The first thing that typically comes to one’s mind when they hear the name ‘Job’, is Job himself. Others might say the word ‘Suffering’, which is also fitting since the name ‘Job’ literally means “One who is persecuted”. We tend to think of ‘the man’ who lost everything he had and persevered to the end in faith, giving glory to God. Yet, everything that happened to Job; all the suffering that he endured by losing all that he had, and then being afflicted with a painful disease all takes place in only the first two chapters of this forty-two chapter poem. The rest is just mostly a long conversation between Job and his three friends, followed by a speech by a young man named Elihu, and finally God comes to speak with Job directly.
So what is it that we’re meant to see in the following forty chapters? Well, I think it’s clear that what we’re supposed to see is God Himself. He is the center of the book. He is the both the Author and the Topic, much like within the bible itself. And in this passage that we’ve just read, we see that point being made. In a way these eight verses provide a short, albeit crude summation of the entire book of Job, or at least it’s main focus. So, let’s quickly review the book up to this point, so we can get our bearings.
For those of you who haven’t read Job in a while, you may remember that Job was, as we’re told in Chapter 1, “blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). And then we’re given an account of all that Job had; including a great deal of sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys, and very many servants (Job 1:2-3). He also had stature in the community which we see in chapter 1 verse 3 where it says “this man was the greatest of all the people of the east” (Job 1:3). And finally we see that Job was a man of great faith and sought to lead his children in the ways of God, even acting as a sort of priest by offering sacrifices and prayers to God on their behalf (Job 1:4-5).
After this, we’re given an account that takes place in heaven (also known as the “Divine Council”), in which Satan, or “the Adversary” comes before God seeking to accuse men of their sins, and God’s reply is to set before him Job as an example of one without cause for reproach.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” So Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does God fear Job for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
So, as we just read, God allows Satan to attack Job and take all he had except his health. And we read in verses 13-19 how, nearly all at once, Job lost all that he had delighted in; all his possessions, and his ten children. And what follows in verse 21 is Job’s well known response where he remains faithful and says, “Naked I came from my mother’s whom, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). So once again, in chapter 2, we see Satan come before God again and accuse Job of not being truly righteous, but one whom would curse God, if his health were taken from him also. So God, gives Satan permission to do just that, and Satan attacks Job with an illness which had caused painful boils to appear over Job’s entire body. Even Job’s wife begins to burden and lash out at Job and tells him to “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). Yet, still, Job held fast to his faith in God, and up to that point, we’re told in verse 10 of chapter 2, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).
However, after months of dealing with this loss (Job 7:3), Job seems to be finding less and less comfort in his faith. So much so that Job’s three friends appear to him, to both mourn with him, but ultimately to comfort and help council him. And what follows from that point on is a series of dialogues between Job and his three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. From chapters 3-31, Job is repeatedly refuting his friends’ attempts to try and convince Job that he has wronged God in some way and that his suffering is a form of punishment. His friends believe that God is one who ‘slays the wicked’, and ‘upholds the righteous’. But Job says, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong!’.
By the end of chapter 31, Job has silenced all his friends and shown that, indeed, he hasn’t done anything by their standards to warrant God’s punishment. At that point, in chapter 32, a young man named Elihu (whom we don’t see before this point, but apparently was there listening the whole time), enters the conversation and rebukes Job’s friends for accusing Job, and not having any proof to back up their claims, and then turns to rebuke Job himself for justifying himself instead of God. See, up to this point, no one seems to be speaking on God’s behalf. Everyone has been making statements regarding who they think God is, and through all their theology, they’ve been merely justifying themselves. Elihu says ‘Wait! Let’s not assume to know the entire depth of God. How could we? What we need to do is seek God’s character before we fall into sin with our words.’. If we don’t understand God through that which He’s revealed Himself to us, then we’ll be in grave error.
And this passage, that we’re focused on, begins right at the halfway point of Elihu’s speeches. And we read as he continues his defense of God’s justice by now challenging the insinuation of Job’s own words as we begin in verses 1-3:
Job 35: 1-3
Moreover Elihu answered and said: Do you think this is right? Do you say, ‘My righteousness is more than God’s’? For you say, ‘What advantage will it be to you? What profit shall I have, more than if I had sinned?’
Now, in truth, Job never said either of these things. Job never said ‘My righteousness is more than God’s.’, nor did he ever ask the question ‘[How has my righteousness granted me more than if I had sinned]?’, at least not as if it was his own question. But I think what Elihu is doing here is challenging Job in asking, ‘Do you really want to go down this road?’. Job may not have said these things, but he came very close in several points and if left unchecked may have eventually said something that he would have regretted; which is actually what happened as we read in chapter 42, when Job repents before God. In addition, the word ‘say’ here is the Hebrew word ‘āmar”. It means to say, speak, OR think ([as in to] say to oneself). It is a very common word in the Old Testament; used over 5300 times and translated 64 different ways. Among those, it’s been translated, in the KJV at least, as ‘verily thought’, ‘desired’, ‘desireth’, ‘intendest’, ‘suppose’, and ‘thinking’. So, I don’t think that Elihu means to say that Job said these actual words. I think he’s probing Job’s intentions, so as to ask, ‘Is this what you mean to say’. And we’ll see in just a bit, another way in which Elihu interprets Job’s statements. So, let’s just go through a couple of these passages regarding Job’s righteousness as he sees it, and how he might compare it to God’s:
“Teach me, and I will hold my tongue; Cause me to understand wherein I have erred. Yield now, let there be no injustice! Yes, concede, my righteousness still stands!”
“Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, So that I am a burden to myself? Why then do you not pardon my transgression, And take away my iniquity? For now I will lie down in the dust, And You will seek me diligently, But I will no longer be.”
Are Your days like the days of a mortal man? Are Your years like the days of a mighty man, That You should seek for my iniquity And search out my sin, Although You know that I am not wicked, And there is no one who can deliver from Your hand?
“As God lives, who has taken away my justice, And the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter, As long as my breath is in me, And the breath of God in my nostrils, My lips will not speak wickedness, Nor my tongue utter deceit. Far be it from me That I should say you are right; Till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let go; My heart shall not reproach me as long as I live.
I think it’s plain to see here that Job was emphatic as to his own righteousness. But what about God’s? Job doesn’t seem to be proclaiming God’s righteousness here, in any way. In fact if I had to characterize Job’s description of God at this point, I’d use the word ‘Confused’. Job seems confused and almost a little defiant towards God. Still, Job hasn’t flat out denied the righteousness of God. But Elihu never said that he had. Look back at Job 35:2,.. Elihu asks Job, “Do you think this is right? DO YOU SAY, ‘my righteousness is more than God’s?’” (Job 35:2). And why is he assuming that from Job? Well, he tells us by probing Job’s motivation even further in verse 3. “FOR YOU SAY, ‘What advantage will it be to You? What profit shall I have, more than if I had sinned?’” (Job 35:3).
Now, like I said earlier, Job never asked this specific question as his own. But back in chapter 34 verse 9, Elihu phrases Job’s intent a little differently. He paraphrases Job this way, “For he has said, ‘It profits a man nothing that he should delight in God.’” (Job 34:9). It’s a little different there. In 34:9, Elihu says that Job said this as a statement, and then in 35:3, Elihu phrases it as a question. So, again, I think this shows that Elihu wasn’t quoting Job verbatim, but instead was paraphrasing Job’s ultimate point when it came to his righteousness, and God’s justice. So if we examine just a few more passages from Job, I think we’ll see where Elihu is finding this theme.
If I am condemned, Why then do I labor in vain? If I wash myself with snow water, And cleanse my hands with soap, Yet You will plunge me into the pit, And my own clothes will abhor me.
I will say to God, ‘Do not condemn me; Show me why You contend with me. Does it seem good to You that You should oppress, That You should despise the work of Your hands, And smile on the counsel of the wicked?
Why do the wicked live and become old, Yes, become mighty in power? Their descendants are established with them in their sight, And their offspring before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, Neither is the rod of God upon them. Their bull breeds without failure; Their cow calves without miscarriage. They send forth their little ones like a flock, And their children dance. They sing to the tambourine and harp, And rejoice to the sound of the flute. They spend their days in wealth, And in a moment go down to the grave. Yet they say to God, ‘Depart from us, For we do not desire the knowledge of Your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? And what profit do we have if we pray to Him?’ Indeed their prosperity is not in their hand; The counsel of the wicked is far from me.
“Since times are not hidden from the Almighty, Why do those who know Him see not His days? “Some remove landmarks; They seize flocks violently and feed on them; They drive away the donkey of the fatherless; They take the widow’s ox as a pledge. They push the needy off the road; All the poor of the land are forced to hide. Indeed, like wild donkeys in the desert, They go out to their work, searching for food. The wilderness yields food for them and for their children. They gather their fodder in the field And glean in the vineyard of the wicked. They spend the night naked, without clothing, And have no covering in the cold. They are wet with the showers of the mountains, And huddle around the rock for want of shelter. Some snatch the fatherless from the breast, And take a pledge from the poor. They cause the poor to go naked, without clothing; And they take away the sheaves from the hungry. They press out the oil within their walls, And tread winepresses, yet suffer thirst. The dying groan in the city, And the souls of the wounded cry out; Yet God does not charge them with wrong.
I know it’s not always easy to see in this book, but I think that’s the point, ‘confusion’. Once again, Job seems confused. He’s talking about how wretched the world is, and he doesn’t see God doing much of anything to stop it. He doesn’t understand the true nature of God’s righteousness. Time and time again, he rebuked his friends when they tried to tell Job that God only punishes the wicked. But in trying to convince them of just the opposite, he backed himself into a corner, by now proclaiming that God punishes everyone as He wills, in a random or even erratic way. And I think there is one passage we can look at that sums up all of the points that we’ve looked at so far. It shows Job’s complete confidence in his own righteousness and a complete misunderstanding of God’s justice, and that would be Job 9:21-24:
“I am blameless, yet I do not know myself; I despise my life. It is all one thing; Therefore I say, ‘He destroys the blameless and the wicked.’ If the scourge slays suddenly, He laughs at the plight of the innocent. The earth is given into the hand of the wicked. He covers the faces of its judges. If it is not He, who else could it be?
So Elihu has been listening to all of these things that Job has been saying and he’s starting to connect the dots. If Job is proclaiming his own righteousness, and at the same time, stating in a very subtle way that God may be acting unreasonably, then how can he plead his case of righteousness with an unreasonable judge? Think about it. If you were in a courtroom and saw two men being charged with the same crime, that had equal evidence against them, and one man was sent free, yet the other was sent away to prison for life,.. you’d probably be petrified to walk up to that judge and plead your case. You’d have no idea how the judge was going to act. The wind blows one way or the other and you could end up walking home free, or limping toward a cell in shackles.
Now, it is important to note here however, that Job truly did have faith in God, and ultimately in His justice. He says it many times that he wished to plead his case before God, and in chapter 13 verses 15 & 18 he says, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him.” and then in verse 18 he says, “See now, I have prepared my case, I know that I shall be vindicated.” (Job 13:15 & 18). Job held to his faith in God throughout all the conversations with his three friends, but when you put all his words together, as we have, I think you can see why Elihu was so concerned with Job. And unlike Job’s friends, Elihu had the evidence of Job’s own words, or at least his sentiments, with which to show Job where he was treading on thin ice.
And before we move on, I think we should all be mindful of this as well. With all that’s going on in the world, and even in our own lives; I think we’ve all asked the same questions that Job has, at one point or another. We see the rich, and we see the powerful, and we see the wicked defining our culture; and we see them succeed and prosper. They hate us, and our values, and we look at what we’re struggling with and we think ‘Why’? But we worship a sovereign God. And we must remember that God is in complete control of everything. He gives the rich their wealth, and He gives the powerful their illusion of control, and He gives the wicked over to their lusts and desires. The end of every one of those roads is death and destruction. God’s wrath is stored up for them on the Last Day, and we should be praying for them, out of pity. And if given the opportunity, preach to them the gospel of salvation through Christ alone.
But moving on in verses 4-8, we see Elihu’s preemptive rebuke to Job. He want’s Job and anyone who might agree with him, to rethink their understanding of God. He wants to reintroduce Job to the Creator. In hopes that Job might fully understand who it is that he might be accusing of wrongdoing. That’s what he means in verses 4 & 5 when he says:
I will answer you, And your companions with you. Look to the heavens and see; And behold the clouds– They are higher than you.
I thought initially, that Elihu was talking to Job and his three friends here. But the consensus among the commentators is that Elihu is talking to anyone who also shares the same opinion as Job. So, he begins his answer by reminding Job of his relationship to God by comparing him first to the creation. He’s telling Job, ‘Take just a moment and look up’. ‘Look at the trees, look at the oceans, look at the sky; and then look at the night’s sky’. ‘Contemplate for just a moment on how truly small you are’. ‘Think for a second on just how unknowably big the universe is’. ‘God created all of that’. When God, Himself comes to speak with Job, in just a few more chapters, He appeals to Job the same way. He asks Job seventy questions, all of which are rhetorical, and many related to God’s sovereignty over creation. He begins asking Job in chapter 38:
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid it’s cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? Have you an arm like God? Or can you thunder with a voice like His? Then adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, And array yourself with glory and beauty.
God and Elihu are making the same point, namely, that God is awesome! Not awesome in the ‘tween’, ‘high-schooler’ kind of way, but God is Awesome! When you look around, and think of all that God has done with this immense, yet temporary universe that we’re told is fading away. You just have to sit back in complete awe of God. It’s a lot harder, in fact, no, it’s impossible to build yourself up when faced with the all powerful, all knowing, one, true, holy God. We’ve seen that a time or two in scripture, haven’t we? Remember Isaiah? How did he respond when faced with God? Let’s look there in Isaiah 6:1-5:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.”
In his book “The holiness of God”, R.C. Sproul gives, in my opinion, the definitive commentary on these verses in Isaiah. He says:
“He [Isaiah] saw the holiness of God. For the first time in his life Isaiah really understood who God was. At the same instant, for the first time Isaiah really understood who Isaiah was.”
Elihu wants Job to really understand who Job is. So he’s trying to show him who God really is. God is the Creator. God is sovereign. God is just. God is holy. Job is none of those things. But this is just the beginning. Elihu is just getting warmed up. He concludes this passage in verses 6-8 to demonstrate the impact both sin and righteousness would have on God, if any:
If you sin, what do you accomplish against Him? Or, if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to Him? If you are righteous, what do you give Him? Or what does He receive from your hand? Your wickedness affects a man such as you, And your righteousness a son of man.
I know the questions asked in verses 6 & 7 are rhetorical questions, but just to be clear, the answer to all of them is ‘Nothing’. There is no sin we can commit that will ever damage God, or hurt Him, or cause Him to stumble. God is perfect and guides the steps of us all. Sin, even the worst of sins, happens only at His discretion, and in accordance with His decreed and perfect will. As does our righteousness. Any act that is truly righteous is one done in faith, and God is “the Author and Finisher of our faith,” (Hebrews 12:2). Now, if you look in your references, as it seems so many of the commentators I read did. You may notice that the point being made here was also brought up by Job’s friend Eliphaz in chapter 22:2-3. Many commentaries suggested that this alone was enough reason to discount and ignore what they call,‘Elihu’s redundant advice’. But remember, Eliphaz was making this statement only to convince Job that he was guilty of some sort of sin, and needed to repent. Elihu is trying to point Job towards the glory of God. Eliphaz was just trying to justify his own understanding of who he thought God was. As you’ll find in most of the book of Job, there’s some very good theology and sound proverbs being completely misappropriated by Job’s friends, and by Job himself in a few places, as we’ve seen.
So, if our sin and our good deeds do not affect God, then why should we concern ourselves with such things? Job seemed baffled as to this very issue. Even bible commentator Matthew Henry saw this and made the point that, ‘If God doesn’t profit from our good deeds, then why would Job expect to profit from them himself?’. Job couldn’t figure it out. Whereas, if you just read this passage alone, you might think that Elihu was saying that we should only concern ourselves with sin and righteousness for the sake of men, when he says in verse 8, Your wickedness affects a man such as you, And your righteousness a son of man” (Job 35:8). So, should we take this verse to mean that God just dispenses justice and has no true investment in the deeds of men? Well, no.
While it’s true that our deeds affect men and women, and that our good and bad deeds can have long lasting consequences that extend far beyond our short little lives; sin is defined as the breaking of God’s law. We learn that in 1 John 3:4 where John says, “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (1John 3:4). Breaking the laws of men is just crime. In Psalm 51, David sings about the true nature of sin when he writes, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in your sight– That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge” (Psalms 51:4). As did Joseph, when tempted with Potiphar’s wife, and said, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9b).
And what of our righteousness? Do our good deeds change or affect God? No. But God still delights in them. Why? Because God has decided to use our good works to glorify Himself. It’s yet another manifestation of His lovingkindness toward us. We don’t earn anything with our deeds. We don’t earn salvation, we don’t justify ourselves. We don’t make God our debtor. We glorify God. What book are we reading from? Job. Who presented Job to Satan in the first place? God. And Why? Because through Job’s suffering, and through all the dialogues that take place afterward, and ultimately through Job’s repentance and restoration, God was glorified. Just as He is through each and every one of us that has been baptized by the Holy Spirit. We are witnesses to His grace, and His mercy, and to the change that He’s done in our lives and in our hearts, by bringing us to His Son, Jesus Christ in repentance and faith in His gospel. And we, in response, as the Apostle Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
The plain and simple truth of it is, that God DOES concern himself with us. By His grace, “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). The Psalmist, David wrote about it when he said in Psalms 8:4-5, “What is man that you are mindful of him? And the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor” (Psalms 8:4-5). God created us from clay, yet He crowns us with glory, and calls us His children. Look up, and remember all that He’s done, and then remember all that He’s done for you.