Job 35–36: A Tidy Reality & A Tame Lion

Read the Bible in 2011–2021* ◊ Week 18: Thursday

Then Elihu continued and said,
“Do you think this is according to justice?
Do you say, ‘My righteousness is more than God’s’?
“For you say, ‘What advantage will it be to You?
What profit will I have, more than if I had sinned?’”
Job 35:1–3

In today’s Bible reading is Job 35–36, Elihu continues to speak. Before you read these chapters, ask God to give you wisdom as you read. There’s a lot to sort between things Elihu says things that are true, things that are not, and Elihu’s attitude while he’s talking.

Elihu’s discourse to Job can be divided into four speeches. In Job 32–33 he burst into speech, beginning his summary of Job’s words and questions as he saw them, and then refuting Job. Job 34 and Job 35 are his second and third speeches, both beginning with, Then Elihu continued and said. Job 36–37 is his fourth, and last speech, and it also starts with: Then Elihu continued and said.

Sometimes the juxtaposition of the daily Bible readings are both jarring and illumi­nating. After yesterday’s reading of Psalms 51–53: God’s Unfailing Love & God’s Compassion, Elihu’s words today not only shock, but you can see how far he is from understanding who God is and from under­standing Job and his state of mind. Elihu takes words spoken by Job in anguish and gives cut-and-dried answers, tidying up Job’s reality with his theories.

Francis Andersen writes,

“This speech [35:1–16] deals with two questions (1–3). In 34:9 Job, according to Elihu, has asked: ‘What is the use of being good?’ Elihu does not have a sufficiently personal understanding of God to believe that God can be delighted with a good man, and grieved by sin. As the impartial administrator of justice (34:19), he applies the law to all alike. So when Elihu puts in Job’s mouth the opposite question: ‘What do I lose by sinning?’ he is caught in his own trap…

“His reply (9–16) to the second problem is equally callous. The question is, ‘Why doesn’t God answer prayer?’ In particular, ‘Why has he not heeded Job’s sustained appeals for some kind of response, any kind of response?’

“It is always possible to think of a reason for unanswered prayer. The trite explanation, which we hear all too often, is that ‘You didn’t have enough faith’, or ‘You prayed from the wrong motive’, or ‘You must have some hidden, unconfessed sin’. This diagnosis is always applicable. Everyone who prays is aware of the weakness of his faith; everyone with a scrap of self-knowledge knows that his motives are always mixed; everyone who searches his con­science can find no end of fresh sins to be dealt with. If no prayers could be offered and none answered, until all these conditions were satisfied, none would ever be offered and none answered. The Elihus of this world do not care about the cruelty of their perfectionist advice and its unreality. Their theory is saved; that is what matters.

“…Elihu, who thinks he is ‘perfect in knowledge’ (36:4), has a manageable, predictable God. Job, all too conscious of the sovereign freedom of the Lord, lives in the suspense of faith, praying without guarantees.”1

David Atkinson has similar thoughts, and says Elihu’s answer about unanswered prayer in Job 35, “is equally thoughtless and heartless.”2 He agrees that Elihu sees God as “manageable.”

“Elihu so far seems to have a God who is manageable and predictable, whom he can understand. God’s ways are clear to him. Everything is under control. But is we have learned anything so far from the book of Job, it is that reality is much less clear, manageable and predictable than we would like to think. The divine wisdom, we are realizing, is not merely something we can get if we think hard enough, or behave well enough, or if our theological system is coherent, tidy and clear. The divine wisdom, as we shall see, comes by way of storm and the whirlwind…

“There is a wildness to the divine ordering of things which the Elihus of this world cannot stand. Elihu cannot bear very much reality.”3

If you’ve read the Narnia Chronicles, Atkinson’s illustration will be very familiar:

“C. S. Lewis makes a similar point when Mr Beaver points out that Aslan is not a tame lion:

Mr Beaver warned them, ‘He’ll be coming and going,’ he had said. ‘One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down — and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.’

“Elihu’s God is too tidy and too small.”4

Chapter 36 begins Elihu’s last speech which continues through the end of Job 37. I’ve mentioned before that because the readings in Job are paired chapters, there are not always clean changes of speakers. The next reading is from Job 37–38, and I’m going to split it into two posts. I’ll discuss Elihu’s last speech in one post. God begins to speak to Job in chapter 38; God’s words stand alone.

I’ve quoted Francis Andersen a lot as I’ve written on Job. I’ve found wisdom in his words and a great deal of comfort. He writes as someone who has suffered. I found this in his preface.

“With a full heart I thank God for the unfaltering love of my wife Lois. The completion of this book is also a tribute to the Dean of Auckland, the Very Reverend John O. Rymer, and his wife, Joyce, who brought the love of God to us in a dark hour. Everything is a gift, suffering the holiest of all; and the healing of all hurts is found in the Body of One who was broken, the only pharmakon athanasias.”5

Andersen doesn’t have trite words. His writing is undergirded with his own suffering and the comfort from God he has known. In 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3–7

Set aside trying to make reality tidy. We can say, “I don’t know what God is doing.” God will comfort when we can’t. So pray for God’s comfort for your friend. We can also learn comfort as Paul did, with the comfort God has given us, and help each with His abundant comfort in all our afflictions.

Isaiah 42 Photograph: – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications. (Site has been deleted since posting).
Broom: Public domain.
Lion:  Gary M. Stolz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public domain.
1,5Francis Andersen, Job (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1976) 275–277, 10 pharmakon athanasias: this can be translated as immortal medicine.
2,3,4David Atkinson, The Message of Job: Suffering and grace (Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester, England; Downers Grove IL: 1991) 129; 129–130; 130, C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Fontana ed., 1980) p. 165.

*In 2011 I started a year-long series of posts, “Read the Bible in 2011.” You can find the other posts in the navigation menu in the header. If a day doesn’t have a link to a post, the post was simply a brief reminder about the reading. I’m filling in some of those gaps with new posts with “Read the Bible in 2011 Redux” as a category.

Copyright ©2011–2021 Iwana Carpenter

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