Text: Job 33
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
“God speaks in one way and in two…” That is the message that Elihu, the young man who is speaking in our reading today, wants us to take out of what he says. God speaks in two different ways.
At this point in the story Job is frustrated, really frustrated. He has been sitting in the ashes from some time now. He has poured out his lament to God. And he has endured the miserable “comfort” that his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar tried to bring him. Their “windy words” seemed to never end and they just brought Job more misery. But now Job’s three friends have run out of things to say. Their “windy words” are finished. They have given up. But Job doesn’t feel any better. He is still sitting there in the ashes. He still has nothing left. He still is covered in sores. And he still has no answers. “Why isn’t God answering me?” Job wonders as he sits there in silence once again.
In the midst of that silence a voice speaks up. A young man who, until now, has been holding his peace. Elihu is his name. He is kind of a mysterious character in the story because no one ever tells us where he comes from. We are three quarters of the way through the book of Job now and until now no one has mentioned anyone called Elihu. All of a sudden he is just there standing by the ash heap with Job and his friends. It seems that he had actually been standing there the whole time. He seems to have been listening to the whole conversation up until this point. He has something so say, but he has been holding his peace because he was younger than all the others who were there. As the youngest he had to wait his turn. That’s how things worked in the ancient world. “Age before wisdom,” you could say. But when Job’s three friends had run out of things to say to him and when Job himself seemed to have nothing left to say Elihu finally gets his turn to speak.
“Listen to my words, Job,” Elihu says, “and hear my speech.” The first thing worth noting here is that Elihu actually uses Job’s name. He calls him by name, Job’s other friends never did that. But this is just the beginning. “I have heard what you’ve been saying, Job,” Elihu says, “and you don’t have it all right.”
Elihu identifies two complaints that Job has against God. First, Job believes that he is righteous and blameless and complains that God has treated him like an enemy. Job believes that this is not fair. Elihu says that Job is “not right” about this. We will talk more about that next week. For this week Job’s second complaint will be our focus. Job believes that God refuses to answer his complaints. Job has laid it all out to God time and time again, but to Job it seems like God is not answering. “Why won’t God speak up?” Job wonders. Again, Elihu says that Job has it all wrong. “You think that God is not answering you,” Elihu says, “but you don’t understand how God speaks! God speaks in one way and in two even if we don’t understand it!”
That little phrase that Elihu uses is a curious one. It sounds almost like a riddle. But it clearly lays out the truth of how God speaks to us His people. He speaks in one way and in two. What Elihu means here is that even though people do not always perceive or understand it, especially when they are in the middle of it, God speaks two very different but connect messages to His people. These two messages are what Martin Luther would many centuries later distinguish as God’s Law and Gospel. “God speaks in one way and in two,” Elihu says, “He speaks Law and He speaks Gospel.” The rest of this chapter and the speech from Elihu that it contains is a lesson about how God speaks Law and Gospel and what it means.
First, Elihu says, God speaks His Law. God speaks His Law and “he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings,” Elihu says. God speaks with commandments, the 10 Commandments are an example of that and there are others. In His Law God threatens to punish those who do not obey Him. He lays down His Law and punishes the evil doers. This is the first way that God speaks.
God, of course, speaks His Law to us through His Word. That is where we find His commandments and the threats that come along with them. But God also speaks His Law to us through our suffering, Elihu says. “Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed and with continual strife in his bones, so that his life loathes bread, and his appetite the choicest food. His flesh is so wasted away that it cannot be seen, and his bones that were not seen stick out. His soul draws near the pit, and his life to those who bring death.” This kind of language is particularly relevant to Job. Job is suffering terribly. He is in pain. His flesh wastes away with sores. His bones stick out and you could count his ribs if you wanted. This is another expression of God’s Law. Suffering in general and Job’s suffering in particular remind us that we are dust, sinful rebellious dust, and to dust we shall return.
Why does God speak this way? Why does He speak Law and terrify men with His commandments and threats? Elihu explains “[God speaks his law] so that he may turn man aside from his deed.” In other words, God speaks his law to turn us away from sin. To call us to repent, which means to turn away, and to save us from death. No one wants to hear the threats and punishments of God’s Law, in fact God does not really even desire to have to speak this way with us, but He does it so that we might repent and return to Him.
When God’s Law has laid us low, when we have been thoroughly overwhelmed by the demands of His commandments, when the last leg that we think that we have to stand on has been stripped away, God speaks a different word. Remember, “God speaks in one way and in two,” Elihu said. Now, for the other way of God’s speaking to us.
“If there be for him an angel, a mediator, one of the thousand, to declare to man what is right for him, and he is merciful to him, and says, ‘Deliver him from going down into the pit; I have found a ransom; let his flesh become fresh with youth; let him return to the days of his youthful vigor’; then man prays to God, and he accepts him; he sees his face with a shout of joy, and he restores to man his righteousness.”
This is a very different message. The fear, the terror, the punishments, the death that draws ever nearer is gone all of a sudden. All of a sudden Elihu is talking about a mediator and this mediator is merciful. This mediator steps in and says, “Deliver him from going down into the pit (that is to hell); I have found a ransom.”
Elihu speaks here in hypothetical language. “If there be for him an angel, a mediator…” he says. We know, and so did Job, who that mediator is. It is no mere angel, but Jesus Christ the Son of God, the messenger (which is all the word angel means!) of God “par excellence.” He steps in for you and me who are crushed under the weight of God’s Law and says, I have found a ransom, a payement that will cover their sins and transgressions. What is that ransom or payment? His life given as a ransom for many on the cross at Calvary (Mark 10:45).
Jesus Christ, our mediator, give us life. He restores to us the vigor of life here and now and in eternity where we will have glorious risen bodies like His glorious risen body. He fills us with the joy of His kingdom. He opens up heaven itself to us and pours out the joy of heaven even now as we languish and suffer in this life.
Because of Christ, our mediator, God hears our prayers and He accepts us. He receives us as His children and pours out righteousness from heaven on us. God shouts for joy over us because we are in Jesus. This is a very different message, you see, than God’s Law. The Law kills, but the Gospel, good news about Jesus, makes us alive.
As Job suffered he heard only the Law. He felt God’s Law in his very bones as he suffered. Elihu reminds Job that God does speak this way, He speaks Law to us. But God speaks in one way and in two. The Law only ever drives us to the Gospel, the good news. There is a ransom for us. When we hear God’s Word we need to hear with ears that listen for Law and Gospel, the two ways that God speaks, so that we can rejoice in what Christ has done for us.
When we hear God’s Law and His Gospel we can say, as Elihu does, “I sinned and perverted what was right, and it was not repaid to me. He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit, and my life shall look upon the light.” Thanks be to God for His Words of Law and Gospel! In Jesus name, Amen.