Job: Part XII
Elihu and Creation
Rabbi Israel Chait
Student’s edited notes from taped lectures
Elihu said he is young. Maimonides maintains this to mean his ideas are “young”: he had something different to say than Eliphaz, Bildad and Tzofar. An old opinion (those of the three) is that which is most common among people; something considered “old”.
If Elihu stated that it is the spirit of God, which gives understanding, and not age, why did he wait for the three to give their arguments? He should have voiced his opinion earlier. The reason why he waited is because he maintained that age adds two things, 1) time, 2) and experience through which wisdom may be attained. He felt no right to assume that he was superior to the three, who were older. Therefore he said, “Let years speak”. But once Elihu saw that the three had erred, he stepped in.
In Verse 5, Elihu says, “If thou can answerer me, set thy words.” This shows that Elihu has a different opinion. He is not merely saying what he feels is right, allowing Job to maintain what he too felt. He is not interested in a face off with Job where each contends that their respective opinions are valid. Elihu was being objective. In verses 6 and 7, Elihu means to say that the ‘answer will talk’ (unveil who is correct:): the ‘person’ will not be recognized here;
“Behold, I am according to thy wish in God's stead: I also am formed out of the clay. 7. Behold, my terror shall not make thee afraid, neither shall my hand be heavy upon thee.” 8. “I have heard your voice.”
This means that Elihu is accepting Job’s words as truths. He is not questioning whether what Job said was true or false, as did the three.
Maimonides says in his Guide, that Elihu seems to be repeating the ideas particular to the three. But Maimonides continues, that the difference in Elihu can be found in the metaphor of the angel who intercedes on behalf of man:
“22. Yea, his soul draws near unto the grave, and his life to the destroyers. 23. If there be an angel with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to show unto man his uprightness: 24. Then he is gracious unto him, and says ‘Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom’. 25. His flesh shall be fresher than a child's: he shall return to the days of his youth: 26. He shall pray unto God, and he will be favorable unto him: and he shall see his face with joy: for he will render unto man his righteousness. 27. He looks upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; 28. He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light. 29. Lo, all these things works God twice or three times with man, 30. To bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living.”
There are two explanations for this idea of the angel:
1) The angel refers to man’s intellect. Meaning, if man reflects (one in a thousand means even a minute reflection) God will save the individual. This follows Maimonides’ explanation, as he maintains that God’s Providence is directly inline with the perfection of man’s intellect. If he is highly perfected, God’s Providence will be directly inline with him. And if he is corrupt, God’s Providence will not relate to him. What is the idea of “once or twice”? This means that God’s Providence offers man two or three chances in life to follow the intellect. Bit if this person keeps falling back into the emotions, that individual is too corrupt for God’s two or three mercies, and Divine Providence is removed from him. Maimonides states this in his Laws of Teshuva, “ For the first three sins, a person is forgiven.”
2) The second explanation of the angel refers to “nature”. Maimonides explains in the Guide that “angel” refers to a force of nature. The Rabbis also state, “every blade of grass has an ‘angel’ helping it grow.” This means that certain laws of nature govern every blade of grass – no matter how minute. This second view of “angel” maintains that when man falls sick, a natural phenomena can occur (two or three times, but not always) in which the man gets well (viz., healing). But this only happens two or three times because when one usually gets very sick, he does not recover. After recovery, the saved individual may tell his friends about his miraculous “close call.” He feels that the natural phenomena that saved him have to do with God desirous of his health; he now feels that God saved him. This religious feeling is based on the desire to have God take care of him.
Maimonides categorized three differences in Elihu’s words. The first was the idea of the “angel.” The second is the method of prophecy. Maimonides says, “this is likewise new.” In accordance with this second view, an individual might view God in an infantile framework, like a security blanket. The person will view prophecy as well in an infantile light. That is, Job felt God would relate to an individual because this is what God is concerned with. However, Maimonides’ view is just the opposite: God relates to an individual in so far as his knowledge is sound: it is a natural result. Maimonides, in describing Elihu’s account of prophecy says that Elihu supports his theory and description by bringing descriptions of many natural phenomena such as thunder, lightning, rain and winds. But what does this have to do with prophecy? Maimonides teaches that Elihu – according to Maimonides view on prophecy – maintains that there is a science to God’s Providence (prophecy) just as there is a science to the physical world. Elihu attempts to break down Job’s feeling that he knows how God should treat him. Job feels that there is no science to God’s Providence. If he did, he would not have felt that God should work this way or that, but rather, that God works in a certain way and he (Job) does not have that knowledge, nor claim against his fate.
Elihu’s third deviation from the three is his attempt educate Job based on natural considerations; “You cannot assume how God should work, the same way that you cannot assume how nature works.” (Maimonides writes, “We are unable to comprehend how these transient creatures come into existence, or to imagine how their natural properties commenced to exist, and that these are not like the things, which we are able to produce. Much less can we compare the manner in which God rules and manages His creatures with the manner in which we rule and manage certain beings.”)
Again, Elihu first told Job about the angel, thereby teaching this idea about intercession is based on the infantile. And when he told Job that it happens “once or twice”, he meant to alert Job to the reason why he was still suffering: he missed these two times the “angel” could intercede. Job felt since he was sick, he should have been saved. And when he was not saved, he was floored. Since Job was not under God’s Specific Providence (Hashgacha Pratyos) due to his lack of knowledge, he fell under God’s General Providence (Hashgacha Klalyos) and under God’s General Providence, this fate Job experienced happens.
Elihu criticizes Job for maintaining two false views: that God knows mans suffering and therefore God is vicious, or God doesn’t know. Elihu answered both. Thus, God knows and is vicious is not true because your sufferings are from God’s General Providence, i.e., not ordained by God: that is, man may fall under God’s General Providence based on his insignificance as an individual. He would be as an animal, where God does not will that individual member’s life or death: he is subject to natural law, and such was the case of Job. And of course the other possibility is not true because God knows everything.
Elihu accused Job of fabricating his own feelings regarding God’s methods of “Divine government”. Job had a complaint that he should have been treated differently. Meaning, he felt he knew how God should work. But from where did Job obtain this feeling, if not from himself? Hence, Elihu’s entire argument is to teach Job how his understanding of God’s Providence was false.
Job harbored another false view of God. Job, like many others, felt that God works within a system of rights. Meaning, God does not have the right to do certain things. However, God, being the Creator, is above “rights”: He needs no rights or permissions to act. Therefore, Job was incorrect in assuming that God was wrong.
What does it mean, “God is great but doesn’t despise?” (36:5) It means that God gives out His Providence even though God is so great. Elihu showed Job that man is nothing in comparison to the entire universe. But he goes on to tell Job that nonetheless, God’s Providence exists for man.
The purpose of Elihu’s wavering between describing God’s Providence and man’s finitude is to impress upon Job the fact that we really don’t understand how God works. In other words, “See how things appear at odds and with no set pattern.” The reason this forms the core of Elihu’s argument is because Job’s opinion, although not verbalized explicitly, is that man is great enough that he can have a complaint against God. Therefore Elihu impressed upon Job how small man really is so as to show Job that his argument was based on an emotion and not based on careful understanding. If Job had accepted the fact that he has no understanding of God, he would not have had a complaint against God.
A review of Elihu’s arguments: First, Elihu says that Job is working on an infantile level. Then he says that God knows everything that happens. Hence, God is not ignorant of you and did not “cast you out.” Then, in 35, Elihu shows God’s kindness in creating man with the intellect and impresses on Job that the system which God created is the best: “Just because you are downtrodden, should God remove the whole system?” Also, “Do not feel that since you are downtrodden, therefore the rest of the system is no good.” From this chapter comes the idea that God’s system of justice is different that man’s sense of how it should operate in his favor.
Until chapter 36, Elihu did not mention God’s Specific Providence. Thus, Elihu states “God is great but doesn’t despise” (36:5) In other words, there is Specific Providence. “The wicked will not live” (35:6) means that God’s Specific Providence won’t assist a Rasha. In Verse 19, Elihu asks in other words, “do you want a life without afflictions which can correct your mistakes?” Emotionally, a person despises afflictions. But if he would recognize the good they afford man, he would crave them. So when Elihu says, “will thy riches avail thee” he means that life where God does not afflict us to correct us, is not a worthwhile life. (“Those whom God loves does he afflict.” – Proverbs, 3:12)
At the end of this chapter Elihu describes how the true follower of God lives. The true relationship between man and God is when man appreciates God’s wisdom: not someone who is looking for his own personal gain. One who seeks wisdom in the universe displays the true relationship; he puts aside his own considerations and yearns for knowledge. In other words, just the opposite of Job.
What does Elihu mean by “shall it be told to God that which I speak?” And, “Men do therefore fear him.” Elihu tells Job that one can never obtain the answers to your questions in terms of how God performs specifics. We must realize our ignorance concerning God’s methods.