Echoes from the Past

I Have Found a Ransom

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.--1 Timothy 2:5, 6

A verse by verse study in Job 33

Unlike the three comforters who preceded him, Elihu was a true comforter to Job. The trio of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were intent on linking Job's afflictions to some sin he had committed. While Elihu does reprove Job for being overly righteous, he points to the one remedy, not only for Job's problems, but for the deeper problems of the permission of evil on the entire human race.

As a Buzite (Job 32:2), Elihu was a close relative of Abraham (Genesis 22:20, 21). In contrast, the other comforters were either from the Arabic tribes of Esau or descendants of Keturah. While it is not clear who the Naamathites (ancestors of Zophar) were, the Septuagint links them to the Minaeans. The Assyrian king Shalmaneser II identifies the land of Uz, Job's homeland, with the northeastern part of Palestine. This accords with Josephus' assertion that "Uz founded Trachnonitis and Damascus" (Antiquities, I, vi, 4). Thus Elihu, of all the consolers of Job, would have the closest link to the religion of Abraham.

Elihu Addresses Job—Verses 1 and 2

Wherefore, Job, I pray thee, hear my speeches, and hearken to all my words. Behold, now I have opened my mouth, my tongue hath spoken in my mouth.

In the previous chapter Elihu spoke to the comforters. He pleaded his youth as the reason for keeping silent so long. However, frustrated by their failure to produce an adequate answer to Job's trials, he decided to speak up. His opening word, both to the other three and to Job, are a model of tact. While accusing Job of unrighteous responses, he nevertheless is careful not to condemn Job as a person. In this his speech differs markedly from those who spoke before him.

Proper Criticism—Verses 3 to 12

My words shall be of the uprightness of my heart: and my lips shall utter knowledge clearly. The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life. If thou canst answer me, set thy words in order before me, stand up. Behold, I am according to thy wish in God's stead: I also am formed out of the clay. Behold, my terror shall not make thee afraid, neither shall my hand be heavy upon thee. Surely thou hast spoken in mine hearing, and I have heard the voice of thy words, saying, I am clean without transgression, I am innocent; neither is there iniquity in me. Behold, he findeth occasions against me, he counteth me for his enemy, He putteth my feet in the stocks, he marketh all my paths. Behold, in this thou art not just: I will answer thee, that God is greater than man.

Elihu takes great pains to lay the foundation for his words to Job. He wants to assure Job that he has no desire to hurt him, but rather to help him in his dilemma. In these introductory remarks we find a good example for those times when we need to make a needed correction of another.

Proper Motivation: He assures Job that he is talking from the uprightness of his heart, that he has searched his heart and found no motive of pride or evil-thinking in his inner being. The Hebrew word translated "clearly" can be better rendered "sincerely." Sincerity is another part of proper motivation. Further, he assures Job, he will give criticism which is approved by the spirit of God. For us today, this implies phrasing our criticism in biblical terms.

Invites Rebuttal: Elihu recognizes that he is only perceiving Job's situation from observation. He invites Job to offer a rebuttal to the criticism, recognizing that Job may have not intended his own words to carry the meaning which Elihu took from them.

No Busy-Bodying: "Behold, I am according to this wish in God's stead." The thought conveyed is that Elihu has felt invited to comment on Job's troubles. Interfering in another's business where not invited is to avoided.

No Superiority: "I also am formed of clay." How vital it is to assure another that we ourselves are not above similar criticisms. It is because we also err that we should have great sympathy with another whose path we perceive to be wrong.

An Uplifting Hand: "Behold, my terror shall not make thee afraid, neither shall my hand be heavy upon thee." It must have been comforting to Job, after the harsh words of the other three comforters, to hear the assurance that Elihu's criticisms would not be harsh. The sole desire of this critic is to lift Job up out of his sorrow, not push his face into it.

No Hearsay: "Surely thou hast spoken in mine hearing, and I have heard the voice of thy words." It is easy to get drawn into a dispute where we are only second-hand parties to the evidence. Elihu limits his criticism to words which Job has uttered in his hearing. This rule is so important that it is even an essential part of our criminal justice sytem. The Roman governor Festus, when hearing the case against the apostle Paul, utters similar counsel: "It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have license to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him" (Acts 25:16).

Actions, Not Person, Criticized: "Behold, in this thou art not just." Finally, after citing the offending remarks by Job, Elihu carefully makes the distinction between the sin and the sinner. He condemns the remarks, without condemning Job.

The specific charges which Elihu listed can all be documented from Job's own words. An example of some of the words of Job follows: "For he breaketh me with a tempest, and multiplieth my wounds without cause" (Job 9:17); "I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem" (Job 29:14); "Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and holdest me for thine enemy?" (Job 13:24); "He hath also kindled his wrath against me, and he counteth me unto him as one of his enemies" (Job 19:11); "Thou puttest my feet also in the stocks, and lookest narrowly unto all my paths; thou settest a print upon the heels of my feet" (Job 13:27).

Despite these strong claims by Job, he was held to be innocent of speaking evil against God (Job 42:7). Nevertheless, "there is none righteous, no, not one," and that includes Job. One of the Adversary's main tools is the wedge. The stronger the accusation, the stronger the defense. Soon, an innocent defense can become an overstatement of the facts. No where is this better illustrated in the book of Job and the justified charges of Elihu.

Dreams and Visions—Verses 13 to 18

Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters. For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword.

The opening sentence of this passage loses much of its sense in translation. Rather than being a statement that God did not deign to inform man of his dealings, it is an affirmation that God does communicate with man. The New American Standard Version renders it more appropriately, "Why do you complain against Him, that He does not give an account of all His doings? Indeed God speaks once, or twice, [yet] no one notices it" (Job 33:13, 14).

Diverse from other New Testament epistles which begin with the name of the author, the writer of Hebrews opens with a stronger authority: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets" (Hebrews 1:1). Elihu picks up on this theme and discusses two of God's approaches with Job. The first of these is through dreams and visions. While this is not a method God employs today, it is one which he used many times in Old Testament history.

It is not God who is not speaking, it is the individual who is not listening. It was when the recipient was in repose, with thoughts of earthly distractions blocked out, that God often chose to reveal his will. Its purpose was always to remove the individual from his own thoughts and thus take away his pride by removing selfish thoughts from consideration. These were always to correct the human so that he would be neither in danger of judgment by God ("the pit") or by man ("the sword").

God Speaks Through Sufferings—Verses 19 to 22

He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain: So that his life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty meat. His flesh is consumed away, that it cannot be seen; and his bones that were not seen stick out. Yea, his soul draweth near unto the grave, and his life to the destroyers.

In Job's case, God chose to speak to him through suffering. It is unfortunate that most translators chose to introduce this thought with the word "chastening." Although a frequent correct translation of the Hebrew word, it is far from the only way it is used in the Bible. It might be better rendered "appointed" in this passage as it is in Genesis 24:14, 44.

Elihu sees a far different lesson in Job's experiences than do the other so-called comforters. Elihu sees the suffering as a method God has chosen to remove all fleshly desires from Job--so that his life would abhor bread and tasty foods. Nor should the thought be limited to food alone, but to any of the fleshly desires of man. By bringing Job to the very brink of death, God could better show the reward of fidelity under the most trying of conditions. As a picture of either Israel or the human race, it aptly pictures the depths to which God permits evil and suffering so that the lessons learned may be truly indelible.

The Ransom Solution—Verses 23 and 24

If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness: Then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom.

The Hebrew word here used for messenger is usually one reserved for a spirit being and is most frequently translated "angel." The term "one among a thousand" is merely a Hebrewism for one who is rare. While the usual translation of the Hebrew term used for "interpreter," Brown, Driver, and Riggs, point out that in the Hiphil conjunction here used it has the thought picked up by most literal translators of "mediator."

The object of this mediator is not to show man his own righteousness, but rather to show him the uprightness of the mediator. It is this mediator who interprets the sufferings of Job and gives the ultimate answer for the larger question, "Why does God permit evil?" The answer is simple, "I have found a ransom." This is God's ultimate answer to the permission of evil. A ransom, or corresponding price for Adam, guarantees not only a reversal of the death sentence against the human race, but a final and fitting restoration from all the effects of sin and evil itself.

The Principles of Salvation—Verses 25 to 30

His flesh shall be fresher than a child's: he shall return to the days of his youth: He shall pray unto God, and he will be favorable unto him: and he shall see his face with joy: for he will render unto man his righteousness. He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light. Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, To bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living.

Elihu's foresight into the application of the principles of salvation seems to bear out his earlier statement as uttering words given him by "the breath of the Almighty" (Job 33:4). He enumerates six of these principles in the words above.

  1. The one who experientially "finds the ransom" will not only be restored to life, but will return to the days of his youth, with his flesh becoming fresher than that of a child.
  2. This newly resurrected one will enjoy the privilege of prayer with the assurance that God "will be favorable unto him."
  3. As a result of answered prayer, humans will no longer be afraid of approaching the face of Jehovah, but "will see his [Jehovah's] face with joy."
  4. Repentance and acknowledgement of sins, both past and present, will result if ultimate deliverance from the human soul returning to the pit.
  5. Not only will such an one be delivered from going into the pit but he will profit greatly from the experiences of sin and redemption--"his life shall see the light."
  6. Errors will be permitted for a while in God's kingdom. This process of repentance and deliverance, Job is assured, "worketh God oftentimes with man."

It seems amazing indeed that individuals living in the days of Job, probably one or two generations after the Exodus, had such a depthful insight into the operations of a kingdom some four thousand years distant.

A Further Invitation—Verses 31 to 33

Mark well, O Job, hearken unto me: hold thy peace, and I will speak. If thou hast any thing to say, answer me: speak, for I desire to justify thee. If not, hearken unto me: hold thy peace, and I shall teach thee wisdom.

Verse 30 ends Elihu's first of four speeches. Before proceeding with more difficult lessons for Job, he reiterates his earlier invitation for Job to give him an answer. He also stresses that his objective is to justify Job and not to condemn him. Barring Job's rebuttal Elihu invites him to listen to the further words of this lesson. Since Job does not answer, it is to be presumed that he gives Elihu permission to continue. This he does through chapter 37.

Some argue that Elihu is to be classified with the other three comforters since his words are interrupted by God in chapter 38 with the words, "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?" (Job 38:2). However such seem to miss the import of verse one of that chapter, "Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind." Jehovah's words are addressed not to Elihu, but to Job.

In any case, the discourse of Elihu in Job 33 shows a remarkable insight into God's plan of salvation and forms one of the earliest foregleams of the great work which the Messiah was to accomplish, not only for Israel, but all humanity as well, through the provision of a ransom at his first advent and the carrying out of the restoration of the entire race at his return.