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345. Job 33:29-33, Listen Up, Job!  I’m Just Getting Started

 

29 “Behold, God does all these oftentimes with men,

30 To bring back his soul from the pit,

That he may be enlightened with the light of life.

31 Pay attention, O Job, listen to me;

Keep silent, and let me speak.

32 Then if you have anything to say, answer me;

Speak, for I desire to justify you.

33 If not, listen to me;

Keep silent, and I will teach you wisdom.”

 

The last five verses of Elihu’s first speech are his clearest words to date. The language is straightforward; the verbs are rarely rare; the sentences are crisp and brief. Elihu speaks for Job’s benefit. He speaks not only for the sake of Job’s body, which has been wracked with pain on his bed, but so that his soul (nephesh) might be brought back from the pit (shachath, v 30). Elihu addressed Job by name at the beginning of the chapter (33:1); he closes his first speech (33:31) with Job’s name. One perceives an almost pastoral air in Elihu’s limpid words.

 

These verses act as a conclusion of Elihu’s first speech. Though it took him quite a long time actually to get started, when he finally got to his main points he only had two things to say: a) he described Job’s claims against God (33:9-12) and b) he spoke of the two methods of divine communication to people—through visions in the night and on the bed of pain (33:13-28). Now Elihu brings this first speech to an end.

 

Rather than reiterating what he has just said, Elihu begins as follows (vv 29-30):

 

    “Lo, all these things has God done; twice, three times with (a) person, to keep the soul back 

     from the pit, and to enlighten with the light of life."

 

The phrase “twice, three times” most likely means “repeatedly.” The meaning can either be that God repeatedly uses this twofold strategy of dreams and pains in the life of an individual person, or that God does this with humans in general as a sign of divine care. That care is captured in a now familiar idea of bringing back (shub in the hiphil) his soul from the pit. Elihu uses the pit imagery five times in the space of thirteen verses; thrice a person’s soul is said to be “held back” (chasak, v 18), “redeemed” (padah, v 28) or "brought back” (shub, v 30) from the pit; once a person prays to be “delivered” (pada, v 24) from descending to the pit; once a person’s soul actually “draws near" (qereb, v 22) the pit. Elihu has not just given us the repetition of a central idea (the pit), but has couched that repetition in five useful, vivid and different verbs.  


But God is not just in the business of bringing Job or anyone out of the distress/pit into which he has sunk; God also adds the positive dimension of giving light to the restored person.  

 

We noted in verse 28 that the delivered person “sees the light,” even though the phrase is unusual (it literally reads “his life sees into/with the light”). Now in verse 30 the phrase is different. God “enlightens with the light of life/of the living.” Several scholars have seen the consecutive appearance of the word “light” (or, once as noun, once as verb) as communicating the notion of “enjoyment” of the light. 

 

The double appearance of “light” is reminiscent of Psalm 36:9, 

 

    “Because with you is a fountain of life (chayyim, same word as in Job 33:30); in 

    your light (or) we see the light (or; same double use of word or).

 

A point of interest, though of no real value, is that Psalm 36:9 is the motto of Columbia University in New York City, though its motto is expressed in Latin: “In lumine tuo videbimus lumen.”

 

The more important point to recognize from Job 33:30, however, is that when Elihu posits a recovery for Job, he doesn’t do so in language consistent with that of the friends. They, for example, had said (Bildad, then Eliphaz, then Zophar):

 

    “(God will) fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting” (8:21)  OR

    “You will know that your seed will be great, and your offspring as the grass of

         the earth” (5:25)   OR

    “And you shall be secure, because there is hope; yea, you shall look around you

         and shall rest in safety” (11:18).

 

In each instance the friends speak about Job’s changed external condition—of safety, of joy, of replenished family. Only Elihu focuses on what might call a changed inner condition—the bathing of his life in light. The latter point is especially poignant given Job’s desire to descend into deep darkness to avoid the violent hand of God.