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347. Job 34, Elihu’s Second Speech
Elihu’s tone changes considerably in this speech. Like his predecessor Eliphaz, who was somewhat gentle and encouraging with Job in his first speech in Job 4-5 but more harsh and less hopeful in his second speech in Job 15, so Elihu will morph from being a seemingly gentle counselor or even mediator standing between the two parties in Job 32-33 into a strong accuser of Job in Job 34.
What is to explain this sudden transformation? I think it relates primarily to the subject matter of Elihu’s speeches in 32-33 and 34. Though he began his assessment of Job in 33:8-11 by listing Job’s two beliefs (he was innocent; God was setting him up as an enemy), he really didn’t deal with those subjects in Job 33. Rather, Elihu picked up on some of Job’s stray thoughts from earlier in the book about God’s tormenting this through dreams (7:14) or destroying his life through his pain (chapters 16; 19) and decided he would address those themes in his first speech. Thus, his approach in Job 32-33 was more pastoral than judgmental. Rather than tormenting Job through dreams, God was trying to speak to Job through the dreams; rather than simply destroying Job’s life through pains on his bed, God was trying to get Job’s attention through the pains on the bed. That was Elihu’s approach in his first speech. Job’s experience could be subject to a variety of construals; it carried with it a certain interpretive plasticity. Elihu urged Job to see his experience in terms of God’s care for, rather than God’s hatred of, him.
But now, in Job 34, Elihu is free to return to his summary of Job’s complaint, a complaint he already described in 33:8-11, and that will provoke a different and more severe reaction from Elihu. Note that Elihu summarizes Job’s case again in 34:5-6. Though the thoughts of the two passages aren’t identical, they are quite similar. I said in my treatment of Job 33:8-11 that Elihu had fairly summarized Job’s complaint in the book. I will only slightly modify that assessment here. Elihu seems to say here that Job claims he is without sin. Job would not be comfortable with that statement of his case; rather, he claims that his punishment in this instance is out of proportion to whatever sin he has committed. Perhaps Elihu’s slight mis- or overstatement of Job’s case in Job 34:5-6 allows him to be more harsh than in Job 32-33. When you are up against a person whom you think claims perfection or sinlessness, you generally have a lot less compassion than for one who believes that s/he is suffering unjustly in just this one instance.
Job 34 may be neatly divided into two large parts. Verses 2-15 address the “wise men”; verses 16-37 are directed to Job. There are several translation problems in verses 29-33 that will bedevil us. Rather than letting that bother us, however, we should smile. Elihu, too, will fall into the obscurity which also claimed each of the previous speakers.