Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands...  1 Timothy 2:8

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May 2023

The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 14

Job 32:1 – 34:37



Elihu, A Modified Understanding of God’s Justice
Job and his friends argue until they drive themselves to a stalemate. In chapter 32, a new voice enters, a younger man named Elihu. Because of his youth, he has kept silent, but by the end of the screaming match, he can contain himself no longer. According to the text, 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” (Job 32:2-3). Here we have a young man who can state the reasons for his indignation. And his reasons are right. In this regard, Elihu is a breath of fresh air. He is a zealous young man who has something to say, and in many ways, he has much to teach Job and his friends. His is the confident wisdom of the young. His case is certain, his arguments are insightful, and his focus remains fixed on God’s integrity throughout his speeches. He aims for the heart of the issue. At the same time, his speech lacks the acquired wisdom that age brings to the thoughtful person. In his youthful confidence, he overgeneralizes. For that reason, I call his contribution to the dialogues “simple wisdom.”

The Positive Attributes in Elihu’s Opening
Elihu’s opening words go straight to the issue. The arguments between Job and his friends have failed to bring reconciliation. Now that they are over, Elihu is free to enter the debate. He introduces his case as an outlier.

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.’”

--Job 32:6-9

I must admire Elihu’s boldness. To be willing to step into such angry debates with a voice of reasonableness requires courage and confidence. Elihu shows both. He also demonstrates unusual restraint for a man his age.

  • He respects those who are older and more experienced (Job 32:6).
  • He listens (Job 32:6-9).
  • He withholds his opinion until everyone else is done (Job 32:10-11).
  • He refuses to regard Job’s defense as a personal insult (Job 32:14).
  • He is committed to speak in kindness, without accusation (Job 33:2-7).
  • He will respond to Job’s words rather than terrifying him (Job 33:8-11).
  • He will defend God (Job 33:12).

Elihu’s Speeches
When he begins, Elihu engages in a four-part defense of God’s integrity that runs for six chapters. The series begins in job 33:1 with his opening. The remaining parts are flagged by the words, “Elihu answered/continued and said…” Here are the four sections in his long speech.

  • Part I: God’s Communications to Mortals, (Job 33:1-33)
  • Part II: God’s Justice among Men, (Job 34:1-37)
  • Part III: God’s Resistance to Human Influence, (Job 35:1-16)
  • Part IV: God’s Ultimate Greatness, (Job 36:1 – 37: 24)

This segment will look at the first two sections.

The First Speech
In his first speech, Elihu summarizes his understanding of evil in the world. God employs it to speak to mortals.

“For God speaks in one way,
and in two, though man does not perceive it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on men,
while they slumber on their beds,
then he opens the ears of men
and terrifies them with warnings,
that he may turn man aside from his deed
and conceal pride from a man;
he keeps his soul from the pit,
his life from perishing by the sword....

“Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.”

--Job 33:14-18, 29-30

One of the most admirable points about all four of the speeches is their gentle language. Unlike Job’s friends, who point the finger at Job, Elihu universalizes his points. God speaks “when deep sleep falls on men, / while they slumber on their beds, / then he opens the ears of men / and terrifies them with warnings….” Elihu’s description of nightmarish warnings probably stands in response to the nightmare scene in Eliphaz’s first speech. But where Eliphaz intended to terrify, Elihu eliminates the graphic details. Still, his basic point differs little from Eliphaz’s. Like Job and his friends, he also lives in a morally simple universe. For Elihu, evil exists for a humanly discernable reason, which is to allow God to seek our attention so he can rescue us from destruction. On the surface, this point sounds like a reasonable assessment. If Elihu lived in our time, for example, he probably would point out that 9/11, the Sandy Hook school shootings, and the Boston Marathon bombing caused people to turn to God. Historically, these three events did just that, at least for a short time. But did God cause the disasters so that we would turn to him? Of course not. The three modern examples came about because evil men acted in hatred. The same is true for Job. The Accuser has attacked Job to prove his belief that he can thwart God’s work in his saints. His motives are purely evil and exist only through his own plans. The interplay between good and evil in the world resists an easy resolution. As we will see when we look at God’s interrogation of Job, his ways are deeper than what we can understand using simple morality tales.

The Second Speech
Elihu’s second speech defends God’s justice. In it, he declares,

“For according to the work of a man he will repay him,
and according to his ways he will make it befall him.
Of a truth, God will not do wickedly,
and the Almighty will not pervert justice.”

--Job 34:11-12

Again, he is right in principle, but he makes little progress beyond what Job and his friends understand. Certain matters of faith remain true for believers because they must, even when they do not appear to be true. To deny them is to deny the faith itself. The issue of justice is one of these matters. Of course, God will act in a way that preserves justice. Psalm 9:7-8, for example, declares that his stated mission is to do just that. This is where Elihu’s simple faith becomes overly simple. Yes, God will bring justice to the earth, but the resolution that every saint craves remains a future one. We cannot count on “happily ever after” in this life.

Back to the Big Issues
The question in Job is not whether God brings justice. Job, his three friends, and Elihu all believe that. The debate is about how God accomplishes the task. Until the Lord returns, we will see justice in incomplete terms. Our hope needs to rest in promise rather than outcome, and that requires mental discipline. In the next segment, we will look at Eliphaz’s final two speeches. There we will observe some additional points that will help us further in unraveling the puzzles in the book.


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