We’re studying Elihu’s fourth and final speech today. You might recall that he was waiting for Job and his friends to finish what they had to say about Job’s suffering. And once they finished speaking, Elihu began to speak.
In his first speech he responded to Job’s complaint that God is silent and will not answer Job when he calls to him. And Elihu explained that God is not silent and he speaks to us in two different ways. He speaks to us by special revelation. In Job’s day, that meant he spoke through dreams and visions. In our day, it means that he speaks to us through his written word, the Bible. And God also speaks to us through our suffering and affliction. Suffering is God’s megaphone (C.S. Lewis). We may disregard his word, but we cannot ignore suffering. And when we suffer, God is calling to us to keep us from sin. If God did not send some trouble into our life, who knows what sins we might have committed? And so, he’s got a good and gracious purpose in mind when he sends trouble into our lives.
In Elihu’s second speech he responded to Job’s complaint that he — Job — is innocent, but God has denied him justice. He — Job — is guiltless, but God’s arrows have inflicted on him an incurable wound. And so, God is unfair. He is unjust. And so, what’s the point in serving him? That was Job’s complaint, and Elihu responded by saying that it is unthinkable that God would do wrong or that he would pervert justice, because God is the just and mighty one. And Elihu went on to describe God’s perfect justice, because he doesn’t show favouritism to the rich and powerful; and he knows us perfectly and he sees when anyone does wrong; and he always punishes the wicked for their wickedness, because death is always a punishment for the wicked. For believers, death is the doorway into God’s presence. But for the wicked, death is always a punishment from God, because the wages of sin is death. And so, God will not let the wicked get away with their wickedness, because he always punishes them with death.
And in Elihu’s third speech he continued to respond to Job’s complaint that God is unjust and we do not gain anything from God by not sinning. But Job needed to see that neither our obedience or our disobedience affects God in any way. It does not help him nor harm him. And I think Elihu’s point was that we often think of God in terms of: If I do something for you, what will you do for me in return? If I obey God and keep his commandments and shun evil, what will he do for me? But what we do does not help or harm God and he does not need us for anything. And so, he’s never in our debt. He never owes us anything. He is never obliged to do anything for us.
Furthermore, while lots of people cry out when they’re oppressed and plead for relief, their pleas are empty, because they do not acknowledge God and they do not call out to him. And so, he does not listen to their pleas or pay attention to them. He does not listen, because they’re not trusting in him or crying out to him. And God has not responded to Job’s cry, because Job has been guilty of empty talk. The things he had been saying about God were wrong. And he was dishonouring God by saying that God was unjust and unfair and wrong. And God will not listen to him so long as he continues to say those kinds of thing.
And do you remember the difference between Elihu and Job’s three friends? They were saying that Job was suffering because he had sinned. However Elihu’s point is that Job had sinned because he was suffering. He hadn’t done anything to deserve his suffering. God himself declared Job to be blameless and upright and a man who fears God and who shuns evil. However, now that he was suffering, he said things about God which were not right. He said God was unjust and that God was treating him unfairly and that God was wrong to treat him this way. And by saying those things, he dishonoured the Lord. And therefore, Job had sinned because of his suffering. And he now needed to repent.
And so, we come today to Elihu’s fourth and final speech in chapters 36 and 37. The speech can be divided into two parts: the first part is from verse 1 to verse 25 of chapter 36 and is about how God deals with people. The second part is from verse 26 of chapter 36 to the end of chapter 37 and it’s about God’s greatness and how he controls the natural world.
Let’s turn to the first part which is from verse 1 to verse 25 of chapter 36. At the beginning of the chapter, Elihu asks his audience to bear with him a little longer, because he has more to say to them on God’s behalf.
I’ve said before that some commentators regard Elihu as someone who is full of his own importance and he needs to grow up. And so, they think that his audience are getting impatient with him and he’s now asking them to be patient with him for a little longer. But those commentators who are more positive about Elihu — and I agree with them about Elihu — make the point that often we don’t like hearing the truth about ourselves, especially when we’re in the wrong. And Elihu is showing Job and his friends how they have dishonoured God by the things they had said. And so, perhaps they’re finding it difficult to listen to this. But Elihu wants them to keep listening for a little while longer, because he has more to say to them. And he says that he’s speaking on God’s behalf. As I’ve said before, Elihu is God’s forerunner who begins to state God’s case against Job and his friends before the Lord himself appears.
‘I get my knowledge from afar’, he says in verse 3. He probably means that he gets it from heaven. And that corresponds with what he’s said before about how the Holy Spirit has given him wisdom and understanding beyond his years. And so, Job and all who are listening to Elihu should be assured that his words are not false. ‘One perfect in knowledge is with you’, he adds at the end of verse 4.
Some of Elihu’s critics think he’s being arrogant. Who does he think he is, saying that his knowledge is perfect! But he’s not talking about having perfect knowledge. He means that what he’s saying is right and not wrong. He means that his words are true and not false. And you’ll see from what he says at the end of verse 3 that what he wants to do is to ascribe justice to his Maker. Job was complaining that God was unjust and was treating him unfairly. But Elihu insists that God is just. He is — as we read last week — the just and mighty one.
And in verses 5 to 25 Elihu refers to God’s just dealings with people.
So, God is mighty, he says in verse 5. But he does not despise people. We can imagine some powerful, yet unkind person, who despises the people under him. He treats them with disdain and is unnecessarily cruel towards them, because they cannot fight back or resist him. But God is not like that with us. He does not despise us. As one of the commentators puts it (Jones): we are not his playthings which he tosses around the way children thoughtlessly throw their toys across the room. You see, God is mighty, but he is firm in his purpose. And although Elihu doesn’t say it here, we know that God’s purposes are always just and good. And so, according to verse 6, he does not keep the wicked alive, but he gives the afflicted their rights.
As I said last week, for believers, death is not a punishment, but it’s a passing over into eternity and into the presence of God where we will see God and where we will enjoy him forever. But for the wicked, death is always a punishment, because the wages of sin is death. God punishes the wicked by means of death. And though he may be patient with them for many years, eventually the sentence of death will fall on them. And so, God does not keep the wicked alive. On the other hand, God does not take his eyes off the righteous. The righteous, of course, are those who are righteous by faith. They are right with God through faith in God’s promise of salvation. And he enthrones them with kings and he exalts them forever. So, he lifts up his people and helps them. As Samuel’s mother, Hannah, said:
 The LORD kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
 The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
 He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
And as Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus, said:
 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
The Lord brings down the wicked to the grave and he lifts up his people who trust in him.
But then, in verses 8 to 12, he states an exception. The world is full of exceptions, isn’t it? I was reminded of this from a book I’ve been reading where the author [Watkin] writes about the difference between the book of Proverbs and the book of Ecclesiastes. Proverbs teaches us that if we do and say what is wise and right, then all will be well. But Ecclesiastes makes clear that life is not so simple and often the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. So, which book is right? Is Proverbs right or is Ecclesiastes right? In fact they are both right because sometimes life happens the way Proverbs says it does and sometimes life happens the way Ecclesiastes says it does.
We think we understand how life works, but there are always exceptions. And here’s an exception now. Yes, God does not keep the wicked alive and he watches over the righteous to exalt and help them. That’s a general rule, a law for life. But here’s the exception: righteous men are sometimes bound in chains and held fast by cords of affliction. So, God watches over them to help them, but sometimes they are bound in chains and held fast by cords of affliction. And when that happens, God tells them what they have done: that they have sinned arrogantly. And by what they suffer, he makes them listen to correction and he commands them to repent of their evil.
It sounds like he’s repeating what Job’s three friends were saying, which is that we suffer because we have sinned. But he’s not saying that. The idea of being chained and held fast by cords suggests that the righteous are being held back. God is holding them back from going down the wrong path. He’s keeping them from sinning against him. That matches what Elihu said before about how God speaks to us through our suffering and keeps us from future sin.
But then, he also uncovers by our suffering what we have done and how we have sinned arrogantly. I’m reminded of a time, before Yvonne and I were married, when we were part of a PCI trip to Hungary and Romania. Our time in Hungary was fine, but our time in Romania was awful. We were taking part in a camp for young people which was held up in the mountains. It was very hot. The living conditions were poor. The food was dreadful and the meals were often inedible. And so, we were hot and tired and uncomfortable and hungry and miserable. And you can guess what our mood was like and how we complained and moaned and tempers were frayed and patience ran out. And I remember thinking how it’s easy to serve God when everything is fine, but how quickly our sinful flesh is displayed in us when life is hard and difficult. When we are bound by chains of suffering and held fast by cords of affliction, a window is opened up into our soul and we see how much sin still lurks inside us. When we were on that camp, we were not suffering because we had sinned; but we sinned because we were suffering.
And when God sends suffering to expose the sin in the hearts of his people and to humble them, he then commands them to repent and to obey and serve him. And if they repent, says Elihu in verse 11, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment. But if they do not listen, they will perish by the sword and die without knowledge.
Job was a righteous man who suffered. And he sinned against God because he was suffering, because he said things which dishonoured God. And so, his suffering uncovered the sin in his heart. But, as we’ll see, after Elihu spoke to him and after the Lord spoke to him, Job repented in dust and ashes. He turned from the sin he committed because of his suffering. And God responded by letting Job spend the rest of his days in prosperity and his years in contentment.
And so, what is Elihu saying in these verses? That God will punish the wicked for their sins, because the sentence of death will fall on them. And God normally watches over his people to help them. He lifts them up. But God may also send trouble into the lives of his people to expose the sin in our hearts so that we will turn from it and become more and more obedient to him.
But the godless in heart harbour resentment. That’s in verse 13. When God fetters them, they do not cry to him. He means that when the godless suffer, they don’t turn to God. They don’t cry out to him. In fact, their resentment and opposition to God only intensifies. By saying they die among male prostitutes of the shrines, he’s saying that they remain among the godless who do not worship God.
But then he refers to others in verse 15. They are the afflicted. And he says that God delivers them in their suffering; and he speaks to them in their affliction. It’s not altogether clear, but he’s presumably referring again to God’s people. God sends suffering into our lives to speak to us and to deliver us from our sins. And Elihu addresses Job in verse 16 and says that God has been wooing him from the jaws of distress and he’s been leading Job to a spacious place and to the comfort of a table, laden with choice food. In other words, God’s purpose in allowing Job to suffer was to pull him away from greater sorrow and to bring him into a spacious place, which conveys the idea of enjoying peace and joy and safety and God’s blessing on his life.
The commentators tell us that verses 17 to 21 are hard to translate. And if you compare the NIV translation to other English translations, you’ll see that they are quite different. So I’ll just summarise what the commentators think Elihu is saying. Some of them think he’s saying to Job in verse 17 that he’s full of the judgment of the wicked. That is, he’s judging God the way the wicked judge God who say that the Lord is unjust and unfair. And so, according to verse 18, Job is being enticed away from God. The reference to a bribe or a ransom in verse 18 may refer to the cost of repentance. And so, the cost of repentance may seem high to Job, but he mustn’t refuse to pay it. The word translated ‘wealth’ in verse 19 might actually mean ‘cry’ or ‘cry for help’. In that case, he’s telling Job that a cry for help will not save him, because he first needs to repent of the things he’s been saying. And don’t long for sudden death as if that is a way to escape his suffering. So, beware of turning to evil. It seems to Elihu that — instead of bearing his affliction and learning from it — Job would rather speak evil against God.
And in verses 22 to 25, Elihu begins to speak about God’s greatness. And he’ll continue to speak about God’s greatness in the second part of his speech. But in verse 22 he says that God is exalted in power. He has no teacher. No one sits over him to oversee his work or to tell him that his ways are wrong. There’s no one greater than God. He does not have to give an account of himself to us. And so, instead of judging him, we should praise him.
And so, Elihu brings the first part of his fourth and final speech to an end. God has nothing to learn from us, but we can learn from him. And he sends suffering in our lives to show us the sin in our hearts, so that we will turn from it and learn to obey God more and more. And so, instead of complaining about God, we should praise him.
I’m not sure why, but the NIV has left out the word, ‘Behold’ at the beginning of verse 26. It should read: ‘Behold, God is great’. And the word ‘Behold’ is important for helping us to see that this is the beginning of the second half of Elihu’s final speech which is about God’s greatness and how he controls the natural world.
Behold, God is great. And he’s beyond our understanding. So, we can know God and we can know God truly. That is, we can know true things about God. But none of us can know God exhaustively. We cannot know everything about him, because he is beyond our understanding. There are depths to his being which we cannot fathom. And the number of his years is past finding out. The length of our life can be measured in years and months and days, but we cannot measure God’s life. Elihu, of course, is trying to convey to us something of God’s greatness. And he continues to describe God’s greatness by referring to the way God controls the natural world.
And so, in verses 27 and 28 Elihu says that God draws up the drops of water which distil as rain to the streams. He’s referring to the process of evaporation and precipitation and how God sends abundant showers on the earth. This demonstrates his power and his goodness, because he’s able to send the rain; and the rain waters the earth.
In verses 29 to 33 he refers to thunderstorms. God spreads out the clouds across the skies and he thunders from his pavilion. He also scatters his lightning. He fills his hands with lightning and commands it to strike its mark. And so, he directs where it should strike. We think it happens randomly, but no, where it lands is determined by God. And his thunder announces the coming storm so that even the cattle in the field know that a storm is coming. In other words, God controls the weather. And in this way, according to verse 31, he governs or judges the nations and provides food in abundance. The weather once again demonstrates God’s power and his goodness.
In verse 1 of chapter 37, he says that his heart pounds and leaps within him, because listen! Listen to the roar of God’s voice! And we get the impression from what Elihu says that a storm is approaching, even as he says these words. And so, he’s saying to his audience: Can you hear the thunder? Can you hear the rumbling? It’s from God. And look! God unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven. So, lightning is flashing across the sky. And listen to the sound of God’s roar, coming from the thunder. It’s as if his voice is speaking to us and he’s holding nothing back. God’s voice thunders in marvellous ways and he does great things beyond our understanding.
According to verse 6, God speaks to the snow and tells it to fall. He speaks to the rain and orders it to become a mighty downpour. And every person out in the field has to stop and find shelter. And in this way God makes himself known. He reveals his presence. And they can’t ignore him, because he’s the one who sends the snow and the rain and he’s the one who governs their lives and determines when they can work and when they must stop. The animals too have to take cover. Wild animals, instead of going out to hunt, stay in their dens.
According to verse 9 God sends the tempest and the driving winds make us cold. He causes ice to form and even the broad rivers become frozen. He loads the clouds with moisture and scatters his lightning. It is God who causes these things to happen. And so, it is at his direction that the storms swirl around and around over the face of the whole earth. A storm seems out of control to us, but it’s not out of control, because it’s under God’s control. And look at verse 13: he brings the clouds to punish men or to show his love by watering the earth. So, God speaks and commands the wind and the rain and the lightning and thunder. And he sends it with a purpose: to punish some by destroying their crops and to bless others by watering their crops.
So, listen to this, Job. That’s in verse 14. Stop and consider God’s wonders. And Job, do you know how God controls the clouds and makes the lightning flash? Do you know how God does it? Do you know how the clouds hang suspended in the sky? Do you know how God does it? In verse 17 he refers to Job sweltering in his clothes because of the dry, hot wind. Here’s another demonstration of God’s great power. And then he refers to skies which are like bronze. He’s referring to a sky without rain. When Job is too hot because of the dry, hot wind, he would love a cool breeze to blow and some rain to fall to cool him down. But he’s not in charge of the weather; God is.
So, what would you say to God? That’s in verse 19. What would you say to him? Job wanted to appear before God to make his case before him. But God is so great and so mighty and powerful and he’s beyond our understanding. We’re in the dark about God, because God is so great and he’s beyond our understanding.
But remember what Elihu said near the beginning of this speech? He said that God is mighty, but he does not despise men. He doesn’t treat us as playthings. And God is mighty and firm in his purpose. When he sends the wind and the rain and thunder and lightning, there’s a purpose to it. He might send these things to punish the wicked or to show his love by watering the earth. There’s a purpose to what God does in the natural world. And so, there’s a purpose to what God does in our lives. We might not understand it, just as we can’t understand how God controls the weather. But when he sends trouble and affliction in our lives, there’s a purpose to it.
And here’s the thing. Christ our Saviour gave up his life to pay for our sins and to make peace for us with God. He died to reconcile us to God. And so, because we have peace with God through faith in his Son, then we can be assured that God’s purposes for his people are good; and he does not hate us and he’s not trying to hurt us. Because Christ bore the punishment we deserve, then God will never ever punish us for our sins. And so, when he sends trouble and affliction into our lives, he has some good purpose in mind. As we learnt from chapter 33, one of his purposes in sending suffering into our lives is to keep his people from sin. And, as we learned from chapter 36, one of his purposes in sending suffering into our lives is to show us the sin in our hearts and to humble us. So, there’s always a good purpose to what God is doing in the lives of his people.
And in the final part of Elihu’s speech — verses 21 to 24 — he sees God coming. Out of the north, God comes in golden splendour. God comes in awesome majesty. The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power. And in his justice and righteousness, he does not oppress. And so, he always does what is right. And that means we should revere him and not complain about him as Job did. And here he comes to answer Job. And so, the next time, we’ll begin to study what the Lord said to Job from out of the storm.