In the book of Job, Job suffers due to a divine wager between God and Satan (“the adversary”). Job’s friends attempt to persuade Job that God does not punish unjustly; they claim Job has a hidden sin. Job, though, is firm on his self-righteousness. This is not without merit as the text of Job makes it clear that Job is truly innocent and righteous (Job 1:1). Job, throughout the text, seeks an audience with God wherein he can argue his case (his case for mercy against God’s unjust punishments):
Job 9:15 Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.
Job 9:16 If I summoned him and he answered me, I would not believe that he was listening to my voice.
Job 9:17 For he crushes me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause;
Job 9:18 he will not let me get my breath, but fills me with bitterness.
Job 9:19 If it is a contest of strength, behold, he is mighty! If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?
Job 9:20 Though I am in the right, my own mouth would condemn me; though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse.
After a few rounds of arguments between Job and Job’s friends concerning Job’s righteousness, a fourth voice intrudes into the narrative, that of Elihu. Elihu makes a speech arguing: God is to be praised, Job is wrong in defending himself, God does not owe a response to Job, Job is wicked, that God is punishing Job, and that all visible good and evil are judgments from the hand of God.
After this, God then responds to Job. Elihu is never again seen in the narrative:
Job 38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
Job 38:2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
At first glance, it would seem that God is rebuking Elihu. After all Elihu had just finished speaking. But a few things of note: God is addressing Job (v1). God then commands Job to man-up (v3) to prepare for an answer. When Job finally responds to God, Job responds to the question as if it was directed towards him. Job then uses words that would fit this phrase being about him (such as “not knowing” and “mystery”):
Job 42:3 You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
What then became of Elihu? David Clines persuasively argues that Elihu’s speech was misplaced in Job. It belongs before Job’s final response. In any case, Elihu’s speech is ignored by everything after the speech. Elihu is not addressed nor are his arguments considered. The book of Job would be very much the same without Elihu’s speech. Probably this is why scholars have argued it was a later addition to the text.
So God is addressing Job when He says “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” This statement contrasts heavily with God’s later statement towards Job:
Job 42:7 And so it was, after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.
In Job 42, God says that Job spoke about God “what is right”. God says that Job’s three friends have not spoken what is right about God. Their argument, like that of Elihu, was that Job was wicked and God punishes the wicked. It is clear that their “counsel” is already dark. When God says “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”, Job is not darkening his friends’ counsel with words. That would not make sense.
A better understanding is that Job is darkening God’s counsel. David Clines writes:
[the Hebrew word] is “counsel, plan,” and, being without the article, it could mean counsel in general… “But it seems clear that the reference here is to the divine counsel or plan, and many translations reflect that understanding… Since it appears to be Yahweh’s design for the universe as a whole… it seems fit to give the term a capital letter.
Job is maligning God’s plan of creation, but not to the extent that Job will be called wrong. David Clines perhaps offers the best explanation of the discrepancy:
The question is: How can what Job has spoken about Yhwh be called “right”? Much of what Job has spoken about Yhwh has been abuse and criticism of the deity, and Yhwh himself has typified Job’s speeches as “darkening”. Yhwh’s “design”, that is, his principles for the structure of the universe, and has criticized Job for speaking “words without knowledge” (38:2). Carol Newsom, for one, speaks of the “impossibility of harmonizing v. 7 with the preceding material in chaps. 3:1–42:6.”
Yhwh, we must accept, cannot be referring to Job’s initial speech of acceptance after his calamities have fallen upon him: “Yhwh has given and Yhwh has taken. May Yhwh’s name be blessed” (1:21). For the deity plainly knows about the friends’ speeches (“you have not spoken the truth about me,” v. 7), and therefore must be aware of Job’s own hostile speeches also, which rather cancel out Job’s docile first speech. Nor is Yhwh likely to be referring to Job’s short responses in 40:4-‐5 and 42:2-‐6, since they are surely too insubstantial to outweigh the criticisms Job has earlier made of Yhwh.
The only thing about Job’s speeches that Yhwh can be approving of is Job’s denial that Yhwh governs the world on a principle of retributive justice. For Job, it was a criticism of Yhwh that he did not keep days of assize, judgment days when he would mete out punishment to wrongdoers (24:1). For Yhwh, the whole of his speeches from the tempest (chaps. 38– 41) implicitly deny that retribution for good or bad behaviour is a feature of the design of the world order. Yhwh’s own depiction of his purpose for the universe emphasizes sustenance of its life forms, the non-‐human creation being a very prominent part of his concerns, rather than a micro-‐ management of human beings. Job’s complaints about God’s failure to manage the universe have paradoxically put their finger upon a fundamental truth about Yhwh, that such is not his interest. [Hebrew words removed]