In this lesson, we show how Elihu introduces God’s speech in which the Lord shows how we are not only too insignificant, but too ignorant of His purposes to question His righteousness.
In chapter 36, Elihu gives us his explanation as to how God worked all things for good, even for Job.
Before speaking specifically about Job, Elihu recapitulates what he said previously about God’s reasons for using suffering 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.)
Here, he appears to be talking about other, more Godless men: “[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.
How about Job specifically?
Let’s read Job 36:16-21–
16 Then indeed, He enticed you from the mouth of distress,
Instead of it, a broad place with no constraint;
And that which was set on your table was full of fatness.
First, now that Elihu says “Then indeed He enticed you” shows that the preceding was not necessarily about Job but the proceeding is!
Second, This is tough because the NASB has bungled the verse badly. A literal translation from the Hebrew 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).
God has taken Job from a “strait” place, or a narrow difficult place to navigate, to a broad and easy place. 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 given the opportunity to live the easy life, with health and wealth.
17 “But you were full of judgment on the wicked;
Judgment and justice take hold of you.
Job was a judge and he rightly judged the wicked. Was he too judgmental? Maybe yes and maybe no. He did not have kind words for those vagrants he would not trust with his dogs. But the point is just as he judged men for their faults, God is in the right to judge totally depraved Job and he should not complain but rather continually plead for mercy.
It sometimes makes me wonder, if I died right now and appeared before God, would I be happy? I don’t know if this is good or bad, but I would be fearful. Behold, I am a man of unclean lips from a race of men who all have unclean lips, woe is me, have mercy on me for Your Name’s sake! I do not have righteousness to plead, even if my life is relatively righteous, I know I am deserving of punishment every single day.
18 “Beware that wrath does not entice you to scoffing;
And do not let the greatness of the ransom turn you aside.
Raise of hands, how many of you let the greatness of the ransom sometimes turn you aside? I do! Everytime I have a proud thought, every time I lie (which might be once or twice a year), every time I am not the husband or son, employee or brother I should be. We often say, “God forgives me. Thanks be to God for the blood of His precious Son he forgives me.” There is a real danger that we take this so for granted, that our sinfulness does not pain us any more.
Now imagine blameless Job judging a bunch of wicked men! How many of you would perhaps not scoff, but thank God like the Pharisee you are not like that tax collector? How many of you might not feel pride, but start taking the ransom for granted? How often do we forget that our salvation is something we work out with fear and trembling. Fear and trembling! We should be trembling just like the guilty trembled before Job when he judged, because we are just as guilty!
I remember when I was first saved I felt this way. I feel this way right now, but boy, for how long in between did I not…
19 “Will your riches keep you from distress,
Or all the forces of your strength?
God has blessed all of us with riches compared to most people for all time. Is it a sin that we have taken comfort in our wealth? No. Can such comfort lead to sin? Yes! The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Wealth is not evil, but loving money can be a root of it.
God ripped that poisonous weed out of Job’s life. He destroyed his wealth, his family, his health because make no mistake. Our hearts are idol making factories. Even righteous Job, left to himself, can make an idol out of these things.
My interpretation is that God took them away before these things became a snare, just like John Piper’s golf example.
20 “Do not long for the night,
When people vanish in their place. ( Simply, do not long for death, long for God.)
21 “Be careful, do not turn to evil,
For you have preferred this to affliction. (Do not impugn God’s motives, it is better to suffer pain and just trust God then to question Him.)
Unlike the friends, Elihu just gave us a valid defense of God’s inscrutability and how it relates to man’s total depravity (man is morally and intellectually incapable of questioning God); and he gives us a satisfying answer as to why we suffer and why Job suffered (to keep us from sin or lead us into repentance).
In doing so, he corrected both Job’s friends for their misuse of correct doctrines and Job for impugning God’s justice wrongly. Elihu’s advice? In your suffering look to your Ransom, do not let His greatness turn you aside. Be grateful every single day, every single moment, for every breath is not your own and no man can stand before God apart from His mediating work.
Now, we move onto Chapter 37.
Generally, I believe that Chapter 37 serves as an introduction to God’s speech. It ascribes to God as working all-in-all in the weather, which is where God starts His speech. A few things merit some additional attention.
Throughout this chapter, Elihu sticks with the imagery of lightning. For example, “God thunders with His voice wondrously, doing great things which we cannot comprehend” (Job 37:5). What he discusses therein would not be anything that would rock Job’s world, because it is in many ways very similar to what he asserted in chapter 26:7, 10-14.
“He stretches out the north over empty space
And hangs the earth on nothing…
10 “He has inscribed a circle on the surface of the waters
At the boundary of light and darkness.
11 “The pillars of heaven tremble
And are amazed at His rebuke.
12 “He quieted the sea with His power,
And by His understanding He shattered Rahab.
13 “By His breath the heavens are [j]cleared;
His hand has pierced the fleeing serpent.
14 “Behold, these are the fringes of His ways;
And how faint a word we hear of Him!
But His mighty thunder, who can understand?”
It appears that Elihu, like Job, invoke thunder when they hit the limits of human knowledge. “Shall it be told Him that I would speak? Or should a man say that he would be swallowed up” (Job 37:20)? This sets the stage for direct revelation from God.
In the Scripture, God’s voice many times is described as sounding like thunder (Ex 19:19, Ex 20:18, Job 40:9, and Ps 18:13). This is not because God literally speaks the language of thunder or something, but just as light obscures a clear view of God due to His greatness (Ex 33:18-23 and Ex 34:17), unimaginable thundering obscures the voice of the divine because when He speaks it is ineffable.
With God’s thundering voice comes creative power He so wills and says it, and it is so (Gen 1:3). And so, God works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11), because “[t]he counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation” (Ps 33:11). This includes the weather (Job 37:6), the actions of men who tout the lie of their autonomy (Job 37:7), and the beasts who appear to be operated purely by instinct (Job 37:8). Hence, God controls everything.
Men react to the weather God has ordained using their reason, and so unlike the beasts do not react instinctually (perhaps rushing to the supermarket and grabbing as much break, milks, and eggs left aside). However, God has put a “seal” on “the hand of every man” (Job 37:7).
The hand of the man connotes his power to exercise his will (Gen 9:2, Deut 20:13, John 3:35). So, the seal on every man’s hand shows that God has inhibited man in some way. In modern vernacular we may say that a man’s “hands are tied” or he cannot “operate with a free hand.” The man indeed has a will of his own, but he is not autonomous.
Even with the weather, the man makes a decision but it is predicated upon conditions God totally controls and is sovereign over, which by extension, makes Him sovereign over the man as well. A man “with his hands tied” may desire to make a different decision, but due to the circumstances, finds himself unable. This is not a foreign concept to us.
To quote an unpopular source in Reformed circles: “For the God of all must be held to work in all, so as to incite, protect, and strengthen, but not to take away the freedom of the will which He Himself has once given…God works all things in us and yet everything can be ascribed to free will, [and this] cannot be fully grasped by the mind and reason of man” (John Cassian, Conference 13, Chapter 18).
As it pertains to a Reformed understanding to how we are saved by God’s grace, man can react to grace and respond freely to it, but he cannot control it. The Scripture is abundantly clear that within the will of man, apart from grace, is a desire not to do good (Rom 3:10) and never to seek God (Rom 3:11).
This is why Christ teaches, “[U]nless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In response Christ is asked whether man can bring about this process by his own power by climbing back into his mother’s womb (John 3:4). To this Jesus gives a rather lengthy response:
[U]nless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:5-8).
The Spirit goes where He wishes, which means it is a matter of God’s prerogative, not man’s. For a natural man cannot accept things pertaining to the Spirit for nothing good dwells in the flesh (1 Cor 2:14, Rom 7:18). Without the Spirit a man cannot confess Christ is Lord (1 Cor 12:3) and cannot be born again.
A man therefore is always saved by the divine initiative of God, who gives man the Holy Spirit to tug on his heart. By doing this and hedging Satan, God can cause a man to accept Christ according to his free will, when apart from God’s grace he would never seek God nor be righteous in faith. In this way, God is totally responsible and sovereign over the salvation of the man, having so sealed his hand, but not chopping his hand off.
This is why the Scripture says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord, He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov 21:1). Indeed God can turn the heart of man however He wants, but He does not rip the heart of man (here meaning a man’s “free will”) out and turn man into a robot.
Why is a man’s hand sealed by God? So ”that all men may know His work” (Job 37:7). Man feels like an awfully big deal until some sort of weather event forces him to stay home, or start running for the hills! Awareness of our own limitations, like our inability to fulfill the Law, show us our God, point us to Him, and make clear our complete and utter reliance upon Him. Indeed, the fringes of God’s way as revealed in thunder are deeper than the depths of the oceans!
The reason God controls the weather the way He does reflects why He acts in all situations: “Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen” (Job 37:13). So, sometimes the weather or whatever else is ordained to correct man. Other times, God causes things to happen the way they do to show His love. Further, God oftentimes does things “for His world,” which we take to mean as His general will to sustain His creation.
The remainder of the chapter, Elihu is graced by God with the opportunity to announce His coming on the scene to definitively settle the matter of Theodicy.
Now men do not see the light which is bright in the skies;
But the wind has passed and cleared them.
22 “Out of the north comes golden splendor;
Around God is awesome majesty (Job 37:21-22).
God comes from the north appearing “golden” (Job 37:22), because His face has the appearance of lightning (Dan 10:6). This connotes His power and justifies the use of the name El Shaddai, God Almighty.
The Almighty—we cannot find Him (We cannot find him for we cannot know the unknowable nor do we desire to seek Him apart from His grace.)
He is exalted in power (Unlike us, there is nothing in us to exalt.)
And He will not do violence to justice and abundant righteousness (For all His ways are right and kind, He does no wrong, because He created righteousness; Job 37:23).
Therefore men fear Him, [because] He does not regard any who are wise of heart, warns Elihu in Job 37:24.
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind [the wind that blew away the clouds in the north] and said,
2 “Who is this that darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
3 “Now gird up your loins like a man,
And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!
In order to teach Job humility and convey man’s insignificant role in the universe when compared to God’s, He asks Job what role man had in making the foundations of the world (Job 38:4-7) and slaying Leviathan (Job 38:8-11). The significance of this is that man cannot question God’s creative purposes, because he was not there.
Further, man does nothing to sustain the universe, which God does by controlling the daylight (Job 38:12-15), the Earth’s waters (Job 38:16-18), the seasons and weather (Job 38:19-38), and the animal kingdom (Job 38:39-41, Job 39).
In response to seeing his insignificance, Job says, “Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You” (Job 40:4)? As we will see later, merely being insignificant compared to God does not make us unable to question God’s purposes. Instead, when we fully understand how God works His righteousness and goodness in both sustaining creation and regulating evil (Job 40-41), we realize that He is totally in the right and knows what He is doing.
So, GOd’s two replies dwell upon man’s insignificance (Job 38-39) and that God can do all things (Job 40-41).
Let’s bring out a few things in more detail from chapter 38:
When God says, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth” (Job 38:4) we do not want to gloss over the detail that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). Where was Job when God, in His counsel, predestined those who would be saved from their own sin? God’s justice, goodness, and love started BEFORE the beginning! Yet, we who are unjust question the one who is eternally so.
Pardon my allegorizing of the following:
When the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8 “Or who enclosed the sea with doors
When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb;
9 When I made a cloud its garment
And thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 And I [b]placed boundaries on it
And set a bolt and doors,
11 And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther;
And here shall your proud waves stop’ (Job 38:7-11)?
If you simply interpret the preceding to be, “Job were you there when I separated the waters,” you do fine. However, here is another interpretation:
The “morning stars” are angels whose rejoicing was cut short by a rebellion in heaven by the “star of the morning” who we know as Lucifer (Is 14:12). In response, God “enclosed the sea” of chaos as personified in the dragon Leviathan with doors (Job 38:8). God’s mastery of this evil force is profound (Job 38:11). He made for this evil force a “garment” of a cloud and a “swaddling band” of darkness (Job 38:9). This points to the separating of the waters, and light from darkness, in Gen 1.
The gentle choice of wording shows that God is working His purposes lovingly, yet it shows His exerting of control. The swaddling band restricts Leviathan’s movement. He can only meet the boundaries that God permits for him (Job 38:10). God therefore controls the forces of evil for good and with a spirit of love.
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness (38:17)?
The reference to the “gates of death” (Job 38:17) is the finishing touch of God’s mastery over Satan. Evil will be thrown into an eternal lake of fire. In the meantime, Satan is hedged in by “gates.” This is why the Scripture says, “[U]pon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt 16:18). How could what is enclosed by God overpower whom God has set His love upon? Job is questioning the One who will totally defeat wickedness and has mastered the evil one since the beginning. Job has not seen “the gates” and thereby does not appreciate that God regulates evil.
In reference to the seasons, a discussion that begins in verse 19, God says:
Where is the way that the light is divided,
Or the east wind scattered on the earth (38:24)?
What does this discussion about light mean? Why is it in the middle of a discussion on the seasons? We know now that the seasons are dictated by the tilt of the Earth, affecting the directness of sunlight going through the atmosphere. The more direct the sunlight is, the warmer it is. The less direct, the colder it is. Scientists would not figure this out until the 1600s, yet we have an accurate description of it in the Scripture.
There are also references to God caring for lands not inhabited by man (i.e. Job 38:26-27) and the animals (Job 38:39-41). The significance of these is that God’s cares for all of creation. We may infer that the creation is not anthropocentric, man-centered, because man is just another cog in the whole system. God is taking care of it all.
“Can you hunt the prey for the lion, Or satisfy the appetite of the young lions” (Job 38:39). What is evil for the prey is good for the one who survives off of it. Just as those destined for destruction are made for a purpose, the day of evil, so that those destined for glory may benefit from seeing God’s forbearance and grace. God seems to be saying here that His goodness is something more than that meets the eye in the immediate situation. God can ordain wickedness, i.e. being prey, but actually be bringing good out of evil, as Augustine said.
In closing, why is it important for us to get a little more out of Chapter 38 that, “God’s all big and stuff, He can do all sorts of big stuff you can’t do?” The answer to this can be found if we answer how the response of God differs from Job in chapter 26, but agrees with Elihu in chapter 37.
In chapter 26, Job simply wowed Bildad with his knowledge of nature. However, in Job 37:13 weather exists for “correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness.” So, Elihu and God are saying something more than God is simply bigger than you. They are actually making references to divine purposes being worked out in the ordering of creation. When we can see the divine, holy, righteous, and good purposes for the evils that befall us, we can take confidence and consider our trials pure joy because the testing of our faith produces endurance and all of our suffering is under our heavenly Father’s control.