Elihu’s Discourse

An article from SVM Spring 2014

Jim Patterson

Managing Editor

One of the most inspiring individuals who overcame affliction and realized redemption is Job. It has been argued that Job was self-righteous, although we should broaden our look at the story’s outcome so we can appreciate a greater lesson for us. I believe a broader view of this book will help give us a greater opportunity to properly interpret God’s intention with Job.

There is one individual that appears in this story that can help us appreciate another examination of the story’s intent. He is not acknowledged by any of the other persons in the book of Job. He is never quoted or mentioned in the rest of scripture. He is rarely quoted even in sermons or in articles, at least in my experience. Perhaps we can make up for a bit of that in this article.

The individual is a young man named Elihu. Elihu was a relatively unknown figure in his time, so the writer of the Book of Job gives him a fuller pedigree (Job 32:2). He appears as a six-chapter window between Job’s concluding words, and when the Lord answers Job out of a whirlwind. It is interesting and fortunate that Elihu in his great frustration over the situation entered into the discussion when he did, as his words provide a kind of transition from the words of Job and his friends, to the words of the Lord Himself.

Of note, Elihu does not receive a reprimand from the Lord regarding his words, as did Bildad, Eliphaz and Zophar for speaking of the Lord what was not right (Job 42:7, 8). Elihu is not without his biblical critics however, (and what expositor of the Word of God is not?). He comes across conceited (Job 33:1-3, 36:1- 4), some feel his theology does not include doing His will out of love for Him, that he puts words in Job’s mouth, and also accuses Job of sin, where we are told Job did not sin. The Lord is silent on Elihu, which is something to consider. The Lord’s silence, and the wisdom expressed by this young man, which was likely inspired, behooves us to consider his discourse and place in the story more closely.

He was angry at Job’s friends, who found no answer and yet condemned Job. (Some marginal notes indicate they condemned God.) He was angry at Job for justifying himself rather than God. It is sufficient to say here, and elsewhere, that Elihu was not always fully accurate in his assessment of Job, or perhaps even of himself, but as we indicate above, this is not a cause to dismiss him. He is closer to the truth than anyone else on and around the ash heap, at least in some key areas.

Job’s Friends

As Job’s friends first came to see Job, even from afar the scene must have been horrible. Job was unrecognizable from his affliction. We have to give them credit for caring for Job as evidenced by their distraught reactions, and the seven days they sat quietly with him (Job 2:11-13).

Their care for Job did not translate into anything helpful for Job as their words fell short in dealing with the situation. They could not identify with Job’s physical and emotional struggle and the bitterness of it. They actually made accusations of Job during their lengthy discussions. In summary, they presented God as Judge only, that adversity is a result of sin, retributive and punitive. Did their intention become more about being “correct” and finding fault with Job than with helping Job to find restoration with the Lord?

Not everything Job’s friends said was wrong. In fact, they were in many cases in a sense proverbial. It is possible to quote them for use in edification, though I do not advise it.

Enter Elihu 

Elihu appears to argue along the same lines as Bildad, Zophar and Eliphaz, but distinct differences begin to develop. These differences set him apart, and despite some evidence of lack of humility and misreads of Job’s words, we find a broadening wisdom in the discourse of Elihu.

Job’s three friends presented the Lord as Judge only. Presenting the Lord as Judge only is a narrow interpretation of His character. Elihu, on the other hand, presents the Lord as Judge and Teacher. He describes God in terms that suggest he had a more realistic and fuller understanding of His nature. Elihu emphasized the positive aspect of God, His sovereignty and His greatness.

If we are to summarize his message, we could do so as follows:

  1. God is speaking through me. I may be young, but I speak on His behalf (Chapter 32, 36:14)
  2. God is gracious (Chapter 33)
  3. God is a Just God (Chapter 34, 35)
  4. God is great (Chapter 36, 37)

Our intention here is not to provide a full exposition of Elihu’s message. We just want to hit the highlights about him; there is much we will leave untouched.

Chapter 33 – Elihu: “God is Gracious” 

In this chapter Elihu interpreted Job to have claimed that he was pure and innocent, yet still counted him as His enemy (8-11). This may not be exactly accurate; nevertheless, Elihu proceeded to answer Job on that basis:

“Why do you contend with Him? For He does not give an accounting of any of His words. For God may speak one way, or in another, yet man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, while slumbering on their beds, then He opens the ears of men, and seals their instruction. In order to turn man from his deed, and conceal pride from man, He keeps back his soul from the Pit and his life from perishing by the sword.” (v 13-18)

In working with people in the church who are undergoing a trial, there is sometimes a reaction or a mode of self-justification, or a victim mentality regarding the situation. We resort to reminding God and others of our obedience and try to interpret matters with our current understanding. As a purpose statement for Elihu, his intention was for Job to repent on the basis that he had not glorified God. Job had professed his righteousness based on a limited view of God and His purpose for man.

He also claimed to be just and blameless according to the evidence of how God had before blessed him (12:4). He claimed not to have disobeyed God and treasured His words (23:11-12). He maintained his integrity (2:3; 27:4, 5).

To God he says,

Although You know I am not wicked…” (10:7).

Job’s self-justification appears to come out in relation to his current suffering. To Job, he knows he is not perfect, but his suffering is not equitable. To him, what purpose can this serve?

Therein lies Elihu’s challenge, and it is the challenge to all who minister and those ministered to: when there is no explanation, then a higher view of God is needed. The explanation goes beyond an examination of the circumstances to which we may try to attribute our trials.

Elihu explains to Job that the Lord intervenes either through dreams, suffering, or any vehicle He chooses to use and intercedes to keep a person from sin and going off into the Pit (33:12-22).

Then, with perhaps a prophetic piece of insight, Elihu declares the salvation of the Lord through a mediator, not just anyone, but one that can offer a ransom.

“If there is a messenger for him, a mediator, one among a thousand, to show man His uprightness, then He is gracious to him, and says ‘Deliver him from going down into the Pit; I have found a ransom’;

His flesh shall be young like a child’s; he shall return to the days of his youth. He shall pray to God and delight in Him; he shall see His face with joy, for He restores to man His righteousness” (v 23-26).

Job saw his need for a mediator, of some kind, for he desired to plead his case before his Judge (9:33, 23:3-7). All this would seem reasonable, and if I am not mistaken, reasonable to us if we are not careful, for are we not entitled to boldly enter the Holiest (Hebrews 10:19)? Elihu however, corrects Job regarding a mediator. The mediator would show to a person God’s uprightness, not the person’s (v23). He would respond favorably because He would be gracious to him or her, not because of any just case that is made (v24). As a result, there would be a healing, and a restoration of relationship (v25, 26). The restoration is made to His righteousness, not the righteousness of the person (v26). The restored individual will testify and recognize the error of his or her ways and thinking (v27). The individual would proclaim God’s goodness. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we should be looking for mercy and grace in our time of need, not justification or explanation (Hebrews 4:16).

Moreover, Elihu emphasized that God is willing to do this repeatedly to restore individuals and keep them from the Pit (33:29, 30). The three friends told Job that it was he who needed to initiate restoration. What Elihu has done is show Job and his friends that the Lord had already initiated restoration. Pleading a case before the Throne is not ours to initiate. This would be consistent with the scripture from the beginning:

And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship Him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44).

Yes, we are instructed to come to God to confess our transgressions to Him. The process however first began with the Lord.

God is Just

Throughout Chapters 34 and 35, Elihu defends God’s justice. He demonstrates His Sovereignty and can do no wrong.

In principle we would all agree that God is just, but we, on numerous occasions, can get frustrated with Him. Thus is the case with Job, where Job and we ourselves have said

Does it seem good to You that You should oppress, that You should despise the work of Your hands, and smile in the counsel of the wicked?” (Job 10:3)

It seems unfair. Should not my labors be accounted for (Job 9:29-31)? Elihu quotes Job as saying

“‘It profits a man nothing that he should delight in God’” (Job 34:9).

Elihu spoke to the fact that God does not always provide relief when the oppressed pray to Him: 

“Because of the multitude of oppressions they cry out; they cry out for help because of the arm of the mighty. But no one says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth, and makes us wiser than the birds of heaven?’” (Job 35:9).

“There they cry out, but He does not answer, because of the pride of evil men. Surely God will not listen to empty talk, nor will the Almighty regard it” (Job 35:12).

Elihu claims some prayers for help spring from selfish, proud motives rather than from a sincere desire to learn the reason for one’s sufferings. Though He may not relieve the burden when one wants Him to, Elihu also questions if they would even acknowledge the songs in their hearts He sends them in the night (Psalm 42:8), and the strength He gives them to bear it.

We understand God may not answer selfish prayers. It is understandable that He was silent in response to Job’s impatient petitions. Elihu counseled Job to wait for God to answer:

“Although you say you do not see Him, yet justice is before Him, and you must wait for Him” (Job 35:14).

The familiar counsel regarding unanswered prayer is to place blame on lack of faith or on wrong motive. We may never fully resolve certain complications in our lives, and Elihu’s discourse on the subject may seem harsh at times, and lacks compassion for Job or the overcomer. Elihu has his critics in this regard, but again the Lord’s silence on Elihu’s message should give us pause to consider. From my own counseling experience in dealing with   heartbreaking situations, a reminder of the great Person of God can lift the heart of the sufferer, enabling him or her to overcome. Job’s answer came in the Person of God, and Elihu’s discourse appears to set the stage for the Lord’s arrival.

God is Great

Part of Elihu’s ministry to Job in overcoming his suffering was to present the idea that a new vision of God is needed.

“Behold God is exalted by His power; who teaches like Him?

Who has assigned Him His way, or who has said, You have done wrong’? 

Remember to magnify His work, of which men have sung. Everyone has seen it; man looks on it from afar” (Job 36:22-25).

Elihu is stating that worship is needed in times of trial and in times of goodness. During his discourse on God’s greatness and sovereign use of nature, Elihu turns to applying his words to Job:

Listen to this, O Job; stand still and consider the wondrous works of God, do you know when God dispatches them, and causes the light of His cloud to shine? Do you know how the clouds are balanced, those wondrous works of Him who is perfect in knowledge? 

“Why are your garments hot, when He quiets the earth by the south wind? With Him, have you spread out the skies, strong as a cast metal mirror?” (Job 37:14-18).

Elihu seems to be saying to Job that if you are unable to explain God’s command of the common occurrences in nature, how are you going to explain your case to Him? if we even had the opportunity, we could be swallowed up in judgment (v 20). Moreover, if we are not able to look upon the sun on a clear day which is a minor element of His creation, how do we expect to go face to face with Him in all His glory (v 21)?

The Answer 

We are looking for answers to some questions in our lives, unresolved matters and other problems. If there was a man who needed an answer it was Job. What was the answer to all suffering? God Himself was the answer.

We may each have a plethora of questions and clarifications that we may wish to ask of God someday. They may be about creation, doctrines, history, genealogies, people, the scriptures, the Church, and who was right all along. Whether commonplace or unique to ourselves, we may feel that our questions really matter. On all these things many writers, Bible commentators, preachers and internet bloggers have offered their points of view. This writer does not excuse himself from the list.

All our questions will become nothing and flee from us when we come in the presence of the Sovereign Lord. The Person of God is the answer. Job did not receive an answer or explanation regarding his plight, and it was even evident God did not owe him one either. What Job received was revelation!

I have heard of You by hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5,6).

The message in Job is consistent with the gospel message, for Jesus Christ Himself embodies the truth, and the truth sets us free. Free from the bondage of sin, free from being controlled by fear brought on by the confusions and disappointments of life. Perhaps through suffering we learn to let go of wrong interpretations, and find a new joy in the Lord, even when we think the joy might have been sucked out completely. Therefore, do not let a trial write the final chapter on our lives, because God desires to write the final chapter. He did so for Job and He will for us. It will not be church, the opinion of others, or any other institution here or in the heavens above that will write the final chapter. This God will do if we remain faithful and believe in Him.

Secondary Application

 Elihu covered several areas of contention and made his own inferences about the situation with Job that may very well be incorrect. He had what appeared to be youthful conceit surfacing in his lengthy discourse. Because he did not receive vindication by the Lord, we may find Bible commentary that finds some fault with his approach. Some have suggested he was a perfectionist, and did not have sufficient empathy for Job. I am not so sure any real criticism is warranted. He claimed enlightenment by the Spirit, and even so, every message from a man, every article written on the activities of God, will ultimately fall short. It would seem Elihu grasped this himself as he began to bring his words to a conclusion.

Teach us what we should say to Him, for we can prepare nothing because of the darkness” (Job 37:19).

And finally, Elihu’s concluding words:

“As for the Almighty, we cannot find Him; He is excellent in power, in judgment and abundant justice; He does not oppress. Therefore, fear Him; He shows no partiality to any who are wise in heart” (Job 37: 23, 24).

Elihu wanted Job to humble himself and wait for God; His greatness and holiness calls for it. Even though Elihu may have interpreted Job incorrectly in some but not all areas, and though through his discourse may have come close to the doctrine of Job’s three friends in a couple of instances, and though he could have used a little more humility, we can believe he spoke as truthfully as anyone could.

As a sermon giver, and writer on Biblical topics, I try to make them as applicable as possible based on what revealed truth I have at my disposal. I would be dishonest to myself to think that I was always accurately defining the problem, or to think that the message did not need refinement. Some extra humility at times could have been of benefit. Therefore, I find inspiration from Elihu; it appears there is hope for preachers yet!