The Greatest Gift of All

1 Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. – Job 42:1-9 ESV

Job had been in search of answers from God but, instead, he had ended up discovering God himself. His quest for justice, vindication, and explanations for his suffering had forced him the seek God and, in the end, what he found eclipsed his any of his expectations. Job’s unexpected and unwanted sufferings actually brought him closer to God. Ever since his trials had begun, Job had been in a constant search for relief and redemption, and while he received those things in full, they where nothing when compared to his restored relationship with God.

Job has suffered much at the hands of Satan, but also as a result of the critical words of his friends. But as the book comes to an end, God has stepped into the scene and administered a profound theological lesson that has left Job virtually speechless. The only words that come out of his mouth are statements of praise and contrition.

“I know that you can do anything,
    and no one can stop you.” – Job 42:2 NLT

I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
    things far too wonderful for me. – Job 42:3 NLT

I take back everything I said,
    and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” – Job 42:6 NLT

Job’s encounter with God left him a changed man, and while the restoration of his health and wealth would have an impact on his life, it was the change within his heart that produced the greatest transformation. Job confessed that his relationship with God had been dramatically altered because his understanding of the Almighty had been greatly expanded. His suffering and subsequent face-off with God had opened his eyes to things he had never considered before. His knowledge of God had moved from the head to the heart. Rather than having to rely on purely theoretical concepts, Job had moved to an experiential understanding of God.

“I had only heard about you before,
    but now I have seen you with my own eyes. – Job 42:5 NLT

God had become real and relatable. He was no longer distant and disconnected from Job’s daily life, but was an up-close and personal God who had chosen to meet with Job face to face.

has spoken and condemned Eliphaz and his friends as having spoken our of turn. In fact, God tells them, ” you have not been right in what you said about me” (Job 42:7 NLT). He commands them to offer burnt offerings for their sin and to have Job pray for them. If they don’t, God would be forced to deal with them according to their folly.

After 42 chapters of dialogue, the most important part of the story of Job seems to be the lessons he learns about his God. Up until this point, Job’s understanding of God was based on what he had heard about God. His was an academic, intellectual understanding of God, and it showed up in his diatribes against God. But now he realized that he was wrong. He had spoken out of turn and out of ignorance. But now, Job’s view of God had changed because he had experienced and heard from Him.

And isn’t that what God is always trying to do – reveal Himself to men? He wants us to know Him, not just know about Him. He wants us to experience Him – in all His power, mercy, grace, and love. That is why He sent His Son – as a living revelation of God on earth in the form of a man. In Jesus, we see the character of God come alive. He gave us an up-close and personal glimpse of God.

For in Christ the fullness of God lives in a human body. – Colossians 2:9 NLT

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ. –  Colossians 1:19 NLT

It was the apostle Peter who encouraged followers of Christ to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 NLT). Yet, for too many of us, our knowledge of God is what we have heard, read, or assumed. Our understanding of God is limited to what we have been taught or told. It lacks the personal, experiential touch.

Our God ends up being distant and, at times, a little difficult to know. But God wants us to know Him. He wants us to see and experience Him in our everyday lives. He challenges us get to know Him better.

“Stop your striving and recognize that I am God!” – Psalm 46:10 NET

In Hebrew, that word “recognize” means “to know, realize, see, find out, discern, or to know by experience.” God wants us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He truly is who He says He is. He wants us to know by experience that He is God.

It is in the daily experiences of life that God wants to reveal Himself, including our trials and difficulties. He wants to display His glory and goodness in those impossible situations that come our way; in our relationships, finances, health, homes, workplaces, and those moments of doubt and fear.

Job didn’t come to know God because God blessed him. The restoration of Job’s health and wealth were not the impetus for his improved understanding of God; it was he because actually heard from God. God spoke to Job and the truth about Himself. He gave Job a glimpse of His power and majesty by comparing Himself to His own creation.

The interesting thing is, He never gave Job an explanation for what had happened. He never defended Himself to Job because He didn’t have to. He was God. He simply reminded Job who it was he was complaining to. He reminded Job of His power and sovereign will. God didn’t owe Job an explanation. He also didn’t owe Job reparations or compensation of any kind. But Job learned that he owed God reverence and respect.

With Job on his knees in repentance, God turns attention to Eliphaz and his friends, and He shows them no mercy.

“I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has. – Job 42:7 NLT

What happens next appears to be a test of the validity of Job’s heart transformation. God commands Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to offer an atoning sacrifice for having misrepresented themselves as His spokesmen and for having misspoken about His character. They had neither heard from God or fully understood the nature of God but they had not let that stop them from speaking on behalf of God. So, God required them to make atonement for their sins, and then he commanded Job to pray for them.

My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer on your behalf. I will not treat you as you deserve, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has.” – Job 42:8 NLT

One can only imagine how difficult this assignment would have been for Job. These three men had caused him untold amounts of grief and suffering. They had berated and belittled him. They had falsely accused him. And now, God was asking Job to act as their intercessor. If Job would pray for them, God would withhold His judgment of them. That means that Job held their lives in his hands. He could have refused to petition the Lord on their behalf. In his anger and resentment, He could have chosen to get even and give them over the God’s judgment. But he didn’t. His heart had been changed and his desire to please God was greater than his need for vengeance or vindictiveness.

We know Job prayed because the text tells us “the Lord accepted Job’s prayer” (Job 42:9 NLT). The sacrifices were made, Job’s supplication was offered up to God, and Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were forgiven.

Four separate times in these verses, God refers to Job as his servant. He wants Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to understand that their estimation and subsequent condemnation of Job had been totally wrong. They had declared Job to be wicked and immoral. They had accused him of committing acts of injustice and unrighteousness. And yet, God repeatedly refers to him as “my servant Job” (Job 42:7, 8). Job’s sufferings had not been a sign of sin. His losses had not been evidence of wrongdoing. Throughout it all, Job had remained a servant of God. He was a suffering saint who endured tremendous pain and loss in this life but whose relationship with God had remained unchanged.

In the 11th chapter of Hebrews, the author chronicles the lives of Old Testament saints who, like Job, exhibited faith in the midst of sorrow and loss. These men and women were willing to endure great pain while still holding onto to their belief in the goodness and greatness of God.

others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us. – Hebrews 11:35-40 NLT

Job’s reputation was restored. His integrity and good name were vindicated. But God was not done. In a demonstration of divine mercy and grace, God will prove Job’s innocence by putting everything back to the way it was before Satan entered the scene. God will graciously and abundantly bless His servant Job and allow him to once again experience the joys of his former life. But the greatest gift Job received was his restored relationship with God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

God Can’t Always Be Understood, But He Can Always Be Trusted

1 “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
    Do you observe the calving of the does?
Can you number the months that they fulfill,
    and do you know the time when they give birth,
when they crouch, bring forth their offspring,
    and are delivered of their young?
Their young ones become strong; they grow up in the open;
    they go out and do not return to them.

“Who has let the wild donkey go free?
    Who has loosed the bonds of the swift donkey,
to whom I have given the arid plain for his home
    and the salt land for his dwelling place?
He scorns the tumult of the city;
    he hears not the shouts of the driver.
He ranges the mountains as his pasture,
    and he searches after every green thing.

“Is the wild ox willing to serve you?
    Will he spend the night at your manger?
10 Can you bind him in the furrow with ropes,
    or will he harrow the valleys after you?
11 Will you depend on him because his strength is great,
    and will you leave to him your labor?
12 Do you have faith in him that he will return your grain
    and gather it to your threshing floor?

13 “The wings of the ostrich wave proudly,
    but are they the pinions and plumage of love?
14 For she leaves her eggs to the earth
    and lets them be warmed on the ground,
15 forgetting that a foot may crush them
    and that the wild beast may trample them.
16 She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers;
    though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear,
17 because God has made her forget wisdom
    and given her no share in understanding.
18 When she rouses herself to flee,
    she laughs at the horse and his rider.

19 “Do you give the horse his might?
    Do you clothe his neck with a mane?
20 Do you make him leap like the locust?
    His majestic snorting is terrifying.
21 He paws in the valley and exults in his strength;
    he goes out to meet the weapons.
22 He laughs at fear and is not dismayed;
    he does not turn back from the sword.
23 Upon him rattle the quiver,
    the flashing spear, and the javelin.
24 With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground;
    he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet.
25 When the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’
    He smells the battle from afar,
    the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.

26 “Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars
    and spreads his wings toward the south?
27 Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
    and makes his nest on high?
28 On the rock he dwells and makes his home,
    on the rocky crag and stronghold.
29 From there he spies out the prey;
    his eyes behold it from far away.
30 His young ones suck up blood,
    and where the slain are, there is he.” – Job 39:1-30 ESV

In His continuing lecture of Job, God points out that there are things that take place in nature of which humanity is totally oblivious and ignorant. These everyday occurrences escape man’s notice and happen without his knowledge or consent. For instance, the beasts of the field give birth to their young at prescribed times and in places hidden from Job’s view. But God observes and even oversees it all. The point seems to be that there are many things in life of which Job is uninformed and, frankly, disinterested. Job doesn’t have questions about those kinds of things because he doesn’t consider them pertinent or important.

God points out the “freedom” of the wild donkey. These free-range undomesticated animals roamed the wilderness with no need of supervision or sustenance provided by humans. How were they able to survive? How did they manage to eke out an existence far from civilization and without the aid and control of a master? The obvious answer is that God manages their affairs and sees to their daily needs.

He gives food to the wild animals
    and feeds the young ravens when they cry. – Psalm 147:9 NLT

God wants Job to understand that nothing escapes His notice. God doesn’t share Job’s lack of vision or understanding. The Almighty knows all things and controls all things, so Job has no need to worry about the affairs of his own life. As the psalmist states, “How great is our Lord! His power is absolute! His understanding is beyond comprehension!” (Psalm 147:5 NLT).

Next, God asks Job to consider the wild ox. Does Job have the ability to domesticate such a powerful beast and bring it under submission to his will? Just because Job desires something doesn’t mean he will get his way. The message here seems simple enough. Job is guilty of trying to force his will on God. In a sense, he has been trying to tame God and force Him to “plow his field.” But if Job can’t control a wild beast of the field, how does he expect to get the all-powerful God to do his bidding?

God asks a pair of probing question designed to expose the absurdity of Job’s demands of Him.

“Given its strength, can you trust it?
    Can you leave and trust the ox to do your work?” – Job 39:11 NLT

Does Job really think God can be domesticated and coerced to serve the needs of mere men? Is the Creator-God able to be controlled by His own creation? The answer is a resounding, “No!” And yet Job has unwittingly tried to force his will on the Almighty.

With the next animal, God points out that not all things in life make sense. He asks Job to consider the ostrich. This strange-looking, oversized bird with the long neck and equally long legs appears to be the byproduct of a committee. It’s bizarre amalgam of seemingly disparate traits make it a walking contradiction. It is a bird with large wings and yet is incapable of flight. It makes no nest but, instead, lays its eggs on the ground where they can be warmed by the sun and exposed to vulnerable to predators. And those young who manage to survive, the ostrich mistreats.

“She is harsh toward her young,
    as if they were not her own.
    She doesn’t care if they die.” – Job 39:16 NLT

According to God, this was all part of His design for the ostrich. None of these character traits are flaws or mistakes. In fact, God indicates that the odd behavior of the ostrich is due to a lack of wisdom, which He factored into its design.

For God has deprived her of wisdom.
    He has given her no understanding. – Job 39:17 NLT

And yet, this gangly and ungainly animal is equipped with a built-in survival skill that allows it to outrun “the swiftest horse with its rider” (Job 39:18 NLT). The ostrich makes no sense but it is a byproduct of God’s creative imagination. And there are things about Job’s life that seem nonsensical and inexplicable but they are all part of God’s sovereign plan for his life. At this point, it’s as if Job has noticed that he has large flightless wings and he expresses his frustration with God’s design. But he fails to recognize that he has also been given powerful legs that provide him with a capacity to escape danger. Like the ostrich, Job lacks wisdom, but he hasn’t been left defenseless. If God can care for the seemingly hapless ostrich, He can handle the needs of the seemingly hopeless Job.

Now God turns Job’s attention to the horse. First, he sarcastically asks whether Job is responsible for the creation of this magnificent animal.

Have you given the horse its strength
    or clothed its neck with a flowing mane? – Job 39:19 NLT

Job can admire the horse but he can’t take credit for it. This majestic animal is powerful, bold, and fearless. It has been divinely equipped with great strength that produces both speed and agility, a perfect combination for use in battle. It is as if God designed the horse for warfare. Unlike the ostrich, the horse uses its speed to run into danger, not away from it.

“It paws the earth and rejoices in its strength
    when it charges out to battle.
It laughs at fear and is unafraid.
    It does not run from the sword.” – Job 39:21-22 NLT

The same God who made the ostrich also made the horse. Each is equipped with different physical and mental characteristics that reflect the wisdom of God. There are no mistakes. There is nothing about either animal that lies outside God’s sovereign will and intended purpose for them. And the same is true of Job. Nothing about his life is a mistake. There is a divine purpose behind every detail. In a way, God is letting Job know that he has been wonderfully made and designed with a purpose in mind. King David understood the remarkable nature of his own design and expressed his awe for God’s gracious gift of life.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed. – Psalm 139:13-16 NLT

Finally, God directs Job’s eyes to the sky, where he can view the ways of the eagle and the hawk. Unlike the ostrich, these two birds of prey are designed for flight. Their wings enable them to soar among the clouds and make their nests in hidden places far from the threat of predators. These majestic birds are the hunters not the hunted. God has designed them for flight but there is far more to their aerial capabilities than meets the eye. It is this unique capacity that allows them to protect and provide for their young. Their powerful wings and keen sight are divine design features that set them apart from all the other birds of the air.

God wants Job to take notice of His attention to detail. There is nothing that God has left to chance and there are no mistakes or anomalies in His design. And as much as Job would like to debate that fact, God is conceding no ground and accepting no blame. There is so much Job does not know or understand. He and his four friends had been quick to spout their opinions and expose their ignorance. They thought they knew and understood God but they had a lot to learn. The God who made the beasts of the field and the birds of the air had also made them. His ways are not always understandable but His divine plan is flawless. While things may not always make sense, God can always be trusted.

No human wisdom or understanding or plan
    can stand against the Lord.

The horse is prepared for the day of battle,
    but the victory belongs to the Lord. – Proverbs 21:30-31 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Give God Glory Rather Than Advice

19 “Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
    and where is the place of darkness,
20 that you may take it to its territory
    and that you may discern the paths to its home?
21 You know, for you were born then,
    and the number of your days is great!

22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
    or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
    for the day of battle and war?
24 What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
    or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?

25 “Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain
    and a way for the thunderbolt,
26 to bring rain on a land where no man is,
    on the desert in which there is no man,
27 to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
    and to make the ground sprout with grass?

28 “Has the rain a father,
    or who has begotten the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb did the ice come forth,
    and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?
30 The waters become hard like stone,
    and the face of the deep is frozen.

31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
    or loose the cords of Orion?
32 Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
    or can you guide the Bear with its children?
33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
    Can you establish their rule on the earth?

34 “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
    that a flood of waters may cover you?
35 Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
    and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts
    or given understanding to the mind?
37 Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
    Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
38 when the dust runs into a mass
    and the clods stick fast together?

39 “Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
    or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40 when they crouch in their dens
    or lie in wait in their thicket?
41 Who provides for the raven its prey,
    when its young ones cry to God for help,
    and wander about for lack of food?– Job 38:19-41 ESV

God finally speaks. Job has heard from his three friends and Elihu, the young, arrogant upstart. But now he hears from the only one who matters; God Himself. And God’s response is full of not-so-subtle sarcasm as He peppers Job with rhetorical questions designed to accentuate His divine nature. He starts out His response to Job by saying, “Brace yourself, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them” (Job 38:3 NLT). God tells Job to brace himself like a man because He has a few questions for him. “Who are you…?” “Where were you when…” “Have you ever…?” “Can you…?” “Do you know…?”

At one point, God’s sarcasm becomes painfully clear and pointed. He sardonically states, “But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced!” (Job 38:21 NLT).

God is questioning Job’s right to question Him. Who is Job, a mere man, to question the intentions and integrity of the holy, righteous, all-powerful, God of the universe? Every one of His questions is a statement of His sovereignty and superiority. He is providing Job and his four friends with a much-needed reminder of His surpassing greatness. God’s emphasis on nature is intended to get Job’s focus off of himself. His myopic and rather morbid perspective has tainted his view of God, and produced faulty reasoning and a fragile faith.

“The function of the questions needs to be properly understood. As a rhetorical device, a question can be another way of making a pronouncement, much favoured by orators. For Job, the questions in the Lord’s speeches are not such roundabout statements of fact; they are invitations, suggestions about discoveries he will make as he tries to find his own answers. They are not catechetical, as if Job’s knowledge is being tested. They are educative, in the true and original meaning of that term. Job is led out into the world. The questions are rhetorical only in the sense that none of them has any answer ventured by Job. But this is not because the questions have no answers. Their initial effect of driving home to Job his ignorance is not intended to humiliate him. On the contrary the highest nobility of every person is to be thus enrolled by God Himself in His school of Wisdom. And the schoolroom is the world! For Job the exciting discoveries to which God leads him bring a giant advance in knowledge, knowledge of himself and of God, for the two always go together in the Bible.” – Francis I. Andersen,
Job

By drawing Job’s attention to the wonders of creation, God is showcasing His power and providential care. There are wonders surrounding Job that reveal just how great and good God really is. The presence of light and dark are the handiwork of God. From the human perspective, these elements simply appear in the sky and little thought is given as to their source. But God demands that Job explain where light comes from and where the darkness goes in the morning. Then He sarcastically adds, “But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced!” (Job 38:21 NLT).

God is not being mean; He is simply driving home the extents of the vast gulf between His own reality and man’s infallibility. He wants Job to contemplate the inconceivable greatness of the One who controls the entire universe and all it contains, including Job.

Job wants answer from God. He demands to know the source of his own pain and suffering, but God asks him, “Where is the path to the source of light? Where is the home of the east wind?” (Job 38:24 NLT). God is letting Job know that there are greater questions to consider other than the ones he keeps asking. If Job wants to understand the nature of his circumstances he needs to know his God, and a quick look at the creative order would provide Job a masters-level course in theology.

King David had graduated with honors from God’s divine school of wisdom, having learned the lessons of God’s greatness found in the world around him.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world. – Psalm 19:1 NLT

And it was Jesus who used nature to teach His disciples the wonder of God’s providential care so that they might understand His unwavering faithfulness and their need for enduring faith.

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? – Matthew 6:25-30 NLT

God turns Job’s attention to the clouds that produce rain, ice, hail, thunder, and lightning. These everyday, commonplace meteorological events are not the result of chance but are the handiwork of God. The very presence of rain is a reminder of God’s faithfulness. Without it, nothing on earth would survive. Yet, God can turn life-giving rain into crop-destroying hail. He can transform a gentle rain into a torrential, flood-producing downpour that takes away life and livelihood. These kinds of occurrences are an inexplicable yet inescapable part of life on this planet, and so is human suffering.

God’s point seems to be that there are some things men will never fully comprehend. Despite our modern scientific capabilities and our incessant obsession with solving the riddle of the universe’s creation, there are certain aspects of God’s creative order that will remain a mystery to us. Job was earth-bound and suffered from a limited understanding of the heavens. He could see the stars and even know some of them by name, but he could not explain their existence or comprehend the magnitude of their number.

In a sense, Job had been trying to give God directions concerning the future of his own life. He wanted to provide the God of the universe with some helpful guidance regarding his future state. But God asks Job if he has any insight into the “the movement of the stars” (Job 38:31 NLT). If Job knows that is best for himself, can he also “direct the constellations through the seasons?” (Job 38:32 NLT). And the answer is clearly, “No!”

Job has no business giving God advice. He is in no place to tell God what to do. And to ensure that Job understands that point, God asks, “Do you know the laws of the universe? Can you use them to regulate the earth?” (Job 38:33 NLT). If the answer is no, then why does Job seem to believe he knows the laws concerning his own universe and how they should be used to regulate the affairs of his life?

Sometimes, a simple upward glance will help take our eyes off of the worries and concerns we face in this world. The prophet Isaiah echoes the words of God and provides a much-needed reminder to reminder to acknowledge the greatness of God rather than attempt to advise Him.

Who else has held the oceans in his hand?
    Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?
Who else knows the weight of the earth
    or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?
Who is able to advise the Spirit of the Lord?
    Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him?
Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice?
    Does he need instruction about what is good?
Did someone teach him what is right
    or show him the path of justice? – Isaiah 40:12-14 NLT

And Isaiah recommends that we consider a bit of star-gazing before we resort to advice-giving. God doesn’t need our recommendations, but He is worthy of our veneration.

Look up into the heavens.
    Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
    calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
    not a single one is missing. – Isaiah 40:33 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Instability of Bad Theology

6 “For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’
    likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour.
He seals up the hand of every man,
    that all men whom he made may know it.
Then the beasts go into their lairs,
    and remain in their dens.
From its chamber comes the whirlwind,
    and cold from the scattering winds.
10 By the breath of God ice is given,
    and the broad waters are frozen fast.
11 He loads the thick cloud with moisture;
    the clouds scatter his lightning.
12 They turn around and around by his guidance,
    to accomplish all that he commands them
    on the face of the habitable world.
13 Whether for correction or for his land
    or for love, he causes it to happen.

14 “Hear this, O Job;
    stop and consider the wondrous works of God.
15 Do you know how God lays his command upon them
    and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine?
16 Do you know the balancings of the clouds,
    the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge,
17 you whose garments are hot
    when the earth is still because of the south wind?
18 Can you, like him, spread out the skies,
    hard as a cast metal mirror?
19 Teach us what we shall say to him;
    we cannot draw up our case because of darkness.
20 Shall it be told him that I would speak?
    Did a man ever wish that he would be swallowed up?

21 “And now no one looks on the light
    when it is bright in the skies,
    when the wind has passed and cleared them.
22 Out of the north comes golden splendor;
    God is clothed with awesome majesty.
23 The Almighty—we cannot find him;
    he is great in power;
    justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.
24 Therefore men fear him;
    he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.” – Job 37:6-24 ESV

Elihu continues his impassioned defense of God by emphasizing His sovereignty over creation. This God of whom Job has taken issue is the same God who controls the weather and, by extension, all created life. God is behind every storm and every drop of rain. He produces thunder, lightning, ice, wind, heat, and cold from His throne room in heaven, controlling the fates of all living creatures. Their habitats are directly impacted by His sovereign will and their well-being is under His providential control.

“He directs the snow to fall on the earth
    and tells the rain to pour down.
Then everyone stops working
    so they can watch his power.
The wild animals take cover
    and stay inside their dens. – Job 37:6-8 NLT

It’s not difficult to discern the point behind Elihu’s lofty rhetoric. This young man has not gotten distracted or forgotten about Job. This entire speech is intended to drive home his disdain for Job’s continued demand for an audience with God. Elihu finds Job’s personalized approach to God to be offensive. In his estimation, Job has gotten too comfortable with his relationship with the Almighty and has lost sight of His glory and splendor. Job is too demanding and has become far too casual in his conversations with Yahweh. He treats God like a peer when he should be cowering in fear and begging for mercy.

But Job and Elihu have strikingly different understandings of God. For Job, God is all-powerful, but also intimate and personal. He cares about the plight of His children and hears them when they call to Him. This is what has Job so perplexed and confused. He has suffered greatly and call out repeatedly, but God has not responded. His caring and compassionate God is acting in a way that is contrary to his nature.

Job is not demanding anything from God. He is simply asking for clarity on his circumstances. He wants to know why he is suffering and when he might expect to find relief. Job’s cries to God are not meant to be disrespectful; they are simply the impassioned pleas of a desperate man who longs to find relief and restoration. A quick review of Job’s comments provides insight into his thinking and the motivation behind his heartfelt cries to God.

“What I always feared has happened to me.
    What I dreaded has come true.
I have no peace, no quietness.
    I have no rest; only trouble comes.” – Job 3:25-26 NLT

At least I can take comfort in this:
    Despite the pain,
    I have not denied the words of the Holy One.
But I don’t have the strength to endure.
    I have nothing to live for. – Job 6:10-11 NLT

“My days fly faster than a weaver’s shuttle.
    They end without hope.
O God, remember that my life is but a breath,
    and I will never again feel happiness. – Job 7:6-7 NLT

If I have sinned, what have I done to you,
    O watcher of all humanity?
Why make me your target?
    Am I a burden to you?
Why not just forgive my sin
    and take away my guilt?
For soon I will lie down in the dust and die.
    When you look for me, I will be gone.” – Job 7:20-21 NLT

Job was not being disrespectful; he was being brutally honest. The unbearable nature of his pain and loss had left him in dire need of expiation or an explanation. He wanted to know the why behind his suffering. Why had he lost his entire fortune? Why had all ten of his adult children died in a freak accident? Why had his reputation been dragged through the mud and his integrity been destroyed by the unjust comments of former friends? Why had God not intervened or simply destroyed him? If Job had done something worthy of all this devastation, why had God not left him alive? If he was innocent, why would God not come to his defense and acquit him of all the false charges against him?

But Job wasn’t stupid. He knew God was holy, righteous, and transcendent. The Almighty was not a man whom Job could order to appear in court and answer for His actions.

“…how can a person be declared innocent in God’s sight?
If someone wanted to take God to court,
    would it be possible to answer him even once in a thousand times?
For God is so wise and so mighty.
    Who has ever challenged him successfully?” – Job 9:2-3 NLT

Since God is the righteous Judge of the universe, Job knew he stood no chance of successfully arguing his case or achieving an acquittal.

“God is not a mortal like me,
    so I cannot argue with him or take him to trial.
If only there were a mediator between us,
    someone who could bring us together. – Job 9:32-33 NLT

These statements reveal that Job had a deep respect for God but they also display the depth of his despair. He knew God was his only hope but he felt as if he had no access to the only One who could justify or judge him. Among his friends, Job’s guilt was a foregone conclusion. It was an open-and-shut case that left no room for denial or debate. Yet, Job kept reaching out to God for a second and more vital opinion on the matter.

Then there was Elihu. His view of God was admirable and, for the most part, accurate. He saw God as a powerful and unparalleled in glory. He was the transcendent God who ruled over all creation and reigned in mighty and majesty. He was without equal and worthy of honor and obedience. Elihu’s God was completely righteous and always right. He was free to do as He pleased and whatever He did was just and fair. No one should dare to question His ways or doubt the efficacy of his actions. That’s why Elihu took exception with Job’s constant complaints aimed at the Almighty. As far as Elihu was concerned, Job was out of bounds and way over his head.

And Elihu kept trying to remind Job that his circumstances were the result of God’s divine judgment. He was in this predicament because he had failed to show God proper respect.

“The clouds churn about at his direction.
    They do whatever he commands throughout the earth.
He makes these things happen either to punish people
    or to show his unfailing love.” – Job 37:12-13 NLT

From everything else Elihu has said, it’s doubtful that he believed Job was the recipient of God’s unfailing love. All the evidence was stacked in the favor of God’s judgment. It was obvious to Elihu, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar that Job was guilty and deserving of everything that had happened. These four men had no idea what Job had done to merit such a harsh punishment from God but they were convinced that he had done something.

As Elihu begins to wrap up his lengthy and meandering speech, he devolves into the use of sarcasm, attempting to humiliate and belittle Job.

“So teach the rest of us what to say to God.
    We are too ignorant to make our own arguments.
Should God be notified that I want to speak?
    Can people even speak when they are confused? – Job 37:19-20 NLT

He mocks Job for his incessant demands for an audience with God. In Elihu’s estimation, Job is a fool at best and a blasphemer at worst. He views Job as an ignorant sinner who has no respect for the God of the universe and is destined to suffer the consequences for his impiety and immorality.

In a false display of compassion, Elihu encourages Job to change his ways and show God the respect and honor he deserves.

“We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty;
    but even though he is just and righteous,
    he does not destroy us.
No wonder people everywhere fear him.
    All who are wise show him reverence.” – Job 37:23-24 NLT

But this will prove to be the last words that Elihu or his companions will speak. Their time to pontificate and postulate is over. Now they will hear from the One for whom they claimed to be speaking. The very God whom they thought they knew was about to expose the ignorance of their ways. And much to their shock, God would begin His speech by addressing Job directly. Their friend would get his wish. The transcendent, all-powerful God of the universe had heard Job’s cries and was ready to speak.

But what comes next will prove to be a surprise to all the parties involved. Everyone, including Job, is about to get a lecture from God that will leave them at a loss for words and in need of an overhaul of their theology.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Diminishing God’s Glory by Disregarding His Love

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.
Keep listening to the thunder of his voice
    and the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
Under the whole heaven he lets it go,
    and his lightning to the corners of the earth.
After it his voice roars;
    he thunders with his majestic voice,
    and he does not restrain the lightnings when his voice is heard.
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

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Stop Pointing Your Finger and Point Them to God

1 And Elihu continued, and said:

“Bear with me a little, and I will show you,
    for I have yet something to say on God’s behalf.
I will get my knowledge from afar
    and ascribe righteousness to my Maker.
For truly my words are not false;
    one who is perfect in knowledge is with you.

“Behold, God is mighty, and does not despise any;
    he is mighty in strength of understanding.
He does not keep the wicked alive,
    but gives the afflicted their right.
He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous,
    but with kings on the throne
    he sets them forever, and they are exalted.
And if they are bound in chains
    and caught in the cords of affliction,
then he declares to them their work
    and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.
10 He opens their ears to instruction
    and commands that they return from iniquity.
11 If they listen and serve him,
    they complete their days in prosperity,
    and their years in pleasantness.
12 But if they do not listen, they perish by the sword
    and die without knowledge.

13 “The godless in heart cherish anger;
    they do not cry for help when he binds them.
14 They die in youth,
    and their life ends among the cult prostitutes.
15 He delivers the afflicted by their affliction
    and opens their ear by adversity.
16 He also allured you out of distress
    into a broad place where there was no cramping,
    and what was set on your table was full of fatness.

17 “But you are full of the judgment on the wicked;
    judgment and justice seize you.
18 Beware lest wrath entice you into scoffing,
    and let not the greatness of the ransom turn you aside.
19 Will your cry for help avail to keep you from distress,
    or all the force of your strength?
20 Do not long for the night,
    when peoples vanish in their place.
21 Take care; do not turn to iniquity,
    for this you have chosen rather than affliction.” – Job 36:1-21 ESV

Okay, I’ve officially had enough of Elihu. He is a highly eloquent, but loquacious young man who just doesn’t know when to shut up. While he has said a lot of wonderful things about God, he has ended up painting a very conflicted and confusing image of the Almighty. He boastfully claims that all he is doing is defending the integrity and name of God.

“Let me go on, and I will show you the truth.
    For I have not finished defending God!
I will present profound arguments
    for the righteousness of my Creator. – Job 36:2-3 NLT

But his lofty words concerning God seem to be a thinly veiled excuse for condemning Job and trying to coerce a confession out of him. This young man has had more to say than Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar combined. He is on a roll and shows no signs of letting up. His attacks on Job have been relentless and severe, but he continues to wrap them in a thin veneer of pious-sounding rhetoric meant to sanctify his words and justify his anger with Job.

Much of what he says about God is true but he is using these powerful truths as weapons in his attacks on Job. They are not intended to provide Job with comfort, but are meant to convict him of sin. Look closely at what he says.

“God is mighty, but he does not despise anyone!
    He is mighty in both power and understanding.
He does not let the wicked live
    but gives justice to the afflicted.
He never takes his eyes off the innocent,
    but he sets them on thrones with kings
    and exalts them forever. – Job 36:5-7 NLT

There is no way for Job to argue with those statements because they are true. But Job knows that Elihu is using these lofty statements about God as a way to condemn him of guilt. It was perfectly clear to Job that he was one of the “wicked” whom God will not allow to live. And just in case Job missed the point and placed himself in the role of the innocent, Elihu makes sure that he understands that they too will suffer at the hands of God.

If they are bound in chains
    and caught up in a web of trouble,
he shows them the reason.
    He shows them their sins of pride.
He gets their attention
    and commands that they turn from evil. – Job 36:8-10 NLT

According to Elihu, even the innocent can enjoy great blessings or terrible tragedies. If they suddenly find themselves cast from the throne room and into chains, it is because of sin – case closed. God is simply trying to get their attention by breaking their pride and turning from their wicked ways. Basically, Elihu is stating that bad things don’t happen to good people; they are reserved for the wicked. So, Job must be a wicked person.

Elihu never mentions Job by name and does not address him directly, but it’s clear that his entire speech is directed at his suffering friend. He has designated Job as a wicked and stubborn sinner who will continue to suffer the wrath of God until he repents. Job doesn’t need an audience with God, he needs to confess his sins.

“If they [the wicked] listen and obey God,
    they will be blessed with prosperity throughout their lives.
    All their years will be pleasant. – Job 36:11 NLT

Elihu is brutal and unwavering in his assessment of Job, and he warns his “friend” that the future will end in death and not deliverance unless Job repents.

“But if they refuse to listen to him,
    they will cross over the river of death,
    dying from lack of understanding.
For the godless are full of resentment.
    Even when he punishes them,
    they refuse to cry out to him for help. – Job 36:12-13 NLT

When Elihu looked at Job, he saw a man who was obviously a sinner who refused to admit his guilt, Job’s relentless defense of his innocence was the proof. Elihu firmly believed that Job remained blind to his sins because he was too busy trying to prove his innocence. What Job failed to understand was that all the pain and suffering he had endured had been a divine wake-up call designed to show him his sins and lead him to repentance.

“God is leading you away from danger, Job,
    to a place free from distress.
    He is setting your table with the best food.
But you are obsessed with whether the godless will be judged. – Job 36:16-17 NLT

Again, there is an element of truth in what Elihu says but is applying it like a sledge hammer. He accuses Job of wickedness and assures him that he is suffering at the hand of God for his sinful actions. He tells Job to repent of his sins and all will go well with him. Elihu’s is a simple and simplistic view of God. He keeps talking about the majesty and incomprehensibility of God, yet he seems to have God boxed in and figured out. He alone knows the ways of God. He even brags that he speaks on behalf of God.

“Be patient with me a little longer and I will instruct you, for I still have words to speak on God’s behalf.” – Job 36:2 NET

He even brags that his wisdom is perfect and complete.

“For in truth, my words are not false; it is one complete in knowledge who is with you.” – Job 36:4 NET

Here is a young man who is wise in his own conceit. Not only does he have Job figured out, he has a handle on God as well. For all his spouting about God’s majesty and power, his God is really a small, petty, vengeful and reactionary God. But his God is not the God of the Bible. He doesn’t know or understand the ways of God. None of us do. Just about the time we think we have Him figured out, He surprises us. We will never fully know or understand His ways. We can never predict His actions. But we can rest assured in His character. He is a loving, holy, and righteous God. He is a God of judgment but He is also a God of mercy.

Where we get into trouble is when we start trying to determine what He is doing in the world or in the lives of those we know. We can jump to wrong conclusions and assume that natural disasters like earthquakes are meant to punish nations for their sins. We can’t make that claim because we don’t know the mind of God. We can’t make those kind of sweeping assumptions because we do NOT know. Rather than trying to figure out the why, we need to ask God what and how. What does He want us to do about it? How does He want us to react to it? We know God has a purpose. We know He has a plan. Our job is not to determine the cause of what has happened, but to reach out in love and compassion to those who are caught in the midst of it.

I have no problem with Job’s friends pointing out that Job might have sinned and that his suffering could be a result of that sin. But once Job denied it, they needed to move on and help Job seek God in the midst of it all. They needed to point Job back to God and keep him focused on the mercy and love of God. We need to do the same. And this ministry of pointing people to God needs to be self-applied. When we find ourselves going through difficult times, we need to look to God. Rather than seeking the cause of our suffering, we need to pursue the hope of our restoration. We need to look for the God who is ultimately in charge of all that goes on in the world. We need to ask Him to examine our hearts and expose anything that needs to be revealed. But more importantly, we need to ask Him to open our eyes so that we might see Him more clearly.

Elihu had reached his conclusion and he was not willing to consider any other option. Job was guilty and there was no need for discussion or debate. That is what led him to matter-of-factually state:

“Be on guard! Turn back from evil,
    for God sent this suffering
    to keep you from a life of evil.” – Job 36:21 NLT

But what if he was wrong?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Where Was Paul When Job Needed Him?

16 “If you have understanding, hear this;
    listen to what I say.
17 Shall one who hates justice govern?
    Will you condemn him who is righteous and mighty,
18 who says to a king, ‘Worthless one,’
    and to nobles, ‘Wicked man,’
19 who shows no partiality to princes,
    nor regards the rich more than the poor,
    for they are all the work of his hands?
20 In a moment they die;
    at midnight the people are shaken and pass away,
    and the mighty are taken away by no human hand.

21 “For his eyes are on the ways of a man,
    and he sees all his steps.
22 There is no gloom or deep darkness
    where evildoers may hide themselves.
23 For God has no need to consider a man further,
    that he should go before God in judgment.
24 He shatters the mighty without investigation
    and sets others in their place.
25 Thus, knowing their works,
    he overturns them in the night, and they are crushed.
26 He strikes them for their wickedness
    in a place for all to see,
27 because they turned aside from following him
    and had no regard for any of his ways,
28 so that they caused the cry of the poor to come to him,
    and he heard the cry of the afflicted—
29 When he is quiet, who can condemn?
    When he hides his face, who can behold him,
    whether it be a nation or a man?—
30 that a godless man should not reign,
    that he should not ensnare the people.

31 “For has anyone said to God,
    ‘I have borne punishment; I will not offend any more;
32 teach me what I do not see;
    if I have done iniquity, I will do it no more’?
33 Will he then make repayment to suit you,
    because you reject it?
For you must choose, and not I;
    therefore declare what you know.
34 Men of understanding will say to me,
    and the wise man who hears me will say:
35 ‘Job speaks without knowledge;
    his words are without insight.’
36 Would that Job were tried to the end,
    because he answers like wicked men.
37 For he adds rebellion to his sin;
    he claps his hands among us
    and multiplies his words against God.” – Job 34:16-37 ESV

Elihu is unmerciful in his brutal assessment of Job’s condition, removing all doubt as to his guilt and any hope of getting a hearing before God. In Elihu’s far-from-humble opinion, Job is getting exactly what he deserves and has no right to blame God for his problems or to expect the Almighty to relent in the deliverance of justice. From Elihu’s perspective, God is only doing what comes naturally to Him.

Could God govern if he hated justice?
    Are you going to condemn the almighty judge? – Job 34:17 NLT

God is a just and righteous deity who must punish all sin regardless of who commits it. He shows no partiality, treating all guilty individuals the same, whether they are rich or poor, well-connected or disadvantaged. Even the wealthy and well-to-do receive unbiased justice from the hand of God.

He doesn’t care how great a person may be,
    and he pays no more attention to the rich than to the poor.
    He made them all.
In a moment they die.
    In the middle of the night they pass away;
    the mighty are removed without human hand. – Job 34:19-20 NLT

While all of these statements offer an accurate assessment of God, they lack nuance and the benefit of contextual application. Elihu is speaking in theological generalities and drawing sweeping conclusions regarding Job’s life. He has no way of knowing what Job has done and has means of assessing the true condition of Job’s heart. Elihu has evaluated Job’s circumstances through the lens of his own theological rubric and confidently ascertained his friend’s guilt. But there was much that Elihu failed to understand about God and even more information he lacked about Job.

He was correct in saying that “God watches how people live; he sees everything they do” (Job 34:21 NLT), but Elihu didn’t possess that same 20-20 vision. He couldn’t see all, so Elihu was left to assume, conjecture, and speculate. He was far from all-knowing, but he had no problem coming across as a know-it-all. That’s why he could haughtily insist, “…listen to me if you are wise. Pay attention to what I say” (Job 34:16 NLT).

Elihu’s logic was simple.

  1. God hates sin.
  2. God punishes sinners.
  3. Job was suffering, therefore,
  4. Job was a sinner.

Once again, there is a degree of truth to Elihu’s logic. In fact, the apostle Paul would conquer that Job, like all human beings, is a sinner.

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23 ESV

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, shared Paul’s conclusion.

Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT

But just because all people sin, it’s not fair to conclude that Job was suffering as a result of a sin or sins he had committed. His suffering could have been nothing more than the unfortunate outcome of living in a fallen world where disease, difficulties, and even death are common and unavoidable occurrences. Even Jesus warned His disciples about the inevitable reality of suffering.

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” – John 16:33 NLT

Jesus didn’t add the caveat: “When you sin.” He wasn’t warning about the judgment of God poured out as a result of willful disobedience. His words were merely a statement of fact that were followed up by a promise of hope.

“But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 NLT

The presence of trials and sorrows is not a litmus test for the presence of sin. If that was the case, the apostle Paul should have been the poster boy for the judgment of God. But in defending his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul virtually boasted about the many trials and tribulations he had suffered as a minister of the gospel.

“But whatever they dare to boast about—I’m talking like a fool again—I dare to boast about it, too.  Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, butI have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea.” – 2 Corinthians 11:21-25 NLT

Paul goes on to describe himself as having endured sleepless nights, going without proper food and shelter, and hot having enough clothing to keep himself warm. Yet, none of this was an admission of guilt or proof of God’s punishment for some sin he had committed. It was actually meant to be evidence of his apostleship and calling by God. He saw God’s hands on his suffering but recognized it as divine enablement and part of his ongoing sanctification.

“I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am.” – 2 Corinthians 11:30 NLT

In the very next chapter, Paul talks about a very specific trial he had been called to endure. He referred to it as “a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT). We are not told the nature of this trial, but Paul repeatedly prayed for God to remove it from his life.

“Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.” – 2 Corinthians 12:8 NLT

But he came to recognize that it was actually a gift from God, to keep him from becoming proud and self-sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:7). And the presence of this thorn in the flesh actually produced a positive outcome in Paul’s life. Each time Paul asked God to remove it, God responded by saying, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). And this seemingly irresolvable trial became a means of spiritual transformation for Paul.

“So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT

Job was not there yet. He was not ready to embrace his difficulties with open arms or to boast about his many weaknesses. He wanted them removed. He desperately desired that his pain go away and his damaged reputation be restored. On top of that, he was ready for Elihu, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to catch the next bus out of Uz and leave him alone.

But Elihu was not going anywhere, and he had no interest in viewing Job’s plight as anything but hard evidence of unrepentant sin. Unwilling to buy Job’s excuses, Elihu declared, “Job speaks out of ignorance; his words lack insight “Job 34:35 NLT. Then he followed up that compassionless assessment with an ever harsher prediction of Job’s inevitable fall.

“Job, you deserve the maximum penalty
    for the wicked way you have talked.
For you have added rebellion to your sin;
    you show no respect,
    and you speak many angry words against God.” – Job 34:36-37 NLT

Too bad Job didn’t have a friend like Paul; someone who could have brought a much more balanced and optimistic perspective to the conversation. Paul would have built Job up, calling him to run the race to win (1 Corinthians 1:24), to press on (Philippians 3:12), and to endure suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:3).

But sadly, Elihu was too busy pouring salt in Job’s wounds to see that his words were doing more harm than good. Sometimes the best thing anyone can say is nothing at all. Sometimes, silence is the best policy or, if you have to speak, the only words that come out of your mouth are, “I don’t know.” But Elihu was too proud to plead ignorance and too in love with his own voice to stay silent. Much to Job’s detriment and dismay.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Show up, Shut Up, and Lift Up

1 Then Elihu answered and said:

“Hear my words, you wise men,
    and give ear to me, you who know;
for the ear tests words
    as the palate tastes food.
Let us choose what is right;
    let us know among ourselves what is good.
For Job has said, ‘I am in the right,
    and God has taken away my right;
in spite of my right I am counted a liar;
    my wound is incurable, though I am without transgression.’
What man is like Job,
    who drinks up scoffing like water,
who travels in company with evildoers
    and walks with wicked men?
For he has said, ‘It profits a man nothing
    that he should take delight in God.’

10 “Therefore, hear me, you men of understanding:
    far be it from God that he should do wickedness,
    and from the Almighty that he should do wrong.
11 For according to the work of a man he will repay him,
    and according to his ways he will make it befall him.
12 Of a truth, God will not do wickedly,
    and the Almighty will not pervert justice.
13 Who gave him charge over the earth,
    and who laid on him the whole world?
14 If he should set his heart to it
    and gather to himself his spirit and his breath,
15 all flesh would perish together,
    and man would return to dust.– Job 34:1-15 ESV

You reap what you sow. That’s the basic idea behind Elihu’s entire argument, and from his “learned” perspective, Job was living proof of that proverbial adage. But Elihu could not claim credit for having coined that phrase; it was Eliphaz who first broached the topic.

“As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
    and sow trouble reap the same. – Job 4:8 ESV

The prophet Hosea records Yahweh using the same idea to condemn the rebellious people of Israel.

“I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness,
    and you will harvest a crop of love.
Plow up the hard ground of your hearts,
    for now is the time to seek the Lord,
that he may come
    and shower righteousness upon you.’

But you have cultivated wickedness
    and harvested a thriving crop of sins. – Hosea 10:12-13 NLT

And the apostle Paul picked up on this theme when writing to the believers living in Galatia.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. – Galatians 6:7-8 ESV

Of course, Elihu attempts to give his personal touch to the topic by paraphrasing it in a slightly different way.

The Almighty can do no wrong.
He repays people according to their deeds.
    He treats people as they deserve. – Job 34:10-11 ESV

His places the emphasis on God because he is trying to show that Job is guilty of falsely accusing Yahweh of injustice. Not only has Job committed sins worthy of God’s wrath and judgment, but he has also blasphemed the name and character of God – at least according to Elihu’s estimation.

But Elihu is guilty of twisting Job’s words. Yes, Job is frustrated and has spoken rashly and, sometimes, unwisely, but at no point has Job disparaged God. He has actually championed Yahweh’s sovereignty, declaring his belief that, ultimately, God is in control of all things. That’s the reason he longs to have God provide him with an explanation for his suffering. Job isn’t discrediting the character of God; he is simply having a difficult time justifying his own pain and suffering. He refuses to accept the idea that his losses are the result of personal sin and that is what is driving Elihu crazy.

Elihu resorts to quoting Job but takes liberties in doing so.

“For Job also said, ‘I am innocent,
    but God has taken away my rights.
I am innocent, but they call me a liar.
    My suffering is incurable, though I have not sinned.’” – Job 34:5-6 NLT

A look back at chapter 27 reveals that Elihu conveniently disregarded a few pertinent points from Job’s comments.

“I vow by the living God, who has taken away my rights,
    by the Almighty who has embittered my soul—
As long as I live,
    while I have breath from God,
my lips will speak no evil,
    and my tongue will speak no lies.
I will never concede that you are right;
    I will defend my integrity until I die.
 I will maintain my innocence without wavering.
    My conscience is clear for as long as I live. – Job 27:2-6 NLT

Job did not disparage God but simply acknowledged that his fate was in God’s hands. His whole point was that there was nothing Elihu, Bildad, Eliphaz, or Zophar could say that would make him deny his innocence. Job’s belief in the sovereignty of God was so great that he was forced to conclude his trials were the handiwork of God.

Elihu was disingenuous and deceptive in using Job’s words against him. But he was desperate to portray Job as a wicked and ungodly man who was getting exactly what he deserved. In fact, he goes out of his way to paint Job in the least favorable light.

“Tell me, has there ever been a man like Job,
    with his thirst for irreverent talk?
He chooses evil people as companions.
    He spends his time with wicked men.
He has even said, ‘Why waste time
    trying to please God?’ – Job 34;7-9 NLT

For all his self-proclaimed wisdom, Elihu displays rather unsophisticated reasoning skills. For him, it boiled down to one simple equation: God is right and men are wrong.

Everyone knows that God doesn’t sin!
    The Almighty can do no wrong. – Job 34:10 NLT

No one in his right mind would argue with that conclusion, including Job. But Elihu wants to make it appear as if Job was accusing God of sin. At best, all Job was guilty of was questioning the fairness of his situation. He couldn’t understand why he had been forced to endure such devastating losses. But at no time had Job accused God of wickedness. He knew there was a reason behind his suffering and all he was asking for was an explanation.

But Elihu is engaging a bit of slight of hand. He is attempting to make this a battle between Job and the Almighty, with Job playing the part of the evil antagonist. In Elihu’s heavily fabricated version of events, God is wearing the white hat while Job is relegated to the role of the dastardly desperado.

Truly, God will not do wrong.
    The Almighty will not twist justice. – Job 34:12 NLT

This overly simplistic view of Job’s situation was designed to make it a black and white matter. God was good and Job was bad. As far as Elihu could see it, Job was lucky to be alive.

“If God were to take back his spirit
    and withdraw his breath,
all life would cease,
    and humanity would turn again to dust.” – Job 34:14-15 NLT

But Elihu is a windbag who lives to hear himself talk. He is in love with the sound of his own voice. He goes on and on, spouting his words of wisdom, but never really saying anything of substance. Amazingly, he accuses Job of talking utter nonsense. He claims that Job speaks without knowledge or insight, and he opens his mouth in empty talk. But in reality, Elihu is the one who is saying a lot without saying anything at all. He is so convinced he is right that he even gets vindictive and hateful toward Job, wishing him harm and not good.

We all could learn a lot from Elihu; not so much from what he says, but how he says it. In his pride and arrogance, this young man cares more about being right than being showing love to someone who is hurting. He takes it upon himself to defend God, when God needs no defense. He speaks for God when he has no clue what God is doing or thinking.

But we can do the same thing. It is too easy to jump to conclusions regarding situations and circumstances, and make determinations that are neither correct nor corrective. We judge too quickly and condemn too easily. Sometimes our declarations of guilt have less to do with the facts than wishful thinking. There is little doubt that there were those who took a perverse sort of pleasure in Job’s demise. They had watched him prosper and succeed, all the while harboring jealous feelings toward him. Now that he had taken a tumble, it was easy to dog-pile and relish in his apparent sinfulness.

They say if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. That’s probably what Job’s friends were thinking about him. And sometimes we can harbor the same feelings towards those in our sphere of influence whom we have watched suffer a sudden fall from grace. Sure, we tell them we’re praying for them, but we actually find their demise somewhat enjoyable. We find pleasure in trying to ascertain the sin that led to their fall. If we’re kind, we try to remind them that they’re far from perfect. And we do all this because if we can find fault in others, it usually makes us feel better about ourselves.

But what Job needed was encouragement, reassurance, and comfort. He needed to know that God loved him and had not abandoned him. This suffering saint was in need of the calming presence of compassionate companions, not the harsh criticism of fair-weather friends. So when we encounter friends who are going through difficult times, will we offer them a tale … full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? Or will we offer them our unconditional love and unwavering support?

While it is easy to condemn Elihu, we must be careful to keep from becoming just like him. That requires God to open our eyes so that we can see any similarities we may share with Elihu. It means that we must ask the Holy Spirit to control our tongues and create in us hearts of compassion. They say that silence is golden. There are times when saying nothing can speak volumes. So, may we ask God for the wisdom and discernment to know when to speak up and when to shut up, so that whenever we encounter anyone going through difficulty, we can be the ones who lift them up.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Too Wise for His Own Good

23 “If there be for him an angel,
    a mediator, one of the thousand,
    to declare to man what is right for him,
24 and he is merciful to him, and says,
    ‘Deliver him from going down into the pit;
    I have found a ransom;
25 let his flesh become fresh with youth;
    let him return to the days of his youthful vigor’;
26 then man prays to God, and he accepts him;
    he sees his face with a shout of joy,
and he restores to man his righteousness.
27     He sings before men and says:
‘I sinned and perverted what was right,
    and it was not repaid to me.
28 He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,
    and my life shall look upon the light.’

29 “Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
30 to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.
31 Pay attention, O Job, listen to me;
be silent, and I will speak.
32 If you have any words, answer me;
speak, for I desire to justify you.
33 If not, listen to me;
be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.”– Job 33:23-33 ESV

According to Elihu, Job has only one chance for redemption and restoration, and that involves the intercession of an angel or mediator sent from God. It is difficult to tell whether this divine agent is mediating on behalf of the guilty party before God, or whether their goal is to show the sinner the error of his ways. The English Standard Version Bible translates verse 23 as “to declare to man what is right for him.” The New English Translation takes a similar approach: “to tell a person what constitutes his uprightness.” These translations seem to indicate that the angel has been sent to reveal the path to righteousness to the wayward sinner.

But the New Living Translation translates the same line a slightly different way: “to intercede for a person and declare that he is upright.” This would indicate that the angel or agent is mediating on behalf of the falsely accused victim and declaring his innocence before God.

Based on Elihu’s earlier declarations of his own uprightness, it would appear that the NET Bible and the ESV Bible have rendered the text accurately. Elihu seems to be alluding to himself as the angel or mediator sent from God. Look back at how he described himself to Job when he began his address.

I speak with all sincerity;
    I speak the truth.
For the Spirit of God has made me,
   and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” – Job 33:3-4 NLT

Elihu believes he has been sent to Job by God in order to call him to repentance. That is why he is so adamant and repetitive in his calls for Job to listen to what he has to say.

“Listen to my words, Job;
    pay attention to what I have to say. – Job 33:1 NLT

“…you are wrong, and I will show you why. – Job 33:12 NLT

“…listen to me.
    Keep silent and I will teach you wisdom!” – Job 33:33 NLT

Elihu’s entire speech is a not-so-subtle master’s class in self-promotion. He is out to toot his own horn and establish himself up as Job’s divinely-ordained rescuer. He even alludes to the fact that he is the “dream” sent from God to serve as the wake-up call that will deliver Job from his living nightmare of a life.

For God speaks again and again,
    though people do not recognize it.
He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night,
    when deep sleep falls on people
    as they lie in their beds.
He whispers in their ears
    and terrifies them with warnings.
He makes them turn from doing wrong;
    he keeps them from pride. – Job 33:14-17 NLT

Elihu is convinced that he is Job’s deliverer. While his three companions have failed in their attempts to persuade Job of his guilt, Elihu is convinced of his success because he believes he speaks for God. As a further sign of his self-inflated worth, Elihu claims to have direct access to the Almighty and enough influence to intercede on Job’s behalf. Look closely at what he promises Job.

“If there be for him an angel,
    a mediator, one of the thousand,
    to declare to man what is right for him,
and he is merciful to him, and says,
    ‘Deliver him from going down into the pit;
    I have found a ransom;
let his flesh become fresh with youth;
    let him return to the days of his youthful vigor’” – Job 33:23-25 ESV

This arrogant young man states that he has the power to offer Job mercy and to provide him with a ransom that will atone for all his sins. According to Elihu, his  “gracious” and undeserved mercy will restore Job to health and happiness. But Elihu is not only overly confident in his assertion; he is sorely mistaken. Elihu seems to suffer from a bad case of savior complex. He is fully convinced that he is the remedy to Job’s problem and can restore him to health and happiness. He even believes he can provide a ransom that will satisfy the just demands of a holy and righteous God. But compare his words with those of the psalmist.

Truly no man can ransom another,
    or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of their life is costly
    and can never suffice,
that he should live on forever
    and never see the pit.

But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
    for he will receive me. – Psalm 49:7-9, 15 ESV

Elihu provides no details concerning the ransom he intends to offer on Job’s behalf. But the psalmist would argue that there is nothing Elihu can offer that would ever cover the cost for a man’s sin. Even the sinner himself cannot ransom his own life.

Elihu is so over-confident that he places God is a subsidiary role, with nothing more to do than to rubber stamp the transaction that Elihu has arranged. Once Job has seen the error of his ways and Elihu has offered whatever ransom he has in mind, then all Job has to do is pray and “he will be accepted. And God will receive him with joy” (Job 33:26 NLT). Because of Elihu’s efforts, God will restore Job to righteousness. Done deal. Case closed.

Elihu attempts to manipulate his suffering friend by describing a future scene that pictures Job is confessing his sins and rejoicing in his redemption.

“‘I sinned and perverted what was right,
    and it was not repaid to me.
He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,
    and my life shall look upon the light.’” – Job 33:27-28 ESV

All Job has to do is admit his guilt and all will be well. That is the deal Elihu is offering and it is nothing more than a form of plea bargaining. In his desperation to get a full confession out of Job, Elihu guarantees absolution and complete restoration. But those things are not his to give. He has no power or authority to promise Job anything. Elihu does not speak for God, and he is not an angel sent from God.

He is right about one thing; God can and does rescue and restore those who are suffering.

“God does these things
    again and again for people.
He rescues them from the grave
    so they may enjoy the light of life.” – Job 33:29-30 NLT

But Elihu has no business guaranteeing such an outcome to Job or anyone else. And he is way out of bounds when he places himself in the role of Job’s savior and ransom provider. Yet, he is so self-deceived and over-confident that he demands Job’s undivided attention to his words.

“Pay attention, O Job, listen to me;
    be silent, and I will speak. – Job 33:31 ESV

After all, he is the “angel” of God, the divine mediator who has the power to redeem Job from the grave. He is Job’s self-appointed Messiah and he has a direct line to the throne of God in heaven. So, if Job wants to see his fortunes restored and his life spared, he will need to listen to what Elihu has to say.

And sadly, Elihu was far from finished. He has another entire speech to deliver, in which he will lecture Job on the justice of God. His primary purpose will be to refute Job’s claim on innocence and establish God’s right to judge justly. But in all of this, Elihu will mirror the mistakes of his predecessors. He will make assumptions and draw conclusions based on incomplete data. He will say right things about God but make false accusations against Job – all because he is ignorant of all the facts. This “angel of God” will prove to be a lousy spokesperson for God because he doesn’t know the mind of God.

If only Elihu could have accessed the wisdom of the apostle Paul, he could have avoided the pitfalls of the savior complex and spared Job a lot of grief.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!

For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
    Who knows enough to give him advice?
And who has given him so much
    that he needs to pay it back?

For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! – Romans 11:33-36 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Learning to Listen Before Speaking

1 “But now, hear my speech, O Job,
    and listen to all my words.
Behold, I open my mouth;
    the tongue in my mouth speaks.
My words declare the uprightness of my heart,
    and what my lips know they speak sincerely.
The Spirit of God has made me,
    and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
Answer me, if you can;
    set your words in order before me; take your stand.
Behold, I am toward God as you are;
    I too was pinched off from a piece of clay.
Behold, no fear of me need terrify you;
    my pressure will not be heavy upon you.

“Surely you have spoken in my ears,
    and I have heard the sound of your words.
You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression;
    I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me.
10 Behold, he finds occasions against me,
    he counts me as his enemy,
11 he puts my feet in the stocks
    and watches all my paths.’

12 “Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you,
    for God is greater than man.
13 Why do you contend against him,
    saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’?
14 For God speaks in one way,
    and in two, though man does not perceive it.
15 In a dream, in a vision of the night,
    when deep sleep falls on men,
    while they slumber on their beds,
16 then he opens the ears of men
    and terrifies them with warnings,
17 that he may turn man aside from his deed
    and conceal pride from a man;
18 he keeps back his soul from the pit,
    his life from perishing by the sword.

19 “Or God disciplines people with pain on their sickbeds,
    with ceaseless aching in their bones.
20 They lose their appetite
    for even the most delicious food.
21 Their flesh wastes away,
    and their bones stick out.
22 They are at death’s door;
    the angels of death wait for them.
Job 33:1-22 ESV

Whatever credibility Elihu may lack due to his young age, he more than makes up for in swagger. He is an extremely confident individual who believes he has a divine calling to shed light on Job’s situation.

I speak with all sincerity;
    I speak the truth.
For the Spirit of God has made me,
    and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. – Job 33:4 NLT

Yet, Elihu tries to win Job over by emphasizing their commonality. Both of them, he points out, are products of God’s creation, having been “formed from clay” (Job 33:6 NLT). Since they are mere men who have been created by and belong to God, there is no reason that Job should refuse to listen to what Elihu has to say. He insists that he is no threat to Job.

So you don’t need to be afraid of me.
    I won’t come down hard on you. – Job 33:7 NLT

Having tried to placate Job by stressing their similarities, Elihu shifts gears and begins to address where he and Job disagree. He starts by condensing all of Job’s complaints down to one simple sentence.

You said, ‘I am pure; I am without sin;
    I am innocent; I have no guilt.
God is picking a quarrel with me,
    and he considers me his enemy.
He puts my feet in the stocks
    and watches my every move.’” – Job 33:9-11 NLT

This is an unfair and over-simplistic assessment of Job’s lengthy responses to Bildad, Eliphaz, and Bildad. In his desire to point out the flaws in Job’s arguments, Elihu resorts to reductionism, “the practice of simplifying a complex idea, issue, condition, or the like, esp. to the point of minimizing, obscuring, or distorting it” (collinsdictionary.com).

A quick review of Job’s earlier speeches confirms that he believed himself to be innocent of all charges leveled against him by his three friends, but at no time did Job ever declare himself to be sin-free. His only point was that he was not guilty of anything worthy of the kind of suffering he had endured. He had done nothing to deserve the collapse of his entire fortune, the deaths of his children, or the loss of his health. And because Job believed God to be sovereign over all things, the only conclusion he could reach was that God was behind it all. In Job’s mind, either God caused his suffering or, for some reason, refused to prevent it.

But Elihu takes issue with Job’s conclusion, and rebukes him for his arrogant and disrespectful view of God.

you are wrong, and I will show you why.
    For God is greater than any human being.
So why are you bringing a charge against him? – Job 33:12-13 NLT

Elihu had not been listening. He heard the words that came out of Job’s mouth but he was oblivious to the state of Job’s heart. Rather than probe behind all the impassioned rhetoric of his suffering friend, Elihu placed himself in the position of being the thought police. He was so busy monitoring Job’s use of words that he was unable to hear what Job was trying to say. Job wasn’t attacking God; he was simply trying to make sense of his ongoing pain and suffering. Job wasn’t blaming God either. All he was asking for was an explanation and the hope of vindication.

But Elihu heard what he wanted to hear, and in his mind, Job was nothing less than a blasphemer. As he had sat listening to Job’s responses to the other three interrogators, Elihu had deduced that Job was disparaging the Almighty. This made Job an enemy of God. Elihu heard Job repeatedly declare that all he wanted was a response from God. Job was demanding that God give him an audience and provide him with answers. But Elihu suggests that God had already spoken but Job was not listening.

God speaks again and again,
    though people do not recognize it.
He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night…” – Job 33:14-15 NLT

Elihu asserts that Job had probably received word from God in the form of a dream but he refused to listen to what God to say. Without any evidence to back up his assertion, Elihu claims that Job had been warned by God but didn’t take the warning seriously. According to Elihu’s assessment, God had already revealed to Job the cause of his suffering. He had visited Job in a dream and warned him to repent or suffer the consequences.

He whispers in their ears
    and terrifies them with warnings.
He makes them turn from doing wrong;
    he keeps them from pride. – Job 33:16-17 NLT

Elihu’s conclusion was that Job could have escaped all his pain and suffering if he had only listened to God. Therefore, he was responsible for his own undoing. And, to make matters worse, Elihu suggests that God was still trying to speak to Job through his pain.

God disciplines people with pain on their sickbeds,
    with ceaseless aching in their bones. – Job 33:19 NLT

It was all so clear to the overconfident Elihu. Job had lost everything because he refused to heed the warnings of God, and his continued suffering was a sign of God’s ongoing discipline. It was as simple as that.

Elihu shows little or no compassion. He exhibits no empathy for his older friend because he has no personal experience with such matters. It is unlikely that Elihu has ever lost all that he holds dear. His has no concept of what Job has suffered. He has no basis for understanding the pain behind Job’s words. So, he resorts to simplistic deductions that paint Job as a stubborn and unrepentant sinner who is getting exactly what he deserves.

Like his three companions, Elihu meant well. He is not an evil man who is guilty of kicking his brother while he is down. He sincerely believes that he is in the right and has the solution to Job’s problem. But in his haste to be the bearer of “good news,” Elihu ends up being the harbinger of doom and gloom. His words bring little comfort to Job. Instead, they are condemning and rather condescending, treating Job like he is nothing more than a stubborn child in need of a spanking or a time-out.

Elihu will attempt to shine a dim glimmer of hope on Job’s darkened world, but it will be well outside of Job’s control. God will not listen to Job, Elihu asserts, but He may be open to “a special messenger to intercede for a person and declare that he is upright” (Job 33:23 NLT). So, in effect, all Job can do is sit in silence and hope for the best.

Both men agree that God is in control, but Elihu suggests that Job has no right to demand an audience with the Almighty. He totally rejects Job’s suggestion that God owes Him an answer and just might acquit him of any wrongdoing. For Elihu, that kind of thinking was ungodly and out of bounds for any faithful God-follower. But the young and inexperienced Elihu had a lot to learn. In time, he would discover the truth behind God’s words.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.