Job 32 – Hearing from Elihu
A. Why Elihu spoke.
1. (1-5) Elihu and his dissatisfaction with the answers of Job’s friends.
So these three men ceased answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then the wrath of Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, was aroused against Job; his wrath was aroused because he justified himself rather than God. Also against his three friends his wrath was aroused, because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job. Now because they were years older than he, Elihu had waited to speak to Job. When Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, his wrath was aroused.
a. So these three men ceased answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes: At the end of Job’s persuasive arguments in Job 28-30, his friends had nothing more to say. They still thought that Job was completely wrong, but they felt he was so confirmed in his own opinions (he was righteous in his own eyes) that it was useless to keep the discussion going.
b. Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram: This is the first mention of Elihu in the Book of Job. Because he appears, dominates all discussion and then abruptly leaves, some modern commentators think that he wasn’t really part of the story and was inserted into the account later by the author or another editor.
i. Of all the friends of Job, Elihu is the only one with a genealogy. “The Buzite he is called, either from his progenitor Buz, the son of Nahor, who was the brother of Abraham, and had by Milchah, Huz, his firstborn (of whom some think Job came), and Buz, his brother, Genesis 22:21; or else from his country, the city of Buz, a city of Idumea, Jeremiah 25:23.” (Trapp)
ii. The mention of his genealogy is important, because it reminds us that Elihu was not a fictional character. “His pedigree is this particularly described, partly for his honour… and principally to evidence the truth of this history, which otherwise might seem to be but a poetical fiction.” (Poole)
iii. “Elihu, he is called. The name is Hebrew, and its signification, My-God-is-He, is as clearly Hebrew as that of some names of analogous meaning in our own language.” (Bradley)
iv. Elihu appears and disappears suddenly; yet he does belong and his speech makes sense here. “It is true Elihu is not mentioned elsewhere in the book; so his speeches could be left out. But at the beginning (Job 32) and at the end (Job 37), they are skillfully woven into the fabric of the book and made to play a legitimate role.” (Smick)
v. “But still the question has been asked, Who was Elihu? I answer, He was ‘the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram:’ this is all we know of him. But this Scriptural answer will not satisfy those who are determined to find out mysteries where there are none. Some make him a descendant of Judah; Jerome, Bede, Lyranus, and some of the rabbis, make him Balaam the son of Beor, the magician; Bishop Warburton makes him Ezra the scribe; and Dr. Hodges makes him the second person in the glorious Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, and supposes that the chief scope of this part of the book was to convict Job of self-righteousness, and to show the necessity of the doctrine of justification by faith! When these points are proved, they should be credited.” (Clarke)
c. Then the wrath of Elihu… was aroused against Job: Apparently, Elihu was a silent listener at the whole dialogue up to this point. He was angry against Job because he felt that Job justified himself rather than God. Elihu felt that Job was more concerned about being right himself than God being right.
i. We can easily understand how Elihu felt this. Yet what he did not understand was that both Job and God were right. The friends had forced themselves and Job into a false dilemma: either Job is right or God is right. They could not see or understand how both were right.
ii. “Four times in the Hebrew text we are told that he was angry. First at Job for justifying himself rather than God and then at the friends because of their inability to refute Job.” (Smick)
iii. Elihu will speak, but Job will not answer him. “Job never had opportunity to answer him. God took no notice of him except to interrupt him.” (Morgan)
d. Also against his three friends his wrath was aroused: Elihu was also angry at Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar because they had failed to solve the controversy (they had found no answer), while at the same time they were (in Elihu’s opinion) too harsh against Job (and yet had condemned Job).
i. “Elihu is angry with everybody. He is the classic angry young man, and from the outset what we need to notice about this kind of anger is that it puts him in a class by himself. The fact that he is angry at both sides of the debate separates him from Job, on the one hand, but also from the other three friends.” (Mason)
e. Because they were years older than he, Elihu had waited to speak to Job: Out of respect for those older than he, Elihu held back for as long as he felt he could. Now, he felt that he simply had to speak.
i. “How young he was, or how old they were, we cannot tell; but there was no doubt a great disparity in their ages.” (Clarke)
2. (6-9) Why Elihu overcame his hesitancy to speak.
So Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, answered and said:
“I am young in years, and you are very old;
Therefore I was afraid,
And dared not declare my opinion to you.
I said, ‘Age should speak,
And multitude of years should teach wisdom.’
But there is a spirit in man,
And the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding.
Great men are not always wise,
Nor do the aged always understand justice.”
a. I am young in years, and you are very old: Elihu came as a young man among older men, and because of this was willing to hold his words for a long time.
b. But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding: Elihu believed that just because Job and his three friends were older, it did not mean that they were the only ones with a spirit in a man, and the only one who had received understanding from the Almighty.
i. There is a spirit in a man: “So the sense of the place is, Every man, as a man, whether old or young, hath a reasonable soul, by which he is able in some measure to discern between good and evil, and to judge of men’s opinions and discourses; and therefore I also may venture to deliver my opinion.” (Poole)
ii. “We have been trying to know God by the intellect, by reading the Bible intellectually, by endeavouring to apprehend human systems. There is, however, a deeper and truer method. ‘There is a spirit in man!’ Open your spirit to the divine Spirit as you open a window to the sunny air.” (Meyer)
c. Great men are not always wise, nor do the aged always understand justice: We can only imagine the reaction from Job and his three friends at these words of Elihu. They were probably united together for the first time in a long time; they might not agree with each other, but they certainly all would disagree that this young upstart could be wiser or have more understanding than they did.
i. Elihu believed that the older men – for all of their supposed wisdom – didn’t understand the matter at all; he thought that the old men were wrong and that the young men (in particular, himself) were right. The thinker and writer G.K. Chesterson wrote this about men like Elihu: “I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.”
ii. Nevertheless, we can say that in principle Elihu was correct. “Age is no just measure of wisdom. There are beardless sages and greyheaded children.” (Trapp)
iii. Elihu shows some of the strengths and weaknesses of his youth. “Despite his anger (Job 32:2-3) and wordy lecturing style, Elihu never got bitter as did Bildad and Zophar.” (Smick)
B. Elihu introduces his speech.
1. (10-14) Elihu criticizes Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar as ineffective.
“Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me,
I also will declare my opinion.’
Indeed I waited for your words,
I listened to your reasonings, while you searched out what to say.
I paid close attention to you;
And surely not one of you convinced Job,
Or answered his words;
Lest you say, ‘We have found wisdom’;
God will vanquish him, not man.
Now he has not directed his words against me;
So I will not answer him with your words.”
a. Therefore I say, “Listen to me, I also will declare my opinion”: From this request for the attention and ear of Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, we can assume that there were sour and disdainful faces on the older men. Yet Elihu pressed forward, asking for this audience.
b. Surely not one of you convinced Job, or answered his words: Elihu was frustrated because Job’s friends didn’t put him in his place the way he thought they should. We can imagine Elihu following the debate, thinking of what he would say in response to Job, and being frustrated that the answers of Job’s friends were not as brilliant as the answers in Elihu’s mind.
2. (15-22) Elihu’s inner compulsion to speak.
“They are dismayed and answer no more;
Words escape them.
And I have waited, because they did not speak,
Because they stood still and answered no more.
I also will answer my part,
I too will declare my opinion.
For I am full of words;
The spirit within me compels me.
Indeed my belly is like wine that has no vent;
It is ready to burst like new wineskins.
I will speak, that I may find relief;
I must open my lips and answer.
Let me not, I pray, show partiality to anyone;
Nor let me flatter any man.
For I do not know how to flatter,
Else my Maker would soon take me away.”
a. They are dismayed and answer no more; words escape them: Elihu noted that Job’s friends were exhausted by the debate. In the mind of Elihu, it was fortunate that he had so much energy and so many words, because now he could start where the three friends had left off.
b. For I am full of words; the spirit within me compels me: Elihu certainly was full of words; for this and the next five chapters he will drone on and on, unable to shut up and unable to let anyone else speak. It is by far the longest single speech in the Book of Job, longer than even God’s speech in later chapters.
i. We notice already that Elihu has spent a chapter simply introducing his speech. He hasn’t even gotten to the real points he wants to make. Such long introductions and wordy methods are characteristic of Elihu, and he was not the last man on this earth to use too many words.
ii. “Almost all modern interpreters have found Elihu to be insufferably wordy. MacKenzie says that it takes him twenty-four verses to say, ‘Look out! I’m going to speak!’” (Smick)
c. Let me not, I pray, show partiality to anyone; nor let me flatter any man. For I do not know how to flatter, else my Maker would soon take me away: Elihu was determined to flatter no man, except himself. In this obviously self-flattering introduction to the speech, Elihu has clearly presented himself as smarter, wiser, and having more understanding than any of the four other men with him. Elihu seemed painfully unaware of how he sounded and looked.
©2019 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission