There seems to be a stalemate situation. The three friends have given up trying to persuade Job to change his mind. Job persists in his view that he is innocent. His complaint against God hangs in the air. He has alluded to a possible mediator, if only there were an umpire … (Job 9:33). And all of a sudden someone stands up.
In this chapter we will meet the mediator desired by Job in the person of Elihu. Elihu suddenly appears on stage, without any preliminary announcement. Contemporary (neo-)evangelical commentators, under the influence of modern theology, have said that it is ‘very important to note that if his speeches had been omitted, we would not have missed them at all’. It was also noted that most modern commentators reject Elihu’s speeches. All we’re saying about this is that the idea that God includes six meaningless chapters in His Word is downright foolish!
Elihu’s role is to prepare Job for the appearance of God to him. When Elihu is finished speaking, there is no answer from Job. Elihu speaks about God as it should be and is therefore a help for Job. He takes the position of a mediator between Job and God. Through this he reminds us of the “one mediator … between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1Tim 2:5). He speaks only after Job and his friends have finished speaking and have nothing more to say. Similarly, the Lord Jesus only came after there was nothing more to be expected from man.
Much of what Elihu says, Job and his friends also said. But there is an important difference. Elihu does not claim that God only punishes because of certain sins, but he also says that God wants to educate through suffering (Job 36:8-10). Job’s friends have accused Job of hidden sins and that’s why he suffered so much. Elihu doesn’t do that. He wants to convince Job of his present sin, and that is his lack of submission to what God does. He does not blame Job for sinful acts or insincerity, but for his rash words. In Elihu the wisdom that is from above speaks, while the friends have spoken wisdom that is from below.
Unlike the friends, Elihu does not make vague suppositions about Job’s sins, but he says what he has heard from Job’s mouth with his own ears. He does not express any suspicions, but points out inappropriate statements Job has made. We can certainly learn a lot from this. The secret of the heart is God’s cause; we can only judge what we hear and see. What Elihu is doing is answering what Job said (Job 33:8-11; 34:5-6; 35:1-3).
Elihu’s speech can be divided as follows:
1. He begins with an introduction in which he addresses both Job and his friends (Job 32). In the following chapters he speaks only to Job.
2. In the first part of his speech to Job he talks about how God speaks to man (Job 33).
3. In the second and third parts he justifies God against Job’s reproaches. He shows that God’s government and His righteousness run parallel (Job 34), and that God, as the sovereign Lord, is not the servant of his desires and of those of men in general (Job 35).
4. In the fourth and last part of his speech Elihu proves the righteousness of the Creator (Job 36:3). He explains that God’s omnipotence is guided by perfect love (Job 36) and that God reveals His sovereignty, power and wisdom in His works of creation (Job 37).
1 - 5 The Anger of Elihu
1 Then these three men ceased answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 2 But the anger of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram burned; against Job his anger burned because he justified himself before God. 3 And his anger burned against his three friends because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job. 4 Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were years older than he. 5 And when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of the three men his anger burned.
Job has finished speaking (Job 31:40). The friends, “these three men”, have also finished speaking (verse 1). They have come no closer together. The friends have given up before, but now they have nothing at all to say. They have not been able to convince Job of their rightness in their view of his suffering. Job continued to hold on to his view of his innocent suffering and his doubts about God in His dealings with him.
Then all of a sudden we hear someone who has followed the whole conversation, but who has not made himself heard and from whom we have not heard before (verse 2). He has not been an indifferent listener. Everything he has heard, he has absorbed. When both sides have spoken out, he ignites in anger, only “then”, and not before. It is a great anger. The word is used no less than four times in these few introductory verses. It is also a controlled anger. Elihu did not speak before his time and waited for Job and the friends to speak.
“The anger” is mentioned even before the name of the person who is angry is mentioned. The anger, his mood of mind, as a result of the conversations he has heard, is paramount and therefore has the emphasis. It proves his deep engagement. Then his name is mentioned. It is “the anger of Elihu”.
The origin of Elihu, whose name means “my God is He”, is described in more detail than that of the three friends (Job 2:11). He is the son of “Barachel”, which means “God blesses”. He is also “the Buzite”, a descendant of Buz, which means “the despised”. One of the sons of Nahor was called Buz (Gen 22:20-21). If it is this Buz, Elihu is related to Abraham. Elihu is also said to be “of the lineage of Ram”. Ram means “the exalted one”. If we can see a type of the Lord Jesus in Elihu, the meaning of the names Buz and Ram reminds us of Him, for He is both the Despised and the Exalted (Isa 53:3; 52:13).
The reason for Elihu’s anger against Job is that Job justified himself to God in front of his friends. The friends gave a totally wrong impression of God, but Job did not give a good impression of God by extensively justifying himself, even with oaths (Job 31).
Elihu’s anger against the three friends concerns the fact that they did not come up with an answer to Job’s suffering, but nevertheless declared him guilty (verse 3). Without any proof, they made their verdict and did not deviate a millimeter from it during and through the conversations with Job. The Lord Jesus speaks serious words about this form of judgment (Mt 7:1-2). They have seated on the throne of the Judge and Lawgiver (Jam 4:11-12). Therefore, their sin is greater than that of Job and they are openly punished by God, while Job is justified against them by God (Job 42:7-8).
Elihu waited until Job had spoken as the last speaker, because Job and his friends are older than him (verse 4). He waited for Job in particular to finish his speaking, because he wants to speak to him (Job 33:1). He has also waited to speak because he knows his place in front of them all. As someone who is younger than Job and his friends, he takes the appropriate place in relation to the elderly.
God’s Word is clear about the respect that young people should have toward the elderly (Lev 19:32; 1Pet 5:5a). We also see this attitude of respect in the Lord Jesus when He is twelve years old and sits among the teachers (Lk 2:46). This attitude of respect toward the elderly is disappearing more and more. It is one of the indications of the coldness of society (2Tim 3:1-4).
Although Elihu’s anger also concerns Job (verse 2), his anger is mainly directed against the friends because of their input (verse 5). They have said a lot, but in their mouths he has not noticed an answer that helped Job to understand his suffering. The reason is that they checked Job’s need according to their theological views on God. Their theologically correct statements did not come from a personal relationship with God. We do notice this relationship with God with Elihu. Because of this we see in him, although he is younger than they are, that he sees things more correctly than they do (Psa 119:100).
6 - 10 Reason to be Silent
6 So Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite spoke out and said,
“I am young in years and you are old;
Therefore I was shy and afraid to tell you what I think.
7 “I thought age should speak,
And increased years should teach wisdom.
8 “But it is a spirit in man,
And the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding.
9 “The abundant [in years] may not be wise,
Nor may elders understand justice.
10 “So I say, ‘Listen to me,
I too will tell what I think.’
The word “so” (verse 6) indicates that Elihu responds to the inability of his friends. Because the ancients failed to answer Job, and now are silent, Elihu begins to speak. First he explains why he has remained silent so far. He apologizes for his age, for he is young compared to these old men. In various ways, he expressed his respect for them before giving his vision of the matter, in which he did not aspire to his own honor, but to the honor of God.
He is only so short in the world and they have been for so long; he has had so little experience and they already have so much; they already know so much and he knows so little. In their presence he felt shy and afraid to tell his feelings about what he saw and heard of them. So with Elihu there is not only good attitude outwardly, but there is also inner respect. He looks up to them and does not dare to compete with them.
He has deliberately given priority to the elderly, because he assumed wisdom with them (verse 7). “Age should speak, and increased years should teach wisdom” is a saying that expresses his tribute to the elders. They had had many days of experience in life and had made many observations in the multitude of years. It was only natural that they had stored a large stock of wisdom that they could reveal in giving answers to life’s questions. They are far above Elihu in age and therefore he judged that they would also be in wisdom and knowledge.
But Elihu came to a different conclusion because of what he heard and saw. He has discovered that only the Spirit of God working in him, a man, gives him the ability to speak a wisdom that is not bound by age (verse 8). Through the breath, or rather the inspiration, of the Almighty, men are made wise and can understand what God is doing. The answers to questions of life must come from Him. Man is only “man”, while God is “the Almighty”. Elihu emphasizes that man, including himself, is dependent on God in everything. Only God has the wisdom necessary to answer the problem of Job.
Wisdom is therefore not necessarily linked to old age (verse 9). The understanding of “justice”, of what is good and evil in God’s eyes, is also not only reserved for old people. The old friends of Job, to whom Elihu addresses, are themselves an example of this. We can also think of some kings in Israel who showed wisdom in their younger years, but who fell into folly in their old age, such as Solomon, Asa and Joash. Old age is no guarantee of wisdom.
After Elihu has said this, he no longer feels any hesitation in calling them to listen to him (verse 10). He feels free to tell his feelings about what happened to and was said by Job. There is also no arrogance in his words. What he does is to present his view of the matter to Job, without passing judgment on it. He offers his thoughts to him and leaves the judgment to him.
11 - 13 The Failure of the Friends
11 “Behold, I waited for your words,
I listened to your reasonings,
While you pondered what to say.
12 “I even paid close attention to you;
Indeed, there was no one who refuted Job,
Not one of you who answered his words.
13 “Do not say,
‘We have found wisdom;
God will rout him, not man.’
As a youngster Elihu patiently waited for the words of the friends and listened attentively to them (verse 11; cf. Pro 18:13). He did so in the hope that they would give Job a satisfactory answer. It is good that young people first listen to what the elders have to say (cf. Jam 1:19). As has already been pointed out, the elderly, generally speaking, by experience know more than young people. Because they are older, they have experienced more. Yet that is not decisive for the correct understanding of things. The right insight can only be given by the Spirit of God and He can give it to young people as well (verse 8).
Elihu listened to their insights about what happened to Job and why. He did not do this passively, but with the intention of understanding the meaning of their insights. Until they had to “ponder what to say”, which means that he noticed that they chose their words carefully. They proceeded with thoughtfulness and consultation in making their statements.
Not only did he listen carefully, but also paid close attention to them (verse 12), how they spoke, whether what they said came from the heart, or only from memory. They had repeatedly hammered on the same anvil and without any sympathy, fired their ‘theological’ views at Job. They had not really listened to Job, but had kept telling him their own righteous views in different words over and over again. As a result, none of them were able to convince him that they had the right answer to the question of why he was suffering, an answer he was so desperately seeking.
With his words, Elihu wants to take away from the friends the thought that they reacted very wisely to Job (verse 13). It is as if they are now sitting with Job as if they are unhappy, looking sullenly because Job has so stubbornly ignored their wise words. But they should not imagine anything. Only God can tell him why all this has happened to him, for He “will rout him”, that is what these disasters have brought upon him. No man has done this and therefore no man can claim with certainty that he knows why God has done this.
14 - 22 Why He Must Speak
14 “For he has not arranged [his] words against me,
Nor will I reply to him with your arguments.
15 “They are dismayed, they no longer answer;
Words have failed them.
16 “Shall I wait, because they do not speak,
Because they stop [and] no longer answer?
17 “I too will answer my share,
I also will tell my opinion.
18 “For I am full of words;
The spirit within me constrains me.
19 “Behold, my belly is like unvented wine,
Like new wineskins it is about to burst.
20 “Let me speak that I may get relief;
Let me open my lips and answer.
21 “Let me now be partial to no one,
Nor flatter [any] man.
22 “For I do not know how to flatter,
[Else] my Maker would soon take me away.
Job did not speak to Elihu, nor challenge him as he did his three friends (verse 14). Elihu does not respond from personal agitation, as the friends did. Job cannot accuse him of partiality. Elihu will speak to Job in a different way, not with unfounded, vehement accusations, but with the words of God.
The friends look “dismayed” (verse 15). They look like people who marvel at the despicable rejection of their so well-intentioned advice. Their mouths fall open with amazement, and they can no longer utter a word. They are defeated. They also know nothing more to say. Their words have failed them, because they can’t think of any more. Full of fire, they had begun to express their opinions. They were going to convince Job. But gradually the fire disappeared from their speeches until they finally came to a complete standstill.
Elihu waited for a reaction, but they didn’t make themselves heard anymore (verse 16). Shrouded in silence they stand there. They stop, literally they stand. They can’t move anymore, but they can’t leave either. They look like statues, without strength to move, paralyzed as it were by the awareness of their defeat.
Elihu has clearly shown that the friends have failed in their approach to Job. This clears the way for him to respond to Job in turn and tell his feelings, his opinion, about him (verse 17). Elihu says this not in pride and with contempt for their failure. He does not speak before his turn and only speaks when the others really cannot say anything anymore.
It is more that now, because the others, the elders, are completely out of words, he has the opportunity to put his thoughts into words. The conversation is completely deadlocked and the participants find themselves in a stalemate. His performance is not premature and inappropriate, but courteous and with a proper sense of the status of the conversation or even more of the status of silence. He does not speak because he wants to assert himself, but out of zeal for God.
Elihu sees the silence that arises as an indication from God that it is his turn to tell what is on his heart (verse 18). And that is no small thing, for he is “full of words”. This is another indication that he has waited in self-control until it was his turn to speak. But when it is his turn, he can no longer hold back, he has to speak, so much so that the spirit in his innermost being constrains him. He feels like someone who has held back his breath for so long that his lungs burst.
Just as Jeremiah and Paul could not keep silent in certain situations, he cannot keep silent now either; he feels the need to speak as something imposed upon him (Jer 4:19; 20:9; 1Cor 9:16; Psa 39:2-3; 2Cor 5:14). It is also important for us to be “full of words” to speak them at the right time and at the right opportunity. This will be so when “the word of Christ” richly dwells within us (Col 3:16).
Elihu says that his belly, which means his inner feelings, is about to burst, so great is the pressure he feels (verse 19). He compares the feeling he has with new leather wineskins. When the wine is fermenting, the pressure on the wineskin can become so great that it bursts. Elihu experiences this pressure in his inner being. Therefore he has to speak (verse 20). Then the inner pressure will disappear and he will get relief. By opening his lips he can answer Job. The opening of his lips refers to the opening of the new wineskin to prevent them from bursting. This way opening his lips prevents him from being torn inside.
What Elihu says in verse 21, he does not say to anyone in particular, but is more a loudly expressed sigh. He does not want to take sides with anyone, and he does not intend to do so. Nor does he want to speak to anyone in order to win that person’s favor. He does not want to speak flattering words, but he wants to speak without regard for the person. Thus he acts the same as God and as Paul (Gal 1:10; 2:6; Deu 1:17; 10:17; 16:19; 2Chr 19:7; 1Tim 5:21).
He is also unable to flatter anyone at all, because he lives in fellowship with God and is filled with respect for his Maker (verse 22). That determines his speaking. Because God is his Maker, he must fulfill God’s purpose with him. God made him with the intention of representing Him. If he does not, he knows, God will take him away immediately. Then He will no longer use him. Elihu fears God more than men. That’s why he has so much more wisdom than his friends to answer Job wisely.