Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chap. 34. Elihu’s Second Reply to Job. Job’s complaint that God afflicts him unjustly is without reason. A motive for injustice in him who is Creator of all alike cannot be found; and injustice in the Highest Ruler is inconceivable
Having in ch. 33 replied to Job’s charge that God’s afflictions were examples of an arbitrary hostility to men, Elihu in this chapter replies to, another charge, that God was unjust in the afflictions which He laid on him. His answer is, That a motive for injustice in Him who is Creator of all cannot be found; and, That injustice in the Ruler of all is inconceivable—shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
The line of thought in the chapter is something as follows:
First, Job 34:1-4, in a brief introduction Elihu invites his intelligent hearers to listen further to him, and to unite with him in seeking to discover what was the right, the just state of the case, in Job’s cause with God and his charges against Him.
Second, Job 34:5-9, these charges he then recites: Job had said that God perverted his right, and that he was incurably afflicted though he had done no wrong (Job 34:5-6). Elihu cannot mention such charges without expressing his detestation of them: Job has not his parallel for impiety (Job 34:7-8). He has even gone the length of saying that it was no advantage to a man to be religious (Job 34:9). This last sentiment Elihu does not deal with in the present chapter, its discussion follows in ch. 35.
Third, Job 34:10-20, coming to his argument, Elihu, first expresses his reprobation of such sentiments as those of Job, they are contrary to right thoughts of God; such ways of acting are not to be thought of in connexion with the Almighty (Job 34:10-12). Second, this reproof of Job’s charges from God’s nature in general Elihu then particularizes into two distinct thoughts: (1) a motive for injustice in Him who is the Creator of all cannot be discovered; on the contrary His calling all things into being and upholding them by sending forth His spirit is evidence of unselfish goodness, for were He to set His mind on Himself and withdraw His spirit all flesh would perish (Job 34:13-15). (2) The foundation of government is justice, without which rule would come to an end. Injustice in the highest Ruler is inconceivable. And in truth His rule approves itself, by its impartiality, to be just (Job 34:16-20).
Fourth, Job 34:21-28, this justice is secured by God’s omniscient insight into men, and by His goodness which is the spring and motive of His rule of mankind.
Fifth, Job 34:29-33, shall any one then murmur at this absolute disposing of all things by the hand of God? To murmur is to usurp the rule of God, and to claim to dictate how He should dispense His recompences.
Finally Job 34:34-37, Elihu, having shewn what is involved in Job’s charges of injustice against God, draws the conclusion, in which he is confident all reflecting minds who listen to him will concur with him, that Job speaks without wisdom; to the sin of his life he has added a defiant and mocking impiety, which one must wish to see purified out of him in the furnace of severer afflictions.
Furthermore Elihu answered and said,
Hear my words, O ye wise men; and give ear unto me, ye that have knowledge.2. The wise men are not the three friends, but the bystanders who hear Elihu; cf. Job 34:34.
2–4. Elihu invites the wise among those who listen to him to attend to what he further says, and to unite with him in seeking to discover the right in this cause between Job and God.
For the ear trieth words, as the mouth tasteth meat.3. Elihu makes his appeal to his hearers for the ear trieth words. His appeal is to the common reason, or to the common reverent and just thoughts of God in men. The “ear” is the inner ear, the understanding, which is a judge of sentiments as much as, or like as, the palate is a judge of meats, ch. Job 12:11.
Let us choose to us judgment: let us know among ourselves what is good.4. The word judgment means right, or, the right, the just decision in the cause under consideration, Job’s plea with God.
For Job hath said, I am righteous: and God hath taken away my judgment.5. I am righteous] Or, in the right, I have right on my side.
my judgment] As before means my right, what is rightly due to me—God has dealt with me unjustly; comp. Job 9:15; Job 9:20, Job 13:18, Job 27:2; Job 27:6.
5–9. Elihu recites Job’s statement of his cause against God, expressing his abhorrence of Job’s sentiments.
Should I lie against my right? my wound is incurable without transgression.6. should I lie against my right?] This sense is possible, the meaning being, “shall I admit guilt when I am not guilty but wrongly afflicted”? Perhaps the sense is rather: against (or, notwithstanding) my right I am made to lie: when I affirm my rectitude God’s treatment of me belies my affirmations by making me guilty, and this against my right; comp. ch. Job 9:20, Job 16:8.
my wound] lit. my arrow, the arrow of divine affliction infixed in me, comp. ch. Job 6:4, Job 16:13.
What man is like Job, who drinketh up scorning like water?7. Elihu cannot restrain his abhorrence of Job’s sentiments. By scorning is meant impiety and scepticism. On the figure comp. ch. Job 15:16.
Which goeth in company with the workers of iniquity, and walketh with wicked men.8. In expressing such opinions Job goes over to the camp of the professed ungodly; comp. Job 22:15; Psalm 1:1.
For he hath said, It profiteth a man nothing that he should delight himself with God.9. Job had nowhere used this precise language, though the idea is not an unnatural inference from much that he had said; comp. ch. Job 9:12, Job 21:7, Job 24:1, and ch. 21 throughout. This charge that a man is nothing bettered by being religious Elihu refutes in ch. 35, directing his attention in the meantime to the general charge of in justice so far as it bore on God Himself.
Therefore hearken unto me, ye men of understanding: far be it from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity.10–12. Elihu’s argument in these verses is the truest answer that can be given: injustice on the part of God is inconsistent with the idea of God. The three friends had urged the same plea. And Job would have accepted the argument had his friends or himself been able to take it up as a general principle and keep it clear from complications with the events of actual providence. When, however, they combined it with their other theory that good and evil befell men solely according to the principle of retribution, and that this latter principle was that according to which God’s actual providence was entirely administered, Job could not consent to their reasoning. And as he agreed with them that retributive righteousness was or ought to be the principle of God’s rule of the world, he was obliged, as he entirely failed to perceive such a principle adhered to, to charge God with injustice. It is not easy to see how Elihu differs from the friends in the position which he takes up here and in Job 34:20-33. He is concerned in the meantime, however, with a theoretical defence of God’s justice.
10–19. This charge of injustice Elihu rebuts, first, on the general ground of its impiety: God cannot be thought of as acting in the way Job asserted—He rewardeth every man according to his works (Job 34:10-12); and second, he then resolves the general idea into two distinct thoughts, Job 34:13-15, and Job 34:16-19.
For the work of a man shall he render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways.
Yea, surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment.
Who hath given him a charge over the earth? or who hath disposed the whole world?13–15. The first thought of Elihu is that the earth, the world, is not entrusted to God by another; He himself arranged it all as it is; there is therefore no motive to injustice. This is one side of his idea; the other (Job 34:14) is that the fact of the creation and sustaining of all things and creatures by God is proof of unselfish benevolence, for if God thought of Himself and ceased to send forth His spirit, all flesh would perish.
The Oriental thinker was not a pessimist; to his mind life was not an evil but the highest good, and its continuance proof of goodness in God who gave it and continued it. Neither would it occur to such a thinker, when he argued that there was no temptation to injustice in the Creator, that a temptation might be found in His own malevolent nature. A first cause that was evil could not be supposed by any one in the position of the speakers in this Book. Even when Job touches upon such an idea, as in ch. Job 7:17 seq., Job 10:3 seq., it is for the purpose of shewing the inconsistency of malevolence with God’s necessary attributes. Comp. remarks at the end of ch. 10.
If he set his heart upon man, if he gather unto himself his spirit and his breath;14. if he set his heart upon man] lit. as marg. upon him. The interpretation of the A. V. is possible, the meaning being, if God should set His mind strictly on man, to mark iniquity and the like (ch. Job 7:17). More probably the meaning is: set His mind upon Himself;—if He were the object of His own exclusive regard and consideration. If God thought alone of Himself and ceased to think of all creatures with a benevolent consideration, giving them life and upholding by His spirit, all flesh would perish.
All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust.
If now thou hast understanding, hear this: hearken to the voice of my words.16–19. The second thought: without justice rule is impossible; and therefore injustice in the supreme Ruler is inconceivable. The thought is one that finds repeated expression in Scripture, as in the words of Abraham, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Genesis 18:25, and in those of St Paul, “Is God unrighteous …? God forbid; for then how shall God judge the world?” Romans 3:5; comp. Matthew 12:25.
Shall even he that hateth right govern? and wilt thou condemn him that is most just?17. condemn him that is most just] Or, condemn the just, the mighty One.
Is it fit to say to a king, Thou art wicked? and to princes, Ye are ungodly?18. The verse reads,
Is it fit to say to a king, Thou wicked!
Or to princes, Ye ungodly!
The word “wicked” means worthless, Heb. belial. No doubt many kings, whether in the past or the present, might be justly enough addressed as “wicked,” and princes in abundance as “ungodly,” but the speaker is thinking here less of persons than of the offices which they fill as rulers. If earthly rule implies righteousness, how much more the rule of the Supreme (Job 34:19).
How much less to him that accepteth not the persons of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor? for they all are the work of his hands.19. Partiality or injustice is not to be thought of in God, for all men, rich and poor, are alike the work of His hands. In these words the disputant makes the transition from his principle to the illustration of it in God’s actual rule of men, and this illustration he pursues at length.
In a moment shall they die, and the people shall be troubled at midnight, and pass away: and the mighty shall be taken away without hand.20. Display of God’s just rule over people and princes. According to the punctuation the verse is thus divided,
In a moment they die and at midnight;
The people are shaken and pass away,
And the mighty are taken away without hand.
The phrase at midnight means suddenly and without anticipation, comp. Job 34:25; Psalm 119:62. Without hand, i. e. through no human agency, by an unseen power, the ruling hand of God; comp. ch. Job 20:26; Daniel 2:34-35; Zechariah 4:6. The mighty are the princes, opposed to “the people” in the second clause.
20–28. God’s strict justice may be seen in His government of the peoples and their princes alike. His justice is unerring, for it is guided by omniscient insight. Punishing oppression, it avenges the cause of the poor and afflicted.
For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings.21–24. This just rule of God operates unfailingly, being guided by infallible insight.
There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.
For he will not lay upon man more than right; that he should enter into judgment with God.23. The verse reads probably,
For he needeth not to consider a man further,
That he should come before God in judgment.
The meaning is that no inquisition on God’s part is needed of a man, beyond his evil deed, with the view of bringing him before God in judgment. God beholds all, and His insight and judgment operate simultaneously.
He shall break in pieces mighty men without number, and set others in their stead.24. he shall break … without number] Rather, he breaketh … without inquisition. The verse amplifies the conception of the preceding verse.
Therefore he knoweth their works, and he overturneth them in the night, so that they are destroyed.25–27. Armed with such omniscient insight (therefore, Job 34:25) He knoweth men’s works, and His judgment overtakes them without fail.
He striketh them as wicked men in the open sight of others;
Because they turned back from him, and would not consider any of his ways:
So that they cause the cry of the poor to come unto him, and he heareth the cry of the afflicted.28. so that they cause the cry] Rather, thus he causeth the cry of the poor to come before Him; lit. to cause (or, causing) to come. The words sum up the general purpose (or, effect) of God’s destructive judgments on the oppressors; He thus brings before Him and hears the cry of the afflicted.
When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble? and when he hideth his face, who then can behold him? whether it be done against a nation, or against a man only:29. Here he, God, is emphatic. Elihu while upholding the rectitude Of God conjoins with it His sovereignty. To give quietness or rest seems to mean to give peace and security from oppression, when the oppressed cry unto Him (Jdg 5:31; Isaiah 14:7). The antithesis to this is He hides His face, words which always mean, He withdraws His favour or help in anger, ch. Job 13:24; and to behold Him has of course a sense the opposite of this, viz. to obtain His favour, to make Him gracious. God acts in both ways in His sovereign rule, and when He acts in the one way who shall condemn Him, and in the other who shall compel Him to alter His aspect? And thus He acts on the widest stage and in the most particular instance, with nations and men alike.
29–33. The connexion of the following verses is rather uncertain. The sense of Job 34:30 might suggest the connexion of Job 34:29-30 with the preceding. In this case Job 34:31 would make a new start, and the connexion would be maintained to the end of the chapter. It is probable, however, that Job 34:34-37 should be taken by themselves. In Job 34:29 the word he is emphatic; similarly in Job 34:31 an emphasis falls on God. This common emphasis, in Job 34:29-30 on the absoluteness of God’s operation and in Job 34:31-33 on the presumption of any one who questions it, seems to bind these two groups of verses together. The verses read as a whole,
29. When he giveth quietness, who shall condemn him?
And when he hideth his face, who shall behold him?
Whether it be done to a nation or to a man alike:
30. That the godless man reign not,
That the people be not ensnared.
31. For hath any said unto God,
I have borne (chastisement) though I offend not,
32. That which I see not teach thou me,
If I have done iniquity I will do it no more?—
33. Shall God’s recompense be according to thy mind
That thou dost reject it?
For thou must choose, and not I;
Therefore speak what thou knowest.
That the hypocrite reign not, lest the people be ensnared.30. His operations are directed by the great purpose of the good of men, that the nations be righteously and mercifully ruled.
Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more:31, 32. A supposition is put: Has any one said unto God? where God is emphatic, the emphasis implying the unseemliness and presumption of the act. The case is put generally, but the case is that of Job, as Job 34:33 reveals. The meaning of the passage is that the complainer under affliction protests his innocence (Job 34:31); disclaims knowledge of any offence; desires, as Job frequently expressed his desire, to know what his sin was; and professes his readiness to desist from it, when it is made clear to him (Job 34:32).
31–33. Elihu gradually approaches the conduct of Job. He supposes the case of one animadverting on the Divine procedure and complaining of unjust affliction. This is presumption and implies that one usurps the government of the Most High.
That which I see not teach thou me: if I have done iniquity, I will do no more.
Should it be according to thy mind? he will recompense it, whether thou refuse, or whether thou choose; and not I: therefore speak what thou knowest.33. Elihu’s answer to this complaint is that it is a claim to regulate the government of God, to give laws to Him how He shall act, and to decide how He shall recompense. Such a position the complainer takes—but for himself Elihu repudiates it: Thou must choose, not I. In the concluding words, speak that which thou knowest, Elihu invites Job to state that method of “recompense” which shall be “according to his mind” and better than that observed in God’s rule of the world.
The above seems the most natural interpretation to put on this difficult passage. The A.V., in rendering surely it is meet to be said (Job 34:31), assumes an irregularity of punctuation which is very improbable. And to regard Job 34:31-32 as a serious confession and example of how a right-minded man would speak greatly impairs the vigour of the passage, and gives a much looser connexion with Job 34:33.
Let men of understanding tell me, and let a wise man hearken unto me.34–37. The verdict regarding Job’s demeanour which all men of understanding and those who listen to Elihu will give,
34. Men of understanding will say unto me,
And the wise man who heareth me:
35. Job speaketh without knowledge,
And his words are without wisdom.
36. Would that Job were tried unto the end,
Because of his answers in the manner of wicked men.
Job hath spoken without knowledge, and his words were without wisdom.
My desire is that Job may be tried unto the end because of his answers for wicked men.36. It is not certain whether Job 34:36 be a continuation of the judgment of Elihu’s hearers or be his own words. The sentiment is excessively harsh, and probably Elihu, though of course concurring in it, puts it forth indirectly as the judgment of others. The wish is expressed that Job might be tried unto the end, constantly—that his afflictions might be continued till he should give over answering in the manner of wicked men. His “answers” are his speeches in reply to the three friends, which are characterized as such as only ungodly men would utter.
For he addeth rebellion unto his sin, he clappeth his hands among us, and multiplieth his words against God.37. Job’s sin is that of his former life, for which he has been cast into afflictions; his rebellion is his unsubmissive, defiant demeanour against God in his speeches. This “rebellion” is further described as clapping of the hands, a gesture of open mockery and contempt. The next clause, “multiplieth his words against God”, that is, his rebellious speeches, indicates that it is against God that Job “claps his hands,” not against his friends and counsellors—he shews his defiant scorn of God among them.
The passage is decisive as to the position taken by Elihu towards Job. His judgment of Job extends far beyond the mere bearing of the latter under his afflictions; it embraces Job’s former life. And the language exceeds in harshness almost anything that the three friends had said.