Bible Commentaries
Job 33

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 6-7

The First Speech (32:6-33:33)

Let Me Also Declare My Opinion (32:6-33:7)

In a long introductory statement Elihu justifies to the friends, who are presumably still present (Job 32:6-14), to any nearby witnesses (Job 32:15-22), and to (Job 33:1-7), the fact that he now enters the discussion.

Elihu’s justification, so far as Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are concerned, is clearly that he feels they have been bested by Job. In deference to their greater age and therefore presumably greater wisdom he has waited. But, in his view, wisdom is not necessarily the virtue of age, for it comes from the "spirit" or "breath of the Almighty" in a man. Elihu here is completely in harmony with a basic position of the wisdom school, namely, that true wisdom, which belongs to God alone, can be achieved by man only by virtue of his "share" in the divine wisdom, the wisdom that brought him into being and still directs him. Underlying Elihu’s words is a profound understanding of the Creation story, in which man comes to life in the image of God as God breathes into him "the breath of life" (Genesis 2:7), coupled with the concept of the creative and providential wisdom of God as found, for instance, in Proverbs 8. This "spirit" which is equivalent to "wisdom" Elihu claims as his own (see 32:18).

In a more negative way Elihu also condemns the three friends for their complete failure with Job Verses13, 14 are some-what difficult, although they must carry basically the same thought as verses 11 and 12. Verse 13 is certainly a warning to the friends not to think either that they have represented "wisdom" by their speeches or that they have discovered it in Job’s. The last line may be a sarcastic reference to their conclusion that Job could not be defeated by man’s arguments and that God must now "vanquish him." If so, then verse 14 is Elihu’s insistence that what they have not been able to accomplish he will undertake, although the connection between the two lines of the verse is not clear.

In verses 15-22 the speaker turns away from the friends. He is represented as speaking to actual bystanders or perhaps better to himself, since an audience is generally not suggested in the poem. He declares that he cannot keep silence, that he is ready to burst with "the spirit" which gives him wisdom, and that he will show no personal bias in his words.

Finally, in the preamble to his contribution Elihu addresses Job directly (Job 33:1-7). Again he justifies his words by an appeal to his possession of the divine creative spirit of wisdom (Job 33:4). But more especially he speaks to Job’s former appeals. Job has previously bewailed the fact that God "is not a man" as he himself is, and therefore he has begged that God "take his rod away" and "let not dread of him terrify" (Job 9:32-34). The latter plea was reiterated in 13:21. To this complaint Elihu now offers himself in answer. Elihu is not the strange and unapproachable God, but a man as Job is, "toward God" in the same way, made also "from a piece of clay." He therefore will not terrify and his "pressure" (or more probably, with the Greek translation, "hand," see also 13:21) will not be "heavy" upon Job. It is possible that Elihu means to offer his services as the "umpire" for whom Job has longed, the one who could represent both God and man. The truth is, however, that despite Elihu’s claims, he represents only man and not God. In the end God must speak for himself.

Verses 8-33

God Does Speak to Man (33:8-33)

Job’s contentions are seen by Elihu to be twofold. First, he has resolutely maintained his own innocence and the fact that God has irrationally afflicted him and has counted him to be an enemy rather than a friend (vss. 8-11; for parallels from Job’s own words see Job 9:21; Job 13:24; Job 13:26-27; Job 16:17). Second, Job has denied that God answers man’s questions or that God speaks to man at all (vs. 13; see Job 13:3; Job 13:22-24; Job 16:20-21; Job 19:7; Job 23:3-9). To the first Elihu answers in a pure negative (Job is "not right") and in a positive statement of the greatness of God (vs. 12).

To the second complaint Elihu gives more attention. Whereas Job has questioned whether God speaks at all, Elihu maintains that God does speak within the channel of man’s own experience. It is not entirely clear whether by the "one" and "two" ways mentioned in verse 14 it is meant that there are literally two fashions of God’s speaking, for this sort of numerical expression is common for "any number." But it is clear that Elihu does think of God as speaking to man in two ways: by a kind of dream vision and as a possible consequence of suffering.

The first way (Job 33:15-18) has already been claimed by Eliphaz as his own experience (see Job 4:12-13), and can hardly have much interest for Job, who has declared that in his case the night brings no such reassuring word of revelation but only further distress and "visions" that terrify (Job 7:13-14). But it is interesting that Elihu sees that the result of such divine "speaking" would be the ethical conversion of man, turning him from his evil ways and so "redeeming" him.

When he turns to the experience of suffering itself Elihu expands the subject and in the end gives a theory which is not unique but which is stated with considerable power. He does not declare that suffering itself is a means of God’s speaking. The experience which Job undergoes is nowhere in the book laid at the door of God but, as in the Prologue, is seen to come from elsewhere. The experience is rather a kind of chastening preparation, by which man is made ready to hear the message of God.

In Elihu’s description of suffering there is no question but that he draws the details from Job’s own case, including the wasting of the body (see Job 19:20). The experience he treats is exactly parallel to that of Job, who has drawn near "the Pit." "Those who bring death" may be a reference to angels such as are mentioned in 2 Samuel 24:16 and Psalms 78:49. Against such a dark background the speaker now sketches the steps of the divine intervention. First there is "for him an angel" who is described as one of "the thousand" ministering spirits of God, and also as a "mediator" or "interpreter" (in the Hebrew). This is one who is both gracious to help and just "to declare to man what is right for him." He thus may bring to light man’s true need and sin, but he also declares that he has "found a ransom" for him. As part of his ministry on behalf of the sufferer the "angel" intercedes for him, asking that he be delivered and restored to vigor.

Consequent to the activity of the "angel" on his behalf the suffering man now prays on his own part. When he is restored he also witnesses to men concerning the reason for his predicament and the grace of God in delivering him. Thus to his songs of salvation there will be added the praise of the congregation. A close parallel is to be found in Psalms 40:1-3, where there is the same progression of experience but without the activity of the angel who is mediator.

Finally Elihu again calls upon Job to consider his words (Job 33:29-33), and to know that God thus acts to speak to man; the purpose of God, he sees, is to bring a man to "see the light of life." If Job has any further arguments he is invited to give them or, failing that, to keep silence while Elihu proceeds. His desire to "justify" Job must be understood not as a desire to maintain Job’s right against God but as a professed willingness to agree with Job if he has any worthwhile arguments to give.

Elihu’s words in 33:19-28 must be taken as one of the great high points of the Old Testament revelation. Here dramatic imagery traces mankind’s complete helplessness, facing only the prospect of death and final meaninglessness. To this despairing estimate there is given the opposing prospect of an angelic mediator, one who has "found" a ransom, one whose graciousness and whose righteousness fit him to stand as "interpreter" both of God and of man, who, moreover, intercedes in behalf of dying man. To say that we stand close to the New Testament here is obvious.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Job 33". "Layman's Bible Commentary".