The Pulpit Commentary

Job 36:1-33 (Job 36:1-33)

The two chapters, Job 36:1-33 ; Job 37:1-24 , form a single discourse, and ought not to have been separated; or, at any rate, not so unskilfully as they are, in the middle of a description of a thunderstorm. They constitute a final appeal to Job, who is exhorted to submission, resignation, and patience, in consideration of God's inscrutability, and of his perfect justice, wisdom, and strength. Job 36:1-33 begins with a short preface ( Job 36:1-4 ), in which Elihu seeks to prove his right to offer counsel to Job, after which God's justice is demonstrated (verses 5-16), and Job warned that his petulance may lead to his complete destruction (verses 17-25). Finally, in illustration of God's might and unsearchableness, the description of a thunderstorm is commenced (verses 26-33), which is carried on into the next chapter.

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Job 36:21 (Job 36:21)

Take heed, regard not iniquity ; i.e. be on thy guard . Whilst thou art careful to preserve thy integrity and faith in God, do not fall into sin in other respects—as by impatient desires, or proud thoughts, or rash accusations of God. For this hast thou chosen rather than affliction. Rather than acquiesce in thy afflictions and bear them patiently, thou hast elected to murmur, to complain, to question the justice of God, and speak overboldly concerning him. There is some ground for Elihu's condemnation; but it is excessive; it fails to make allowance for the extremity of Job's sufferings, and the disturbing influence of extreme suffering on the mind and judgment. It is, at any rate, more severe than God's judgment upon his servant ( Job 38:2 ; Job 42:7 ).

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Job 36:1-21 (Job 36:1-21)

Elihu to Job: 3. A sermon on the Divine administration.

I. THE PREACHER INTRODUCES HIMSELF .

1 . As having something further to say. A man who has nothing to communicate should not emerge from the safe regions of obscurity which Providence designs he should adorn. But alas! of preachers, orators, lecturers, talkers, who babble on without contributing anything to elucidate their themes or enlighten their hearers, however much to gratify themselves, the number is legion. The first requirement in one who aspires to be a teacher of men, whether from the pulpit or from the platform, is that he have something to impart. When in Zechariah's vision the angel was directed to "run," and "speak to the young man" with the measuring-line, he was at the same time entrusted with a message ( Zechariah 2:4 ). The preacher who habitually delivers sermons of the vacuous and windy order affords perfectly sufficient evidence of having mistaken his calling. Neither God nor Christ ever commissioned an ambassador without giving him a message.

2 . As proposing to speak in God ' s behalf. Of the controversy which Job carried on with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, Elihu disposed by a simple expression of indignation ( Job 32:3 , Job 32:12 ). The full strength of his ability was directed to maintain the cause of God against Job, and to ascribe righteousness to One whom Job had charged with want of equity. So the mission of the Christian pulpit is not to plunge into the labyrinthine intricacies of theological discussion, in the hope of definitely pronouncing upon long-standing, world-famous controversies like those which engaged the attention of Milton's erudite devils ('Paradise Lost,' bk. 2:559), but to speak with men on God's behalf-on the one hand, to ascribe right to God, i.e. to vindicate the Divine character, the Divine administration, the Divine redemption as being in perfect accord with right and truth; and on the other hand, to bring sinful men to a right state of mind and heart towards God. It is a profanation of the sacred office of the ministry when it is employed to diffuse philosophy, to propagate science, to advance politics, to promote what is called culture as distinguished from religion—in short, to do anything that does not directly contribute to either the vindication of God or the salvation of man.

3 . As offering a wide and comprehensive view of his subject. The chief fault of controversialists, and one requiring to be guarded against even by the wisest and fairest, is that of one-sided presentation, commonly resulting in exaggerated statement, rash generalization, unwarranted deduction. Such a fault usually proceeds from incapacity to perceive that truth is many-sided, or inability to grasp more sides than one; from unwillingness to admit that aspects of truth may be presented to one which are denied to another, or from overweening self-conceit which supposes nothing can be accurate which self does not see. Job and the three friends are good illustrations of men who look at the same object ( e.g. the Divine administration) from different standpoints, and pronounce each other wrong. Elihu undertook to present views derived from an extensive induction of particulars, from a many-sided contemplation of truth, from long and deep reflection. So should preachers aim at setting forth only such expositions of Divine truth as have been gathered by patient industry and diligent research, of the widest and minutest sort, in the volume of the Scriptures, in the books of nature and history, in the records of experience; and even these only after they have been subjected to careful inspection and personally absorbed by deep meditation.

4 . As speaking with the utmost sincerity. Elihu promised that his words should not be false as to matter, disingenuous as to aim, or beguiling as to form (verse 4); and neither should the utterances of a preacher in any one of these respects deviate from the straight path of rectitude. What he offers to the acceptance of his audience should be the unmixed truth of God ( 1 Corinthians 2:2 , 1 Corinthians 2:7 ; 2 Corinthians 4:2 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:2 ), presented not "with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" ( 1 Corinthians 2:4 , 1 Corinthians 2:13 ), and exhibited with no ulterior motive of personal aggrandizement, but with honest endeavour to advance God's glory in man's salvation ( 2 Corinthians 4:2 ). Soundness of doctrine, simplicity of speech, singleness of aim, are qualifications indispensable for an efficient ministry.

5 . As possessed of an adequate acquaintance with his theme. In claiming to be "perfect in knowledge" (verse 4), Elihu may be only asserting his honesty of purpose (Umbreit, Carey, Cook), but the application of the same phrase to God ( Job 37:16 ) makes it probable that he here alludes to the "faultlessness and clearness of perception" (Delitzsch) with which he apprehends "the theodicy which he opposes to Job," and the intensity of that inward conviction which he holds as to its truth (Cook). So again should God's prophets and Christ's preachers, by prayerful study of the Divine Word, by prolonged cogitation on the themes they design to discuss, and in particular by humble dependence on that Spirit who instructed Elihu, labour to arrive at the veritable truth of God, and to have as complete an understanding thereof as possible, that so, in all their utterances, they may be able to say, like Christ, "We speak that we do know" ( John 3:11 ); like David, "I believed: therefore have I spoken" ( Psalms 116:10 ); and like St Paul, "We also believe, and therefore speak" ( 2 Corinthians 4:13 ).

II. THE PREACHER ANNOUNCES HIS THEME .

1 . The character of the Divine Being. Introduced by a "Behold!" to mark its worthiness of Job's attention and admiration.

(1) Mighty. Meaning exalted in station, lofty in rank or quality of being, and resistless in power—a point frequently descanted on by Job himself ( e.g. Job 9:4 ; Job 12:13 ), as well as by the friends.

(2) Condescending. Despising not any, acting not scornfully, as Job insinuated God did in turning a deaf ear to his entreaties, and regarding his misery without concern ( Job 10:3 ; Job 19:7 ; Job 23:13 ). But the Supreme Governor of the universe, according to Elihu, is too exalted a Being to act unjustly, or even unkindly, towards any, even the meanest, of his creatures. On the contrary, his very greatness is the best guarantee for his absolute impartiality and condescending kindness. That God despises nothing he has made, neither man nor beast, but watches with loving care over the least as well as the greatest of his works, was asserted by Christ ( Matthew 10:29 ), and experienced by David ( Psalms 40:17 ), and may be confirmed by a reference to nature itself, in which the smallest objects ( e.g. flowers and insects) have lavished on them the largest amount of skill in their construction, decoration, and preservation. This combination of strength and beauty, of power and gentleness, of dignity and condescension, which Elihu proclaims to be characteristic of God, was eminently exemplified in Christ, and lies at the foundation of all moral greatness into an.

2 . The character of the Divine administration.

(1) Punitive, or destructive towards the ungodly: "He preserveth not the life of the wicked"—the doctrine of the friends ( Job 5:2 ; Job 8:12 , Job 8:13 ; Job 11:20 ), but here advanced with greater fairness of statement ( vide infra ); and

(2) gracious, or preservative towards the pious: "He giveth right to the poor," or afflicted, i.e. he allotteth to them what is just, what is in moral and spiritual harmony with their condition, viz. deliverance and salvation—also a tenet of the friends ( Job 5:17-27 ; Job 8:5-7 ; Job 11:13-19 ), though here again set forth with more precision and moderation than by them.

III. THE PREACHER DEVELOPS HIS ARGUMENT .

1 . The Divine treatment of the righteous.

(1) Watching over them while doing right. "He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous"—a frequently stated doctrine of Scripture ( 2 Chronicles 16:9 ; Psalms 1:6 ; Psalms 34:15 ; Proverbs 10:3 ; Isaiah 26:7 ; Isaiah 27:3 ); illustrated by the cases of Noah ( Genesis 7:1 ), the Israelites ( Exodus 3:7 ), David ( Psalms 139:1 ), and even Job himself ( Job 23:10 ); and here declared to be of universal application, whether the objects of his observation are kings on the throne, like David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah, or prisoners in affliction, like Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, or St. Paul in Philippi.

(2) Rewarding them for their piety, "With kings are they [ i.e. the righteous] on the throne; yea, he doth establish them for ever, and they are exalted" Sooner or later, the righteous are advanced to a state of regal prosperity; sometimes literally, as with Joseph, David, Daniel; but always spiritually, like the chosen people, who were made "a kingdom of priests" ( Exodus 19:6 ), and like Christians, who are constituted "kings and priests unto God" ( Revelation 1:6 ; Revelation 5:10 ; 1 Peter 2:9 ) and appointed to reign for over and ever.

(3) Instructing them when afflicted. Assuming that the cords and fetters which hold them have been imposed as an act of mercy by God ( Job 5:17 ; Psalms 94:12 ; Proverbs 3:11 ; Revelation 3:12 ), Elihu directs attention to a richer benefaction than the affliction, viz. the special education they receive from God during its continuance—an education in its character

(a) gracious, being imparted by God, chiefly through his Word and Spirit;

(b) convincing, unfolding to them the sin of which they have been guilty;

(c) humbling, pointing out the foolish pride and vainglory from which it has proceeded;

(d) admonitory, warning them of the danger in which they continue while impenitent;

(e) authoritative, enabling their awakened consciences to feel the urgent duty of departing from evil; and

(f) efficacious, leading m the case of every genuine child of God to a hearty return to God s ways.

(g) Restoring them when penitent. Defining that submission they accord to God as a hearing and serving (the essential ingredients of all true contrition), Elihu depicts them as finishing their days in the midst of "good," i.e. of every sort of pure enjoyment, and their years in the midst of pleasures, or things of loveliness and true delight.

2 . The Divine treatment of the unrighteous. One principal aim of affliction is to sift the unrighteous from the righteous. As the latter are distinguished by their penitential return to God, so the former are recognized by opposite characteristics, neither hearing God's voice (verse 12; cf. John 18:37 ) nor submitting to God's hand, but cherishing wrath and indignation against God's justice in afflicting them (verse 13), nor praying for God's help (verse 13) when he has bound them, but either enduring in sullen silence or howling in impatient anguish. Accordingly, God leaves them to their richly merited and naturally evolved doom, of dying

IV. THE PREACHER APPLIES HIS DISCOURSE . Generally, to the whole body of the righteous (verse 15), but more particularly to Job, by setting forth:

1 . The blessing he had missed . If instead of murmuring and repining under God's chastisements, he had yielded penitential submission, God would ere now have interposed for his deliverance, and rescued him from the mouth of distress, inciting him forward till he had reached a broad place where, literally, whose "beneath" (ground) would have been no straitness, and where the letting down of his table, i.e. the food set thereon, should have been full of fatness (verse 16). So God engages to do for all who humbly trust his grace and power

2 . The sin he had committed. Job had "fulfilled the judgment of the wicked" (verse 17); i.e. like the wicked, he had pronounced a judicial sentence upon God and his dealings. Instead of humbly acquiescing in the Divine dispensations, he had, according to another rendering of the previous verse, suffered himself to be seduced from listening to the voice of affliction by his boundless prosperity and by the ease of his table, which was full of fatness (Ewald, Dillmann, Canon Cook), so that he had filled up the measure of his iniquity like a common evil-doer. It reveals a terrible declension on the part of a good man when he can behave no better under God's chastisements, and think no better of God because of them than an ordinary sinner. Yet good men, if left to themselves, may come to this. Therefore let us not be high-minded, but fear.

3 . The danger he had incurred. In consequence of Job's insensate obstinacy and impenitent censoriousness towards God, "justice and judgment had taken hold on him ;" he was now really undergoing such punishments as were due to wicked men from the even hand of justice. If good men by their ill behaviour place them. selves amongst the wicked, it need not surprise them if God should beat them, i.e. judge and punish them, as the wicked. Such judging as Job had been guilty of bordered close upon, and was commonly followed hard by, the judgment of God. The only judging that a good man can with safety perform is upon himself ( 1 Corinthians 11:31 , 1 Corinthians 11:32 ).

4 . The admonitions he required.

Learn:

1 . The true dignity of a gospel minister as one who speaks for God and Christ.

2 . The special business of a gospel minister, viz. to vindicate the ways of God with man.

3 . The binding duty of a gospel minister, to give himself to reading and meditation.

4 . The lofty aim of the gospel minister, always to speak from personal conviction.

5 . The supreme glory of the Godhead, as combining infinite justice and infinite mercy, infinite greatness and infinite condescension.

6 . The extreme anxiety God manifests to bring men to repentance and salvation.

7 . The undoubted certainty that the impenitent and unrighteous will ultimately perish.

8 . The absolute impossibility of salvation for those who despise the divinely provided ransom.

9 . The great danger of indulging in wrath against either God or his dispensations.

10. The deep delusion of those who imagine death to be a blessing to any but God's people.

- The Pulpit Commentary