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JOB 33


Elihu Claims to Speak for God Elihu Contradicts Job Discourse of Elihu
The Speeches of Elihu
Job's Presumption

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. I think Tremper Longman III, Job (p. 384), captures the literary hints at the personality of Elihu, "an excitable, overconfident, and self-centered young man." The reason his speeches are included in Job is uncertain. Many see it as

1. the central theological point (i.e., defends God's justice, John H. Walton)

2. totally irrelevant (Tremper Longman III)

3. one more example of ANE overconfidence in "the two ways" and, therefore, incomplete/faulty wisdom

4. an introduction to God's personal address to Job (Job 38:1-41:34), where God addresses Job's self-righteous attitude as improper


B. Elihu, like the three comforters, believes Job has sinned and this is the problem. He alludes to Job's claims to innocence and the unfair treatment of God in Job 33:9-11. For Elihu, Job, not God, must be the problem.


C. Elihu lists two ways God communicates with humans. Job claimed God did not answer him (Job 33:13), but Elihu says He did.

1. in dreams (Job 33:14-16)

2. by pain (Job 33:19-21)


D. If Job would only repent (Job 33:26-27), God would

1. accept angelic mediation, Job 33:23

2. save and renew his life, Job 33:24-25

3. restore his integrity/righteousness, Job 33:26

4. restore his body, Job 33:28

Apparently #2-4 happened in the prose conclusion. Number 1 is still a mystery.


 1"However now, Job, please hear my speech,
 And listen to all my words.
 2Behold now, I open my mouth,
 My tongue in my mouth speaks.
 3My words are from the uprightness of my heart,
 And my lips speak knowledge sincerely.
 4The Spirit of God has made me,
 And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
 5Refute me if you can;
 Array yourselves before me, take your stand.
 6Behold, I belong to God like you;
 I too have been formed out of the clay.
 7Behold, no fear of me should terrify you,
 Nor should my pressure weigh heavily on you."

33:1 "Job" Elihu addresses Job directly for the first time (cf. Job 33:31). The three comforters never addressed him directly by name.

▣ "please" This is the NASB's translation of נא (BDB 609, KB 730), which is a particle of entreaty or exhortation.

1. please – NASB, NKJV, NJB

2. but now – NRSV, JPSOA, REB, NET Bible

3. listen carefully – TEV

4. nonetheless – LXX

5. wherefore – Peshitta


▣ "hear. . .listen" These are parallel imperatives. The speakers in Job often address their hearer in this fashion.

33:2 This is a good example of the wordiness of Elihu, as well as his arrogance.

33:3 Notice how Elihu characterizes his message.

1. the uprightness of my heart

2. speak knowledge sincerely (i.e., pure)

The implication is clear, he speaks truth but Job speaks falsehood.

Throughout the book one of the theological themes has been—who speaks the truth; who has true wisdom? (cf. Job 33:3).

1. ancient traditions (Job 8:8; 15:18; 20:4)

2. learned over time (age; Job 15:17)

3. revealed in a dream (Eliphaz, Job 4:12-16; Elihu, 33:14-16)

4. special revelation – Elihu (Job 32:8; 33:4)


33:4,6 There is a connection between these verses. In one sense (Job 33:4) Elihu is claiming a special relationship with God, but in another sense he is like Job (Job 33:6). Both are creatures created by God.

The mention of "clay" in Job 33:6 reveals a knowledge of Hebrew creation texts (i.e., Gen. 2:7). This can be explained by

1. all of the speakers knew Hebrew traditions

2. the author of Job was a Hebrew who inadvertently included uniquely Jewish elements in the mouths of these Edomites


33:4 "Spirit of God" Because of the semantical field of ruah (BDB 924, KB 1197, cf. Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13; 27:3; Ps. 104:29-30), it can mean "breath," "wind," "spirit" (see SPECIAL TOPIC: SPIRIT IN THE BIBLE). The noun used here ("breath," BDB 675, cf. Job 32:8) is a synonym which denotes the creating aspect of God (i.e., Gen. 1:2; 2:7).

▣ "Almighty" See SPECIAL TOPIC: The Almighty (Shaddai).

33:5 This verse has three imperatives which all relate to Elihu's challenge to Job. He will present his case and challenge Job to answer him.

1. refute me if you can – BDB 996, KB 1427, Hiphil imperative; the basic meaning is to "turn back"

2. array yourself before me – BDB 789, KB 884, Qal imperative; this denotes Job defending himself by setting his thoughts in order, cf. Job 32:14; 37:19; Ps. 5:3

3. take your stand – BDB 426, KB 427, Hiphil imperative; meaning defend yourself and your words (i.e., Job 33:8-12)


33:6-7 It is possible that these verses are Elihu's answer to Job's plea for someone to listen to him (Job 31:35).

Job has sought God's answer (cf. Job 19:7; 30:20,24,28) but there has been no seeming response. Elihu may think he speaks for God (cf. Job 32:8; 33:4).


NASB"I belong to God like you"
NKJV"I am as your spokesmen before God"
NRSV"before God I am as you are"
NJB"I am your equal, not some god"
JPSOA"you and I are the same before God"
REB"In God's sight I am just what you are"

The textual question comes with "toward God," לאל. The UBS Text Project (p. 109) gives this form a "B" rating (some doubt). The NJB is based on an emendation, אל לא, which turns the preposition into a negative. I think JB and NJB made this change to try to explain Job 33:7, which is a strange statement. Why should Job fear Elihu?


The Hebrew verb (BDB 902, KB 1147, Pual perfect) basically means "to nip" or "to pinch." The Pual occurs only here and refers to a lump of clay being nipped off the potter's wheel. This same imagery of humans made from clay occurs in Job 4:19 and 10:9. See John H. Walton, ANE Thought and the OT, pp. 205-206. This author has been very helpful to me in trying to understand ANE imagery and worldview.

33:7 This verse may be an allusion to Job's earlier words about being terrified of God (cf. Job 9:34; 13:21; 23:16). If so, Elihu is saying

1. do not be afraid of me or my words; I am trying to help you not frighten you

2. Job, you cannot use the same excuse you used earlier that fear of God causes you not to respond (cf. Job 9:32)



The MT has אכף (BDB 38), a rare term found only twice in the OT.

1. the verb in Pro. 16:26

2. the noun here

It probably comes from an Aramaic root, "to be urgent." The NKJV translation comes from a similar root used in Job 13:21, "hand" (כף, BDB 496).

 8"Surely you have spoken in my hearing,
 And I have heard the sound of your words:
 9‘I am pure, without transgression;
 I am innocent and there is no guilt in me.
 10Behold, He invents pretexts against me;
 He counts me as His enemy.
 11He puts my feet in the stocks;
 He watches all my paths.'
 12Behold, let me tell you, you are not right in this,
 For God is greater than man."

33:8-12 This strophe demonstrates that Elihu has been listening intently to the dialogue. He quotes Job's statement

1. of his innocence

2. of God's cruel and unfair treatment

This is more of a summary (cf. Job 9:21; 10:7; 11:4; 12:4; 13:18; 16:17; 23:10; 27:5-6) than a direct quote.

1. the claims of Job

a. I am pure – BDB 269, KB 269, cf. Job 8:6

b. without (BDB 115) transgression – BDB 833, KB 981

c. I am innocent – BDB 342, KB 339 (found only here in the OT)

d. no guilt – BDB 730, KB 800

2. Job's accusations about God

a. He invents pretexts against me

b. He counts me as an enemy (cf. Job 13:24; 19:11)

c. He puts my feet in stocks (cf. Job 13:27a)

d. He watches (so as to accuse all my paths, cf. Job 13:27b)


33:9b "innocent" This adjective (BDB 342, KB 339) occurs only here in the OT. The supposed translation comes from the synonymous parallelism of Job 33:9a.

33:12 The point of Elihu's recounting Job's statements is to assert that he is wrong on both accounts.

1. he is not innocent

2. God is not unfair

However, his only stated reason is that God is greater than humans. This is surely a theological truth that Job would affirm.

Some commentators see this as referring to

1. God is greater in knowledge and power

2. God's transcendence makes Him removed from human problems


 13"Why do you complain against Him
 That He does not give an account of all His doings?
 14Indeed God speaks once,
 Or twice, yet no one notices it.
 15In a dream, a vision of the night,
 When sound sleep falls on men,
 While they slumber in their beds,
 16Then He opens the ears of men,
 And seals their instruction,
 17That He may turn man aside from his conduct,
 And keep man from pride;
 18He keeps back his soul from the pit,
 And his life from passing over into Sheol."

33:13-22 These are two strophes that list how God answers humans (cf. Job 33:29). Job has claimed that God is hidden from him; Elihu says God reveals Himself

1. in dreams, Job 33:14-16

2. through pain and suffering, Job 33:19-21 (cf. Heb. 12:5-13)

Job mentioned in Job 7:14 that God had terrified him in dreams. Therefore, this may be another of Elihu's comments on Job's previous statements.

33:13b The NASB translation of this line is the theological conclusion of the whole book (Job 38-42:6)! God is God! He will do as He pleases and needs to explain His acts to no one (an OT parallel to Romans 9).

33:14 This idiom means that God speaks in many ways (cf. Job 33:29) to humans. Elihu will mention only two.


NKJV"seals their instruction"
NRSV"terrifies them with warnings"
TEV"they are frightened at his warnings"
NJB"frightens him with apparitions"
REB"as a warning strikes them with terror"

The MT has "seals" (יחתם, BDB 367, KB 364, Qal imperfect) but with a change of vocalization, "terrifies" (BDB 369, cf. Job 7:14).

UBS Text Project (p. 111) gives "seals" a "C" rating (considerable doubt).

33:18 This is a repeated phrase (cf. Job 33:22,24,28,30) which asserts that God will restore the earthly life of a repentant (see SPECIAL TOPIC: REPENTANCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT [OT]) person. This was a way to express the mercy and grace of the God of "the two ways"!


NASB"his life from passing over into Sheol"
JPSOA"his life from perishing by the sword"
NRSV"their lives from traversing the River"
NJB"his life from passing down the canal"
REB"stops him from crossing the river of death"
LXX"falling in battle"

The MT has the noun (BDB 1019 I) which means "missile," "spear," or "weapon" (i.e., sword, cf. Job 36:12). Scholars have proposed an Akkadian root which denoted a water channel (shelah, BDB 1019 III, cf. Neh. 3:15). They assert it was imagery for the river of death (i.e., Hubur or Styx [AB, p. 218] or the river crossed by the Egyptians at death).

▣ "the pit. . .Sheol" See Special Topic: Sheol.

 19"Man is also chastened with pain on his bed,
 And with unceasing complaint in his bones;
 20So that his life loathes bread,
 And his soul favorite food.
 21His flesh wastes away from sight,
 And his bones which were not seen stick out.
 22Then his soul draws near to the pit,
 And his life to those who bring death."

33:19-21 God using problems and pain to bring His people back to Himself is the purpose of the "cursing and blessing" sections of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27-29. "The two ways" is clearly stated in Deut. 30:15,19.

33:19b "with unceasing complaint in his bones" The MT has "strive" or "contend" (BDB 936, KB 1224) but the Masoretic scholars suggested "multitude" (Qere, BDB 914, KB 1175).

The NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 922 relates this noun to Lev. 26:16, which is the "cursing and blessing" section (i.e., "the two ways," cf. Deuteronomy 27-29; 30:15,19).

33:22b "those who bring death" This may refer to angels.

1. the death angel (singular) – Exod. 12:23; 2 Sam. 24:16; 2 Kgs. 19:35; 1 Chr. 21:15

2. band of destroying angels (plural, as here) – Ps. 78:49

3. possible mythological imagery common in the ANE of demons (see Special Topic: Demonic in the OT) that cause death

4. AB attempts to use Ugaritic roots to translate this phrase (p. 251) as "the waters of death," which is common imagery used of Sheol


 23"If there is an angel as mediator for him,
 One out of a thousand,
 To remind a man what is right for him,
 24Then let him be gracious to him, and say,
 ‘Deliver him from going down to the pit,
 I have found a ransom';
 25Let his flesh become fresher than in youth,
 Let him return to the days of his youthful vigor;
 26Then he will pray to God, and He will accept him,
 That he may see His face with joy,
 And He may restore His righteousness to man.
 27He will sing to men and say,
 ‘I have sinned and perverted what is right,
 And it is not proper for me.
 28He has redeemed my soul from going to the pit,
 And my life shall see the light.'"

33:23-28 This is another allusion to a heavenly, angelic advocate (cf. Job 9:33; 16:19; 19:25-27; NIDOTTE, vol. 4, #2. D, pp. 786-787). The imagery is taken from a legal case brought before the heavenly council (cf. Job 1:6; 2:1; 1 Kgs. 22:19; Dan. 7:10). The "accuser" is the prosecuting agent (cf. 1 Kgs. 22:21-22) and the "my witness of heaven" is the defense agent. Job 33:24-25 contains the supposed words of the angel.

The NASB translates Job 33:24a,25a,b as jussives (but not in form).

33:23a "mediator" This Hebrew root (BDB 539, KB 529, Hiphil participle) normally means "to scorn," but in the Hiphil stem it has another connotation of

1. interpreter (cf. Gen. 42:23)

2. ambassador (cf. 2 Chr. 32:21)

3. mediator (cf. Isa. 43:27)

Even in the Hiphil the negative aspect often continues.

1. deride – Ps. 119:51

2. scoffers – Job 16:20


33:23b "One out of a thousand" This implies

1. that God employs angels to help/instruct humans (see Heb. 1:14; Ps. 103:20-21; in Jewish apocalyptic literature angels became the interpreters of dreams and visions)

2. that angels who are willing to help are few and far between; this may reflect Eliphaz's words in Job 4:18; 5:1 and 15:15

However, Job 33:29 clearly states God is the impetus behind all the angelic mediation. This is why many commentators think all references to the heavenly advocate refers to God.

33:24c NASB, NKJV, NRSV have "a ransom." This noun (BDB 497 I, KB 493) denotes "a price of a life" (cf. Job 36:18). It does not say what/who that price involved.

The UBS Text Project (p. 112) lists several possible ways to view this.

1. protect him/ransom him (פדעהו, RSV) and gives it a "C" rating (considerable doubt)

2. release him (פרעהו, NEB)

3. redeem him (פדהו)

The verb in Job 33:24b, "deliver him" (פדע, BDB 804, KB 914, Qal imperative, masculine, singular [this root is found only here and it may be a variant spelling of "ransom," פדה, BDB 804, KB 911]) is the voice of the heavenly advocate. He claims that a ransom price has been paid. It does not specify "to whom," "what was paid," or "who paid it." It is easy to read Isaiah 53 into this text but I think that would not fit an Abrahamic period in Edom. Now if the author is a Judean court sage, then maybe so (i.e., the Servant Songs of Isaiah).

There is a Psalm that uses the same imagery (cf. Psalm 49:7-9,15). Humans cannot provide a ransom!


NASB"become fresher"

This verb (BDB 936, KB 1223, Qal passive perfect), meaning "moist," occurs only here. It may be related to a similar root:

1. "be moist" – BDB 936

2. "plump up with moisture" – BDB 382, cf. Ps. 119:70


33:26 Notice the connotations related to the advocacy of the angelic mediator.

1. prayer (a repentant prayer, cf. Job 33:27)

2. only then will "He" (apparently God, but possibly the angel, cf. Job 33:28)


▣ "he may see His face with joy" This is the imagery of the righteous being able to stand in God's presence (cf. Matt. 5:8).

This seems to parallel Job 8:21, which is the non-military use of "shout." A prayer of confession and repentance will restore one's joy and one's health, cf. Job 33:28. It also puts one in God's presence!


NJB"he will sing"
NKJV"he looks"
JPSOA"he declares"
REB"he affirms"
Peshitta"will bear"

The MT has the verb (ורש, BDB 1003 II, KB 1449, Qal jussive), which means "behold" or "see" (NKJV) but other roots have been suggested.

1. רשי – BDB 1010, sing (NASB)

2. ירש – BDB 448, the uprightness (Peshitta)

3. the NET Bible footnote (p. 834) mentions two more options

a. to repeat

b. to confess (Arabic root)


NASB"it is not proper for me"
Peshitta"it did not profit me"
NRSV"it was not paid back to me"
TEV"but God spared me"
NET Bible"but I was not paid back for it"

The MT has the verb (BDB 1000 I, KB 1436, Qal perfect), which basically means "to be appropriate" (KB 1437). Here it is negated (NJB). But this is something Job would never say. He believed he was innocent and that God had punished him beyond measure for the sins of his youth (cf. Job 13:26) or the common sins of all humanity (Job 14:4; 15:14; 25:4).

Remember, Elihu sees his task as defending God and His justice (cf. Job 33:8-12).


LXX"my soul"
NKJV"his soul"

The MT has "my" but the Masoretic scholars suggested reading (Qere) "his."

▣ "soul" This is the Hebrew nephesh (BDB 659, KB 711, cf. Gen. 2:7). See full note online at Gen. 35:18.

 29"Behold, God does all these oftentimes with men,
 30To bring back his soul from the pit,
 That he may be enlightened with the light of life.
 31Pay attention, O Job, listen to me;
 Keep silent, and let me speak.
 32Then if you have anything to say, answer me;
 Speak, for I desire to justify you.
 33If not, listen to me;
 Keep silent, and I will teach you wisdom."

33:30 God's desire in sending

1. dreams

2. visions

3. pain/problems

is also redemptive. These are His ways of helping fallen humans to realize they are deviating from His path (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-29; 30:15,19). All of God's judgments are redemptive in purpose, except eschatological, eternal separation from God!

33:31-33 There is a series of imperatives.

1. pay attention, Job 33:31a – BDB 904, KB 1151, Hiphil imperative

2. listen, Job 33:31a – BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal imperative

3. keep silent, Job 33:31b – BDB 361, KB 357, Hiphil imperative

4. answer me, Job 33:32a – BDB 996, KB 1427, Hiphil imperative (cf. Job 33:5a)

5. speak, Job 33:32b – BDB 180, KB 210, Piel imperative

6. listen, Job 33:33a – BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal imperative

7. keep silent, Job 33:33b – BDB 361, KB 357, Hiphil imperative (same as #3)

All of these are a literary way of saying, "Job, shut up and listen to my wisdom!" I am the one who speaks truth. Job never answers Elihu!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. How does Elihu claim his words are true?

2. Why does Elihu allude to Job's previous statements?

3. How does God reveal His will and/or warnings to humanity?

4. Who is the angelic mediator? How does he relate to the angelic accuser of Job 1-2?

5. Does Job 33:23 affirm there are many angelic mediators or few?

6. Explain Job 33:24 in your own words.


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