Job 35–36: Reality & God’s Song in the Night

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 18: Thursday

Then Elihu answered and said,
“Do you think this is according to justice?
Do you say, ‘My righteousness is more than God’s’?
For you say, ‘What use will it be to You?
What profit will I have, more than if I had sinned?’
I will respond to you,
And your friends with you.”
Job 35:1–4 LSB

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 answered and said. Job 36–37 is his fourth, and last speech, and it begins 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 & Great 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 if 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

E. S. P. Heavenor has a positive comment on Job 35:10.

“The thought of God as a Teacher, intent on steering man through a rough and thorny maze of pain to a deeper experience of Himself, gives us an important distinction between Elihu and the friends. For them, God appears more characteristically as a Sovereign or Judge.”5

This comment by Heavenor was written over 50 years ago, and in this day of seeking experience and letting it trump truth, let me add that God will comfort us, we will know His love, however, He is the one who gives this ministry of His Holy Spirit to us. He will teach us and enable us to grow in our understanding and knowledge of Him which can lead to a deeper experience of Him. It is as we know Him and see Him as He is, as we worship Him in Spirit and in truth, that we grow in our love for Him, we grow in our knowledge and assurance of His love for us.

Atkinson also points out in Job 35:10,

“There is, though a further gem in this third speech of Elihu which we must not miss. It is a phrase of beauty and comfort, Job 35:10 describes God as one ‘who gives songs in the night’. In the darkness, Elihu knows it is possible to sing the song of the Creator. Elihu himself so far seems a long way from showing Job how. But that is a phrase of great comfort for people searching for a hand in the darkness. The Creator God is one who ‘gives songs in the night’. May he give us grace so to know him in the darknesses we face that we may with joy be enabled to sing his songs.”6

Psalm 42 was written in distress, and here the psalm speaks of God’s song in the night.

By day, Yahweh will command His lovingkindness;
And by night, His song will be with me,
A prayer to the God of my life.
Psalm 42:8 LSB

Read this psalm, and ask God to give you His song in your night. I wrote about it in the post, Psalms 42–44: Longing & the Living God.

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 Job 36–37. 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 [medicine of immortality].”7

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 abound to us, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. But whether we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is working in your perseverance in 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 LSB

Set aside trying to make reality tidy. It’s okay to say this is beyond me. We live in a world wracked by sin. Reality can be a mess that is beyond our ability to cope. We’re not God, we’re not sovereign, and there will be times when things spin out of our control. When we see things as out of control, turn to God because He is in control. We can say, I don’t know what God is doing.8 He is knows His plans. God will comfort us.

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. May God give us grace to help each other, and may He give us His song in our night.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Broom: Pearson Scott Foresman. Public domain.
The Solitude of Christ (La Solitude du Christ): Alphonse Osbert. Public domain. When I found this painting I wanted to use it as a reminder that we are never alone in our night. Jesus—Immanuel, “God with us”—is there.
1,7Francis Andersen, Job (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1976) 275–277, 10 pharmakon athanasias: this can be translated as immortal medicine.
2,3,4,6David 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; 130.
5E. S. P. Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds. (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 440.
8See the quotes from Os Guinness in Job 11–12: Ease & Calamity, that begin with, “When a Christian comes to faith his understanding and his trust go hand in hand, but as he continues in faith his trust may sometimes be called to go on by itself without his understanding.”

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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