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334. Job 33 Elihu Continues
Elihu concludes his first speech in this chapter. It might most profitably be outlined as follows:
33:1-7, Elihu’s Passionate Prolixity
33:8-11 Job’s Claims, According to Elihu
33:12-18, God Speaks Through Dreams
33:19-28, God Speaks Through Pain
33:29-33, Listen Up, Job, I’m Just Getting Started!
1 “However now, Job, please hear my speech,
And listen to all my words.
2 Behold now, I open my mouth,
My tongue in my mouth speaks.
3 My words are from the uprightness of my heart,
And my lips speak knowledge sincerely.
4 The Spirit of God has made me,
And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
5 Refute me if you can;
Array yourselves before me, take your stand.
6 Behold, I belong to God like you;
I too have been formed out of the clay.
7 Behold, no fear of me should terrify you,
Nor should my pressure weigh heavily on you.
Now, we think, Elihu has to begin the content of his speech. After all, we have just been subjected to the longest introduction of a speaker in the Scripture. We know Elihu’s name, origin, and anger (32:1-6); we understand his reluctance to speak at first (32:7-10); we see his dissatisfaction with both sides in the debate (32:11-15); we finally get to the inner oppression felt by Elihu because he has to hold in his words (32:16-22). So, as we begin Job 33 we are saying to ourselves: ‘Speak, Elihu, lest you burst! Tell us what so moves you!’
But still he doesn’t. In Job 33:1-7 he seems to procrastinate yet further, to delay even more. ‘What is he waiting for?’ we want to know. I think it is because of these first 30 or so verses of meeting and hearing Elihu’s initial words that many people dismiss him as worthless. He is just a young blowhard, inserted for some kind of comic relief. Or, he is the “first interpreter” of the debate, but one who doesn’t measure up to the sophistication and depths of the four original participants. Those are two theories of Elihu’s function in the Book of Job. But I think we ought not to jump too quickly to conclusions. Even though all readers feel a little put out at Elihu’s reluctance to get started, we best withhold judgment.
We know he is ready to burst, and that he will not show partiality to any participant in the debate. We are all ears. But while we are all ears he asks for our ears (v 1):
“But hear my words Job, I pray; give ear to all my words.”
He uses two synonyms for “words,” millah, the Joban word (34/38 in Job) and dabar, the common word. The two verbs for “hear” are also common: shama and azan (42x). The Psalms will often invoke God’s presence by use of several verbs for “hear” and several nouns for “words”:
“Give ear (azan) to my words (emer, yet another word for “word”), consider (the familiar bin
my meditation (hagig); give heed (qashab) to the voice of my cry (sheva),” (Psalm 5:1-2).
Thus, Elihu’s double use of “hear” and “words” is a good biblical way for introducing what you want to say. But there are two additional special features of 33:1. First is Elihu’s use of ulam, translated “but/indeed/surely/truly,” to begin the verse. More than half of ulam’s nineteen appearances are in Job; sometimes it functions as a gentle adversative, other times as an emphatic particle. Here it seems to be the latter, as in its appearance in 13:3. “Surely I would speak to the Almighty” is the tone of 13:3; “Surely you should hear my voice. . .” is the tone of 33:1. But the other interesting thing is that Elihu, uniquely, uses Job’s name. None of the friends so much as says the word “Job.” We don’t quite know what to make of it but I know that in my own twenty-first century life, the more I use people’s names as I am speaking to them, the greater chance that I am actually focusing on what they are saying. They also seem to appreciate it.
Surely we think, he will now tell us what he has to say. Not on your life. Verse 2 says:
“Behold, I pray you, I have opened my mouth; my tongue speaks in my palate."
We can’t decide whether to yawn or smile. For the third time in six verses Elihu uses the verb pathach (“to open”—32:19, 20; here). The phrase “open the mouth” appears throughout Scripture; The Book of Job has the same phrase in 3:1. The second half of the verse is unusual, primarily because of the use of the word “palate” (chek, 18x/7x Job; 3x Proverbs). Elihu may simply be mimicking Job’s use of the word twice in his peroration (29:10; 31:30), but he is scrambling for words to keep his parallelism. We see him opening his mouth, and we hope that the vents will release some of the pressure that he said was building up in him. . .