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The Speech of Elihu. III.
Elihu may show us what conception of God had been formed by a young mind. If we cannot follow the thread of his argument, we can join him here and there, and consider diligently what view of the divine nature and government a mind evidently audacious and energetic, yet reverent and docile, had formed. Elihu does not come before us as necessarily young in years, but as comparatively young; he had kept silence while older men were speaking; he claims distinctly to be heard because of his inferior age: it is legitimate, therefore, to regard the whole of his exposition as one which is uttered by a youthful, modest, yet active mind.
Who was the God of Elihu? Was he a deity that could command homage? Does he sit upon an appointed place like a helpless idol? or is he intelligent, watchful, judicial, righteous? It will be interesting to discover what kind of deity was avowed and honoured so long ago.
"The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life" ( Job 33:4 ).
The Bible has no difficulty in connecting human life instantly with God. There is a wonderful sense of nearness as between the Creator and the created. Elihu does not interpose millions of ages between the creating God and the created man; he rather speaks of the creation as the very last thing that was done. Elihu does not say, I am the result of intermediate operations and causes, and secondary influences; I represent the civilisation of my line or day. He speaks as Adam might have spoken when he was turned from the hand of God a living man, a divine image. This young poet if he were only a poet stands next to God, and says I am the man whom God made; the very breath I am now breathing I received from him. All this of course may be poetry, but all this may also be fact, reality, and only poetry in the sense in which poetry is the highest truth. What do we gain by considering that we were created by the Almighty countless millions of ages ago, as compared with the thought that every one of us is his handiwork, as it were just made, the very last proof of his omnipotence and wisdom and love? We gain much by the latter view: we are thus placed very close to God; he might be looking at us now; he might be speaking of us as his latest wonder, the last miracle of his creative energy. There are the two views; let men adopt which seems right to their reason when it is illuminated by revelation. Either way we are God's creatures; from neither theory is God excluded, only in the latter he seems to some of us to be nearer; he cannot be nearer in reality, for the ages are nothing to him, but he is nearer to our imagination, our sympathy, our need, our whole desire; it seems to suit our weakness best at least, to think that God has just made us and that in our nostrils is the breath we have but just caught from him. This was the standpoint of Elihu. It enabled him to speak with great solemnity in the argument. Elihu did not pretend to come into it as a discoverer, an inventor, a moral genius, a man gifted in the reading of riddles; he came into the argument as a distinct creation of God, a man different from any who had spoken, with an individuality that involved responsibility; he speaks as if he had overheard God, and had been empowered to tell others what God had revealed to him.
Observe how he proceeds;
"For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not" ( Job 33:14 ).
Let the meaning be this: God does not speak in one way only; there is nothing monotonous in the divine government: God speaks "once," "twice," that is, in one way, in two ways, in many ways, in apparently self-contradictory ways, now in the high heavens, now in the deep earth; sometimes in visions of the night, often by moral intuitions, sudden startlings of the mind into new energies, and sudden investitures of the whole nature with new powers and capabilities. Elihu will not have God bound down to one way of revelation; Elihu rather says: God reveals himself in nature, in providence, in history, in human consciousness, in social combinations, in the mystery of life's great circumference: whoever has a new thought has it from God; whoever has a right vision is indebted to God for his vision: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God," that is to say, God can sustain life in a thousand different ways: if there were no wheat, it would make no difference to the sustenance of man upon the earth; if the earth refused to grow one root or fruit, God could still keep man upon the earth as vigorously and as usefully as ever: God is not confined to one method of operation; Let us then, Elihu would say, acknowledge God in whatever form he may come; do not exclude God from any part of the ministry of the universe: if you think you see him in the star, you do see him; it is the star that is lifted up in glory and suggestiveness, not the deity that is brought down into finite bounds: if any flower of the field can help you to see into heaven look through it: if you can hear music in the trill and carol of birds, hear it, and magnify it until you get some hint of the infinite music of heaven. This is not idolatry; it is the proper magnifying of nature, the proper extension of all history and providence: thus you are lifted up, and from higher levels can behold wider spaces. How much we lose in thinking that God is confined to one house, place, hour, day, week! Thus we become idolaters, and thus we exclude many from the altar who are really worshipping at it. All men are not religious in the same way: there is a diversity of operation even in the religious regions and outlooks of life. What if some men shall be found to be religious who never supposed themselves to be such? God speaketh once, yea twice, yea thrice: his voice covers the whole gamut of utterance, and men who speak truth in any department of life, of art, of science, speak God's truth, for all truth is God's.
So far Elihu might have been a modern teacher, so advanced, so progressive is he. From no point will he have God excluded. If a man has a dream he will say, Tell it, for even in visions of the night God shows himself. If a man can only speak through his harp, Elihu says, Play it, and we will tell you whether God or devil stretched the strings, and taught your fingers to discourse upon them. There is a spirit in man, a verifying faculty, a child-heart, that knows what the father said, and knows the very tone in which he said it.
Of one thing Elihu seems to be supremely certain
"Far be it from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity" ( Job 34:10 ).
Elihu now occupies moral ground. His deity is not a majestic outline; it is a heart, a conscience, the very source and centre of life. This gives comfort wherever it is realised. A thought like this enables man to give time to God, that he may out of a multitude of details shape a final meaning. Elihu says in effect, Things look very troubled now: it seems as if we were dealing with shapelessness, rather than with order and definite meaning: now the great space of the firmament is full of thunders and lightnings and tempests, and the very foundations of things seem to be ploughed up; but write this down as the first item in your creed, and the middle, and the last "far be it from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should do iniquity.... Yea, surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment." Then wait: he will bring forth judgment as the morning, and righteousness as the noonday. Such doctrines establish the heart in gracious confidence. They do not blind men to the tumult and confusion which are so manifest on all the surface of life; such doctrines enable men to cultivate and exemplify the grace or virtue of patience: they acknowledge that appearances are against their doctrine, but they claim time for the Almighty: they reason analogically; they say, Look at nature; look at human life; look at any great enterprise entered into by men: what digging, what blasting of rocks, what marvellous confusion, what a want of evident form and shape and design! Yet when months have come and gone, and architects and builders have carried out their whole purpose, they retire, and say, Behold what we have been aiming at all the time, then in great temple, or wide noble bridge spanning boiling rivers, we see that when we thought all things were in confusion, they were being carried on to order and shape and perfectness and utility. So Elihu says, One thing is certain: to be God he must be good; if he were wicked he would not be God: brethren, he would say in modern language, Let us pray where we cannot reason, let us wait where we cannot move: our waiting may be service, our prayer may be the beginning of new opportunities.
Following this doctrine, and part and parcel of it, Elihu advances to say
"For the work of a man shall he render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways" ( Job 34:11 ).
Being righteous, he will cause the law of cause and effect to proceed whatever happens in relation to human conduct and spiritual results. This is what Paul said "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." That is a New Testament translation of Old Testament words "For the work of a man shall he render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways." How much have we advanced beyond that doctrine? Where is the difference between the Old Testament and the New in this particular? God is of one mind; who can turn him as to the law of moral cause and moral effect? A man cannot sow one kind of seed and reap another: the sowing determines the harvest. Elihu might make a false application of this principle to Job, but the principle itself is right. It is of value as showing the conception which Elihu had formed of God's nature. He was worshipping a God worthy of his homage. Again let us say, he was not worshipping an idol, a vain imagination of his own; and again let us apply to ourselves the holy proof of God's rule, that whatever he does he does it from a spirit of right and with a purpose of right, and that in all his doing there is no compromise with evil, no concession to wicked principles or powers. God is righteous; true and righteous altogether. Let a man have that conception of God, and how quiet he is! Though the floods lift up their voice and roar, yet still he says, There is a river the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God: though the wicked triumph for a time, yea, in great noise and great pomp; yet, he says, his triumphing is but for a moment, his joy is but a flash, to be lost in the enclosing and eternal darkness. Without such convictions we are driven about by every wind of doctrine; the doctrines themselves, which are unformed and unsettled, trouble us. What are we to do in relation to such doctrines? To come back every night to our rocky home, to the great fortresses established in the holy revelation, to the sanctuary of God's righteousness, to the impossibility of his thinking, being, or doing anything that is wrong. Here we find rest, and from this high sanctuary we can look abroad upon all the excitement and tumult of the times, and wait in loving and expectant patience for the growing light, for the descending revelation, for the new promise that shall give us new consolation.
Then Elihu might have lived today. Verily he seems to be worshipping the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He might not be able to say so in words, to realise it in all the fulness and sweetness of its meaning; but he, in the far-away time, had a clear vision of God's personality, God's government, and God's holiness.
What a comprehensive view of God he gives us
"Shall even he that hateth right govern? and wilt thou condemn him that is most just? Is it fit to say to a king, Thou art wicked? and to princes, Ye are ungodly? How much less to him that accepteth hot the persons of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor? for they all are the work of his hands. In a moment shall they die, and the people shall be troubled at midnight, and pass away: and the mighty shall be taken away without hand. For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings. There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves" ( Job 34:17-22 ).
Observe here the action of what may be called the moral imagination. We are at liberty to expand what we do know of God in the letter. This is the meaning of preaching. The preaching however must be the expansion of what is found in revelation. If there be in one discourse a word of man's own making, it must be taken out. Not an evidence of man's invention must be found in any discourse. Whatever is said must be provable by what is written. Expansion is our sphere; tender, gracious, beautiful amplification is the work to which we are called: the kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, but when the mustard-tree is grown it is not an oak, nor a cedar; it is still what it was in the seed. So Elihu resorts to images, illustrations, rhetorical enlargements, and the like; but he is always tethered to the centre, always fixed in the settled and eternal truths; what he does otherwise he may do as the result of inspired genius, but it is all consonant with what is positively and definitely revealed. What then do we know of God? Nothing of ourselves. We have imaginings, conjectures, suggestions, quite a thousand in number, but as they are only imaginings, suggestions, and conjectures they are open to all kinds of disappointment; but when we come to revelation, and fix our eyes there, we feel that we are building our house upon a rock, and being built upon a rock, we can wait; we can say, Let the storm rise and fall; we have nothing to do with it whilst it rages; when it is passed we shall see what is left behind. Always distinguish between the foam and the sea, between that which is superficial and that which is central and everlasting; and be not tossed about by the wind that blows over the surface of the earth, but rest confidently and lovingly in the living God.
Elihu now comes closely to us with a gentle gospel message, and because of the gentleness of his message we are the more assured of the validity of his reasoning "For he will not lay upon man more than right" ( Job 34:23 ). This is the way by which we are to judge the Bible. If we were governed wholly by the majestic images of the Bible, we should be overwhelmed, unable to follow the high delineation; we should be blinded by excess of light; but the Bible comes down from its high revelations, and speaks comfortingly to troubled lives, to broken hearts, to weary travellers; and because it is so sympathetic and gracious in our weakness and sorrow, we begin to feel that when it rises, expands, and flames in unutterable splendour, it may be equally right there: the foot of the ladder is upon the earth; the head of the ladder is lifted up into glory, and we cannot see it. It is even so with this divine revelation of God. When he is set forth as Infinite, Eternal, Everlasting, Jehovah, Sovereign, we are lost, we cannot follow up this dizzy way of utterance; but when he is called by such terms as enable us to see that he is loving, gentle, piteous, compassionate, lifting up those that be bowed down, and comforting with tender solaces those whose hearts are sore, then we begin to feel that what was so majestic at the one end, and so tender at the other, may be harmonious, may be one, may be the very God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. A wonderful thing this for Elihu to have discovered by himself. Who ever discovered God in equal terms and equal proportions? Is this man talking out of his own emptiness and vanity of mind? Is it possible that a man younger than those who were listening to him conceived all this regarding God? Then in very deed here is the supreme miracle in the intellectual history of mankind. Here is a man who without communication with the other world has discovered a God infinite in majesty, in wisdom, in power; tender, gracious, loving in spirit; righteous, pure, holy in his nature; revealing all things to the benefit of all. One of two things must have been: either this man Elihu invented all this, and thus became practically as good as the thing which he invented; or it was revealed to him and he as an instrument revealed it to others. This latter view Christian readers of the Bible adopt. They do not believe in an invented God, but in a God revealed; in a God who will not lay upon man more than is right; in a God who knoweth our frame and remembereth that we are dust; in a God that never reaps where he has not sown; a righteous God, revealed to the world through the intuition or the experience of mankind, or by direct and startling revelation in vision and dream of the night. Be the method what it may, here he is in light, in love, in faithfulness, a God whom we adore, not with reverence only because he is great, but with sympathy and love because he is good.
The very necessity by which God loves the right makes him oppose the wicked. He will not have wicked men living as if in his complacency "He striketh them as wicked men in the open sight of others:" he overpowers them; he fills them with disdain and contempt; if he allows them to travel half-way up the hill it is that their fall may be the greater. Never did he endorse the wicked man. No spirit of evil can produce a certificate from heaven, saying, Behold how I am written of by your God, and commended by him whom ye worship as holy. This, too, was a wonderful thing for the unaided Elihu to have discovered. Appearances were against him: wicked men have not seldom had more than good men, so far as the possession of the hand is concerned; wicked men have been in high places; and yet here are men Elihu and others saying, looking on these facts, What you believe to be facts are only appearances, mere phases of things; within all is a righteous spirit, and the end of all is the confusion of every form and purpose of evil, Elihu never discovered that: this also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working. We must await the issue, but here is our supreme difficulty to wait when we are impatient; to know that the right will come, and yet not to be able to show it instantaneously, when men are waiting for it, oh, that is trying! It gives the mocker opportunity to jeer. We are sure there is a proof, and we are positive that by-and-by it will be revealed, yet now, face to face with the sneerer, he seems to have it all his own way. Then what a struggle there is between faith and impatience, between confidence and weakness! how then we long that God would open a window in heaven, and would speak from some opening glory in the skies and declare himself! Yet he is far away, so far as silence can remove him; yea, he is dumb when the great controversy seems to beat against the very door of heaven. The Christian says we must wait; we can hasten nothing; we can toil as if we believed; we can confirm our faith by our life, and having done that we can do no more.
Elihu asks a question, which brings us to our right level "Should it be according to thy mind?" ( Job 34:33 ), Which is to be the supreme intelligence? That is the great question. Who is to be on the throne? Who is to be uppermost? Who is to speak the guiding word? It must either be the mind of man or the mind of God. Elihu says, Shall it be the mind of man? See what man has done; behold all the way through which he has passed, and see how he has been correcting himself, stultifying himself, coming back from his prodigalities, reversing his judgments, and rewriting his vows. The world cannot be administered according to a finite or limited mind. It comes to this, then; that such a world as ours, and such a universe as we know it, must be ruled by a mind equal to the occasion. We who cannot tell what will happen tomorrow ought to be silent rather than audible; we should wait, rather than advance: if we could prove our infallibility we might assert, but until we can establish it as a fact we must not broach it as a theory. The universe is too large for our management. We cannot manage our own affairs without blunder and mistake: how much less then could we manage the affairs of all men, and the courses of all worlds, and the destinies of all operations! It is ours to believe that God ruleth over all and is blessed for evermore; that all things, visible and invisible, are parts of a great empire, of which God is King and Lord. It is a noble faith. No man may come to the acceptance of this faith on the ground of weak-mindedness. No man can accept this faith without being mentally enlarged and ennobled. It may be assented to without reasoning and without reflection, and then it is not a religion but a superstition; or it may be received upon our knees, lovingly, adoringly, consentingly; our acceptance of it may be the last result of our inspired reasoning: then it becomes a faith, a religion, an inspiration, and we bow down before it, not ashamed because we cannot explain it, but glorying rather because its mystery will not come into human words, and all its meaning is too vast for the tiny vessel of human speech.
What God then shall we have? We must have some deity. We may deify ourselves, and thus become fools; or we may worship the God of the Bible, and thus receive an instruction which operates even more directly upon the moral than upon the intellectual nature. No man can serve God, and do evil: he may do the evil, never willingly or joyfully, but always with assurance that he ought not to have done it and that God rebukes him in a thousand ways. We cannot rightly receive the God of the Bible, and be little, mean, uncharitable, and unworthy. If we can find persons who profess to have received the God of the Bible and are yet all these things, then their profession is a lie. "By their fruits ye shall know them." We are not asking for assent; we are asking for faith. It is one thing not to differ from a proposition, and another to live upon it and to have no other means of mental existence. That is faith. He is no Christian who simply "does not dispute" the facts of Christian history. Only he is a Christian who is crucified with Christ, as it were on the same cross, as it were pierced with the same nails, wounded with the same spear. That is Christianity. We debase the whole conception if we suppose that a man is a Christian because he does not differ from the New Testament in any energetic or aggressive way, that a man is a Christian because he passes through certain forms of Christian worship. That is not Christianity at all. A man may do all that, and a thousand times more, yet know nothing whatever of the Spirit of Christ He does not receive the God of the Bible who is not as good as that God, according to the measure of his capacity: "Be ye holy, as your Father in heaven is holy." No man can receive the Christ of the gospels who is not dead and as much raised again as was that mighty Son of God, according to the man's measure and capacity. To believe in God we must be one with God. To believe in Christ we must be one with Christ. When we are so identified we shall need no argument in words, for our life will be argument, our spirit will be persuasive and convincing eloquence.
In his second speech Elihu returns to the main question of Job's attitude towards God. He begins by imputing to Job language which he had never used, and which, from its extreme irreverence, Job would certainly have disowned (Job 34:5 , Job 34:9 ), and maintains that God never acts unjustly, but rewards every man according to his deeds. There is nothing in his treatment of this theme which requires comment.... The subject of the third speech is handled with more originality. Job had really complained that afflicted persons such as himself appealed to God in vain (Job 24:12 , Job 30:20 ). Elihu replies to this ( Job 35:9-13 ), that such persons merely cried from physical pain, and did not really pray. The fourth and last speech, in which he dismisses controversy and expresses his own sublime ideas of the Creator, has the most poetical interest. At the very outset the solemnity of his language prepares the reader to expect something great, and the expectation is not altogether disappointed. "God," he says, "is mighty, but despiseth not any" ( Job 36:5 ); he has given proof of this by the trials with which he visits his servants when they have fallen into sin. Might and mercy are the principal attributes of God. The verses in which Elihu applies this doctrine to Job's case are ambiguous and perhaps corrupt, but it appears as if Elihu regarded Job as in danger of missing the disciplinary object of his sufferings. It is in the second part of his speech ( Job 36:26 to Job 37:24 ) that Elihu displays his greatest rhetorical power; and though by no means equal to the speeches of Jehovah, which it appears to imitate, the vividness of his description has obtained the admiration of no less competent a judge than Alexander von Humboldt. The moral is intended to be that, instead of criticising God, Job should humble himself in devout awe at the combined splendour and mystery of the creation. Rev. Canon Cheyne.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"... an interpreter, one among a thousand" Job 33:23
Why should not all men be interpreters? As a matter of fact, they are not, and we are called upon to consider the moral import of that fact. Men are variously gifted. To be gifted at all is to receive honour from God. The judgment is not as between one man and another, but as between each man, as a trustee, and God who has put him in trust. The interpreter will always make his influence felt; there will be something about his manner, mode of thinking, tone of expression, which will identify him as one on whom the tongue of flame is resting. Society should honour its interpreters. To be one among a thousand is to be in a painful position. We envy the eminence, but forget the responsibility; we say how grand it must be to be so high up in society, forgetting that elevation means penalty, labour of many kinds, and vexations such as the great alone can feel. The Bible is an interpreter, and one among a thousand. This is the distinctive peculiarity of the Bible. It is not only a revelation, it is an interpretation; it interprets God, nature, truth, and it interprets man to himself. It is one among a thousand because there are many books which profess to have great answers to great questions, but they all break down at a given point, and are least eloquent where the heart yearns most for spiritual communication. Let us always dwell upon the distinctiveness of the Bible, and of the cross, and of the whole priesthood of Jesus Christ. In many points it may be like other sacred messages, but there are points at which it breaks away from them all, and stands up in noble singularity. We must not force interpretation too far. Sometimes it is enough to have a bint without having a whole revelation. If we walk according to the light we have, the light will soon increase. He is deceiving himself who supposes that he would travel fast toward the kingdom of heaven if he could start his journey at midday. Begin your journey as soon as there is the faintest streak of light in the east, and as you walk the sun will increase in splendour. The Christian should be one in a thousand: he should be seen from afar: he should be known by the quality of his character, by the music of his voice: he should in no case be so living the vulgar life as to be confounded with the common herd at the same time, he must distinguish between self-display, and the uniqueness which comes of long and happy communion with his Master. To be ostentatious is to be impious; to be a city set on a hill is to be a witness for God.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 33". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13