(to return to Table of Contents, click here)
365. Job 36:1-21, Breakthrough! Speaking Truth to Job
Though scholars differ fairly dramatically in how to outline this chapter after verse 4, one defensible approach is as follows:
Job 36:1-4, Listen up, Job!
Job 36:5-12, God and The Kings (A Lesson that Will Then Be Applied To Job)
Job 36:13-14, A Brief Interlude on the Godless
Job 36:15-21, Interpreting Job’s Distress
Job 36:1-4, Listen up, Job!
1 Then Elihu continued and said,
2 “Wait for me a little, and I will show you
That there is yet more to be said in God’s behalf.
3 I will fetch my knowledge from afar,
And I will ascribe righteousness to my Maker.
4 For truly my words are not false;
One who is perfect in knowledge is with you.
Elihu uses more difficult language than necessary in these verses to ask Job to “listen up.” For the first time in Elihu’s speeches (v 1) we have the language of “adding” or “continuing” (yasaph, 211x), rather than just “answering” (the common anah). We saw yasaph previously in Job’s final speech in 27:1 and his peroration in 29:1. Writers of ancient epic or classical literature often have to search for variant ways to express the idea of “saying/continuing to speak,” etc. In the Odyssey, for example, Homer used no fewer than seven different verbs to talk about how protagonists “answer” or “question” or “address” or “speak to” each other (agoreuo, eipon, phemi, eromai, metaphoneo, ameibo, prosphoneo)—and this is just in the first 110 lines of Book 10 alone! Thus, the author’s use of yasaph here adds to the variety that is required for a lively story.
His opening line in verse 2 makes the reader screech to a halt. It is only four Hebrew words, but three of them appear fewer than 7x in the Bible. The idea seems to be, as most translations have it, “Suffer me/allow me/permit me to speak a little and I will tell you,” but we have to struggle to get there. The first verb, kathar (6x), means “surround” in each of its other appearances. In Proverbs 14:18, that “surround” meaning becomes more metaphorical as it describes a “crowning” of the prudent with knowledge. But the Psalms tell us that bulls of Bashan “encircle/surround” the Psalmist (22:12) or that the righteous “will surround” me (142:7, both using the verb kathar). Thus, the sense of Job 36:2 is more likely to be “Surround me/gather round me” in a physical sense rather than “Bear with me/suffer me.”
The word for “little” is not the expected and common meat but is zeer, which only appears here and then four times in rapid succession in Isaiah 28:10, 13. In the latter passage zeer suggests a small quantity of something rather than a short duration of time. Yet, time is seemingly what we have in Job 36:2. “Gather round (for a) little (time)” is what it seems to say. But then the second clause is easier, “And I will tell you” (chavah). Like the somewhat rare verb shur (which Elihu uses 6x), the verb chavah is almost uniquely a Joban verb (5/6 of its appearances in Job). Four of these are on Elihu’s lips (32:6, 10, 17; 36:2). He will tell Job things, but will do so in a rare way.
The rest of verse 2 is clear enough, but still a bit unusual. Literally we have,
“because again for God are (my) words.”
The full thought, then, is “I will speak for there are yet more words (I want to speak) on God’s behalf.” The word for “words” is the Joban word millah (34/38x in Job, 14 of which appearances are on Elihu’s lips).
Elihu’s “introduction” continues in verse 3:
“I will lift up (nasa) knowledge from afar; I will give/ascribe righteousness to my Maker."
Though we might think at first that this is just a further example of Elihu’s prolix style, Elihu is skillfully using language here to make his point. The last time we saw nasa (the common verb for lifting up/forgiving sin) was in the difficult 34:31, “I have lifted up/borne chastisement.” In this passage Elihu says he will gather knowledge (dea, 5x, a word unique to Elihu—32:6, 10, 17; 36:3; 37:18) from far off. We don’t know what he means by this, but Bildad has earlier talked about gathering knowledge from previous generations (8:8-10). Elihu may be drawing on the conceptual world of Bildad, who mentions that we need this kind of knowledge because “we know (yada) nothing” (8:9). This knowledge “shall teach you” (8:10, the common yarah), which neatly matches Elihu’s understanding of God’s role in communicating knowledge to Job—God is a teacher.
Drawing dea from afar, Elihu will give (the common natan) righteousness (the common tsedeq) to his Maker. Tsedeq (more than 100 appearances) only appears 7x in Job, and more than once this tsedeq is ascribed to Job (29:14; 35:2). Elihu states in no uncertain terms that it is a characteristic of God. But most arresting is his use of “my Maker” to describe God. Here the verb for “make” is paal, though the other two places where God is described as the “Maker” in Job (32:22; 35:10) the word asah (“to do/make” is used). Paal (56x) appears disproportionately frequently in Job (11x) and even more so in Elihu’s speeches (7x). Elihu is subtly crafting his own language to describe the looking on (shur), knowledge (dea), telling (chavah), making (paal) and words (millah) that he uses.
Rather than getting to the point of the speech immediately, however, Elihu has one more thought in verse 4:
“For truly my words aren’t false; one perfect in knowledge is with you.”
Most commentators feel that Elihu could have dispensed with the last phrase without hurting his case, but the language is consistent with Elihu’s approach since Job 32—he has something crucial to add to the discussion. We are starting to get a bit fearful at this point that he will just launch into another 20 verse “introduction,” such as he did in Job 32 and the beginning of Job 33! Fortunately he doesn’t.
A bit of irony meets us in the first words of verse 4: “truly, not false” is the sense of it. The word for “truly” is omnam (9x/6x Job). With so much emphasis on getting to the bottom of Job’s complaint, one would have thought that the concept of falsehood (sheqer) would be prominent in Job, but only two of the 113 appearances of sheqer are in Job. Exploring hypocrisy or godlessness (chaneph) may be important to Job, but lying or falsehood apparently is not as central.
I think Elihu can speak with such unbounded confidence in the final words of the verse because he is convinced he is speaking “on God’s behalf” (v 2). Job is repeatedly said to be “perfect” (tam); Elihu is now applying that concept, otherwise translated as “upright” or “blameless,” to himself. He must like the phrase “perfect in knowledge” (using deah, a variant of dea, for “knowledge”) because he uses it again in 37:16 to describe God.
Though Elihu's introduction is much shorter than for his other two-chapter speech (Job 32-33), it is no less momentous. Elihu, the one who is blameless in knowledge/upright in mind, is ready to deliver his most memorable lesson.