Day 013: Really, Elihu? (Job 36:1-4)

Detail from The Wrath of Elihu, by William Blake

36 And Elihu continued, and said: “Bear with me a little, and I will show you,
    for I have yet something to say on God’s behalf.
I will get my knowledge from afar
    and ascribe righteousness to my Maker.
For truly my words are not false;
    one who is perfect in knowledge is with you. (Job 36:1-4)

Through the Bible: Job 35-37

When Elihu says “one who is perfect in knowledge is with you” (verse 4), scholars are divided over whether Elihu is talking about himself or God. If he is talking about God, then he is claiming that he is one “perfect in knowledge” only because he is speaking “on God’s behalf” (v. 2).

I really hope Elihu is talking about God. Because if he’s talking about himself as “one who is perfect in knowledge,” then…wow. Can you imagine being around someone with such an inflated a sense of the importance of his own words? It would be like someone who posts multiple blog posts because he’s convinced everyone wants to hear his take on the Bible passage for the day (oh, wait…)

In 32:6-22, Elihu goes on and on about how he didn’t want to say anything out of respect for his elders; but then he couldn’t hold back any longer because what they were saying was dumb, and blah, blah, blah.

Now, I did find other articles that give Elihu much more of the benefit of the doubt. This one: “Elihu, the Forgotten Prophet of Job” sees Elihu as a legitimate provider of truth and revelation, rebuking both Job and the three friends for what he calls their “Karmic folk theology” (Karma is the idea that what comes around goes around.). The author also notes that the last words of Elihu’s speech serve to herald the arrival of God Himself.

Out of the north comes golden splendor;
    God is clothed with awesome majesty.
23 The Almighty—we cannot find him;
    he is great in power;
    justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.
24 Therefore men fear him;
    he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.”

Job 37:22-24

The very next verse (Job 38:1) is when God shows up. This breaks the pattern of “friend speaks/Job responds” that has been uninterrupted since Chapter 3.

And after yesterday’s blog (see Day 012: Elihu, International Man of Mystery), I’ve had to reassess much of what I said last year about Elihu.

But still, I can’t get past the arrogance of his opening words. In 33:1-5, Elihu talks about how awesome what he is about to say is going to be:

But now, hear my speech, O Job,
and listen to all my words.
2 Behold, I open my mouth;
the tongue in my mouth speaks.
3 My words declare the uprightness of my heart,
and what my lips know they speak sincerely.
4 The Spirit of God has made me,
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
5 Answer me, if you can;
set your words in order before me; take your stand.

For the next four chapters he goes on and on. And on. And on. How much does he go on? Check out this helpful chart showing how much of the 42 chapters of Job is taken up by each characters speeches. Elihu is in bright green:

Elihu speaks more than any character other than Job. If you take out the introduction and conclusion, Elihu speaks MORE THAN GOD!

Who does that?

When Elihu finally takes a breath at the beginning of chapter 36, he seems to acknowledge that he’s already talked longer than the other three friends, yet he still isn’t done. And he sounds exactly like the kid in the youth group that schedules a meeting with the pastor to tell him everything that’s wrong with his theology.

But here is what bothers me the most about Elihu, and why he may be one of my least favorite characters in the Old Testament:

I don’t know when he showed up in Job. He is not listed among the friends who sat in silence for seven days before venturing to say anything (see Job 2:11-13). We know that he had been there to here at least some of the words the other three friends had said (32:11-12). But he wasn’t there to sit with Job.

And if you don’t sit in silence with the grieving, should you even speak at all?

Even though what Elihu said was “right,” he hadn’t earned the right to say it. And that’s a lesson I take to heart as a pastor. I can be 100% right in what I say to my congregation. I can rebuke, correct, admonish, and reprimand all I want, because for thirty minutes every Sunday morning, I’ve got the microphone, and they are too polite to stop me.

But if I haven’t sat in silence with these people at a graveside or a hospital bedside, then it doesn’t matter how right I am. There are a hundred wrong ways to speak truth, but there is no wrong way to demonstrate love.

At the end of the day, I can’t say conclusively why the Lord doesn’t rebuke Elihu. All I know is how God rebukes me in 1 Corinthians 13:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13‬:‭1‬ ‭ESV‬‬






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