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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Job 36

 

 

Verse 1
JOB 36

ELIHU'S FOURTH AND FINAL SPEECH (JOB 36-37):

NOT WHAT ELIHU SAID; BUT THE PURPOSE OF HIS WORDS IS DETERMINATIVE

We cannot agree with many scholars who find commendable sayings in the words of Elihu. Of course, out of context, there are commendable sayings; but the invariable purpose of everything he said was that of bringing about Job's renunciation of his integrity, the same being the primary purpose of Satan himself. This is much like the speeches of certain rights activists who preached non-violence in such a manner as to provoke the most violent and bloody riots and demonstrations.

No speech with an evil purpose is a good speech, regardless of the content of it.

Barnes mistook the purpose of Elihu's speech, supposing it to be that of, "Vindicating the justice of God."[1]

The divisions of this chapter, according to Barnes are: (1) "The introduction (Job 36:1-4); God's purpose in sufferings is that of discipline and improvement (Job 36:5-14); if Job had manifested the right spirit, God would have been merciful to him also (Job 36:15-17); Job is threatened with ruin and destruction (Job 36:18-21); Job lectured on the wisdom of God (Job 36:22-25); Elihu here begins a lecture on the wonders of God in the natural world, a theme that is carried into the next chapter, where it is completed."[2]

Job 36:1-4

ELIHU'S CLAIM TO HAVE PERFECT KNOWLEDGE

"Elihu also proceeded, and said,

Suffer me a little, and I will show thee;

For I have yet somewhat to say on God's behalf.

I will fetch my knowledge from afar,

And ascribe righteousness to my Maker.

For truly my words are not false:

One that is perfect in knowledge is with thee."

No one should miss the unqualified arrogance and egotism of such a declaration as this. He pretended to be speaking on God's behalf; but his speech was totally dedicated to the destruction of Job's confidence in his integrity, that being, of course, not God's purpose at all, but Satan's.

"I will ascribe righteousness to my Maker" (Job 36:2). This sounds innocent enough, but what he was saying here is that, "There has been no miscarriage of justice in Job's case."[3] He is getting just what he deserves.

"I will fetch my knowledge from afar" (Job 36:3). This was a claim of far-reaching wisdom on Elihu's part.

"One that is perfect in knowledge is with thee" (Job 36:4). We love the way James Moffatt's Translation of the Bible (1929) rendered this: "Here stands a man whose insight is unerring"! What could he have meant by that? Kelly thought, "It was a reference to God,"[4] and Meredith Kline also agreed with this.[5] Thus we have another hint that Elihu pretended to be inspired. One of Satan's devices in all ages has been the enlistment of false prophets and teachers. The meaning of the passage is that, "The truth he is about to reveal comes from a distance, even `from' God Himself."[6]

Verse 5
GOD'S PURPOSE SEEN IN SUFFERING

"Behold, God is mighty, and despiseth not any:

He is mighty in strength of understanding.

He preserveth not the life of the wicked,

But giveth to the afflicted their right.

He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous:

But with kings upon the throne

He setteth them forever, and they are exalted.

And if they be bound in fetters,

And be taken in the cords of affliction;

Then he showeth them their work,

And their transgression, that they have behaved themselves proudly.

He openeth also their ear to instruction,

And commandeth that they return from iniquity.

If they hearken and serve him,

They shall spend their days in prosperity,

And their years in pleasure.

But if they hearken not, they shall perish by the sword,

And they shall die without knowledge.

But they that are godless in heart lay up anger:

They cry not for help when he bindeth them.

They die in youth,

And their life perisheth among the unclean."

Many of the scholars are complimentary toward what Elihu says here, pointing out that his approach is a little different from that of the three friends who had spoken earlier. The alleged difference is that Elihu views Job's sufferings and misfortunes as disciplinary, rather than punitive. That is a distinction without a difference. Elihu clearly states and often implies that Job's pride is the cause of God's punishment. The strategy of the devil is here slightly changed. Having given up altogether on his allegation that Job is a carnal reprobate and a grossly wicked man, the new approach is to make him guilty of such a thing as pride - anything, absolutely anything, to induce him to renounce his integrity. Note what Elihu promises here, IF Job will admit his sins. He will spend his days in prosperity and pleasure (Job 36:11); but if not, he will perish.

Throughout this chapter, Elihu's logic is false. In the first part of it, he would prove God is just because he is powerful; "But power does not necessarily go with justice";[7] and then in the latter part of this chapter and throughout Job 37, he appeals to nature. But how does the natural world support any conception whatever either of mercy or justice? "Nature is red in tooth, and fang and claw." "One cannot prove from nature that God is either just, or loving or merciful."[8] It is only by divine revelation that such things concerning God may be known.

"He preserveth not the life of the wicked" (Job 36:6). "This is the same old position advocated by the three friends."[9]

"Then he showeth them their work and their transgression, that they have behaved themselves proudly" (Job 36:9). The lying persuasion of this is that Elihu, pretending to be inspired of God, promising mercy, prosperity and pleasure if Job will admit his sins, lays down the proposition here that Elihu himself, as God's representative, is present to help Job remember those sins he surely has committed but which he may have forgotten. This was Satan's trump card; and when Job refused to believe it, ignored and rejected it, God's judgment of Job was gloriously vindicated.

"He openeth their ear to instruction, and commandeth them that they return from iniquity" (Job 36:10). It is amazing that Rawlinson, while admitting that what Elihu said in these verses, "Is not exactly the truth,"[10] he still finds merit in Elihu's theory of suffering as disciplinary and restorative, rather than punitive. Every word of this verse is a subtle, skillful and lying inducement for Job to renounce his integrity.

"If they hearken and serve him" (Job 36:11). In context, Elihu means, Job, if you will listen to what I say, confess your sins, repent, and turn to God, "You will receive prosperity; if you do not listen, you will perish."[11]

"They die in youth, and their life perisheth among the unclean" (Job 36:14). The word unclean here is the rendition of a word that actually means sodomites, as indicated in the American Standard Version margin. Pope rendered the passage, "Their soul dies in youth, their life among the sodomites."[12] James Moffatt's Translation of the Bible (1929) rendered it, "They die in youth like men debased by vice." Driver made it, "Their soul dieth in youth, and their life among the temple prostitutes."[13] This is of interest, because it indicates the customary brevity of life among the cult prostitutes of the old Canaanite fertility worship.

Elihu no doubt mentioned this because it fitted his theory that God punishes wickedness in this present life; and of course, it many instances he does, as was the case with the cult-prostitutes; but that in no manner bolstered their evil theory that all misfortunes were directly due to the sins of the unfortunate.

Verse 15
THE BRUTAL CHARGE OF ELIHU REGARDING JOB'S SO-CALLED "WICKEDNESS"

"He delivereth the afflicted by their affliction,

And openeth their ear in oppression.

Yea, he would have allured thee out of distress

Into a broad place where there is no straitness;

And that which is set on thy table would be full of fatness.

But thou art full of the judgment of the wicked:

Judgment and justice take hold on thee."

The entire assumption of Elihu was sinfully presumptuous. God had not sent affliction upon Job to punish him, nor to discipline him; all of his sorrowful experiences were due to Satan, and to no one else.

"But thou art full of the judgment of the wicked" (Job 36:17). This verse is obscure, and several different renditions are given; but as it stands here, it is an unqualified condemnation of Job. God would have done wonderful things for him, prosperity, fatness, all that; but because Job would not repent, he continues to suffer.

Many scholars have complained of damaged or corrupt text in Job 36:16-21. Driver wrote concerning these verses that, "The text is scarcely intelligible ... the details are uncertain ... perhaps corrupt ... uncertain ... extremely uncertain ... (and on Job 36:20), the most unintelligible of all these verses."[14] A comparison of the various versions will emphasize the uncertainty that pertains to these verses. This writer claims no ability to solve the problems of this passage.

Verse 18
THE BALANCE OF THE DISPUTED PASSAGE

"For let not wrath stir thee up against chastisements;

Neither let the greatness of the ransom turn thee aside.

Wilt thy cry avail, that thou be not in distress,

Or all the forces of thy strength?

Desire not the night,

When peoples are cut off in their place."

Verse 21
MORE CONDEMNATION OF JOB FROM ELIHU

"Take heed, regard not iniquity:

For this hast thou chosen rather than affliction.

Behold, God doeth loftily in his power:

Who is a teacher like unto him?

Who hath enjoined him his way?

Or who can say, Thou hast wrought unrighteousness?"

The various versions afford little help in understanding exactly what Elihu intended by some of the things said here; but given his invariable purpose of forcing Job to renounce his integrity, we can easily see how vigorously he strove to achieve that objective.

Certainly, Elihu, was the most persistent, the most vigorous, and the most skillful assailant Job encountered in this whole narrative. Satan must have been very proud of him.

The final paragraph here (Job 36:24-33) begins a discussion of God's glorious works in the natural creation, a topic that is concluded in the final chapter (Job 37) of Elihu's speech. Some scholars have commented that it is a fitting introduction to the whirlwind and the appearance of God that interrupted and terminated it; but just what Elihu's point might have been in this elaboration of his thoughts is not exactly clear. "It has been suggested that a storm was gathering, which ultimately broke at the theophany, and that this turned Elihu's thoughts in the direction of this conclusion of his speech."[15] Whatever did it, "Elihu now turned to unfold to Job the greatness of God as revealed in his control of the universe and of the forces of nature."[16]

Verse 24
THE GLORIES OF GOD'S CONTROL OF HIS CREATION

"Remember that thou magnify his work,

Whereof men have sung.

All men have looked thereon;

Man beholdeth it afar off.

Behold, God is great, and we know him not;

The number of his years is unsearchable.

For he draweth up the drops of water,

Which distill in rain from his vapor,

Which the skies pour down

And drop upon man abundantly.

Yea, can any understand the spreadings of the clouds,

The thunderings of his pavilion?

Behold he spreadeth his light around him;

And he covereth the bottom of the sea.

For by these he judgeth the peoples;

He giveth food in abundance.

He covereth his hands with the lightning,

And giveth it a charge that it strike the mark.

The noise thereof telleth concerning him,

The cattle also concerning the storm that cometh up."

"Elihu here takes up again his theme of the greatness of God, calling the phenomena of nature to witness God's might."[17] Rawlinson commented that, "It must be allowed that this passage is eloquent."[18]

This whole dissertation on the wonders of God's control of nature, etc., "Is relevant to Elihu's speech, only because he believes that it is God's creative power that gives him the right to be the moral judge of the world."[19]

"The noise thereof telleth concerning him" (Job 36:33). This says that God's greatness is attested by the thunder; and supporting Rawlinson's idea that an approaching thunderstorm prompted these lines, we have the following statement in Job 36:33b.

"And the cattle concerning the storm that cometh up" (Job 36:33b). The imagery that comes to mind here is that of the movement of cattle toward shelter or protection from an approaching storm.

However, the exact meaning of the verse here, like several others in this chapter, is by no means certain. "This verse is notoriously difficult. Half a century ago, Peake noted that there have been more than thirty renditions of the verse."[20] In the judgment of this writer, our version, the ASV, is superior to any others that we have seen. Although, "The word storm is supplied here,"[21] it fits perfectly; because of, "The ancient observation that cattle seem to have a presentiment of an approaching storm."[22]

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Job 36:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?book=job&chapter=036". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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