Am I on the Right Path? God’s Mercy in Redemption

Now, a young man, Elihu, possibly the author of this book, felt compelled to speak (chapter 32). He has held his peace until this final word from Job was done. He has seen Bildad falter and Zophar refuse to continue the engagement. He has listened to Job’s remarks, which silenced the arguments of the three friends. Elihu patiently waited for the wisdom of the aged to come forth, but he found only an intellectual captivity to the received ideas of the age, which he saw had been inadequate to satisfy or silence Job. He concluded that not age and custom constitute wisdom, but the blessing of divine revelation (32:8). He found himself, therefore, unable to hold back his words and observations any longer. Though sharing some of the assumptions of his contemporaries, he is more nuanced in his view of the relation of God to suffering, sin, judgment, and chastening. Because Elihu is not reprimanded by God, it appears that this provides a preparatory transition from the battle between Job and his three accusers and Job’s visit from God. Elihu provides Job with some material to think about in light of Job’s confidence that should he meet God face to face he could brace himself like the innocent man that he is and present his case. Elihu points out that it might not be that easy. Job must take more seriously the reality of sin and the need for a mediator. Job has had hints of perceiving that and listens, therefore, to Elihu without interruption or contradiction.


I. 33:1-7 Respond: Elihu informs Job that he is about to speak and tells Job to respond if he can. He is filled to overflowing and his tongue and his lips can hardly be contained. Though he feels that he is speaking truth in accordance with the spirit of God (3, 4), Elihu knows that the same God has made both Job and himself. He does not overestimate his own importance or act condescendingly toward Job. Elihu remembered that Job has asked for someone to be a mediator, that would not overwhelm him or terrify him; and though the true mediator is yet future, Elihu professes that he is at this time God’s spokesman; his presence is not overwhelming, as God’s would be, for just like Job, he was “pinched off from a piece of clay.” Elihu reiterates this call to listen and respond in verses 31-33.


II. 33:8-11 – Review: Elihu reviews what Job has said. This is not mere hearsay, second-hand information, but Elihu has heard it from Job himself and has had time to ponder and consider the flaw in Job’s response. He summarizes his argument basically as Job’s asserting his innocence while God has taken up a cause against him anyway and presses him down by his power. Matthew Henry comments, in basic approval of the position that Elihu has taken. “He is not only more wise and powerful than we are, and therefore, it is to no purpose to contend with him who will be too hard for us, but more holy, just and good, for these are the transcendent glories and excellencies of the divine nature; in these God is greater than man, and therefore it is absurd and unreasonable to find fault with him for he is certainly in the right.”


III.  33:12-18 – Revelation: Elihu believes that Job’s contention that God does not answer him is wrong. If we are attentive, so Elihu claims, we will discover the ways in which God reveals himself. He might speak in dream and visions or he might speak through terrifying warnings. God’s purpose would be to keep a man from going down to the pit.

A. The mercy of God is seen in the multiplicity of ways in which he reaches out in revelation to warn and to convict. “God speaks on one way and in two.” Even apart from the written revelation that we now enjoy, God speaks through Nature, providence, and conscience. Job, it appears, lived prior to the time of written revelation, but well within the possibility that there was a well-attested oral tradition of God’s providential dealings with the world., with his determination to punish sin, but that he also had purposes of preservation.

B. Man does not receive the ways in which God speaks. This is evident from the testimony of Romans 1. “They did not like to retain God in their knowledge.” That man is recalcitrant, does not receive revelation, and needs an almighty operation of the Spirit to have his eyes opened, does not diminish the clarity of the revelation or of the truth of its content.

C. In the evening when man is out of the bustle of daily worldly activity and he has opportunity to reflect on the day, its surprising advantages, its close calls with harm, and the difficulties of relationship on the one hand or the joy of them on the other—these should be a witness to him of both the mercy and the just severity of God as well as of his own sin and his dependence on the merciful intervention of God.

D. God’s purpose in revelation goes beyond mere knowledge, but extends to the call to repentance “That he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man.” If one responds in accord with the true tendency of this revelation he will be preserved from the pit.


IV. 33:19-22 Rebuke: God speaks through man’s pain that rebuke is necessary and if unheeded will bring one finally to perdition. Physical pain is designed to show spiritual danger. Man’s sin brings him near to the pit, as it were dangling over the flames of hell, in a weakened and morally susceptible condition, nothing to hinder the execution of a sentence of perdition.


V. 33:23-30 Ransom – Elihu now introduces an idea that Job himself had suggested (16:19-21) that another must arise to plead a sinner’s cause and restore him to righteousness.

A. This ransom/mediator will be unique. He may be represented through a messenger, a faithful minister of the gospel, but he alone can accomplish the thing itself that is needed.

B. This ransom/mediator must know the case of man and be able to declare fully and clearly what is right.

C. He must be able to represent the case of God also and find before God that which will satisfy the prevailing necessity of justice in the case of a sinner.

D. That which is found is not the worthiness of the sinner but solely the intervention of mercy to interrupt the certainty of death by the payment of a required sum in order to effect the release of the condemned. This ransom/mediator must be able to satisfy God in saying, “Deliver him from going down into the pit; I have found a ransom” (24). The requirements of God’s goodness both in justice and mercy are served by this ransom/mediator. “But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy” (Titus 3:4, 5).

E. This transaction of mercy and justice through the ransom restores the almost-destroyed sinner to youthful vigor (25) – “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly” (Titus 3:5).

F. Through the meritorious work of this ransom/mediator this once distraught person’s sin is forgiven and he is made an heir of eternal life according to the righteousness that God requires (26, 27). “through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace” Titus 3:6, 7.

G. Eternal destruction is no longer his destiny [“He has redeemed my soul from going down to the pit”] and has given the hope of eternal life [“and my life shall look upon the light”] (28) “we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).

H. Elihu re-emphasizes the gratuitous nature of what God has provided and indeed accomplished for sinner in the great transaction of redeeming his soul from hell and granting him heaven (verses 29,30). “He has translated us out of the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13, 14). “You may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).


VI. In chapter 34 Elihu summarizes Job’s argument as being in line with the scoffing of unbelievers. Job cannot see his own conduct as worthy of judgment and thus aligns himself with the evil in their conclusions about God (5 -9; 34-37). Elihu then defends God’s justice and absolute impartiality as an unshakeable foundation upon which all of life should be built. God is righteous and sovereign. We should not marvel at chastisement but that we are preserved from immediate judgment (10-30). Will Job not consent that his chastisement comes from the hands of a just God and humbly learn how to implore God according to his terms.


VII. In chapter 35, Elihu argues that Job wants God to bend to his perceptions of sin, justice, and righteousness (1-8). He wants relief earlier than God has determined to give it (9-12). He is upset that God has not consented to his timetable (13, 14). So, Job does not see that God is patient and thus complains in ignorance (15, 16).


VIII. Job 36 – After Elihu has given a lengthy defense of the justice of God in light of Job’s protests that he has not been allowed to present his case, he reprimanded Job for seemingly challenging God as his equal and concludes, “Job opens his mouth in empty talk; he multiplies words without knowledge” (35:16).

A. In verses 1-4 Elihu claims qualifications to speak to Job in this matter, particularly because he perceives that his three antagonists have not given a clear view of the mystery and the prerogative of God. “There is yet more to be said in God’s behalf, . . . I will ascribe righteousness to my Maker” (2, 3). He claims to speak by revelation: “knowledge from afar; . . . For truly my words are not false; one who is perfect in knowledge is with you” (3, 4).

B. In verses 5-7 Elihu shows that God is no respecter of persons but knows each one thoroughly and deals justly. “He . . . gives the afflicted their right.”

C. People in exalted positions or who have been give special privileges have special responsibilities before God (8-23).

  1. Verses 8, 9 – When calamity comes to those whom God has set in positions of authority, God shows them the character of their sin. “Then he declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.” As the NASB says, “They have magnified themselves.”
  2. Verse 10 – He gives them instruction and requires that they turn from iniquity. God has never relinquished his moral authority over any portion of the world at any time. Every culture, and every person within that culture will be held accountable to God. When Paul preached that in times past God “winked” at the transgressions of the nations outside the messianic covenantal community, he did not mean that they were without any revelation of right and wrong and that God never inflicted judgment. He means that in light of the coming redemption and the necessity of the continuation of the race, God did not enact a full measure of wrath on either the elect or the non-elect. From the woes pronounced by the Old Testament prophets against the nations, it is clear that God frequently acted in a retributive manner. Here Elihu, keenly sensitive to manners in which God revealed elements of responsibility to all people, says that God “opens their ears to instruction.” He issues a call to repentance.
  3. verses 11 and 12 – Repentance will renew their standing in divine favor; a refusal to repent will result in righteous judgment. They will “die without knowledge,” that is, without a saving knowledge of God, without the knowledge of the beauty of his holiness. This message of repentance was the fundamental message of John the Baptist in preparation for the Messiah and it was the initial message of Jesus Himself. It was a necessary element of the message that the apostles preached, “repentance and forgiveness of sin” (Luke 24:47); “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Jesus said, “I tell you nay, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13: 3, 5).
  4. Those who refuse to heed divine warnings in temporal discipline but scoff against God will end their lives among the godless and the grotesque violators of God’s righteous character (13, 14). Though they sense righteous anger against them, they refuse to repent but rather indulge in greater transgression. Is Job dangerously close to this end or will he endure God’s treatment of him with a view to justifying God in his work?
  5. Verses 15, 16 – Job’s former condition of prosperity, though he could have been born to affliction, was a matter of divine grace toward him. Job revered God and had a desire to please God in all of his doings by virtue of God’s opening his ear. God himself enticed Job from the distress that could have been his from the beginning. In place of a life of distress as a sinner, God gave Job riches, possessions, family, influence, and abundance of daily provisions. Did Job think that these gifts from God were because of his righteousness? Did he fall into the trap of his earlier three advisors and believe that his life of thriving was a reward for goodness?
  6. Verses 17-18 – Elihu warns Job that he is being led to despise the greatness of God’s grace toward him. The present condign infliction of chastening should not puzzle Job but should heighten his gratitude for grace. :Beware that wrath does not entice you to scoffing” (18). As some portions of judgment begin to replace the privilege of grace, Job should not despise the reality that deliverance comes only from an infinitely righteous ransom and deliverer from judgment (33:23-30). To resist God’s right to judge so as to demonstrate the perfect holiness of his character and his sovereign prerogative to deal with human pollution as he sees fit is to minimize the infinite price of redemptive grace. “Do not let the greatness of the ransom turn you aside.” Theologians who deny substitutionary propitiation as central to Christ’s atoning work often argue that they magnify the grace of God by their denial—that he simply forgives apart from any ransom or manifestation of wrath. In reality they diminish both the immutable holiness of God and infinite love and grace of God as demonstrated by his provision of the only way in which the grace of forgiveness could be ours (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10; John 3:16-18).
  7. Verses 19-21 – Elihu mentions three refuges that sinners seek in order to avoid reconciliation with God’s holy wrath. These attempts at refuge from divine judgment show their disdain for the ransom God provided.
  • Men may look to riches or their apparent strength to fulfill them and guard them from the eventual coming of righteous judgment. They need to hear the warning of James: “Come now, you rich, and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are motheaten” (James 5:1, 2).
  • Others simply yearn for death as an escape from earthly troubles. “Do not long for the night,” says Elihu. People vanish from their place but their life before God does not end. Earlier, Job simply wished not to be (Job 3:1-19). But death, early or late, does not eliminate the appointment we have with God: “It is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
  • Others simply throw aside any sense of personal responsibility before God and move toward deeper indulgence in evil (21). They reason that unbounded pursuit of pleasure will anesthetize the pain of judgment. They forfeit the lesson that God’s affliction is bringing them.
  1. Mere men in any of these conditions either of power or privilege should not exalt themselves but remember that God alone is exalted and he alone judges and reveals truth (22-23).
  • God is the omnipotent one and there is no manifestation of power in the world but that it is derived from him (John 19:10, 11).
  • God knows all things and acts always according to his purposes, so we may ask with Elihu, “Who is a teacher like him?”
  • God works all things after the counsel of his own will (Ephesians 1: 11). Is anyone above him or does anyone give directions to the eternal, all-wise, all powerful one? “Who has appointed him his way?” (23 A).
  • He is the thrice holy, all righteous One. He makes no mistakes and there is no moral flaw in him. What he determines for the testing, sanctifying, and judging of men all is in accord with a perfect righteousness that is endemic to his very nature. “Who has said, ‘You have done wrong?’”


VII. Conclusions – I reiterate what was written before, but now add the insights brought by Elihu [“H” and “I”]

A. Embrace and absorb into your central spiritual world view that Providence and Redemption are no less in the control of God and under his ultimate purpose than was the immediate operation of creation. Wisdom always resides in submission to the divine will.

B. The driving passion of our lives should be a reverent and filial fear of God that leads to discernment and enjoyment of the attributes of God.

C. Don’t allow some knowledge of God and his ways to drive you to arrogance, judgmentalism, and sinful over-confidence. We must not retreat from what we know to be true but must also realize that other dimensions of present knowledge will constantly flow into our heads and hearts from God’s revealed truth.

D. We must value spiritual knowledge and holiness of life above all earthly advantage. If God will teach us more of Himself and his purity through the loss of what can be lost then the loss is a great advantage.

E. While maintaining integrity in individual cases as each relates to the judgment of men, we must submit to God’s prerogative to design any event for our overall sanctification. True godliness always involves resignation.

F. Be thankful for the progressive nature of revelation—learn to admire the divine wisdom in the gradually unfolding of layer upon layer of truth—as well as the immediate perfection of the redemptive action of God.

G. We should contemplate the importance of the question, “How can a man, sinfully despicable from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head, be in the right before God?” Where will we find a ransom? Of what honor must such a ransom be?

H. There is no such thing as innocent suffering. When we proportion temporal suffering to apparent temporal evil, we might be puzzled as to why the apparently good suffer and the apparently less-good prosper; but this sense of disproportion finds plausibility only because of our limited and dull reflections on divine holiness. If our knowledge of the moral character of a fallen world and fallen human beings were truly commensurate with the reality, we would immediately concede the justice of God in any infliction of punishment or discipline.

I. We must not forget that God’s granting of pleasure in this life should drive us to see the bountiful nature of his goodness and mercy, and any interruption of our pleasure in this life, whether mild or severe, is designed to bring us to a knowledge of sin and the need for a mediator that can restore righteousness, for God will not be finally reconciled to us apart from true and complete righteousness. “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1, 2)

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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