Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Elihu spake - Hebrew, ויען vaya‛an "And he answered"; the word "answer" being used, as it is often in the Scriptures, to denote the commencement of a discourse. We may suppose that Elihu had paused at the close of his second discourse, possibly with a view to see whether there was any disposition to reply.
Thinkest thou this to be right? - This is the point which Elihu now proposes to examine. He, therefore, solemnly appeals to Job himself to determine whether he could himself say that he thought such a sentiment correct.
That thou saidst, My righteousness is more than God's - Job had nowhere said this in so many words, but Elihu regarded it as the substance of what he had said, or thought that what he had said amounted to the same thing. He had dwelt much on his own sincerity and uprightness of life; he had maintained that he had not been guilty of such crimes as to make these calamities deserved, and he had indulged in severe reflections on the dealings of God with him; compare Job 9:30-35; Job 10:13-15. All this Elihu interprets as equivalent to saying, that he was more righteous than his Maker. It cannot be denied that Job had given occasion for this interpretation to be put on his sentiments, though it cannot be supposed that he would have affirmed this in so many words.
For thou saidst - Another sentiment of a similar kind which Elihu proposes to examine. He had already adverted to this sentiment of Job in Job 34:9, and examined it at some length, and had shown in reply to it that God could not be unjust, and that there was great impropriety when man presumed to arraign the justice of the Most High. He now adverts to it again in order to show that God could not be benefited or injured by the conduct of man, and that he was, therefore, under no inducement to treat him otherwise than impartially.
What advantage will it be unto thee? - see the notes at Job 34:9. The phrase "unto thee," refers to Job himself. He had said this to himself; or to his own soul. Such a mode of expression is not uncommon in the Scriptures.
And, What profit shall I have if I be cleansed from my sin - Margin, "or, by it" more than by my sin."" The Hebrew will admit of either of these interpretations, and the sense is not materially varied. The idea is, that as to good treatment or securing the favor of God under the arrangements of his government, a man might just as well be wicked as righteous. He would be as likely to be prosperous in the world, and to experience the tokens of the divine favor. Job had by no means advanced such a sentiment; but he had maintained that he was treated "as if" he were a sinner; that the dealings of Providence were "not" in this world in accordance with the character of people; and this was interpreted by Elihu as maintaining that there was no advantage in being righteous, or that a man might as well be a sinner. It was for such supposed sentiments as these, that Elihu and the three friends of Job charged him with giving "answers" for wicked people, or maintaining opinions which went to sustain and encourage the wicked; see Job 34:36.
I will answer thee - Margin, "return to thee words." Elihu meant to explain this more fully than it had been done by the friends of Job, and to show where Job was in error.
And thy companions with thee - Eliphaz, in Job 22:2, had taken up the same inquiry, and proposed to discuss the subject, but he had gone at once into severe charges against Job, and been drawn into language of harsh crimination, instead of making the matter clear, and Elihu now proposes to state just how it is, and to remove the objections of Job. It may be doubted, however, whether he was much more successful than Eliphaz had been. The doctrine of the future state, as it is revealed by Christianity, was needful to enable these speakers to comprehend and explain this subject.
Look unto the heavens, and see - This is the commencement of the reply which Elihu makes to the sentiment which he had understood Job to advance, and which Eliphaz had proposed formerly to examine. The general object of the reply is, to show that God is so great that he cannot be affected with human conduct, and that he has no interest in treating people otherwise than according to character. He is so exalted that their conduct cannot reach and affect his happiness. It ought to be "presumed," therefore, since there is no motive to the contrary, that the dealings of God with people would be impartial, and that there "would" be an advantage in serving him - not because people could lay him under "obligation," but because it was right and proper that such advantage should accrue to them. To impress this view on the mind, Elihu directs Job and his friends to look to the heavens - so lofty, grand, and sublime; to reflect how much higher they are than man; and to remember that the great Creator is "above" all those heavens, and "thus" to see that he is so far cxalted that he is not dependent on man; that he cannot be affected by the righteousness or wickedness of his creatures; that his happiness is not dependent on them, and consequently that it is to bc presumed that he would act impartially, and treat all people as they deserved. There "would" be, therefore, an advantage in serving God.
And behold the clouds - Also far above us, and seeming to float in the heavens. The sentiment here is, that one view of the astonishing display of wisdom and power above us must extinguish every feeling that he will be influenced in his dealings as people are in theirs, or that he can gain or suffer anything by the good or bad behavior of his creatures.
If thou sinnest, what doest thou against him? - This should not be interpreted as designed to justify sin, or as saying that there is no evil in it, or that God does not regard it. That is not the point or scope of the remark of Elihu. His object is to show that God is not influenced in his treatment of his creatures as people are in their treatment of each other. He has no "interest" in being partial, or in treating them otherwise than they deserve. If they sin against him his happiness is not so marred that he is under any inducement to interpose "by passion," or in any other way than that which is "right."
If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? - The same sentiment substantially as in the previous verses. It is, that God is supreme and independent. He does not desire such benefits from the services of his friends and is not so dependent on them; as to be induced to interpose in their favor, in any way beyond what is strictly proper. It is to be presumed, therefore, that he will deal with them according to what is right, and as it is right that they should experience proofs of his favor, it followed that there "would be" advantage in serving him, and in being delivered from sin; that it "would be" better to be holy than to lead a life of transgression. This reasoning seems to be somewhat abstract, but it is correct, and is as sound now as it was in the time of Elihu. There is no reason why God should not treat people according to their character. He is not so under obligations to his friends, and has not such cause to dread his foes; he does not derive so much benefit from the one, or receive such injury from the other, that he is under any inducement to swerve from strict justice; and it follows, therefore, that where there ought to be reward there will be, where there ought to be punishment there will be, and consequently that there is an advantage in being righteous.
Thy wickedness may hurt a Man as thou art - That is, it may injure him, but not God. He is too far exalted above man, and too independent of man in his sources of happiness, to be affected by what he can do. The object of the whole passage Job 35:6-8 is, to show that God is independent of people, and is not governed in his dealings with them on the principles which regulate their conduct with each other. One man may be greatly benefited by the conduct of another, and may feel under obligation to reward him for it; or he maybe greatly injured in his person, property, or reputation, by another, and will endeavor to avenge himself. But nothing of this kind can happen to God. If he rewards, therefore, it must be of his grace and mercy, not because he is laid under obligation; if he inflicts chastisement, it must be because people deserve it, and not because God has been injured. In this reasoning Elihu undoubtedly refers to Job, whom he regards as having urged a "claim" to a different kind of treatment, because he supposed that he "deserved" it. The general principle of Elihu is clearly correct, that God is entirely independent of human beings; that neither our good nor evil conduct can effect his happiness, and that consequently his dealings with us are those of impartial justice.
By reason of the multitude of oppressions they make the oppressed to cry - It is not quite easy to see the connection which this verse has with what goes before, or its bearing on the argument of Elihu. It seems however, to refer to the "oppressed in general," and to the fact, to which Job had himself adverted Job 24:12, that people are borne down by oppression and that God does not interpose to save them. They are suffered to remain in that state of oppression - trodden down by people, crushed by the armor of a despot, and overwhelmed with poverty, sorrow, and want, and God does not interpose to rescue them. He looks on and sees all this evil, and does not come forth to deliver those who thus suffer. This is a common case, according to the view of Job; this was his own case, and he could not explain it, and in view of it he had indulged in language which Elihu regarded as a severe reflection on the government of the Almighty. He undertakes, therefore, to "explain the reason" why people are permitted thus to suffer, and why they are not relieved.
In the verse before us, he states "the fact," that multitudes "do" thus suffer under the arm of oppression - for that fact could not be denied; in the following verses, he states "the reason" why it is so, and that reason is, that they do not apply in any proper manner to God, who could "give songs in the night," or joy in the midst of calamities, and who could make them acquainted with the nature of his government as intelligent beings, so that they would be able to understand it and acquiesce in it. The phrase "the multitude of oppressions" refers to the numerous and repeated calamities which tyrants bring upon the poor, the down-trodden, and the slave. The phrases "to cry" and "they cry out," refer to the lamentations and sighs of those under the arm of the oppressor. Elihu did not dispute the truth of "the fact" as it was alleged by Job. That fact could not then be doubted any more than it can now, that there were many who were bowed down under burdens imposed by hard-hearted masters, and groaning under the government of tyrants, and that all this was seen and permitted by a holy God. This fact troubled Job - for he was one of this general class of sufferers; and this fact Elihu proposes to account for. Whether his solution is satisfactory, however, may still admit of a doubt.
But none saith - That is, none of the oppressed and down-trodden say. This is the solution which Elihu gives of what appeared so mysterious to Job, and of what Elihu regarded as the source of the bitter complaints of Job. The solution is, that when people are oppressed they do not apply to God with a proper spirit, and look to him that they may find relief. It was a principle with Elihu, that if when a man was afflicted he would apply to God with a humble and penitent heart, he would hear him, and would withdraw his hand; see this principle fully stated in Job 33:19-26. This Elihu now says, was not done by the oppressed, and this, according to him, is the reason why the hand of God is still upon them.
Where is God my Maker - That is, they do not appeal to God for relief. They do not inquire for him who alone can help them. This is the reason why they are not relieved.
Who giveth songs in the night - Night, in the Scriptures, is an emblem of sin, ignorance, and calamity. Here "calamity" is particularly referred to; and the idea is, that God can give joy, or impart consolation, in the darkest season of trial. He can impart such views of himself and his government as to cause the afflicted even to rejoice in his dealings; he can raise the song of praise even when all external things are gloomy and sad; compare Act 16:25. There is great beauty in this expression. It has been verified in thousands of instances where the afflicted have looked up through tears to God, and their mourning has been turned into joy. Especially is it true under the gospel, that in the day of darkness and calamity, God puts into the mouth the language of praise, and fills the heart with thanksgiving. No one who has sought comfort in affliction with a right spirit has found it withheld, and all the sad and sorrowful may come to God with the assurance that he can put songs of praise into their lips in the night of calamity; compare Psa 126:1-2.
Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth - Who is able to teach us mere than the irrational creation; that is, in regard to the nature and design of affliction. They suffer without knowing why. They are subjected to toil and hardships; endure pain, and die, without any knowledge why all this occurs, and without any rational view of the government and plans of God. It is not, or need not be so, says Elihu, when man suffers. He is intelligent. He can understand why he is afflicted. He has only to make use of his superior endowments, and apply to his Maker, and he will see so much of the reason of his doings that he will acquiesce in the wise arrangement. Perhaps there is an implied reflection here on those who suffered generally, as if they manifested no more intelligence than the brute creation. They make no use of intellectual endowments. They do not examine the nature of the divine administration, and they do not apply to God for instruction and help. If they should do so, he would teach them so that they would acquiesce and rejoice in his government and dealings. According to this view, the meaning is, that if people suffer without relief and consolation, it is to be attributed to their stupidity and unwillingness to look to God for light and aid, and not at all to his injustice.
There they cry - They cry out in the language of complaint, but not for mercy.
Because of the pride of evil men - That is, of their own pride. The pride of men so rebellious, and so disposed to complain of God, is the reason why they do not appeal to him to sustain them and give them relief. This is still as true as it was in the time of Elihu. The pride of the heart, even in affliction, is the true reason with multitudes why they do not appeal to God, and why they do not pray. They have valued themselves on their independence of spirit. They have been accustomed to rely on their own resources. They have been unwilling to recognize their dependence on any being whatever. Even in their trials, the heart is too wicked to acknowledge God, and they would be ashamed to be known to do what they regard as so weak a thing as "to pray." Hence, they complain in their afflictions; they linger on in their sufferings without consolation, and then die without hope. However inapplicable, therefore, this solution of the difficulty may have been to the case of Job, it is "not" inapplicable to the case of multitudes of sufferers. "Many of the afflicted have no peace or consolation in their trials - no 'songs in the night' - because they are too proud to pray!"
Surely God will not hear vanity - A vain, hollow, heartless petition. The object of Elihu here is to account for the reason why sufferers are not relieved - having his eye, doubtless, on the case of Job as one of the most remarkable of the kind. The solution which he here gives of the difficulty is, that it is not consistent for God to hear a prayer where there is no sincerity. Of the "truth" of the remark there can be no doubt, but he seems to have taken it for granted that all prayers offered by unrelieved sufferers are thus insincere and hollow. This was needfull in his view to account for the fact under consideration, and this he "assumes" as being unquestionable. Yet the very point indispensable to make out his case was, that "in fact" the prayers offered by such persons were insincere.
Although thou sayest thou shalt not see him - This is addressed to Job, and is designed to entreat him to trust in God. Elihu seems to refer to some remark that Job had made, like that in Job 23:8, where he said that he could not come near him, nor bring his cause before him. If he went to the east, the west, thc north, or the south, he could not see him, and could get no opportunity of bringing his cause before him: see the notes at that place. Elihu here says that though it is true in fact that God is invisible, yet this ought not to be regarded as a reason why he should not confide in him. The argument of Elihu here - which is undoubtedly sound - is, that the fact that God is invisible should not be regarded as any evidence that he does not attend to the affairs of people, or that he is not worthy of our love.
Judgment is before him - He is a God of justice, and will do that which is right.
Therefore trust him - Though he is invisible, and though you cannot bring, your cause directly before him. The word which is used here (תחולל tchûlēl, from חול chûl) means "to turn around"; to twist; to be firm - as a rope is that is twisted; and then to wait or delay - that is, to be firm in patience. Here it may have this meaning, that Job was to be firm and unmoved, patiently waiting for the time when the now invisible God would interpose in his behalf, though he could not now see him. The idea is, that we may trust the "invisible God," or that we should patiently "wait" for him to manifest himself in our behalf, and may leave all our interests in his hands, with the feeling that they are entirely safe. It must be admitted that Job had not learned this lesson as fully as it might have been learned, and that he had evinced an undue anxiety for some public "manifestation" of the favor and friendship of God, and that he had not shown quite the willingness which he should have done to commit his interests into his hands, though he was unseen.
But now, because it is not so - This verse, as it stands in our authorized translation, conveys no intelligible idea. It is evident that the translators meant to give a literal version of the Hebrew, but without understanding its sense. An examination of the principal words and phrases may enable us to ascertain the idea which was in the mind of Elihu when it was uttered. The phrase in the Hebrew here (ועתה כי־אין kı̂y-'ayin ve‛attâh) may mean, "but now it is as nothing," and is to be connected with the following clause, denoting, "now it is comparatively nothing that he has visited you in his anger;" that is, the punishment which he has inflicted on you is almost as nothing compared with what it might have been, or what you have deserved. Job had complained much, and Elihu says to him, that so far from having cause of complaint, his sufferings were as nothing - scarcely worth noticing, compared with what they might have been.
He hath visited in his anger - Margin, that is, "God." The word rendered "hath visited" (פקד pâqad) means to visit for any purpose - for mercy or justice; to review, take an account of, or investigate conduct. Here it is used with reference to punishment - meaning that the punishment which he had inflicted was trifling compared with the desert of the offences.
Yet he knoweth it not - Margin, that is, "Job." The marginal reading here is undoubtedly erroneous. The reference is not to Job, but to God, and the idea is, that he did not "know," that is, did not "take full account" of the sins of Job. He passed them over, and did not bring them all into the account in his dealings with him. Had he done this, and marked every offence with the utmost strictness and severity, his punishment would have been much more severe.
In great extremity - The Hebrew here is מאד בפשׁ bapash me'ôd. The word פשׁ pash occurs nowhere else in the Hebrew. The Septuagint renders it παράπτωμα paraptōma, "offence." and the Vulgate "scelus," that is, "transgression." The authors of those versions evidently read it as if it were פשׁע pesha‛, iniquity; and it may be that the final ע (‛) has been dropped, like שו for שׁוא shâv', in Job 15:31. Gesenius, Theodotion and Symmachus in like manner render it "transgression." Others have regarded it as if from פוש "to be proud," and as meaning "in pride" or "arrogance;" and others, as the rabbis generally, as if from פוש, to "disperse," meaning "on account of the multitude," scil. of transgressions. So Rosenmuller, Umbreit, Luther, and the Chaldee. It seems probable to me that the interpretation of the Septuagint and the Vulgate is the correct one, and that the sense is, that he "does not take cognizance severely (מאד me'ôd) of transgressions;" that is, that he had not done it in the case of Job. This interpretation agrees with the scope of the passage, and with the view which Elihu meant to express - that God, so far from having given any just cause of complaint, had not even dealt with him as his sins deserved. Without any impeachment of his wisdom or goodness, his inflictions "might" have been far more severe.
Therefore - In view of all that Elihu had now said, be came to the conclusion that the views of Job were erroneous, and that he had no just cause of complaint. He had suffered no more than he had deserved; he might have obtained a release or mitigation if he had applied to God; and the government of God was just, and was every way worthy of confidence. The remarks of Job, therefore, complaining of the severity of his sufferings and of the government of God, were not based on knowledge, and had in fact no solid foundation.