Sunday, August 20, 2006

Elihu the Enigma (Job 32-37)

Job finishes his diatribe, and his friends realize their words aren’t going to convince him. Then, mysterious and unannounced, comes a young man named Elihu. He has been listening to everything so far, and is really frustrated with the current state of the discussion. He’s mad at Job for insinuating that God is unjust, and mad at Job’s friends for their failure to engage Job’s arguments with any depth:
There was none among you who refuted Job
or who answered his words.

I will not answer him with your speeches.

I also will answer with my share;
I also will declare my opinion.
For I am full of words;
the spirit within me constrains me.
Elihu then addresses some of Job’s concerns. Job had accused his friends of being biased toward God despite the fact that the evidence was in his favor. Elihu insists that he is guileless and frank. Job had dreaded that any answer by God would be so full of power as to overwhelm any semblance of thought or discussion. But Elihu reassures Job that he not need be intimidated by a fellow man.
Behold, I am toward God as you are;
I too was pinched off from a piece of clay.
Behold, no fear of me need terrify you;
my pressure will not be heavy upon you.
The first thing Elihu takes issue with is Job’s frustration at God’s silence. How can Job know God is being silent? God speaks in many subtle ways, often unperceivable by man. Indeed, suffering and affliction itself can be a way of God speaking – guiding a man towards his glory.

The next problem Elihu has is Job’s implication that “it profits a man nothing that he should take delight in God.” Elihu replies that everything a man has comes from God. How can man think his actions obligate God to act a certain way? God is not concerned with our individual profit, but for his wise and just purposes throughout all creation.

The final critique Elihu offers concerns Job’s despair – cursing his own existence. He admonishes him:
Do not long for the night,
when peoples vanish in their place.
Take care; do not turn to iniquity,
for this you have chosen rather than affliction.
Here Elihu really is leading Job toward deeper wisdom. His suffering is not so great as to nullify the goodness of creation, and it is folly for Job to long for death. Here Elihu insists that Job take seriously the glory of God:
Hear this, O Job;
stop and consider the wondrous works of God.

Do you know the balancings of the clouds,
the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge,
you whose garments are hot
when the earth is still because of the south wind?

Teach us what we shall say to him;
we cannot draw up our case because of darkness.
Shall it be told him that I would speak?
Did a man ever wish that he would be swallowed up?

And now no one looks on the light
when it is bright in the skies,
when the wind has passed and cleared them.
Out of the north comes golden splendor;
God is clothed with awesome majesty.
And, with that introduction by Elihu, the Lord himself comes booming onto the stage!

This makes me think of something. Back in Genesis, there were a couple of post-Fall times when God is shown as physically present with man: when the three visitors come to Abraham's tent, and when Jacob wrestles through the night with a mysterious stranger. God seems to use humanity as a vehicle to meet humanity (Christ being the ultimate example). Would it be too much of a stretch to imagine the possibility that in this poem Elihu is another example of that?... three visitors become God talking to Abraham, mysterious stranger is seen in retrospect as God wrestling with Jacob, and unintroduced Elihu's speach is the platform upon which God begins to speak? God never ends up mentioning Elihu at all; I wonder if in some mysteriously poetic way, Elihu is a personification of the blindingly powerful God who has already been cloaking himself. Just a thought to pop out there...

There are a couple things holding me back from tracking with you on this, and perhaps it highlights something a little misleading about my post. Elihu isn't entirely unannounced - we are told that he is "Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram." So in this sense it isn't the same as the visitors or the wrestling stranger in Genesis.

The mysterious thing about him is that he wasn't mentioned in the beginning, is never evaluated by God at the end, nor is he answered by Job. So, though I interpret his address as the preface of God's address, I wouldn't call it a christophany. He seems more like a prophet - the voice of one calling in the desert "prepare the way of the Lord."

Kodak, Ted, Galli, Chad - what do y'all think?

Wonders for Oyarsa,
I do think Elihu's words prepare the way for the Lord's- as you say. Some translations of sentences cast a bit of doubt on Elihu's wisdom, though I heard one who worked through the Hebrew of Job, say that such translations are unnecessary.

Though I'm open to the idea that much of what Elihu says is true, even if there are some questionable sayings. Though if this does prepare the way for the Lord, that thought does seem somewhat strange (especially when considering OT prophesying).

My last paragraph did not communicate my intent well- as to the first part of it.

I meant, I think Elihu spoke truth, and can believe that, even if there are a few questionable sayings from him, in the mix.

Hey Ted,

Do you want to point out any statements he makes that are particularly troubling?

Elihu can be a type of Christ. He seems to be a mediator of temporal deliverance sent by God, as Jesus was. (Although Christ is the Mediator of eternal deliverance) "the messenger of the covenant" (Mal 3:1).

The phrase for the ransom being "one of a thousand is interesting:

Job 33:23-24
If there be for him an angel, a mediator, one of the thousand, to declare to man what is right for him, and he is merciful to him, and says, 'Deliver him from going down into the pit; I have found a ransom;

Spoken figuratively of Christ also:

Song of Songs 5:10
My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand.

Elihu does call himself a "messenger," and "interpreter" (Job 32:8; 33:6).

I used to read some lines as sounding like that of a young man boasting. At the end of Job 34 and beginning of 35 it sounds as if Elihu may be piling on Job as his three friends did. But that has to be read in the context of the whole of Elihu's speech. Am not really sure myself, and am looking only at one translation at the moment (the Hebrew would do me little good, without serious digging). Maybe those words are a warning to Job, in light of what Elihu is saying, and the LORD will say. Just my quick thought....


The reason I asked is because I had a lot of the same thoughts myself.

Verses like:

"What man is like Job,
who drinks up scoffing like water,
who travels in company with evildoers
and walks with wicked men?"


"Would that Job were tried to the end,
because he answers like wicked men.
For he adds rebellion to his sin;
he claps his hands among us
and multiplies his words against God."

seem to be the same sort of things the other friends were saying. And how can Elihu speak for God while saying stuff like this, when God sees Job as righteous.

I think you are right, though. Context is perhaps even more important in this type of epic poetry.

The last time I read through Job was the first time I found Elihu baffling to the point that it bothered me. I wondered why this obnoxious strutting stuffed shirt wouldn't be reprimanded with his other three friends. A lot he says is right, but the other three also say wonderful things from time to time. It bothered me that God stepped in as if Elihu were introducing him, and it bothered me when God sounded a little like Elihu in a couple places. I went to my computer and Googled "Was Elihu right?" and got some interesting hits but not yours, so I'm glad I've just stumbled on your blog. Not that you've answered all my complaints, but it's pleasing to find it discussed. I look forward to reading the rest of your blogs on Job (not to mention on the other books).

Hi Susan,

Thanks so much for stopping by, and I hope it's the first of many visits. Yeah, Elihu is certainly a puzzle. A lot of commentators think he's a later addition to the book, though I certainly can't imagine we have any good way of knowing. I do think the lens of rejecting creation as futile makes the most sense, since the glory of creation is God's answer to Job (and the glory of Job is God's answer to Satan). Here at least Elihu is speaking wisdom.

I'm so glad you're enjoying the posts on Job - I really think I've gotten more out of this book than any other so far, with the possible exception of Genesis. Out of curiosity, how did you stumble across my blog?

i actually have a different opinion. I think that if we read on to chapter 38:1 that Elihu does not introduce God, rather God interrupts Elihu. "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?" I think there is a "darker" side to elihu...

The first two words out of the mouth of Elihu "I am"

the comment, my belly like new wine ready to burst.
New wine skins are used because they wont burst. Could this be a picture of "God gives the spirit to him without measure"

What of, "I am as you wish, in Gods' stead" (in lieu of)?

What of "I am made by the spirit of God? Only one man made by the spirit of God. Brings to mind Mary being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.

What of him being pinched off, made out of clay. The word "dust", is not associated with him.
clay is dust with moisture in it. Moisture could be a picture of the Spirit. The "manna" in the wilderness, lay on a layer of moisture (dew). Jesus spit (divine moisture) on dust, made clay, and opened the eyes of the blind.

The three friends focus on man, Elihu focuses on God.

The three friends promote reformation (change in behavior) to be restored to God.

Elihu promotes a "ransome" to bring about new relationship with God.

Elihus' geneology is given twice, the second time is shorter than the first.

Jesus' geneology is given twice, one shorter than the other.

Daniel had three friends with two names each, and a fourth appears, and "Is like unto a son of the gods", Job has three friends with two names each, a fourth appears, and is the only one in the story who has the phrase "son of" connected with himself.

a careful study, reveals thirty some points of difference between Elihu, and the three wise men.

thank you


What Elihu says about Job in Job 34:35-37 clearly contradicts what God said about him in Job 42:7 and 8. Because of the confusing, baffling and sometimes contradictory nature of Elihu's speeches, it could not have been revelation from God. The actual Divine revelation was given to Job, not Elihu. God also spoke to Eliphaz in Job 42:7. There is no record of God speaking to Elihu. God's revelation was clear and led to the deliverance of Job, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. Elihu was undoubtedly sincere, but he was not right in what he spoke of Job.

Interesting, interesting, interesting. A lot of points that were made were also my thoughts, others cause me to think. When God step in I felt His first words were so powerful in Job 38:2 "Who is this that darkeneth counsel By words without knowledge?" I'm like "Wow" and the fact that He came after this "The Almighty-we cannot reach Him-
He is exalted in power! He will not oppress justice and abundant righteousness, Therefore, men fear Him. He does not look favorably on any who are wise in heart."(Job 37:23,24) and didn't mention Elihu at all when He told the other three to go to Job and offer a burnt offering....

....lead me to believe that he was okay in the sight of God.

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