I am going to write a series of posts on, in my opinion, one of the most interesting characters in the Bible. Job is, sadly, rarely preached on. People think that it is one of those deep, dark, and gloomy books of scripture, with little edifying to the average reader, only good for reminding people that God is sovereign over all things, even his pain.
I have never heard anyone else reference Elihu to me before. For most people, he is just another of Job’s friends providing him with useless and even harmful advice.
Yet, in the entire book of Job, Elihu is the only man who God doesn’t rebuke, or require to make sacrifices to atone for his sin.
Now, some have said that this does not necessarily mean that God agrees with Elihu. The ESV study bible notes suggest that this is the case, that Elihu, whilst changing the tone of the argument, does not add anything that is much better than that which has already been said. However, I think that this is a little harsh on Elihu. I don’t think that Elihu is putting forward a case that is perfectly akin to God’s own case. I think that Elihu’s comes from the perspective of a sinful man, like you and me, councilling a friend in their suffering. His response, whilst maybe finding different applications and conclusions to the Lord’s own reply, and coming from a position of little revealed knoweldge other than his God given wisdom, is an expression of exhortation to trust in God, for he will redeem.
This blog will look at a couple of preliminary issues in Job surrounding Elihu.
Firstly, the advice of Elihu is radically different from that of Job’s friends. The advice of Job’s friends is very similar to much of the advice we hear today. When people suffer, many people look at it as discipline from God. And when we say dicipline, we often mean punishment. Now, discipline is an important aspect of the Christian walk. It is the process by which, through hardship, trials and testing, God shapes us and grows in us spiritual fruit and perseverance in our lives. But we often misunderstand what this actually means. We see God’s discipline in our lives as punishment, and the effect of this is that our advice tends to be like that of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. When we see people suffer, or even when we simply give others advice, we tell them that their suffering or their situation is the result of our sins, that the discipline of God is punishment for a particular sin. It is a subtle distinction between God’s use of our situation to mould us into more Christlike characters, and punishment for our sins in our lives. But it is a subtlety we often miss.
Often the use the language of idolatry to do this. Now, I greatly appreciate the way that the idea of idolatry has been applied to our individual lives, pointing out that everything that acts as a functional saviour, that whatever we use to define ourselves by, is an idol. However, it has become, in my experience, the cover-all reason for one’s predicament in life. Your struggling in a situation is due to your idolising marriage/job/ministry/children/etc. And whilst we mean well, we push the same lines as Job’s friends: your suffering is God’s disciplining your particular sins, and not your sinful nature in general, a specific sin in your life. We slip in works righteousness in by the back door. “Work harder, be better, live more purely” and God will bless your life and efforts. God will only bless your life if you have sufficiently attained certain standards.
And the result is always the same: man, like Job, attempts to justify themselves. And Job does it fairly well: he proves that, to a greater extent, that he has not broken God’s laws (Chapter 31). But the line that Job pushes is almost as harmful as that of his friends.
So, in v2-3, Elihu burns with anger for two reasons. Why?
“He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God” - Job 32:2
In all of his responses, Job declared his innocence, lamented his situation, and sought an end to his existence. I relate to this position, ad I think we all do to an extent. When pain comes in life, we ask “what have I done to deserve this?” and basically feel a little sorry for ourselves. Elihu’s response, as we shall see, blows this position out of the water.
Now, Job’s righteousness is an interesting issue. Even God proclaims that Job is
“a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” - Job 1:8
This does not mean that God thinks he is sinless. We, as Christians, are blameless in God’s sight because we are hid in Christ. This does, therefore, raise an important question. Why did God pick on Job? Why is he more blameless than any other sinner who’s iniquity is removed from them?
The answer is that Job is, when matched up with the law, a very righteous man.
“I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food” - Job 23:12
And at no point does God deny this.
Yet, Job’s main cry is that he demands a hearing from God, that he has an opportunity to plead his case. And in this, Job believes that if God hears his case, he will be proved righteous.
“How then can I answer him, choosing my words with him? Though I am in the right; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser” - Job 9:14-15
“I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me” - Job 10:2
“But I would speak to the Almighty. and I desire to argue my case with God” - Job 13:3
“I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me. There an upright man could argue with him, and I would be acquitted forever by my judge” - Job 23:5-7
Job’s words throughout the book are a strange mix of Stoical self-pity and proclamation as to the greatness of God, something that all Christians will be able to relate to in their own life experience to some extent. Reading Job’s speeches remind us of the inner legalist which lives in the heart of every Christian; the voice that tries to argue that we have been living rather a good life, and that we don”t deserve this suffering. The essential argument of Job is that, despite God’s greatness and wonderful nature, God has abandoned Job to suffer, almost as if for a sovereign whim. He sees God’s plan as worked out in our lives as an arbitrary exercise of power. Like every legalist in history, and every legalist inside each and every one of us, he attempts to justify himself. He demands that God hears his case.
Thus, Elihu burns with anger at this self-righteous attempt of Job to argue his own righteousness rather than single-mindedly proclaim God’s. It is not that Job is lying about being righteous: Job hasn’t committed adultery (Job 31:1,9) or been unjust in his treatment of others (Job 31:13,16-17) or placed his identity in gold (Job 31:24). But whilst he may not have broken these laws, he still has the ultimate human problem: his sinful nature, and his lack of trust in the God who loves us.
Thus, Elihu’s response to Job comes from a position of faith: faith that God knows what he is doing. He doesn’t try and explain why what has happened to Job has happened. He doesn’t claim that Job’s suffering is because Job is deserving of it; that it is clear that God is punishing Job; that it must be because of Job’s lack of righteousness that he is suffering. In fact, all Elihu does is make statements about the nature of God, stating that God is the source of righteousness (36:6), that there is a mediator who provides a ransom for man (33:23-24), and that God ultimately ensures that his people turn from their sins. He seeks to justify Job in his rightousness (33:32), yet rebuke him in his lack of trust in God. It is Elihu who does not respond to Job’s predicament in what Job has done to deserve it, but instead responds to Job’s reaction in trying to ultimately justify himself.
And this sets the scene for the entrance of God in chapter 38