Bible Commentaries
Job 34

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-9

The Second Speech (34:1-37)

Job’s Errors (34:1-9)

The phrase, "Then Elihu said," indicates that there is a break here (see also Job 35:1 and Job 36:1), and that we have the second of what are to be four distinct speeches. This one is addressed to the "wise men," who may be either the friends or, more probably, the imagined onlookers. They are invited to consider the argument that will be presented and to judge its truth by their reason.

The direction of Elihu’s argument here is forecast by his quotation or interpretation of Job’s former words. Job’s errors, as they are enumerated by Elihu, are, first, to have declared his own "righteousness" (see, for example, Job 9:21; Job 13:18); second, at least by implication, to have asserted God’s unrighteousness (see, for example, Job 9:22-31; Job 27:2); and third, to have maintained that religion brings no profit to man. The last charge cannot be substantiated by Job’s speeches, but it clearly represents the drift of his thought in his exaggerated pictures of the prosperity that apparently rewards wickedness. It is interesting that Elihu’s speech reflects some use of the Prologue, for the same idea is put interrogatively into the mouth of Satan there (Job 1:9). These erroneous views place Job in the category of "evildoers" and "wicked men" (Job 34:8), even though he may not have engaged in the kind of overt unrighteousness with which the friends have charged him.

Verses 10-37

The Truth of the Matter (34:10-37)

The third error Elihu leaves for the time being (but see ch. 35, where it is focal), and gives his primary attention to the double error of man’s maintaining his own righteousness so as to impugn God’s righteousness. Verses 12 and 23 may be thought of as the central thoughts in his argument, setting forth as two basic positions the absolute righteousness of God and the impossibility of bringing that righteousness into question.

These two ideas seem to be taken by Elihu as fundamental postulates, to which all reasonable men must agree. They are not greatly different from the positions the friends have previously affirmed. But there is a difference of approach. Job and the friends have both tried to establish or disprove the propositions on the basis of Job’s particular case. Elihu somewhat clears the air, and returns to the principles which must stand even in face of apparent contradictions. As such he presents a finer picture than the friends and in many ways expresses some of the deepest truths of the book.

In verses 10-15 the thought is clear, namely, that the idea of God and the idea of wickedness are not compatible. Elihu does not go so far as to say that what God does would be right even though judged as wrong by human standards; rather, he maintains that the divine omnipotence and providence presuppose absolute right. Verses 14 and 15, building upon the story of the Creation, especially emphasize God’s providential care and man’s total dependence. Man, created from the dust by the gift of the divine Spirit, or breath, would cease to exist if God were to withdraw his Spirit or bring an end to his concern for man. Man’s life, then, is wholly derivative, to be explained only in terms of his relationship to and dependence upon the creative and providential power of God (for the same picture see Ecclesiastes 12:7).

God’s righteousness is seen by Elihu to be particularly expressed in his suppression of wickedness in rulers and in his ordering of human events so that injustice is brought to an end (vss. 16-20). The view of God that is set forth is essentially that of a transcendent Being who remains in control of the world and who acts in a fashion consistent with his own righteousness but whose operations are actually obscure to man (vss. 21-28). This of course has been the root of Job’s complaint, to which Elihu seems to be saying, "That is the way it is, and it cannot be otherwise." When God does not act as man thinks he should, he stiff cannot be questioned (vs. 29). The connection of verse 30 is not clear, and at other places in this section the meaning must be arrived at on the basis of conjecture or from the versions.

In verses 31-33 the apparent meaning is either that when God does not requite evil it is because of some secret conversion of the evildoer, or that if someone (Job) is threatened by punishment and demands to know his indictment he may not necessarily be answered exactly to his liking.

Elihu ends his second speech with a general appeal for agreement among those who are truly wise and with a direct charge of Job’s wickedness. Agreeing with the friends here he finds in Job’s protestations evidence of his guilt (we should say evidence of a "guilt complex"), but he also sees the protestations themselves as rebellion against the transcendent and omnipotent God whose picture he has just drawn.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Job 34". "Layman's Bible Commentary".