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364. Job 36-37, Breakthrough! Introduction
My approach to Elihu’s last speech is the same here as in my shorter book on Job: When Leaving God is a Good Choice: Re-reading the Book of Job (Inkwater, 2020). I will quote generously from that work here. Let me tip my hand not simply to the meaning of this speech but also to Elihu’s basic approach to Job by saying that Elihu’s words in 36:15-17 are the most important words of the more than 160 verses he utters in Job 32-37. Those words not only provide an alternative way for Job to understand his distress, but they give Job a way to exit the vicious cycle of anger, grief, accusation, self-defense and recrimination that characterized the interaction with the friends in Job 3-27. In addition, they point out the likely result if Job persists in his path of defiance and quest for legal redress.
In a word, Elihu will encourage Job in his last speech, and especially in 36:15-17, to see God not as judging him or as clobbering him without reason, but as trying to get Job’s attention and trying to speak to him. God is trying to teach him in and through his distress. The lesson God wants to teach, according to Elihu, is that God would like to lead Job to freedom or to the broad spaces of life (rachab) through his distress. Yet, according to Elihu, Job isn’t ready to receive that message because he is enmeshed in a lawsuit rather than committed to a listening session.
The key, then, to Elihu’s speech in Job 36-37 (but especially Job 36) is to understand that he presents God not simply as the judge of all the earth or the glorious creator of the universe, but as the one who gently lures or woos Job to Himself through instruction. Elihu has already adumbrated this theme in 33:14-33, where he presented God as speaking to humans in two ways: through dreams in the night or through pain on the bed. The point of dreams is not the dream itself but the divine message through the dream. The point of the pain on the bed is so that Job will slow down and hear the message that God is trying to get across through pain. Elihu will emphasize that God is leading Job into the broad spaces of freedom with a table richly laden with food (36:15-16).
Elihu had previously suggested the theme of God as speaker or teacher in 35:11-12. Thinking of Job’s situation, Elihu says that people cry out in their oppression but they don’t say, “Where is God my Maker. . .who teaches us more than the animals. . .” If people would begin to see God as a teacher rather than a harsh judge, they might understand their situation more clearly. Finally, when Elihu finishes his crucial words in Job 36, he concludes by saying, “See, God is exalted in his power; who is a teacher like him?” (36:22). Ultimately, for Elihu, Job had been saying all along, ‘I will be heard,’ but he has never really said, ‘Let me listen.’ Had Job been ready to listen to God’s alluring words of instruction, he would have realized that there was a way out of his morass.