32 So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 2 But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. 3 He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him.4 Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he. 5 But when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused.
Job’s final defence provoked a response from a fourth friend – the young man “Elihu.” You get the impression from the text that these speeches were quite intrusive and were born out of listening to what was going on between the friends. They do however prepare the way for even more “intrusive” speeches from God himself!
Elihu was a “Buzite”. His ancestry can be traced to the Arabian tribe of Buz (Jeremiah 25:23). The “family of Ram” is unknown.
“Elihu” means He is my God. “Barachel” means God blesses. These names both indicate that Elihu was a believer in the One True God.
Elihu took a new approach to the issue of Job’s suffering. Angry with the other 3, he had some new thoughts, but was very hard on Job. Elihu was angry, full of self-importance and verbose, but his approach was refreshing after listening repetitiously to the others, though not really helpful to Job.
After Job had finished his speech which was met with silence from his friends then Elihu stepped in.
There are differing opinions about Elihu. I have read a lot of commentary that suggests that Elihu was foolish and merely repeating what Job’s friends had already said but packaging it slightly differently but it appears that he was more balanced, fair and accurate without the bias of Job’s friends. He exercises some wisdom and eventually introduces God himself.
Elihu’s main idea was that God is fair. Job’s other friends said that they believed this. But they themselves were unfair to Job. However, Job was not always sure that God is fair. If God was always fair, it did not explain his trouble. In all this however, Job did feel sure that God would be a fair judge.
Job wanted a friend who would act like a lawyer (Job 9:32-35; Job 16:19-21). He needed someone to intercede with God on his behalf. He hoped that God himself would step in and sort this out. We know that ultimately this is fulfilled in Jesus.
In the context of all of this Elihu acts like this lawyer. The book of Job is written in such a way that it seems as though Elihu arranged for Job to meet God. There was nothing special about Elihu, he was not a prophet as such or anything more than an ordinary young man but his words were from the Holy Spirit (Job 32:8; Job 36:4).
Elihu was probably one of a number of onlookers who witnessed the debate between Job and his friends. In the six chapters devoted to his speeches, the emphasis seems to be fourfold:
1. Absolute reverence for God,
2. Sensitivity to sin
3. Purpose in suffering
4. The danger of spiritual pride
In this early part of Elihu’s intervention he lives up to the caricature of “angry young man”. The word “wrath” occurs four times in verses 2-5. He explains that he has kept silent because of his youth, but now feels compelled to speak.
This was actually stating that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had run out of things to accuse Job of. Job knew that he was not guilty of the things they had accused him of. They thought Job was righteous in his own sight. Job had not made that statement. He had only defended himself from their accusations, which were untrue.
Elihu was angry with Job for self-righteousness, and with the friends for false accusations and unsuccessful arguments.
Elihu was polite. He respected the older men. He did not interrupt them.
6 So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said:
“I am young in years,
and you are old;
that is why I was fearful,
not daring to tell you what I know.
7 I thought, ‘Age should speak;
advanced years should teach wisdom.’
8 But it is the spirit in a person,
the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding.
Elihu makes a very refreshing introduction. He had waited for his elders to speak assuming that they would impart wisdom. He clearly had some strength of opinion about the whole situation but his first step was to listen carefully to all that was being said. James’ letter in the new testament informs us that we should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. That is wisdom in of itself. In highly charged situations it takes a lot restraint to avoid jumping in. There is a lot of wisdom in listening and attempting to understand different perspectives.
There is also a big difference between worldly wisdom and spiritual wisdom
(1 Corinthians 1:18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:27). The Holy Spirit teaches us about the ways of God (1 Corinthians 2:9-12). Job had complained that his friends were not speaking by the Holy Spirit (Job 26:4). Their statements about God were not always accurate (Job 25:6).
Elihu had listened, reluctant to speak but in the end decided that he had something to say. God had somehow put it on his heart to speak knowing that it is the breath of the Almighty that ultimately gives understanding.
There have been plenty of occasions when I should have said something but instead kept quiet and many occasions when I spoke and it would have been better to listen.
I think to some degree wisdom about when to speak and when to listen comes with age and experience but true wisdom comes from God. I know men my own age who I struggle to listen to because everything is bound up in their own opinion and worldview and they deliver a warped view of the way things are or should be with such strength of conviction it’s hard for others to ask honest questions let alone disagree. At the same time I know people half my age who have considerable wisdom. A few weeks ago when a young 19 year old and my own 17 year old son delivered the sermon at church I was blown away at how articulate they were and the measured wisdom of the message as well as the way that they delivered it. It was delivered with such calm maturity.
James 1:5 informs us that if we lack wisdom then we should ask God who gives generously without finding fault …
9 It is not only the old who are wise,
not only the aged who understand what is right.
10 “Therefore I say: Listen to me;
I too will tell you what I know.
11 I waited while you spoke,
I listened to your reasoning;
while you were searching for words,
12 I gave you my full attention.
But not one of you has proved Job wrong;
none of you has answered his arguments.
13 Do not say, ‘We have found wisdom;
let God, not a man, refute him.’
14 But Job has not marshalled his words against me,
and I will not answer him with your arguments.
Elihu continues with this refreshing approach as he simplifies the notion of wisdom to “doing what is right” and the aged do not have the monopoly on that.
Elihu spoke like a lawyer. He had listened to the other speeches. He thought carefully about them. But the three friends’ arguments did not impress him. He saw that they had no evidence to accuse Job. He believed that Job’s speeches were better than theirs.
The three friends had failed to prove that Job was guilty. But they were still accusing Job (verse 3). They did not say, ‘We were wrong.’ Instead, they said, ‘God will prove that Job is wrong’ (verse 13). Elihu thought that they were unfair to Job. But Elihu would not be unfair.
This mysterious character appears to initially level the conversation with fairness and impartiality.
15 “They are dismayed and have no more to say;
words have failed them.
16 Must I wait, now that they are silent,
now that they stand there with no reply?
17 I too will have my say;
I too will tell what I know.
18 For I am full of words,
and the spirit within me compels me;
19 inside I am like bottled-up wine,
like new wineskins ready to burst.
20 I must speak and find relief;
I must open my lips and reply.
21 I will show no partiality,
nor will I flatter anyone;
22 for if I were skilled in flattery,
my Maker would soon take me away.
Similar to the Old Testament prophets Elihu felt a heavy burden to say something. Sometimes this burden is described as a heavy weight (Nahum 1:1; Malachi 1:1). It was the work of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Spirit is described as a wind that was blowing through them (John 3:8). The Hebrew word for ‘wind’ and ‘spirit’ are the same.
Elihu spoke like a lawyer. He promised impartiality and fairness and was aware of his responsibilities before God.