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The DEEP

Elihu Misquotes Job

Listening well is hard.

Job 33:1-18 (ESV)

“But now, hear my speech, O Job, and listen to all my words. Behold, I open my mouth; the tongue in my mouth speaks. My words declare the uprightness of my heart, and what my lips know they speak sincerely. The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Answer me, if you can; set your words in order before me; take your stand. Behold, I am toward God as you are; I too was pinched off from a piece of clay. Behold, no fear of me need terrify you; my pressure will not be heavy upon you.

“Surely you have spoken in my ears, and I have heard the sound of your words. You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression; I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me. Behold, he finds occasions against me, he counts me as his enemy, he puts my feet in the stocks and watches all my paths.’

“Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you, for God is greater than man. Why do you contend against him, saying, ‘He will answer none of man's words’? For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man; he keeps back his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.”

Elihu is wrong. Job did not say, “I am pure, without transgression; I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me.” In particular, he clearly said that no one is perfect.

“Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.” – Job 9:2-3

Job didn’t claim to be perfect; he claimed to be innocent of the kind of major sin that Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar think triggered his afflictions. Most of Job’s defense was that the wicked are not afflicted, so God’s judgement must not operate the way they think it does.

Still, Elihu thinks Job claimed to be “without transgression.” Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar made the same mistake. Why?

There’s something strange about the way people listen. You can say something reasonable, with carefully measured words, yet be completely misunderstood. We’ve all been surprised by a comeback like, “So, you think that …” followed by a ridiculous caricature of what we just said.

And we’ve all done that too, and we usually don’t notice when we do it.


Sin makes us lousy listeners. We hear what we think someone should be saying and often don’t even notice when they say something different.

If we’re going to be useful witnesses for Christ, we need to be good listeners. We have to get serious about this. We must admit that we have a problem. We need to raise our awareness of when we mess up. (This is where an accountability partner can be indispensable.)

Ask God to help you see the “log in your own eye.”


The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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