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With Friends Like These . . . Job’s Friends and Religious Foolishness (XX.The Exasperation of Elihu – Chs. 32-37)

A new character is now introduced into the Job saga: Elihu. Where has he been? He is not listed as one of the friends who mourns with Job at the beginning of the book. In fact, when God finally rebukes Eliphaz in chapter 42 (as we will see), the Lord says that He is angry with Eliphaz “and your two friends” (42:7). Are the Elihu lectures an addition to the biblical text? Or is Elihu’s counsel so pathetic that he is ignored by God? Or, could it be, that Elihu is right whereas the other friends have been terribly ineffective and mostly wrong?

To answer some of the questions we must look carefully at the text — six chapters in total! Let’s begin with chapter 32.

Chapter 32: Job’s three friends, we are told, stopped answering Job “because he was righteous in his own eyes” (v. 1). They have failed to persuade him of his sinful life. But another steps into the ring whose outrage at Job and at the inability of the Three to make any progress in the debate compel him to speak.

Elihu is no fictional character for his family lineage is listed. He was a real person, as real as Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Job. He is motivated by anger at Job for justifying himself and at the Three for failing to refute Job while condemning him (v. 3).

As the younger of the four, Elihu had respectfully waited his turn. Now his anger — and the Three’s silence — drive him to speak. And speak he does, for six chapters!

Although Elihu respects his elders, he argues that wisdom does not reside with the aged alone (v. 9). He says he has patiently waited his turn while the Three “were searching for words” (v. 11). He himself minces no words in saying “not one of you has proved Job wrong” (v. 12). I, on the other hand, says Elihu, have not been the object of Job’s objections, so “I will not answer him with your arguments” (v. 14). So, Elihu believes that his argument will be new and more persuasive.

Elihu describes himself as “full of words”; “like bottled-up wine” ready to burst. He will find relief only when he, without flattery, offers his reply to Job (vv. 19-22). And if he fails to be impartial, Elihu believes that “my Maker would soon take me away” (v. 22).

Chapter 33: Elihu bids Job to listen to his words, for they are sincere and come from an upright heart (v. 3). Job’s claim, Elihu says, is that he is pure and free from sin and that God has found fault with him and considers Job His enemy (vv. 8-10).

Elihu bluntly says, “Job, you are wrong!” He argues that God’s greatness exceeds mortal man (v. 12) and that He indeed does speak (in dreams, visions, etc.) (vv. 14-17). God also speaks through redemptive pain, causing one’s body to waste away to “spare them from going down to the pit” (v. 24). Elihu seems to be saying, “Job, be thankful for your physical suffering, for God wants you to find favor with Him!” (v. 26). Responding rightly, Elihu says, will allow you to pray to God, see God’s face, and shout for joy (v. 26). And then He will restore you to full well-being. You will then have a testimony to others that though you sinned, you did not get what you deserved and God has delivered you (vv. 27-28). God’s desire is to turn you back from the pit, “that the light of life may shine [on you]” (v. 30). “Be silent, Job, and I will teach you wisdom” (v. 33).

Chapter 34: Elihu accuses Job of scorning the ways of God in claiming to be denied justice by God (vv. 5-7), and associating with the wicked (v. 8). He even says Job declares, “There is no profit in trying to please God.’ (v. 9). Where does Job actually say that?

Elihu then defends God as One who can’t do wrong, never would pervert justice, and repays everyone for what they have done (vv. 10-12). So, Elihu believes that Job is receiving his just deserts. But Job is guilty of condemning “the just and mighty One” (v. 17). God will not reward Job for his refusal to repent (v. 33), for Job answers like a wicked man (v. 36) and “to his sin he adds rebellion” (v. 37).

Chapter 35: Elihu says that Job is actually saying to the Lord, “What do I gain by not sinning?” (v. 3). We then are told that Elihu wants to respond to Job “and to your friends with you” (v. 4). Apparently he is referring to others who are privy to these conversations, some who might have been siding with Job.

Elihu seems to be arguing for what medieval theologians called the impassibility of God (that God does not experience emotions). One’s wickedness only affects other humans (v. 8). The bottom line for Elihu is that God doesn’t answer the wicked, especially when people like Job say that God’s anger never punishes evil (vv. 13-15). Elihu’s conclusion at this point? “Job opens his mouth with empty talk; without knowledge he multiplies words.” (v. 16).

Chapter 36: Believing he is speaking “in God’s behalf” (v. 2), Elihu describes himself as “one who has perfect knowledge is with you” (v. 4). Despite the evidence that Job has provided, Elihu argues that God “does not keep the wicked alive but gives the afflicted their rights” (v. 6).

Elihu’s bottom line is that “if people are bound in chains, held fast by cords of affliction, he tells them what they have done — that they have sinned arrogantly” (vv. 8-9). God “commands them to repent of their evil” (v. 10). Repentance will bring prosperity; the godless will die like the male prostitutes of the shrines (v. 14). What a comparison!

God is wooing you, Job, Elihu says. But you seem to prefer turning to evil instead of responding to God-given affliction (v. 21).

Elihu then extols God in His power over creation, as if his theology proper (his doctrine of God) is the final answer to Job’s dilemma (vv. 22-33).

Chapter 37: In this last chapter of his exasperation, Elihu speaks of God’s thundering voice and His power over the weather. “He brings the clouds to punish people, or to water his earth and show his love” (vv. 2-13). Job’s ignorance of the ways of God — “those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge” — should humble him, causing him to cease seeking to draw up his case against the Lord (vv. 14-19). Job, says Elihu, you are wrong. God does not oppress in his justice and great righteousness (v. 23).

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2023 in the book of Job

 

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