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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Job 36

Verse 1

ELIHU’S FOURTH AND LAST DISCOURSE, chapters 36, 37.

1. Elihu also proceeded Elihu has thus far made the same number of addresses as each of the three friends, with the exception of Zophar. Jewish commentators have remarked that he might properly have stopped here, but the penitent silence of Job encourages him to proceed. Thus far his object has been to correct several errors and misapprehensions into which Job had fallen; he now proposes to take a more specific view of the object of divine chastisement. God’s infinite nature, his almightiness, he says, manifests itself in caring more particularly for the righteous. Because of their like moral nature, he subjects all human beings to discipline, that the precious may be separated from the vile. Suffering develops character: the good it makes better, the bad, worse: until, at last, the latter die prematurely the death of the most abandoned. Thus it appears that the general course of God’s providence declares for righteousness. Therefore, if Job heed not the divine visitation, he has reason to deprecate the divine wrath, whose angry mutterings he may already hear in the distant cloud, (Job 36:18.) This leads Elihu to speak of the power of God in nature, whose beneficence, no less displayed than his justice, declares him not only a righteous, but a gracious governor of the world. A peculiarity of this and of the other speeches of Elihu, Delitzsch notices, namely, that “they demand of Job penitential submission, not by accusing him of coarse, common sins, as the three have done, but because even the best of men suffer for hidden moral defects, which must be perceived by them, lest they perish on their account. Elihu here does for Job just what, in Bunyan, the man in the interpreter’s house does when he sweeps the room, so that Christian had been almost choked with the dust that flew about.”

THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD IS INDEED INCOMPREHENSIBLE, EVEN AS JOB HAD URGED; BUT ITS GENERAL TENDENCIES ARE UNMISTAKABLY DISCLOSED IN THE PRESENT, THOUGH PARTIAL, MUNDANE SCHEME, 36, 37.

“There is a point within man on which suffering rests its base, sin; there is a point within God, indicated by all his works, from which it comes as source, goodness; the two together sufficiently explain it [suffering] and general Providence for man’s life here below.” A.B. Davidson.

Verse 3

First Division THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD IN THE MORAL WORLD, CHIEFLY AS MADE KNOWN THROUGH THE ECONOMY OF SUFFERING, Job 36:2-21.

Introduction Elihu has yet much more to say in vindication of the ways of God, Job 36:2-4.

The three preceding speeches were introduced by ויען , “and he answered,” the present speech, with ויס , “and he added,” showing that Elihu intends it as a resumption and continuation of the main argument of his other speeches.

3. From afar From out the wide domain of the divine workings, both in providence and in nature. Elihu will take a far-reaching view.

Verse 4

4. Perfect in knowledge Literally, knowledges. In the theodicy which he proposes to Job he claims faultlessness and clearness of perception. (Delitzsch.) The use of the same phrase in Job 37:16, of Deity, leads some to ascribe this attributive here also to God.

Verse 5

α . THE SUBJECT CONSIDERED ABSTRACTLY, Job 36:5-15.

Strophe a Elihu proceeds to lay down some general principles involved in the distribution of the allotments of men; first, denying that God is the promoter of the interests of the wicked; on the contrary, he has committed himself to the final and eternal promotion of the righteous, Job 36:5-7.

5. Despiseth not any The small and the great are alike to God. He despises not the cause of the lowliest; they also are the work of his hand. God cannot be otherwise than just. Grace, justice, and condescending love are no less the attributes of God than omnipotence and sovereignty. Mohammedanism, in almost unceasing doxology, extols the one attribute of God, “God is great;” the religion of Christ, extols the attributes of grace and love. “All the attributes unite in most blessed harmony,” as Dachsel happily remarks; “since they are all rays of the same sun, they cannot be arrayed against each other.”

Strength and wisdom Literally, force of heart; heart power, which finally culminated in the cross. God is mighty, not only in power of arm, but power of heart. To allow leb its legitimate meaning, heart, (though it often means understanding,) would accord with the scope of this chapter. The man of God worships a being of heart, not of cold understanding merely, but of warm throbbings toward all whom he has redeemed.

Verse 6

6. He preserveth not the life In allusion to Job’s question, (Job 21:7.) “Wherefore do the wicked live?” See also Job 24:22, with note. The verb יחיה will admit the reading of Gesenius and Furst: “He prospereth not the wicked.” It is not because of their wickedness that prosperity attends their ways. The economy that God has established tends to the overthrow of evil doers no less than to the exaltation of the righteous, a thought Elihu in the next verse proceeds to expand.

Verse 7

7. But with kings… are exalted Read, And (even) with kings on the throne he makes them sit forever, and they are exalted. The moral elevation that attends the life of the righteous, though in another sphere, is not inferior to that of royalty. It emblems forth their future exaltation of which Elihu unconsciously speaks when they shall become “kings and priests unto God.” The subsequent allusion to fetters leads Grotius to think that the speaker has in view the advancement of Joseph from his prison to a throne.

Verse 8

Strophe b The sufferings the righteous experience are intended to be restorative, and at the same time to promote temporal and spiritual prosperity; failing of this, they entail destruction, Job 36:8-12.

8. Fetters and cords are used in a figurative sense. Arab writers, cited by Hitzig, formulate the thought thus: “Sickness is God’s prison on the earth.” However lofty the elevation of the righteous, he is not beyond the afflictive hand of God; nay, quite as certainly as upon the lowliest shall the gathered clouds of adversity burst upon the heads of the highest, in order that their souls may also be severed and won from the deleterious influences of worldly prosperity. These glowing words (Job 36:8-12) have an oblique reference to Job. In the view of Elihu affliction is the voice of God to the soul, “not in anger, nor in wrath,” but in love. The contrast between the views of Elihu and those of “the friends,” as to the design of affliction, is most marked.

Verse 9

9. That they have exceeded The Authorized Version is ambiguous; the literal reading is, “They show themselves strong.” In other words, God declares to them that they act proudly, (against him;) one of the dangers of extreme prosperity.

Verse 10

10. Openeth… ear As in Job 33:16. Iniquity Vanity, און . Its root idea is to be “empty,” “worthless.” See note on Job 5:12, and Job 21:19. Elihu, with profound insight, more like that of the New Testament, (1 John 2:15-17,) penetrates to the root of Job’s trouble, and finds it to be the incipient love of an “empty” world, (worldliness,) the first side-steppings of a soul that otherwise retains its faith in God.

Verse 11

11. Prosperity Literally, good, which is a more comprehensive term. Job, in describing the pious man’s destiny, (Job 21:25,) declared that such an one had not enjoyed the good, literally, “had not eaten in the good.” Elihu now replies that the servants of God spend their days in the good, since such service is necessarily a well-spring of the true good.

Pleasures The original of this word, as also in Psalms 16:6, literally signifies “pleasantnesses,” (plural form,) and, like the Latin amoena, points to joyous surroundings. Light “within one’s own clear breast” shines beyond and makes “bright day.” (For illustration, see Milton’s “Comus,” lines 360-390.)

Verse 12

12. Without knowledge See note on Job 4:21. They die without that knowledge of God which is the eternal weal of the soul. Or it may refer to the stupor which sin brings, an unconsciousness of deep guilt that in general beclouds the wicked when dying. “For there are no bands in their death.” Psalms 73:4. (See MERCEIN, Natural Goodness, see. 2.)

Verse 13

Strophe c Hypocrisy of heart provokes the wrath of God a wrath which is cumulative, since the soul defiantly resists the divine chastisement, Job 36:13-15.

13. Hypocrites The Hebrew hhaneph frequently means also “impure.” In the opinion of some Elihu now specifies a third class.

Heap up wrath Thus Rosenmuller, Carey, etc. Others, however, read cherish wrath, ( against God.) But not the less do the “hypocrites in heart,” though they know it not, heap up wrath; or, as the apostle expresses it, treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath. Romans 2:5. “The judgments of God do not always follow crimes as thunder doth lightning.… When the sun hath shined for the space of six hours upon their tabernacles we know not what clouds the seventh may bring. And when their punishment doth come, let them make their account in the greatness of their suffering to pay the interest of that respite which hath been given them.” HOOKER, Sermon on John 14:27.

They cry not, to God for pardon and help when “he bindeth them,” (as in Job 36:8,) but add to their sins “hardness and impenitence of heart.”

Verse 14

14. They die Better, as in margin, their soul dieth. (Hengstenberg, Hitzig, etc.) Soul is here in contrast with life in the second clause. “Passages like it in the Proverbs would support the idea of spiritual death.” Tayler Lewis. Hypocrisy enervates, undermines, and destroys man’s moral being no less certainly than licentiousness does his physical being. The divine mind may class hypocrisy and licentiousness more closely together than we would deem possible, even as the hypocrite and catamite are here linked together in oneness of spiritual death.

The unclean Or as in margin. Literally, the word means “ those consecrated to the service of heathen deities.” It is a sad comment on idolatrous worship that it should enlist for its support the prostitution not only of women, but of men. The קדושׁים , “saints,” are those devoted to the worship of God: the קדשׁים , the unclean, are those devoted to the worship of gods. The slight divergence of the words (the difference of a vav, ו ) points back to a time when a divergence in the objects of worship took place, while still the philological link, at least, was one of consecration. The indescribable degradation developed through the worship of idols sets forth the heinousness of all vice which builds upon the perversion of true faith. Elihu introduces these degraded beings simply to point the moral that the seemingly righteous, whose true character affliction discloses, die, like these catamites, a premature and ugly death. The masculine vice referred to in the text spread its desolating blight over the most enlightened nations of antiquity, as still appears from the classics. The Persians, according to Herodotus, (i, 135,) learned it from the Greeks.

Verse 15

15. In his affliction Or, by his affliction. The sanctified endurance of suffering becomes the instrument for its removal.

Openeth their ears by means of distress. He “openeth their ear” that it may hearken to his voice and obey his will.

Verse 16

β . AN APPLICATION TO JOB OF THE PRECEDING PRINCIPLES, ENFORCED BY A POINTED EXHORTATION, Job 36:16-21.

Strophe a An affectionate God seeks to lure the soul out of the narrow straits of trouble into the broad and rich experiences of spiritual prosperity: but if the soul prove contumacious against God, and be filled with the counsel of the wicked, then there is danger of destruction, from which no ransom shall avail to deliver, Job 36:16-18.

16. Even so… thee Literally, “God also allures [ urges ] thee from the jaws of trouble into a broad place, [with] no straitness beneath it,” which stands as a figure for greater glory and happiness. The rendering of the Authorized Version is substantially that of Furst, Delitzsch, and Umbreit. On improbable grounds Ewald makes unbounded prosperity the subject of the sentence; prosperity having had the effect to seduce Job from hearkening to the voice of afflictions.

Out of the strait מפי צר , literally, from the mouth of trouble. Distress is conceived of as a monster out of whose mouth God is seeking to deliver Job.

Table A well-filled table among the Orientals was an image of the highest earthly bliss. It is also frequently employed in the Scriptures to denote spiritual enjoyment and salvation. Psalms 22:26-29; Psalms 23:5; Isaiah 25:6; Isaiah 55:1-5, etc. Rich ( Nineveh 1:117) describes the table at which he sat with the Pasha as an oblong tray, with feet raising it a few inches from the floor. Such dishes as it would not contain were put beside it on the ground.

Verse 17

17. But thou hast fulfilled But if thou art filled with the judgment of the wicked, then will judgment and justice take hold, (on thee,) or, as others read, “hold fast together,” that is, being closely joined, they will prove inseparable. For him whose mind is filled with the judgment, דין , of the wicked, who makes “answers for wicked men,” (Job 34:36,) judgment, דין , and justice wait; an element of retributive justice, like for like. “He whom thou presumest to judge with words will judge thee indeed.” Schlottmann.

Verse 18

18. Because there is wrath… his stroke This passage has given much trouble to critics, of whose readings some are unspeakably absurd. The real difficulty lies in the word stroke, ( שׂפק , sephek,) which is translated by some, “abundance;” thus, (Furst,) “He may not seduce thee with abundance.” making God indirectly an agent of evil. On the other hand, Gesenius renders it “punishment;” while Furst gives the first meaning of its root, as in Job 34:26, “to strike.” Rosenmuller, A. Clarke, and Noyes, virtually adopt the reading of the text. Carey thinks that the expression “ take away” is intended to correspond with the same word, “remove,” in Job 36:16, with the meaning, God has not, as yet, by his mercy urged you out ( הסיתךְ ) of your distress, (Job 36:16;) take care that in his provoked wrath he does not altogether urge you away ( יסיתךְ ) with a stroke. The preposition ב , with, (a stroke,) may be rendered against; which leads some ( Conant) to ascribe the anger to Job, and to read the clause. “For beware lest anger stir thee up against chastisement.” But the use of the same word ( חמה , “wrath”) in Job 19:29, where it is spoken of God, would rather point to a rebuke on the part of Elihu. The very wrath Job threatened against “the friends” is that which he himself has reason to apprehend unless he, too, exercise proper caution. The muttering of the approaching storm may have given special point to the exhortation, and Elihu may have been emboldened to greater severity of address than would otherwise have seemed justifiable. “See,” he seems to say, “the lightnings, God’s messengers, already endorse the message of God’s servant.”

Ransom Kopher; same word as in Job 33:24, but used here in a modified sense. No consideration either of wealth, honour, wisdom, or piety, (Ezekiel 33:12-13,) no price that man can bring will avail to deliver man when once under the retributive hand of God. Comp. Job 30:24.

Cannot deliver thee The meaning of נשׂה in the niphil form is unquestionably, as in the margin, “to turn aside.” Gesenius renders the phrase, (Thes. 877,) “ A great ransom cannot turn thee aside from the divine punishment; a form of speech,” he says, “used of those who turn aside from the way to avoid peril.”

Verse 19

Strophe b No resources of riches or might will suffice to redeem the soul out of God’s hand; therefore long not for the night, and, above all things, pervert not the afflictions of God into occasions of sin, Job 36:19-21.

19. Will he esteem thy riches On the supposition that betsar is a compound word, some (Zockler) read, “Shall thy crying put thee out of distress? and all the efforts of strength?” i.e., of thy strength. Gesenius, (Thesaurus, 1069,) Renan, Noyes, Conant, Hitzig, etc., substantially agree with the English version. Thus Hirtzel, “Will thy riches suffice? O not gold, nor all treasures of power!” a reading which quite determines that the preceding verse (18) must accord with the Authorized Version. According to Suidas, the Phoenicians represented their gods with purses of gold as the symbol of power.

Verse 20

20. The night Night is used figuratively for death, (Job 34:20; Job 34:25,) or for destruction heightened by night. Psalms 91:5. It may mean his own death, or the retributive death of others; Job having spoken of night in the latter sense, so as possibly to awaken on the part of Elihu suspicious of malevolence, though unjustly.

Cut off Same as in Job 5:26, and Psalms 102:24, (literally, “go up,”) and here spoken in general of removal by death to sheol, the world beneath them, (thus Conant and Carey,) or “beneath where the nations are,” (Hitzig;) but better, as in Job 40:12, in their place the place of their power and pride. The latter clause of the verse explains the former. In sublime language (Job 3:13-19) Job had expressed his desire that he might join the mighty dead; a description which must have profoundly impressed the youthful listener Elihu. He now replies, Not for the night, not “for the going up of the nations,” should Job long, (same as in Job 7:2;) they are going up fast enough, this “innumerable caravan that moves to that mysterious realm” of death, without Job’s panting to join them. Job’s time to “be gathered” will come soon enough without all this ado.

Verse 21

21. This hast thou chosen Poor, weak human nature shrinks from chastisement, though it knows such to be divine and for its real good. But to choose iniquity rather than affliction is to act over again the folly of the Jews, who chose Barabbas rather than Christ. “There is more evil in the least sin than in the greatest affliction.” Henry. “In particular the closing verses of this division (16-21) contain statements… such as occur in the like combination nowhere in the Old Testament, and such as belong in truth to the profoundest utterances which the literature of the Old Testament has produced in the attempt to solve the mystery of affliction before the coming of Christ.” Zockler.

Verse 22

Second division THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD IN NATURE IS A PRAISEWORTHY DISCLOSURE OF DIVINE WISDOM AND POWER. Job 36:22 to Job 37:13.

Strophe a is transitional. The lofty working of the mighty God not only exalts him above all human blame, but calls uponJob to unite with all beings in a song of praise, Job 36:22-25.

22. Behold הן introduces each of the three following strophes, (22-25, Job 36:26-29, Job 36:30-33,) each of which contains four verses; which mode of division, together with the similarity in the structure of the verses, is thought to be argument for an original poetical division of the book into strophes.

God exalteth by his power Better, God worketh loftily in his power. Elihu devotes the rest of his discourse to instances of God’s incomprehensible working in nature, that he may convince Job of a like utter ignorance of the divine working in Providence.

Verse 23

23. Who hath enjoined him his way God is responsible to no one, (Job 34:13,) not to Job even, who, as Elihu thinks, is disposed to dictate to God his way.

Verse 24

24. Which men behold Which men sing. Instead of finding fault with God’s ways, Job ought rather to extol His works, which elicit the admiration of all well-minded men.

Verse 25

25. Every man may see it The language of Adam in “Paradise Lost” (book xi) embodies the blended wonder and adoration implied in this spiritual word, hhazah: to see.

I now Gladly behold though but his utmost skirts

Of glory, and far off his steps adore.

Consult note on Job 19:27.

Verse 26

Strophe b The infinitely exalted and eternal God displays his beneficence in the subtle elaboration of rain, a work which blends together wisdom and power, providence and love, and which can be fully comprehended only by him who spreads out the clouds and sends forth the crashing thunder from the thick cloud, which is his pavilion, Job 36:26-29.

26. Behold, God is great The greatness of God is indicated by his unsearchableness and eternity. “Elihu shows that Job’s allegation that he has been unrighteously handled, and his impeachment of God’s righteousness, are contraventions of his nature as manifested in creation. The omnipotence and wisdom of God, which are everywhere apparent in the universe, furnish a testimony to God’s righteousness… Every witness, therefore, in nature to God’s greatness as a Creator rises against an arraignment of God’s righteousness. Whoso will bring a charge against God’s justice must measure himself with the divine omnipotence.” Wordsworth.

Verse 27

27. Maketh small Rather, draweth up; exhaleth ( Dr. Clarke) through the process of evaporation.

According to the vapour thereof Through his vapour-cloud, (Furst,) or from its vapour, (Gesenius,) which Dr. T. Lewis renders in place of mist, in allusion to Genesis 2:6. Science still uses the same term “vapour-cloud” to designate the mysterious birthplace of the rain. The ancients looked upon rain not only as coming from their deity, ( Aratus,) but as the special gift of God. ( Herodotus, Job 2:13.) The Talmud (in Taanith, ch. i) records an ancient saying of the Jews, that there be three keys which God hath reserved in his own hand, and hath not delivered to any minister or substitute, namely, the keys of life, and of rain, and of the resurrection of the dead. See notes on Job 5:10-11; Job 26:8.

Man abundantly Or the multitude of men, so widespread is the fall of rain.

Verse 29

29. The spreadings of the cloud The unfolding of the cloud (thundercloud) along the sky, as in 1 Kings 18:44-45, where the swiftness with which the cloud spreads itself is, according to Maurer, compared to the movement of a hand “hither and thither.” For a like rendering of פרשׂ , “spread,” compare Psalms 105:39; Ezekiel 27:7. See note on Job 37:16.

The noise Literally, “loud crashing” of thunder, which the poet represents as the crash of His tabernacle. The lofty imagination of Elihu conceived the thunder-cloud to be a booth, a temporary dwellingplace of the Most High. The deepest blackness of the cloud would favour the comparison to a tent, for, made of black goatskin, tents were pre-eminently dark. (Song of Solomon 1:5.) It is probable that the storm-cloud in which God finally revealed himself was already spreading upon the sky.

Strophe c The same wondrous providence and power of God subordinate the lightnings, even, to the benefit and well-being of men, and at the same time to the punishment of evil doers, Job 36:30-33.

Verse 30

30. Light upon it More properly, light around himself.

Covereth the bottom of the sea Covereth (himself) with the roots of the sea. Others read as in the text of Authorized Version. Job had spoken also of the roots of the mountains, (Job 28:9,) and even of the roots of the human foot, (Job 13:27.) The sublime thought of the text weaves together celestial light and ocean depth to form fit garment for the Almighty. An old Orphic hymn has a like expression:

Thou who holdest the roots of the sea,

Thy dark-gleaming throne.

Verse 31

31. By them (the lightning and the cloud) He ruleth the nations. The verse is parenthetical. The lightning is his sceptre, the fertilizing cloud his storehouse of food. With the one he smites, with the other he blesses.

Verse 32

32. With clouds… betwixt Both hands he covereth over with light, and giveth it command against the adversary. According to Delitzsch, God appears here under a military figure as a slinger of lightnings, ( light.) The lightning, like a slinger’s cord, he wraps around his hand that he may give it greater force against the enemy. “It scorches the world, but does not hurt him [God]; nay, rather, is the vesture and instrument of his power.” Wordsworth.

Verse 33

33. The noise thereof… the vapour This is one of the most difficult passages in the Bible, on account of the ambiguity of every important word. Of the discordant readings, that of Ewald is now generally accepted: “His thunder announces Him; the cattle even, that he is approaching;” literally, on the march. Some see in the allusion to cattle the instinctive apprehension which the brute manifests at the approach of a storm, as both Virgil and Pliny had observed, ( Georg., 1:374; Nat. Hist., 18:87, 88.) The reading of Dillmann, Hitzig, etc., who for the most part follow Symmachus, is not so well sustained, to wit: “His alarm-cry announces concerning him, making wrath to rage against iniquity;” essential to which is a change in the pointing of על עולה to על עולה , “against iniquity.” The former of these Hebraic words the accepted pointing of our text we would prefer, and read as above “concerning Him who is coming upward,” that is, that “He is approaching.” Conant renders the second clause of the verse, “to the herds, even of Him who is on high; making מקנה (which others, as above, render “wrath”) the object rather than the subject of the verb. In explanation of these comments, the reader may here be reminded that the vowel points form no part of the original Hebrew text, but were first introduced about the seventh century of the Christian era, and since the completion of the Talmud. For lengthened comment on the verse, the reader is referred to either Schultens, Dillmann or Conant.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 36". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/job-36.html. 1874-1909.