The book of Job has been a book not so much about suffering as it is about faith. Lindsay Wilson says, ”Suffering is simply the setting in which the issue of the book is raised.”
Job has been bold and even confrontational in his speeches with his friends because Job knows that He is blameless before God.
And when they have come up with nothing showing the contrary, then enters Elihu the Buzite.
Chapter 32 begins, ”So these 3 men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, burned with anger. He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God. He 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. Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were older than he…” (Job 32:1-5).
So Elihu enters as a sort of mediator or arbitrator who presumes to pronounce judgment on Job and his 3 friends. If he had been right about what he says next, then we would read these verses as Elihu having a ‘holy’ anger. This means that Elihu will serve as a sort of foil for the response of God in the next part of the book. God does not even mention Elihu in His judgment of the matter. God not even mentioning Elihu is likely on purpose – his words are not even worth acknowledging.
These words (and the opening of his speech) stress the youth of Elihu the Buzite to set his words in contrast with the ”wisdom” of Job’s friends the elders.
So who is this Elihu? The text calls him, ”Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram.” Here we discover the setting of the book more clearly. Uz and Buz were brothers. Remember that Job is from Uz and Elihu is a Buzite. These two were children of Abraham’s brother Nahor. Uz was the firstborn, and Buz was the second son of a total of eight (cf. Gen 22:21). So Elihu is kin to Job, closer than anyone else in the book. And they are kin to Abraham.
Elihu begins, ”I am young in years, and you are aged; therefore I was timid and afraid to declare my opinion to you. I said, ‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.’ But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right. Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me; let me also declare my opinion.’ Behold, I waited for your words, I listened for your wise sayings, while you searched out what to say” (Job 32:6-11).
Elihu presents himself well. He begins by saying that he has deferred to his elders, which is wise. But he finds fault with them and notes correctly: ”It is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.” The translator is taking this as saying the same thing twice ”the spirit in man” is ”the breath of the Almighty” – think creation story in Genesis. Wisdom often appeals to creation.
But Elihu’s point is well-taken that it is not merely age that determines wisdom. Too bad then that Elihu proves that youth has nothing better to offer than the wisdom of the elders.
Elihu presents himself as someone who has carefully listened to his elders speeches. And his indictment of the speeches of the friends is close to the mark. ”I gave you my attention, and, behold, there was none among you who refuted Job or who answered his words” (Job 32:12). This is actually quite insightful – Elihu is right that his elders have been unable to refute Job or to answer Job.
Yet Elihu is angry that they have run out of things to say to Job – that they have become silenced. ”And shall I wait, because they do not speak, because they stand there, and answer no more?” (Job 32:16). He presents himself then as someone who cannot hold it in any longer – as someone about to burst because he needs to speak. And he presents himself as someone worthy to adjudicate the matter: ”I will not show partiality to any man or use flattery toward any person. For I do not know how to flatter, else my Maker would soon take me away” (Job 32:21-22).
Having thus dismissed the friends of Job, his elders, Elihu now moves to rebuke Job.
Similar to the line in the first part, Elihu says, ”The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). Elihu addresses Job as a fellow human being, not someone who is above him, but someone who just like Job ”was pinched off from a piece of clay” (Job 33:6). This again appealing to the creation narrative of Genesis. Thus Job did not need to fear Elihu, just to listen to him. Elihu encourages Job to answer him, but we will see that Job never has the opportunity because God Himself will step in…
Elihu also understands what Job is arguing and can restate it faithfully, this is an important thing to be able to do, ”You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression; I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me” (Job 33:9). Then he continues by acknowledging his own sin nature: ”Behold, He [God] finds occasions against me, He counts me as His enemy, He puts my feet in the stocks and watches all my paths” (Job 33:10-11). The implication here is the same one that the friends had made – I am a sinner and sometimes God attacks me, and I need to repent. Thus what we find, and this is true throughout his monologue, is nothing new.
This is largely the point – Elihu has nothing new to offer because human wisdom has met its end.
Yet Elihu continues with a line of attack like the friends, his elders, ”Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you, for God is greater than man. Why do you contend against Him, saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’?” (Job 33:12-13).
So then Elihu continues with the same-old retribution theology discussion that his elders had spoken. Sounding like Eliphaz, he mentions visions in the night. These visions God uses to warn his people to keep them from death.
Elihu mentions a mediator, as Job had done, but less clearly: ”If there be for him an angel, a mediator, one of the thousand…” but this mediator is to tell man what to do (give law).
Elihu speaks of salvation and about a man praying to God and God accepting him and being restored to his righteousness. The repentant sings before me about how he sinned and perverted the right, and it was not repaid to him because God redeemed his soul from death. And God does these things two or three times with a man. All except the small number here sounds like most modern evangelicals. Really much of what Elihu says and does fits with the best of evangelism. His problem is assuming that Job needs to repent.
In Job 34, Elihu presents much the same argumentation to the elders. At the end of the chapter Elihu concludes: ”Men of understanding will say to me, and the wise man who hears me will say: ‘Job speaks without knowledge; his words are without insight.’ 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 multiples his words against God” (Job 34:34-37).
Chapters 34, 35, and 36 are all subtitled.
Chapter 35 returns to rebuking Job. This does not add anything new to what Elihu has already said, nor to what the friends his elders had said. ”Job opens his mouth in empty talk; he multiples words without knowledge” (Job 35:16).
In Job 36 Elihu begs Job to bear with him a little longer, ”for I have yet something to say on God’s behalf. I will get my knowledge from afar and ascribe righteousness to my Maker. For truly my words are not false; one who is perfect in knowledge is with you” (Job 36:2-4). Elihu is sure that he is speaking wisdom, trouble is that we as the reader know better. Elihu does not have anything else to say, nor is he speaking on God’s behalf. Rather the rest of this chapter continues the retribution theology as told by the friends his elders. For example, ”He opens their ears to instruction and commands that they return from iniquity. If they listen and serve him, they complete their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasantness. But if they do not listen, they perish by the sword and die without knowledge” (Job 36:10-12).
Job 37 is not a new section, it just continues to display Elihu’s lack of understanding of the truth. He does encourage Job to ”stop and consider the wondrous works of God. Do you know how God lays his command upon them and causes the lightning of his clouds to shine?” This prepares us for the words of God to which Elihu is a foil.
Elihu’s monologue ends, ”Therefore men fear Him; He does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit” (literally, ”all who are wise in heart”). But this is precisely the case for Elihu who is not wise.