22 “Behold, God is exalted in his power;
who is a teacher like him?
23 Who has prescribed for him his way,
or who can say, ‘You have done wrong’?
24 “Remember to extol his work,
of which men have sung.
25 All mankind has looked on it;
man beholds it from afar.
26 Behold, God is great, and we know him not;
the number of his years is unsearchable.
27 For he draws up the drops of water;
they distill his mist in rain,
28 which the skies pour down
and drop on mankind abundantly.
29 Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds,
the thunderings of his pavilion?
30 Behold, he scatters his lightning about him
and covers the roots of the sea.
31 For by these he judges peoples;
he gives food in abundance.
32 He covers his hands with the lightning
and commands it to strike the mark.
33 Its crashing declares his presence;
the cattle also declare that he rises.
1 “At this also my heart trembles
and leaps out of its place.
2 Keep listening to the thunder of his voice
and the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
3 Under the whole heaven he lets it go,
and his lightning to the corners of the earth.
4 After it his voice roars;
he thunders with his majestic voice,
and he does not restrain the lightnings when his voice is heard.
5 God thunders wondrously with his voice;
he does great things that we cannot comprehend.” – Job 36:22-37:5 ESV
Elihu now shifts the focus of his argument away from Job and onto God. He has not given up on leveling his indictment against Job, but has simply taken a new tactic. By emphasizing the transcendence of God, Elihu hopes to shame Job into submission. What right does this groveling and grumbling man have to expect an audience before the God of the universe? Elihu wants Job to understand that his incessant demands for justice from God are a waste of time and breath.
“Look, God is all-powerful.
Who is a teacher like him?
No one can tell him what to do,
or say to him, ‘You have done wrong.’” – Job 36:22-23 NLT
Elihu’s theology promoted a God who was above reproach and beyond man’s capacity to understand. How dare a mere mortal like Job shake his fist in the face of the Almighty and demand restitution and restoration. God owed Job nothing, and all of Job’s petty and self-pitying pleas were having no impact on the One who had bigger fish to fry. Instead of bombarding God with a barrage of questions and calls for an inquest, Job would be better off praising His glory and greatness.
“Instead, glorify his mighty works,
singing songs of praise.
Everyone has seen these things,
though only from a distance.” – Job 36:24-25 NLT
Not bad advice but, once again, it lacks nuance and is being used to shame Job into silence. In essence, Elihu is telling Job to stop complaining and start praising. The truth is, there may be a time when that kind of counsel is called for, but in Job’s case it seems a bit out of place and insensitive. It wasn’t wrong for Elihu to remind Job of God’s glory and to encourage an attitude of praise, but his motivation seems a bit off. Was Elihu interested in the glory of God or in using that topic to shame Job into a confession of guilt?
Everything he says is correct and in line with the Scripture’s description of God’s nature and character. He manages to paint an accurate likeness of God but everyone of his brush strokes seems to emphasize God’s majesty and transcendence. His portrait of God displays a distant and incomprehensible deity who remains aloof and detached from man. Look closely at Elihu’s use of language.
“Look, God is greater than we can understand.
His years cannot be counted.
He draws up the water vapor
and then distills it into rain.
The rain pours down from the clouds,
and everyone benefits.” – Job 36:26-28 NLT
Yes, God is mysterious and far beyond man’s capacity to understand. His ways are unfathomable and incomprehensible. This great God of the universe is busy managing the details of His vast kingdom and orchestrating everything from the weather to the annual harvests that meet the needs of all men. Elihu’s God is patterned after the pagan deities who were believed to rule over various aspects of nature and who used their domains to exact blessing and judgment on the human race. Notice how Elihu describes God as using nature to either benefit or punish mankind.
“Who can understand the spreading of the clouds
and the thunder that rolls forth from heaven?
See how he spreads the lightning around him
and how it lights up the depths of the sea.
By these mighty acts he nourishes the people,
giving them food in abundance.
He fills his hands with lightning bolts
and hurls each at its target.” – Job 36:29-32 NLT
Elihu then draws the conclusion: “The thunder announces his presence; the storm announces his indignant anger” (Job 36:33 NLT). It is no coincidence that Job some of the losses that Job had suffered were due to “acts of nature.”
Job would have remembered that fateful day when one of his servants arrived with the following news:
“The fire of God has fallen from heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.” – Job 1:16 NLT
And before Job could process this devastating information, another servant showed up with even worse news.
“Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother’s home. Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.” – Job 1:18-19 NLT
The “fire of God” and “a powerful wind” were responsible for Job’s losses and now Elihu declares, “the storm announces his indignant anger” (Job 36:33 NLT). What was Job supposed to deduce from this message? What point was Elihu attempting to make?
Elihu answers those questions when he counsels Job to “Listen carefully to the thunder of God’s voice as it rolls from his mouth” (Job 37:2 NLT). Elihu is letting Job know that God is not yet done pouring out His judgment. According to Elihu the ongoing presence of pain and suffering in Job’s life was proof of his guilt and evidence of God’s judgment.
Elihu even manages to portray himself as the godly saint who recognizes God’s greatness and responds accordingly.
“My heart pounds as I think of this.
It trembles within me.” – Job 37:1 NLT
He trembles in awe at the power of God but he is not afraid of judgment because, unlike Job, he had done nothing wrong. It is Job who needs to worry. That is why Elihu counsels him to offer praise and glory the all-powerful God so that the storm of His wrath might subside.
“God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power.” – Job 37:5 NLT
This seems to be a subtle suggestion that, unless Job confesses his guilt, things are going to increase in intensity. The judgment of God will not relent until Job repents. Elihu is attempting scare Job straight. He is using the inescapable and unfathomable power of God to threaten Job into submission and force a confession.
But nowhere do we hear Elihu speak of God’s mercy and grace. He never mentions the love of God and he never encourages Job to seek hope in the patience and forgiveness of God. Yet, God described Himself in those terms when speaking to Moses in the wilderness.
“Yahweh! The Lord!
The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.” – Exodus 34:6-7 NLT
It was King David who said of God, “O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help” (Psalm 86:5 NLT). He went on to describe God in terms that provide a much-needed balance to Elihu’s one-dimensional view. His words echo the self-disclosure of God Himself.
But you, O Lord,
are a God of compassion and mercy,
slow to get angry
and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. – Psalm 86:15 NLT
The prophet, Jonah, who had been commanded by God to “go to the great city of Nineveh” (Jonah 1:2 NLT), was reluctant to take up his commission because he didn’t want to see the Ninevites spared from God’s judgment. God had made Jonah’s commission quite clear: “Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are” (Jonah 1:2 NLT).
When Jonah finally obeyed God’s command and made his way to Nineveh, his worst fears were realized when the citizens of that wicked city repented. Disappointed that the enemies of God’s people had been spared and not destroyed, Jonah declared his dissatisfaction.
“Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. – Jonah 4:2 NLT
The whole reason Jonah tried to avoid his God-ordained mission was because he knew that Yahweh was merciful and compassionate. He understood that God was loving and quick to forgive. It was his knowledge of God that prompted him to try and disobey God because he didn’t want to see the Ninevites spared.
In a way, Elihu seems to be doing the very same thing. He avoids any mention of God’s love, mercy, and grace. He refuses to portray God as patient and compassionate. In his determination to convict and condemn Job, Elihu ends up diminishing the glory of God. He invites Job to praise a version of God that is incomplete and, therefore, inaccurate.
Elihu could have used a few pointers from the prophet, Joel. Rather than trying to scare Job into submission by emphasizing the judgment of God, Elihu should have pointed his suffering friend to the love, mercy, and grace of God.
That is why the Lord says,
“Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He is eager to relent and not punish. – Joel 2:12-13 NLT
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.