X. Elihu’s Speech (Job 32:1–37:24)
X. Elihu’s Speech (32:1–37:24)
Like a good theatrical drama, the book of Job has a surprise twist near its end: the appearance of a fourth visitor, Elihu. We’re not left in doubt regarding how he felt about the discussion he’d overheard—he was angry (32:2-3, 5). Elihu was angry at Job because he had justified himself rather than God (32:2). Job was right: he wasn’t suffering because of his sin. But, he had put God on trial by affirming his own righteousness and implying that God was unjust. Elihu was also ticked off at Job’s three friends because they had failed to refute him and yet had condemned him (32:3). They thought God was punishing Job for his sin, but they never proved their case against him; thus, they condemned an innocent man.
Was Elihu a cocky youngster who made some of the same bad arguments as the men he chastised? Did he offer needed criticism of both Job and his friends? Or, did he do a little bit of both? Regardless, he was bursting at the seams by the time he started to weigh in. Likely the youngest man present, he first practiced deference (32:6-7). But, ultimately, wisdom comes from God and does not reside in the old alone (32:8-10). He’d listened to everything that was spoken and was eager to have his say (32:11-22).
Elihu challenged Job: Refute me if you can (33:5). But, in doing so, he was confident that what he was about to say was “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” that Job wouldn’t be able to contradict. Elihu began by summarizing Job’s own argument, showing that he had been taking notes. Elihu said, in effect, “Job, here’s what you’ve been saying. You are innocent before God, but despite this, he has attacked you without cause and treated you like his enemy” (33:8-11). But I tell you that you are wrong in this matter, since God is greater than man (33:12). In other words, Elihu countered that God didn’t owe Job an explanation for what he was enduring because God is transcendent. Why do you take him to court for not answering anything a person asks? (33:13). In other words, Elihu said, “Let’s not forget who is the Creator and who is the creature here.”
Critically, not all suffering is punishment for personal sin. The holy Son of God willingly suffered—the righteous for the unrighteous—to bring us to God (see 1 Pet 3:18). The author of Hebrews encouraged his readers to endure suffering as the Lord’s loving discipline (see Heb 12:5-11). Perhaps Elihu had this idea in mind when he said, A person may be disciplined on his bed with pain (33:19)—not because God is judging him for his sin, but because he is refining him for his glorious purposes and helping him avoid future evil.
Elihu upheld the righteousness of God. It is impossible for God to do wrong, and for the Almighty to act unjustly (34:10). To do so would be contrary to God’s character. The Lord can do all things—except evil (34:12). After all, how could a wicked god govern the world? (34:17). But, the Righteous One is impartial and judges with equity (34:17-20). No one needs to approach God to have his day in court, for he sees all and knows all (34:21-23). God does not live according to our terms (34:33).
Elihu continued. Humanity’s righteousness does not give God anything he doesn’t already have, and humanity’s unrighteousness does not have an adverse effect on him (35:3-7). Yet, our actions do affect other people who suffer the consequences of our unrighteous actions (35:8-9). How we live and respond to adversity influences others. God provides human beings with songs in the night (35:10). He gives us more understanding than the animals (35:11). Yet, the animals don’t complain to God that they don’t see him and can’t make their case before him (35:14)!
In alleging complete knowledge (36:4), Elihu was not exactly making a modest claim. But, as with Job’s miserable comforters, Elihu did speak truth regarding many of God’s attributes (and so did Job). For a clear picture, though, we’ll need to hear from God himself—who would enter the scene soon enough.
Elihu pointed out that God is mighty, but he despises no one (36:5). He is the supreme being, but this does not make him too lofty to show kindness to the lowly. He judges the wicked and delivers the afflicted (36:6-15). In fact, God rescues the afflicted by their affliction (36:15). Here, Elihu returned to the theme of divine discipline. He warned Job not to turn to iniquity because this is why he was tested by affliction (36:21). To quote the author of Hebrews, “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:11). Whatever God intends to teach you through your trials, it is always for your benefit.
Elihu concluded with a consideration of God’s glorious might displayed in his creation (36:26–37:24). God shows himself exalted in power (37:23). Elihu’s questions to Job about how God works his wonders seem to foreshadow God’s own coming questions in chapters 38–41. Though Elihu was long-winded, his advice to stop and consider God’s wonders (37:14) would turn out to be exactly what Job needed.