom Literature (Forms of Old Testament Literature)

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