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341. Job 33:19-28, God Speaks Through Pain
19 “Man is also chastened with pain on his bed,
And with unceasing complaint in his bones;
20 So that his life loathes bread,
And his soul favorite food.
21 His flesh wastes away from sight,
And his bones which were not seen stick out.
22 Then his soul draws near to the pit,
And his life to those who bring death.
23 If there is an angel as mediator for him,
One out of a thousand,
To remind a man what is right for him,
24 Then let him be gracious to him, and say,
‘Deliver him from going down to the pit,
I have found a ransom’;
25 Let his flesh become fresher than in youth,
Let him return to the days of his youthful vigor;
26 Then he will pray to God, and He will accept him,
That he may see His face with joy,
And He may restore His righteousness to man.
27 He will sing to men and say,
‘I have sinned and perverted what is right,
And it is not proper for me.
28 ‘He has redeemed my soul from going to the pit,
And my life shall see the light.’
Pain is, according to Elihu, the second means by which God speaks to humans. One might look at the dreams/visions of verses 13-18 as God’s gentle means to communicate to people while the chastening with pain on the bed is God’s more severe method. But the reader immediately recognizes that though Elihu frames his words broadly, he really is speaking about Job and trying to interpret the two things Job experiences most strongly: the terrors of the night and the wracking pains of the body. For Elihu, they both are means God uses to talk with Job. The goal of the divine work is repeatedly stressed from verses 18-30, to keep the soul from descending to the pit.
We might further divide this section into three parts: verses 18-22 describe the pains that God brings; verses 23-25 describe the presence of a mediator/interpreter; verses 26-28 give us the prayer of the person to God.
What is interesting about Elihu’s take on Job’s situation in Job 32-33 is that he speaks to Job with much greater pastoral insight and realism than the other three friends. After an initial period of sympathy (2:11-13), the three friends seemingly looked at Job more as a theological mystery or case study than an actual human in need. Elihu, on the other hand, will see Job’s pains here not as punishment but as invitation. Yet, Elihu also will not sugar-coat the future. Whereas all three friends, at least in the First Cycle of speeches, held out a bright hope for Job, replete with detailed pictures of restored fortunes and family life, Elihu is restrained in this area. He twice will use images of “enlightenment” or “viewing light” (vv 28, 30) to describe what the sufferer has to look forward to, but he eschews specificity and especially the rather graphic and, to our mind, unrealistic descriptions of perfectly restored life.
Though I have neatly outlined this subsection, I would be the first to admit that many things Elihu says here are either opaque at worst or not crystal clear at best. For example, we don’t really know what happens to the sufferer’s bones in verses 19 or in verse 21. Are they becoming “stiff” or “corroding” or simply causing him extreme and continual pain? To whom or what does his soul draw near at the end of verse 22? The final word of the verse is obviously derived from the common verb muth (“to die”), but is the noun/participial form of the word in verse 22 meant to suggest a group of people (like people who destroy/executioners) or simply a parallel thought to the “pit” in the first part of verse 22?
This brief excursus of the previous paragraph isn’t meant to discourage us from reading Elihu; it just reminds us that we are dealing here with the Book of Job. Often it seems we have one clear thought and then total darkness!