Day 013: Really, Elihu? (Job 35-37)

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)

Be not wise in your own eyes;

    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 3:7

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).

This is probably the case, because in contrast to the three other friends, Elihu isn’t rebuked by God at the end of the book (see 42:7).

For Elihu’s sake, I really hope he’s talking about God. Because if he’s talking about himself as “one who is perfect in knowledge,” then wow. If he really does have that inflated a sense of the importance of his own words, then he comes across as an arrogant little cuss.

Honestly, were it not for the fact that God doesn’t rebuke Elihu, I would be firmly in the “arrogant little cuss” camp. From 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.

Full disclosure, 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.” And the author makes some great points.

Still, I said what I said.

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.

And for the next four chapters he goes on and on. And on. And on.

When he 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.

Elihu may be my least favorite character in the Old Testament. I don’t know when he showed up in Job. He had listened to at least some of the words the other three friends had said (32:11-12). But significantly, he was not listed among the friends who sat in silence for seven days before venturing to say anything (see Job 2:11-13).

Elihu wasn’t listed among the friends who sat in silence with Job for seven days. Does he really have the right to say anything at all?

And for that reason, I feel like, even though what he said was “right,” Elihu 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 don’t know why the Lord doesn’t rebuke Elihu. All I know is that I want to be very careful to avoid “being wise in my own eyes.”

Day 012: Why Isn’t Elihu Rebuked? (Job 32-34)

for the ear tests words
    as the palate tastes food.
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.

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