(to return to Table of Contents, click here)
346. Job 33:31-33, Finishing the First Speech
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.”
Now that Elihu has both declared his hope for Job and has couched that hope in more realistic terms than the friends (i.e., expressing it in terms of enlightenment), he concludes with one verse of exhortation (v 31) and then two verses challenging Job either to speak up or hold his peace. Verse 31 says:
“Attend closely, Job, listen to me. Be silent, and I myself will speak."
The last three verses of Elihu’s first speech give us a little lesson in emphatic personal pronouns. In this verse Elihu exhorts Job to silence because “I myself” (the emphatic anoki) will speak. The anoki isn’t necessary to establish meaning; its appearance makes us pause and see that Elihu really is pulling rank here. “Shut up and listen!” or “It’s my turn, dammit!” might be slightly too strong, but they capture the intensity of Elihu. Then, in verse 33, Elihu will say, “And if not, you yourself (atah), listen to me.” The emphatic second person pronoun is unnecessary when used with the following imperative. The overall tone we get, then, is “I speak; you listen!”
Yet, it is more subtle than that, as verse 32 shows. Before we get there, however, let’s pause for a second on the verbs of verse 31. Two are very common (shema, “listen/hear” and dabar, “speak”); two are common but more descriptive. The first, qashab (46x/2x Job/8x Proverbs) is the typical verb used in Proverbs to emphasize the attentiveness of the hearer to wisdom (Proverbs 2:2) or the child to parental advice (e.g., Proverbs 4:1). In the Psalms one prays that God will be attentive to/incline the ear to the suppliant’s prayer (61:1; 142:6). Elihu thus uses a familiar and useful term for taking heed. Some translations render it as “Pay attention!” or “Mark!” but the meaning ought to be clear.
The other verb deserving mention is charash, “to be silent/hold one’s peace” (74x). Though the verb is most frequently used in the Bible in this way, its root meaning is to “plough” (captured, for example, in Samson’s words of Judges 14:18. It also appears in I Kings 19:19; Job 1:14; 4:8). Yet in several instances in Job it also means “to be silent” (6:24; 11:3; 13:5). The concept of “silence” in Job 13 was captured by three different verbs (charash, shama, qashar) in two verses (13:5-6) even though charash appears 4x in Job 13 (vv 5 (twice), 13, 19). Its appearance in 33:31 also should be translated “be silent/keep silent.”
Verses 32-33 should be read together. After just telling Job to “shut up and listen,” Elihu modifies that advice in these verses by giving Job two alternatives. These two alternatives are expressed in parallel constructions: “If you have anything to say (v 32)” and “If not. . .” (v 33). Some people leap on the possible contradiction between the “keep silence” of verse 31 and “if you have anything to say, say it…” of verse 32, but one can easily understand how, in the heat of the moment, both are said and are clear. 'Listen to me!” Hmm. . . “Well, if you have something to say, say it!' are things we have not only heard, but probably said, countless times.
The actual words of vv 32-33 are, literally:
“If there are words, answer/return them to me; speak because I desire your righteousness/to
justify you. If not, then you yourself (need) to hear me; keep silent, and I will tell you wisdom.”
Elihu has used two verbs for “answer” in his first speech: anah and shub. The latter appears here. The reason that Elihu desires Job to speak is because he (Elihu) “delights in/desires your righteousness.” Elihu’s concern for Job is not only physical—that he be restored to health—or even generally that he receive light. Elihu also wants Job’s “righteousness.” It isn’t fully clear what he means by this, but because Job has also used the verb in 9:2; 13:18, we know we are in the realm of making things right. Elihu envisions full restoration for Job. Job may need to speak to Elihu, raising objections or questions. But then, as verse 33 says, “if not,” just keep silent (charash, as in v 31). Elihu will teach (the only rare verb in this section: alaph, 4x/3x Job) wisdom (chokmah). Chokmah, then, ends the chapter. It also ended Chapter 4, where Eliphaz warned of the costs of not having wisdom. Here, however, Elihu has much higher expectations for Job.
Job, apparently, is silent. So Elihu will continues to speak without interruption in Job 34. Thus, when Job is silent or fumbling for words with God, both in Job 40 and 42, we ought not to think that he is simply overwhelmed by God. After submitting his case (31:40), taciturnity may now be his general modus operandi.