Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology

Commentary on Elihu and Job

(Chapter 32 and 33)

by Craig Truglia

Chapter 32

In Chapter 32, we have several reasons to believe that Elihu is a man that should be taken seriously. Job's words have ended and his friends are silenced. Why? Perhaps, Job couldn't be "reasoned with." Or, maybe Job was as righteous as he said and their arguments made no sense. It is possible that his friends started to realize that their theology at its core was wrong to begin with.

Whether or not his friends were convinced, Job very clearly was "was righteous in his own eyes" (Job 32:1). Particularly in chapters 9 and 12, he made the following idea clear: "Though I am guiltless, He will declare me guilty" (Job 9:20). What Job is saying is simple: I am right, God's wrong.

Now Elihu enters the scene. His credentials, in the words of James L. Crenshaw, are "impeccable." Elihu is literally named "He is my God." His father, Barachel, has a name that literally means "bless God," something that Elihu is about to do. His family clan is that of Buz, which so happens to be a son of Abraham's brother Nahor (Gen 22:21). If this man is about to speak lies, it could have not come from a more unlikely source.

The traditional view of Elihu is pretty negative. St. Gregory the Great views Elihu as young and arrogant, speaking wrongly on many things. When Elihu is right, he supposedly "is reproved for saying right things in a wrong way: because in the very truths which he utters he is puffed up with arrogance. And he represents thereby the character of the arrogant, because through a sense of what is right he rises up into words of pride" (The Book of the Morals, Book XIII, Chapter 5). Aquinas views his speeches a little better: Elihu is not as not as wrong as the friends. In the words of Aquinas, "He uses more penetrating arguments against Job than the prior speeches and approaches nearer the truth. So Job does not answer him, although he still deviates a little from the truth and interprets the words of Job in the wrong sense, as we shall clearly see" (Commentary on the Book of Job, Chapter 32). In this way according to Aquinas, Elihu does not deserve condemnation, but he would be wrong in his accusations against Job. As we discussed in Chapter 9, such a stance is necessary for those who wish to retain the near-perfect view of Job.

Since the Reformation, many have begun speculating that "Elihu" is the author of the book. Matthew Henry considered this view (after all, he would be young enough to outlive Job and record all that happened to him, plus he would have witnessed all the occurrences of the story.) Further, modern textual critics speculate that he was the the editor/redactor of an earlier, perhaps Pagan, book. Why would they take this view? Modern liberal scholars view Elihu quite cynically. They believe the original Book of Job was written by a God-hating author who viewed God as unjust, who copied much of his ideas from Ancient Mesopotamian writings that were similar. When a Jewish writer saw how "blasphemous" the original dialogues of Job were, he supposedly contrived an introduction and conclusion to make it all make sense.

These textual critics don't really explain God's response so well and how it fits in within such a theory, but they without any evidence make the presumption that whomever did the redacting did not like what Job said. They speculate that making an introduction and conclusion was not good enough. The editor had to get his own say in, so he contrived a character. Being the redactor, he was born generations after the book was written, so he styles himself as a young man in comparison. Hence, he contrives Elihu as a personification of himself and in his own pride, merely reiterates the friends' arguments.

However, a more careful and less imaginative interpreter realizes that Elihu makes very different arguments than the friends before him. In fact, he even explicitly says that he will in the story and what he focuses on, the usefulness of suffering in becoming increasingly faithful and the sovereignty of God, are much different ideas than that have been presented thus far in the story. Further, Elihu appears only to make accusations which can be gleaned from Job's actual statements, instead of inventing false sins Job never committed like the friends.

For our purposes here, we take the view Joseph Caryl. He views Elihu positively, calling his "discourse" both "large and accurate" (Exposition on Job Chap 32-34, p. A3). "It remains therefore, that Elihu was the man, who found an answer in this great difficulty and yet condemned not Job. And indeed he condemned him not (as his friends had done) as a man imperfect and crooked in his ways as a man that feared not God and eschewed evil [unlike Job's three friends]" (p. A4).

When we read the Scripture we can see that Elihu is "angry." We should notice that his anger is at Job because "he justified himself rather than God" and "the three friends because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job" (Job 32:2, 3). Elihu's anger was a "righteous anger" (see Ex 4:14), like that God or any of his people would have towards sin, wickedness, or anything that disgraces the name of God. Job had imputed to God wrong motives and questioned his justice. The friends sinned by lying, charging Job with invented crimes and coming up with a false theology of retribution.

Many commentators jump up on Elihu's anger as proof of him being foolish. However, being that God Himself is angry in the Scripture and righteously so, we do not need to rush to such a conclusion. Further, young Elihu showed respect by not speaking until the elders have finished (Job 32:4). This good fruit, in addition to his good family name and ancestry adds to his credentials that we should be listening to what he says. And, it is by a prophet's fruit we should judge him (Matt 7:20).

However, even though Elihu showed restraint by not speaking before the elders weighed in (Job 32:6-7), he understood that God's wisdom outweighs that of man's (1 Cor 1:25). "But it is a spirit in man and the breath of the Almighty [that] gives them understanding," (Job 32:8) Elihu explains. Therefore, if a young man has the Spirit of God, he can have wisdom greater than those who are in the eyes of the world wise.

After Elihu reiterates his patience, perhaps in his excitement of being overcome by the breath of the Almighty or his own anger (Job 32:18), he warns the friends not to invoke God in defense of their arguments (Job 32:12). After all, they have not yet encountered Elihu's insight (Job 32:14) and they were silenced by Job (Job 32:15). Job, who's understanding of Theodicy is still incomplete for now, was able to silence his friends with only half the truth. So, what chance do his friends have in countering Elihu if he indeed speaks by a wisdom that is not his own?

Elihu's introduction ends with the note that he will tell it like it is and not flatter anyone (Job 32:21-22). After all, just like new wineskins that are unvented and about the burst due to the fermentation process (Job 32:19), Elihu cannot contain himself. Just like Job, who was not going to hold any punches in his speeches, Elihu (unlike the friends who beat around the bush instead of just saying they thought that Job was wicked) is going to tell it like it is.

Chapter 33

In Chapter 33, Elihu gives us a picture into why God has ordained suffering. The topic of revelation, and how God uses it, is also addressed. Elihu, though young, starts to open up for us profound wisdom not yet revealed in the Book of Job, and begins the chapter by making it clear that he is speaking specifically to Job (Job 33:1), and implicitly not the friends. Job did a fine enough job discounting their views, so Elihu does not see the need to address them specifically.

It is apparent that the words Elihu intends to speak to Job are not meant to be worldly wisdom, but rather prophecy by the Spirit:

My words are from the uprightness of my heart,

And my lips speak knowledge sincerely.

The Spirit of God has made me,

And the breath of the Almighty gives me life (Job 33:3-4).

Now, this is indeed an interpretive stretch, but there is a necessary connection between words coming from "the uprightness of my heart" and the assertion that "the breath [creative Word] of the Almighty gives me life." Again, not "gave me life," but "gives." The Holy Spirit sustains him. This interpretation is consistent with Job 32:8 which more explicitly makes the same connection.

Because He speaks by the Spirit, he confidently challenges Job to refute him (Job 33:5). Then, probably with Job 10:8-11 in mind, Elihu makes clear he like Job is also a man made by God (Job 33:6), so if Job finds reason to disagree with his wisdom he should not hesitate from correcting him (Job 33:7). In Job 33:32-33, Elihu challenges Job to answer him. Because Job does not answer, we should understand that Job cannot contradict what Elihu is saying. Hence, he is agreeing, perhaps begrudgingly at first.

Elihu then paraphrases some of Job's statements and addresses them to him in Job 33:9-11:

I am pure, without transgression;

I am innocent and there is no guilt in me. ("I am guiltless," Job 9:21)

Behold, He invents pretexts against me; ("According to Your knowledge I am indeed not guilty"...[Yet] You renew Your witnesses against me and increase Your anger toward me," Job 10:7, 17)

He counts me as His enemy. ("His anger has torn me and hunted me down "My adversary glares at me," Job 16:9; "Why do You"...consider me Your enemy?," Job 13:24)

He puts my feet in the stocks; ("You put my feet in the stocks," Job 13:27)

He watches all my paths ("I know that this is within You: If I sin, then You would take note of me and would not acquit me of my guilt"...if I am righteous, I dare not lift up my head," Job 10:13-15).

As we can see, Elihu sums up Job extremely accurately. So, when he criticizes Job on a point, it is important that we take what he says in response to what Job has been talking about throughout the book very seriously.

Job's complaints amount to saying that "though I did nothing wrong, He is not right in allowing my suffering." Elihu's response to this is telling: "Behold, let me tell you, you are not right in this, for God is greater than man" (Job 33:12). It would be as if he was saying, "Don't even try to say that you can be right and God can be wrong in this or any situation, God is always greater than man!"

Elihu then gives two accounts. One of God teaching a believer through revelation to correct sin and the other where God brings suffering upon the man to bring him closer to Him.

Observers such as John Piper presume Elihu addresses Job specifically in this speech, presuming God made him suffer in order to discipline him for being a smug holy roller. The issue we have with this interpretation is that if God is trying to take care of a "hint of self-righteousness" that existed in Job before the events of the first two chapters took place, then God speaks wrongly to Satan when He stated that Job was afflicted "without cause."

This begs the question. When Job asserts he is in the right and God afflicts him wrongly, would Job be self-righteous in saying this? Of course. Some might say Job was then self-righteous all along.

Here is an example: Imagine a bottle of water with its cap off. When the bottle is shaken, the water spills out. Why? Because there is water in it.

So, if Job is shaken by calamity and during this process he speaks self-righteously, it is not because he was suffering that he acted self-righteous. Instead, self-righteousness was always latent within him and it only came out when he was tried.

For this reason, God would have been in His right strictly to subject Job to suffering in order to correct him for this. However, because the text is not explicitly clear that the preceding lays behind God's reasoning, we cannot take Elihu's words as correction for Job's self-righteousness.

Throughout the book, God uses suffering to bring Job closer to Him and strengthen his faith. It is in this way Elihu's words ring true and are applicable, summed up elsewhere in the Scripture, "the Lord disciplines those he loves" (Heb 12:6). We shall see, Elihu differentiates between being corrected for sin by God's revelation and experiencing suffering in order to strengthen the faith in Christ who is our Ransom.

"Why do you complain against Him that He does not give an account of all His doings,?" (Job 33:13) Elihu questions Job. "Indeed God speaks once, or twice, yet no one notices it" ("Twice" indicates the differentiation between the vision which is direct revelation from God and suffering as another means to convey God's will, Job 33:14). Elihu first speaks of how God corrects the sins of man using revelation.

In a dream, a vision of the night,

When sound sleep falls on men"...

He opens the ears of men,

And seals their instruction,

That He may turn man aside from his conduct,

And keep man from pride;

He keeps back his soul"...from passing over into Sheol (Job 33:15-18).

In a time before we had the written revelation of the Scripture, God spoke directly to some men like Abraham or through prophets. Even when the Old Testament was finished, God still spoke through prophets such as those mentioned in Acts of the Apostles and 1 Corinthians. Jesus Christ Himself gives instructions on judging which prophets we should follow. Without speaking dogmatically on whether prophecy is quite as vibrant today as it was in past days, the important lesson we should understand is that prophecy is revelation from God and revelation from God is indisputably in the Scripture. No revelation from God would contradict the nature of God He has revealed to us in the prophetic Biblical Canon.

So, whether God teaches us in a dream because we have no access to the Scripture, through a sermon or admonishment from another Christian who by the Spirit speaks rightly, or through the Scripture itself (the only source in which we know to be truly of God, while the other sources can be counterfeited); the important part is that God does correct us for our pride and conduct. The Law in the Scripture condemns us for our sin, pointing us to our need of God's grace. Further, its admonishments indicate to us what sort of walk the Christian should have to God's glory.

Remember, Eliphaz had a dream with a false prophecy. Therefore, Elihu does not endorse every dream. However, let it be known, God reserves the right to speak to us through revelation.

Another means God can use to speak to man and accomplish His purposes is suffering. "Man is also chastened with pain on his bed," Elihu says (Job 33:19, emphasis added). Here, he refers to suffering that is the result of physical illness (Job 33:20-21). "Then," as the illness gets worse, "his soul draws near to the pit and his life to those who bring death" (Job 33:22). The point that Elihu is trying to convey is that God ordains for men painful terminal illnesses. Why?

If there is an angel as mediator for him, (This angel is not Christ, it points to Christ)

One out of a thousand, (Christ is not one out of a thousand, the term would not be special enough for Him)

To remind a man what is right for him, (What is "right" is to know Whom one hopes in when experiencing suffering, 1 Peter 3:14-15)

Then let him be gracious to him, and say, (The angel, when delivering this prophecy to man is gracious. Angels are mediators for prophecy throughout the Old Testament and the New.)

"˜Deliver him from going down to the pit, (Here, the imagery of "those who bring death" in verse 22 is made clear. Apparently, the ones who bring death whether by disease or incident are demonic and an angel of God here delivers man from demonic forces which for a while, God ordained for that man to be exposed to so that the man can learn of the "Ransom" in the following phrase. See the discussion of how God regulates Satan's activity by using a "hedge" in Chapters 1 and 2 for more detail on how God can expose man to evil for good and effectively control the whole process, without Himself being the author of evil or doing the evil.

I have found a ransom;' (Here, the Ransom is Jesus Christ, Mark 10:45. Christ is our Ransom that delivers us from those who bring death. We deserve the death that they bring, because of our sin against our God. The man is reminded of "what is right for him," that is to put his faith in his Ransom.

Let his flesh become fresher than in youth,

Let him return to the days of his youthful vigor; (The one who once suffered terminal illness is totally restored. Now, this does not always happen when we are ill, for once we have found our Ransom in some ways it is better "to die and be with Christ," Phil 1:23. However, in this case, the restoration occurs so as to glorify God in its own way.)

Then he will pray to God, and He will accept him, (The one who suffered, having been reminded of his hope in the Ransom now responds in faith by praying. We should be confident that God is pleased with and will accept such prayers. Apart from the Ransom we cannot be accepted by God.)

That he may see His face with joy, (God is pleased when we are joyful in knowing Him)

And He may restore His righteousness to man (We are at all times in right standing with God, because of an alien righteousness He gives us. It never  belonged to us to begin with, so only God can "restore" it as we can see here; Job 13:23-26).

When Christians suffer cancer, car accidents, and other bouts of suffering God can prevent, it is clear that God does not do it always to punish us or for no reason at all. Rather, in His grace, a reason He may have for it is to point us to Christ as the episode above shows.

It is interesting to note that while God uses His revelation (i.e. the Scripture) to correct the believer for sin, Elihu does not assert God uses suffering for the same reason. It is our assertion that Elihu does this to instruct Job what the true reason behind his suffering was: to help him look to a Mediator, a Ransom, that is Jesus Christ, for his right standing with the Father. Only then can Job be made righteous.

However, didn't Job already know his Savior? Even though Job spoke wrongly about God, he did hope in Him and looked to Christ as his Redeemer.

Perhaps what Elihu taught is more a lesson to others than to Job himself. Or, without going through such suffering to the point of death, Job would have not experienced such faith (even when it was mixed with error).

If it takes suffering to increase faith and rid error from us, then let's "consider it pure joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4).

Now, we should reserve for God the right to use suffering to teach and discipline believers. "All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore"...make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed" (Heb 12:11-13).

Now that we have established that God uses suffering to point those He loves back to the Ransom, what is the natural response of the redeemed person?

He will sing to men and say,

"˜I have sinned and perverted what is right,

And it is not proper for me.

"˜He has redeemed my soul from going to the pit,

And my life shall see the light' (Job 33:27-28).

Just as Job later responds in repentance, which can be hard to do when wallowing in self-pity which often occurs during suffering, so does the redeemed man in Elihu's example. It is because we are redeemed we can see light. Indeed, Christ is the light of the world (John 8:12).

Because our understanding of our own inadequacy and need for God is so clear, we cannot help but confess our own sin and know that grace is totally undeserved, unmerited favor from God. God loves us, not because of anything notable or impressive in us, but rather because He simply chooses to (Deut 7:7-8).

Elihu finishes his point by saying God does such things (using revelation and suffering to bring us closer to Him) "often" (Job 33:29). Apart from God's grace of revelation, we do not know our own sin. Without suffering, we do not look to God to sustain us. Without repentance and faith, we are dead in our sins and our souls inevitably would be in "the pit" (Job 33:30), that is Hell.

Thank God for suffering. Men cause others to suffer out of maliciousness. God works all thing for good for those who love Him. Surely, God is greater than man!

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