In Chapter 32, we have several reasons to believe that Elihu is a man that should be taken seriously.
Job’s words have ended and his friends are silenced. Why? Perhaps, Job couldn’t be “reasoned with.” Or, maybe Job was as righteous as he said and their arguments made no sense. It is possible that his friends started to realize that their theology at its core was wrong to begin with.
Whether or not his friends were convinced, Job very clearly was “was righteous in his own eyes” (Job 32:1). Particularly in chapters 9 and 12, he made the following idea clear: “Though I am guiltless, He will declare me guilty” (Job 9:20). What Job is saying is simple: I am right, God’s wrong.
Now Elihu enters the scene. His credentials, in the words of James L. Crenshaw, are “impeccable.” Elihu is literally named “He is my God.” His father, Barachel, has a name that literally means “bless God,” something that Elihu is about to do. His family clan is that of Buz, which so happens to be a son of Abraham’s brother Nahor (Gen 22:21). If this man is about to speak lies, it could have not come from a more unlikely source.
The traditional view of Elihu is pretty negative. St. Gregory the Great views Elihu as young and arrogant, speaking wrongly on many things. When Elihu is right, he supposedly “is reproved for saying right things in a wrong way: because in the very truths which he utters he is puffed up with arrogance. And he represents thereby the character of the arrogant, because through a sense of what is right he rises up into words of pride” (The Book of the Morals, Book XIII, Chapter 5). Aquinas views his speeches a little better: Elihu is not as not as wrong as the friends. In the words of Aquinas, “He uses more penetrating arguments against Job than the prior speeches and approaches nearer the truth. So Job does not answer him, although he still deviates a little from the truth and interprets the words of Job in the wrong sense, as we shall clearly see” (Commentary on the Book of Job, Chapter 32). In this way according to Aquinas, Elihu does not deserve condemnation, but he would be wrong in his accusations against Job. As we discussed in Chapter 9, such a stance is necessary for those who wish to retain the near-perfect view of Job.
Since the Reformation, many have begun speculating that “Elihu” is the author of the book. Matthew Henry considered this view (after all, he would be young enough to outlive Job and record all that happened to him, plus he would have witnessed all the occurrences of the story.) Further, modern textual critics speculate that he was the the editor/redactor of an earlier, perhaps Pagan, book. Why would they take this view? Modern liberal scholars view Elihu quite cynically. They believe the original Book of Job was written by a God-hating author who viewed God as unjust, who copied much of his ideas from Ancient Mesopotamian writings that were similar. When a Jewish writer saw how “blasphemous” the original dialogues of Job were, he supposedly contrived an introduction and conclusion to make it all make sense.
These textual critics don’t really explain God’s response so well and how it fits in within such a theory, but they without any evidence make the presumption that whomever did the redacting did not like what Job said. They speculate that making an introduction and conclusion was not good enough. The editor had to get his own say in, so he contrived a character. Being the redactor, he was born generations after the book was written, so he styles himself as a young man in comparison. Hence, he contrives Elihu as a personification of himself and in his own pride, merely reiterates the friends’ arguments.
However, a more careful and less imaginative interpreter realizes that Elihu makes very different arguments than the friends before him. In fact, he even explicitly says that he will in the story and what he focuses on, the usefulness of suffering in becoming increasingly faithful and the sovereignty of God, are much different ideas than that have been presented thus far in the story. Further, Elihu appears only to make accusations which can be gleaned from Job’s actual statements, instead of inventing false sins Job never committed like the friends.
For our purposes here, we take the view Joseph Caryl. He views Elihu positively, calling his “discourse” both “large and accurate” (Exposition on Job Chap 32-34, p. A3). “It remains therefore, that Elihu was the man, who found an answer in this great difficulty and yet condemned not Job. And indeed he condemned him not (as his friends had done) as a man imperfect and crooked in his ways as a man that feared not God and eschewed evil [unlike Job’s three friends]” (p. A4).
When we read the Scripture we can see that Elihu is “angry.” We should notice that his anger is at Job because “he justified himself rather than God” and “the three friends because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job” (Job 32:2, 3). Elihu’s anger was a “righteous anger” (see Ex 4:14), like that God or any of his people would have towards sin, wickedness, or anything that disgraces the name of God. Job had imputed to God wrong motives and questioned his justice. The friends sinned by lying, charging Job with invented crimes and coming up with a false theology of retribution.
Many commentators jump up on Elihu’s anger as proof of him being foolish. However, being that God Himself is angry in the Scripture and righteously so, we do not need to rush to such a conclusion. Further, young Elihu showed respect by not speaking until the elders have finished (Job 32:4). This good fruit, in addition to his good family name and ancestry adds to his credentials that we should be listening to what he says. And, it is by a prophet’s fruit we should judge him (Matt 7:20).
However, even though Elihu showed restraint by not speaking before the elders weighed in (Job 32:6-7), he understood that God’s wisdom outweighs that of man’s (1 Cor 1:25). “But it is a spirit in man and the breath of the Almighty [that] gives them understanding,” (Job 32:8) Elihu explains. Therefore, if a young man has the Spirit of God, he can have wisdom greater than those who are in the eyes of the world wise.
After Elihu reiterates his patience, perhaps in his excitement of being overcome by the breath of the Almighty or his own anger (Job 32:18), he warns the friends not to invoke God in defense of their arguments (Job 32:12). After all, they have not yet encountered Elihu’s insight (Job 32:14) and they were silenced by Job (Job 32:15). Job, who’s understanding of Theodicy is still incomplete for now, was able to silence his friends with only half the truth. So, what chance do his friends have in countering Elihu if he indeed speaks by a wisdom that is not his own?
Elihu’s introduction ends with the note that he will tell it like it is and not flatter anyone (Job 32:21-22). After all, just like new wineskins that are unvented and about the burst due to the fermentation process (Job 32:19), Elihu cannot contain himself. Just like Job, who was not going to hold any punches in his speeches, Elihu (unlike the friends who beat around the bush instead of just saying they thought that Job was wicked) is going to tell it like it is.