Friday, October 24, 2003

Job 32: Elihu Who?

This essay is #37 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.

Elihu

Chapter 32 of Job begins:

So these three men refused to answer Job further, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 

Then Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry. 

  • He was angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. 
  • With Job’s three friends he was also angry, because they could not find an answer, and so declared Job guilty. 

Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job, because the others were older than he. But when Elihu saw that the three men had no further reply, he became very angry. (Job 32:1-5)

Some scholars, who have no imagination for how the literary forms of the oldest biblical work might have differed from today, state that this portion of Job is a later addition. I think that you will conclude otherwise. To be sure, he pops up without introduction, but that anonymity is part of the message. If Elihu had spoken first before Eliphaz had sent the dialog spiraling downward, the events in this book would have been far different. Elihu is the perfect antithesis to everything that has gone on before now:

  1. He was never mentioned, because his social status was not worth mentioning. He may have been an attendant to one of the Job's friends or just a bystander. All that is necessary for us to know is that he had been able to hear everything. His anonymity is part of the book's instruction. The esteemed old men have failed. Those society expected to prevail are silent. A young man, full of the Spirit, is able to answer. By this, the author of Job lets us know that wisdom is there for all us.
  2. He was young and had the idealistic conceit of a young man who knows that he is right. He will often say things like, "For in truth, my words are not false; it is one complete in knowledge who is with you. (Job 36:4)"
  3. Elihu ascribed his knowledge as coming from the Spirit of God, "But it is a spirit in people, the breath of the Almighty, that makes them understand. (Job 32:8)" This has a direct connection to Job 28 that told us only God knows the paths to wisdom. Elihu understood this and sought understanding from God for himself and Job and the friends.
  4. Elihu had a different approach to Job's situation, "Look, I am just like you in relation to God; I too have been molded from clay. Therefore no fear of me should terrify you, nor should my pressure be heavy on you. (Job 33:6-7)" Do you see how different Elihu's words to Job differ from the other three? According to Elihu, he and Job stand together, side by side, before God. They are made from the same stuff. Elihu is on Job's side. Later on Elihu will say, "I want to justify you." (Job 33:32b) Elihu instructs where the other accuse. Elihu has compassion for Job's situation.
  5. Elihu understood the Lord's broader use of suffering. He saw that it could be used as a pre-emptive strike, "Indeed, God does all these things, twice, three times, in his dealings with a person, to turn back his life from the place of corruption, that he may be enlightened with the light of life. (Job 33:29-30)"

The speech of Elihu lets us know that wisdom comes from God and is no respecter of age. A young man is just as likely to have the wisdom needed in a situation as an older man. Elihu demonstrates how love combined with exhortation can encourage and correct at the same time. When you have a friend who is hurting, read the speeches of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to learn what not to say--then read the speeches of Elihu to learn what to say. Elihu instructs, but does not condemn. Elihu is able to see the purposes of God outside of the religious constraints of the experts. Elihu is the bridge by which Job will finally stand before the Lord.

On Monday, Elihu's Anger

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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