In chapter 35 on Job, Elihu informs Job how a totally depraved man is not fit to question God’s righteousness.
This chapter and the next essentially elaborate upon two themes of Elihu’s chapter 34: man’s inadequacy in questioning God’s justice (chapter 35) and God’s indisputably just nature (chapter 36).
Elihu at first continues his barrage against Job, showing that he spoke wrongly. First, he asks Job whether a righteous man would say such a thing like, “My righteousness is more than God’s” (Job 35:2)? Some commentators take issue with Job never saying such a thing word-for-word. However, Job himself spoke wickedly when he said something similar: “How then can I answer Him…? For though I were right, I could not answer” (Job 9:14-15). Further, “Know then that God has wronged me” (emphasis added, Job 19:6).
Reiterating what he said in Job 34:9, he accuses Job of essentially saying, “What profit will I have, more than if I had sinned” (Job 35:3)? Job essentially asked this same question earlier: “I am accounted wicked. Why then should I toil in vain” (Job 9:29)?
Elihu then tells Job and his friends that he has an answer for this (Job 35:4): God’s bigger than us (Job 35:5). What exactly is Elihu getting at?
For one, God is not affected by finite creatures. If we sin, we do not damage Him where He is compelled to punish us in revenge (Job 35:6). Our righteousness adds nothing to God either (Job 35:7), for “[e]very good thing…is from above,” says James (James 1:17). What then compels God to bless us if we do anything good, other than His good pleasure? As David observed when praying for an offering to God, “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You” (emphasis added, 1 Chron 29:14).
God is sufficient in Himself. He does not need us, nor is He hurt by our sin or benefits from our righteousness. How can He benefit from a righteousness that, though exercised by us, is ultimately given to us as a gift from Him? Elihu is essentially saying we have no grounds to expect anything from God nor should we be arrogant enough to think that God punishes sin because the universe revolves around us. God essentially makes this point in Job 41:11, which we will cover in detail later.
It is natural for man to have an anthropocentric view of the universe. Elihu observes this in the cries of the oppressed (Job 35:9). “God will not listen to an empty cry” (Job 35:13), warns Elihu. Why does God not listen to their empty cries to Him? James observes, “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” (James 4:2-3).
Those who cry out against God questioning His justice, even when oppressed, will not receive an answer because of their “pride” (Job 35:12). This pride is the anthropocentric, or even worse, egocentric view of the universe when it in reality revolves around God.
Elihu points out that they cry out against God instead of realizing that God brings us joy (“songs in the night,” Job 35:10, see Is 30:29) and teaches us in a way fitting to those made in the image of God (Job 35:11). Men should be thanking God for the good He does for us. As Paul says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Phil 4:8). However, when we suffer we commonly dwell only on how we are being wronged and in our self-pity some of us question God. This is wickedness and it must be cast out of our minds!
Elihu then connects this all back to Job: “How much less [will God regard you] when you say you do not behold Him,” (Job 35:14). Job essentially made this comment earlier in chapter nine when he said, “Were He to pass by me, I would not see Him” (Job 9:11). “What do you mean, you would not see him?!?,” Elihu seems to be saying. “Just because God does not work the way you expect him to, even if He were right in front of you, shouldn’t you acknowledge it?” Elihu’s response is to simply be patient and “wait for Him” on His terms, not ours (Job 35:14).
Job speaks wrongly when he asserts that God has wronged him so much that he would not even recognize the God he thought he knew. Elihu believes such an attitude is a “transgression” that God has not “acknowledged” by punishing Job for it specifically (i.e. “visited in His anger,” Job 35:!5).
This astute statement reveals two things about Elihu’s critique of Job. Clearly, unlike Job’s other friends, he does not view Job’s suffering as divine punishment. If he did, then why would he make the statement that God had not visited Job in His anger or acknowledge Job’s transgression? Clearly if God did, Job’s suffering was thereby brought upon him as a punishment. Second, this shows that Elihu’s critique is only against the verbal excesses of Job’s statements against God and we may not infer that Elihu is like the friends in their critiques. “So Job opens his mouth emptily; He multiplies words without knowledge,” says Elihu in Job 35:16.
Indeed, man by nature is not in the position to question God. When we suffer, it may indeed feel that the foundation of the world has been rocked. We feel as if there is something wrong in the universe. However, we must not let this feeling dictate how we feel about God’s role in all of this. Many will say, “My god would not allow such a thing. I refuse to worship a god that would allow such evil.”
Do not be foolish and refuse to recognize God as God. Even a righteous man like Job can fall prey to the feeling of such. But remember, the hedge that protected Job from Satan has been almost entirely removed. Job is extremely tempted to abandon God. But God is gracious and sustains him, not punishing Job for such charges against Himself, even when he opens his mouth emptily.