Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 35. Elihu’s Third Reply to Job. Job’s complaint that a man is in no way profited by his righteousness more than if he had sinned is made without knowledge. Neither righteousness nor sin affects God; their influence must be felt among men. Apparent exceptions can be explained
Job’s complaint that under God’s government of the world it availed a man nothing to be righteous, to which Elihu had referred, ch. Job 34:9, is now taken up and disposed of.
The passage has three parts:—
First, Job 35:1-4, Elihu states Job’s complaint that godliness avails a man nothing, and undertakes to answer it.
Second, Job 35:5-8, his answer. Neither godliness nor irreligiousness can affect God, who is too exalted to be touched by anything human. Their influence therefore must be on men, to their advantage or hurt.
Third, Job 35:9-16, having made this philosophical retort, Elihu proceeds to dispose of some cases that might seem exceptions to his principle or anomalies. There are cases where apparently religious men are not heard when they cry to God: men cry out because of oppression and there is no answer. But why? Because they cry amiss. Their appeal to heaven is the mere instinctive cry of suffering like that of the lower creatures, without trust in God—they say not, Where is God my Maker?
And the controversialist ends as in ch. 34 with a charge of foolish talk against Job.
Elihu spake moreover, and said,
Thinkest thou this to be right, that thou saidst, My righteousness is more than God's?2–4. Statement of Job’s charge against God that under His rule of the world to be righteous is no advantage to a man. The verses read,
2. Thinkest thou this to be thy right,
And callest thou it, My just cause against God,
3. That thou sayest, What advantage hast thou?
And, What am I profited more than if I had sinned?
Throughout Elihu’s speeches there runs the idea of a cause or plea between Job and God. Job is regarded by him as maintaining that he has a right or just cause against God. Elihu here asks if Job considers that the rectitude of his cause will appear in his maintaining that godliness profits a man nothing?—the word this in Job 35:2 refers to the questions in Job 35:3. If Job could successfully maintain this contention his cause against God would be good. Therefore Elihu controverts his assertion, contending that righteousness does avail a man, as it must. Both parties conduct the dispute in a somewhat external way, meaning by the “advantage “of religion the possession of outward goods and immunity from suffering. Job does this of necessity, because he is still entangled in the old theory of retribution, though he is breaking through its meshes on one side. And Elihu in his theoretical argument naturally follows him, without referring to the deeper comforts of religion, the joy in God, with which some of the Psalmists delight themselves in affliction, Psalm 17:15; Psalm 73:23 seq.
For thou saidst, What advantage will it be unto thee? and, What profit shall I have, if I be cleansed from my sin?
I will answer thee, and thy companions with thee.4. The “companions” of Job referred to in this verse can hardly be the three friends, for Eliphaz (ch. Job 22:2) had advanced substantially the same answer to Job as is here given, which even Job himself had touched upon, ch. Job 7:20, though with a different purpose. Most probably Job is considered here the centre of a circle of persons who cherished the same irreligious doubts in regard to God’s providence as he did.
Look unto the heavens, and see; and behold the clouds which are higher than thou.5–8. The reply of Elihu to Job’s complaint. A glance at heaven, the infinitely exalted abode of God, must tell us that our conduct whether good or bad cannot affect Him. Our righteousness confers no profit on Him, neither does our wickedness entail any loss. It is men themselves that their conduct affects. It is in human life that the influence of righteousness or evil-doing is seen. And being so eternally unlike they cannot have the same effect.
Elihu does not contemplate any one going so far as to maintain that godliness and unrighteousness do not differ in themselves. Job assumes and most strongly asserts their difference. He even rises to the sublime height of resolving to adhere to righteousness though God and men should shew their indifference to it (ch. Job 17:9). And what he complains of is that God is indifferent to it, and that in His government the righteous is treated as the wicked. This is the point which Elihu touches.
If thou sinnest, what doest thou against him? or if thy transgressions be multiplied, what doest thou unto him?
If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he of thine hand?
Thy wickedness may hurt a man as thou art; and thy righteousness may profit the son of man.8. The verse reads literally: thy wickedness is to (touches, affects) a man as thou art, and thy righteousness is to one of mankind, i. e. thyself who art a man; for it cannot touch God who is exalted above such influence.
By reason of the multitude of oppressions they make the oppressed to cry: they cry out by reason of the arm of the mighty.9. they make the Oppressed to cry] Rather, men cry out because of the multitude of oppressions—which powerful and cruel men lay upon them (Job 35:12). This is the anomaly.
9–15. Having laid down his principle Elihu now proceeds to clear away some anomalies which seem to support Job’s contention. There are instances where godliness does not seem to advantage men, where oppressed innocence cries in vain for redress. The reason is that the cry is merely the natural voice of suffering; it is no true devout appeal to heaven—none saith, Where is God my maker?
But none saith, Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night;10. The explanation of the anomaly.
Where is God] The language of one devoutly seeking God.
songs in the night] They seek not God in truth, who by sudden deliverances (comp. ch. Job 34:20; Job 34:25) fills the mouth of the afflicted with singing, Psalm 32:7.
Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of heaven?11. God has given to men a higher wisdom than to the beasts, and communicates to them a continuous instruction through His fellowship and ways. Their appeal to heaven should not be the mere instinctive cry of suffering, but the voice of trust and submission.
There they cry, but none giveth answer, because of the pride of evil men.12. The first and last words of the verse are in connexion: “they cry because of the pride of evil men, but none giveth answer.” They remain unheard because their cry is “vanity” (Job 35:13).
Surely God will not hear vanity, neither will the Almighty regard it.
Although thou sayest thou shalt not see him, yet judgment is before him; therefore trust thou in him.14–16. The interpretation and connexion of these verses is difficult. Job 35:14 might carry on the idea of Job 35:13,
13. Surely God will not hear vanity,
Neither will the Almighty regard it;
14. Much less when thou sayest, Thou seest him not,
The cause is before him and thou waitest for him.
God refuses to answer the cry which is vanity, not the voice of true religious trust; much less will He hear one who like Job complains that he cannot see Him (ch. Job 23:8 and often), who misses His righteous government in the world and charges Him with refusing to receive his just appeal (ch. Job 13:18 seq., Job 23:3, Job 31:35 seq.). There are objections to this interpretation, such as that much less when is not a natural translation of the words in Job 35:14, though in the elliptical and rather strained style of Elihu this might not go for much. Or, Job 35:14 might stand apart from Job 35:13,
Yea, when thou sayest, Thou seest him not,
The cause is before him; therefore wait thou for him.
the meaning being that though God appears indifferent to the cry of the distressed (Job 35:9; Job 35:12) He is not unaware of the evil, the cause has come before Him, or, His judgment upon it is determined, and therefore He is to be waited for till He manifest Himself by His just interposition. Though the second person thou be used, Job’s own case does not appear to be referred to; Elihu speaks generally, and Job is merely addressed as an example of persons who complain of God’s indifference to wrong-doing.
But now, because it is not so, he hath visited in his anger; yet he knoweth it not in great extremity:15. This verse is very obscure, and the A. V. competes worthily with the original in darkness. The word translated extremity does not occur again, and, if it be a word at all and not a mere error of copyists (the Sept. read “transgression”), its meaning can only be guessed at. The connexion, however, suggests what general meaning the expression must have. Perhaps the easiest way to construe the verse is to take it in connexion with Job 35:16,
15. But now because his anger visiteth not,
And he doth not strictly regard transgression,
16. Therefore doth Job open his mouth in vanity,
He multiplieth words without knowledge.
Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily (Ecclesiastes 8:11), and God seems as if He took no knowledge of wrong and oppression, therefore Job draws the futile conclusion (Job 35:2-3), that there is no advantage in being righteous more than in sinning. Elihu has already accounted for God’s refusal to interpose on very different grounds (Job 35:10-13), grounds which Job would do well to lay to heart. The word rendered “extremity” (fash) may have a correspondent in the Arab. fashsha of which Lane says, “fashsha is syn. with fâsha as meaning, He gloried or boasted and magnified himself, imagining (in himself) what he did not possess.” This would suggest such a meaning as pride or arrogancy.
Though this construction of Job 35:15 is simple it is doubtful if it be the true one. Job 35:16 certainly looks independent, and if so Job 35:15 is also complete in itself,
But now because his anger visiteth not,
Therefore he careth nothing for transgression!
the second clause expressing the conclusion which Job draws from God’s inactivity and His refraining to punish (first clause), namely that God was indifferent to evil, or as expressed in Job 35:2-3, that righteousness was of no profit to a man more than sin. The sense remains the same as on the other construction. And Job 35:16, as before, expresses Elihu’s verdict regarding Job,
Nay, Job openeth his mouth in vanity,
He multiplieth words without knowledge.
Therefore doth Job open his mouth in vain; he multiplieth words without knowledge.