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374. Job 36:22-26, God’s Greatness

22 “Behold, God is exalted in His power;
Who is a teacher like Him?
23 Who has appointed Him His way,
And who has said, ‘You have done wrong’?

24 Remember that you should exalt His work,
Of which men have sung.
25 All men have seen it;
Man beholds from afar.

 

Verse 22 sets the tone for this section:

 

    “Lo, God is inaccessibly high and lofty in his power. Who is a teacher like him?”

 

Elihu extricates himself from unclarity with one of his favorite themes—God the teacher. God was also the teacher in verses 15-17, where God gently coaxed (suth) Job into the wide spaces of life. No one is like God as a teacher (verb underlying word here is yarah; word for God as teacher in 35:11 is alaph). The verb rendered “inaccessibly high and lofty” is sagab (20x) and is often rendered “exalted” (Isaiah 2:11, 17; 12:4; 33:5). God “sets the needy on high” (verb is sagab, Psalm 107:41; 148:13). Sometimes the verb emphasizes the secure location of the one set on high (Psalm 69:29).  We have seen the noun koach (“power/strength”) as recently as verse 19. It is a favorite of Job’s, appearing more than 20x in the book (out of 125x in the Bible). Job plaintively and repeatedly says that he is a man without strength (koach, 6:11, 12). One of koach’s most memorable appearances, however, is in Isaiah 40:29 where the prophet says that God gives “strength (koach) to the weary.” Maybe, we think, Elihu will say that God offers what Job lacks in strength.  

 

The thought continues in verse 23:

 

    “Who has appointed/assigned his way to him?  And who says, ‘You have done 

    error/unrighteousness?’”

 

Is this rhetorical question a sign that Elihu may still be bothered by Job’s attack on God? Whereas Job has never explicitly said of God, ‘You have done wrong,’ he comes close to that when speaking of the ways God has undermined his life. Many commentators argue, however, that Elihu only has in mind a force superior to God making this charge. The verb rendered “appoint” is paqad, a wonderfully complex verb that also can be translated “to visit” (either in blessing or punishment). We might therefore have an echo of two meanings of paqad here. No one appoints or assigns God to his task; no superior figure is in a position to mete out punishment to God. The word for “error/unrighteousness” is the common evel (53x), a surprisingly large number of whose occurrences appear in Job (12x). Job (6:29, 30); Eliphaz (5:16; 15:16) and Zophar (11:14) all use the word.

 

God’s greatness ought to call forth our grateful response, as Elihu says in verse 24:

 

    “Remember to extol/magnify his work, of which humans have sung.”

 

Very simple, very clear. We are very grateful. The verb for “extol” is not the common halal or shabach or even zamar, but the rare saag, which only appears here and in Job 12:23. It is no doubt related to the verb sagah (“to increase/grow”, 4x, including Job 8:7, 11) and saggi (“great/exalted”, 2x, both on Elihu’s lips—36:26; 37:23). The work spoken of here (paal) employs the same root as the verb “to do” in the previous verse. Normally the “work” of God is captured by the common verb asah (“to do/make”) but here, perhaps to keep the unusual verbal pattern noted above, it is paal.  Humans “sing” (shir, 87x), a verb used only here in Job but very prevalent in the most unusual places (Nehemiah, for example, uses the verb 17x). When creatures sing in other places in Job it is with the verb ranan (29:13, widows’ heart sing; 38:7, the morning stars sing); when God gives songs in the night they are zamir (35:10).

 

Elihu continues in verse 25 with admirable brevity:

 

    “Every person sees it; people look (on it) from afar.”

 

The object “it” is the work of God in verse 24. Just as Elihu has chosen a less common word for “work” (paal), so he chooses a less common verb for “see” (chazah, 51x/9x Job) in the first clause. One might try to capture it by “gaze.” This is an engaging and difficult little thought. What might it mean that people see the work of God “from afar?” We are reminded of the poetic thought in Job 28 where the Abaddon and Death say of wisdom, “We have heard a rumor of it” (28:22). The word “from afar” (rachoq, 87x) appeared also in verse 3, where Elihu said that he drew his knowledge “from afar.” God must have liked hearing the repeated use of it, for God uses it twice in the divine speeches (39:25, 29). It lends a note of mystery—knowledge comes from afar; we see God’s works from afar. Maybe we only hear echoes of the divine work, but “every person sees it.” One wonders if Elihu employed chazah for “gaze” here to counter Job’s use of it to say he both sees and doesn’t see God. Note Job’s words after his most powerful, “I know that my redeemer lives” (19:25):

 

    “Yet from my flesh I shall see (chazah) God (19:26); and

    “I myself shall gaze (chazah; 19:27).

 

But then, in frustration in 23:9, Job says,

    “I cannot gaze upon/behold (God; chazah). . .”

 

By using the special verb chazah is Elihu obliquely referring to Job’s struggle with seeing/not seeing God? In any case, God’s work is plainly seen, even if from afar.

 

Verse 26 closes this mini-section.  

 

    “Lo, God is great and we don’t know. The number of his years is beyond searching."

 

Again, the rhythms are clear and the ideas well said, but the language makes us go slowly. The greatness of God is usually sung with adjectives such as gadol (“great”) or verbs such as halal (“praise”) but here expressed with the Elihu-specific word saggi (also 37:23). But rather than a “great is the Lord and greatly to be praised” (e.g., Psalm 48:1) type of verse, we have a great God, and “we don’t know.” Most translators render it “beyond our knowledge” or “we know him not.” It is a fine way to reinforce the mystery suggested by “from afar” in the previous verse.  

 

One of the things we don’t know is stated in the second part—the number of God’s years. The two things that catch our attention in the second clause are the use of cheqer (“search out”; 12x/7x Job) and the clear echoes of Psalm 139:6. Cheqer, the noun, is derived from the 27x-appearing verb chaqar, “to search out,” also a favorite of Job (6x). Job is a book about searching—for God, for answers, for faith. Eliphaz has used cheqer to describe the unfathomable depths of God (5:7); Job copies Eliphaz’s thought and most of his words a few chapters later (9:10). Zophar, either seriously or mockingly asked Job whether he can find the “deep things” (cheqer) of God (11:7). All seemingly agree that God’s ways are unsearchable.

 

We also have an echo of Psalm 139:6 in this verse.  

 

    “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.”

 

Not only does the Psalmist have same word and thought regarding the inaccessibility of knowledge, but the verb the Psalmist uses to express its loftiness is sagab, “to be inaccessibly high,” which we have just seen in Job 36:22. The picture we get from Elihu as he begins his peroration is that we are dealing with an exalted God; an unfathomable God; a God whose works we only see from afar. The sense of mystery shrouding this divinity will increase in the next section.