Is Elihu a young punk or man of God?
The traditional view of Elihu is pretty negative. St. Gregory the Great views Elihu as young and arrogant, speaking wrongly on many things. Aquinas views his speeches a little better: Elihu is not as not as wrong as the friends. John Piper points out how one modern commentator described Elihu’s speeches as “cruel, cold, detached, crass, trite, perfectionist, vain.”
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 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 (i.e. Elihu) saw how “blasphemous” the original dialogues of Job were, he supposedly contrived an introduction and conclusion to make it all make sense. 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. 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).
“Objection!,” some people say. “Didn’t God say to Elihu, ‘Who is this that darkens counsel [i.e. “purpose”] by words without knowledge?’”
- Job himself ascribes what God said to himself in Job 42:3–
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
- Job accused God of creating darkness throughout his complaints–
“He has put darkness on my paths” (Job 19:8).
“He reveals mysteries from the darkness and brings deep darkness into light” (Job 12:22).
—God’s displeasure with the one who “darkens counsel” is obviously at the one who accused His counsel of being dark!
- Context! All of the rhetorical questions in Job 38 are directed at Job. Why would verse 2 be an exception, especially in light of the preceding.
Now, what reason do we have to take what Elihu says seriously?
- 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). Further, he is “from the family of Ram,” who is the great-grandson of Judah (1 Chron 2:5). If this man is about to speak lies, it could have not come from a more unlikely source.
- The Book dedicates a lot of space to him. Elihu speaks for six chapters, about 2800 words, uninterrupted and never corrected. Job’s other friends spoke for about 3500 words.
- Elihu’s argument, in short, is that God uses suffering to teach and bless us. That sounds a lot like Paul in Rom 5 and Heb 12, and James in chapter 1..that sounds an awful lot like Pastor in his sermons and David in his comments here. So, let’s not be so quick to discount Elihu out of hands as young and arrogant.
As Joseph Caryl says, “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).
Let me reiterate, this is the key to Elihu’s response: he does not accuse Job of previous wrongdoing but at the same time he gives valid reasons for why men suffer!
So, let’s judge Elihu on the grounds of what he actually says and let the chips fall where they may. So, what does he say?
In Job 32, he essentially says he cannot hold back from speaking and he will not lie.
In Job 33, he takes issue with the idea that Job said God considered him an enemy. He gives two examples of how suffering shows how God is for us and not against us. One example is suffering preventing a man from sinning and the other is suffering teaching a man to repent.
In Job 34 and 35, Elihu defends God against Job’s accusations of being unjust by speaking of the doctrines of total depravity and inscrutability. In doing so, he correctly applies the doctrines unlike the other friends. The key difference between him and the other friends is that Elihu argues that God reserves the right to punish man but he does not say man is too depraved to ever be right with God.
In Job 36, Elihu speculates why God made Job suffer. His answer is that Job was growing complacent in his faith and God had to rattle his cage a little bit.
Lastly, in Job 37 Elihu prepares the stage for God’s dialogue. In it he reflects upon the nature of free will and the sovereignty of God.
It is worthy saying, before we start, that Elihu is a young hot head. When we read the Scripture we can see that Elihu is “angry” and is convinced he has the Holy Spirit. 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).
What was he angry at? The same thing God was angry at! God said to Eliphaz that “you have not spoken of Me what is right [“no answer”] as My servant Job has [“…had condemned Job”]” (Job 42:7).
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.
In Job 32, Elihu essentially says he cannot hold back from speaking and he will not lie. That’s pretty much it, let’s move on.
In Job 33, he takes issue with the idea that Job said God considered him an enemy. He gives two examples of how suffering shows that God is for us and not against us. One example is that suffering prevents a man from sinning and the other is that suffering teaches a man to repent.
Some people take issue that Elihu seems to attribute to Job statements that he never said. But this is a gross simplification, because in Job 33:9-11 he is accurately paraphrasing Job:
I am pure, without transgression; (“I am a joke to my friends…The just and blameless man is a joke, Job 12:4)
I am innocent and there is no guilt in me. (“I am guiltless,” Job 9:21)
Behold, He invents pretexts against me; (“According to Your knowledge I am indeed not guilty…[Yet] You renew Your witnesses against me and increase Your anger toward me,” Job 10:7, 17)
He counts me as His enemy. (“His anger has torn me and hunted me down…My adversary glares at me,” Job 16:9; “Why do You…consider me Your enemy?,” Job 13:24)
He puts my feet in the stocks; (“You put my feet in the stocks,” Job 13:27)
He watches all my paths (“I know that this is within You: If I sin, then You would take note of me and would not acquit me of my guilt…if I am righteous, I dare not lift up my head,” Job 10:13-15).
As we can see, Elihu sums up Job extremely accurately. It is common in the Bible to restate something someone said in slightly different words. So, when he criticizes Job on a point, it is important that we take what he says seriously, unlike the friends who appear to be making it up as the go along.
Job’s complaints amount to saying that “I did nothing wrong, so He is not right in allowing my suffering.” Elihu’s response to this is telling: “Behold, let me tell you, you are not right in this, for God is greater than man” (Job 33:12). It would be as if he was saying, “Don’t even try to say that you can be right and God can be wrong in this or any situation, God is always greater than man!”
Elihu then gives two accounts to prove this. In one, God teaches a believer through revelation to prevent a man from sinning and the other where God brings suffering upon the man to turn away man from sin. It is in this way Elihu’s words ring true and are summed up elsewhere in the Scripture, “the Lord disciplines those He loves” (Heb 12:6).
“Why do you complain against Him that He does not give an account of all His doings,?” (Job 33:13) Elihu questions Job. “Indeed God speaks once, or twice, yet no one notices it” (Job 33:14).
Elihu differentiates between being corrected by God’s revelation without suffering and then experiencing suffering, if necessary, in order to strengthen our faith in Christ.
Elihu first speaks of how God corrects the sins of man using revelation.
In a dream, a vision of the night,
When sound sleep falls on men…
He opens the ears of men,
And seals their instruction,
That He may turn man aside,
And keep man from pride;
He keeps back his soul…from passing over into Sheol (Job 33:15-18).
In a time before we had the written revelation of the Scripture, God spoke directly to some men like Abraham or through prophets. Even when the Old Testament was finished, God still spoke through prophets such as those mentioned in Acts of the Apostles and 1 Corinthians. No revelation from God ever contradicts the prophetic Biblical Canon.
Certainly in a time before the Scripture, God reserved the right to speak through prophecy.
Perhaps Job 33:17 is speaking about Job. It says, “That He may turn man aside, And keep man from pride” (Job 33;17). God teaches a man in His revelation not to always turn us from pride, but to keep us from pride!
So, if we were to suffer and we were not committing any specific sin just like Job, take confidence! It isn’t always punishment, sometimes it is a roud-about way of protecting you!
I remember this time I lost my keys and I was running late for work. I was agonizing and if you have ever seen me when something is lost, I was suffering! Noch told me that maybe God was doing this because if I went on the road, I would have got into a car accident. I then said, “Why didn’t God make him lose his keys instead?”
In the same way, God can keep a man from pride and turn his conduct before a man like Job, left to himself, might have taken the wrong path. We can see this in 1 Cor 11 when God made those who took the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner become sick and even die. Sometimes, it is better to be sick or die before staying on the same path and end up sinning against God. As John Piper said, “God gave you cancer at 65 in order to save you from wasting 20 more years on the golf course,” presumably loving the world and implicitly hating God.
How does this apply to Job specifically? We will have to wait until chapter 36!
After speaking of how God uses revelation to prevent a man from sinning, Elihu points out that God also uses suffering to turn us from sin and MORE IMPORTANTLY show us the Savior!
“Man is also chastened with pain on his bed,” Elihu says (Job 33:19). From the word “also” we may infer that the man in question did not respond to revelation. “Then,” as the illness gets worse, “his soul draws near to the pit and his life to those who bring death” (Job 33:22).
Who are those who bring death? Probably demons. Who else is trying to drag you to the “pit,” i.e. Hell?
The point that Elihu is trying to convey is that God ordains for men painful terminal illnesses. Why?
If there is an angel [i.e. messenger] as mediator for him, (This angel is not Christ, it points to Christ)
One out of a thousand, (Christ is not one out of a thousand, the term would not be special enough for Him)
To remind a man what is right for him, (What is “right?” According to Peter, “Even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed…[S]anctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you,” 1 Peter 3:14-15. So, use the suffering to remind yourself and others what is right, that being your hope in Christ! Job only did this in part.)
Then let him [the angel] be gracious to him, and say,
‘Deliver him from going down to the pit,
I have found a ransom;’ (Here, the Ransom is Jesus Christ, Mark 10:45. Christ is our Ransom that delivers us from those who bring death in verse 22. So, the man is reminded of “what is right for him,” that is to put his faith in his Ransom.)
Let his flesh become fresher than in youth,
Let him return to the days of his youthful vigor; (The one who once suffered terminal illness is totally restored. Those of us, in Christ benefitting from the Ransom, have had restored to us Adam’s state before the fall. We are no longer terminally ill with sin where we may die.)
Then he will pray to God, and He will accept him, (The one who suffered now pleads the blood of his Ransom to God the Father. This is the only way He will accept us.)
That he may see His face with joy, (God is pleased when we are joyful in knowing Him)
And He may restore His righteousness to man (When we become complacent in the faith, the only remedy is to plead the blood of our Savior. God will “restore” in us our right standing before Him, He restores His righteousness because the righteousness is not ours it is His!; Job 33:23-26). We are not talking about someone who lost his salvation and then regained it. Rather, we are talking about someone who has backslid and God has restored the fire he had for the Lord.
Now, can we see that Elihu surely does not answer like his friends? “Behold, God does all these oftentimes with men,” says Elihu, “To bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be enlightened with the light of life” (Job 33:29-30) So, God does not cause us to suffer to punish us. He is enlightening us with the light of life, perfecting our faith, He is teaching us, He is disciplining the ones He loves!
In Job 34 and 35, Elihu defends God against Job’s accusations of being unjust by correctly applying the doctrine of total depravity and God’s inscrutability.
First, Elihu responds to specific things Job has said:
I am righteous, (“I am righteous,” Job 9:20)
But God has taken away my right; (“Though I am guiltless, He will declare me guilty,” Job 9:21, “Know then that God has wronged me,” Job 19:6)
Should I lie concerning my right? (“My lips certainly will not speak unjustly, Nor will my tongue mutter deceit. Far be it from me that I should declare you right…I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go,” Job 27:4-6)
My wound is incurable, (“For the arrows of the Almighty are within me,” Job 6:4; God “multiplies my wounds without cause” Job 9:17, “Without mercy He splits my kidneys open; He pours out my gall on the ground,” Job 16:13, “For I know that You will bring me to death,” Job 30:23)
Though I am without transgression (Job refers to himself as “just and blameless,” Job 12:4)
“What profit will I have, more than if I had sinned?” (Job 35:3, “I am accounted wicked. Why then should I toil in vain” (Job 9:29)?)
Job does not appear to understand like Asaph that serving God is its own reward and obviously views himself as undeserving of suffering. In response to this Elihu makes a very strong accusation: “What man is like Job, who drinks up derision like water, who…walks with wicked men for he has said, ‘It profits a man nothing
When he is pleased with God.’” (Job 34:7-9)?
Some people jump. “Look, there’s proof that Elihu answers wrong just like Job’s other friends!”
Two reasons why this is not true.
First, Elihu did not say Job lived wickedly. He said Job walks with wicked men, because “he has said” (Job 35:9) the things he did. He takes issue not with Job’s prior life, but his responses. Job’s other friends accused Job of suffering as recompense for wickedness.
Second, there is a telling similarity between Job 34:17-19 and Job 40:11-12:
[W]ill you condemn the righteous mighty One,
Who says to a king, ‘Worthless one,’
To nobles, ‘Wicked ones’;
Who shows no partiality to princes
Nor regards the rich above the poor (Job 34:17-19)?
Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
And look on everyone who is proud, and make him low.
Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him,
And tread down the wicked where they stand (Job 40:11-12).
Elihu is not parroting the friends’ wrong teachings, unless God is wrong!
Elihu then moves onto clarifying the correct doctrines the friends misapplied: total depravity and inscrutability. Concerning Total Depravity Elihu says, “Far be it from God to do wickedness and from the Almighty to do wrong” (Job 34:10). Why? “For He pays a man according to his work and makes him find it according to his way” (Job 34:11).
We know this to be correct, for even man’s righteous deeds are like filthy rags (Is 64:6). So, in the words of Elihu:
If you are righteous, what do you give to Him,
Or what does He receive from your hand? (Job 35:7)
What is he saying? In the words of the Church Father Ruffinus:
I can scarcely persuade myself that there can exist any work which may demand the remuneration of God as a debt (Ruffinus, Orig Comment in Epist ad Rom iii).
“If He should determine to do so, If He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, All flesh would perish together, And man would return to dust” (Job 34:14-15).
Hello Job, you aren’t owed anything, not even your next breath! How could God be in the wrong to make Job suffer when God does not owe man anything? In the words of God Himself, “Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine” (Job 41:11).
So, Elihu applies total depravity different from the friends because instead of impugning the nature of the heavens and angels, he focuses on the issue of debt. If man were not totally depraved, he could earn his way into right standing with God…something implicitly the friends allow for. Elihu, does not allow for this.
This brings us to Elihu’s other point: God is inscrutable, not because His will is unknowable but because man is morally and intellectually deficient to question Him. So, inscrutability is specifically connected to our depravity, not the other way around.
In other words, here is the difference between Elihu and the friends. The friends said man is totally depraved so he can be arbitrarily punished and that God’s ways are too mysterious to understand. Elihu says that God is in the right because man morally and intellectually is not in the position to question God. So, it is not that God has been deficient in communicating His will to us, but we have been deficient in doing His will.
This is how Elihu frames the issue: While Job says that God is just because there is no higher court to appeal to, Elihu turns the tables by saying, “Shall one who hates justice rule? And will you condemn the righteous mighty One” (Job 34:17)?
Bam! Did you catch that? He just destroyed Job’s argument. How can man, who hates justice, question God who IS just? Man doesn’t exactly have a great track record. The holocaust, stealing from their own mothers, false preachers, false religions, bad science, bad philosophy…How exactly is man qualified to question God?
Further Elihu says to Job, “Teach us what we shall say to Him; We cannot arrange our case because of darkness” (Job 37:19).
Who is man to question the creator of justice as if he knows better? Man cannot do it because he is in the dark, not God. God can see the end from the beginning, unlike man.
God is not accountable to some outside idea of justice. For one, He Himself created righteousness and so whatever He wills is just. There are two proof texts for this:
Drip down, O heavens, from above,
And let the clouds pour down righteousness;
Let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit,
And righteousness spring up with it.
I, the Lord, have created it (Is 45:8).
The Lord is righteous within her;
He will do no injustice.
Every morning He brings His justice to light;
He does not fail.
But the unjust knows no shame (Zeph 3:5).
If He wills anything, it is right. Yes, this is tautology, but it only makes sense because we are talking about the Creator of everything. The Creator of justice, by definition, wills what is just. Further, His superior wisdom and creative purpose holds within themselves a superior understanding of what righteousness is. We cannot question such a superiority from our vantage point.
Unlike man, God is not a partial judge who is swayed by the status of individuals as it says in Job 34:18-20. Further, God “sees all the steps” of a man (Job 34:21-22) and has the knowledge that he does not to mete justice.
So who is man that hates justice, who is in the dark concerning all the details, and is given to partiality to judge what is just?
The message is clear: God is uniquely qualified to mete out justice, man is woefully lacking. “When He keeps quiet, who then can condemn? And when He hides His face, who then can behold Him, that is, in regard to both nation and man” (Job 34:29)?
This is why when we think God is unfair and we think God is not righteous in kind in all His ways as the Scripture is, the problem is not with God or what the Bible says about Him. The problem is with us. We are either misunderstanding the Bible or misinterpreting events in our lives. As Augustine said, “[When] I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth [in the Scripture], I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it” (Letter 82).
In Chapter 35, Elihu cautions Job to be patient. In response to where Job said, “Were He to pass by me, I would not see Him” (Job 9:11) Elihu warns, “How much less [will God regard you] when you say you do not behold Him,” (Job 35:14). “The case is before Him, and you must wait for Him!” So, don’t question God’s justice and pretend you don’t recognize Him if He doesn’t act the way you want.
Why? “we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance” (Rom 5:3). Be patient and trust in the Mediator! This is something Job did, but imperfectly.