“Then Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite from the family of Ram became angry. He was angry at Job because he had justified himself rather than God. He was also angry at Job’s three friends because they had failed to refute him and yet had condemned him.” Job 32:2-3 CSB
Through the Bible: Job 32-34
In today’s reading, a new character shows up for the first time. He is Elihu, son of Barachel the Buzite, from the family of Ram. Right away, you see a lot of things that set Elihu apart from Job’s other three “miserable comforters” (see Job 16:2):
- He hasn’t participated in the first three cycles of speeches, although the text indicates he was there (Job 32:4).
- While the other three are identified by their people group (Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite), Elihu’s introduction goes two steps further. We get to know his father’s name (Barachel), and his clan’s name (the family of Ram).
- He is younger than the other three, which he helpfully points out to them: “I am young, while you are old…” (32:6). Probably NOT the guy you want running your senior adult ministry.
- At least at first, 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. He has some other ideas for why Job is suffering— that God can use suffering to turn someone back from the Pit, “so he may shine with the light of life” (33:29-30). In Elihu’s argument, there’s the suggestion of redemptive suffering as a means of grace. Look at 32:26-27. Elihu says of the one whom God disciplines (32:19),
He will pray to God, and God will delight in him.Job 33:26-27, CSB
That person will see his face with a shout of joy,
and God will restore his righteousness to him.
27 He will look at men and say,
“I have sinned and perverted what was right;
yet I did not get what I deserved.
- Spoiler alert: Maybe the biggest difference of all between Elihu and the other three is that when God does show up at the end of the book, God rebukes the other three friends, but He doesn’t mention Elihu (see Job 42:7).
So who is this man of mystery? And what are we supposed to make of his lonnng speech (longer than any one of the other three friends’ combined speeches).
Let’s first look how he is introduced. I have heard for most of my life (and have taught it myself), that Elihu is the only one of the friends with a Hebrew name. A standard rule of thumb with Hebrew names is that if the name contains the syllable el, either at the beginning of the name or at the end, it is a call back to God’s name El (as in El Shaddai). So ELihu is translated as “My God is He,” and he is the son of BarachEL, “He blesses God.”
“But wait!” you say. “If that’s true, then ELiphaz is a Hebrew name also!” Indeed it is. It means “God is fine gold,” or God is Agile.” What’s more, there’s an Eliphaz mentioned in Genesis. One of the sons of Esau (Jacob’s brother) is named Eliphaz (Genesis 36:4). What’s more, in Genesis 36:15-16, we read, “These are the chiefs of the sons of Esau. The sons of Eliphaz the firstborn of Esau: the chiefs Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz,Korah, Gatam, and Amalek; these are the chiefs of Eliphaz in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Adah.”
Eliphaz’s son Teman was the firstborn, which made him the chief of chiefs. Chiefs tended to name their capital city or even the whole region after themselves. So if the Genesis Eliphaz was from the region where his son was chief, then he would be known–wait for it–as Eliphaz the Temanite. We can’t know for sure if the Genesis Eliphaz and the Job Eliphaz are the same Temanite, but the timeline works, so it is a real possibility.
So Eliphaz seems to contradict the idea that Elihu is the only one with a Hebrew name. However, just because you have a Hebrew name does not mean you are a worshiper of Yahweh. Remember that Eliphaz the Temanite was a son of Esau, the first Edomite, and one of the earliest enemies of God’s people Israel. And bear in mind that El was not exclusive to the one true God worshiped by Jews and Christians. “El” is translated “God,” and the word has a lot in common with the name of the Canaanite god Baal (Ba-el). This is different from the covenant name YHVH (Yahweh), the personal name of God revealed to Moses.
So both Eliphaz and Elihu could have been Hebrew names but not necessarily worshipers of Yahweh.
But if you’ve hung with me this far, stick with me a little longer. Let’s look at the last syllable of Elihu’s name. We already talked about the rule of thumb about when you see el in a name. But there’s another rule of thumb about the syllable yah or jah. It’s our clue that the name has something to do with YAHweh. So ZechariYAH is Yahweh Remembers. EliJAH is “My God is Yahweh.”
Here’s what blew my mind in my study today: It is possible that Elihu doesn’t just mean “My God is he,” but “My God is Yahweh.” Remember that Hebrew doesn’t have vowels. So Elihu
When you remember the fact that Hebrew doesn’t have vowels, it’s much easier to see the similarity between Elijah (אליה) and Elihu (אליהו). In addition, the Abarim Publications database of Biblical names , in its article on Elihu, says,
Names that end with יה (yah) usually also exist with an ending of יהו (yahu), but for some obscure reason these yahu-variants are commonly ignored in the English speaking world (which is why we read of Zechariah and not Zechariahu, even when the Hebrew text says so). But for some other obscure reason, English translations have no problem with the name Elihu (אליהו), which is really the name Elijah (אליה) but with the dreaded yahu-ending.Meaning of Elihu, from abarim-publications.com
Phew. That’s a lot. But taking a deep dive into all of this gives us a new interpretive lens that could change the way we look at the book of Job. The same database of biblical names I mention above suggests that the story of Job could be read as a study of comparative religions, analyzing the differences between the different belief systems of the day:
- Job himself represents the earliest foundations of Yahweh worship.
- Eliphaz represents the belief system of the Edomites, which, based on Eliphaz’s speeches, appears to be more nature worship and personal strength-oriented.
- Bildad (“Baal-dad”) whose name probably means “Bel has loved” represents the various Baal cults.
- It’s not immediately clear from Zophar‘s speeches where he’s coming from theologically, and unlike the other three, there’s nothing in his name (which means “chirper” or “leaper”) that connects him to any belief system. His ethnic descriptor (the Naamathite) doesn’t help either. There is no mention of a town or region in the Bible called Naamath. Maybe he just “leaps” from one belief system to the next.
So for 31 chapters, we’ve seen an Edomite, a Canaanite, and a pantheist debating a worshiper of Yahweh. Then Elihu (my God is Yahweh, possibly) gets the last word before God speaks. Maybe his function in the story is to bring the focus back to Yahweh. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t get rebuked by God at the end of the book. Maybe that’s why there’s the grace note of Job 33:26-27; that God does not punish us as our sins deserve.
And maybe there’s too many “maybes” in that last paragraph. It’s easy to get too far in the weeds with speculative interpretation. Absolutely don’t hang your hat on it. But it actually makes me want to go back through the speeches and consider them from those perspectives.
On second thought, nope. I’m ready to hear from God. We’re almost there.