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Job 33:13-18 – God May Be Speaking to Job through His Suffering

Summary

Elihu, the fourth counselor who suddenly appears in the story, urges Job to pay attention to what God may be telling him. There may be a message in his suffering that is actually for his own good.

Analysis

The place of Elihu in the book of Job has been greatly discussed by biblical scholars. He is never mentioned either before or after chapters 32-37. He breaks the flow of the narrative from the final monologue of Job in 29-31 to God's speeches in 38-41. The consensus is that Elihu was inserted in the book at a later time to make one more attempt to deal with the elusive problem of why innocent people like Job have to suffer. Both Job and his three friends are criticized for their failure to solve this dilemma.

Does Elihu add anything of value to the book? If his speeches were left out, would the message of the book be weakened? There are two ways one might answer this question. The first is to say that Elihu helps the flow of the story. He speaks directly to Job and challenges him in a way that prepares Job for the encounter with God that will soon follow. The second possibility is to suggest that Elihu actually presents some new ideas in the ongoing discussion about the cause and meaning of suffering. Mostly, Elihu merely repeats the same arguments that blame Job and defend God's justice. One slightly new wrinkle is suggested in this passage: suffering may actually be good for you, Job, so pay attention to what God is telling you. That is to say, suffering can have benefits for us if we can stop complaining long enough to listen. Eliphaz had already hinted at this in 5:17, but the idea is spelled out more fully in Elihu's speech.

So, according to Elihu, one answer to the why of suffering is that it may bring benefits. It is hard to see that when in the midst of the trauma, but, perhaps, at a later time sufferers can look back and see that some good actually came from their ordeal. Looking for the benefits of suffering shows up in the New Testament (such as in Hebrews 12) and is commonly seen in Christian explanations for suffering.

Job 33:13-18


13 Why do you contend against him,
   saying, “He will answer none of my* words”?
14 For God speaks in one way,
   and in two, though people do not perceive it.
15 In a dream, in a vision of the night,
   when deep sleep falls on mortals,
   while they slumber on their beds,
16 then he opens their ears,
   and terrifies them with warnings,
17 that he may turn them aside from their deeds,
   and keep them from pride,
18 to spare their souls from the Pit,
   their lives from traversing the River.

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10 February 2011

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