BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 156 (April-June 1999): 143-59
AND HIS VIEW OF SUFFERING
Larry J. Waters
The Book of Job is essentially about God's relationship with
humankind, specifically with a man named Job, and it revolves
around two questions. The first question is introduced through the
accusations of Satan (1:9-11; 2:4-5): Why do people worship
God?1 Satan suggested that the motivation for Job's worship and
righteousness was "self-focused aggrandizement (Job 1:9-11)."2
Elihu3 sought to show that Satan's thesis-that "all religious in-
terest is ultimately grounded in self-interest, or worse, in merce-
nary commitment"4--is false.
The second question asks, How should people respond or react
to God when He is silent and seemingly unconcerned about their
problems? Therefore Elihu's theology is primarily related to Job's
reaction to God, and the misunderstanding of the three antago-
nists and Job regarding their relationship to Him. Specifically
Job questioned the operation of God's justice and ultimately God's
own integrity, whereas the three questioned Job's claim of inno-
cence and asserted God's right to exercise His freedom in the use
of retributive justice. These two attributes, God's justice and
sovereignty, were emphatically defended by Elihu.
Larry J. Waters is Professor of Bible Exposition, International School of Theology-
1 See Roy B. Zuck, "A Theology of the Wisdom Books and the Song of Songs," in A
Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, ed. Roy B. Zuck (Chicago: Moody. 1991),
219-32. Many observations in this article are drawn from this study, but will not be
noted hereafter unless directly quoted.
2 Ibid., 219.
3 For a discussion of the authenticity of Elihu's speeches, see Larry J. Waters,
"The Authenticity of the Elihu Speeches in Job 32-37," Bibliotheca Sacra 156
(January-March 1999): 28-41.
4 D. A.
Rapids: Baker, 1990), 160.
144 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-June 1999
ELIHU'S VIEW OF SUFFERING RELATIVE TO
THE THEOLOGY OF GOD
In response to these two questions Elihu spoke first of God's
sovereignty. God is greater than man (33:12); He is sovereign in
His decisions and actions (34:14-15, 29), in His rule over indi-
viduals, nations, and the earth (33:14-18, 29-30; 34:13-15, 21-25;
37:13), and in His greatness (36:22, 26). His sovereignty is
demonstrated in His creative work (32:22; 33:4, 6; 34: 14) and His
control of nature, including the cycles of evaporation (36:27-33),
rain (36:28; 37:6), the clouds, lightning, and thunder (36:29-33;
37:2-5, 11-12, 15-16), the cold, snow, and ice (37:6-10), extreme
heat (37:16-18), and animals (37:8).
Elihu explained the relationship between the sovereignty of
God and suffering by emphasizing that Job's life was under the
control of the sovereign Creator God, who sustains life (34:13-15).
Since God's decisions, actions, and dominion are autonomous,
neither Job nor the three had the right to question God or presume
on Him. However, Job and the three assumed that everything in
God's universe ought to be explained to them (30:20) or known by
them (15:8-10; 20:4). As a result Elihu declared, in essence,
"There are some things you [Job and the three] will not under-
stand, for you are not God."5 There will always remain some
mysteries to suffering; therefore when believers suffer, they must
maintain faith in the Lord.
A second attribute Elihu defended is God's "infinity, for He
cannot be understood (36:26; 37:5, 15-16), seen by man (34:29),"6
or limited by space. A third attribute is God's eternality (36:26,
29), for He cannot be dated or limited by time. Elihu's purpose in
emphasizing these three attributes was to move Job and the three
from a focus on themselves and the problems surrounding under-
served suffering to the infinite God whose purposes are eternal
and who knows exactly what He is doing. Before Elihu's inter-
vention the debate had been anthropocentric and not theocentric.
Elihu rectified that situation and injected a recognition of the di-
vine into the discussion. Another purpose Elihu had in mind was
to get Job and the three to understand that God is not limited in the
way He deals with the suffering of humankind. God acts when,
where, and how He has sovereignly decreed. This is not to dis-
courage prayer or a humble, submissive, and righteous lifestyle,
but rather to encourage a life of faith and trust.
The fourth and fifth attributes defended by Elihu are God's
5 Ibid., 173-74.
6 Zuck, "A Theology of the Wisdom Books and the Song of Songs," 221.
Elihu's Theology and His View of Suffering 145
justice (34:12, 17; 36:3, 23; 37:23) and holiness (34:10; 36:23). He is
perfectly just and holy when He judges sin (34:11), punishes sin-
ners (v. 26), destroys the powerful (v. 24), acts impartially (v. 19),
summons death (v. 20; 36:6), disciplines oppressive rulers (36:7),
judges godless kings (34:30), and censures flattery (32:22). Elihu
spent the greater part of his defense in affirming God's justice.
The three antagonists' faulty theology and Job's insistence that
God was neither exercising justice in the lives of others or in his
own life (10:3; 12:6; 19:6-7; 21:7-15, 17-28; 24:12; 27:2) called into
question God's justice and holiness. If Job's suffering were un-
justly allowed by God, or if God's work could be reduced to a quid
pro quo system, then God is no different from the false gods of the
ancient Near East. Elihu maintained that God does not punish or
reward on the basis of human terms (34:33). Therefore the
proposition that God acts unjustly or that He is controlled by
human logic is unacceptable. According to Elihu suffering has
many purposes, all of which fall under the governance of the jus-
tice and holiness of God. To think otherwise diminishes God to "a
god" and exaggerates suffering beyond its importance and pro-
motes it to the prime factor of life, with all things revolving
around its existence or absence (i.e., compensation theology).7
God's omniscience was also cited by Elihu. This sixth at-
tribute affirms that God is aware of every movement of a person
(34:21) and knows all that is in one's heart (v. 23). God sees the
deeds of sinners and they cannot hide from Him (vv. 22, 25;
35:15). He is also cognizant of the righteous and their needs
(36:7), for He is "perfect in knowledge" (36:4; 37:16). The silence
of God was a major obstacle for Job, because it implied that God
was unaware of his suffering or that He was distant and detached
(). Elihu demonstrated that God is actively involved in ev-
ery area of a person's life and is aware of even inner moti-
vations. Even in suffering, God does not detach Himself from
His creation but is at work in that suffering to attract the sufferer
to Himself (36:15-16). Since God is omniscient and aware of
Job's suffering, He is also aware that it is undeserved. Therefore
any apparent inaction or silence on God's part did not imply Job's
isolation or God's ignorance and hostility.
The seventh attribute emphasized by Elihu was omnipotence.
God is referred to as the omnipotent Creator (34:19; 35:10; 36:3),
the Almighty Gods (32:8; 33:4; 34:10, 12; 35:13; 37:23), and the
7 The terms "compensation" and "compensation theology" are defined later.
a luck points out that yDiWa is used thirty-one times in Job (including six times by
Elihu) and only seventeen times in the rest of the Old Testament (ibid., 221-22).
Also see R. Laird Harris, "The Book of Job and Its Doctrine of God," in Sitting with
146 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-June 1999
"mighty" One (34:17; 36:5). Twice, Elihu declared that God is
"exalted in power" (36:22; 37:23). Rabbi Kushner insists that God
is unable to prevent human suffering.9 This idea, however, was
unacceptable to Elihu, Job, and the three, because "God's power
was not questioned; only His fairness."1o Though Job did not
doubt the power of God, he did deny God's willingness to use it on
Job's behalf, and he even accused God of using His power against
him (, 30-31; 13:3; 16:7-12; ; 23:2; 31:35a). For Job,
"God's essence is 'power' and not 'justice;' he bends justice and
rules with raw power (19:6f)."11 For Elihu, to imply that God's al-
lowance of Job's suffering was an action independent of His na-
ture was an attack on God's justice. Elihu insisted that God's
power was working for Job, not against him, even in his suffer-
ing and losses. Elihu wanted Job to put aside his preoccupation
with his own vindication and righteousness and to realize that
God alone had the power to deliver him (36:22-24; cf. 40:8-14).12
The eighth attribute Elihu noted is God's love and mercy. His
provision for His creation, Elihu pointed out, shows that He is
gracious and merciful (37:13). He gives life to humanity (34:14-
15), He forgives and restores (33:26-30; 36:10), He delivers suf-
ferers in their suffering, speaks during oppression, and seeks
intimacy with sufferers during their distress (36:15-16). Elihu
also invited Job to consider God's merciful love, as seen in the
actions of nature. When Job's wife suggested that he "curse God
and die," Job replied, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and
not accept adversity?" (2:9-10). Elihu assumed that suffering was
as much a gift from God as prosperity. Elihu also recognized that
Job's occupation with his former blessings had clouded his mind
to the lessons and intimacies related to hardship and adversity
(33:24, 26; 36:15; 37:13b-14). The "fellowship of God is enriching,
and. ..that fellowship may be found in adversity no less than in
prosperity."13 Suffering is therefore the channel through which
Job: Selected Studies on
the Book of Job,
ed. Roy B. luck (
9 Kushner says, "God would like people to get what they deserve in life, but He
cannot always arrange it. Forced to choose between a good God who is not totally
powerful, or a powerful God who is not totally good, the author of the book of Job
chooses to believe in God's goodness" (Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Hap-
pen to Good People [
10 Philip Yancey, "Riddles of Pain: Clues from the Book of Job," Christianity To-
11 Dorothee Soelle, Suffering (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), 114.
12 Elmer B. Smick, "Semeiological
Interpretation of the Book of Job,"
Theological Journal 48 (1986): 147.
13 H. H. Rowley, "The Intellectual versus the Spiritual Solution," in The Dimen-
sions of Job: A Study and Selected
Elihu's Theology and His View of Suffering 147
God dispenses His grace and love in a remarkable way and
where His attributes are more clearly manifest to the sufferer.
ELIHU'S VIEW OF SUFFERING RELATIVE TO
THE THEOLOGY OF HUMANITY
Job held traditional views regarding the origin and nature of hu-
mans. He acknowledged God as the Creator and Sustainer of life
(; 27:3, 8), particularly his own (10:8-11). Job noted that peo-
ple are by nature frail (-12), impure (14:4), wicked (; ,
24; 10:2; 16:11; 21:7, 16, 28; 24:6; 27:7, 13; 29:17; 31:3), godless
(; 27:8), and without hope (; 7:6; ; ; 27:8). Job
admitted that sin could occur in one's heart (1:5; 31:7, 9) or
thoughts (31:1). Chapters 29-31 reveal that Job had a healthy re-
spect for the consequences of sin and attempted to live righ-
teously. Generally he agreed with his three verbal opponents that
suffering is evidence of sinful behavior, but he also observed that
contrary to the claim of compensation theology not all sinners
suffer and not all righteous people are exempt from affliction
(21:7-15, 17-18; 24:1-17).
Elihu described God's relationship to people in several ways.
First, he depicted this relationship generally. Elihu spoke of God
as the Creator of humankind (32:22; 33:4, 6; 34:19; 35:10), and the
Authority over and Owner of human beings (33:6). Elihu main-
tained that human life is sustained by God (33:4; 34:20). He re-
garded people as formed from clay (33:6), made of flesh and bones
(33:21; 34:15), lower than God (33:12; 36:23, 26), and destined to
return to dust (34:10). People cannot condemn God (34:17, 29), see
God (34:29; 35:14), or understand Him (36:26) or His ways in na-
ture (36:29; 37:15-16).14 Elihu also said that human beings are
spiritual creatures (32:8, 18; 33:3; 34:14; 37:1, 24). Concerning
wisdom and spiritual knowledge, Elihu affirmed that wisdom
does not come from age (32:4-5, 9) or human nature (32:5, 12-13;
36:29; 37:19), but from God alone (32:8, 19-20; 33:3-4, 15-16, 29-
30; 36:10-13; 37:7, 14-15). True wisdom cannot be attained
through tradition or effort, but is a gift from God. Therefore Job
should entrust his situation to the authority of his Creator.
Second, Elihu said God is intimately involved in the lives of
human beings. God did not abandon humans when He created
them (34:14-15). He is actively involved in the conduct of His
people, and their ways are not hidden from Him (34:21-22). God
communicates with people through dreams, visions, pain, and
14 See Zuck, "A Theology of the Wisdom Books and the Song of Songs," 226-28, 230-
148 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-June 1999
mediators (33:15-22, 26-29; 36:9-10, 15). God opens the ears of
people to communicate His will and plan (33:16; 36:10, 16), and
draws people to Himself (36:16). Elihu stated that God gives joy in
life (35:10) and that He promotes or demotes people justly and
I fairly (34:30; 36:7, 11). Therefore God was active in Job's suffer-
ing and struggle. The Lord was not Job's enemy (; 33:10); He
desired a deeper relationship with Job (33:26-30).
Third, Elihu described God's relationship with the righteous.
God’s might and power, he said, are involved in carrying out His
plans and purposes for the righteous (36:5-7). God's relationship
with them is unparalleled (vv. 5-6), and He is aware of all that
happens to them (v. 7a). God does not oppress the righteous or do
violence to righteousness (37:23b). Nothing happens to the righ-
teous of which God is unaware; in this the righteous can be secure.
God was involved in the life of Job and had a special interest in
him as one of His righteous ones. Contrary to Job's accusations,
God was not oppressing him or doing violence to him .(37:23). Un-
like readers who know the events of the prologue, Elihu accepted
this truth by faith and encouraged Job to do the same. In reality the
only enemy Job had to fear was himself, and suffering was re-
vealing that to him (34:35, 37; 35:16; cf. 38:2; 40:2, 8). Job's suffer-
ing was more than Satan's insinuation against him. He was suf-
fering to vindicate more than himself. He was vindicating God's
trust in him. Elihu was saying that when suffering comes unde-
servedly, one should not react as Job did with accusation and self-
defense. Instead the sufferer should "face it with trust [for] if he
could know the cause, he too might find that he was serving God
and was honored in his very agony."15
Fourth, Elihu described God's relationship with the wicked.
Elihu recognized that people are sinners (33:17, 27; 34:22-27, 30;
35:12-13, 15; 36:9-10, 13-14), and are therefore held accountable
to God (32:22; 33:26; 34:11, 30; 35:15; 36:10-12). For Elihu people
are unable to deliver themselves and therefore need God's inter-
vention and involvement (33:23-32; 36:15; 37:13). Even those who
are mighty are ultimately subject to God (34:24). He knows their
works (v. 25) and will overthrow them (vv. 25-26), because they
have turned from following Him and have not regarded His
ways (v. 27). They also cause the poor to cry out to God (v. 28).
Furthermore God does not value an evil or proud person (35:12-
13). Ultimately they are removed from their place (32:22; 34:24)
and another is promoted above them (34:24). Especially pertinent
to Job was the issue of pride (33:17; 35:12) and his accusation that
God does not punish the wicked (21:7-16; cf. 35:12; 36:6).
15 Rowley, "The Intellectual versus the Spiritual Solution," 124.
Elihu's Theology and His View of Suffering 149
The point Elihu was making is that God's retributive justice
is still in effect regardless of the charges brought against it by a
faulty theology or false accusations. People are accountable to
God and are totally dependent on His grace for deliverance.
ELIHU'S VIEW OF SUFFERING RELATIVE TO
THE THEOLOGY OF RETRIBUTION
For most ancient peoples, the quintessential principle of life was
that God (or the gods) rule with predictive, moral, and com-
pensative order.16 It was generally believed that the sovereign
God/gods ruled His/their world, and that when necessary
He/they would intervene in human history to reward the good and
punish the wicked. Of course the Scriptures teach that God will
ultimately punish the wicked and reward the righteous.17 It would
seem that moral order in the world was and continues to be "one of
those requirements of the human mind which God cannot fail to
satisfy without appearing unjust."18
A belief held generally throughout the ancient world19 was
"that there is an exact correspondence between one's behavior and
one's destiny," and this principle "is known as the doctrine of re-
tribution."20 Generally in this view there was no room for the suf-
fering of the righteous or the blessing of the wicked.21
Eichrodt asserts that a "deeply rooted belief in retribution"
was found in Israel.22 Eichrodt's theology of the Old Testament
16 Rene Girard writes, "The idea of retribution [is] an essential aspect of every
system of mythological representation [and it] dominates primitive religion" (Job:
The Victim of His People [
17 Jerome D. Quinn, "The Scriptures of Merit," in Justification by Faith, ed. H.
Anderson, T. Austin Murphy, and Joseph A. Burgess (
burg, 1985), 84.
18 Edouard Dhorme, A Commentary on the Book of Job (Nashville: Nelson, 1984),
19 Robert Gordis states that the doctrine "was universally accepted throughout
the ancient Near East, from the Nile to the
darity was joined to that of lex talionis ('measure for measure') and became a car-
dinal principle in the legal system of the ancient Babylonians, Assyrians, and Hit-
tites" (The Book of God and Man [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965), 137).
20 David J. A. Clines, Job 1-20, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1989),
xxxix. Edward W. Glenny states it this way: "Retribution theology holds that there
is an automatic connection between a person's deeds and state of being" ("How Well
Do You Know God? The Dangers of Retribution Theology," Searching Together 23
[Spring 1995): 14). Glenny's use of the word "automatic" would move his definition
into the category of compensation theology.
21 Shimon Bakon, "God and Man on Trial," Jewish Bible Quarterly 21 (1993): 22.
22 Walter Eichrodt considered retribution as one of the characteristic peculiari-
ties that mark the Israelite religion: "Hence
uncertainty about the principle of God's dealings with men; but the Israelite is cer-
150 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-June 1999
was instrumental in popularizing the term "retribution." The
term is so entrenched within present-day Old Testament theology
that it seems advisable to retain that term to represent the biblical
principle of retribution or retribution theology. The terms "com-
pensation" and "compensation theology," on the other hand, des-
ignate the misconception of the biblical principle of retribution.23
"Retribution" or "retribution theology" may be defined as de-
served reward or punishment that comes to an obedient or offend-
ing party when a divine requirement, agreement, verbal
promise, or covenant is kept or broken. That there could be verbal
requirements or verbal agreements between God and people is
clearly indicated by (a) the sacrifices Job offered (Job 1:5 and
42:8); (b) the phrases regarding God's "path," "command,"
"words of His mouth," in -12; (c) Job's oath of innocence and
list of virtues in chapter 31; (d) Elihu's insistence that God is in-
volved in individual human life (33:14-30; 34:14-15, 21-22, 25,
29; 36:5-12, 31; 37:13); and (e) God's speeches and the epilogue
Negatively, retribution is punishment for breaking a con-
tract or covenant (verbal or written) that was relation ally or
legally binding on two parties. Positively, retribution is reward
for keeping the commands and requirements of that same con-
tract or agreement. Retribution resulted from disobedience or
obedience, anticipated by the offending or obedient party, when
the verbal agreement, command, or covenant was broken or kept.
It was therefore fair and Just both legally and morally.
However, the traditional wisdom of Job's day saw the concept
of retribution as a fixed systematic formula for judging the con-
dition of a nation or the life of an individual.24 Therefore it lim-
tain that God in his turn will act toward him in accordance with those principles
of law with which he himself is well acquainted" (Theology of the Old Testament,
Testament Library, trans. J. A. Baker [
The certainty of the Israelite, however, often turned to uncertainty when the for-
mula did not follow the expected course. Koch points out that It may have been
Gunkel who first recognized that from the beginning of
a belief in retribution (Klaus Koch, "Is There a Doctrine of Retribution in the Old
Testament?" in Theodicy in the Old Testament, ed. James L. Crenshaw [Philadel-
phia: Fortress, 19831, 57).
23 This is done with full awareness that the terms "retribution" and "compensa-
tion" could also be used interchangeably. However,. it seems preferable to use the
term "compensation" to represent the wrong doctrine, the wrong understanding,
the misapplication, or the "hyperdoctrine" of retribution, while maintaining that
the term "retribution" represents the biblical principles related to reward and
"punishment from God.
24 Roland E. Murphy states, "The book's most positive teaching is at the same time
negative. the application to Job of the traditional theory of divine retribution is not
Elihu's Theology and His View of Suffering 151
ited God to predetermined actions in dealing with people's re-
sponses to Him. People "seek an explanation of suffering in
cause and effect. . . . They look backwards for a connection be-
tween prior sin and present suffering."25
However, according to the Scriptures, within the true princi-
ple of retribution there is room for exceptions to a fixed formula
for the working out of God's justice in the lives of His people.26
"God's actions can at times suspend all dogmatic statements and
theories about God's own inner workings."27 This is not to say
that He is capricious or that the principle of retribution contradicts
His justice and freedom to act, but it does explain why people have
attempted to develop fixed formulas by which to try to explain or
predict God's actions.28 Even so, retribution theology remains a
tenet of God's justice and righteousness and does not violate God's
mercy, love, and grace toward His people (37:13).
"Compensation" or "compensation theology" is a belief system
based on human observation, presumption, prejudice, and dog-
matic traditional wisdom. Compensation is an airtight reward-
and-punishment system related to performance of the individual
within a set standard of assumed values. While there is evidence
that God communicated certain requirements related to the true
principle of retribution in the .Book of Job, there is no. evidence
the book that God followed this concept of compensation. God did
not agree to the assumptions of Satan, the three counselors, or Job
himself. There is no evidence of mutual agreement between the
relevant" (The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature, Anchor
Reference Library [
tament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1976), 68. As an example of
this principle Andersen points to the man who was born blind "in order that the
works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:3).
26 This is also true in reverse. Righteous servants of God have suffered unde-
servedly, such as Joseph, Elijah, David as a fugitive, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Daniel.
The New Testament also gives examples, such as Jesus Himself, the apostle Paul,
the apostle Peter, and early-church believers.
27 Koch "Is There a Doctrine of Retribution in the Old Testament?" 82. Richard
Rohr says, "The Book of Job proclaims from the beginning that there is no [fixed]
correlation between sin and suffering, between virtue and reward. That logic is
hard for us to break. This book tries to break it, so that a new logos, called grace,
can happen" (Job and the Mystery of Suffering (New York: Crossroad, 1996), 33).
28 J. A. Loader says, "The Book of Job has no objection to a connexion (sic) of deed
and consequence, but indeed objects to a doctrine of retribution into which reality
is forced" ("Relativity in Near Eastern Wisdom,” In Studies in Wisdom Literature,
W. C. van Wyk [
152 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-June 1999
Lord and Job, nor a verbal or written covenant that promised that
the righteous would always prosper and never suffer. That is, Job
and his three companions had made an assumption, but God had
not validated it. Therefore it was neither legally nor morally
binding on the Lord.
The terms "compensation" and "compensation theology" rep-
resent the fixed formula that became a distortion of the true prin-
ciple of retribution. For instance Job's accusers, holding to com-
pensation theology, communicated the idea that God is somehow
under obligation to exact payment according to a principle that
confines Him to the limitations of human interpretation of how
good or bad a person is or acts.29
Therefore compensation theology is presumptuous and preju-
dicial. It is presumptuous toward the Lord in that it demands that
He act in accord with traditional wisdom. It is prejudicial toward
human beings in that it classifies their relationship with God and
their righteousness on the basis of having or not having material
prosperity. Job's suffering and the prosperity of the wicked pro-
vide clear evidence to the contrary.30 In contrast to compensation
theology, the biblical principle of retribution is neither presump-
tuous (forcing assumptions from human wisdom on the
sovereign God) nor prejudicial (favoring one person over an-
other; 34:19). The proper application of retribution theology
breaks down when wrong assumptions are placed on it. It then be-
comes a different theology, namely, compensation theology.
29 This may also be referred to as "the traditional theory of retribution." J. Clinton
McCann says, "By its rejection of the traditional theory of retribution, the Book of
Job reveals a God whose essence is love, and thus a God who suffers with, for. and
on account of humankind in the world" ("Wisdom's Dilemma: The Book of Job, the
Final Form of the Book of Psalms, the Entire Bible," in Wisdom You Are My Sister:
Studies in Honor of Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm., on the Occasion of His Eightieth
Birthday, ed. Michael L. Barre, Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 29
30 See, for example, Job's remarks in Job 12 and 21.
Elihu's Theology and His View of Suffering 153
ELIHU'S INSIGHTS INTO SUFFERING
COMPARED WITH OTHERS' VIEWS
Ancient Near Eastern View Elihu's View
1. Worshipers held a general 1. Elihu held a belief in true
belief in some form of me- retribution that was fairly
chanical compensation: the and justly administered by
automatic connection be- God. It was not mechanical
tween one s deeds and state nor were one's deeds neces-
of being. Compensation was sarily connected to its oper-
governed by the god(s) ation. God does not govern
somewhat capriciously.31 capriciously (34:10-12).
2. This theology became a uni- 2. True retribution is a correc-
versal human philosophy of tion of the distorted views
cosmic order for explaining of human philosophy and is
individual destinies, suffer- explainable only by God
ing, and prosperity. Himself (34:12-15; 36:5).
3. As a result of belief in this 3. While the principle of retri-
principle, misfortunes were bution is observable, nei-
always the result of sins ther suffering nor prosper-
and misdeeds. Suffers were ity is always predictable.
not therefore truly "inno- Suffering is not always due
cent" but were ignorant and to sin, nor prosperity to
in need of enlightenment. righteousness (36:6-8, 15;
4. Therefore worshipers could 4. Reward and protection can-
expect reward and protec- not be guaranteed by dedi-
tion based on a life dedi- cation of life to God. The
cated to their deity. Being righteous suffer undeserv-
“righteous” and “innocent, edly for purposes known to
meant the person was obe- God. Being "righteous" or
dient to the human expla- "innocent" means a person
nations regarding the will is obedient to the will of
of the deity. "Wise men" God. "Wise men" were to
then became the inter- clarify and announce the
preters of divine will. will of God but not presume
on His prerogatives.
5. When suffering, the person 5. Elihu agonized with the C
(or sage) would simply ac- sufferer over the paradox of
quiesce to the situation, be- undeserved suffering and
cause the god(s) were usu- God's retributive justice
ally aloof and detached. (33:6). Also Elihu said God
is personally involved in the
lives of sufferers (34:14-15).
6. Since suffering was evi- 6. Since suffering is not al-
dence of sin, the only re- ways evidence of sin, suffer-
course was to admit guilt, ers are allowed to ask why,
praise the deity, and plead but not to blame God (33:12;
for mercy. 36:22-26).
31 For a discussion of the capriciousness of ancient Near Eastern gods, see Larry
Waters, "Elihu's View of Suffering in Job
32-37" (Ph.D. diss.,
154 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-June 1999
Satan's View Elihu's View
1. Suffering is a tool to use 1. Suffering is allowed by God
against both sufferers and for His own purposes and
God with the ultimate ob- for the benefit of individu-
jective being that people als (33:14, 19, 23-24).
curse God (1:9-11; 2:4-5).
2. Suffering is a tool to manip- 2. Suffering is allowed by God
ulate sufferers into doubt- to strengthen sufferers'
ing the goodness and justice faith in the goodness and
of God. justice of God (34:12; 37:23).
3. Suffering generally has two 3. Suffering has many objec-
objectives: to induce suffer- tives, all of which are de-
ers to blame God for what signed to guide sufferers to
Satan does, and to motivate a closer relationship with
sufferers to sin. God and a better under-
standing of themselves and
God (36:5, 22, 24).
4. Satan's objectives in his 4. God's objectives in His use
misuse of suffering are rein- of suffering are in perfect
forced by the false principle harmony with His gracious
of compensation. administration of the true
principle of retribution (36:2-7).
5. Satan uses undeserved suf- 5. Suffering is designed by God
fering to cause loss of per- to sharpen perspective, cor-
spective, disillusionment, rect weaknesses, and
and discouragement. strengthen one's faith
(33:15; 34:31; 37:13).
6. Satan used undeserved suf- 6. Suffering solidified a sense
fering to attempt to frus- of God's destiny for the life
trate God's destiny for Job. of Job (36:22-37:24).
The View of Eliphaz,
Bildad, and Zophar Elihu's View
1. Job's suffering was de- 1. Job's initial suffering was
served; only the wicked suf- not deserved (Elihu limited
fer. Job was suffering; his argument to present
therefore Job was wicked faults like pride; 33:17-18,
(4:8; 11:6, 11; 18:5-21; 29-30). Job was not wicked,
-29; 22:2-11, 21-30). but he had sinned during ~
the debates and was in a
precarious position (32:14; 33:12).
2. Job's suffering was divine 2. Job's suffering was not due
judgment or chastisement to sins committed before the
for sins committed before his initial suffering began;
suffering began (chap. 22). rather he sinned in his
speeches and attitudes
Elihu's Theology and His Suffering 155
3. The solution to Job's suffer- 3. The solution to Job's suffer-
ing was to confess his sin ing was humble submission
and repent; his prosperity to God's work in his life. He
was the motivation for re- was to return to being oc-
pentance, because prosper- cupied with God and with
ity is always assured to the what He was doing in his
repentant (5:8, 27; 8:5; affliction. Prosperity is not
11:13-14; 15:20-35; - the motivation for true re-
23). pentance; it is only a possi-
ble consequence (36:8-15; 37:14).
4. The three held firmly to a 4. Elihu defended the true
traditional compensation principle of retribution that
theology that dictated the was fairly and justly admin-
relationship between God istered by God for Job's
and sufferers and obligated benefit (34:10-15; 36:2-26).
God to administer justice ac- God is not obligated by the
cording to its precepts interpretations of "wise
(chaps. 15, 18, 20, 22). men" or by the precepts of
man-made theology (37:15, 19, 23).
5. The certainty of com pens a- 5. Elihu was concerned for
tion theology was more im- Job, compassionately moti-
portant to the three than vated to help him regardless
their duty to Job as friends of Job's conflict with tradi-
and comforters during his tional wisdom (33:4-7, 32).
suffering (, 21; 17:1-5).
6. The three drew wrong con- 6. Elihu rejected the premise
clusions from Job's situation that all suffering is de-
and thus made erroneous served. He affirmed that the
applications: (1) Job was sin- cause for Job's original
ful and therefore deserved suffering was a mystery
suffering. (2) Job could have known only to God. How-
previously fallen unknow- ever, Elihu realized that
ingly into sin, so suffering Job had sinned during the
was deserved. (3) Job's suf- debates and that the con-
fering was disciplinary be- tinued suffering was al-
cause of previous sin; there- lowed for several reasons
fore it was deserved. that were irrelevant at the onset of
his suffering (33:12; 34:10, 12, 35).
Job's View Elihu's View
1. Job viewed his suffering as 1. Elihu agreed and therefore
undeserved and unexplain- concentrated on Job's present sit-
able by the theology of com- uation, offering no explanation for
pensation (; 21:7). Job's undeseverd initial suffering.
2. Job associated his suffering 2. Elihu associated Job's suf-
with his past and related it fering with the present and
to his present situation related it to his future
(7:17-20; -20). (33:12; 34:10; 37:14).
156 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA I April-June 1999
3. Job observed that the righ- 3. Elihu agreed, but did not
teous often suffer and the connect this to the false
wicked often prosper, con- principle of compensation
trary to the belief system that viewed Job as wicked
held by the three friends (view of the three) or that
and to some extent by him- God was unjust (Job's view;
self (chap. 21). 34:10, 12, 21: 36:5, 26).
4. Job's suffering caused a 4. Elihu, as a fellow human
dilemma in his thinking being, shared in the
with regard to traditional dilemma, but did not allow
wisdom. He was unable to it to undermine his belief
reconcile his suffering with and trust in God's retribu-
his exemplary life (; tive justice (33:6-7; 37:23).
10:2; chaps. 29-31).
5. Though tempted by the of- 5. Like Job in the prologue,
fer of return of prosperity Elihu recognized that both
and social status, Job re- prosperity and suffering can
jected this and maintained be gifts from God ().
that. even though prosper- God, not circumstances, is
ity was given by God, it is to be the focus of one's life
not the incentive for service (36:24; 37:13-14, 24).
to God (he rejected all calls
for his repentance).
6. Suffering caused Job to con- 6. Elihu maintained that God's
tend with God and to at- actions, though inexplica-
tempt to explain His actions ble, are perfectly good, just,
by human reason (-21; and fair (34:10,12; 37:5, 23).
9:22-24; 33:8-11, 13).
7. Suffering caused Job to 7. Elihu saw suffering as pre-
misunderstand God's plan, ventive, correctional, and
accuse God falsely, arro- educational. It was meant
gantly challenge God, and to clarify Job's misunderstandings-
criticize the operation of correct his false accusations, reveal
God's justice. his arrogance, and counter his crit-
cism of God's justice.
8. Job's suffering made him an- 8. Elihu presented suffering as
thropocentric, focusing on glorificational, revelational,
the injustice of his situa- organizational, and rela-
tion and the ramifications of tional. Job’s suffering was
his losses (chaps. 3, 29-31). to make him theocentric, fo-
cusing on God's justice and
the positive aspects of his
situation (35:5, 36:5, 22, 26; 37:14).
9. In Job's discourse on wisdom 9. Elihu shared this conclu-
he recognized that it is pos- sion with Job (32:7-9; 36:16;
sible to be closer to true 37:24).
wisdom during times of suf-
fering and pain (28:20-22).
But it is still God who gives
the wisdom necessary to understand
and deal with such suffering wisely.
Elihu's Theology and His Suffering 157
God's View Elihu's View
1. The reason or cause of un- 1. Elihu similarly attempted to
deserved suffering is known convince Job to respond
only to God, but the effect properly to his situation
is felt by people, who are al- rather than react to unde-
lowed to respond or react to served suffering (36:25-26;
their particular circum- 37:5, 14, 23).
stances (38:4, 33).
2. Although people cannot 2. Elihu dealt directly with
fully understand the cause these faults and developed
and reason behind suffer- principles that were neces-
ing, God allows suffering to sary for Job to comprehend
reveal defects that surface and apply before God ap-
when believers suffer unde- peared (33:8-11; 34:5-6, 9;
servedly (38:2; 40:2; 41:11). 35:2-3).
3. God uses elements in na- 3. Elihu presented the princi-
ture (e.g., rain) for disci- ple of ds,H, ("loyal love") in
pline or punishment, for His 37:13. Rain can be viewed
own pleasure and enjoy- as an expression of God's
ment, and as an expression judgment or of His grace
of His covenant love (38:25-28). and mercy.
4. God also rejected the inflex- 4. Elihu did not answer Job
ible theology of compensa- according to the arguments
tion, pointing the three of the three (32:14); he up-
friends and Job to the grace held the true principle of
and sovereign operation of just retribution (34:10-12;
His retributive justice 35:4-8). And he indicated
(41:10b-11). that God provIdes for all
5. Job's suffering was impor- 5. Elihu concurred (37:1-18).
tant to God, but Job was
not the exclusive object of
His concern; His purposes
often extend beyond the
needs of people (38:26-27).
6. The divine speeches influ- 6. Elihu recommended several
enced Job to repent of atti- actions that Job should
tudes and sins developed take to advance beyond his
during the debates mainly occupation with his unde-
by causing him to concen- served suffering: ponder
trate on God's work in cre- and praise God's work (35:5;
ating and sustaining the 37:14), and revere Him
world (chaps. 38-41). (36:24; 37:24).
158 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-June 1999
7. Without the occurrence of 7. This was one of Elihu's ob-
underserved suffering Job jectives throughout the
would not have known and discourse: to bring Job to a
appreciated the magnitude better understanding of the
of God's greatness (40:2) or greatness of God (34:10-12;
recognized his own limita- 36:5; 37: 14, 23) and to a
tions (38:2). humble position before Him
8. God's speeches demon- 8. Elihu agreed (37:6, 9-10,
strate that He is the 15-16). He had made no
source of everything on pretense of understanding
earth (38:28), and He has the preexistent reason or
control, ability, power, and cause for Job's undeserved
knowledge over nature and suffering. That knowledge
all life (38:34-38). To un- rests with God alone.
derstand undeserved suf-
fering fully, one would
have to be God.
Worshipers of the ancient Near Eastern gods, Satan, Job, and his
: three antagonists-all these believed that suffering originated
from a "tit for tat,"32 "measure for measure," compensation theol-
ogy, which governs the correspondence between righteous behav-
ior and prosperity, and sinful behavior and misery. However,
Elihu showed that neither he nor God supported this theory. Under
God's justice, suffering comes to people for several reasons,
many of which are unrelated to compensation theology. There-
fore Elihu uniquely declared that God's presence is seen precisely
in the one place Job had claimed it was not, namely, suffering.33
Suffering may be, and often is, God's voice to His highest cre-
ation. This in fact could be one of the most important contribu-
tions Elihu made to the theology of suffering: God speaks to hu-
mankind through various categories of suffering. And He is not
limited to compensation theology.
Something apparently happened to Job while he was listening
to Elihu. "With the help of Elihu, Job's confrontation with God be-
came a revealing and healing experience, and he realizes that it
is not only safe, but actually necessary to relinquish his insis-
tence on his loyalty, his purity, his righteousness."34 Prepared by
Elihu, and then confronted by God (chaps. 38-42), Job refocused
32 Tikva Frymer-Kensky, "Tit for Tat: The Principle of Equal Retribution in Near
Eastern and Biblical Law," Biblical Archaeologist 43 (Fall 1980): 230-34.
33 David Arvid Johns, "The Literary and Theological Function of the Elihu
Speeches in the Book of Job" (Ph.D. diss., Saint Louis University, 1983), 147.
34 Walter L. Michel, "Job's Real Friend: Elihu," Criterion 21 (spring 1982): 32.
Elihu's Theology and His Suffering 159
on God, recognized who he was in relation to his Creator, and un-
derstood the proper function of retributive justice. He ceased his
insistence that God had acted with injustice, that he would ap-
proach God like a "prince," and that God had to act in a prescribed
manner. Job was no longer overwhelmed by his suffering and the
injustice of it; he was no longer verbal and defensive; he was no :
longer proud of his righteousness, orthodoxy, and purity; instead
he was willing to let go of his security in a false theology.35
Job's response to God, recorded in 40:4-5 and 42:5-6, demon-
strates this observation. In his response he acknowledged two
things. First, Job recognized a basic principle about his sin: "I am
unworthy. . . I put my hand over my mouth. ..I will say no
more" (40:4, NIV). Second, he recognized the nature of God and
responded with a humility, love, and godly fear for God's
sovereignty (42:1-2); he realized God's inscrutability (42:3);
reflected on God's superiority (42:4); refocused on God's intimacy
(42:5); and repented of serving God from wrong motivations or
presumption (42:6).36 Satan was silenced in chapter 42, because
Job's response (42:1-6) proved that God's confidence in him was
not unfounded (1:8; 2:3). Though God needs no vindication, the
Book of Job shows that undeserved suffering, accepted and borne
by a child of God, does, in a sense, vindicate God's gracious plan
for His saints.
Crenshaw states that "true wisdom, like God, defies human
reason."37 Therefore true wisdom defies the wrong concepts of
compensation theology, and when properly applied during unde-
served suffering, godly wisdom becomes a living demonstration
of God's grace. Job could say, "My ears had heard of you but now
my eyes have seen you" (42:5, NIV), partly because of the help of
Elihu, who opened the way for Job to have a better understanding
of God and His ways.
36 Steven J. Lawson, When All Hell Breaks Loose (
37 James L. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction (
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