"Just so that you know, Job, these last few essays are not an example of my random mind at work. I do want to get back to 42:7 and actually finish the sentence some day, but the fact that God was seemingly only angry at the three friends got me thinking about why God wasn't angry at Elihu. This has led me to consider what it is about Elihu's speech that might not have made God angry. So, I have had to comb through a few of Elihu's words to try to figure out how what he said might have been actually helpful to God, or helpful to the situation. Now you have it, Job. I am writing about Elihu because I am trying to discover the reason why God isn't mad at him.
So, we saw in the last essay that Elihu articulates a principle in 36:15 that was quite astonishing. But then he doesn't stop there. He goes on to say, "He also allured you out of distress into a broad place where there was no constraint, and what was set on your table was full of fatness (36:16)." Now, I have to say one think quickly here, Job. Whenever I really want a close dissecting of the words of Job, I turn to Professor Good. He is a creative guy and a thoughtful translator of the book; his translation will never be a best-seller, but he tries diligently to be faithful to the nuances of the words. He says that he understands all the words of the section but he can't always put them together in sentences that flow. Let me show you how he translates this verse: "He even draws you back from distress's mouth, a wide place, your steps not narrowed, a rest, your table filled with fat food."
When you look at his translation and compare it to the NRSV, which I know you aren't that familiar with, Job, they are not too far distant. It is almost as if Elihu is speaking without much attention to connectives and to verbs. But we hear all the nouns, and they are suggestive: "distress's mouth" and "broad place" and "no constraint" and "fatness" or "fat food." It is almost as if Elihu is uttering the familiar and powerful words from the biblical tradition [and there are no more comforting words in the biblical tradition than the "wide place" into which God will lead the faithful and the "table set with food," which evokes the 23rd Psalm in our mind] as a kind of magical medicine to you, Job, as if his words themselves are the "lure" to bring you out of distress.
So, he is finally putting his interpretation on your suffering, Job, isn't he? He is saying that it is God's means of leading you into a broader place in life or, in other words, God's way of giving you freedom. I have to sit down when I say that, Job, because that is either the dumbest thing that anyone ever said or the most insightful. I am pretty sure it is the latter. Why do I say that? Because, for some odd reason, Job, as I know more and more people who have suffered distress, I am amazed to find that many are not bitter about their distress and many actually feel that it has made them see life in such a different way that they would never trade their insight for anything. That is, there is something about distress that leaves gifts in its wake. Gifts that you could never have imagined before or during the anguish. I have had friends tell me about the "blessings" of adult onset diabetes, of the "grace" of a heart attack of the "gift" of physical debility. These are not people who are dumb, Job. These people have been given a gift of wisdom, of some kind of spiritual sense that no one else quite has, and it is a sense that so dominates and directs their thinking and their hopes in life that they see their distress as a sort of gift from God.
That is really where Elihu is going in his words in 36:16, Job. Agree? He is giving you the hardest challenge of your life. Your most difficult challenge was not to manage all your accounts and serve all your clients. It was not even to suffer all that you endured. The most difficult challenge for you, Job, was to change the interpretation you adopted of the loss you endured. Oh, now that really takes a person of integrity, doesn't it? You are being urged to change your interpretation, and see your distress as part of the "broad place" into which God is leading you. That is really asking a lot of you, Job, I truly believe. This is Elihu's challenge.
And then, he nicely concludes the challenge with a bit of refreshing honesty, something we haven't seen in the friends since early in Eliphaz's first speech. He goes on to say, "But you are obsessed with the case of the wicked; judgment and justice seize you (36:17)." Professor Good renders the first line, "But you are full of a wicked case." Let's conclude that we can translate it that the idea of a legal case, involving justice and wickedness, is in view. What Elihu would then be saying to you, Job, is that you really cannot come over to this interpretation in your current state of thought because you are just too focused on this justice/punishment cycle. You can't hear, Job, because you are only hearing the deafening cry of your version of justice. Maybe Elihu is gently suggesting to you that the key to your freedom is to give up your sense of justice and injustice. Now that is one tall order, one provocative suggestion.
I'll have to admit, Job, that Elihu says more challenging and thought-provoking things in those three verses than God does in his entire four chapters, (38-41), the longest continuous speaking of God in the entire Bible. I think that it was Elihu, rather than God, who really got you thinking and enabled you either to hear God or to change your mind. Care to comment on that, Job?