for the ear tests words
as the palate tastes food.
4 Let us choose what is right;
let us know among ourselves what is good. (Job 34:3-4)
Of Job’s friends, Elihu (who’s name, incidentally, means, “My God is He”) is the only one in the whole story with a Hebrew name. He is also the only one of Job’s friends who doesn’t accuse Job of a wicked life for which Job was being punished. So when God rebukes the other three friends (see Job 42:7), this may be why Elihu isn’t lumped in with them.
This doesn’t mean Elihu doesn’t sometimes come across like a sanctimonious young punk (Job 33:3: “My words declare the uprightness of my heart, and what my lips know, they speak sincerely”—really, Elihu?).
In contrast to Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz, Elihu takes issue with what Job has said, not with what he assumes Job has done to deserve the punishment he is getting. Here are some examples:
You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression;
I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me. (33:9)
Why do you contend against [God],
saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’? (33:13)
For Job has said, ‘I am in the right,
and God has taken away my right; (34:5)
For he has said, ‘It profits a man nothing
that he should take delight in God.’ (34:9)
In counseling training, we called this “observing, not concluding.” You focus on what you see in front of you, without trying to interpret or draw conclusions from it. This is hard to do, and as Tara-Leigh points out in the podcast today, eventually Elihu draws the same conclusions that the other three do—that Job is being punished for sin.
Note: The Bible Project has a great podcast focused on Job and Elihu. They say Elihu’s argument is that the purpose of Job’s suffering to build character as a defense against future hardship. You can check this out for yourself here.
And this is where I’m challenged, both as a pastor and in general: When I meet someone, I’m not in a position to make judgments on what they have done before I met them. In counseling, I often hear stories from the people on both sides of a conflict, sometimes from years ago. I can’t know who’s right. I wasn’t there. But I can listen for how they are responding now to that conflict. And if they are responding in a way that doesn’t speak the truth about God and His character, and what it means to respond in a way that is consistent with who they are as believers in Christ, then that’s what I can speak to. Elihu may still be wrong, but he’s wrong about Job (Job never said “I am pure and without transgression,” as Elihu claims he did in 33:9). He’s not wrong about God.
Heavenly Father, when I counsel people, help me test words and responses, not past actions. Help me stay in my lane, so that I never fail to speak the truth about You.