To Preserve a Man from the Pit: God’s Mercy in Revelation | Tom Nettles

by | May 22, 2024 | Old Testament, Practical Theology

To Preserve a Man from the Pit: God’s Mercy in Revelation

Job 33:1-18


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 (32:15). He has listened to Job’s remarks, which silenced the arguments of the three friends (32:12). 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 (32:18-20). 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; and has heard any argument that gives him reason to be silent (32:14-17).

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.

In 33:1-7, Elihu informs Job that he is about to speak and tells Job to respond, even refute, 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 (33:6). 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 (7); 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” (6, HCSB). Elihu reiterates this call to listen and respond in verses 31-33: “Speak for I desire to justify you. If not listen to me.”

In 33:8-11,  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.” Elihu does not say that ob has acted deceitfully and perversely in a secret manner unobserved by men but plotted secretly by Job. No; Elihu indicates that Job does not consent that sin in man goes beyond the plots and schemes of evil hypocrites. Since God is greater in every way in all aspects of power and in every dimension of righteousness and holiness, his chastening of us is designed to sift out the indwelling sin of which we might have conscious awareness.

How may one discover this intent of God in so afflicting us? In verse 12-18, Elihu’ argues that 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. By revelation we learn the ways of God. 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 (33:18).

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, or time and time again (14). 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. It seems that God’s dealings with Adam were familiar to Job as a part of oral remembrance passed down from the 900 plus years of Adam to the time and land of Job.

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. 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. In an insightful contemplation of those events, the conscience should shed light on the reality of a person’s own sin and his dependence on the merciful intervention of God.

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.

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