Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chap. 36–37. Elihu’s Fourth Speech
In his former speeches Elihu was more theoretical, being intent upon correcting the false principles in regard to God enunciated by Job (see headings to ch. 33, 34, 35); in his present speech he is more practical and hortatory. He keeps still before him the same great object, namely to present just thoughts of God; but having in the former speeches corrected the false ideas of Job he proceeds now, more positively, to present his own elevated conceptions of the Creator.
The object of the passage is to extol the greatness of God in all His operations, both among men and in the world. Thus the passage falls into two parts,
First, ch. Job 36:1-25; in which the greatness of God in His providential treatment of men is extolled. Here the speaker gives a fuller statement of his theory of the meaning of the afflictions sent on men by God (Job 36:1-15); and exhorts Job to recognise God’s purpose in his sufferings, and to unite with all men in exalting Him.
Second, ch. Job 36:26—ch. 37.; in which the greatness and wisdom and unsearchableness of God, as these are manifested in the phenomena of the heavens, are magnified (ch. Job 36:26 to Job 37:13); and Job is exhorted to lay these great wonders to heart, and bow beneath the wisdom and power of God, who far transcends man’s comprehension (ch. Job 37:14-24).
Chap. Job 36:1-25. God’s gracious designs in afflicting men; and exhortation to Job to unite with all men in extolling his greatness
First, Job 36:1-4. In some words of introduction Elihu beseeches Job to listen to him still further, for he has yet something to say on God’s behalf; and he will speak what is true, for he has perfect knowledge.
Second, Job 36:5-15. Then he proceeds to his theme, the greatness of God. This is a greatness of mind and understanding, which does not despise the weak, but rules all with goodness and wisdom. Afflictions are but instances of this gracious wisdom, for by them He opens the ear of men to instruction.
Third, Job 36:16-25, application of this doctrine of the meaning of afflictions to Job—God is through them alluring him into a prosperous and happy life. And the speaker adds a warning against murmuring, and an exhortation to adore and magnify as all men do the great God.
Elihu also proceeded, and said,1–4. Introductory: Elihu desires Job to hear him still further. He has still more to say in God’s behalf; and it is not trivial or commonplace, either in its object—for he will ascribe right to his Maker; nor in itself, for he is one perfect in knowledge.
Suffer me a little, and I will shew thee that I have yet to speak on God's behalf.2. The verse reads,
Suffer me a little and I will shew thee;
For I have somewhat still to say on God’s behalf.
The first words are lit. wait for me a little.
I will fetch my knowledge from afar, and will ascribe righteousness to my Maker.3. from afar] He will speak comprehensively, embracing the distant parts of the subject in his survey, or throwing light upon it from far-off regions.
righteousness to my Maker] Elihu gives here in a word the ruling idea of his discourses: they are all meant to ascribe righteousness or right to God; they are a defence of God against the charges of Job. The expression rendered my Maker does not occur elsewhere in the Old Testament.
For truly my words shall not be false: he that is perfect in knowledge is with thee.4. The speaker makes a higher claim than to sincerity here; he claims the character of absolute truth for his teaching—he is perfect in knowledge. In a slightly different form the phrase “perfect in knowledge” is applied to God, ch. Job 37:16; cf. 1 Samuel 2:3.
Behold, God is mighty, and despiseth not any: he is mighty in strength and wisdom.5. and despiseth not] Though God is mighty He despiseth or dis-daineth not, He gives the weakest his rights as much as the most powerful, for they are all the work of His hand, ch. Job 34:19. The words express Elihu’s conception of God, which He opposes to the conception of Job (e.g. ch. 7 and often).
in strength and wisdom] Rather, in strength of understanding; lit of heart. It is this perfection of understanding, in which God’s greatness consists, that makes it impossible that He should “despise” any. To know life, however mean, is to love it.
5–25. Elihu’s doctrine is in a word: God is great and despiseth not, He is great in strength of heart. His greatness is that of understanding, which enables Him to estimate all rightly, to see through all right and wrong, and to adapt His providence to the strong and to the weak, the evil and the good. This thought with the illustrations of it, Job 36:6-15, and the application of it to Job , vv16-25, exhaust the first half of this concluding speech.
He preserveth not the life of the wicked: but giveth right to the poor.6. Illustration of the operation of God’s understanding, giving to all conditions of men their due.
right to the poor] Rather, his right; poor may be, as marg., afflicted.
He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous: but with kings are they on the throne; yea, he doth establish them for ever, and they are exalted.7. The second half of the verse reads,
But with kings upon the throne
He setteth them for ever, and they are exalted.
God’s careful providence especially keeps the righteous, whom He exalts to the loftiest stations, 1 Samuel 2:8; Psalm 113:7 seq.
And if they be bound in fetters, and be holden in cords of affliction;8. The expression “fetters” is rather to be taken figuratively, meaning affliction or adversity, as “cords of affliction” in the next clause suggests.
8–10. If life often appears to present a different picture and men are seen in affliction, this affliction is a discipline, needful to warn them and bring their evil before them.
Then he sheweth them their work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded.9. that they have exceeded] Or, have dealt proudly, ch. Job 33:17.
9–10. The meaning of afflictions—they are a divine warning and stimulus to rouse men out of a sinful lethargy and bring their sin to their remembrance.
He openeth also their ear to discipline, and commandeth that they return from iniquity.
If they obey and serve him, they shall spend their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasures.11, 12. Such afflictions, though graciously meant, may have different issues according as men receive them. On the expression “the sword” in Job 36:12 see ch. Job 33:18.
But if they obey not, they shall perish by the sword, and they shall die without knowledge.
But the hypocrites in heart heap up wrath: they cry not when he bindeth them.13. hypocrites in heart] Rather, godless in heart; comp. ch. Job 8:13.
heap up wrath] Rather, lay up anger, i. e. in their hearts, Psalm 13:2; Proverbs 26:24; they cherish anger at the Divine discipline (ch. Job 5:2). The “wrath” or anger referred to is their own, not that of God (Romans 2:5). The phrase does not occur elsewhere.
13, 14. Such afflictions indeed are sometimes the means of revealing what character men are of, ch. Job 5:2.
They die in youth, and their life is among the unclean.14. They die] lit. their soul dieth. They perish in the midst of their days.
is among the unclean] Or, perisheth among the unclean, i. e. like the unclean. They die prematurely or in debasement like the hierodouloi in the temples of Baal, comp. 1 Kings 14:24; 1 Kings 15:12.
He delivereth the poor in his affliction, and openeth their ears in oppression.15. The verse goes back to the great general principle of the use of affliction in God’s hand (Job 36:8 seq.), in order to connect with it the case of Job, and to found an exhortation to him upon it (Job 36:16 seq.). The word in affliction, in oppression, might mean through affliction, &c.
Even so would he have removed thee out of the strait into a broad place, where there is no straitness; and that which should be set on thy table should be full of fatness.16. The words even so connect Job’s case with the general principles in regard to suffering just inculcated by Elihu. The figures of “straitness” and “broad place” are usual for affliction and prosperity, cf. ch. Job 18:7. The figure of a plenteous table is also common, Psalm 23:5. The speaker does not say by what means God is alluring the sufferer out of the mouth or jaws of distress into a broad place. He means probably the disciplining effects of the distress itself, unless the “distress” here refer to a future, greater evil, from which Job’s present affliction is designed to save him. Comp., however, ch. Job 33:14-28.
16–25. Application to Job of the principles in regard to affliction just enunciated by Elihu.
Job 36:16-19 are difficult and have been understood in a great variety of ways. The general sense expressed by the A. V. is probably correct, unless probability be considered too strong a term to employ of any rendering.
16. Even so doth he allure thee out of the mouth of distress
Into a broad place, where there is no straitness;
And that which is set on thy table shall be full of fatness.
17. But if thou art filled with the judgment of the wicked,
Judgment and justice shall keep hold on thee.
18. For beware lest wrath entice thee into scorning,
And let not the greatness, of the ransom lead thee astray.
19. Will thy riches suffice, without stint?
Or all the forces of wealth?
Many objections may be urged against this rendering, as may be against any rendering that can be proposed.
But thou hast fulfilled the judgment of the wicked: judgment and justice take hold on thee.17. The A. V. takes this verse positively; it is more suitable to the connexion and purpose of the speaker to understand it conditionally—if thou art filled with, or as A. V. fulfillest. To be full of, or to fulfil, the judgment of the wicked, is to join the wicked in their judgment of God when He afflicts, to lay up wrath against God (Job 36:13), an idea immediately taken up in Job 36:18. If Job acts in this way, as he is too much inclined (Job 36:21), then judgment and justice shall keep hold on him. God’s condemnation of him will reveal itself in the continuance and increase of his chastisement (cf. Job 36:13-14, ch. Job 5:1 seq.). The word “judgment” is used in the one clause of man’s, and in the other of God’s judgment, making a forcible antithesis.
Because there is wrath, beware lest he take thee away with his stroke: then a great ransom cannot deliver thee.18. In this verse wrath appears to be that of Job, as “anger,” Job 36:13. Elihu warns him against allowing it to entice him into rebellion against God, comp. ch. Job 34:37. The A. V. takes “wrath” as that of God, visible in Job’s afflictions. This gives a good parallel to the “greatness of the ransom” in the next clause. Elihu’s doctrine, however, is that afflictions are not the expression of God’s wrath but of His disciplinary mercy; and his great object is to warn Job against putting this false construction on God’s dealing with him; cf. ch. 33 throughout, ch. Job 36:5.
In the second clause he warns Job against being led astray by the greatness of the ransom, by which he means Job’s severe afflictions; cf. ch. Job 33:24.
Will he esteem thy riches? no, not gold, nor all the forces of strength.19. No other ransom will avail,—not riches nor all the power of wealth. Only the purification of suffering will cleanse him from his evil (cf. ch. Job 34:36), and deliver him. Elihu demands with emphasis whether all his riches will be accepted as a ransom? It need not be said that the question is put merely for the purpose of heightening the effect of the idea in Job 36:18, that suffering is the only ransom possible. A similar thought is expressed in Psalm 49:7 : “None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; for the redemption of their soul is too precious and it ceaseth for ever.”
The word translated “without stint” (Conant) is lit. without straitness. The word is often used for distress (Job 36:16), and the clause might be rendered: will thy riches suffice (lit. be equal to it, ch. Job 28:19), without distress, i.e. such afflictions as those now suffered? This is rather flat. The A. V. assumes that the expression is the word ore or gold, ch. Job 22:24, differently spelled. This assumption is both improbable in itself and contrary to the balance of the verse.
Desire not the night, when people are cut off in their place.20–21. Elihu continues his warning to Job.
20. Desire not that night
When the peoples are cut off in their place;
21. Take heed, turn not unto iniquity,
For this thou choosest rather than affliction.
20. The “night” is as usual a figure for destruction and judgment. By this destroying judgment of God nations are “taken away” in their place, i. e. on the spot, suddenly and without power of escape; and Job is warned against desiring, lit. panting for, such a judgment. Job had often desired to meet God in judgment, and there may be a reference to this in the words, but the passage contains a general warning against Job’s rebellious words and demeanour towards God, and means “Act not as if thou soughtest to bring on thyself the dark and sudden judgment day of calamity when nations are swept away in their place.”
Take heed, regard not iniquity: for this hast thou chosen rather than affliction.21. The verse continues the warning against a rebellious mind under affliction, called here “turning unto iniquity”; for Job shews himself more inclined to this than to submission to God’s chastening hand.
Behold, God exalteth by his power: who teacheth like him?22. exalteth by his power] Rather, God doeth loftily in his power.
who teacheth] Or, who is a teacher.
22–25. Instead of murmuring Job should bow under the mighty hand of God, who through the operations of His providence is a great teacher of men (Job 36:22); who is supreme (Job 36:23); and whose work all men celebrate (Job 36:24), looking to it with admiration and awe (Job 36:25).
Who hath enjoined him his way? or who can say, Thou hast wrought iniquity?23. The verse expresses the idea that God is supreme; none enjoins or appoints Him His way; He is “God over all;” and hence none can pass judgment upon His doings.
Remember that thou magnify his work, which men behold.24. which men behold] Rather, which men do sing, that is, celebrate with praise.
Every man may see it; man may behold it afar off.25. The verse is better without the “may” of the A. V.
All men look thereon,
Man beholdeth it afar off.
Men look on God’s work, His operations, with wonder and awe.
Behold, God is great, and we know him not, neither can the number of his years be searched out.26. we know him not] He is so great as to transcend all knowledge of man. The Eternity of God is referred to in the second clause in order to fill the mind more completely with the sense of His greatness.
Chap. Job 36:26-33. The greatness and unsearchableness of God, seen in His marvellous operations in the skies; and exhortation to Job to allow these wonders duly to impress him, and to bow beneath the greatness of God, who surpasses all comprehension
The passage has two sections:
First, ch. Job 36:26 to Job 37:13, the incomprehensible greatness of God, seen in the phenomena of the atmosphere: in the formation of the rain-drops (ch. Job 36:26-28); in the thunder-storm (ch. Job 36:29 to Job 37:5); in snow and ice, which seals up the hand of man and makes him powerless before the mighty power of God (Job 36:6-10); in His lading the cloud with moisture, and guiding it to the fulfilment of His varied behests upon the whole earth (Job 36:11-13).
Second, ch. Job 37:14-21, Elihu exhorts Job to consider these marvels of Him which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working, and to let them duly impress him; bidding him behold the wonderful balancing of the summer cloud in the heavens, when the earth is still with the south wind (Job 36:14-17), and the burnished sky is stretched out like a molten mirror (Job 36:18). With what words shall man come before the Omnipotent to contend with Him! Man, who is dazzled by the light of the sky, how should he behold the terrible glory around God! Therefore all men do fear Him; and He hath not respect to those that are wise in their own understanding (Job 36:19-21).
Ch. Job 36:26 to Job 37:13, The greatness of God and the wonderfulness of His operations in the phenomena of the atmosphere.
For he maketh small the drops of water: they pour down rain according to the vapour thereof:27, 28. The wonder of the rain-drops.
27. For he maketh small the rain-drops;
They distil the rain of his vapour;
28. Which the clouds pour down,
And drop upon the multitude of mankind.
27. he maketh small] lit. he draweth away, the reference being probably to the formation of the rain, which God draweth away in drops from the great mass of waters above. Others render, he draweth up, supposing the reference to be to the ascent of the rain in the form of vapour, as it then comes down in rain-drops. But this is rather scientific and complete; neither does the word mean to draw up.
Which the clouds do drop and distil upon man abundantly.28. upon man abundantly] This is possible, but the more natural meaning is as above, the reference being to the universal reach of the rain, and its fall on all mankind.
29–37:5. The marvel of the thunder-storm.
Also can any understand the spreadings of the clouds, or the noise of his tabernacle?29. The “spreadings” of the clouds refers probably to the accumulation and diffusion of the storm clouds over the heavens; and the second clause to the loud thundering within the dark cloud, where God is enshrouded, and which is therefore called His “pavilion.” So the word is rendered Psalm 18:11, where the representation is similar.
29, 30. Job 36:30 needs some modification—
29. Also can any understand the spreadings of the clouds,
And the crashings of his pavilion?
30. Behold, he spreadeth his light around him,
And covereth him over with the deeps of the sea.
Behold, he spreadeth his light upon it, and covereth the bottom of the sea.30. Though God is enveloped in the dark cloud, He is there encircled with His light, which, though the masses of waters cover Him, manifests itself to men’s eyes in the lightning that shoots from the cloud and illumines it.
the bottom of the sea] lit. the roots of the sea, a singular figure, which must mean the deeps or recesses of the sea. The reference is no doubt to the masses of water in the thunder clouds which enshroud the Almighty, but the precise idea of the poet is uncertain. Either he must call the heavenly waters the “sea” (cf. Psalm 29:3), and mean by its “roots” its densest recesses; or if he refer to the sea on earth, his idea must be that it has been, as it were, drawn up from its bottom in cloud and vapour to form the pavilion of the Lord. This second idea has a certain extravagance which makes it less probable.
For by them judgeth he the people; he giveth meat in abundance.31. For by them judgeth he the people] Rather, the peoples. He judges the peoples by the lightning and the rain cloud. By the one He “scatters” and “discomfits” His enemies (Psalm 18:14), and by the other He watereth the earth and makes it fruitful (Isaiah 55:10).
With clouds he covereth the light; and commandeth it not to shine by the cloud that cometh betwixt.32–33. The verses read,
32. He covereth over his hands with light,
And giveth it commandment against the adversary;
33. His thundering telleth concerning him;
Unto the cattle, even concerning him that cometh up;
32. The “light” here is the lightning, which grasped in His hands illuminates them. Hitzig refers to Hor. Od. 1. 2,
dextera sacras jaculatus arces
The noise thereof sheweth concerning it, the cattle also concerning the vapour.33. the cattle also] The A. V. makes “cattle” subject—they also tell of God; in which case the reference would be to their presentiments of a coming storm. The context, however, describes a storm actually present, and it is more natural to repeat the words “it telleth” from the first clause and render, (it telleth) unto the cattle; for the reference throughout appears to be to the impression produced on all creatures by God’s mighty thunderings and how these reveal His majesty—even the cattle hearing with terror His awful voice; just as in ch. Job 37:1 Elihu describes the effect produced on himself.
concerning the vapour] Rather as above, concerning Him that cometh up, i. e. approaches or advances in the thunder cloud.
The above rendering assumes that the present Heb. text is correct. Others by alterations in the pointing elicit various senses.