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In the book of Job, it becomes clear that the first three of Job's friends - Eliphaz, Blidad, and Zophar - speak wrongly. Not only do they incur the indignation of Job and his other friend Elihu, but God himself rebukes them, saying to Eliphaz, "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has." (42:7 NIV)

Elihu is not rebuked: neither by Job nor by God. Yet much of Elihu's speech seems similar to the speeches of the first three. For instance, in Job 34:12 Elihu seems to argue along similar lines to the other three friends that Job suffers justly for things he has done.

How is Elihu's speech to be interpreted? Is he supposed to have spoken the truth?

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+1 I love Elihu! Excellent fodder for youth ministry –  Richard Oct 7 '11 at 17:53
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I have read many commentaries on Elihu, and cannot agree with most of them. Perhaps Elihu's own name contains a key. Elihu means "God with him is HE!" Also, he seems to be contending for God...not man. He is not concerned how man will react...though he had honored his elders...his main thrust seems to be a commentary on the Lord's viewpoint. could this man be a type of Jesus? –  user757 Sep 11 '12 at 14:49
    
related question here –  Jack Douglas Sep 12 '12 at 9:56
    
@Blessed I think he is a type of Elijah. Would that fit with his name in your view? Are the other names significant? –  Jack Douglas Sep 13 '12 at 11:05
    
@Blessed: Elihu means "He is my God." El = God; Eli = my God; hu = he. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Feb 10 '13 at 3:42

5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The problem is that the three friends, Zophar, Eliphaz and Bildad, claim that God always brings punishment to the wicked and blessings to the good. Their theology states that if something bad happens to someone, it must be because they did something bad. If something good happens, it must be because they did something good.

Using this theology, they try to get Job to admit what he has done wrong.

When God finally comes to Eliphaz, the fault that he finds with them is that he (and his two friends) have spoke incorrectly about God:

Job 42:7 (NIV)
After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has...

If we compare this to Elihu, there is no doubt that Elihu agrees that God punishes the wicked (Job 34:21-30). However, Elihu also sees that God brings bad things on people to preserve them from going into "the pit".

Job 33:29-30 (NIV)
29 “God does all these things to a person— twice, even three times—
30 to turn them back from the pit, that the light of life may shine on them.

It's this correct theology that God is appreciating from Elihu and the lies about God that God rebukes from the three friends.

See also

Summary

Elihu spoke correctly about how God brings punishment on people and that sometimes it makes sense (punishment on the wicked) and sometimes it doesn't (punishment for other purposes). The three friends spoke lies about God (that God only punishes the wicked). That was why God was so angry with the three friends.

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Why does God punished people other than the wicked? –  wrongusername Oct 8 '11 at 6:36
    
@wrongusername Seriously? Read the answer again... Pay special attention to the Job 33:29-30 verse. –  Richard Oct 9 '11 at 18:13
    
I thought it meant they were already heading towards the pit because they were doing wicked things. How would punishing the good turn them away from the pit? –  wrongusername Oct 9 '11 at 19:46
    
@wrongusername That's the same philosophy of Zophar, Eliphaz and Bildad! The thing is that God brings bad things on these people for purposes other than punishment. In the verses illustrated, the purpose is to turn them away from the pit, not to punish them for the wrong that they've done. –  Richard Oct 9 '11 at 20:15
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I was out at a pig show recently (show pig contest). In order to get a pig do go the direction you want them to go, you have to hit them in the face with a small whip or a cane. God putting bad things in our life can sometimes be like that. (Not always, though.) –  Richard Oct 10 '11 at 12:05

Elihu is the author of the book of Job. Read 32.15-17, (KJV) to verify this. He is speaking in the 1st person in these verses.

15 They were amazed, they answered no more: they left off speaking. 16 When I had waited, (for they spake not, but stood still, and answered no more;) 17 I said, I will answer also my part, I also will shew mine opinion.

Elihu is the spokesman of God, for 6 chapters, leading up to the summit of the book, which begins in 38.1... the one-on-one with the LORD and Job! In 42.5-6, Job admits that he had only heard about God; but now he knows who God really is. Compare his confident words (without knowledge of the Almighty) in 23.1-6, with his later words, after facing the LORD, in 42.4-6. Elihu's mission? Set the tone for the appearance of the LORD in the whirlwind, chapters 38 through 42. Mission accomplished!

Edit (pasted from a second post on this question): To all who are seriously looking for the logic in the statement I have made: it may be more obvious, in 32.16, but actually in several verses, (possibly 32.15-20), Elihu is talking to HIMSELF. Although I referenced the KJV, you can do a parallel comparison, with many versions, with still the same outcome, or translate the original Hebrew, even better. The basic logic, is that an outside author who is recording dialogue, does not speak in this type of language. Let us not over-complicate this, if you were reading a news report, would the journalist speak in the 3rd person, for someone else? As far as context goes, I look at the entire book of Job, as one single context. Do you know, in one sentence, why God rebuked Job? Do you know why God rebuked the 3 friends? Totally different answers here. Do you know why God did not rebuke Elihu, AT ALL? There are real treasures in this book, for those who genuinely seek the truth.

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Can you expand on this? It's not obvious to me from the passage you cited that Elihu is the author of the book, and if he is, why does he speak of himself in the third person? I'm not understanding the point you're trying to make, I'm afraid. –  Gone Quiet Jun 11 '13 at 16:46
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@MVS, first off, "scriptural authority" is a tricky case on a site that doesn't presume a doctrine. For example, I don't consider anything in the Christian books to be authoritative because I am not a Christian. But even with a presumption of scriptural authority, I commented because I don't understand the connection you're trying to make to 1 Cor, hence my request for you to elaborate. How do you get from that text to what you said about Elihu? It's not like the later passage says anything about Elihu or Job; you're drawing an inference, so please spell it out. –  Gone Quiet Jun 13 '13 at 15:07
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@MVS I don't think anyone is attacking your answer or saying it is 'wrong' we welcome contributions from people with your beliefs whether or not we share them, if we can follow the logic of what you are saying. That might be easier if you explained yourself more fully in the answer: please take the time to flesh out what your argument from scripture is, as it is certainly not obvious to me. For example, are you arguing that the KJV is a good translations and others are not? Are you arguing that the 3rd person is not usually used except by the author? We don't know unless you tell us. –  Jack Douglas Jun 13 '13 at 15:21
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The Scriptures are not encrypted. The Father, Son, and Spirit want us to read and understand them. There are things that an unbeliever will not understand, granted, but the vast majority is for us to understand. This should not be taken that we are the final authority, but remember "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (2 Tim 3:16). –  Frank Luke Jun 13 '13 at 15:32
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@MVS: I don't care if you accept the possibility that Moses wrote Job or not. Its an oral tradition that the Pharisees learned, just as they learned that there is life after death -- something not mentioned in the Old Testament (which I call Tanach) -- from the Oral Tradition traced back to Moses. But even the Christian Revised Standard Version of the Bible does not interpret the use of the 1st person in Job 32:15 as proof of Elihu's authorship. Rather the author is quoting a speech Elihu gives from 32:6-22. RSV intdents the entire text. –  Bruce James Jun 14 '13 at 20:43

Both Jack Douglas and Jon Ericson gave some great educated answers. There seems to be a dichotomy between the two views. But I would like to provide a connection anyway.

I am leaning towards the concept that Elihu is a type of Elijah. The only connection I have to the "foolishness" of Elihu is that God uses the foolishness of the World to confound the wise (1 corinthians 1:27):

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; ESV

And Elihu truly is one of those characters that tends to throw people off. The fact that this can be easily pointed out only shows that Elihu was an instrument of God from start to finish.

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Hi Jose, welcome to bh.se and thanks for contributing :). Please do register and if you have the time, please expand on your thoughts here a little, eg can you explain a little more what you mean by the reference to 1 Corinthians (which I have edited in. If you prefer a different translation we can change it...) –  Jack Douglas Feb 10 '13 at 17:14

In my framework for understanding Job, Elihu is an Elijah figure. He is the voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord"

This is part of a wider Bible pattern of both:

  1. God finally arriving in person to judge (not just in the sense of 'judgement', but also in the sense of leadership and personal presence with his people).
  2. God being preceded by a messenger or herald.

Elihu prepares the way for God's arrival by silencing Job and rebuking both him and his friends. His arrival coincides with the cessation of the back and forth debate, and his words are summed up early on:

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.  ESV

As you mention, Elihu is not rebuked by God. Furthermore, God does not even refer to Elihu once he arrives on the scene—this strongly suggests he is an agent of God rather than a character in the play like Job and his friends.

much of Elihu's speech seems similar to the speeches of the first three. For instance, in Job 34:12 Elihu seems to argue along similar lines to the other three friends that Job suffers justly for things he has done.

There is no reason to assume that everything Job or his friends said was factually wrong. Much of what Job's friends say is based on the wisdom of Proverbs. Job also speaks wisdom, more similar in tone to the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. God also does not directly address any of what has been said—but addresses the lack of understanding about his power, majesty and righteousness which is implied by Job's conclusions: he skirts with disaster by questioning God's justice (and in so doing foolishly sets himself up as one who judges God).

The first act of the the drama is revealed to us at the beginning of Job, but of course it is not revealed to Job or his friends. Had they understood the context of the disasters visited on Job, they would not have got their responses so wrong—Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar would not have blamed him for his own suffering and Job would probably not have (nearly) accused God of unrighteousness. God judges them in this context—not on the individual merits of each thing they said.

Aside from questions about the content of Elihu's speech, the result is unquestionably the right one. Job and his friends have been digging a hole for themselves with their words, and it is time for them to be silent.

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The connection between Elihu and Elijah (or prophetic figures in general) is not one I'd considered. Interesting. A possible cross-reference is: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes." (Malachi 4:5 ESV) –  Jon Ericson Sep 12 '12 at 19:51
    
+1. Very good answer. –  Matthew Miller Jun 11 '13 at 17:21

Abstract

Elihu continues the accusations of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, lacks their wisdom, and is beneath contempt.

Structure of the dialogue

The core of Job follows a strict order of speeches for three cycles:

  1. Job
  2. Eliphaz
  3. Job
  4. Bildad
  5. Job
  6. Zophar

The basic content of Job's words is always the same: questioning God why the calamities of chapter 1 and 2 came upon him. We know from those chapters that Job was singled out for being "blameless and upright man who fears God and shuns evil". But his friend's speeches try to convince Job of the precise opposite: he is being punished for sin. As readers, we are signaled to sympathize with Job, who really receives unfair treatment at the hands of God, the Adversary, and his friends.

In his final speech in the the final cycle, Job demands an audience before God:

O that I had someone to give me a hearing;
O that Shaddai would reply to my writ,
Or my accuser draw up a true bill!—Job 31:35 (NJPS)

From chapter 27 to 31, Job swears what amounts to an oath of innocence. The concept stems from the Babylonian legal system in which an accused could clear themselves by swearing they are innocent. The effect of such oaths was to compel an accuser to bring evidence against the accused. If the accuser did not have evidence, the accused was declared innocent and could press false witness charges to his accuser.

It seems the three friends took this as the end of the dialogue, since it puts the onus on God to prove the charge that Job sinned:

These three men ceased replying to Job, for he considered himself right.—Job 32:1 (NJPS)

The structure of the book is broken at this point, since Zophar can not continue to charge Job with sin against God—Job has taken the proper legal step to answer such a charge. At this point, only God has legal standing and if He does not speak, Job has reason to charge Him with false punishment. So when Elihu stands up, he is simultaneously completing the pattern and speaking out of turn. Structurally, despite his protestations, Elihu stands on the side of Job's accusers.

Elihu the fool

When the author of Job introduces Elihu, it is not particularly flattering:

Then Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, was angryangry at Job because he thought himself right against God. He was angry as well at his three friends, because they found no reply, but merely condemned Job. Elihu waited out Job’s speech, for they were all older than he. But when Elihu saw that the three men had nothing to reply, he was angry.—Job 32:2-5 (NJPS)

I've italicized three terms that carry negative connotation:

  1. Buzite—literally, "contempt". The other names associated with Elihu (meaning "He is my God") are not negative, so this is not decisive. (Barachel means "God blesses" and Ram means "high" or "exalted".) It should be noted that while Job's name (meaning "hated") seems symbolic, none of the other friend's names seem to be particularly helpful in understanding their character.

  2. Angry—carries a connotation of what we might call in English "flaring nostrils" or "red in the face". Anger was not a valued trait according to ancient wisdom. (See Proverbs 29:8) Worse, there is some indication he was drunk:

    Now I also would have my say;
    I too would like to hold forth,

    For I am full of words;
    The wind in my belly presses me.

    My belly is like wine not yet opened,
    Like jugs of new wine ready to burst.

    Let me speak, then, and get relief;
    Let me open my lips and reply.

    I would not show regard for any man,
    Or temper my speech for anyone’s sake;

    For I do not know how to temper my speech—
    My Maker would soon carry me off!—Job 32:17-22 (NJPS)

    By his own words, Elihu seems a man out of control. It's possible to read this as "righteous anger", but I don't see support of this idea in the text.

  3. Youth—specifically, he labels himself as being "small in days". Being younger than the others is Elihu's reason for not speaking up earlier, but the ancient custom was that age was associated with wisdom. Elihu defies that tradition:

    It is not the aged who are wise,
    The elders, who understand how to judge.—Job 32:9 (NJPS)

    While our culture easily accepts these words, it would have been an almost insurmountable obstacle to the original readers of Job.

Combining these indicators together, we get a strong sense that Elihu is set up to be a fool.

Elihu still accuses Job of sin

Despite claiming that he won't repeat the friends' arguments (Job 32:14), Elihu persists in accusing Job of wrongdoing:

Would that Job were tried to the limit
For answers which befit sinful men.

He adds to his sin;
He increases his transgression among us;
He multiplies his statements against God.—Job 34:36-37 (NJPS)

His primary argument, that God uses pain and suffering to discipline the righteous has already been broached by Eliphaz in chapter 5.

Elihu is wrong about God

Further, Elihu says that God does not need to respond to Job's case (or that He can do so in His own time depending on the translation of Job 35:12-16). He rhetorical asks what effect sin and righteousness have on God:

If you sin, what do you do to Him?
If your transgressions are many,
How do you affect Him?

If you are righteous,
What do you give Him;
What does He receive from your hand?—Job 35:6-7 (NJPS)

The implied answer to each is a variation on "nothing". In what must be the most devastating courtroom tactic every employed, God blows into the scene (literally) and asks "Who is this who darkens counsel, speaking without knowledge?" (Job 38:2) While the text does say that God responds to Job, He also is undercutting Elihu's argument.

Why doesn't God rebuke Elihu?

Perhaps the most powerful argument for Elihu is God's silence about his argument. The other three friends are rebuked and required to make sacrifice in the epilogue. Job himself is commended for all that he had done and receives a double blessing. But Elihu disappears from the story. If God were displeased with Elihu, why didn't He include him in the rebuke?

On the other hand, why didn't God praise Elihu? The book of Job purposely leaves his status ambiguous: he could be correct in his argument or he could be incorrect. But a close reading of Elihu's words (as I show above) reveals that he simply amplifies the other (incorrect) theodicies or distances God from caring about humanity. Further, he speaks out of turn and has no standing before God. Like a man who disrupts the order of the court, he is quickly and quietly dismissed. Elihu is not even worthy of being answered.

References

The bulk of this argument comes from Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job by Robert Sutherland.

The "Elihu" entry in the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible provided some further hints.

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Turns out I needed to provide this answer in order to address a related question. Yikes! –  Jon Ericson Jan 28 '12 at 1:46
    
I disagree - I think there is plenty of reason to interpret Elihu's anger as righteous anger. His anger is not personal - he is angry that Job justifies himself rather than God (32:2) and that Job's friends are babbling fools (32:3). His anger is not uncontrolled - he has patiently waited his turn to speak (32:4,6-7,11-12). Most importantly (as some have mentioned already), God rebukes Job's friends, but He does not rebuke Elihu (42:7) - even if the young man is a bit cocky in his tone. –  Matt Robertson Mar 4 at 16:38

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