As I read through Job, I cannot help but get overly anxious regarding the bombardment of questions and information given by Job’s friends. The speech by Elihu in 36:26-37:24 arose my curiosity because Elihu is throwing questions at Job. What is going on here?
Here is what Elihu says:
36:26 “Look, God is greater than we can understand.
His years cannot be counted.
27 He draws up the water vapor
and then distills it into rain.
28 The rain pours down from the clouds,
and everyone benefits.
29 Who can understand the spreading of the clouds
and the thunder that rolls forth from heaven?
30 See how he spreads the lightning around him
and how it lights up the depths of the sea.
31 By these mighty acts he nourishes the people,
giving them food in abundance.
32 He fills his hands with lightning bolts
and hurls each at its target.
33 The thunder announces his presence;
the storm announces his indignant anger.
37:1“My heart pounds as I think of this.
It trembles within me.
2 Listen carefully to the thunder of God’s voice
as it rolls from his mouth.
3 It rolls across the heavens,
and his lightning flashes in every direction.
4 Then comes the roaring of the thunder--
the tremendous voice of his majesty.
He does not restrain it when he speaks.
5 God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power.
6 “He directs the snow to fall on the earth
and tells the rain to pour down.
7 Then everyone stops working
so they can watch his power.
8 The wild animals take cover
and stay inside their dens.
9 The stormy wind comes from its chamber,
and the driving winds bring the cold.
10 God’s breath sends the ice,
freezing wide expanses of water.
11 He loads the clouds with moisture,
and they flash with his lightning.
12 The clouds churn about at his direction.
They do whatever he commands throughout the earth.
13 He makes these things happen either to punish people
or to show his unfailing love.
14 “Pay attention to this, Job.
Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God!
15 Do you know how God controls the storm
and causes the lightning to flash from his clouds?
16 Do you understand how he moves the clouds
with wonderful perfection and skill?
17 When you are sweltering in your clothes
and the south wind dies down and everything is still,
18 he makes the skies reflect the heat like a bronze mirror.
Can you do that?
19 “So teach the rest of us what to say to God.
We are too ignorant to make our own arguments.
20 Should God be notified that I want to speak?
Can people even speak when they are confused?
21 We cannot look at the sun,
for it shines brightly in the sky
when the wind clears away the clouds.
22 So also, golden splendor comes from the mountain of God.
He is clothed in dazzling splendor.
23 We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty;
but even though he is just and righteous,
he does not destroy us.
24 No wonder people everywhere fear him.
All who are wise show him reverence.
It was 37:13 that really caught my attention in the middle of this onslaught of questions. So, I went to the The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: Old Testament for some insight and here is what I learned.
This speech illustrates the work of God through nature, from one season to the next. Elihu starts with Autumn and then goes through Winter into the Spring, ending with Summer. This is a scientific lecture of sorts, in which Elihu is challenging Job to consider the fact that if he cannot explain the very nature of things, how is he to stand before God and give a true defense of himself. If you reread the questions found in the verses below, you will see that in each season there are things that Job cannot do to know, and Elihu is basically telling Job that he will be swallowed up in God’s judgement because there is no good way to argue a defense against God.
Of course, this sets up God’s appearing in the book, breaking out of the storm and now it is God’s turn to question Job, not Job’s turn to question God. However, Job does get an audience with God and learns to fear God and trust him, because there is purpose for God’s actions even if they are not understood right away…or for a season. As was written above, “He makes these things happen either to punish people or to show his unfailing love…” which indicates that God is not whimsical but acts with purpose.
Suffering is deeply personal, and so often when things are going well for us there is little evaluation or reflection as to why we are succeeding. However, when a time of suffering comes, there seems to be exhaustive evaluation and reflection. The major question is “WHY?” Why is this happening to me? Why would God allow this to happen? Why do some people seem to escape suffering while others seem to escape success?
Often, the place we turn in the midst of suffering is the book of Job, and that is a good place to turn. Yet, in the book there is a central problem that gets played out as Job talks to his “friends.” You see, suffering is most naturally connected to sin and wickedness, thus suffering is viewed as divine punishment for evil behaviors and attitudes. Eliphaz takes Job to task after he asserts in defense from Zophar, “How can your empty cliches comfort me? All you explanations are lies!”
22:4 Is it because you’re so pious that he accuses you
and brings judgment against you?
5 No, it’s because of your wickedness!
There’s no limit to your sins.
Eliphaz then provides a list of possible wrongs Job might have done or thought. Yet, readers of the book know that Job’s questions about the wicked prospering and his questions of WHY seem to be justified. Whereas, the explanations of the friends rely on the notion of God’s retribution, which is very much in question in the story of Job.
Ultimately, Job receives an audience with God, who does not reveal sins and wickedness in Job’s life, but responds to Job by showing the vast gulf set between God’s wisdom and that of any person…including Job and his friends. God asks WHY…but his questions have no explanations because they are higher, greater, and more complex than human knowledge and experience.
So Job, even though he is confused about the “WHY” of his suffering, he concedes to God and even says it: “Who can teach a lesson to God?” (21:22) Job could not fully understand his deeply personal and awfully terrible experience, but in the midst of it he did two things: First, he did not think God had forgotten him or turned his back on him, and second, Job continually complained and turned to God who Job knew could actually change the situation. It is so easy in the midst of suffering or pain to feel alone, forgotten, and unworthy…but that was not Job’s condition. Job asked WHY…but he asked it of God and to God. The “friends” in the story play the part of annoyances and distractions, they represent the conventional or cultural wisdom of the times and we as readers want them to go away (or at least stop talking).
God does eventually act and restores the life of Job. We should not, however, think that everything is then all right and Job never thought about his suffering again. He lost everything including children and career. While he regains more family, different family, and rebuilds his career; it was not the same people and the same life. Thus, suffering changed Job and unfortunately the text ends before we see the outcome of Job’s suffering in his new life.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.