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.
- God hates sin.
- God punishes sinners.
- Job was suffering, therefore,
- 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.
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.