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330. Job 32:11-15, The Hopelessness of the Friends


11 “Behold, I waited for your words,

I listened to your reasonings,

While you pondered what to say.

12 I even paid close attention to you;

Indeed, there was no one who refuted Job,

Not one of you who answered his words.

13 Do not say,

‘We have found wisdom;

God will rout him, not man.’

14 For he has not arranged his words against me,

Nor will I reply to him with your arguments.

15 “They are dismayed, they no longer answer;

Words have failed them.    


Now it is Elihu’s turn to descend into obscurity (especially in vv 13-14). It is only fair—everyone else has done it. We don’t yet know how to consider this young man, even though his bold departure from a central principle of the wisdom tradition in verses 8-9 and his sensitive use of unique language made us pay attention. We still won’t fully form an impression of him in these verses because he addresses the friends rather than Job or the issue at hand. The flow, if that is the correct term, of these next five verses is as follows: verses 11-12 speak of Elihu’s disappointment at the friends; verses 13-14 descend into obscurity but, as I will argue below, show the reason why their arguments have been ineffectual; verse 15 gives the result of all of this—the friends have nothing more to say. We have already seen that “the words of Job are ended” (31:40); this passage is the functional equivalent to that statement with respect to the friends. After Elihu’s words here, the words of the friends are, in reality, “ended.”


Despite the impression given in verses 9-10 that he was going to lay out how the “breath of the Almighty” spoke in him, Elihu immediately turns to his disappointment with the friends. He begins with clarity in verse 11:


    “Lo, I have waited (yachal) for your words; I gave ear (azan) to your reasonings (tebunah), 

    while you searched (chaqar) for words.”


Yachal (40x/8x Job) is a common word for “waiting,” though it is interesting that five of its appearances are in Job 29-32. Everyone in these chapters, it seems, is waiting.  People waited for Job to render judgment (29:21, 23); Job waited for light, but only darkness came (30:26); finally in Job 32 Elihu spends a good deal of time waiting for everyone else to speak (32:11). Finally, he gets tired of waiting (32:16) and then will burst forth with his own thoughts. 


“Giving ear” (azan, 42x) appears disproportionately on Elihu’s lips (5x), as he is constantly pleading with people to listen to him (see also 33:1; 34:2, etc). As might be expected, azan appears frequently in the Psalms (15x), as distraught believers approach God for help.


Elihu is gracious enough to call the friends’ ramblings “your understandings” or “your reasonings” (word is tebunah, 42x). We see the common wisdom tradition verb bin (“to understand/gain knowledge”) in tebunah; tebunah is the result of applying bin to the perplexities of life. Tebunah appears most frequently in Job with reference to God’s understanding (e.g., 12:12; 26:12). Almost half of its Biblical appearances are in Proverbs (19x).  Proverbs urges the believer to incline the heart and lift the voice to tebunah (2:2,3); tebunah can even be personified as something that will watch over the faithful person (2:11). Take care of insight or reasoning or understanding, and it will return the favor. Elihu characterizes the friends’ words in a much more positive way than does Job, who calls his friends “miserable counselors” (16:2) whose dealings are “deceitful” (6:15).  


Finally, the word chaqar, things “searched out,” has already received attention in Job, first with Elihpaz’s memorable words in 5:27 that the elders have “searched out” (chaqar) the wise way and then in  the poem to wisdom’s final statement that God has “searched out” the way to wisdom (28:27). Thus, Elihu uses gentle, encouraging, positive and familiar terminology when he begins speaking to the friends. It is as if a professor thanks a student for his/her “sage remarks”—before proceeding to dismantle them!


Elihu continues to treat the friends with gentle respect in verse 12:


    “I also gave my wisdom/attended (bin) to you; but there was no one who reproved/corrected            (yakach) Job; there was no answer of his words from you.”


We have already noted the appearance of bin in tebunah.  Bin (“to know/understand”) appears 3x in Job 32. Elihu is on a genuine quest for understanding. The only other word inviting comment in verse 12 is the familiar yakach (59x/17x Job). As mentioned in my exposition of Job 13, yakach is often translated to “reprove” or “correct,” though it can describe any aspect of the legal process, from reasoning/presenting one’s case to the result of the case (“correction/reproof”). Here it seems best to render it as the result of reasoning: correction/reproof. Though there were lots of words exchanged between friends, Elihu says here that the friends’ words were ineffective. There may have been some kind of answer, but it wasn’t a real “answer” or “reproof” to Job.

Thus, Elihu has both commended the friends, by calling their ruminations “understanding” (tebunah) and their process “searching out” (chaqar), but has pointed out their limitations. The next three verses (vv 13-15) seem to go into more detail about why the friends’ words are ineffective.

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