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355. Job 34:25-28, The Extent of and Reason for the Divine Judgment
25 “Therefore He knows their works,
And He overthrows them in the night,
And they are crushed.
26 He strikes them like the wicked
In a public place,
27 Because they turned aside from following Him,
And had no regard for any of His ways;
28 So that they caused the cry of the poor to come to Him,
And that He might hear the cry of the afflicted—
Elihu stays on the theme of divine judgment in the next four verses, but then it is too much for him and he descends into his own fog bank of obscurity. But let’s try to catch his words before that happens. He maintains the theme of judgment in the next two verses (vv 25-26). Literally, we have:
“Thus, he recognizes their works and overturns in a night, and crushes them.
For their wickedness he strikes them down, in a place where others see.
We think that Elihu is talking about judgment on the mighty (v 24) but the reference to eyes on the ways of a human earlier in the passage (v 21) makes us pause. Who is in view, here? Part of Elihu’s obscurity is that he doesn’t clarify that issue for us.
The reason God can judge without a (final) investigation is that God has been investigating people all along. Verse 25 tells us this. The verb I rendered “recognize” is nakar (49x), which can also be translated “take notice of” or “regard” or, in Deuteronomy, “acknowledge.”
Because God has been “regarding” the works of the mighty all along, he “overturns” (the common haphak) them in a night. The idea is obviously parallel to the suddenness of judgment of verse 20. Verse 20 had people passing away at midnight; here it just happens “in the night.” Same result. But then Elihu adds the spicy little verb daka (18x/6x Job, “crush”) at the end of verse 25, as if to try to give this rather repetitive narrative a little panache. That is, the verb daka is a Joban favorite, used first by Eliphaz in his curious references to people being “crushed before moths” (4:18) or “crushed before the gates” (5:4). Job liked the word and decided to normalize it by asking God to “crush” him (6:9). Job uses it again to criticize the friends, who “crush” him with words (19:2), but Eliphaz uses it again in 22:9 to speak of how Job had “crushed” the arms of orphans. Elihu now wants to get into the crushing act but applies it to the judgment on the mighty. They are not only overturned in the night, but they are also crushed. One of these two verbs would have been enough to get rid of the mighty, though the use of two makes their condition seem irreversible. Overturned and crushed. A really bad day for them.
Verse 26 just completes the thought of verse 25, though verse 26 borders on obscurity. Though I render the first clause “for their wickedness,” it really is “under” or “in place of” (the common preposition tachath). But on the principle that anything can almost mean anything in the Book of Job, most scholars render it “for” or “because of.” The translation of the verb saphaq as “strike (them) down” is also a bit of a stretch. Saphaq appears 10x in the Bible, and more than once means to “clap the hands” but usually in disapproval (Numbers 24:10; Job 27:23; Lamentations 2:15). Sometimes it means “to strike” but the two times it is translated that way it is followed by the word for “thigh” (Ezekiel 21:12; Jeremiah 31:19). The verb even appears once more in Job 34, but in the sense of clapping one’s hands, probably in rebellion (34:37).
Thus, to render it here as “strikes them” is allowable, but is a real stretch. Our patience with Elihu is running a little thin. And then, he adds the last phrase which also makes us wonder. Literally it reads, “in a place of seeing.” Now that makes sense to nobody, and so translators have to play with it. The “seeing” may be “those who see” or the “sight of others.” The NASB calls it a “public place.” Making this obscurity even more ludicrous is the face that we have no idea who these others are that are being crushed. They are “like” the wicked. Are we still talking about just the mighty? All people? Where is the “public place” of this judgment? Maybe Elihu was inspired by Eliphaz’s sinking into obscurity when he twice used daka in 4:18 and 5:4 and figured that daka is to be connected with obscure words. So, the mighty are crushed. Then “he strikes them” “under wickedness” in the place of seeing. I guess the people who aren’t mighty aren’t being judged or being crushed. There are benefits to being a ‘little’ person.
All of this seeming comes upon just the mighty “because thus they turned away from him, and they didn’t wisely consider all his ways” (verse 27). The sin of “turning away,” using the common verb sur, is frequently mentioned in the Bible, with one of the classic passages being II Kings 17:7-20. It is a central theme for the Deuteronomic historian. But Elihu also shows his acquaintance with wisdom terminology by saying that they didn’t “wisely consider” (sakal, 63x/3x Job) the divine ways. Elihu will use the verb a few verses later to describe how Job was “without sakal” or “without discernment” (34:35). More than one-fifth of sakal's Biblical appearances are in Proverbs, where people are urged to “act wisely” (see, e.g., Proverbs 10:5, 19). Proverbs is basically about instruction in wise behavior (sakal, 1:3). Later in the chapter Elihu will say that Job lacks this virtue, but for now Elihu is content to show that it characterizes the life of the mighty.
Job had earlier maintained that he delivered the poor when they cried out, and he made the widow’s heart sing with joy (29:12-13). Therefore, the cry of the poor stopped with him; there was no reason for it even to reach the ears of God. When Elihu, however, speaks about the certainty of divine judgment on the mighty, it will also be because the cries (of the poor, oppressed, ‘small’ people) reached God (v 28). It means that the designated human helper really was of no help:
“so that they made the cry of the poor come to him; and he heard (and will hear) the cry of the afflicted.”
The neglect or outright injustice by the mighty means that the poor only have God to call upon. But we know from other places in Scripture that when God hears the voice of the afflicted, things change! The Psalmist says, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry” (34:16). Thus, the poor will be heard even though the designated mighty ones will not be the ones who hear or respond to their cry.