God is Great; God is Good | Tom J. Nettles

by | Jul 6, 2024 | Old Testament, Systematic Theology


Elihu has challenged Job to listen to him in light of the failure of Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad. He invited Job to answer him as he had answered the other three interlocutors. Having rebuked Job for apparent self-righteousness (32:2; 33:9), and introduced the possibility that divine revelation is needed for certainty in these matters (33:13-16), Elihu has given a compelling notice of the advantage of a mediator who can ransom a man from the pit of righteous punishment. At that point he renewed his call to Job to answer his words if he found flaws in the reasoning. He gave a vivid image about the importance of the words we choose to communicate truth: “For the ear tests words as the palate tastes food” (33:32; 34:3). Then, with a note of striking confidence, he tells Job to hold his peace and give attention to Elihu’s wisdom (33:33). Moreover, he calls on knowledgeable and wise people to listen to his presentation for in the process of reasoning from revelation, we find truth and righteousness (34:4).

Elihu summarizes Job’s argument as being in line with the scoffing of unbelievers—“the company of the workers of iniquity, and walks with wicked men … his answers are like those of wicked men!” (34:8, 36). As we have seen, Job roils in deep perplexity concerning his suffering. He has tended to view his woes as a conflict of omnipotence against finiteness (19:6-10). He has resisted the false accusations that his suffering arises from God’s punishment for his harboring dark recesses of purposeful perversity, greed, and cruelty. Job has resisted the theology of his friend-accusers as inadequate—rightly so—but seems stuck in that worldview, unable to probe the reclusive sources of human iniquity and consequent divine chastening. Job cannot sense the edges or the deeply resident fount of his own conduct and thought-life as worthy of judgment or painful correction. Unable unreservedly to justify God in His complicity in Job’s pain and loss, he thus, in principle, aligns himself with the evil in their conclusions about God (5 -9; 34-37). Elihu proposes to disambiguate Job’s thought patterns.

Elihu begins his attempt to correct and teach Job with a basic theodicy. He defends God’s justice and absolute impartiality as an unshakeable foundation upon which all of life should be built. None should ever seek wisdom on the questions of life by inserting any question about God’s perfect righteousness, holiness, justice, goodness, and his perfectly impeccable operations of judgment, sanctifying influence, and absolute prerogative. God is righteous as well as sovereign.  If God chastened without moral cause, God would be unjust; but it is impossible for God to be unjust or wicked (34:10-12).

When God acts in an apparent arbitrary and peremptory manner, when absolute sovereignty seems to swallow up compassion, we should recall his utter holiness. He is never without moral cause in what he does. None has given him absolute right over his creation (12, 13), and he thus retains by natural right and exerts the prerogatives of purpose in the created order (14, 15). In observing his exercise of absolute prerogative, bear in mind that he also knows the universal moral failure of humanity and its susceptibility to immediate judgment. When Elihu asked rhetorically, “Will you condemn him who is most just?” he expected a resolute and unhesitating, “No!” (17). Even over those to whom we always should speak respectfully, God has the right of disposal and condemnation. “He is not partial to princes,” nor the rich but they die “in the middle of the night” without infliction of human hand (20). His vision of the true character is unblurred by earthly status and assumption of power and authority (18-20), so he overthrows, crushes, strikes them as wicked men in the sight of others, though they had appeared as righteous in their public ministrations (24-27). Their flawed sense of justice and inescapable partiality had appeared before the Lord, from whom nothing can be hidden, so that the powerless felt the sting of oppression and the absence of attentive justice (28-30). Individuals and nations alike have no compass of justice or of iniquity in the absence of divine disclosure (29). We sense, therefore, that God has given this revelation so that all kinds of injustice and iniquity—whether in public matters or in strictly personal matters—are rightly judged by God: “knowing the righteous judgment of God … we know the judgment of God is according to truth” (Romans 1:32; 2:2). We should know, therefore, that sovereign disposal always coincides with perfect moral judgment. We do not marvel at chastisement but that we are preserved from immediate judgment.

Under what circumstances has anyone ever given the fitting response to God’s chastening hand? Elihu, taught by God in this matter, prods Job to consent that his chastisement comes from the hands of a just God. He should on that account humbly learn how to implore God according to his terms and his righteousness. “I have borne chastisement; I will offend no more,” should come from the heart and lips of a rightly disposed spirit. Has anyone said such to God (31)? “Teach me what I do not see,” since my moral perceptions are blurred; when you so teach, “since I have done iniquity, I will not do it again” (32). These responses recognize the deceitful power of the hidden recesses of corruption and perceive “another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin and death which is in my members. O wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:23, 24). Elihu asked poignantly, “Shall he recompense you on your terms, because you have rejected it?” (33). Since you do not seem to be satisfied that God acts with absolute justice and orders our lives to show us our sin to drive us to mercy rather than any form of self-righteousness, should God consent to your standard instead of His? Elihu pressed Job to acknowledge the truth of what he said and act accordingly, or to respond with a defense based on more profound insight.

Elihu, however, is convinced that those who have godly discernment (34) will recognize that Job’s perplexity thus far arises from a view of God, sin, and retribution that he holds in common with wicked men. For this stronghold of erroneous thought to be broken and corrected, Job needs even greater and more productive chastening. Should he continue to deeper entrenchment in self-defense at the price of consent to godly wisdom, righteousness, and mercy, he runs the risk of rebellion and charging God with cruelty (37).

Peter gives a clear word of revelation concerning the point that Elihu is probing. May the Lord in grace grant to each of us this apprehension of trial-approved faith. “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6, 7).

Follow Us In Social Media

Subscribe via Email

Sign up to get notified of new CBTS Blog posts.

Man of God phone

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This