Elihu cuts to the very bone of Theodicy in Chapter 34, exposing man’s righteousness as filthy rags and exalting God for His righteousness, showing He is right in all His ways.
After Elihu makes it clear he is addressing everyone present (Job 34:2), he asks everyone present to evaluate whether Job is truly blameless. The friends appear convinced now that Job is indeed in the right, as he did not do any egregious sin that they otherwise suspected. Job has convinced them of the following:
I am righteous, (“I am righteous,” Job 9:20)
But God has taken away my right; (“Though I am guiltless, He will declare me guilty,” Job 9:21, “Know then that God has wronged me,” Job 19:6)
Should I lie concerning my right? (“Far be it from me that I should declare you right…I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go,” Job 27:5-6)
My wound is incurable, (“For the arrows of the Almighty are within me,” Job 6:4; “For I know that You will bring me to death,” Job 30:23)
Though I am without transgression (Job refers to himself as “just and blameless,” Job 12:4)
It profits a man nothing when he is pleased with God (“He mocks the despair of the innocent. The earth is given into the hand of the wicked…If it is not He, then who is it?,” Job 9:23-24; “Why do the wicked still live, continue on, also become very powerful?…[T]he rod of God is not on them,” Job 21:7, 9; Job 34:5-6, 9).
Elihu appears particularly put off by Job’s assertions of righteousness . Further, Job does not appear to understand like Asaph that serving God is its own reward. In response to this Elihu makes a very strong accusation: “What man is like Job, who drinks up derision like water, who…walks with wicked men” (Job 34:7-8)?
Many take these words and presume Elihu is making false accusations much like Job’s other friends. However, Elihu makes his accusation not based upon presumptions, but rather in response to what Job actually said: “…walks with wicked men? For he has said, ‘It profits a man nothing…’” (emphasis added, Job 34:8-9).
Unlike the friends, Elihu’s charge is not concerning some secret sin or exploitation of the poor. Instead, he asserts that Job is wrong squarely based upon what he has said in response to suffering. Therefore, Job is not being punished because he was wicked, but he now walks as the wicked by speaking wrongly about God. According to many, to impugn God is sin according to the third commandment.
After addressing all who were present, Elihu asserts that “Far be it from God to do wickedness and from the Almighty to do wrong” (Job 34:10, verse 12 reiterates the same idea). This point is seconded in many Scriptures, perhaps most explicitly Ps 145:17 and Deut 32:4. Elihu then says why this is so: “For He pays a man according to his work and makes him find it according to his way” (Job 34:11).
That God pays a man according to his work is self-evident enough in the Scripture. “There is no one righteous” (Rom 3:10), so all men would deserve condemnation. Yet, those who are faithful in Christ are made righteous as a result. So, by virtue of their faith being their righteous, God repays the faithful accordingly. No man may boast (Eph 2:9), because man left to himself justly deserves eternal suffering as punishment. If, contrary to what man deserves God is gracious and forgives, then who can compel Him not to do so? God does “whatever He pleases” (Ps 115:3).
The part about making man “find” his payment “according to his,” or the man’s, “way” refers to God rightfully punishing a man when he is wicked and blessing a man when he is righteous. Again, this is not an endorsement of God recompensing man strictly with material blessings when he acts rightly.
For a man is only righteous when God begins the work of belief in him, and so when such a man suffers but God uses it to strengthen his faith, then the suffering in of itself is turned into a blessing. Therefore, God is not unrighteous in His dealings with man, even when the faithful and thereby righteous suffer. So, in every way no matter the outward result we may be assured that God is consistent with His self-revealed nature in the Scripture when He pays a man according to his work and that same man finds that he is paid according to what he has done.
Next, Elihu turns our focus to the ultimacy of God. Being that He alone is the creator of the universe and no one has handed Him the world, He can will to do with it whatever He wants because it is His (Job 34:13). Some observers might not like this interpretation, Job being one of them (Job 9:2, 19), but the assertion here is that God wills what is right and wrong by His right by virtue that He owns existence.
God is not accountable to some outside idea of justice. He Himself created righteousness (Is 45:8, Zeph 3:5) and so whatever He wills is just. God is just even if “He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath” (Job 34:14 and as a result “all flesh would perish together” (Job 34:15). Why? because if He willed it, He is right. Not only His might makes right, but His superior wisdom and creative purpose holds within themselves a superior understanding of what righteousness is. We cannot question such a superiority from our vantage point.
Does this mean God can will evil, but because He is God what is evil is therefore right? Not at all. For all of God’s ways are righteous and kind. God will not contradict His own self-revealed nature. However, God can do things that would appear very “mean” and “unkind,” such as suffocating all flesh at once and yet we must trust that even if this were to occur His reasoning behind it would be righteous.
It is not a far stretch: mankind is sinful and therefore people deserve to be utterly crushed as punishment. But we would only know this if God revealed it to us, both in His general revelation (Rom 1:18-20) and from the Scripture. Nonetheless, there can be other situations where we suffer or confront evil and there is no cut and dry reason. We might not know the reason, but we know God does and that He will not contradict His just and kind nature.
Elihu then cuts to the very core of the matter of Theodicy: “Shall one who hates justice rule? And will you condemn the righteous mighty One” (Job 34:17)? Men are unrighteous, yet it is always they who question the righteousness of God. Shall unrighteous men, none of which that do good and whose every thought is continually towards evil, be the deciders of what is just? Should God abide by man, though man is wicked? Of course not!
Unlike man, God is not a partial judge who is swayed by status of individuals (Job 34:18-20). Because God “sees all the steps” of man, there is no hiding one’s iniquity (Job 34:21-22). It is laid bare before the One whom “searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts” (1 Chron 28:9).
God sees all and knows all so “He does not need to consider a man further” (Job 34:23). God is in His right to judge these men with impunity (Job 34:24-26), “because they turned aside from following Him and had no regard for any of His way” (Job 34:27). The reference to God making known that He has heard “the cry of the poor” (Job 34:28) does not mean that God always corrects every wrong on this Earth right this moment. But, He will right every wrong in the Last Judgment.
This might sound like eisegesis on our part, because so many interpreters think Elihu is coming from the “God always punishes the wicked and blesses the righteous” perspective of Job’s other friends. However, the next verse is very telling: “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” (Job 34:29)?
Elihu makes clear that God does not always “right every wrong” in the here and now. Some wicked nations like Nazi Germany are crushed quickly. Others live on for centuries such as Rome. Some wicked men are prevented from carrying on their evil. Other such evil men die in peace.
Why can’t we be disappointed when God keeps quiet and does not correct an injustice? For one, as we already covered, we are not just ourselves, so who are we to call God’s righteousness into question? Second, we lack an eternal perspective to truly understand God’s right purposes behind acting and supposed inaction.
It is the latter reason that Elihu refers to when he says that we cannot question God when He appears silent because God acts this way “so that godless men would not rule nor be snares of the people” (Job 34:30). Oftentimes, doing nothing (i.e. not supporting Muslim insurgents against the USSR) is bad for a time but prevents worse things later (i.e. September 11th terrorist attacks, invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of deaths, etcetera).
This may also be a reference to how God preserves His people throughout history, using persecutions and such to strengthen the Church. As Tertullian observed, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Apologeticus, Chapter 50).
So, how does this all connect? Godless men will be the only rulers in the Earth if it were not for God’s redemptive work in the Church. Being that suffering is ordained for God’s people, God will sometimes be quiet in overtly executing justice when it serves the purposes of ultimately strengthening the Church. As many in the Western Church today can observe, easy times often lead to spiritual atrophy.
After making these points as to why God is righteous and how even His supposed inaction is part of how He works all things for good, Elihu charges Job with sin. “Job ought to be tried to the limit, because he answers like wicked men,” (Job 34:36) he asserts. Job’s attacks on God’s righteousness are clearly wrong. And so Job “adds rebellion to his sin” (Job 34:37). Though Job did not have to specifically repent of any particular sinfulness later in the book, he will have to confess that he was wrong in impugning God’s justice.