When I hear someone on a radio talk show or listen to someone speaking extemporaneously, I marvel at their ability to think on their feet. How did they get to the place where they could speak so fluently? But overtime, even these orators eventually fail. You start to hear them repeat the same phrases or tell the same stories.
As we come to the last of Job’s friends, this is apparent. Job’s three friends had exhausted all of their arguments and had nothing left to say. And it is apparent from Job’s response that they had failed to convince him. This gave a chance for Elihu to finally speak his mind about the whole situation. After listening to all that had been said, he was mad.
- What made Elihu mad?
Chapter 32 contains Elihu’s introduction to what he would eventually say. In long, drawn-out poetical verse, he told his audience that he was going to succeed where they all had failed. But before he gets too speaking, the author of the book explained why Elihu was so angry.
Elihu thought Job was righteous in his own eyes (Job 32:1).
The three friends were convinced that Job had sinned and was being punished. After three back-and-forths, they gave up because Job was righteous in his own eyes. What does that mean? It means that Job was unwilling to admit to any sin in this situation. To Elihu this looks like a clear case of unrighteous pride.
Elihu thought Job justified himself rather than God (Job 32:2).
As Job responded to each of his friend’s accusations, Elihu noticed that Job spent more and more time justifying himself rather than God. In other words, he was so interested in speaking about his own innocence that he failed to speak of God’s innocence in the matter.
Elihu thought his three friends had failed (Job 32:3).
To Elihu, the three older friends had failed miserably. They had three opportunities to confront Job about these things but they could not convince him of his sinfulness. What a waste of time and energy! They should have brought Job to his senses and yet they had not.
All of these things made Elihu angry. But not it was his own turn to address Job. Although he recognized his youth and the age and experience of the others, he had thought things through and was ready to set things straight. In the following five chapters, we will look at a single argument he made in each chapter.
- What were Elihu’s arguments?
Instead of delving deeply into each verse of each chapter, I would like to point out one argument made in each of these chapters. Elihu makes three good points and two bad or misapplied points.
Job was wrong to make himself better than God (Job 33:10-13).
During his conversations with the first three friends, Job had pointed out the injustice of his situation. He blamed God for treating him as an enemy and causing him such pain. Elihu’s argument here is that Job was elevating himself above God with these statements. Who was he to judge God? God never has to answer to man for what He does.
Job was getting what he deserved (Job 34:10-12).
Elihu was right in saying that God does not do wickedness. God does pay out the wages of sin at the appointed time. He will never do wickedly or pervert justice. And none of us has a say whether he is in charge. But Elihu was also wrong in assuming that Job was getting what he deserved. Neither he nor Job knew that it was the wicked one who was harming God’s servant.
Job was overstating his significance (Job 35:5-7).
Elihu’s next argument was made against Job’s view of his own significance. He seemed to think that he was notable in his righteousness. Do you remember Job’s defense of his righteousness in an earlier chapter (Job 29). He pointed out all of the good things he had done and was surprised that God would treat him so poorly. Elihu rightly brought Job back to earth. Whether you have sinned or have been acting righteously, you are still an insignificant person compared to God.
Job was not remembering God’s justice (Job 36:11-12).
Once again, Elihu returns to the worn-out argument that God only blesses the obedient and curses the disobedient. Notice how black or white the argument is. Those who obey and serve the Lord will be guaranteed a life of prosperity and pleasures. Those who do not obey will perish. To Elihu there was no possibility that Job’s suffering was the result of anything but sin. He was wrong.
Job was forgetting who God is (Job 37:20, 23-24).
In Job 36:24-37:24, Elihu reminds Job who God is. He uses storms, thunder, lightning, and ice to show how great God is. Nobody else is able to do the things that God does. Where does that put human beings? We are insignificant and unworthy to approach Him with a question. While Job was constantly asking for a hearing before God, he seems to have needed this reminder that God is to be feared and treated with far more honor than Job had offered to this point.
Do you think that Elihu was right about Job?1 Were his arguments convincing? If you were to ask me, I would say that he seems to make better arguments than the three. Consider the three arguments in chapters 33, 35, and 37.
Job should not have made himself better than God.
Job should not have overstated his importance to God.
Job should not have forgotten who God is.
But his good arguments were mixed with some wrong assumptions. In chapters 34 and 36, he joins with the others in pointing out Job’s assumed sins that he assumed were the reasons God was judging him.
What do we learn from Elihu’s arguments? We learn that we are very limited in our understanding of what God is doing. We should be careful to recognize our place before God. We are only people while He is God. Recognizing this will make a big difference in how we evaluate our own circumstances and how we talk to others about their own.
1 If I had more time, I would like to investigate what God’s opinion of Elihu was. It is notable that Job doesn’t argue with Elihu. But that may be the result of God’s interruption in chapter 38. There God says, “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.” Was the question directed toward Elihu and the statement toward Job, or are both directed toward Job? Also, you may recall that God rebukes the three friends but not Elihu in Job 42:7-8. This seems to indicate that God was not displeased with Elihu and not that the Elihu section was added at a later time, as some say.
Davidson, A. B., The Book of Job, Cambridge: University Press, 1899.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol. II Joshua through Psalms, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
Zuck, Roy B., “Job” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989.