The words of Elihu are “with grace”, but also “seasoned with salt” (Col 4:6). He does not speak to Job as an iniquitous man, but he does point out his wrong pronouncements, which he made thoughtlessly. In addition, he now also speaks to the three friends.
1 - 4 The Appeal to Wise Men
1 Then Elihu continued and said,
2 “Hear my words, you wise men,
And listen to me, you who know.
3 “For the ear tests words
As the palate tastes food.
4 “Let us choose for ourselves what is right;
Let us know among ourselves what is good.
Elihu has given Job the opportunity to respond to his words, but Job is silent. That is why Elihu continues his answer (verse 1). He addresses the “wise” and those “who know” (verse 2). With these wise and understanding people, Job speaks to his friends. By doing so, he says that they must take their place again as wise and understanding people and must stop saying unwise and unreasonable things to Job.
Elihu’s words apply to all wise men in every age. Elihu talks about principles that are always valid and applicable everywhere. He submits his words to them for judgment. That is an indication for us that we have to judge what is being said. The Lord Jesus points out that man has that capacity and is therefore responsible to use it when He says: “And why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right?” (Lk 12:57). Paul also urges you to judge what he says: “You judge what I say” (1Cor 10:15).
Elihu involves the wise and understanding men in his judgment of what Job has said. He calls upon them to listen to his words and to hear him and to do so carefully. They should try his words with their ears “as the palate tastes food” (verse 3). In this sense, Job has complained that the friends, under the guise of wise words of grey men, have passed on to him words that cannot be eaten (Job 12:11-12). Words and teachings are food for the spirit. Good words are good food and bad words are bad food. Elihu asks Job and the listeners to taste his words.
To know what something tastes like, we must first taste it. Tasting something is not the same as eating it and swallowing it, but it precedes it. Thus the listeners must taste Elihu’s words. They must listen to his words about and to Job, hear them and consider whether they are right, whether they do justice to Job and to God, how they should see God’s actions with Job.
When they have tasted his words, they can make their choice (verse 4). This is a choice for “what is right”. Elihu calls for this, both for himself and for the wise. Together with them he wants to “know among ourselves what is good”. Also for us it is important to first taste what is being said with the ear and only then to give our judgment.
5 - 9 Job Has Accused God
5 “For Job has said, ‘I am righteous,
But God has taken away my right;
6 Should I lie concerning my right?
My wound is incurable, [though I am] without transgression.’
7 “What man is like Job,
Who drinks up derision like water,
8 Who goes in company with the workers of iniquity,
And walks with wicked men?
9 “For he has said, ‘It profits a man nothing
When he is pleased with God.’
Elihu expresses no suspicions, but refers to what Job said (verse 5). Job has said that God has wronged him, who knows of himself that he has done nothing wrong, by taking away his right. Job said this literally (Job 12:4; 13:18; 27:2,6), but it is also the whole tenor of his defense.
Here the question may arise, what right did Job have? Can he, and can we, assert a right before God, something of which we can say to God that He should not touch? After all, we have no other right with God than the judgment of hell, have we? As creatures, we have no right before the Creator (Rom 9:20), and as sinners, we have no right at all (Rom 3:19).
Job believes that he is fully within his rights, but that because of what has happened to him, he is seen as a liar (verse 6). That is what his friends have always said to him in veiled terms. They have always said that Job, because he suffers so much, must have sinned heavily. Job denies that he has sinned, but his friends do not believe him, so he is a liar to them.
He ended up in that position because of what God has brought upon him. The wound was delivered to him by the Almighty, Job said (Job 6:4; 16:13). By this he means the disasters that God has brought upon him. They are disasters that have given him an incurable wound. And that is what God has done, Job judges, “without transgression”. Job thus pronounces that God has wronged him. What matters to Elihu is to make clear to Job that he has gone too far here.
In verse 7 Elihu exclaims in amazement at Job that there is no one like him, a man who derides God’s dealings with him and does so with the ease with which someone drinks water. In verse 8, Elihu says that Job has gone too far in his utterances about God. He says of Job that he walks around “in the company with the workers of iniquity” and that he deals “with wicked men”. He does not say that Job commits injustice or is an ungodly man, but that he is in their company.
It does not mean that he himself is ungodly. Elihu says so because Job has spoken out about God in the same way that those who commit iniquity and wicked people do (Job 21:14-15). This is how he unites himself with them in spirit. For Job has said that it is of no use at all if you are “pleased with God” (verse 9).
These are words that Job did not say literally, but that resonate in what he said about God (Job 9:22). He has always shown in his life that he feared God. And now look, what is God’s answer to that? He took everything away from him and instead gave him deep, hopeless misery. No, according to Job’s statements, piety and fear of God have no profit (cf. Mal 3:14). It doesn’t matter if you serve God, worship Him and walk with Him, because God doesn’t take that into account. Just look at his misery.
10 - 15 God Does Not Pervert Justice
10 “Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding.
Far be it from God to do wickedness,
And from the Almighty to do wrong.
11 “For He pays a man according to his work,
And makes him find it according to his way.
12 “Surely, God will not act wickedly,
And the Almighty will not pervert justice.
13 “Who gave Him authority over the earth?
And who has laid [on Him] the whole world?
14 “If He should determine to do so,
If He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath,
15 All flesh would perish together,
And man would return to dust.
Elihu starts, before the ear of the “wise men” (verse 10; cf. verse 2), to refute the vision of Job on God. With a “therefore” – that is, because Job has a wrong view of God – Elihu calls on them to listen to him, for he will tell them the truth about God. It is unthinkable that there would be “wickedness” with God. That is simply out of the question.
There is also no doing “wrong” with “the Almighty”. This is often the case with powerful people. Power is right, it is said. Then the mighty puts the right to his hand, so that it often becomes injustice. It is impossible for God, the Almighty, to act like this. God is “a God of faithfulness and without injustice” (Deu 32:4; 2Chr 19:7; Psa 92:15; Zep 3:5). As the Almighty, He can do anything, but not anything that is contrary to His Being. This is not a limitation of His omnipotence, but a perfection that is His own. He cannot lie (Tit 1:2; Num 23:19), nor can He do injustice (cf. Rom 9:14).
He is perfectly righteous in His ways with man (verse 11). Everything a man does and the way he goes is weighed by Him and righteously requited (Pro 5:21). This is similar to what the friends have said. Yet this is completely different. Elihu points to a feature of God as an answer to statements of Job because of his suffering and not as an answer to the cause of Job’s suffering. The friends did the latter.
In verse 12 Elihu says again what he also said in verse 10. This repetition is already an underlining, but he puts an extra stripe under it by starting the repetition with “surely”. In this way he emphasizes that it is completely against the nature of God to act ungodly and that it is therefore completely against the use of His omnipotence to twist the law. Elihu thus demonstrates the seriousness of Job’s words to denounce God.
Then Elihu points out the sovereignty of God (verse 13). God is so totally different from and so far exalted above man. Is there anyone who has appointed God over the earth to govern it? Of course there is not. For there is no higher authority that would have given God authority over the earth. He Himself has taken that position upon Himself. He controls all things on earth, including the life of every human being, including Job. It is man’s presumption that he places himself above God and tells Him how to govern.
Is there anyone other than God who has “laid the whole world”? In other words: Is there anyone other than God who would have created the whole world with everything in it and the whole hierarchy and order in it? Again, the answer is: Of course not. He really is absolutely sovereign. God the Son is the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Col 1:15-17; Heb 1:1-3).
If that almighty Creator and Governor would determine to gather to Himself the spirit and the breath of man [not: His, i.e. God’s spirit and His, i.e. God’s breath], that would be the end of everything that has spirit and breath (verses 14-15). He has the power and the right to do so. “All flesh would perish together”, which means that there would be no living human being left on earth. So how can a man complain about loss of health, possessions, friends, and tell God that He is committing injustice?
Elihu not only has Job in mind, as if God would turn His heart against him alone, but all men. It is about God’s omnipotence against the nullity and also sinfulness of man as such. Man has no right to life, but to death. Through his sin, death has come into the world. Man who dies thus receives his wages, “for the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). When he dies, he returns to the dust from which he was taken (Gen 3:19).
16 - 22 God Is Great, Impartial and Omniscient
16 “But if [you have] understanding, hear this;
Listen to the sound of my words.
17 “Shall one who hates justice rule?
And will you condemn the righteous mighty One,
18 Who says to a king, ‘Worthless one,’
To nobles, ‘Wicked ones’;
19 Who shows no partiality to princes
Nor regards the rich above the poor,
For they all are the work of His hands?
20 “In a moment they die, and at midnight
People are shaken and pass away,
And the mighty are taken away without a hand.
21 “For His eyes are upon the ways of a man,
And He sees all his steps.
22 “There is no darkness or deep shadow
Where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.
From verse 16 Elihu turns to Job again with a new exhortation to listen. In doing so, he appeals to the insight that he presupposes to be present with Job. Job can show this by taking the words Elihu speaks to heart and absorbing them. Elihu asks Job if someone who hates justice can rule (verse 17). It is clear that those who are averse to justice cannot govern well. Although this is often the case with human rulers, it is not the case with God. Only someone who loves justice can rule well. God is “righteous”. Well, if there is any insight in Job, he will have to admit that he cannot declare God guilty of committing injustice.
God rules. He does so through His Son. He has already given Him “all authority ... in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18). David spoke of Christ, the Son of God, as the Ruler in the future, in the realm of peace, when he spoke of One “who rules over men righteously, who rules in the fear of God” (2Sam 23:3). We hear the same from the writer of the letter to the Hebrews who says about the kingship of Christ that “the scepter of righteousness is the scepter of His kingdom” and that He “loved righteousness and hated lawlessness” (Heb 1:8-9). Everything with God and Christ is perfectly righteous. Every injustice is absent.
People should not use abusive words against a king (verse 18). People today dare to do so, but that does not change what suits us. We are called to honor the king and other dignitaries (1Pet 2:17; Acts 23:5). We should have an attitude of respect toward them because of their position, even if they need to be clearly confronted with their sins. We see this with Daniel toward Nebuchadnezzar and with John the Baptist toward Herod.
But what is forbidden to man, God does. He says to a king that he is a “worthless one” and He does say to nobles that they are “wicked ones”. He has the right to do so, because He is their Creator and sees through them. In His assessment and judgment, He shows no partiality (verse 19; Rom 2:11; Deu 10:17; 2Chr 19:7; Acts 10:34; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; 1Pet 1:17). It makes no difference to Him whether He has to do with a prince, or a rich one, or a poor one. He does not have to spare anyone, “for they are all the work of His hands”; He made them all (cf. 1Sam 2:7). And He made them for the purpose of serving Him.
If they do not fulfill the purpose He made them for, He takes away their lives (verse 20). That is only a matter of “a moment” for Him. The darkness of the night is not a problem for Him, for “at midnight” it is as light for Him as it is in the midst of the day.
Nor is it a matter of whether they are a mighty people or a mighty individual. A people has power because of the multitude of people; a single person sometimes has power because of his position. For God it makes no difference. He shakes a people to and fro as if they were a few, and the people pass away. Just a touch with His almighty, invisible hand, not the weak hand of some mortal, and they gone.
God is omnipotent as well as omniscient. He sees and sees through every man in the way he goes (verse 21). He sees all the footsteps a man sets on his way, that is, he notices all his behavior in all his actions and all his words. There is no need for anyone to point out to Him something He would have overlooked. To Him there are no secrets. He doesn’t need to do a thorough investigation to find out the truth. It doesn’t take months of processes with multiple trials. He sees through everything immediately (Heb. 4:13).
He sees every worker of iniquity, even in the darkest and most hidden places, even in the deep shadow of death (verse 22). All sinners who are in the grave, wherever that grave may be, will not escape judgment. People can mean to escape a certain punishment by putting an end to their own lives. But that is a terrible mistake. God will make them rise up and will judge them (Rev 20:11-15). That He judges is shown by Elihu in the following verses.
23 - 30 God Judges
23 “For He does not [need to] consider a man further,
That he should go before God in judgment.
24 “He breaks in pieces mighty men without inquiry,
And sets others in their place.
25 “Therefore He knows their works,
And He overthrows [them] in the night,
And they are crushed.
26 “He strikes them like the wicked
In a public place,
27 Because they turned aside from following Him,
And had no regard for any of His ways;
28 So that they caused the cry of the poor to come to Him,
And that He might hear the cry of the afflicted—
29 When He keeps quiet, who then can condemn?
And when He hides His face, who then can behold Him,
That is, in regard to both nation and man?—
30 So that godless men would not rule
Nor be snares of the people.
God doesn’t need much consideration to judge man (verse 23). He made him and also gave him the ability to serve Him. He does not impose too much trouble on man either. For the believer, He does not request Him above ability (1Cor 10:13). Job has difficulty with that, which we can understand very well. But he wants to go before God in judgment about it, and in this he goes too far. No one can call God to account for what He imposes on a man in His wisdom.
Again Elihu points to the exaltation and sovereignty of God (verse 24). How could a man (like Job) disagree with that mighty, judging God about what He does to him? God has the right and power to break in pieces the mighty men and set others in their place (cf. Dan 2:21; Pro 8:15-16). He does not do this arbitrarily, without reason. The fact that man cannot fathom that reason does not give him the right to demand that He tells him why He is doing it.
Still, Elihu gives an explanation, which we see in the word “therefore” (verse 25). God does so because He knows the works of these mighty men. How He has acted with Pharaoh and his people, the Egyptians, is an example of this. God shattered the pharaoh when He killed all the first-born in the land of Egypt by night, thereby crushing His power (Exo 12:29-30; Psa 105:36). Other examples are the Assyrian soldiers who were killed in the night, and Belshazzar, who was also killed in the night (2Kgs 19:35; Dan 5:30).
God is perfectly righteous when He strikes the wicked because they are wicked (verse 26). Among other things, He has done this with the wicked inhabitants of Canaan. He does this in a public place, where other people see it. He makes His actions of judgment visible to everyone. He does not hide His power and righteousness. For the righteous it is an encouragement and joy, while the wicked are warned not to continue living wickedly, but to repent.
God’s judgment affects especially the apostates, those who first followed Him but “turned aside from following Him” (verse 27). These are those who live wickedly (verse 26) by oppressing the poor (verse 28a) whose cry for help is heard by the Lord (verse 28b). The act of these wicked people is seen as a stunning abandonment of God’s commandments and departing from behind Him. They have not noticed His ways in His government with men and nations. They do not want to see Him interfering in the lives of men and peoples, but attribute everything to natural causes or misfortune. They don’t want to see that a higher hand controls everything.
The wicked is punished by God for oppressing the poor. God thus responds to the cry for help of the wretched. He hears it when they call to Him in need. God does not always respond directly with judgment about injustice or with help in case of need. He can also remain silent (verse 29). Job has reproached God for keeping quiet and allowing everything to be done. But if He does not judge or help, who will condemn Him? That is what Job did.
For Job it was as if God was hiding His face. We too may sometimes feel that God is hiding from us, that we cannot perceive Him because we only see misery, like Job. God can hide Himself both from a people and from a single human being. He considers “the nations … like a drop from a bucket” and regards them “as a speck of dust on the scales” (Isa 40:15).
If God hides His face, it has a purpose, which is indicated by the words “so that” (verse 30). He wants to make people feel the lack of Him and begin to ask for Him. If they do so, He ensures that no godless or hypocrite men will come or stay in power. A godless or hypocrite man is someone who has nice talk for the people, but who only uses it to manipulate and exploit them (2Sam 15:2-6). He sets traps for the people and causes their demise. Those traps are the ungodly laws he enacts and the ungodly life he leads.
31 - 37 Job Did Not Speak With Knowledge
31 “For has anyone said to God,
‘I have borne [chastisement];
I will not offend [anymore];
32 Teach me what I do not see;
If I have done iniquity,
I will not do it again’?
33 “Shall He recompense on your terms, because you have rejected [it]?
For you must choose, and not I;
Therefore declare what you know.
34 “Men of understanding will say to me,
And a wise man who hears me,
35 ‘Job speaks without knowledge,
And his words are without wisdom.
36 ‘Job ought to be tried to the limit,
Because he answers like wicked men.
37 ‘For he adds rebellion to his sin;
He claps his hands among us,
And multiplies his words against God.’”
In this section it turns out that some verses are not easy to translate, including verses 31-32. The translation that satisfies us most is to take these verses as an advice from Elihu to Job. Elihu says: ‘For say to God …’ So in this case it is not about what Job said, but about what Elihu says. Elihu tells Job how he should behave towards God under his affliction. For this he gives him the words of verses 31-32 in the mouth. He does not command Job to pronounce them, but suggests it. It suits Job to tell God that he is bowing down under His chastisement and that he will not accuse Him anymore.
Such words have not yet come out of his mouth, for he still persists in his innocence and blames God for his suffering. They are the words of someone who wants to learn things he does not understand. Job had not done sinful deeds for which God wants to force him to confess because of the disasters He has brought about in Job. This is how the friends have always declared the suffering of Job. However, God has said that Job did not sin (Job 1:22; 2:10). But that does not mean that he is not a sinner. He is not a hypocrite, but by accusing God, he is sinning. That he is a sinner is apparent from his words in response to suffering.
Even though he does not know of any concrete sin in his life, he must be aware that he is not perfect in knowledge of himself. He may have done something that is sin in God’s eye without being aware of it, for “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom 14:23b).
He can show that he is aware of his lack of self-knowledge by asking God: “Teach me what I do not see.” If he says this sincerely to God, he is making it clear that he is not doubting God, but himself. It will bring him to the prayer that David also prayed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psa 139:23-24).
This is the attitude that also suits us. Maybe we are not aware of something evil, but that should not lead us to the thought that we are ‘okay’. God is so much bigger than we are. Paul was well aware of that. We hear this when he says: “For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord” (1Cor 4:4). We must also remain aware of this. If we continue to realize that we are imperfect people and that only the Lord will ultimately make the right judgment of all our actions and words, it will save us from the feeling of self-righteousness.
Then Elihu goes on to tell Job how his attitude has been so far (verse 33). He is still someone who wants to tell God how to repay someone. In fact, Job tells God how he thinks God should rule. God’s government has been despised by Job by rejecting His way of acting. Now what should God do with Job’s guilt? Should God just act according to Job’s standards and absolve him of his debt? But it is not for him to judge God, for he refuses to accept God’s government over his own life. God does not ask anyone for advice or permission for His actions, but does what He judges to be right.
Job, and not Elihu, must choose what he thinks. Let him say what he knows of God’s actions, whether he submits to them or not. God acts with Job, not with Elihu.
Elihu points out to Job what wise men will say to him about Job (verse 34). He also points to the wise man who will listen to him. Elihu is not alone in his judgment of Job. He knows that understanding and wise people agree with him. They all agree with him when he says that Job did not speak with knowledge, and that his words were not with wisdom (verse 35).
Job has spoken about God in a way that makes it clear that he has no knowledge of God regarding His chastisement. He has uttered words about the situation in which he has ended up, that came from his feelings and not from his mind. They betray his lack of knowledge of God and his lack of understanding of his present situation.
It arouses a sigh from Elihu that the work of trial will at last lead to the purpose intended by God, so that it may end (verse 36). That goal is for Job to trust God to control his circumstances and thus ultimately bless him. Now it is still the case that with his answers he denounces God and attributes incongruous things to Him, with the result that he gives a wrong image of God among the wicked men. As a result, he also joins these people.
If Job persists in ascribing injustice to God, he will add “rebellion” to his sinful words (verse 37). Rebellion here is the act against a commandment or a rule. The clapping of hands means that this action comes from a rebellious heart. Job is not yet a rebel. In his many words he said to God in his great need, he said wrong things. In doing so, he has clapped his hands as an expression of his anger about God’s lack of understanding (cf. Num 24:10). But now Elihu has pointed out the wrong thing in Job’s words about God. If he continues in spite of this, he adds rebellion to his sin.