Job 33 Commentary: People say things about God and other people that just aren’t right.
And when we hear people saying those kinds of things, we’re often compelled to speak in defense of God or those other people.
And that’s the position that the biblical character Elihu finds himself in in the 33rd chapter of the book of Job.
So, let’s turn our attention to Job, chapter 33.
1-7 Job Should Listen to Elihu
We enter this chapter with Elihu requesting that Job listen to him. And that’s really the gist of what he says for the first seven verses of this chapter.
KJV Job 33:1 [Wherefore/However now/But now], Job, [I pray thee, hear/please hear/listen to] my [speeches/speech/words],
and [hearken/listen] to [all my words/everything I have to say].
Then, Elihu requests that Job take notice that he’s speaking to him.
2 [Behold/See], now I [have opened/open] my mouth,
my tongue [which…] [hath spoken/speaks/has spoken] in my mouth.
And Job should listen, because Elihu promises that both the source and the content of his speech are pure and good.
3 My words [shall be of/are from/come from] the uprightness of my heart:
and my lips [shall utter/speak/will utter] knowledge [clearly/sincerely].
And then Elihu tells Job that the God who alone gives wisdom created him.
4 The Spirit of God hath made me,
and the breath of the Almighty [hath given/gives] me life.
And we remember that Elihu in the last chapter (Job 32:8) declared that it’s not just old age that guarantees that a person is going to be wise. The greater your age does not necessarily indicate that your wisdom will be greater than those younger than you. That’s what Elihu claimed.
Instead, Elihu said that it’s the Spirit of God that gives wisdom. The breath of the Almighty gives understanding.
And so, Elihu is saying here in this verse that God made – God, who alone gives wisdom – created Elihu. And I think that Elihu is implying that since the God who gives wisdom made him, then Job ought also to listen to the wisdom that God has given him.
And then Elihu challenges Job to respond to his words, if Job is able.
5 [If thou canst/If you can] [[Symbol] [Symbol]] [answer/refute/reply to] me,
[set thy words/Array yourselves/Set your arguments] in order before me, [stand up/take your stand].
And even though this might be sounding like Elihu feels superior to Job, Elihu is now going to remind Job that they are on the same level.
6 [Behold/Look], I am [according to thy wish/just like you] in [God's stead/relation to God]:
I [also/too] [am/have been] [formed out of/molded from] the clay.
And the way that the KJV translates the first part of that verse, it sounds like Elihu is saying that Job wants to speak to a man like him rather than to God.
But of course, that’s not what Job has been saying at all. He’s been demanding God to personally respond to his complaints.
And so, I think the alternative translation is preferable – because it’s possible grammatically – and makes a lot more sense in the context.
So, Elihu is saying that both of these men – Job and Elihu – are in the same position – of being creatures before God. Neither is superior to the other. They’re both made of clay.
And because Elihu is on the same level as Job – Job shouldn’t be afraid of him.
7 [Behold/Therefore], [my terror shall not/no fear of me] [make thee afraid/should terrify you],
[neither/nor] [shall/should] my [hand/pressure] [be/weigh] heavy upon thee.
And what Elihu might be implicitly acknowledging here is that if God were to come to Job and speak, Job would be terrified. But Job should be glad that Elihu has come – rather than God – because Elihu is just a man and won’t terrify Job.
So, in a way – at least according to Elihu – Elihu’s presence and words should be welcomed by Job – because the alternative would be for God to come and bring the pressure to bear upon Job.
But of course, we’ll see later on that apparently both Elihu and God are needful for Job to hear from.
So, that’s how Elihu ends these first 7 verses of this chapter – in brief, he wants Job to listen to him.
Well, now that Elihu has established that Job should welcome him and listen to what he has to say, Elihu is going to take issue with a few things that Job has said throughout this book.
8 [Surely/Indeed] thou hast [spoken/said] in mine hearing,
and I have heard the [voice/sound] of thy words, saying,
9-12 Elihu Summarizes What Job Has Said
And here’s what Elihu reports that Job has said. And he’s going to list them out in verses 8-12.
First, in verse 9 Elihu says that Job has claimed total innocence.
9 I am [clean/pure,] without transgression,
I am [innocent/clean]; neither is there [iniquity/guilt] in me [i.e., and I have no guilt…].
And Job has indeed said things like that – in Job 9:21; 10:7; 23:7; 27:4; ch. 31. [NET]
So, Job has maintained his total innocence.
But God on the other hand – according to Job – is making up false reasons to punish him.
10 [Behold/Yet], [he/God] [findeth/invents] [occasions/pretexts] [against/with] me,
he [counteth/regards] me [for/as] his enemy,
And Job has said things similar to what we just read – in Job 10:13ff.; 19:6ff.; and 13:24. [NET]
And so, Job is innocent. But God is inventing pretexts by which he can punish Job. And here’s the kind of treatment that Job says that he’s receiving from God as a result.
11 He putteth my feet in [the stocks/shackles],
he [marketh/watches/watches closely] all my paths.
And Job did say this kind of thing in Job 13:27. [NET]
So, Elihu summarizes what Job has said: Job is innocent of any sin. God is making-up accusations against Job. And then God executes punishment based on those made-up accusations.
12-30 Elihu Answers Job’s Claims
But Elihu takes issue with what Job has said.
12-14 We Can’t Understand God’s Ways
To begin, Elihu reminds Job of God’s greatness.
12 [Behold/Now], in this thou art not [just/right]: [I will answer thee/let me tell you/I answer you],
[that/For] God is greater than [man/a human being].
But, how does this statement help Job?
Well, in our problems it’s helpful to remember that God is greater than us. In other words, he doesn’t act according to human motives and with human considerations.
Take it a step further – God is not going to be mistaken in what he does – like a human might be. God is not going to be needlessly cruel – like humans can be.
God is greater than man.
And when it comes down to it, God doesn’t even explain why he does what he does. And therefore…
13 Why dost thou [strive/complain/contend] against him?
[for/that] he [giveth not account of/does not answer] [any/all] of [his matters/his doings/a person’s words] [./?]
And because of God’s unwillingness to explain his ways, mankind really can’t predict or even understand why he does what he does.
14 [For/Indeed] God speaketh [once/the first time in one way],
[yea twice/or twice/the second time in another], [yet man/yet no one/though a person] [perceiveth it not/notices it].
So, Elihu correctly states that we can’t understand God’s ways. That seems to be the thrust of verses 12-14.
15-18 God Warns People of Their Ways
But on the other hand, God does understand our ways. And Elihu is going to make that point in a way that might at first seem a bit strange to us.
15 In a dream,
[in a vision of the night/a night vision],
when deep sleep falleth upon men,
[in slumberings/while they slumber/as they sleep] [upon the bed/in their beds];
16 Then he [openeth the ears of men/gives a revelation to people],
and [sealeth their instruction/terrifies them with warnings],
OK, so stop there. Let’s evaluate and consider what Elihu is saying.
He claims that God gives messages to people in the night – maybe even when they’re sleeping – in and by means of their dreams. God warns them – and sometimes that warning is terrifying.
And I think I don’t have any objections to that at this point. It seems that what Elihu is saying is at least possible. God can send dreams to warn people – especially in the Old Testament he did that on numerous occasions.
But what is the purpose of God sending these instructive dreams to people?
17 That he may [withdraw/turn] [man/a person] from his [purpose/conduct/sin],
and [hide pride from man/keep man from pride/to cover a person’s pride].
So, Elihu is saying that God – whose ways men don’t understand – knows man’s ways and will sometimes send instructive dreams to men to turn them from their pride.
And actually, as God sends these warnings to people, he does so in order to spare their life.
18 He [keepeth back his soul/spares a person’s life] from [the pit/corruption],
and his [i.e., very…] life from [perishing by/passing over into/crossing over into] [the sword/Sheol/the river].
And so, that’s Elihu’s point in verses 15-18 – that God can warn people in dreams and redirect them from ways that are harmful to them.
And what’s interesting is that Job in chapter 7, verse 14 says that God did this to him – that God “scares me with dreams and terrifies me through visions.” And of course, Job didn’t like that. It was not an enjoyable experience for him.
But Elihu is trying to tell Job that that was a good thing for him. It’s good that God was sending him these frightening dreams. Because God is trying to keep Job from pride. And ultimately, God is trying to spare Job’s life by doing this – even though that’s not at all how Job has been interpreting it.
19-30 God sends physical pain so that the sinner will repent
And it’s not just dreams that God sends to men as they lie in their beds. God also sends pain.
19 [He is chastened also/Man is also chastened/Or a person is chastened] [with/by] pain [upon/on] his bed,
and [the multitude of his bones with strong pain/with unceasing complaint in his bones/with continual strife of his bones]:
And here’s the result of God sending such pain to people from time to time.
20 So that his life [abhorreth/loathes] [bread/food],
and his soul [i.e., rejects…] [dainty meat/favorite food/appetizing fare].
Have you ever had pain that was so bad that you didn’t want to eat? Well, Elihu says that God sometimes sends that kind of pain to people.
And it gets worse.
21 His flesh [is consumed away, that it cannot be seen/wastes away from sight];
and his bones that were not seen [stick out/are easily visible].
And it gets even worse!
22 [Yea,/Then] [his soul/he] draweth near [unto the grave/to the pit/to the place of corruption],
and his life to [the destroyers/those who bring death/to the messengers of death].
OK, so the guy is about to die. God brings such a painful disease to this man that his skin wastes away and his bones can be seen and he’s about to die.
Well, then Elihu pictures the situation taking a turn for the better. And he does this in an if-then format.
And I’ll admit that what he’s saying is quite obscure and confusing. So, let’s look at what Elihu is talking about.
23 If there [be/is] [a messenger/an angel] [with/for/beside] him,
[an interpreter/as a mediator/one mediator], one [among/out of] a thousand,
to [shew unto/remind/tell] [man/a man/a person] [his uprightness/what is right for him/what constitutes his uprightness]:
So, Elihu is envisioning the possibility that an angelic messenger comes to this sick person. And this angel is a mediator – a mediator between this sick person and God. And this kind of occurrence is pretty rare – as Elihu says it’s one among a thousand. And the message of this angel or this messenger is regarding what’s right for this sick man – perhaps he’s saying that the messenger will show to the sick man God’s uprightness and justice in bringing this sickness to this person. Perhaps Elihu pictures himself as just such a messenger.
Well, if this were to ever happen to a person, then Elihu says that this would be a real sign of God’s grace.
24 [Then he is/Then let him be/and if God is] gracious unto him, and [saith/say/says],
[‘] [Deliver/Spare] him from going down to the [pit/place of corruption]:
I have found a ransom [i.e., for him…]. [’]
So, if God extends grace to a sick and dying man in the form of some sort of unique messenger who reminds him of what is right, then it’s not too much for God to then continue to be gracious to that man and deliver him from death.
God – as it were – finds a ransom for that man – one that would be in the place of that man. And I think this indicates that this man is sick and dying because of his sin and that’s why God needs a ransom in his place.
And then Elihu continues to surmise what God either says about this man or what he does to him.
25 [i.e., Let/Then…] His flesh [shall be fresher/become fresher/is restored] [than/like] [a child's/in youth/a youth’s]:
[he shall return/Let him return/he returns] to the days of his [youth/youthful vigor]:
So, Elihu is picturing God being gracious to this man who was so near to death.
And what Elihu anticipates and describes in the next verse is a really a growing closeness and delight between that man and his God.
26 [i.e., Then…] He [shall pray unto/will pray to/entreats] God,
and [he/God] [will be favourable unto/will accept/delights in] him:
[and he shall/that he may/he] [see/sees] [his/God’s] face with [joy/rejoicing]:
[for/and] [he/God] [will render/may restore/restores] [unto man/to him] [his/His] righteousness.
So, notice that back-and-forth between this man and his God that is warm and accepting and joyous and close.
So, that’s the interaction between the formerly sick man and God.
But then Elihu talks about the response of that man to his fellow man.
27 He [looketh/will sing/sings/confesses] [upon/to] [men/others], [and if any say/and say/saying],
I have sinned,
and [perverted/falsified] that which was right,
[and/but] [it profited me not/it is not proper for me/I was not punished according to what I deserve];
And so, either Elihu is speaking of the sick man’s speaking to his friends and confessing that he sinned against God and that’s why he was sick. Or this is Elihu stating that God will be gracious and merciful – like he was with the sick man – to anyone who will confess his sin to God.
And the formerly sick man continues to speak – or perhaps Elihu continues to speak of that man.
28 He [will deliver/has redeemed/redeemed] [his soul/my soul/my life] from [going/going down] [into the pit/to the place of corruption],
and [his/my] life [shall see/sees] the light.
So, let me just recap what Elihu has been asserting.
He says that God’s ways are beyond us. But the opposite is not the case – that is, our ways are not beyond God.
In fact, God will be so gracious as to send people instructive dreams to turn them from pride.
But if they keep going down that road of pride, he will sometimes send them sickness. And that sickness will look like it’s going to kill them.
But even in a person’s bleakest hour, it’s possible that God would be gracious to him and turn his sickness around and heal the man. And whenever that may happen, God and that man will share a real closeness that the man will even be willing to tell others about.
Well, moving on, now Elihu declares that this is all something that God does not infrequently – God often deals with people by sending them physical problems, he says.
29 [Lo/Behold/Indeed], all these things [worketh/does] God [oftentimes/twice, three times in his dealings] with [man/men/a person],
30 To [bring/turn] back his [soul/life] from the [pit/place of corruption],
[to/that he may] be enlightened with the light of [the living/life].
And finally, Elihu challenges Job to answer if he can. Or if he can’t, then to just keep listening.
31 [Mark well/Pay attention], O Job,
[hearken unto/listen to] me:
[hold thy peace/keep silent/be silent],
and [I will/let me] speak.
32 [i.e., Then…] If thou hast any [thing to say/words],
[answer/reply to] me:
for I [desire/want] to justify thee.
33 If not, [hearken/listen/you listen] unto me:
[hold thy peace/keep silent/be silent], and I shall teach thee wisdom.
So, Elihu desires to justify Job. And you can see how he’s trying to do that.
Elihu has just mentioned two realities in Job’s life – the fact that Job has had dreams and the fact that Job is so sick that he thinks the sickness might result in his death.
And Elihu is giving a different interpretation of those realities than the three friends did. The three friends thought that the only explanation for these things is Job’s secret sin.
But Elihu is not necessarily tying sin to any of this. The dreams could be to prevent a person from being proud – prevent, not stop him from currently being proud.
And the sickness could possibly have something to do with sin – since the man, once he’s healed, is going to confess to others that he sinned. And yet, that consideration was not foremost in Elihu’s mind.
And it’s not even confession of sin that causes God to turn and heal that man, as Elihu talked about it. No – it’s just God choosing to be gracious.
So, Elihu is not assuming to understand all the reasons for why Job is sick and suffering. And Elihu shows a commendable ability to be restrained in his explanation and not pretend to know more than he really knows.
Elihu declares that we don’t understand God’s ways, which is right. And he also at the same time can call-out Job for justifying himself rather than God, which is also right.
And Elihu will continue to explain things the way he sees them next time.