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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Job 34

Verses 1-37

The Speeches of Elihu

It is the view of almost all scholars that the speeches of Elihu are a later addition. The grounds for this view are the following. His presence comes upon the reader with surprise, he is not mentioned with the other friends in the Prologue, and we have had no intimation that he has all the while been listening to the debate. It is still more remarkable that he is not mentioned at the close. Here God passes judgment on Job and the friends, and it is strange that Elihu is ignored. If the author intended Elihu to represent the true view, why did he not represent God as praising him, if not, why is he not condemned with the friends? This silence is the more surprising in view of the contents of the speeches. Elihu blames the friends for the ineffectiveness of their attack, yet he adopts somewhat the same attitude and repeats their arguments, though passing, to some extent, beyond them. He elaborates the thought that suffering is discipline, and may actually be an expression of the goodness of God. He works out this vein of argument more fully than the three friends. Still it is difficult to think that, after the debate between Job and the friends had been exhausted, the poet should have introduced a new speaker unless he had something better to say, unless, in fact, he could sum up the case and decide between the disputants. Job could have met the arguments of Elihu as easily as those of the friends. We may be well assured that the author who made him triumph over them would never have let him be silenced by the similar contentions of Elihu. It is also noteworthy that Elihu in his description of celestial marvels to some extent anticipates the speech of God which is to follow, and thus robs it of some of its effect. The style of the speeches is throughout on a much lower level, they are prolix and hard to understand, and the language is more coloured by Aramaic influences. It is also noteworthy that the opening words in Jehovah's speech, 'Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?', which refer to Job, do not well admit the view that another speaker has made a lengthy speech since Job finished speaking. There are minor arguments that need not be mentioned here.
A few scholars, however, still regard the speeches as part of the original poem. It is argued that the function of Elihu is to exhibit and correct the spiritual pride of Job, which he had himself failed to detect and overcome. Elihu brings home his fault to him, and shows how the discipline through which God has brought him was designed to purify him of his unsuspected sin and raise him to a loftier spiritual eminence. In spite of the subtle arguments urged in favour of this view it must be dismissed as very unlikely. The main lesson of the book on this theory nowhere finds clear expression, while the debate is largely irrelevant. The representation of the design of God does not harmonise with that in the Prologue, and the Divine speeches lose much of their significance. Moreover, according to the Prologue, which represents the author's view, Job is a truly blameless man, acknowledged as such by God Himself. With this Elihu does not agree, hence it was not the original author who introduced him into the book. Nor is it the fact that Elihu convicts Job, it is the vision of God that brings him to contrition.
The reasons for the insertion of these speeches lie on the surface. The author wished to reassert the doctrine held by the friends, but also to develop aspects of it which had not received due weight. He dwells on the value of affliction for discipline, and lays much stress on the goodness of God. He also wished to rebuke Job for his unbecoming words about God. And he seems to have dissented from the poet, to whom we owe the rest of the book, in his representation of Job's character before his trial, while he also thought it an impropriety to represent God as condescending to debate with Job.

Verses 1-37

The Speeches of Elihu (continued)

1-9. Elihu appeals to his hearers to judge the matter. He protests against the complaints of Job that he was treated unjustly by God, and that it was no profit to be righteous.

3. Cp. Job 12:11.

4. Judgment] RV 'that which is right.'

5. My judgment] i.e. my right.

6. RV 'Notwithstanding my right I am accounted a liar: My wound is incurable, though I am without transgression.' Right = innocence.

7, 8. Elihu implies that, in indulging in such reckless remarks, Job was linking himself with sinners. 7b. Cp. Job 15:16.

9. Cp. e.g. Job 9:21.

10-37. Elihu meets Job's doubts. The omnipotent God cannot commit injustice: the idea is inconsistent with the conception of One who creates and sustains and governs all mankind. Instances are given of His judgments.

13. God has not been entrusted with His rule by a higher Power.

14a. RM 'If he cause his heart to return to himself,' i.e. if God ceased to concern Himself with the affairs of man, and only selfishly regarded Himself. If He acted thus He might withdraw from man the breath of life He had given him (14b), and then he would perish (15).

17. Render, 'Doth one hating right rule?' The thought is the same as Abraham's, 'Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?' (Gen 18:25): cp. also Romans 3:5. Of course this begs the very question in dispute.

19. Accepteth not] RV 'respecteth not,' shows no undue partiality to.

20. The impartiality of God's judgments. Without hand] i.e. without human agency.

23. RV 'For he needeth not further to consider a man, that he should go before God in judgment.' God at the same time sees and judges every act: there is no need to set apart a special time for trying man.

24. Without number] RM 'without inquisition.'

25. He knoweth] RV 'he taketh knowledge of.'

28. Oppression causes God's intervention.

29. Make trouble] RV 'condemn.'

30. RV 'That the godless man reign not, that there be none to ensnare the people.'

31. Render, 'For hath any said unto God, I have borne chastisement though I offend not?'

32. 'Show me my sin, and I will give it up.' In Job 34:31-33 Job is rebuked for presumption in criticising God's treatment of him.

33. RV 'Shall his recompence be as thou wilt, that thou refusest it? For thou must choose and not I: Therefore speak what thou knowest.' Elihu asks Job ironically if he is to lay down the law to God.

34. RV 'Men of understanding will say unto me, yea, every wise man that heareth me.'

36. Answers for] RV 'answering like.'

Elihu does not really advance on the position of the friends. Omnipotence cannot go wrong, the supreme tribunal cannot be unjust. This is just the point to be proved, and the proof derived from the fact that God gives and sustains man's life, while sound as far as it goes, does not go far enough. God may have His own ends to serve in this, rather than be prompted by benevolence, and the hard facts of human misery are left to suggest the darker interpretations of God.

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Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Job 34". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.