Elihu’s Rebuke #6: Conclusion

Elihu succeeded in preparing Job for what is to come, as we will see next week. Because of Elihu’s words, Job’s heart is softened and ready to receive God’s words. You see, effectually all that Elihu was saying to Job: “Your God is too small, Job. Let me make it bigger for you.” We need a big God. We need to see our God as big as He really is, because we will suffer. Being declared right before God on the basis of Jesus’ work does not exempt us from suffering. Maybe even on the contrary! And when we do, how we view God is crucial. Our God is gracious, just, and great.

By His sovereign grace, God chose us from before the foundation of the world. By His sovereign grace, God justified us freely through the gift of saving faith. And by His sovereign grace, God is sanctifying us through suffering according to His infinite wisdom. We should not “… despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Pro. 3:11-12). And, as John Piper beautifully says, “its aim is that our faith might be refined, our holiness might be enlarged, our soul might be saved, and our God might be glorified.”

Elihu’s Rebuke #1: An Introduction
Elihu’s Rebuke #2: God Is Gracious
Elihu’s Rebuke #3: God is Just
Elihu’s Rebuke #4: God is Great
Elihu’s Rebuke #5: Suffering as a Discipline
Elihu’s Rebuke #6: Conclusion

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Elihu’s Rebuke #5: Suffering as a Discipline

Let’s take a step back and look at the situation from a wider angle. Like I said in the beginning, Elihu not so much addresses why Job suffers, but is more concerned with how Job suffers. Elihu is exhorting Job to suffer well. So then the question is: how do we suffer well?

Let me draw four principles out of these chapters which Elihu addresses:

We have to rightly assess our righteousness
Elihu talks about God’s righteousness for nearly three chapters (Job 34:1 – 36:23). Righteousness comes from God alone (Ps. 11:7). And Romans 10:3-4 says, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” On the cross, Jesus gifted His righteousness to us who are unrighteous. It is given to us by Jesus is we believe, or have faith, in Him and His work alone. (2 Cor. 5:21). Rightly assessing the source of our righteousness helps us to understand that when God brings about suffering it is not because of something we have done, nor does it change our standing before Him.

We have to rightly assess our treasure
What the three friends fail to see is that Job’s greatest agony came from the fact that he thought that God abandoned him. Job’s greatest treasure was God, and the thought of losing God brought greater agony than the loss of worldly possessions. You see, in one sense, suffering happens when our treasure is taken away (or threatened to be taken away) from you. We should not lay up for ourselves treasures on earth, but rather in heaven. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) Rightly assessing where our treasure is helps us to understand that when God brings about suffering to hold on to everything else but God with loose hands.

We have to rightly assess our knowledge
Elihu says, “Do you know how God lays his command upon them and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine? Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge, you whose garments are hot when the earth is still because of the south wind? Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?” (Job 37:15-18) We have to come to the conclusion that God knows more than us. Rightly assessing our knowledge helps us to understand that when God brings about suffering we do not have to question God about the reason, but remember and trust in God’s words: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Pro. 3:5)

We have to rightly assess our words
Elihu says as his closing words, “The Almighty—we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate. Therefore men fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.” (Job 37:23-24). Elihu confronted what he believed to be Job’s arrogance in saying that man deserved an audience or a justification from God. Rightly assessing our words helps us to understand that when God brings about suffering we do not need to engage in an argument or debate with God, but we should simply fear Him “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Pro. 3:7-8).

Suffering will come, and it won’t be easy when it does. But I pray these four principles may help.

Elihu’s Rebuke #1: An Introduction
Elihu’s Rebuke #2: God Is Gracious
Elihu’s Rebuke #3: God is Just
Elihu’s Rebuke #4: God is Great
Elihu’s Rebuke #5: Suffering as a Discipline
Elihu’s Rebuke #6: Conclusion

Elihu’s Rebuke #4: God is Great

In his final speech, Elihu seeks to persuade Job to focus on God’s character in two ways, preparing him to fully open his heart for when God speaks:

He first proclaims God’s greatness in His dealings with humans: “Behold, God is mighty, and does not despise any; he is mighty in strength of understanding. He does not keep the wicked alive, but gives the afflicted their right. He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous, but with kings on the throne he sets them forever, and they are exalted. And if they are bound in chains and caught in the cords of affliction, then he declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly. He opens their ears to instruction and commands that they return from iniquity. If they listen and serve him, they complete their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasantness. But if they do not listen, they perish by the sword and die without knowledge.” (Job 36:5-12)

Elihu felt that Job needed a better theology on how compassionately God treats the righteous, never withdrawing His eyes from them but continually protecting and blessing them, and that if they do stray that He does everything to draw them back to faithfully serve him. The implication was that the unrepentant Job should welcome God’s discipline for He loves those He reproves and disciplines.

He then proclaims God’s greatness in His dealings with nature: “Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable. For he draws up the drops of water; they distill his mist in rain, which the skies pour down and drop on mankind abundantly. Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds, the thunderings of his pavilion?” (Job 36:26-29) “God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God. For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour. He seals up the hand of every man, that all men whom he made may know it. Then the beasts go into their lairs, and remain in their dens. From its chamber comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast.” (Job 37:5-10)

Elihu wanted Job to not only appreciate the greatness of God, but also the submission of creation. The implication was that unrepentant Job should submit to God the way His creation does.

Elihu’s Rebuke #1: An Introduction
Elihu’s Rebuke #2: God Is Gracious
Elihu’s Rebuke #3: God is Just
Elihu’s Rebuke #4: God is Great
Elihu’s Rebuke #5: Suffering as a Discipline
Elihu’s Rebuke #6: Conclusion

Elihu’s Rebuke #3: God is Just

Well, after filling Job with hope, Elihu in his second and third speech really starts rebuking Job “for Job has said, ‘I am in the right, and God has taken away my right’” (Job 34:5) and “he has said, ‘It profits a man nothing that he should take delight in God.’” (Job 34:9). Part of Job’s problem is that he sees God as unjust, unfair, and unwilling to explain what is going on.

And, again, don’t we do the same? Don’t we often demand an answer from God about why we suffer? And that we think it’s unfair and unjust of God not to answer us? Don’t we think that if we would just know why we suffer, it would make the suffering bearable? But you know what: explanation is a poor substitute for faith. Are we not commanded to “walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7)?

Let’s hear what Elihu has to say: “Therefore, hear me, you men of understanding: far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should do wrong. For according to the work of a man he will repay him, and according to his ways he will make it befall him. Of a truth, God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice. Who gave him charge over the earth, and who laid on him the whole world? If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust. […] In a moment they die; at midnight the people are shaken and pass away, and the mighty are taken away by no human hand. For his eyes are on the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps. There is no gloom or deep darkness where evildoers may hide themselves. […] Thus, knowing their works, he overturns them in the night, and they are crushed.” (Job 34:10-15, 20-22, 25)

Elihu defend God’s character saying that God is righteous and just in all His dealings with man. God is the just and sovereign ruler, rewarder and judge. In other words, nothing man does is hidden from the eyes of God, and thus man gets exactly what he deserves according to his works. We are to trust in God in knowing what is best for us.

Elihu continues: “Look at the heavens, and see; and behold the clouds, which are higher than you. If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him? And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him? Or what does he receive from your hand? […] Because of the multitude of oppressions people cry out; they call for help because of the arm of the mighty. […] There they cry out, but he does not answer, because of the pride of evil men. Surely God does not hear an empty cry, nor does the Almighty regard it. How much less when you say that you do not see him, that the case is before him, and you are waiting for him!” (Job 35:5-7, 9, 12-14)

Elihu tells Job that God is not under any obligation to answer man, or to give any reason for His actions. God is greater than man and so far beyond man that there is nothing man could do to God’s benefit. God is infinitely holy. Man is full of pride. God is righteous. Man is unrighteous. Thus since God is not dependent on human beings for anything, a person has no leverage with God. No amount of our good works benefits God or puts Him under obligation to anybody. Isaiah 64:6 says that “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” It is only by our dependence on the gift righteousness in the person and work of Jesus Christ that we will ever be acceptable to Him.

Elihu counsels Job to be patient and wait for God’s justice, for Job has been speaking prematurely and foolishly.

Elihu’s Rebuke #1: An Introduction
Elihu’s Rebuke #2: God Is Gracious
Elihu’s Rebuke #3: God is Just
Elihu’s Rebuke #4: God is Great
Elihu’s Rebuke #5: Suffering as a Discipline
Elihu’s Rebuke #6: Conclusion

Elihu’s Rebuke #2: God is Gracious

Yesterday I introduced Elihu by looking at his introductory words in Job 32:2 – 33:7. Today we will look at the first of the four speeches in the remainder of Job 33 (verses 8 to 33). Elihu begins addressing Job’s point that because God has been silent so far in all of his suffering, that this must mean that God is his enemy (that God is angry at him). Elihu says: “Surely you have spoken in my ears, and I have heard the sound of your words. You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression; I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me. Behold, he finds occasions against me, he counts me as his enemy, he puts my feet in the stocks and watches all my paths.’ Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you, for God is greater than man.” (Job 33:8-12)

Now this is interesting, because I think we often do the same, don’t we? When we suffer, we tend to cry out to God: why?! Expecting, maybe even demanding an answer from Him, preferably straightaway. And oftentimes He doesn’t. God remains silent. And we feel that God is angry at us in some way. That we have done something wrong to piss Him off, and now it is payback time, and that we need to work our way back into His love. I mean that’s how I often feel when I suffer. I cry out to God for an answer, for an explanation. And when He doesn’t give it, my thoughts go like: But I thought you loved me, God. Am I not your child? Doesn’t Your Word say, “Ask, and it will be given to you; […] For everyone who asks receives, […] Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? […] how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:7-11)?

But Elihu is saying here to Job, “Why do you contend against him, saying, ‘He will answer none of man’ words’? For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it.” (Job 33:13-14). God does speak, but He does so in ways you may not not expect. He describes two ways God speaks to man: by his word and by suffering. “In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man; he keeps back his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword. Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed and with continual strife in his bones” (Job 33:15-19). “Behold, God does all these things, twice, three times, with a man, 30to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be lighted with the light of life.” (Job 33:29-30).

In other words, God’s purpose in suffering is not to punish but to save. Our God is a gracious God who loves us and wants us to turn from our prideful ways of life (which leads to death), and to “be lighted with the light of life.” In other words, He want us to see Jesus as our ultimate treasure. Jesus, who said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). Same wording. Elihu does not picture God as an angry silent judge but as a Redeemer, a Savior. You could say that Elihu is delivering to Job a message of hope, because he wants Job to find full restoration with God.

Elihu’s Rebuke #1: An Introduction
Elihu’s Rebuke #2: God Is Gracious
Elihu’s Rebuke #3: God is Just
Elihu’s Rebuke #4: God is Great
Elihu’s Rebuke #5: Suffering as a Discipline
Elihu’s Rebuke #6: Conclusion