A Strange Young Man Opens the Door to God
Elihu enters the conversation. Job 32:1—37:24
Chapter 31 ended with the words “the words of Job are ended.” (31:40) But the words of God are not ended. God begins His words to Job by first sending a young man to speak to both Job and his friends. We will hear more of his words in today’s study.
The young man Elihu appears suddenly, and then disappears just as suddenly. The Bible does not speak of Elihu anywhere outside the Book of Job; He is identified as the son of Barachel, who is also unknown, other than the fact that he is a Buzite of the family of Ram. (32:2) Elihu’s name means “my God” – the Lord is my God. Perhaps God sent him as a “voice in the wilderness” to prepare for the way of the Lord. Indeed this was his one contribution to the argument, for while Elihu was still speaking, the Lord Himself suddenly appeared to Job out of the whirlwind.
Over the period of six chapters, Elihu gives four speeches. Perhaps we should say he gives one speech with four different emphases. But we will analyze his words as four speeches.
Job 32—33 Elihu’s First Speech
Elihu begins his first speech by speaking about himself and his authority to speak. He begins with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God; then he turns his anger on the three friends because they judged Job without finding an answer to his suffering.
He speaks of the limitations of human wisdom but seems to forget that his own wisdom is limited. He does speak truth, especially when he says that all wisdom comes from the breath, or Spirit, of God. (32:8) But he is not altogether humble when he says that he is full of wisdom. His words were, “For I am full of words; the spirit (Spirit) within me constrains me.” (32:18) But we must remember that Elihu did not come to make friends; he came with a burning passion to defend God from the criticism and false statements Job and his three friends were making about God. In this sense, Elihu’s anger was righteous anger. He is not too humble, but he is rational.
Elihu directs the last part of his first speech to Job. He speaks more gently to Job and tells him “I desire to justify you.” (33:32) He tries to identify with Job and assures him that God is speaking to him in the midst of his suffering, and that if Job would stop criticizing God and instead would pray to God, then God would forgive and restore him. He even says that God speaks of a mediator who would give a ransom that would restore Job! (33:24) He encourages Job by saying, “Then he prays to God, and He accepts him; he sees His (God’s) face with a shout of joy, and God restores to man his righteousness.” (33:26)
Job 34 Elihu’s Second Speech
Elihu directs his second speech to Job’s friends. He emphasizes the truth that God is perfect and righteous in all His judgments. He agrees with them that Job has spoken without knowledge and without insight. (34:35) He agrees with them that Job has rebelled against God.
He continues by telling Job’s friends that they are men of understanding. (34:10) He continues by affirming God’s sovereignty and His justice (mishpat). Elihu is speaking to both Job and his friends of the limitations of human reason. He is clearly leading up to his main argument: God is great, and Job is small (along with his three friends). He is correct in saying that neither Job nor his friends know what God is doing. He appeals to Job to stop judging God and to return to Him in humility.
Job 35 Elihu’s Third Speech
Elihu continues to rebuke Job for his demand that God should give him a public trial to show his innocence. This is his greatest accusation against Job, “that he dares to claim that he is right and God is in the wrong.” (see Job: The Faith to Challenge God, by Michael L. Brown)
But Elihu is rebuking all of them, by saying, “But none say, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night?” (35:10) This is one of the most powerful statements Elihu makes in his long speech. Elihu says many things that are true, but he continues to judge Job without giving any answers to his question of why the righteous suffer. We might say that Elihu is “at times an insightful character who displays the limitations of human wisdom while also preparing the way of the Lord.” (M. Brown, p. 241) We can see this more clearly in Elihu’s last speech.
Job 36—37 Elihu’s Fourth Speech
Elihu’s approach begins to change radically in his last speech. He begins to speak only of the greatness of God. He begins by speaking of His righteous dealings with among men, and of His search for righteous men. He tells Job that God is exalted in power, and there is no teacher like Him. (36:22) He tells them to remember to exalt God’s work, for which people have sung praises to Him. (36:24)
Elihu begins to praise God’s works in nature, which is visible to all people. He has not answered Job’s many questions, which shows the limitations of human wisdom. But he has done what God sent him to do: He has taken Job’s eyes off of himself and set them on the majesty of God. He speaks strongly to Job: “Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God.” (37:14) He concludes his words by saying that Almighty God is beyond our reach. He is supreme in power, abounding in righteousness and faultless in justice. This young man has opened the door for God to reveal himself. Is this not the greatest thing we can do as we teach and share God’s Word? To be a “door-opener for God?”
Some things to consider
1. Elihu is not a particularly likeable person, and it is easy to question his motives. But this is not the purpose of good Bible study, because the Bible says nothing about his character or motives. How do you understand this man? Do you believe God sent Him? If so, for what purpose?
2. Elihu told Job that he desires to justify him. (33:32) In what way do you think Elihu justified Job?
3. Discuss with another person, or group of people, what you consider to be the main contribution of Elihu to the story of Job. What is his main argument? What is his main accusation against Job and his three friends? From the beginning of chapter 36 all the way through chapter 37, Elihu changed the way he talked and began to praise the justice and majesty of God. Why do you think he did this?
4. Are you prepared to admit that younger members of our community may have wisdom that older members do not have?