Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
Elihu: A Mediator in God's Stead
by Edmund Green
Towards the end of the book of Job, Elihu makes his appearance. His name means “He is my God.” Elihu is a controversial figure, because he is not mentioned at the end of the book of Job with the three friends for whom Job prayed. It is argued on the one hand that he was a young upstart, an outsider deserving of no consideration: and on the other, as being a type of Jesus, who as a fair mediator came in for no reproach. It seems that it must be one extreme or the other.
A Mediator in God’s Stead
Elihu says in Job 33:6: “Behold I am according to thy wish in God’s stead.” Job had expressed such a wish at least seven times:
“Neither is there any days-man betwixt us that might lay his hand upon us both,” (9:33). He also says, “Oh, that my words were now written printed in a book, (19:23). For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth,” (19:25). This redeemer is in Hebrew ga-al,the “next of kin” who could redeem or avenge.
The words of Elihu in 32:7-10 are tantamount to a claim to inspiration: “But there is a spirit in man; and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” Elihu also claims to speak on God’s behalf in 36:1-2, and in verses 12-18 he describes ways in which God tries to divert man from evil and from sinning, but they refuse to listen. Elihu then shows that the sufferings of Job are a chastening: “He is chastened also with pain upon his bed,” (33:19).
A very revealing passage is 33:22-30: “If there be for him an angel, a mediator, one of the thousand, to declare to man what is right for him; and he is gracious to him, and says, ‘deliver him from going down into the Pit, I have found a ransom’ then man prays to God, and he accepts him, he comes into his presence with joy” (R.S.V.). The “messenger” and “interpreter” of the Authorised Version is a mediator, and the “ransom” is a kopher—anatonement or covering; by which is obtained redemption. It seems impossible for an “outsider” to invoke all these qualities of the mediatorial office, and which also fit in with the meaning of his name, which is “My God, He,” or as we would say in English, “He is my God.”
Elihu points out the logic of Job’s wrong deductions, and so he proceeds in verses 35-37: “My desire is that Job may be tried unto the end because of his answers for wicked men.” Today’s English Version reads, “Think through everything that Job says; you will see that he talks like an evil man.” It is not that Elihu wanted to see Job’s sufferings prolonged, but that his argument should be closely thought out. Nor is Elihu charging Job with sins like the three friends were doing, but pointing to his fault in criticising God; this logically placed him in the company of evil men, for that is just what they do.
Elihu continues to point out that God is not affected by man’s sinfulness, or righteousness, but other men are; so God holds men responsible (33:5-8), and “teaches men through suffering and uses distress to open their eyes.” What then should Job’s attitude be? Elihu’s exhortation is, “Remember how great is God’s power; he is the greatest teacher of all. No one can tell God what to do or accuse him of doing evil. He has always been praised for what he does; you also must praise him. Everyone has seen what He has done; but no one understands it all. We cannot fully know his greatness or count the number of his years,” (36:22-26, T.E.V.)
The Might of the Creator
In chapter 37, Elihu goes on to show that the marvellous works of nature prove God to be so great as to be above reproach. At last, in chapter 38, God Himself endorses this approach by breaking into the dialogue and developing the same theme, in so doing He justifies Elihu. We know the effect this had upon Job, but Elihu had prepared his mind for it.
Our Mediator is Christ, the Son of God. Just as Job’s sufferings, in spite of their severity, were as nothing compared with Christ’s, so Elihu was a pale shadow of Jesus as a mediator. In him we see the same principle exemplified in the book of Job—perfection through suffering; the subject of it being of our nature, yet of divine origin. Jesus is our “redeemer”, our “next of kin”; our mediator interceding for us, our ransom, our covering, our Atonement.