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381. Job 37:14-24, Elihu’s Last Words:  Job is Ignorant

 

14 “Listen to this, O Job,

Stand and consider the wonders of God.

15 Do you know how God establishes them,

And makes the lightning of His cloud to shine?

16 Do you know about the layers of the thick clouds,

The wonders of one perfect in knowledge,

17 You whose garments are hot,

When the land is still because of the south wind?

18 Can you, with Him, spread out the skies,

Strong as a molten mirror?

19 Teach us what we shall say to Him;

We cannot arrange our case because of darkness.

20 Shall it be told Him that I would speak?

Or should a man say that he would be swallowed up?

21 Now men do not see the light which is bright in the skies;

But the wind has passed and cleared them.

22 Out of the north comes golden splendor;

Around God is awesome majesty.

23 The Almighty—we cannot find Him;

He is exalted in power

And He will not do violence to justice and abundant righteousness.

24 Therefore men fear Him;

He does not regard any who are wise of heart.”

    

We might divide this long last section into:

 

a) Verses 14-20, Elihu’s Questions of Job; and

b) Verses 21-24, Here Comes God!

 

What is striking is that Elihu’s method of questioning Job in verses 15-18 seems very similar to the method God will use in questioning Job. The questions seem designed to expose Job’s ignorance as well as to celebrate the divine incomprehensibility. Though the word for “teach” (literally “to make known,” yada), a favorite idea of Elihu, is clear in verse 19, verses 19-20 are for the most part opaque. In addition, reference to one whose “garments are hot” (v 17) not only seems out of place but unclear. Yet there are enough clear thoughts to take us to the end and leave us with the sense that Elihu has made a major contribution not simply to the argument of the book but to Job’s self-understanding as he awaits the divine word.

 

Job is addressed directly in verse 14:

 

    “Listen to this, Job, stand and consider the wonderful things of God.”

 

Verse 14 is suffused with significant concepts drawn from the rest of Elihu’s speeches and the Book of Job generally. He has often asked Job to “lend an ear” (azen, 42x/5x Elihu), though he hasn’t done so in a few chapters (most recently, see 34:2, 16). Note, also, that Elihu is the only one who actually uses Job’s name in addressing him. The friends never say, 'As I was saying, Job. . .' But Elihu uses “Job” nine times in his six chapters. Is this a sign of respect? An indication that he really cares for Job? I think so. Elihu has been smart enough not just to unload the traditional theological categories on Job, but has carefully bent those traditions to resonate with Job’s experience, especially when he looks at God as the one “luring” Job out of distress (36:16).

 

We have seen and commented on the “wonderful” (pala) works of God, works that Eliphaz and Job have already mentioned (5:9; 9:10; 10:16). Elihu has used it once in 37:5, where he spoke about the wonderful thundering of God’s voice. But the two words most alluring in 37:14 are the common verbs amad (“stand”) and bin (“consider”). We wonder why they are placed together until we realize that Job had himself linked them in 30:20, where in sadness he said:

 

    “I cry out to you and you do not answer; I stand up (amad) and you merely take note (bin) of me."

 

When comparing Job’s words in 30:20 with Elihu’s in 37:14, we may see dual ironies in Elihu’s words. When Job “stands” in 30:20, it may be standing in prayer but it is more likely standing up to present his case in court. But Elihu will take away Job’s legal use of the term by asking Job to “stand” (in awe) and behold God’s wonderful things. We recall that one of Elihu’s major complaints against Job was that “justice and judgment” filled him—that a lawsuit was all that mattered to him (36:17); Elihu would rather Job “stand” and see the divine wonders. Moses uttered a similar thought, though with a different word for “stand” (yatsab) when he told the people to “Stand and behold the salvation of God” (Exodus 14:13). Elihu may be affirming Job’s thought in 30:20 to “stand” before God, but he is also subtly changing the focus from a lawyer's to a suppliant's standing.


We note that Elihu connects amad with the common wisdom tradition verb bin  in 37:14. When Job used the verb in 30:20, it was with some sadness. God merely “considers” or “takes note” of Job but does nothing to alleviate his suffering. But in 37:14 Elihu urges Job to “consider” (bin) the wonderful acts of God. The issue for Elihu is not whether Job believes that God “considers” him but whether Job “considers” God. Though Elihu may have given Job the keys to declare his own independence from God in 36:15-17, he really wants to turn Job back to his former affirmation of faith.

 

In verses 15-18 Elihu presents three questions to Job. They all relate to the clouds and the skies.  Hmm. . .we thought we were through with those clouds, but they re-enter. Though Elihu presents three questions, they are all designed with one aim in mind—to show Job his ignorance. First he asks in verse 15, in rather clunky form,

 

    “Do you know how God has placed them (clouds) and how he makes shine the light of his cloud?"

 

In verse 11 Elihu had mentioned “the cloud of his light” and we weren’t sure what he meant. Now he speaks of “the light of his cloud,” and we are similarly nonplussed, though we think they both must have something to do with how the lightning or the sun shines through the clouds.  

 

Note that Elihu doesn’t ask Job what he “thinks” or what he might “guess” about something. He queries Job about knowledge (yada), a word that has already been used in verses 5 and 7 of this chapter. The word yada will appear again in verse 16, sounding like a persistent jackhammer in Job’s ears—'Do you know, do you know?' Job had thought he was not only on a quest for vindication but now we know that the road to vindication lies through knowledge. Elihu presents that idea here to show Job that he really doesn’t know much of anything.

 

The first verb in verse 15 is the common sim (“to put/place”), but it has to receive a more imaginative translation here. We might give the following options: “Do you know how God places upon them/enjoins them/commands them/arranges them (the clouds). . .?” The verb for “making shine” is the rather rare verb yapha (8x).  However we render sim, the question is rather straightforward—‘Do you, Job, know how the clouds are arranged and how lightning and cloud interact?’ No answer expected.


So, Elihu continues with his second question, which also has its eccentricities, in verse 16:

 

    “Do you know the weighing/balancing/swaying (miphlas) of the clouds, the wonders of the one           perfect in knowledge?”

 

The wonders return; we just saw them in verse 14, even though the BDB says that the “wonders-related word” in verse 16 is actually different word for “wonders” (the hapax miphlaah). We do a double-take with the last phrase (“the one perfect in knowledge”), for it no doubt refers to God but is the same phrase that Elihu used to describe himself at the beginning of this long speech (36:4). Ah, perhaps Elihu is gently suggesting something to Job. Just as he himself has to give up the title of “one perfect in knowledge” because only God deserves it, so Job may have to “give up” his “standing” and arguing with God.


The only point hard to understand in this verse is the initial clause. The word miphlas is a hapax, derived probably from peles, a 2x-appearing noun that we think means a “balance” or a “scale” (Proverbs 16:11; Isaiah 40:12). Because the concept of the “balancing” of the clouds seems “intuitively difficult” to Clines, he settles on the word “spreading” to render miphlas. But even if no clear picture arises, we are somewhat entranced by the fleeting thought of clouds doing a balancing act in the heavens. For Elihu, Job not only can’t “know” this balancing; he may not even be able to imagine it. . .