The Good, the Bad, and Elihu

January 13, 2022 at 6:00 PM

Behold, God is exalted in his power; who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed for him his way, or who can say, ‘You have done wrong?’ Remember to extol his work, of which men have sung.”

-Job 36:22-24


Those are the recorded words of Elihu, the younger ‘friend’ of Job who has much to say after Job’s more famous ‘three friends’ and before God Himself speaks. In this way, his position in the book of Job is very reflective of what he offers the reader that considers this Divine account. In one sense, Elihu’s arguments (more than those before him) point in the right direction – to God, and who He is. Yet, in another sense, Elihu still falls short of ‘getting it’ in his response to his older, suffering friend, Job. As we continue to linger and extract lessons from the book of Job, we can gain helpful insight from the discourse from Elihu.


On the Right Track

Before Elihu even speaks, we can learn from him. We are told in Job 32:4 that Elihu “had waited to speak to Job because they were older than he.” Elihu was a young man with a virtue that is found fading today: Respect of the older. Along with that, and included with the introduction to this young man, in Job 32, we are told that he was “angry at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer” (v. 3). Yes, any regenerated reader of Job would share in Elihu’s righteous indignation as well. After chapter upon chapter of “worldly wisdom” from Job’s three friends, the admonishment to Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar is most needed. Job’s three friends had many comments regarding speculations on Job’s conduct, but were found wanting in terms of truly understanding God’s character. Elihu gets the group on track here as he reorients the discussion and centres it where it should be – in who God is. Almost by way of a preview to God’s coming words, Elihu asks a set of rhetorical questions that provoke the consideration toward the character of a sovereign God (34:29-33). Later, Elihu declares the might and majesty of God (36:3, 5, 22-24, 26, 29-33) and then furthers the proclamation with an extended address in Job 37 that is comparable to such God-exalting chapters as Isaiah 40 and Romans 8-11. In fact, the final words of Elihu easily sound like a rich blend of the inspired words of both Isaiah and the Apostle Paul:

“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. The Almighty – we cannot find him; for he is great in power; justice and righteousness he will not violate. Therefore men fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit” (37:21-24).                                                                                                  

Amen. Yes, Elihu is a necessary course-correction in Job. He rights a ship headed the wrong way and points the compass “north,” where it needs to be. However, as much as he offers us more than Job’s three friends, even Elihu himself still comes up short.


Still Just a Friend

Along the way, Elihu reminds us that he is still just a friend of Job. His rebukes of Job just happen to be laced with a bit more of God. For example, in Job 34:10-11, Elihu rightly refers to God’s holy and just character, but then he sounds a lot like Eliphaz when he reminds Job that in his case, God repays man according to his work (v. 11). Here we go again. Yet, there is more to learn here. If Job’s three friends were “Wrong Responses 101,” then here Elihu gives us “Wrong Responses 102,” where his response shows us that it is not a matter of just considering God in our responses to suffering, but it is also still necessary to remove ourselves from those responses entirely. Yes, even an iota of our own reasoning threatens to send us back off course. Here Elihu reminds us that once we open the door slightly to ourselves, we cannot help but barge in. And so, the youthful Elihu gets his wagging finger out to Job with this soapbox:

“But now, hear my speech, O Job, and listen to all my words. Behold, I open my mouth; the tongue in my mouth speaks. My words declare the uprightness of my heart, and what my lips know they speak sincerely. The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Answer me, if you can; set your words in order before me; take your stand” (33:1-5).

That is a lot of Elihu there. And, in those verses alone, a steadying increase of himself. Elihu also, like his three predecessors, has condemnation for Job. Once again, God is in view (35:13), but it is in the context of a courtroom interrogation. Elihu declares God, yes, but also declares Job’s guilt (35:6-8). Barn door fully open, Elihu caps his self-reasoned lecture to Job with this offering: “Job opens his mouth in empty talk; he multiplies words without knowledge” (35:16). Later, God Himself will echo a similar rebuke to Job, but that is God Almighty. As we have seen with Elihu, this “friendly” rebuke, as correct as it may be, still flows from a man-infected discourse. The bad in the good – such is the case with Elihu.


The Elihu Example?

So, what are we to make of Elihu? What is his role in the book? How are we to view him? Is he a good example, or a bad example in the book of Job? As this brief consideration has demonstrated, Elihu falls somewhere in between. He is not as deficient in the knowledge of God as Job’s three friends; yet, his own knowledge, sprinkled with God as it is, still cannot get him to God completely. He is a bridge, but not the bridge. As we learned last week in this column, the name of that Bridge is Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). In Elihu’s example, we learn that even our best attempts and most reasoned efforts to understand life and suffering, if they contain any measure of ourselves and our understanding, will always be impotent (Proverbs 3:5-6; Romans 11:33-34). Only in Jesus Christ and His life and suffering, do we find not only reason (Luke 14:27), but also both hope and joy in our own life and suffering as redeemed people in Him (1 Peter 1:6-7).

So, let us learn the good and the bad from Elihu, but let us not look to him. Let us instead look to Jesus, and all the realities of our union with Christ:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).