Job 35 – “Elihu’s Third Speech”

migrating_birds_lilleHebrew-English Text
I. Photo
Elihu criticizes wicked people for not praising God: “None [of them] say, ‘Where is my God, my Maker… [the One who] makes us wiser than the birds of the sky?’” (vv. 10-11)

II. Summary
Elihu speaks to Job and the friends about God. He begins by saying that, for good or bad, God is not affected by any of man’s actions. He then says that if God does not respond to a sufferer, it is not because God is unjust, but because there is a shortcoming in the particular person.

III. Important Verses

v. 2: Do you think it just To say, “I am right against God”?
vv. 6-7: If you sin, what do you do to Him? If your transgressions are many, How do you affect Him? If you are righteous, What do you give Him; What does He receive from your hand?
vv. 9-12: Because of contention the oppressed cry out; They shout because of the power of the great. But none says, “Where is my God, my Maker, Who gives strength in the night; Who gives us more knowledge than the beasts of the earth, Makes us wiser than the birds of the sky?” Then they cry out, but He does not respond Because of the arrogance of evil men.

IV. Outline
1. Introduction
2-4. Opening remarks to Job and the friends
5-8. God is not affected by man’s righteous/wicked deeds
9-15. Wicked men are punished, and God doesn’t listen to them
16. Job is incorrect

V. Comment
Elihu’s third speech can be divided into two sections: vv. 1-8 deal with the so called benefits of serving God, and vv. 9-16 deal with the fact that God doesn’t answer people who call upon Him. Clines quotes scholars who write that the chapter’s logic is hard to follow (p. 795). One author writes, “much is awkwardly expressed; and the argument is none too clearly articulated.” Another feels that the chapter is “not easy to follow,” and that it may be “rather futile to try to make sense of this chapter.” Yet, let us make an attempt.

The first part of Elihu’s speech deals with the benefits of serving God. Elihu tells Job (vv. 3-4): “If you ask how it benefits you, ‘What have I gained from not sinning?’ I shall give you a reply, You, along with your friends.” Elihu explains that God is ultimately unchanging; He is unaffected if people serve him or not. What does this mean, and why is Elihu telling it to Job and the friends? While I must admit that I do not have a strong answer to this question, I will quote Clines (pp. 794-795): “Elihu takes up Job’s complaints, (a) that he is no better off than if he had sinned (v 3b) and (b) that there is no benefit in righteousness (v. 3a). There are two ways of reading Elihu’s response. Either, he regards Job’s first complaint as an impious statement, since it implies that God is not operating the principal of retributive justice, and thus that God is unjust. Naturally, if you say that God is unjust, it means that you think you are more just than God (v. 2b). Or, Elihu is simply arguing that talk about MY rights and MY benefit is not how we should speak about justice: a truly pious person would not be so self-centered. Indeed, piety should not even be focused on the question of its value to God (vv 5-7). The mark of true piety is whether it brings benefits to others, while justice is not a matter of my getting what I deserve but others benefiting from my virtue. This seems the preferable reading.”

The speech’s second section appears to be more coherent. Elihu tells Job that God does listen to people’s prayers: “Surely it is false that God does not listen, That Shaddai does not take note of it.” (v. 13) Yet, God does not listen to people who aren’t deserving, i.e. those that do not praise God in their prayers: “But none says, ‘Where is my God, my Maker, Who gives strength in the night; Who gives us more knowledge than the beasts of the earth, Makes us wiser than the birds of the sky?’” Clines writes (p. 795), “When a sufferer remains unanswered by God, it is not because God is unjust, as Job alleges, but because there is some fault in the person who is calling for help… Job too is not being answered, despite his conviction that he has laid his case before God and is awaiting a decision (v 14), because there is something wrong with Job himself – which Elihu does not further specify here.”

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Clines, Job 21-37 (Word Biblical Commentary)
Hakham, Sefer Iyov (Daat Mikra [Hebrew])
Photo taken from  http://migrationandliterature.engerom.ku.dk/migrating_birds_lille.jpg/

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