Monday, October 27, 2003

Job 32: Elihu's Anger

This essay is #38 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)

Four times we are told that Elihu became angry and we are given two reasons. Job justified himself rather than God. This is certainly the case. Job's last speech ended with his claiming the high moral ground waiting for God's apology. That made Elihu angry. Job's three friends systematically failed to see the truth in Job's situation. They could not answer Job's deep questions "and so declared Job guilty." 

What is the nature of Elihu's anger? Is it like the anger that we have seen in Job against God in response to injuries? Is it like the anger that Job's friends had towards him because they did not like his attitude? 

I believe that Elihu's anger was different. The anger of Job and the anger of his friends had its origins in their own hurts. It was a self-centered and self-protecting anger. Elihu had no skin in the game. He was angry because there was a real human need for answers and nothing but injustice and self-righteousness had emerged from it. He was angry because the situation had deteriorated until no one had anything more to say. He was angry because the age of the men should have yielded a different result. What if Eliphaz had comforted Job before telling him that he needed to get right with God to make things better? What if he had the others assumed as true the innocence that Job claimed? Would things have not taken a different turn?

Elihu was not angry for himself. He was angry because if something were not done, further harm would emerge. He was angry because, as a young man, he needed the emotional support to be heard by those whose ears were closed. Elihu needed the passion to focus attention on his message. He needed it to be noticed. Nobody knew who he was.

His anger was properly and respectfully channeled as his opening words reveal:

So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite spoke up: “I am young, but you are elderly; that is why I was fearful, and afraid to explain to you what I know. I said to myself, ‘Age should speak, and length of years should make wisdom known.’ But it is a spirit in people, the breath of the Almighty, that makes them understand. It is not the aged who are wise, nor old men who understand what is right. Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me. I, even I, will explain what I know.’ Look, I waited for you to speak; I listened closely to your wise thoughts, while you were searching for words. Now I was giving you close attention, yet there was no one proving Job wrong, not one of you was answering his statements! So do not say, ‘We have found wisdom! God will refute him, not man!’ Job has not directed his words to me, and so I will not reply to him with your arguments." (Job 32:6-14)

These words contain both respect and challenge. He waited until silence dominated the situation and then he stepped in and claimed a place to speak based on the "spirit in people, the breath of the Almighty." Here then is the promise hinted to us by chapter 28. God knows the paths to wisdom, and this young man claims to have the Spirit of the Almighty directing him in the way. Elihu promises a different approach. That he will occupy the next six chapters uninterrupted suggests that he had the stage and the attention of Job and the others.

It seems to me that the next words are the unspoken thoughts of Elihu. If they are not unspoken thoughts, then they are words addressed to other bystanders. They read like personal thoughts to me. They give us deeper insight into Elihu's motivation. It is as if he did not expect to have the platform on which to speak, but now that he has it, he must reach in and make affirm his internal base and goals in order to proceed in justice and wisdom:

“They are dismayed and cannot answer any more; they have nothing left to say. And I have waited. But because they do not speak, because they stand there and answer no more, I too will answer my part, I too will explain what I know. For I am full of words, and the spirit within me constrains me. Inside I am like wine which has no outlet, like new wineskins ready to burst! I will speak, so that I may find relief; I will open my lips, so that I may answer. I will not show partiality to anyone, nor will I confer a title on any man. for I do not know how to give honorary titles, if I did, my Creator would quickly do away with me." (Job 32:15-22)

Again we have reference to the Spirit. Elihu recognizes the operation of the Spirit of God--the breath of the Almighty--in his life right now. It is constraining him. This word "constrains" seems to be a rich word. Here is how other translations have treated it:

The spirit within me urges me on. (The Living Bible)

Because I have so much to say, that I can't keep quiet. (Contemporary English Version)

The spirit within me constraineth me. (King James)

The spirit within me compels me (New King James)

The spirit in me causes me to speak (New Century)

The spirit within me constrains me (NASB95)

The translations show a combination of compulsion and restraint and I think that combined the give us a good picture. Elihu is driven into the fray, but his words remain under guard. His words will not explode from him, the will be extruded from him. He is under pressure, but that pressure is behind a directed nozzle. He will speak and he will be effective.

Tuesday: Elihu Speaks to Job

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

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