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Bible Commentaries
Job 36

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-24

The Fourth Speech (36:1-37:24)

The two values of Elihu’s speeches mentioned above come to clearest recognition in his concluding speech. Here it seems that the poet is concerned to establish the fact that suffering, though not caused by God, can be used by him (Job 36:1-25), and to provide a skillful introduction (Job 36:26 to Job 37:24) for the overwhelmingly powerful speeches of the Almighty.

Verses 1-25

The Almighty Will Not Pervert Justice (36:1-25)

In a short preface to the speech Elihu claims again the attention of Job, promising to bring extensive knowledge (so probably the meaning of "from afar" in vs. 3), and declaring his own intention to keep steadfastly to the principle he has before enunciated: that God’s righteousness is absolute. His statement that one "perfect in knowledge" (vs. 4) was present is probably not a bit of self-conscious pride but a reference to God who alone knows all (see the same expression in Job 37:16).

The key to the first part of the speech is verse 5, paralleling the key to the second part in verse 26. Elihu draws two conclusions from the power of God. The first is that he "does not despise any." Here is the corrective to what might otherwise seem a coldness and heartlessness in Elihu’s theology. He affirms that God retains active control of the world of men, particularly in establishing the righteous (vs. 7).

Against such a view there still stands, of course, the contradictory evidence of Job’s tragic case. To answer it Elihu returns to the principle that suffering and affliction are the means whereby God educates his own, calling them through such experiences away from arrogance and transgression, and bestowing prosperity and length of life upon the penitent (vss. 8-12). It should be noted that Elihu still does not directly charge God with causing the affliction, again reflecting the point of view of the Prologue.

Verses 13 and 14 deal with the opposite principle, that of retribution on the wicked, for whom affliction becomes an occasion for added anger and indifference to God. These die untimely and shameful deaths (see margin of vs. 14).

Job still halts between the two possibilities. Elihu warns him not to let himself be enticed into yet more grievous sinning by the suffering he undergoes. Here again he reflects more clearly the issues of the Prologue than those of the ensuing discussion, for his advice is parallel to Job’s initial reaction: "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10).

Verse 16 introduces a very difficult passage. The main questions are these: How can Job’s former prosperity ("broad place," "table . . . full of fatness") be regarded as an "allurement" of Job by God? Does the first line of verse 17 mean that Job suffers the judgment on the wicked, or that formerly he himself casually condemned others as wicked, or that he now shares in the judgment which wicked men express against God? The meaning of the second line will depend on the selection of a rendering for the first. In verse 18 does the "greatness of the ransom" refer to the extreme cost of restoration in Job’s submission to an imaginary indictment? In the face of these and other questions that can be raised and for which no absolutely certain answer can be found on the basis of the word meanings, we may say only that Elihu here warns Job against the dangers of further revolt and counsels a kind of submission. Beyond this we may not go, and it is not clear to what Job is to submit.

At verse 21 the meaning becomes clearer, and the translation of the Revised Standard Version reveals the sense. The passage closes with advice, both negative and positive. Negatively Job should remember that God’s lessons must be assumed to be right; positively he should fix his attention on the mighty works of God in the past.

The Almighty Cannot Be Known (36:26-37:24)

Here is the second conclusion Elihu draws from the power of God: "We know him not." Verse 26 parallels verse 5; they are alike in form and balance each other. The passage that begins here and continues through chapter 37 is also a striking literary introduction to the speeches of the Lord and to the content of the first one of these.

One should not miss also the significance of Elihu’s root idea, as his words are brought to a close by the storm. "We do not know him" is a judgment that is on firmer ground than either Job or the friends hold, if chapter 28 be excepted. In their separate ways they have agreed on the fact that God can be known by the exercise of man’s reason, or — as would be truer to the Hebrew way of thinking — on the basis of man’s experience. Job and the friends disagree about the meaning of his experience, but they agree that it has some relationship to the knowledge of God. Elihu startlingly lifts the focus of attention away from Job to the magnificent and mysterious elements of creation, almost as though to demand that the fury and splendor of a storm be set alongside Job’s case as part of the materials from which the knowledge of God must be derived.

Among the natural phenomena to which Elihu points as confirmation for his position, as stated in 36:26, are the refreshing rain (vss. 27-28, the language of which is reminiscent of the Garden of Eden), and the clouds and the lightning which bring either destructive judgment or productive blessings (vss. 29-33). The phrase "the roots of the sea" is strange, and has been translated by some, with a slight textual change, "he covers the sun by day."

In chapter 37 Elihu continues to point to the inexplicable and powerful activity of God in nature, always regarding the natural events as not "natural" at all but "supernatural," but always stressing that they are God’s events. Verses 1-5 elaborate the picture of the storm, and verses 6-10 deal with new evidences, the ice, snow, and cold of winter. The first line of verse 7 refers to the fact that the inclement weather forces man to be inactive. The second line probably means, as in the margin, that man, the workmanship of God, comes to recognize his own created nature when he thus feels the effects of God’s working in the world.

Verses 11 and 12 return to the theme of the storm, especially the movements of the clouds. Then verse 13 takes up the last part of the preceding verse and stresses the fact that this is God’s activity, bringing about his own purpose, whether to be corrective or to reveal his love (the phrase "or for his land" may be out of place, since it upsets the balance of the lines).

One more feature remains in Elihu’s recounting of the wonders of nature — the oppressive heat of summer, when the air is still, the garments hang hotly on the body, and the sky is spread out like a brassy and glaring mirror (vss, 14-18). While he declares this wonder Elihu also makes a pointed appeal to Job to consider all this (vss. 14, 19-20). The "darkness" of verse 19 is the darkness of man’s understanding, therefore Elihu cannot imagine desiring to speak to this Almighty God, for it would be equivalent to self-destruction (vs. 20).

Although there are some difficulties in verses 21-24, it is likely that they form the iBnal transition to the speeches of the Lord in chapters 38-41. Thus they seem to indicate the coming of a brightness after the storm, and the presence of God in golden splendor. In the after effects of the storm we are prepared for hearing the voice of the Almighty whom "we cannot find" but who himself speaks to Job Verses23, 24 return to the theological theme of Elihu’s whole set of speeches: that God is infinitely great and righteous, and does not himself violate the principie of righteousness in dealing with men. His righteousness, therefore, is unimpeachable; it is not to be called into question but is to become the basis for godly fear in men. A sounder prelude to the content of the speeches of the Lx)rd and their effect on Job could hardly be imagined.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Job 36". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/job-36.html.
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