Job 35 Commentary: Sometimes we get the idea that God reacts to our sin or righteousness in predictable ways that make sense to us.
We might look at the effect and assume the cause. What I mean by that is we might witness ourselves or others being blessed and we assume that the cause for that blessing is that we somehow pleased God and that obliged him to do something good for us.
Or we might observe the cause and then assume what the effect will be. Under that system, we might see others sinning and we assume that God is going to really deal with them in this life. Because after all that makes sense to us. That person is sinning against God. That’s a personal offense to God. And he certainly won’t let that slide!
But those assumptions are faulty. God is above mankind and doesn’t need to immediately respond to us in kind. You’ve heard of the phrase, “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” But you’ve never heard it from the lips of God.
And that is going to be the point of Elihu – the character in the book of Job whose words we’ve been taking in for the last several lessons in this book.
So, let’s turn our attention to the 35th chapter of the book of Job. Job chapter 35.
Job 35 Commentary: A Question
And here we see Elihu beginning this short chapter by asking a question intended to challenge something that Job said.
KJV Job 35:1 Elihu [spake moreover, and said,/continued and said,/answered:]
2 [Thinkest thou this to be right/Do you think this is according to justice/Do you think this to be just],
[that thou saidst/do you say/when you say],
My [righteousness/right] [is more than/before] [God’s/God]?
So, Elihu is saying that Job apparently asserted that he is more righteous than God. Either that, or Job is maintaining that he is right or righteous – and he’s doing that before God’s presence. Or Job is demanding his right – his fair hearing – in God’s presence.
Job 35 Commentary: Contradiction
And so, Job is asserting either that he’s more righteous than God or simply that he is righteous in God’s sight. But Elihu wants to challenge that assertion because of a few more statements that Job has made that seem to contradict what Job has insisted on.
How could a righteous man say the following things?
3 [For thou saidst/For you say/But you say],
What [advantage will it be unto/will it profit] thee? and,
[What profit shall I have/what do I gain], [if I be cleansed from my sin/more than if I had sinned/by not sinning]?
So, basically, Job – according to Elihu – is questioning how it even profited him to not sin.
How does that work?
Well, in Job’s mind, God works like this: you do good, you get good. You do bad, you get bad. Like my illustration at the start of this message.
What has Job done in his life? Good or bad? Good!
So, what does Job – in his mind – deserve as a result? Good or bad? Good.
But what has Job received from God’s hand? Good or bad? Bad.
But in Job’s mind, what kind of action calls for God to bring bad things into your life? Good works or bad works? Bad works call for bad things from God.
So, Job is looking at that situation and saying, “If I’m going to receive bad from God, then why did I strive to live such a righteous life? I might as well have done evil and I would have received the same result from God.”
Job 35 Commentary: Look Up
And Elihu of course does not agree with Job on that point. And really – I’m pretty sure that Job under normal circumstances would have disagreed with that sentiment – that it doesn’t matter if you’re righteous of sinful.
And Elihu is now going to respond to that idea that Job has expressed. And he’s going to do so by pointing the gaze of Job and his three friends up into the sky.
4 I will [answer/reply to] thee,
and [to…] thy companions with thee.
5 [Look/Gaze] [unto/at] the heavens, and see;
[and behold/consider] the clouds [which/–they] are higher than thou[./!]
Now, certain types of clouds form higher than 39,000 feet [http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/guides/mtr/cld/cldtyp/home.rxml]. That’s over seven miles. That’s the distance from Whitewater, WI to the south-east outskirts of Fort Atkinson, WI.
So, that’s a long distance when we’re speaking of miles from one city to another. And that’s a high altitude when we’re speaking of the distance from the earth to the clouds.
Those clouds are high. But there’s a being who is higher than those clouds. And that is God.
Job 35 Commentary: God is Unaffected
And as we’re going to see from the next few verses, Elihu’s point is that God is high – higher than those clouds – and he’s unaffected by what a person does so far below down on the earth that he’s created.
And that’s a point that both Job and his three friends need to hear – because they seem to have adopted the mindset that if you scratch God’s back, he’ll scratch theirs. That’s Retribution Theology – do good and God rewards because he owes you something basically, do bad and God punishes because you harmed him somehow.
But Elihu says that’s not how God works.
6 If thou [sinnest/have sinned], [what doest thou against/what do you accomplish against/how does it affect] [him/God]?
or if thy transgressions [be multiplied/are many], what doest [thou/it] unto him?
Now, other passages of Scripture indicate that the sins of God’s people do affect him in certain ways. He grieves over them. They make him angry. A book like Jeremiah is full of references to God reaching a limit of patience regarding the sins of his people – and subsequently needing to punish the sin and the sinners.
But in an abstract way, I suppose that we can say that sin does not affect God negatively. They don’t hurt him. They don’t detract from him or his glory or his holiness in any way. They don’t take away from his person at all.
So, that’s what Elihu says that Job’s sins don’t do.
Job 35 Commentary: Righteousness
But further, Elihu states what Job’s righteousness doesn’t accomplish.
7 If thou be righteous, what [givest thou/do you give to] him?
or what receiveth he of thine hand?
So, sinning doesn’t take anything away from God – who is higher than the clouds. And in contrast, being righteous doesn’t add anything to this lofty God.
We don’t complete God by being righteous. Doing good as one of God’s creatures doesn’t somehow add to God’s perfections. We don’t make him better in any way by being good.
So, that’s what Elihu says that Job’s sins and righteousness do not accomplish. They don’t affect God in any meaningful way.
Job 35 Commentary: Good and Evil Affect Men
But instead, a person’s wickedness or righteousness might affect himself.
8 Thy wickedness [may hurt/affects only] a man [as thou art/like yourself];
and thy righteousness [may profit the son of man/only other people].
So, a person’s righteousness or wickedness isn’t some big liability or asset to God. But they might be so to another person.
And that’s correct. When a person sins, that sin usually affects someone else. And when a person is righteous – he’s loving his neighbor – and therefore at least his neighbor experiences some benefit from that behavior.
And while God wants people to be righteous and not wicked – it ultimately doesn’t harm or benefit him either way. God is fine – whether people are good or bad.
That’s the first response that Elihu gives to Job’s assertion that it doesn’t matter if a person sins or not – since Job feels like he is receiving the punishment that sinners deserve – even though he himself was righteous. Elihu just points Job to the sky and pictures God as above those high clouds and says that ultimately your actions don’t affect God.
And I think that Elihu is getting at is that God’s dealing with Job may have nothing to do with Job’s personal sin or his righteousness. And if that’s what Elihu is saying, then he’s absolutely right. God sending suffering into Job’s life had nothing to do with Job’s behavior. It involved realities that neither Job, nor his friends, nor even Elihu knew about.
And so Elihu starts by saying that God’s dealings with people doesn’t need to be based on their own behavior.
And that’s quite a departure from what Job’s friends – and even Job himself – had been asserting. All four of them have been convinced that a person’s behavior always moves God to deal with that person in-kind. You do evil – you get evil. You do good – you get good.
And that is often the case. But not always. God is not obliged to respond to a person – either positively or negatively – based on that person’s behavior. He can repay evil for evil. But oftentimes he doesn’t. God can also repay good for good to a person. But at the same time, he’s not obliged to do so.
So, that’s Elihu’s first response to Job in this chapter.
Job 35 Commentary: Second Response
So, let’s see what else Elihu says.
And here’s how he starts his second response in this chapter – by painting a picture for us of poor helpless people being oppressed by those who are powerful in this world.
9 [By reason/Because] of the [multitude/excess] of oppressions [they make the oppressed to cry/they cry out/people cry out]:
they cry [out/for help] [by reason/because] of the [arm/power] of the mighty.
And this is a reality in this life – in both Job’s days and in our own time. Sinful people with power often abuse those who have no power.
This is not how God intended it in the beginning. It’s a situation that Job and his friends have all decried and denounced. It’s a situation that should bother us as well.
Job 35 Commentary: Not Seeking God
Nevertheless, these poor abused people who are crying out – far too often they’re not crying to the right source. They’re not seeking help from God.
10 But [none saith/no one says],
Where is God my [maker/Creator],
who giveth songs in the night;
11 Who teacheth us more than the [beasts/wild animals] of the earth,
and maketh us wiser than the [fowls/birds] of [heaven/the sky]?
So, God is the one who gives joy. He gives “songs in the night.” Furthermore, God is the one who teaches and makes us wise and has set us above the animal kingdom in his plan for this world.
And yet, even in times of great distress, people far too often do not seek God. We try to find solutions of our own making. In our troubles, we don’t turn to the one bringing that trouble – the one who alone is able to do anything about our trouble.
Job 35 Commentary: God Won’t Act
And because of that pride, God isn’t inclined to do anything for that kind of person.
12 [There/Then] they [cry/cry out], but [none giveth/he does not] answer,
because of the [pride/arrogance] of [evil men/the wicked].
So, the very people who are oppressed by evil powerful men – are now themselves identified as evil. Why? Because they don’t seek God in their trials and afflictions.
Job 35 Commentary: Defending God’s Inaction
And God can’t be expected to respond to these people by delivering them from their problems when they’re not even crying out to and seeking him.
13 Surely God will not [hear/listen to] [vanity/an empty cry],
neither will the Almighty [regard/take notice of] it.
So, Elihu asserts that God refuses to hear the cry of people who are in distress – but in that distress they don’t seek after God and don’t seek his help and don’t recognize him as the one who gives joy and wisdom.
Job 35 Commentary: Job is Being Treated this Way
And therefore, Job shouldn’t be surprised at the way that God is treating him.
14 [Although/How much less when] thou sayest thou [shalt not see/do not behold/do not perceive] him,
[yet judgment/the case/that the case] is before him; [therefore trust thou in/and you must wait for/and you are waiting for] him.
So, Elihu says that Job is claiming to not be able to see or find God. So, Job is at least looking for God – unlike the people in Elihu’s story who were crying out but not even seeking God.
And Elihu said that God won’t answer cries that are not directed to him. Well, Job is crying and he’s directing those cries to God.
And because of that, Elihu encourages Job to wait for God – to trust in God. Why? Because judgement is before him – the case is before him.
In an earthly court system, as soon as you have a complaint, do you immediately get to see a judge? No. Sometimes it takes weeks or months to get a court date set. But – rest assured – you will get your date in court and you will be heard by the judge.
And that’s what Elihu is saying – just wait for God. The judgement is before him. He’s taking note of everything. He’s even noted that you’re crying out to him. Therefore, he won’t delay forever. But he’s not working on your timeline. So, wait for him. Trust in him to make things right in his time.
Job 35 Commentary: Not Punishment
And then Elihu seems to attack the idea that Job’s suffering has to be identified as God’s punishing him.
15 [But/And] [now/further], [because/when you say] [it is not so, he hath/he has not] [visited/punished] in his anger [his anger doesn’t punish…];
[yet he knoweth it not in great extremity/and he doesn’t know transgression]:
And that verse is a difficult one to interpret. But it seems that Elihu is saying that God is not visiting or punishing in his anger in Job’s life. Job’s suffering is not necessarily God’s anger poured out on him.
And then either God or Job doesn’t know something “in great extremity.” I think he’s saying perhaps that Job doesn’t know something.
What doesn’t Job know? Job doesn’t know that God is not punishing Job in anger.
Job 35 Commentary: Conclusion
And because of all of this…
16 [Therefore/So] doth Job open his mouth [in vain/to no purpose];
he multiplieth words without knowledge.
And God actually repeats Elihu’s words here – that Job multiplies words without knowledge. And so, we know that Elihu is correct on that point.
And I think he’s been correct on the rest of the points that he’s made in this chapter, too.
God isn’t personally affected by a person’s good or evil and therefore he doesn’t need to pay anyone back of necessity – and he certainly doesn’t need to do so right away.
When people are afflicted, they often do not turn to God for help. But Job is turning to God for help and therefore, Job needs to trust in and wait for God.
Job needs to be assured that he’s not being punished by God.
And ultimately, all that Job has said about it not mattering whether one sins or lives righteously – all of that is vain – empty – purposeless. Job has been talking a lot – but in this area he’s speaking without knowledge.
And we’ll hear more from Elihu in the next chapter next time.