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335. Job 33:3-7 Elihu Speaks. . .and 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.
Verse 3 is Elihu’s self-advertisement. It is surprisingly difficult to translate. Literally:
“My words are the uprightness of my heart; and knowledge of my lips shall utter sincerely (barur)."
What? The meaning seems clear enough, even though the words are fumbling. His words will show the uprightness (yashar) of his heart. We have seen yashar throughout Job, ever since it was first predicated of Job himself in 1:1. Elihu too, like Job, will speak with uprightness. No guile; no prevarication. Just give the truth. The crucial and difficult word of the second part, barur, is derived from the verb barar ( “to be pure/purify/select”). Barar implicates the world of purity, sincerity, selectivity, even clarity. This has led to wide differences in rendering the second part, but most settle on the word “sincere” or “sincerely” (as above) to capture barur. There is the slightest irony here, however, in that Elihu says he will speak sincerely or clearly in relatively unclear words.
We think to ourselves, ‘We have heard this before, when Elihu emphasized that he would show no partiality to people.’ We see now why some scholars tend to discard Elihu as having nothing to say. He is just repeating himself, and somewhat unclearly at that!
Scholars debate whether verse 4 is properly placed; I think that it is so difficult by this point to discern a coherent thread in how Elihu is speaking that I have no firm way of determining what “fits” and what doesn’t. So, I tend to leave it where it is. Again, it is very brief (six words in Hebrew), with matching halves:
“The spirit of God has made me; and the breath of the Almighty has brought me alive/gives me life."
Job has expressed a similar thought in 10:8, “Your hands fashioned and made me (asah, same verb as in 33:4).” While Elihu just repeats the mention of God’s creative act in fashioning him, Job continued, in 10:8, with the unexpected, “But now you turn to destroy me.” Not so Elihu. He simply expresses the traditional affirmation about God’s creating him and giving him breath.
Now, in verse 5, Elihu gives Job a gentle invitation:
“If you are able, answer me; set your words in order before me. Stand up!”
The thought is clear, the words a bit unexpected. He is asking Job to “answer” him using a familiar word (shub, “to return”) though not the usual word for answer (anah). But Elihu skillfully uses a special word on Job’s lips, the verb arak (“arrange/set in order”) in the second part. Derived from the idea of drawing troops up for battle, arak was used by Job twice (13:18; 23:4) to stress the arrangement of his ideas, his case before God. Elihu is ready for a discussion with Job. ‘Draw up your (verbal) troops!’ is the sense of it.
We are taken aback by the last word when we were expecting a gentle parallelism. The verb "stand
up” is not the one that has been used in the last few chapters (amad) to capture the silent reverence of the elders who “stand” when Job appears (29:8; see also 30:20; 32:16). Rather, this is the “take your stand” (yatsab, 48x/5x Job) that twice appears in Job 1, 2 to describe how the heavenly forces were arrayed before God. They take their stand, ready to do the divine bidding. So, Job is asked to “take his stand” here. We know that a conversation is in view, though the language is also battle language. It is as if Elihu is saying, ‘You wanted to argue your case with God. . .well, you first have to go through me!’ Job will never respond to Elihu’s invitation to answer him because God, in Job 38-41, precludes that alternative.
Verse 6, if we understand it aright, seems to go well with verse 4. Literally, first:
“Behold I (am) as your mouth to God; I was formed out of clay, even I.”
Three appearances of the first person singular dominate this verse, with two of them being the emphatic ani. We pause when reading the first clause, but then we understand that the word for “mouth” may also be rendered “in proportion to,” thus yielding, as Clines says, “I am in the proportion of you as far as God is concerned” or “I am your equal.” The second half of the verse confirms this meaning, where Elihu points to the common substance of “clay” (chomer) as constituting or making up both him and Job. Elihu and Job are both made of the same substance; neither has an unfair advantage over the other.
But before rushing on, we ought to pause on the verb in verse 6, qarats. It is a rare verb (5x), translated here rather neutrally as “formed,” but it really comes from the potter’s trade to emphasize the “nipping off” or “pinching” of a piece of clay when s/he is forming something. Yet, four of its appearances emphasize either the “pinching” of the eyes through “winking” (Psalm 35:19; Proverbs 6:13; 10:10) or the “pinching” of the lips by compressing them (Proverbs 16:30). Elihu then would be unexpectedly eloquent here, describing that act of creation, rather neutrally described as “making” (asah) in verse 4 as “nipping off” in verse 6. We are starting to like him a bit more, even though we wish he would get to his subject!
Finally in verse 7, he concludes his introduction with his last word of self-introduction. He, unlike the friends, isn’t there to terrorize Job. He says,
“Lo, fear (emah) of me shouldn’t terrify (baath) you; and my pressure shouldn’t weigh heavily upon you.”
The first thought, of dread or fear not terrifying, was already uttered by Job in 9:34. It was one of his conditions for his wanting to talk to God. A mediator, he said, would not let the “dread” (emah) of God “terrify” (baath) him. Job seemed to have liked the thought, for he also repeated it in 13:21. The thing that Job most wants is a judicial process where he would get a chance to speak, ask questions and seek divine clarification and answers. He wants fear to be removed from the equation. Elihu assures him that this will be the case with him. Even though he has a lot to say, he seeks Job’s response, and he doesn’t simply want to obliterate Job. That must have been comforting for Job to know.
The last phrase has no biblical parallel. In fact the noun for “pressure” (ekeph) is a hapax, though the related hapax verb akaph, meaning to “press” or “urge,” appears in Proverbs 16:25. The hand of God might lie heavily upon Job, but Elihu assures Job that his hand will not play that role. We are finally ready for Elihu’s argument.