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In the final chapters of Job, what happened to Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the clan of Ram? In Job 42:7 God rebuked job’s friends and ordered them to offer burnt offering to Job for misrepresenting him. Why was Elihu excluded? Was Elihu excluded because he gave an accurate representation of God?

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  • That's more or less how I read it, but I remember learning that it has the appearance of a later splicing-in that wasn't fully integrated. I can't recall the details of this argument and would be interested to hear it again... Oct 19, 2018 at 10:52

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The reason that God did not rebuke Elihu is because he spoke the truth about Job’s condition, unlike Job’s three friends. Job’s three friends accused Job of either doing something sinful or refraining from doing something that he should have done. Elihu, however, did not accuse Job of some kind of outward sin.

God had declared Job’s actions as righteous. Elihu confronted Job with his inherent sinfulness (ie, his sin nature) and not with any specific external sinful behavior or action. Elihu’s rebuke was strictly based on the fact that Job was self righteous and he justified himself rather than justifying God. Look at chapter 32 and verses 1-2.

Job 32: 1-2 (KJV):

So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 2 Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram: against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God.

Elihu’s words:

Job 34: 5, 9 (KJV):

5 For Job hath said, I am righteous: and God hath taken away my judgment.

9 For he hath said, It profiteth a man nothing that he should delight himself with God.

Job 35: 1-2 (KJV):

Elihu spake moreover, and said,2 Thinkest thou this to be right, that thou saidst, My righteousness is more than God's?

Note Elihu’s words are the same as God’s:

Job 35:16 (KJV):

16 Therefore doth Job open his mouth in vain; he multiplieth words without knowledge.

Job 38:1-2 (KJV):

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, 2 Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?

Job and his three friends all believed the same bad theology. They all believed that you reap what you sow, where if something bad has happened to you, then you must have caused it through your sin. All four men believed this to be true; the only difference was that Job believed he didn’t sin and his friends believed he did. Again, the issue is not external actions but internal sin nature.

Elihu takes on the role of the prophet, justifying God where Job failed to do so. God’s speech to Job starting in Chapter 38 is exactly in the same vain as Elihu’s rebuke.

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I disagree with the notion that Elihu, who is inserted to provide comic relief, was not rebuked because he "spoke right". Rather, he was not rebuked because he could do no serious harm (to Job) as:

  1. he was "young" and inexperienced and so his words were discounted as they did not come from the lived experience of suffering, but from the enthusiastic intellectualizing of youth. Thus no one ever asked him for his opinion, no one debated with him, and no one (including God) responded to his long-winded and unsolicited speech. Everyone, including God, ignored him.

  2. did not know Job well enough to make any personal accusations against him, and so spoke only of abstract principles.

Unlike the other characters, who came to Job out of concern for their friend and sat in silence with him for a few days, Elihu was an interloper who had a purely intellectual interest in the subsequent debate. His debate was only with himself, no one was interested in contending with him, and thus he gives his prepared speeches one after the other with no interaction.

That's not to say that readers should ignore Elihu's speech. The speeches of all the characters are of immense beauty and contain much wisdom. But it seems pretty clear that Elihu was ignored by all, including God.

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  • +1, I agreed. God has declared Job was righteous so Elihu was wrong to insult Job like that, but Job didn't take the offense because young man could make mistake.
    – 123iamking
    Jun 29 at 10:34
  • why "comic relief?" I agree he was inserted - which explains why is not rebuked - but I agree with those commentators who see his speech as a kind of summary of the arguments of Job's other friends. Sep 3 at 21:51
  • @DanFefferman In general in this genre, funnier/lighter things are said by younger characters and more serious things by older ones. As a hint: the youngest man steps in to defend God's honor, and he does it by being angry at Job (his elder). He sputters, unable to contain himself, but he just overheard the conversation and is not the one who suffers or is even friends with Job. He replies but was not addressed. "My belly is as wine, I'm ready to burst like new bottles" - suggesting drunkenness/silliness. And it's hilariously long winded. He spends a chapter preparing them to hear his words.
    – Robert
    Sep 4 at 1:12
  • @DanFefferman So it's this stereotype of a young person who is "full of words" and yet has never experienced anything, and is wading into matters that literally don't concern him except at an intellectual level. Again, that's not to say that the speech isn't inspired or filled with scriptural truths, but from the point of the narrative, it is presented as "less serious" than the speeches of those involved in the suffering (Job) or of his friends who went and sat with him, fasting in mourning for his troubles. Therefore it serves as a bit of a lighthearted interlude before the speech of God.
    – Robert
    Sep 4 at 1:30
  • @Robert ... thanks much. I'll keep this in mind for further consideration. But for now I'll go with the view that Elihu's speech is a later addition, inserted by an editor who is unsatisfied with the earlier criticism of Job's complaint. If so that would explain why God doesn't deal with it. It simply was in the book when that part of it was written. Sep 4 at 2:15
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Job was perfect and upright. He also didn’t sin with his lips. The reader needs to remember God is allowing Satan to punish Job, at Jobs request for he made burnt offerings on behalf of his children.

Now the sons on Job are trying to get past Satan, who argues their misdeeds before the Lord. God says, in answer to Jobs prayers, why not look over here at this perfect Job...go beat him up.

Satan leaves the sons of Job on the threshold, and God gets Jobs less than perfect kids into the fold.

Elihu can be a young friend, he could be a personification of God. Or, perhaps as some scholars argue...someone Other.

Elihu knows Satan has influence and power on the Earth. In all this Job didn’t sin.

Job is still perfect and upright even though he asked to pay for his children’s sins, even though his three friends mock his perfectness, even though SATAN tortured him. Elihu does not sin against Job.

People who write about job MUST consider that Job was Perfect and upright in the eyes of the lord and Satan. Elihu isn’t necessarily unrebuked, we just don’t need to know how God deals with him.

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  • Welcome to this site! You may note how Hermeneutics 'works' by taking the tour. Personal opinions are not sought but sourced material to substantiate any claim is helpful. We all have our views and interpretations, but these need to be backed up with references. For example, you could explain what the Hebrew word for 'perfect' means in context of this question. It does not mean that Job was without sin. Nor does the text actually say Job opened himself up for Satan's attacks by making burnt offerings to cover his childrens' sins. This is not to detract from your answer but to encourage you.
    – Anne
    Feb 1, 2019 at 17:40
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He was ignored by God because he was impudent in his condemnation of Job. God said that Job spoke, “right.” Elihu just “piled on.”

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  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Aug 8, 2021 at 3:34
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Before addressing the question at the last point, here are other points to remember based on other comments:

  1. Job may have been considered to be as righteous as a sinful man can possibly be, but he was by no means perfect. Every man born since Adam is sinful (Rom. 3:23) EXCEPT for Jesus (Heb. 9:11-14).
  2. We have the benefit of scripture to understand what was happening to Job. Job did not.
  3. We often can’t discern God’s purposes for events in our own lives or in the lives of our friends, but we are to remember He sees, knows, and is sovereign over all (Rom. 8:28, Eph. 1:11, Col. 1:16-17). His ways are higher than our ways (Is. 55:9).
  4. We have the benefit of scripture to understand we face spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:12).
  5. Elihu admits to being younger (Job 32:6). In a culture that actually respected elders, he held his tongue out of respect, hoping to gain wisdom from listening to them.
  6. For him to have listened to them (Job 32:11-2), he had to have actually been there the whole time. He provides no comic relief. He is not an interloper. He is not spliced in at a later date.
  7. Elihu is wordy. The first chapter of his speech is all about him asking the others to listen to him, again out of deference for the wisdom he expected their years to bring.
  8. His words come because Job may be right about his innocence, but his emotions are self-righteous, not indignant on God’s behalf (Job 32:2). He also saw that the three “friends” misrepresented God badly.
  9. In our modern English Bibles (even KJV), there is much in the way of ancient Hebrew writing, speech, and culture that gets lost in translation. Some call parts of Elihu’s speech pompous and arrogant, but they may simply have been common ways of making emphasis.
  10. God’s word is inspired and perfect (2 Tim. 3:16). God may not have chosen to honor Elihu in that moment, but He did choose to honor him by including his speech in the finished product of the Bible. God did not overlook him. Elihu defends God and His character, proclaiming His goodness, justice, and majesty. Maybe this is why he was not rebuked.
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Reading this today, I see this ancient recorded exchange as a way to look at my own life today.... to wrap my head around things that have happened that I don't understand and that on some level feel like aren't the result of my own doing or choices. I read it as a call to examine the attitude of my heart and thoughts which then affect my words and actions. A reminder for me that God is huge and as it is said in ch. 34 :29..."Yet He is over individual and nation alike". He is also the God who sent His Son, full of grace and mercy. For us all...and for me as just me. Sometimes I forget when thinking about or talking to God who He is...and I approach Him on a level that needs rethinking. God help me to see You both as Mighty God and loving Father. And help me respond in humility and love and trust..remembering that promise in Romans 8:28...You will cause all things to work together together good for those who are called for Your purpose. You are a Father who takes care of Your kids.

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The reason God does not rebuke Elihu in the Book of Job is because Elihu's speech is a later addition to the book. The speech of God near the end of the book was not updated to account for Elihu's contribution.

The idea that Elihu's speech was inserted after the main body of the text was written is well established in scholarly literature.

In The Composition of the Elihu Speeches Helen Hawley Nichols stated that this view represents "the verdict of the majority of modern scholars."

More recently, Britannica affirmed:

scholars consider his section to be a later interpolation, perhaps by a scribe who thought that the Book of Job’s subject matter ventured too close to blasphemy.

Not only is Elihu not rebuked by God; he also is not mentioned in Job 2:11, in which Job's friends are introduced. He bursts onto the scene out of nowhere to deliver his oration. Scholars have also pointed out that Elihu's speech is stylistically divergent from the other sections of the dialogue. However he does not actually provide a fresh viewpoint. Rather he offers a summation of Job's other critics' argument as if his is the superior opinion. God eventually affirms the correctness of Job's point of view and rejects the attitude of Job's "friends." But God is mysteriously silent about Elihu. The best explanation is not that God agrees with Elihu, for surely God would say so if the original text had included Elihu's speech.

The Book of Job is one of the great works of literature, as well as a very important book of the Bible. To understand it, we need to think about the editing process which resulted in the work that we have today. Recognizing that Elihu's speech was a later addition to the book clearly answers the question as to why God does not deal with Elihu in the final chapters. The reason is that God's speech was included prior to Elihu's speech, not because God endorsed what Elihu said.

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