In chapter 36 of the Book of Job, Elihu begins his final defense of God, pertaining to His unquestionable righteousness.
After asking God for revelation to help him speak more of His greatness (Job 36:2-4), Elihu then moves to specifically defend how God in His nature is just.
“Behold, God is mighty but does not despise any…” (Job 36:5).
Indeed, God does not take “pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather” desires “that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek 33:11). God is not a sadist. He does not make men evil. “God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices” (Ecc 7:29).
He hardens whom he chooses to harden, but as a penalty for the wickedness already in that man. Left to himself he did not seek God and continually was inclined towards evil. So, unlike man who is continually evil and works towards the hurt of all, God does not exercise evil against a man though He is mighty. Even when God rescinds His hedge and Satan tempts man to do evil, it is a just punishment for the sin the man continually commits.
“He is mighty in strength of understanding” (Job 36:5).
He is so much beyond us in His manifold wisdom. The Scripture says: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:8-9).
Further: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways” (Rom 11:33)!
Elihu then asserts that with an eternal perspective, we can see how He treats people rightly: “He does not keep the wicked alive, but gives justice to the afflicted. He does not withdraw His eyes from the righteous, but with kings on the throne He has seated them forever, and they are exalted” (Job 36:6-7). The wicked do not get to live eternally, while those that are righteous in Christ will be seated in heaven forever and will be kings. They are kings in the capacity that they will take part in judging the world (1 Cor 6:2) and will cast their crowns in front of the Almighty (Rev 4:10).
Some believe that Elihu asserts that God is punishing Job for his sin is in Job 36:8-10:
And if they are bound in fetters, (See Job 13:27.)
And are caught in the cords of affliction,
Then He declares to them their work (By causing them suffering, Job 33:19)
And their transgressions, that they have magnified themselves. (The sin is rooted in pride.)
He opens their ear to instruction, (See Job 33:16.)
And commands that they return from evil. (See Job 33:17.)
The reference to being bound in fetters, instead of “stocks” as used in 13:27, makes it appear he is referencing Job. The parallels with Job 33 then would make it appear to some interpreters that the example given here connects Job 33 with the same idea. However, Elihu does not beat around the bush. If the accusation were specifically about Job, instead of more generalized reflection upon how God often uses calamity to bring man to repentance, he would make that clear.
After making clear that repentance brings about reconciliation with God and the opposite brings upon death (Job 36:11-12), Elihu warns Job to not act like the godless in his complaints using some strong wording. “[T]he godless in heart lay up anger, they do not cry for help when He binds them…and their life perishes among the cult prostitutes” says Elihu in Job 36:13-14. This is not entirely true of Job, who said, “Though He slay me I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).
However, we do have reason to believe that Elihu is reacting specifically to Job’s rhetorical excesses, being that a reference to male prostitution is rather extreme. Further, only two verses later does Elihu begin making a connection between what he said before and Job specifically.
He enticed you from the mouth of distress,
Instead of it, a broad place with no constraint (Job 36:16, NASB)
The above translation obscures what Elihu is getting at. A literal translation from the Hebrew manuscript (Job is also available in Greek and the Latin vulgate) conveys the point much more simply:
And also He moved thee from a strait place, [To] a broad place — no straitness under it, And the sitting beyond of thy table Hath been full of fatness (Job 36:16, YLT).
The point is that God took Job from humble origins (we already covered how he likely had orphans as brethren in Job 31:18) and raised him up. Job was gvien the opportunity to live the easy life, with health and wealth. This is what the reference from a “strait” place, or a narrow difficult place to navigate, to a broad and easy place is conveying.
It is not clear why God raised up Job, but perhaps because he repented of sin and sought God continually. Job’s righteousness from the days of his youth (Job 31) appear to reflect a faithful life. However, like many Christians today, Job was judgemental. Even if he did so without a hint of arrogance, he judged those who were sinful (such as the ones he “disdained to put with the dogs of my flock,” Job 30:1). Further, this judgemental attitude was probably exacerbated by the fact that he was vocationally a judge at the gates of the city (Job 29:7, 16).
In the words of Elihu, “But you were full of judgment on the wicked. Judgment and justice take hold of you. Beware that wrath does not entice you to scoffing and do not let the greatness of the ransom turn you aside. Will your riches keep you from distress or all the forces of your strength” (Job 36:17-19)?
As Job judged the wicked when they were wrong (he broke their jaws according to Job 29:17), now Job is called to task specifically for his response to suffering. Job’s wrath against the wicked can easily lead to self-righteousness and scoffing as Elihu points out. Further, God’s blessings can easily become something that Job feels entitled to. Lastly, the faith in His Ransom, Jesus Christ, can easily be perverted into something that takes God’s grace for granted (“shall we sin so that grace may abound,” Rom 6:1).
Perhaps none of these feelings of superiority or entitlement existed before Job suffered from Satan’s temptations. In fact, this is the interpretation we favor here, because Job was blameless according to Chapter 1. However, ever since God permitted Satan to entice Job to sin by subjecting him to suffering, in some ways Job did speak wrongly. However, he did not curse God. Job needs to be condemned, as God is about to do, but Job’s foot slips no worse than any other man subjected to the same sort of circumstances.
Elihu does not feel that Job is incessantly wicked, which is revealed in his final admonition.
“Do not long for the night,” says Elihu in Job 36:20, aware that Job wished to never be born and have the comfort of nothingness in Sheol. “Be careful, do not turn to evil, for you have preferred this to affliction” (Job 36:21). Because Job is faithful, he has not yet succumbed to evil nor curse God in his heart. He hopes in God. Yet, Job has thus far preferred impugning God’s character, which in of itself is evil, than to sustain affliction and praise God for it. As Elihu says, “Remember that you should exalt His work of which men have sung” (Job 36:24). Being that all men have seen God’s work, they are without excuse if they do not ascribe glory to their Maker (Job 36:25).
Granted, the most difficult thing for man in the entire universe is to be grateful for suffering. Perhaps no man is history, other than Christ, has been tried more than Job. But even Job is brought to his knees when the greatness of God and the knowledge of how He sustains all things is made clear to him.
Elihu begins the process of unveiling God’s greatness, which leads right into God’s speech in chapter 38. For one, no one is as great as God or has the capacity to teach like Him (Job 36:22). If none can teach like God, it stands to reason that God can teach us through suffering, working all things for good. “Who has appointed Him His way and who has said, ‘You have done wrong’?,” says Elihu (Job 36:23). No one. God as the ultimate authority to teach, because He is beyond man. How can man question His methods?
On what basis is God ultimate so that He is unquestionable? This can be known by reflecting upon God’s creative power that belongs only to Him. Being that man was not at creation, they cannot understand Him in His fullness (Job 36:26). Elihu then illustrates examples of this that would have been familiar to Job: God makes the rain using evaporation (Job 36:27-8, see Job 26:8), spreads clouds over the heavens (Job 36:29, see also Job 26:9), creates lightning (Job 39:29-30, perhaps related to Job 26:11), and keeps the sea where it belongs (Job 36:30, see Job 26:10, 12).
The last five verses of the chapter, starting with verse 29, all revolve around lightning. Elihu seems to have a very good reason for this, which we can extrapolate from verse 31: “For by these [the lightning] He judges peoples; He gives food in abundance.” The lightning connotes power, in which he judges angels (Job 26:11) and people.
Anyone who remembers hearing lightning for the first time remembers that feeling of that there had to be something bigger and stronger “out there somewhere.” It is in this way that lightning announces God’s presence (Job 36:33). “To the shame of man” cattle sometimes are more in tune with God’s presence as revealed in the weather than even man, points out Matthew Henry. Indeed, apart from His revelation, we are aware of Him to some degree but “do not know Him” (Job 36:26).
Though lightning is frightening and awe inspiring, it is not chaotic and erratic. God creates it and commands it, making it “strike the mark” He intends for it (Job 36:32). Yet, this terrifying lighting is something most of us would rather live without, especially in pre-industrialized times. Lighting meant work, which was mostly outside, ceased. It would seem like a counter-productive means to “give food in abundance.” Surely, God’s ways are not our ways, they are much higher than ours! God chooses what we would never choose and yet He is right! Without rain, and the lightning that comes with it, there are no crops.
Further, the lighting “judges peoples” may be a reference to God’s slaying of Leviathan and the “children of wrath” that belong to him. Another possible interpretation is that it reminds us that no matter how lofty a man or creature views itself, it can be shattered by lightning. It is a great equalizer, like death.