Category Archives: Bible Study

Examining Elihu

 

The poetic interlude in the 28th chapter of Job prepares the way for the arrival of a new character on the scene.  By the time the words of Job are ended in chapter 31, the silence created by his last defense allows for an opening and introduction of a young man, Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram.”

As the narrator introduces Elihu, we are informed that his anger burns towards Job and his three friends, the former because “he justified himself” and the latter because they had failed to properly answer Job, instead condemning him.  Apparently, the dialogues and diatribes from the previous chapters took place in a public venue and Elihu was one of, perhaps many, observers.

Confusion regarding the presence of Elihu in the midst of Job abounds.  Some commentators have viewed him as the mouthpiece of Satan while others see him as a Christological figure providing the mediation that Job had long desired.  With such a wide spectrum of opinions, how then are we to understand Elihu’s overall contribution to the book and more importantly, how are we to rightly interpret his speeches?  To arrive at these answers and others yet to be asked, we need to examine Elihu in order to discern whether he is helpful or hurtful, friend or foe.

The speeches of Elihu span from chapter 32 to chapter 37 and are often filled with verbosity.  Over these 6 chapter divisions, which we may be reminded are not original, nor inspired, but instead a later, helpful interpretative addition, Elihu offers four speeches.  Speech 1 occurs in chapters 32 and 33 and generally may be viewed as an apologetic introduction.  Speech 2 is contained entirely in chapter 34, largely consisting of rebukes towards Job and his friends.  The third speech is found in chapter 35 and the subject begins to transition away from Job and his three poor counselors to theology proper, namely God Himself.  The fourth and final speech of Elihu fills the remainder of the chapters (36-37) and is chiefly a discourse on the character and majesty of God as he prepares for His arrival in the subsequent chapters.

There are at least four key themes that may be gleaned from Elihu’s speeches, and probably more, but for our general examination here we will limit them to:

  1. A rebuke of Job for being right in his own eyes
  2. Pride
  3. The majesty of God
  4. The purposes of God in affliction.

As the young man enters center stage, we read of his lengthy apologetic in chapter 32, setting the stage for his own interjection of opinions into the affliction that Job.  There is somewhat of an initial tone of humility expressed by Elihu and we have no real reason to assume anything other than proper motives for voicing his own opinions here.  However, he does at times go too far in his harshness and, as with the other speeches, his cannot simply be taken as inerrant.  In his opening remarks we see that he has respectfully waited his turn to speak while his elders offered their extensive advice to Job.

The rebukes of Job come early and often, as Elihu holds back very little, if anything, of what has been building up inside, like wine waiting for venting.  His initial rebukes of Job are often accompanied by quotations of things that Job has said.  With these, there has been confusion whether Elihu has intentionally misconstrued what Job has said, or whether he is simply generalizing what Job has said.  Determining which position to take on these quotations likely determines whether one views Elihu in a negative or positive light respectively.  In his opening apologetic, he has already informed his audience that he has been a diligent listener of the proceedings (Job 32:11-12).  It seems unlikely that Elihu is undertaking a smear campaign of Job by intentionally distorting his previous speeches.  Instead, it seems more reasonable to conclude that Elihu is generalizing, though sometimes inaccurately, for the purpose of summarizing the tenor of Job’s speeches.

This occurs in Elihu’s first rebuke of Job from chapter 33:8-13 (ESV)

“Surely you have spoken in my ears,
    and I have heard the sound of your words.
You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression;
    I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me.
10 Behold, he finds occasions against me,
    he counts me as his enemy,
11 he puts my feet in the stocks
    and watches all my paths.’

12 “Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you,
    for God is greater than man.
13 Why do you contend against him,
    saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’?

This passage (Job 33:8-13) is typical and exhibits well the characteristic thoughts of Elihu with regard to Job.  In this we see Elihu’s attentiveness to the arguments which were previously laid out, his summation of Job’s perspective on his affliction, and his concluding rebuke.  Verse 9, cited above, illustrates the difficulty with how to interpret Elihu’s take on Job’s complaints.  On the one hand, some have taken it to conclude that he misconstrues Job by claiming that he spoke of his innocence, in toto.  However, Job did no such thing, only maintaining his innocency with regard to his present affliction.  In fact, on several occasions we read of Job referring to past sins: Job 13:23-26; 14:16.  Meanwhile, others have concluded, and perhaps rightly, that Elihu is simply making a generalization of Job maintaining his righteousness and that he has denied all along any correlation between his affliction and unconfessed or hidden sins.  Additional rebukes of Job in Elihu’s speeches occur in Job 34:5-9; 34:35-35:4; 35:16; 36:16-24 and 37:14-20

A second key theme of Elihu, as we enumerated above, is the subject of pride.  Perhaps this theme is less obvious than the rebukes of Job and less powerful than the exaltation of God’s majesty, yet nevertheless it percolates throughout, primarily by way of mentions in Job 33:17; 35:12; 36:9; 37:24.  Context for each of these are informative.  The first occurs while Elihu outlines some purposes of God in affliction, which we will look at in more detail below.  By stating that affliction may serve to humble and keep one from pride, Elihu has essentially placed his finger on the pulse of Job’s chief malady.  In Job 35:12, he informs us that God may choose not to answer the prayers of those who are being afflicted because of their pride (cf. James 4:7).  The third passage, Job 36:9, seems to specifically address those who are in position of authority, i.e. kings, who are “caught in the cords of affliction” in which the Lord, “declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.”  Again, our context for pride rises out of God’s purposes in affliction.  Finally, Job 37:24, the final words of Elihu, conclude by stating that the Lord “does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.”  If we are to conclude that often what is most important is spoken last, then we are on sure footing when concluding that pride is a major theme in these speeches and an indication of the true sin that Job possessed.

These emphases on pride are used in the speeches of Elihu both directly and indirectly to rebuke Job of this hidden, indwelling sin that wasn’t stirred up until affliction struck.  Job’s continual lamenting, at some point, crossed over from anguish and spilled into self-pity rooted in pride.  Ultimately, while Job may have indeed been innocent of a directly correlated sin to his affliction, he nevertheless became guilty of pride and it was out of this condition of the heart that his tongue spoke faux knowledge that darkened the wisdom and majesty of God.

Which brings us to the third key theme of Elihu, namely the exaltation of the Majesty of God.  This is actually not a new theme in Job as we have seen bits and pieces from Job himself and his friends.  However, with Elihu it serves a preparatory function, awaiting the arrival of God.  While each of his speeches are peppered with statements that highlight the character and attributes of God, it is Job 36:22 to the end of chapter 37 that really prepares the way for the arrival of God by proclaiming the majesty of God, particularly as it relates to his creation.  Perhaps, in a very real sense, Elihu is functioning as a type of John the Baptist.  In this way, God’s speeches are not a shock when He speaks of ostriches and wild donkeys, rather this is a continuation, albeit now inerrant, of thoughts expressed previously about Him, serving to build upon the truths and correct the errors.

The final key theme found in Elihu’s speeches is the purpose of God in affliction.  There are at least 8 clear purposes, but perhaps more can be gleaned from these four speeches.  These occur in Job 33:7; 33:30; 34:27; 36:10-11; 36:16; 36:22; 37:7 and 37:13.  With these wide varieties of God’s purposes which may be found in affliction, Elihu has risen above the argument of Job’s friends that affliction is limited to the wicked.  Additionally, he has solved Job’s dilemma that while the wicked suffer, so to do the righteous, but these sufferings flow from a capricious God and to be appear arbitrary and largely meaningless.

Given this overview of Elihu, what may we conclude?  With the exception of perhaps some sharp language in his rebuke of Job, he was correct in his assessment of pride, his exaltation of God’s majesty, and the purposes of God in affliction.  At the conclusion of his speeches, we are given several additional indications that validate Elihu.  First, Elihu was the only contributor that Job did not reply to.  Second, and perhaps most importantly, in His final analysis of Job and his friends, God did not issue a rebuke to Elihu.  Having undertaken this examination of Elihu, we may conclude that Elihu was indeed helpful.

The words of Job are ended

 

The words of Job reach their denouement in the 31st chapter of the book with the concluding statement, “The words of Job are ended.”  To this point, we have heard Job speak at liberty in a variety of ways which began with his first brief response at the onset of affliction in the opening chapter, “And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

This was followed by his second response a chapter later, But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” And then silence; for at least seven days in the presence of his friends, but probably longer due to the time it took them to travel.

By chapter 3, we have no clear reference for how much time has elapsed since the loss of Job’s wealth, the death of his children, and the onset of his excruciating disease.  The seven-day silence is then broken by Job in his lament for death.  We next read Job’s words as he takes his turn in the cyclical interactions with his counseling friends in chapters 6-7; 9-10; 12-13; 16-17; 19; 21; 23-24; and 26-27.

Job’s extended discourse in chapters 26 and 27 is interrupted by the presence of a poetic outburst proclaiming the wisdom of God in chapter 28.  While the location of this chapter in the flow of Job, as well as the orator of this poem, has been the source of debate, it’s best to avoid the speculation by embracing the poem as an interlude in preparation for Elihu’s upcoming speeches and more importantly for the arrival of Yahweh.

In the final three chapters of the words of Job, we see three distinct movements of thought.  The first of these is Job’s longing for the good old days when he walked closely with the Lord and was thought highly of in his community.  In a sense, this overview of the past by Job gives us some insight into his life prior to the events of chapter 1 and adds to our understanding of his overall character.  This pining for the days of old shifts to the present in chapter 30 and Job once again enters into a lament by detailing how the days of old have been reversed and flipped on their head.  Job leaves the present lamentation and begins to conclude with his final defense wherein he lists a series of acquittals from sin.

Looking back over the previous chapters, we may observe that Job has often spoken by way of lament or prayer expressing his desire to die.  He’s offered complaints against God, commendations of God, complaints against his friends, and perhaps most frequently has expressed his desire for vindication, or to be cleared from all accusations of wrong doing.  Through the words of Job, which have meandered and progressed along these various paths from the opening chapters to their conclusion in chapter 31, we can make several observations that will help us with the overall interpretation of the book. These will focus on: 1.) The general spiritual condition of Job 2.) The style or delivery method of Job’s words 3.) The good and the bad.

Regarding Job’s spiritual condition, it’s important to discern that Job vacillates between hope and despair.  With this, it’s critical to note when the occurrence of each takes place and then subsequently to take the context of the words he speaks into account.  In other words, when he is in a moment of despair from the weight of his tragic circumstances and utters words which would make us cringe, we need to understand the context of the wounds out of which these words are spoken.  Likewise, when we read of words of hope and restoration we must realize that this is the faith of Job on display, shining brightly in the midst of the most grievous of circumstances.

Similarly, we may observe in the words of Job that he often wavers between the flesh and the spirit, an internal struggle that every believer of Christ has.  In the New Testament, this is most evident in Romans 7:7-25.  Historically, Martin Luther seems to have placed his finger on the pulse of this malady with the Latin phrase simul justus et peccator, or simultaneously justified and sinner.  In Job, we can sometimes see momentum building in the strengthening of the spirit, while at other times he sinks into the flesh bemoaning his condition, cursing the day he was born, and generally questioning the justice and goodness of God.

Finally, central to the argument of Job in the face of his critics, particularly as it pertains to rightly interpreting his words, is his desire for vindication and the defense of his integrity.  If Job concedes to the argument of his friends that only those embroiled in great wickedness are afflicted and that since he is afflicted he must be numbered among the wicked, then he proves himself to be nothing more than a hypocrite, superficially serving God while being materially blessed, all the while living a wickedly sinful life.  This concession on Job’s part would in turn prove Satan truthful and God a liar.  While Job is not aware of chapters 1 and 2, the reader must feel this tension as the progression of the drama unfolds.

As to the style, typically, the words of Job are spoken in the form of a soliloquy, essentially talking to himself out loud for others to hear, as well as prayer towards God, dialogue with his friends, the aforementioned poem, and later, by way of response directly to God, albeit much briefer than his earlier spoken words.

Job’s words are generally strong displays of theological precision, particularly when hope abounds and the spirit is winning the war over the flesh.  However, the potential for the reader to derail into a  hermeneutical ditch exists when we simply assume that all Job has to say is correct or that the tone with which he speaks is generally positive.  This isn’t always the case.  Job often comes within a hair of outright blasphemy of God by questioning His wisdom, justice, and goodness.  Likewise, he repeatedly sees God as his enemy who has done little more than set him up as a target of His wrath.  Additionally, too often Job’s tongue borders on self-righteousness and pride as the debris of indwelling sin is stirred to the surface through his ongoing affliction and interaction with his friends.  As with the interpretation of the their speeches, so too with Job, we must hold on to the good and leave the bad.

As one reads through the book of Job, it’s nearly impossible not to feel the emotion of Job’s words and to find ourselves siding with him verbatim while dismissing the words of his friends.  Instead, we would do well to interpret the book consistently by maintaining the tension between both good and bad that come from all those who speak up until the arrival of Yahweh.  The Epistle of James hits hard upon this theme of the forked tongue when he says, From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. James 3:10-12  Unfortunately, perhaps nowhere in Scripture is this more clearly on display than with the words of Job and even more so with his friends.

Thus, the words of Job are ended.

 

 

 

 

The Self-Examination of Job

 

With the man Job, we’ve read of the character of Job as seen in the opening chapters of the self-titled book and we’ve heard of the patience, or better, perseverance of Job as referenced in the Epistle of James.  Now, in the 31st chapter of the book, we read something of a self-examination by Job as he makes his final defense.

If we were to strictly view the Book of Job as a courtroom setting, which is not entirely accurate, then we might picture Job representing himself, calling his key witness to the stand, namely himself, and then proceeding with a cross (self) examination.  In other words, Job acting as his own defense attorney, proceeds with a cross-examination of himself.  Depending on how one analyzes the content of chapter 31, Job makes somewhere between 8 and 12 acquittals with respect to particular sins.  I’ve found Puritan James Durham’s analysis of this chapter most helpful and have leaned on him heavily for my own understanding.

Recall that in chapter 22, Job was accosted by Eliphaz with his sharpest critique of Job’s character, largely a character assassination, as Eliphaz accuses Job of extortion, theft, and cruelty to the poor, hungry, weary, widows, and orphans.  At this point in chapter 31, Job specifically addresses these charges through his own self-examination.  This final attempt at exoneration by Job generally follows a pattern of, “If I have done ‘X’, then may ‘Y’ be done to me.”

He begins with a rather abrupt and startling declaration of his innocence of fornication, or lust of the eyes in verse 1.  Durham summarizes this opening remark as if Job had said,

“I was so far from being taken away with that vileness, that neither by the outward eye, nor by the inward affection of the heart that vents itself by the eye, was I carried after it. Yea, I was so abstracted from it, as if I had made a bargain or covenant with mine eyes, not to look a wrong look that way.”

Job offers three critical reasons why he has held his eyes in check with regards to women.  First, that he would not lose his portion with God, or we might say his inheritance, namely God Himself (vs. 2).  Second, the wages of sin is punishment and wrath from God (vs. 3).  Third, the omniscient, all-seeing eye of God upon all his steps and ways (vs. 4).  Perhaps if we considered these restraints as Job has, we would find ourselves less apt to give in to sin, whether by hands or by heart.

The second sin of which Job declares himself not guilty is deception, swindling, or cheating of others (vs. 6), followed by the third acquittal, adultery, which comes into view in verses 7 and 8.  Here Job proclaims a curse upon himself by saying if he should act in this manner against his wife, may she also act in like manner against him.  Additionally, there is an indication that Job has in mind a much stronger consequence, namely that should he be guilty of adultery, may his wife be taken advantage of.  Again, as with fornication, Job expands upon the restraints which have kept him innocent of these charges, primarily the heinousness of the crime worthy of punishment at the hand of God and the destruction of the entirety of man’s estate, literally a fire burning beyond death, consuming all that man has and is.

As we read this, ought not our own hearts be examined for the presence of wayward desires realizing that the slightest sinful thought is rebellion against God, let alone the physical act of adultery.  Writing in 1 Corinthians 6:18, the apostle Paul exhorts us to, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”  Here we are informed of the impact that sexual sin has, not merely outside himself or herself, but it is a sin against one’s own body, as the Apostle continues by pointing out that this is because the body of the believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  How many ministries have been toppled and men who have been used mightily by God been brought low by the heinousness of adultery and the subsequent collapse of their earthly estate.  Brethren, flee youthful passions.

Next, we see Job acquitting himself of austerity or severity with his servants (fourth) in verses 13-15 and oppression or lack of charity with the poor, widows, and orphans in verse 16-23 (fifth).  This is what Durham refers to as “taking advantage of weak ones” as seen in verse 21. Here again, as with most of these sins, fear of God is a restraining factor in the heart of Job, “For I was in terror of calamity from God, and I could not have faced his majesty” Job 31:23 As to this exoneration, Job finds himself in compliance with the declaration found in James 1:27, Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

In the next section of Job’s cross-examination, he acquits himself of idolatrous sins, namely covetousness (sixth), in verses 24-25, and false worship (seventh) in verses 26-28.  This is followed in verses 29-31 with Job’s focus on bitterness and revenge (eighth), while he lists lack of hospitality towards strangers (vs. 32) as his ninth acquittal.  Tenth, we read of concealment of iniquity as with Adam (vs. 33).  There’s a potential translation problem here in the ESV that may more appropriately be, “If I covered my transgressions as Adam; by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom”.  The eleventh, faintness , fear of man, or cowardice of duty (vs. 34) concludes this patter of acquittals.

Then, in verses 35-37, Job signs, seals, and delivers his final defense to the Judge, essentially throwing himself at the mercy of the court in the hopes for exoneration, the vindication that he has pleaded for from the beginning.  Finally, though not listed in the other eleven acquittals above, is Job’s “last vindication (vs. 38-39) that neither his land, nor the masters or tenants upon it, cried against him.”  In other words, Job was clearing himself from being an abusive ‘slum-lord.’

What can we glean from this list of acquittals which Job so meticulously defines?  First, we must note, as Elihu will in subsequent chapters that blowing our trumpets before others, is essentially self-righteousness.  Durham comments, “Job here has much sincerity within, and much provocation without; yet he speaks with too much confidence and grossness of his sincerity, and therefore is found fault with hereafter by Elihu and God.”

However, leaving that aside, there is a genuine application here for believers, namely that holiness is not optional and is attainable.  Not sinless perfection mind you, but a real pursuit of grace-driven, love-of-God-motivated, fear-of-God-restraining holiness. Recall that the Book of Job opened up with the narrator defining the character of Job.  That was followed with God parading Job’s character before Satan, repeating precisely the words of the narrator, not once, but twice.  Job may not be wise in listing his righteousness, much less listing it in the presence of others, but he has lived a holy life and it should be an ambition for our lives until the day we die.

We may conclude with a word from Durham

“Search and see if you are so free of these and the like sins as he was; if as a prince you could go before God, having the testimony of sincerity as he had.  It is the most princely thing to go before God with a good conscience.  Be painful in the exercise of holiness.  Job was under a covenant of grace, and so are you, and yet how exact is he in his walking.  Censure yourselves for being so far behind so holy a pattern; think shame when you read, or hear these things read or spoken of such a holy man that has been so watchful in prosperity, and we take such liberty.  The reason why Job got so much measure of holiness, [is] he watched over the little things, even his very thoughts, and suffered not the least temptation to have access.”