"So, Job, here is where I am. God is not mad at Elihu. Why not? My suggestion is that he hasn't said anything quite so dumb as the three friends. I may have to qualify that word "dumb" sometime later in our conversation, because some of their lines, actually, could be taken right from the titles and texts of Protestant preachers in 2005. But I don't want to go there now. I want to stick with Elihu. He, the bumbler, actually said the words that got you thinking, didn't he Job? Listen to his words again: "He (God) delivers the afflicted by their affliction; and opens their ears by adversity" (36:14). Did you hear what he says, Job? Job? Ok, thanks for your attention. Did you notice the double use of that little Hebrew preposition "buh" in both halves of the verse? Yep, it is there. I checked. That "buh" as you no doubt know, Job, can be translated as "in" or "by" or even "through/in the midst of." When you play with the word "buh" for a second, you begin to see the dramatic interpretive possibilities for this verse open before your eyes, er..your ears, don't you Job? Because what Elihu seems really to be saying to you, in English words of course, is that affliction is both the means and the crucible. It is the way you are delivered and it is the process of deliverance.
I really think that I need to pause on that one a minute, Job. Elihu is doing something pretty dramatic, don't you think? He is laying out the principle that will enable him to put a different interpretation on your distress from either the friends' or your interpretation. It will be a tertium quid, as the logicians say, a "third something" that Elihu brings forth. Just to be clear on this point. The friends thought, no they knew, from being steeped in the wisdom tradition that your distress had to come on you because you had sinned. Perhaps it was the children themselves who had sinned, as Bildad so gently and considerately suggested, but they were convinced of the direct relationship between sin and suffering. Actually, the reason that you had such a problem with your suffering, Job, is that you believed this too. You believed the wisdom tradition. The only way you differed from the friends, however, is that you knew that you couldn't have sinned in any way that would have made the "punishment" proportional to anything you could have done. So, both you and the friends believed the same thing, but you were unwilling to put their construction on your distress.
You would have looked at your distress differently. You would have seen it as God's anger at you, as God's having rejected you. As the friends became more and more entrenched in their position, you likewise dug in. Both parties, therefore, set up their ramparts and fired their cannons at each other with such a rapidly disappearing middle ground that by the time you get to the end of ch.7 almost all friendly sympathy seems to have dissipated. Thus we have an interpretive conundrum here. Both of you see the suffering from different perspectives. After a while you cease being able to hear each other's thoughts. You speak past each other; it might be more accurate to say you scream past each other. You guys stop listening to each other or, if you continue to hear what is said, you quickly dismiss it as an expression of ignorance or ill will.
Thus, when Elihu comes in and says that God "opens their ear by adversity," he really is suggesting two dramatically big ideas. First, he is suggesting that your ears might be clogged. You might be unable to hear. But he isn't pointing his finger at you and saying this. He is just articulating a belief relating to God. God opens the ear by adversity. I think that this seemingly offhand remark of Elihu actually begins to open your ear, Job. Is that right? Is there any truth in that? You are such a stubborn guy, such a Taurus, that if someone had just come at you straight and said, "Job, listen up!" or "Job, now hear this!" or even, "Job, do you think that you might not be listening to everything God is saying?," you would have found 1001 reasons why not to listen to the person. But Elihu doesn't do that, does he? He states a general principle about God's use of affliction to open the ears. Wow.
And the second point follows directly from the first. Not only does Elihu claim that God opens your ear, but he is giving the impression that adversity, even this adversity, is the means by which your understanding will be enlarged. Isn't he doing this, Job? Adversity then is neither a sign that God hates you nor that you are a sinner. Adversity means neither. Elihu takes the discussion of adversity out of the sin/retribution cycle and puts it elsewhere--in the aural/oral category. Adversity is, to use the language of 2005, an attention getter, something that is a "wake up call," a means by which understanding can be enlarged and enhanced.
I would love to know, Job, what your reaction was immediately upon hearing Elihu speak this verse. Did you nod in agreement? Did you internally object? Did you apply what he said to your situation? I would do anything to know what the effect of 36:15 was on you when you heard it, Job. Ah, but guess what, Job? 36:15 is followed by 36:16 and then 36:17. Now I am not saying that to evoke a "duh, dude" kind of reaction from you. What I am saying is that Elihu follows up on his principle by giving you some more words that would have made your ears tingle, if they had been opened after 36:15.
I see we are out of time again, Job, and I need to let you get some rest. I really didn't mean to make this conversation so long, Job, but I just think I need to understand all these things that are swimming in my brain. Thanks for understanding.