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359. Job 35:1-8, Job’s Continuing Futility
1 Then Elihu continued and said,
2 “Do you think this is according to justice?
Do you say, ‘My righteousness is more than God’s’?
3 For you say, ‘What advantage will it be to You?
What profit will I have, more than if I had sinned?’
4 I will answer you,
And your friends with you.
5 Look at the heavens and see;
And behold the clouds—they are higher than you.
6 If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against Him?
And if your transgressions are many, what do you do to Him?
7 If you are righteous, what do you give to Him,
Or what does He receive from your hand?
8 Your wickedness is for a man like yourself,
And your righteousness is for a son of man.
We can divide the chapter into two parts:
Job 35:1-8, Job’s Continuing Futility
Job 35:9-16, Job’s Empty Words
Elihu makes four brief points in these eight verses, two of which he attributes to Job and two of which are his own invention, even though the latter two are informed by Eliphaz’s argument in 22:2-3. He does nothing more than mention the ideas; perhaps he sees that they aren’t the heart of his case and thus he has no “heart” to develop them, but they do emphasize that Elihu is now unequivocally dealing directly with Job.
The first point is in verse 2, which begins with a surprisingly difficult phrase to translate. Options are:
“Do you think this is just?” or “Do you think this to be true?” or “Thinkest thou
this is your right?” or, as the NASB has it, “Do you think this is according to justice?. . .”
are four ways of rendering it. I tend to favor a translation that best links the two parts of the verse:
“Do you think it is right for you to say, ‘I am more righteous than God?’”
The second part of the verse is likewise mired in a translation difficulty, which relates to the preposition mem before the word for “God.” It can be taken either in the comparative sense (“more than”), which is how I read it, or in a spatial sense—“I am righteous before God.” Thus, I interpret this verse to mean that Elihu mentions, through without developing the thought, that Job claims he is more righteous than God.
Where would Elihu have gotten that notion? Perhaps by his reading/hearing of Job 19:6. In that text Job said that God had “perverted/wronged” (avah, 11x/4x Job) him and had caught him in the divine net. The verb avah plays a brief but interesting role in the Book of Job. Bildad twice used it in 8:3 in rhetorical questions—to deny that God “perverts” justice or right. Perhaps stung by or captivated by that interesting verb, Job replied by using it in 19:6. Indeed, he claims, God did pervert justice. Elihu has already responded to Job’s point by using the verb in 34:12 to say that God will not pervert justice (avah, mishpat are the two words). God’s “perverting” (the verb most basically means “to bend/make crooked”) things for Job means that God has deviated from the “straight” path, the path which the wisdom tradition teaches leads to a rich life. But Job hasn’t deviated from the path. Hence he is more righteous than God. Again, Elihu makes nothing of the point, other than to mention it—showing that he actually has “heard” Job.
His second point is stated in parallel phrases in verse 3:
“You also say, ‘What advantage is it to you? What benefit more than if I had sinned?"
The last word prefixes the mem to the word for “sin,” which is accompanied by the first person singular ending, literally becoming, “more than my sin” or “more than if I had sinned.” Though the grammar is again a little difficult, the meaning is clear. Elihu attributes to Job the question of what benefit flows to him from following God. Wouldn’t he derive just as much pleasure in life if he sinned? Elihu has already mentioned this point in 34:9, where he attributes to Job the thought: “It profits (using the same verb sakan as in 35:3) a person nothing to delight in God.” Elihu swiftly disposed of the point in 34:10-12, where he says that God doesn’t do unjust things, implying by this that God gives no support for the notion that more pleasure in sinning is preferable than following God.
Elihu says in verses 4-5 that he will answer Job, but his answer in verses 6-8 is simply a general reference to Eliphaz’s argument in 22:2-3. First, though, let’s hear Elihu’s transition words, with a more literal reading, in verses 4-5:
“I will return words to you, and to your companions with you. Look to the
heavens and see, and behold the clouds, which are higher than you.”
Of note are three verbs for “seeing” (nabat, raah, shur) as the first four words of verse 5. Though he uses the usual word for “heavens” (shamayim), he introduces a word for “clouds” (shachaq, 21x), which then appears four more times in the next three chapters. What are these words which he will “return?” The words express two closely-related thoughts in verses 6-8: 1) if you sin, or are righteous, this really has no effect on God (vv 6-7); and 2) your wickedness only touches humans (v 8). Eliphaz had argued that God was so lofty (22:12) that it was no advantage or pleasure to God that Job was righteous (22:3). Note that three words have been used to express the idea of humanity’s potential advantage or utility or blessing to God (sakan, ratsah and, in 22:3, chephets).
So, even thought Elihu changes the words a bit here, he basically is reiterating two thoughts either uttered by or inferrable from Job and two thoughts stated by or inferrable from Eliphaz. He doesn’t develop the ideas any further; his true interest, developed in the next section, will be in discussing the barriers that humans erect between themselves and God.