Well Church, we’ve been slowly trekking through Job for some time now and I want to begin tonight by saying I am encouraged by your patience and perseverance in this study. It is long and it is difficult to understand. But as we’ve spent time discussing and debating I praise God that we have not only discussed and debated but delighted in what God has showed us in this book. This evening we arrive at Job 32, which brings with it a particular difficulty. Why? Because in Job 32 we meet Elihu.
The speeches of Elihu perplex many theologians for many reasons. He seems to come out of nowhere in the text, and when he bursts onto the scene he really does burst. Four times in the first five verses we read that Elihu was burning with anger. Out of his burning anger he speaks to Job’s friends and to Job, but neither Job’s friends nor Job respond to him once he’s done, and more so, God never responds to his words or mentions him at all in the end of the book when he rebukes Job’s friends and restores Job. Because of all of these things most people are perplexed with what to do with him.
So here’s what I would like to do as we meet Elihu. I’d like to cover and examine the three majority views on him and arrive at a conclusion, then I’d like to cover chapter 32 where we find his rebuke of Job’s friends.
The Opinions On Elihu
The first view, and probably the least likely to be accepted among Christians, is the view that the six chapters given to Elihu (32-37) are not original to the book of Job. Instead these chapters are a later addition to it that is something of a foreign intrusion into the text. There are largely two reasons given for this view. First, the Hebrew is different in these chapters. It doesn’t match with the rest of the book, thus it doesn’t belong with the rest of the book. Second, the reason Job, Job’s friends, and God don’t respond to Elihu after he’s done is because he wasn’t physically present with them when these events occurred. This is why we don’t see any response to him. As I said just a moment ago, this view isn’t commonly held within the Church, it is mostly found in nonbelieving commentators and textual critics. Therefore we can move onto the next view.
While the last view is the least likely to be accepted among Christians, the second view is probably the majority view among Christians. This majority view believes Elihu to be an arrogant young man who speaks hastily and harshly about things that he is largely unaware of. The reasons for this view are as follows. First, Elihu overestimates his own importance and does truly show himself to be an arrogant young man. Second, while anger isn’t a sin Elihu has sinfully given too much room to his anger and vents it in the direction of these men. Third, Elihu doesn’t contribute anything new to the ongoing conversation between Job and his friends but merely restates what has already been said after rebuking Job and his friends. Like Job’s miserable comforters Elihu also does say some true things but applies them wrongly and draws the wrong conclusions. Fourth, Elihu’s chapters do build suspense within the book of Job but only do so by delaying the judgment of God at the end. Fifth, the reason Elihu is ignored by everyone at the end of the book is because he does prove himself to be something of an irrelevant intruder into an already lengthy conversation. This view is probably the majority view within the Church. You’ll find it in most commentaries, the ESV Study Bible, and the Gospel Transformation Study Bible.
While the second view is the majority view among Christians, the third view is probably best described as the minority view among Christians. This minority view believes Elihu to a good character and even something of a preview of the very things God will say to Job and his friends at the end of the book. The reasons for this view are also many. First, Elihu finds both Job and his friends wanting in the debate. Second, after rebuking the friends Elihu focuses on Job’s words throughout the debate, quoting Job many times without accusing Job of living a wicked life like the friends have done. Rather he moves the conversation toward a proposal that suffering does indeed have a redemptive role. Third, because of these things Elihu’s words anticipate the stance God Himself will take in chapters 38-42. Some who hold this view, at this point, make the claim that Elihu was a prophet sent by God to prepare Job and his friends for God’s words stronger words about to come. Fourth, though not being the answer to Job’s problems, Elihu points in the right direction by functioning, in small measure, as the ‘arbiter’ or ‘mediator’ Job has been longing for. Fifth, this is the reason why no one responds to Elihu in the end, because he was a voice preparing the way for the greater voice to come. This view is the minority view within the Church. You’ll find it explained and embraced in the Reformation Study Bible, and given a ‘nod’ though not embraced in the ESV Study Bible. This is also the view held by Christopher Ash in his commentary on Job that we’ve been using a guide through our series in Job.
Taken these three views into account, we can easily reject the first view which believes Elihu and his speeches to be a foreign intrusion into the text of Job. As for the remaining two views we find believers lining up in both of them. Personally through studying this text I have come to believe the third view, that Elihu is a good character who prepares the way for God’s voice to come. But honesty would demand I also say that while I believe this third view is the best option I also believe I could be wrong about this. So, I do not hold my view, and I would encourage you to not hold your view on Elihu with a closed fist, but with an open hand willing to adjust as the text demands of us.
With this said, let’s continue on to examine the first chapter of Elihu, chapter 32.
Elihu Full of Anger (v1-5)
Look at the first five verses of chapter 32. “So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, burned with anger. He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God. He burned with anger also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong. Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were older than he. And when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, he burned with anger.”
The reason Elihu is about to speak boils to down to anger at the lack of answer. In v1 Job’s friends have concluded that Job is nothing but arrogant, being righteous in his own eyes, so they cease to answer. v2 introduces to Elihu in v2, who is given one of the longest introductions in the book of Job other than Job himself. Opposed to the others, Elihu is a Hebrew. This is the only mention of Barachel, but we do hear of a Ram in Ruth 4:19 (which connects him to David), and we hear of Buz or the Buzites in Genesis 22:21 (which connects him to Abraham). Elihu’s anger is defined next. Four times the text says it: twice in v2b because Job justified himself rather than God, once in v3 because Job’s friends couldn’t answer Job adequately, and once in v5 because, once again, the friends had no answer.
It may seem simple enough to conclude Elihu as just another miserable comforter here who happens to be more angry than the former three. I think v3 changes this. In our translations we read Elihu is angry because the friends were unable to find an answer to condemn Job. But according to ancient Jewish tradition the original reading was that Elihu was angry because the friends words had ‘condemned Elohim’ and that at some point in time a scribe inserted Job’s name instead of God’s to avoid blasphemy. If that is accurate, Elihu’s anger would then be directed at the friends for failing to establish God as acting justly in all things.All this to say, I think Elihu’s anger is more multi-faceted than we think: anger at the friends, anger at Job, and anger at the friends for failing to speak the truth about God to Job. I think all of those are at play here in this anger and taking all of those things into account shows his anger as more of a righteous anger than a youthful arrogant anger.
v4-5 ends the introduction with Elihu, being young himself, following the proper etiquette of the time and waiting to speak until the older men were done. But once they finished he did not hold his tongue any longer.
Elihu Full of Words (v6-22)
Follow along as I read v6-14, “And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said: “I am young in years, and you are aged; therefore I was timid and afraid to declare my opinion to you. I said, ‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.’ But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right. Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me; let me also declare my opinion.’ “Behold, I waited for your words, I listened for your wise sayings, while you searched out what to say. I gave you my attention, and, behold, there was none among you who refuted Job or who answered his words. Beware lest you say, ‘We have found wisdom; God may vanquish him, not a man.’ He has not directed his words against me, and I will not answer him with your speeches.”
v6-14 is directed at the friends come to counsel Job. He is young, they are aged. He was timid and afraid at first, they spoke confidently when they arrived in town. v7, v11, and v12 seems to show that at first Elihu believed these men were wise because they were older, and that with age comes wisdom. But as he waited, listened, searched out their words, and heard them speak he learned anew that age doesn’t bring wisdom, for they couldn’t answer Job’s words well. Thus, only the breath (or Spirit) of the Almighty does. v13-14 are the result of his patient waiting. In v13 he says he will speak words from God, not for him but for Job and his friends. In v14 he says he will speak words that are different than the friends.
Look at v15-22 next as Elihu continues, “They are dismayed; they answer no more; they have not a word to say. And shall I wait, because they do not speak, because they stand there, and answer no more? I also will answer with my share; I also will declare my opinion. For I am full of words; the spirit within me constrains me. Behold, my belly is like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak, that I may find relief; I must open my lips and answer. I will not show partiality to any man or use flattery toward any person. For I do not know how to flatter, else my Maker would soon take me away.”
In v15-17 the tone shifts. In v6-14 Elihu speaks to the friends saying very personally saying ‘you’ and ‘your.’ In v15-22 it the tone shifts to being less personal using ‘they’ probably indicating that he was speaking to all those present seeking to establish his right to speak at all in a meeting like this. He begins by saying he sees the friends have become dismayed at Job, unable to speak to him any further, and just standing there. He is young, he knows this, he has held back and waited rightly but should he wait more time to speak? No, he will not wait. He will speak, and share his opinion. Why? v17-20 reveal he is full of words, burning in anger at what has taken place, and like a new wineskin that has no opening to vent the gases of fermentation, so too he is about to burst and must speak and must answer back so he can find relief. Indeed he is so full of words that if you took all that he has to say in chapters 32-37 together, it is longer than the combined speech of any one of the three before him. He says in v21-22 that when he speaks he will do it rightly, not speaking for Job or his friends, but speaking only for God.
Well, we have now met Elihu and will get to know him more as much of what he has to say still lies before us in the weeks to come. But for now think of Elihu like this.
So far in Job we come through 30 chapters of thick back and forth conversation about Job’s innocence, and whether or not Job has been right to say what he has about himself and about God. I think the author of Job knows what he has put together here in his work can easily exasperate the reader and is now giving us a bit of a break, or a change in tempo, with the wisdom hymn of chapter 28 and the speeches of Elihu in chapters 32-37.And more so, that these chapters are present between Job’s final plea and Job’s meeting with God show us that Job might be in need of a bit of a break as well. Remember, God isn’t forced to reply to Job right away or quickly even though Job’s final plea in chapter 29-31 is intense. No, God acts in His own time and Elihu’s speeches reinforce this by causing Job to wait a bit longer for his inner angst to be resolved. Yes we have felt deeply for Job as we have watched him suffer and work through the hard realities and questions of why God does what He does. But we also, again and again, have had to almost gasp at Job’s audacity in accusing God of being a wrongdoer and unjust.Maybe, just maybe, some of what Elihu has to say will be the very things Job needs to hear in order to be prepared to meet God before the end in chapters 38-42.