Job 33–34: Listening & Not Hearing

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 17: Thursday

“Do you intend to reprove my words,
When the words of one in despair belong to the wind?”
Job 6:26

In Thursday’s Bible reading of Job 33–34 Elihu continues to speak. Pray and ask God to teach you and enable you to understand what He would have you know today.

In chapter 32 Elihu bursts on the scene.

But the anger of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram burned; against Job his anger burned because he justified himself before God. And his anger burned against his three friends because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job. Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were years older than he.
Job 32:2–4

Elihu was right to show respect for the others and wait to speak. It’s clear he’s been listening to Job and his friends, but he hasn’t been hearing what Job was saying. Elihu has jumped to some conclusions, and I think misread Job’s heart.

Francis Andersen sees Elihu not as a protagonist, but as an adjudicator:

“He is the first of two who record their impressions of what has been said in chapters 3-31. Elihu gives the human estimate; Yahweh gives the divine appraisal.1

“…he joins in with a combination of deference and cocksureness that captures the pose of youth that sees a little, but sees it clearly.2

Overviewing the scope of chapters 32–37, David Atkinson writes:

“He claims to say more than the three friends have already said, and this is certainly true at the beginning and end of his speeches. But the middle speeches are cold and disappointing — a lapse into moralism which seems very hard on Job.”3

Elihu heard Job’s words:

“Surely you have spoken in my hearing,
And I have heard the sound of
your speech”
Job 33:8 LSB

However, he wasn’t listening to what Job was saying or under­standing Job’s heart. He may have heard the sound of Job’s speech, but he didn’t hear what Job had to say.

In Job 33, Elihu does describe how God uses suffering:

“Behold, God does all these oftentimes with men,
To bring back his soul from the pit,
That he may be enlightened with the light of life.”
Job 33:29–30

The question is, does this describe what is happening to Job? Is this why he suffered? Andersen is scathing of Elihu’s speech in chapter 33.

“…although he assures Job that the latter has nothing to fear (7), he is so self-important that he cannot avoid ruining the effect by being patronizing. He protests too much about his sincerity (2f.).

“Like the friends, Elihu was shocked by the sounds of Job’s words, but he had not grasped the essential point as Job experienced it. This is why it is so easy for him to give the answer: ‘You are wrong’ (NEB [33:12]).”4

Being lectured by someone who hasn’t listened only adds to the load of a person who is already under a pile of difficulties. When someone is in a lot of pain, and you get irritated or angry about something they’ve said, stop, and think. Ask yourself: Why am I angry? Even if I’m right to be angry, is this the time to speak? Do I need to address this at this moment? What would God have me say that would help this person honor God and trust Him?

I remember running into someone I hadn’t seen in a while when we were finally pulling out of a very tough time of several years of anguish and dealing with many unknowns and severe set–backs. She did know something of what we had gone through, but I don’t believe she had realized its impact on me. We were catching up on news, and I was trying to explain what I had learned during a long ordeal, and We were catching up on news, and I said something about having been angry at God. My words were more maladroit than rash, but they were barely out of my mouth before she jumped in and said, “I want to challenge you on that.” I was taken aback and immediately clammed up lest I be further misunderstood and lectured. I wasn’t expressing my current state of emotions. I certainly could have used better words and spoken at length about my struggles to trust God and trying to honor Him as God, but I was trying to trace my journey through suffering.

There are times when you need to stop and listen to what someone is saying with perhaps gentle questions and prompts to try to get to the heart of what they’re thinking and feeling. There may be corrections to be made, but is this the time? You also have to be praying as you’re listening to someone and ask God to help you and give you wisdom on timing and words. What is the next thing this person needs to hear? I’ve written before about Job 6:26 in Words For the Wind.

On Elihu’s words in chapter 34, Andersen says:

“He is not longer reasoning with Job with a view to helping him; he is attacking Job in order to score a point. For all their lucidity, his words are devoid of pastoral concern. They have become an exercise in rhetoric…Elihu’s theological axioms are pronounced with less adornment than any other speeches in the book. This gives them a cold, detached quality.

“Elihu’s defense of the justice of God, which blends the themes of his power, knowledge and impartiality (10–30), is flanked by open attacks on Job for impiety (2–9) and folly (31–37).”5

Atkinson has this to say about Elihu’s understanding of God’s actions.

“…his only way of understanding the ways of God is in terms of God’s power and might. He says a lot about divine justice, but not a word about divine grace. The speech can be summarized by 34:11: ‘He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves.’ Here Elihu is rationalizing the orthodoxy of desert (‘You get what you deserve’). We are back again to Eliphaz’s faulty logic.”6

Read Elihu’s conclusion:

“Men of understanding will say to me,
And a wise man who hears me,
‘Job speaks without knowledge,
And his words are without wisdom.
‘Job ought to be tried to the limit,
Because he answers like wicked men.
‘For he adds rebellion to his sin;
He claps his hands among us,
And multiplies his words against God.’”
Job 34:34–37

That is a harsh attack and shows the extent to which Elihu listened, but did not hear.

Love the one who suffers. Pray: pray as you listen, and pray before you speak. Hear what the person is saying, and ask God His love and help in your words and deeds.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Elihu, Job 34: The art Bible, comprising the Old and New Testaments : with numerous illustrations, 1896. Public Domain.
1,2,4,5Francis Andersen, Job (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1976) 53, 265, 267–268, 270–271.
3,6David Atkinson, The Message of Job: Suffering and grace (Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester, England; Downers Grove IL: 1991) 122.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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