We’ve been in the book of Job; we’ve studied Job’s loss, his suffering, then speech after speech from Job’s friends. Today we’re going to study Elihu, or as I first asked when I started studying for this lesson – Eli Who? I know everybody has been faithfully reading your scripture in preparation for today’s lesson, so here’s a pop quiz – which of Job’s friends is Elihu? Is Elihu the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd of Job’s friends to speak?
The answer is d), none of the above. Elihu often gets lumped in with Job’s 3 friends, but after spending a lot of time with Elihu during this study, I don’t think Elihu is like the three friends at all. In fact, I think Elihu is a foreshadow to the Lord’s appearance to Job.
Biblical commentaries I studied both praised and condemned Elihu’s speech. I think if you read it quickly and make Elihu the 4th friend, then you conclude Elihu to be a brash, young kid, speaking up to his elders. Young whippersnappers should learn their place.
If you’re studying along with the bible study guide provided by the church, it generally says Elihu says the right things, but he applies it incorrectly to Job. I’m not as sure; that’s not my conclusion after I completed my studies. So let’s study together, and then decide. First, let’s talk about who Elihu is not: Elihu is not one of Job’s three friends.
II. Job’s Three Friends
Job’s three friends were Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and they’re well known for giving incredibly long and theologically inept speeches. The three friends begin talking in Job 2 and don’t shut up for like 300 pages. And if you’re trying to live the good Christian life, don’t use their speeches as advice. Not to say their words should be discarded; I used to joke that my mother would tell me, “Son, if you can’t be a good example, then do your best to be a horrible warning.” Job’s friends give crooked theologically advice that trip up every Christian at some point in their walk, so their words are instructive on what we should not do.
Eliphaz spoke first. Eliphaz spoke of God’s perfect justice. Therefore, if Job is suffering, it must be because of Job’s sin. Is that true? Well, maybe sometimes. I can think of sin in my life that had really bad results, so I can see sin leading directly to punishment. But Jesus specifically addresses this theological error in John 9:2-3,
And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
We can spend the entire lesson studying Jesus’ response; I think it even supports a sanctity of life argument. But let’s just stop there and say that Eliphaz was wrong, Jesus said so.
Job’s 2nd friend, Bildad, spoke next. Bildad’s position is that sinners can only expect death and suffering. In fact, it was because Job’s children had sinned that they were killed. Is that true? Well, it is true that unrepentant sinners can expect death and suffering. But not necessarily in this life. Jesus says in Matthew 5:44-45,
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
I know there are some awful people that have prosperity and long life, but God will provide perfect justice according to His will someday. Revelation 20:12-13 has a scary verse for unrepentant sinners,
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.
Eeek. But this verse does not apply to Job who was righteous and still alive. Also, it’s New Testament and hadn’t been written yet.
The third friend, Zophar, then piled more judgement onto Job. Zophar said Job deserved to have lost his wealth and his entire family. In fact, Job deserved even more suffering, and whatever sins Job was hiding, he should confess and repent. Is that true? Well, it is true that we deserve punishment for our sins, but it’s not true that all punishment is for our sins. God gives us difficulties in this life that we cannot overcome on our own. Paul had his thorn. You have yours, and so do I. And we keep that thorn as a reminder that we are not in control and cannot solve all of our own problems and we should continually turn to God for guidance and healing. But it is not true that Job’s punishment was deserved. We cannot see the mind of God, except for what He has revealed to us in His Word.
These were Job’s closest friends, giving Job really bad advice and telling Job he deserved it. Sure they got a great many things right – when Job was suffering in Job 2, his friends came to sit with him quietly, and to mourn with Job. They wept with him, they tore their clothes, they sprinkled dust on their heads. And they sat with Job in empathetic silence for 7 days before they spoke.
But then they made a mistake by opening their mouths. Not that you or I have ever done that, have we? They opened their mouths and started their incredibly lengthy speeches that last nearly to the New Testament. And they went on and on and on. At one point, in Job 16:2, Job says
With friends like you, who needs enemies?
Actually, that’s a paraphrase. Job actually said,
You are miserable comforters, all of you!
We can gain wisdom by studying what Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar said, both the correct things and the incorrect thing. If we have a friend that is suffering, encourage our friend to endure faithfully, knowing that God sees all and has a purpose for our pain. Romans 12:15 says,
Mourn with those who mourn.
But let’s not be judgmental and tell our friend that they must have some hidden sin and they’re being punished for it. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
III. Who is Elihu
And then there is Elihu who doesn’t show up until Job 32:2 –
Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, burned with anger.
Elihu says a few words and disappears for a while. Most people don’t even notice Elihu. They’ve been reading poetic criticism of Job for 32 chapters already, verses that can be summed up like
- You’re a sinner. Repent.
- You’re a sinner. You deserve this.
- You’re a sinner. Repent.
- You’re a sinner. You deserve this.
- You’re a sinner. Repent.
- You’re a sinner. You deserve this.
You get the idea. Your eyes have glazed over after reading 300 verses of bad theology. You’re looking at the words over and over and they no longer make sense. Perhaps you pause in the middle and take a nap. I think the long drawn out speeches of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are some of the most sleep-inducing verses, just behind all those “begat” statements most of us never get all the way through. And so when Elihu arrives, we don’t even notice he’s not even one of Job’s friends.
Besides a little of Elihu’s genealogy, we know –
- Elihu is young (Job 32:4, 6)
- Elihu is raving mad (Job 32:2,3, & 5)
- Elihu is full of criticism for Job (Job 33:12, 34:7-8, Job 34:35-37, etc)
So here’s where understanding of Elihu goes sideways and leads to differences of opinions among theologians. The source of the confusion is that in many ways, Elihu is just like the three friends. Here –
- Eliphaz: “Job has sinned” (Job 4:7, 15:4-6, 22:5)
- Bildad: “Job has sinned” (Job 8:5-6, 18:4)
- Zophar: “Job has sinned” (Job 11:6, 20:29)
- Elihu: “Job has sinned” (Job 34:7, 37; 35:16)
So Elihu is just like the other three, right?
There are some strong commentaries that support this, including the study guides we have for the book of Job. In these commentaries, they focus on these similarities, and toss even more criticism on Elihu – they say that Elihu at first seems humble and willing to defer to the wisdom of his elders, then his youthful arrogance takes hold, and Elihu repeats all the same errors that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar made. They say Elihu is unteachable, thinks he’s smarter than his elders, thinks he has all the answers. He’s just a summary of what the other 3 said, but with the additional error of youthful arrogance.
Is that true? The more I studied Elihu, the more I disagreed with that conclusion. I think Elihu is more complex than that. I think Elihu uses many of the same arguments the same friends did, but applies them to Job truthfully and in line with God’s wisdom.
So we see how Elihu is the same as the three friends, but let’s look at another comparison. Later in the book of Job, God talks directly to Job. During Job’s conversation with his 3 friends, Job says God is being unfair. Job says God isn’t paying attention to His faithful servant. Job says because Job is so faithful, he wants to appear in the Court of God and present his case, and God will surely find Job innocent.
To understand Elihu, we have to say something about Job first. He begins in Job 1:1 –
There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.
But by Job 38,
- God call Job a faultfinder (Job 40:2)
- God says Job speaks without knowledge (Job 38:2)
- God says Job has put God in the wrong (Job 34:5-6)
In Job 42:6, Job repents in dust and ashes, and in response,
- God clears Job of all charges (Job 42:7-8)
So it’s clear that, although Job begins the book blameless and upright, by Job 38, Job has revealed himself as a sinner. Job then repents, and the Lord forgives. Let’s look at Elihu’s statements –
- Elihu accuses Job of finding fault with God (Job 33:9-11)
- Elihu says Job speaks without knowledge (Job 34:35)
- Elihu says Job has put God in the wrong (Job 34:5-6)
- Elihu desires to justify Job of all charges (Job 33:32)
Whoa. Elihu opened in Job 36 by saying that Elihu will be speaking on God’s behalf. I think there is merit to that – Elihu makes the exact same points God does.
But that’s not really enough evidence to support Elihu – after all, we noted earlier that Elihu accused Job of sin, just like the three friends did. So why would Elihu’s speech be any different?
We know that Elihu was a younger man who waited for all the speeches to end. When Elihu spoke, Elihu was angry at Job because Job claimed his own righteousness before God. Elihu was also angry at the three friends because they condemned Job unfairly. Who gets to condemn Job fairly? That is reserved for God Himself.
Though Elihu makes the same conclusion that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar make, Elihu’s argument is very different. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar argue over and over again, “You must have sinned, that’s why you suffer. Repent!”
Elihu makes a different case: “After your suffering began, then you began sinning.
The three friends are convinced Job is doing something secret and sinful. They don’t know what it is, but Job’s suffering must be evidence of that sin, right?
But Elihu doesn’t make that accusation. Elihu is listening to Job’s words, and saying it’s the words Job is speaking now that demonstrate sin. Job’s arrogance, pride, anger. Elihu is right. By demanding his own justification before God, Job is displaying his own sin.
When we dig deeper into the speeches, there’s a lot of difference. Sure, each speech is like 500 pages each, but each speech is different. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar give like 3 speeches each, and Job refutes each speech with a speech of his own. I think Job gives a total of 8 speeches.
Elihu gets 4 speeches, and these lines are very illustrative in Job 33:31-33,
Pay attention, Job, listen to me;
Keep silent, and let me speak.
Then if you have anything to say, answer me;
Speak, for I would take pleasure in justifying you.
If not, listen to me;
Keep silent, and I will teach you wisdom.”
What does Job say? Nothing. Job has no response to Elihu. I believe Job recognizes the wisdom of Elihu. To the three friends, Job says, “You’re wrong!” but to Elihu, Job stands convicted.
We can also look at the evidence of Job’s sins. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have no evidence, only accusations, though Job challenges to provide any evidence in the early chapters, in Job 6:28-30. Elihu, on the other hand, brings specific charges:
- You say … (Job 33:8-11)
- You say … ( Job 33:13)
- You say … (Job 34:5-6)
- You say … (Job 35:2-3)
- You say … (Job 36:23)
Elihu himself says his words are different. Elihu is angry at the three friends and Job – furious at the three friends for accusing Job without evidence, and furious at Job for his prideful and arrogant responses. Elihu has something different to say, Job 32:14 –
“[Job] has not directed his words against me, and I will not answer him with your speeches.”
Job 32:3 says Elihu
“burned with anger also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong.”
IV. Elihu’s Declaration
Elihu argued that there is a purpose, a greater meaning to Job’s sufferings. They are designed to teach Job, to bring Job into a deeper understanding of God. And Elihu admonishes Job in Job 36:19-21,
Will your cry for help keep you from distress,
Or all the exertions of your strength?
Do not long for the night,
When people vanish in their places.
Be careful, do not turn to evil,
For you preferred this to misery.
There is wisdom here. When afflictions come, when pain and suffering arrives, when death is knocking at your door or has taken a loved one away, Each one of us will try to find comfort. Some turn to evil. Their misery makes them bitter, and they want to take their own revenge on somebody, anybody. Sometimes they blame God for being uncaring or unknowing. They go through this logic I mentioned back in our study of Job 1 and the purpose of a trainwreck in our lives –
- If God is truly all-loving, then He would not allow evil and suffering.
- If God is truly all-powerful, then He would have the power to stop evil and suffering.
- But evil and suffering exist, maybe God isn’t all loving? Or maybe not all-powerful? Or maybe He doesn’t even exist?
And in their misery, the weak in faith turn to evil, revenge, bitterness, hate. The godless become angry and accuse God. The righteous who suffer, on the other hand, turn to God, submit to His instructions, and learn from it. Elihu cautions Job not to turn to evil in his misery.
Where should Job turn? Elihu continues in Job 36:22-26,
Behold, God is exalted in His power;
Who is a teacher like Him?
Who has appointed Him His way,
And who has said, ‘You have done wrong’?
“Remember that you are to exalt His work,
Of which people have sung.
All people have seen it;
Mankind looks at it from afar.
Behold, God is exalted, and we do not know Him;
The number of His years is unsearchable.
We cannot truly fathom all that God it. All we see is what God has revealed to us through His Word, and that allows us only to see through the glass darkly.
I believe Elihu paves the way for God’s declarations in the latter chapters of Job. Elihu says to the three friends that, despite their age, they are not wise, and true wisdom comes from the spirit of God. And then Elihu goes straight to the heart of Job’s problem. Elihu accuses Job in 34:23 that Job is setting himself up as an equal of God, demanding that God be accountable, and that is Job’s arrogance and sin. Elihu observes correctly that Job, instead of bringing his misery to the Lord, Job had turned to evil and accused the Lord of being unfair and unavailable.
Amazingly, God speaks immediately after Elihu. God says in Job 42:7, clearly condemning their advice –
“I am angry with you [Eliphaz] and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me.”
Whose name is missing? Elihu. God is angry at the three friends, and then elaborates on the same themes that Elihu made.
I believe there is a lot of confusion about Elihu because he sounds just like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. All four draw the same conclusion: Job has sinned. But as we dig deeper into the verses, we see that what Elihu means is not what they mean. Elihu’s speeches ring with truth desperately needed by any innocent sufferer:
- God has not been silent; he speaks through your pain (Job 32-33).
- God is not unjust; he will eventually strike the wicked (Job 34).
- Righteous living is not pointless, though we are insignificant next to God (Job 35).
- You’re in no place to criticize God; remember to fear him (Job 36-37).
Elihu then launches into one of the most-profound declarations of praise of the Lord God in all of the Bible, and then God reinforces Elihu’s fourth point with some of his most aggressive and fear-inducing words in all the Bible, declaring the awe-inducing, almighty power and wisdom of the creator of the universe in Job 38-41, which Tony and Koren will happily tell you about over the next two weeks.
May we all repent of our pride before the Lord and humble ourselves before Him. Let us learn from our sufferings, turning to the only true source of comfort. Let us always remember to fear Him, for fear is the beginning of all wisdom
To God be the Glory. Amen.