When You are Angrily Rebuked

            In his sermons on the Book of Job, John Calvin rightly stated that “Job having to  defend a good case, has poorly conducted it.”[1] Job never stated that he was without sin, as his three friends alleged. In fact, he often expressed that he was a poor sinner. Yet, Job knew that his punishment was far more than his sins when weighed in the balance. On the other hand, Job’s friends took the position that the very measure of his punishment was proof enough that Job was more wicked than they had ever imagined. No one could suffer as much as he did unless he deserved it—they thought and they argued. Thus, Calvin gives us the following advice in such matters as these:

There is nothing worse than to be in haste; we know the proverb is always said, “Haste carries us away; and there will come out of a hasty judge only a foolish and heedless sentence.” Since it is so, let us learn to hold ourselves as it were in suspense, until the truth may be known to us. However, let us note that it will often happen that before men we shall be condemned wrongly; indeed, although those detract against us have their mouths stopped and have no reason to convince us, yet they will not cease to be led by such  a pride that they will defame us and will cast wicked propositions against us.[2]  

If ever there was a man who needed to heed the advice of Calvin not to be hasty in judgment, it was Elihu. In six chapters, Elihu says almost as much against Job as the three friends had altogether. Their speeches consisted of 184 verses. Elihu’s speeches totaled 165 verses. Elihu had waited with great impatience of spirit—while chomping at the bit—and then railed against both sides in an angry monologue. Just when the debate seemed to be ending, Elihu started it all over again. Yet, he really added nothing new to what had previously been stated by Job’s three friends. Elihu exalted God’s majesty in chapters 36 and 37 in a manner that made a fitting introduction to the Lord’s answer to Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38:1 ff.). Four times in the space of five verses, it is recorded that Elihu’s anger burned—against Job “because he justified himself before God” (Job 32:2); and, against Job’s three friends “because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job” (Job 32:3). Elihu’s exaltation of God’s sovereignty would have had more impact on Job and his friends if the young man had exhibited more patience of spirit. As Paul counseled Timothy: “Preach the word. . . reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). Such impatience of spirit led Elihu to scathingly condemn Job as one who “drinks up derision like water. . . and goes in company with the workers of iniquity, and walks with wicked men” (Job 34:7, 8). Elihu proclaimed that he wanted to justify Job (Job 33:32), but he never attempted to do so. Instead, he asserted: “Job ought to be tried to the limit because he answers like wicked men” (Job 34:36). Elihu was correct for suggesting that there are times when God chastens men for their ultimate good. He viewed suffering as a form of spiritual discipline—which was a new thought—rather than always being a punishment for great sin, as had Job’s three friends. Job had suggested the same thing in Job 23:10—“But He knows the way I take, When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” 

A Pompous Youth    

Elihu, a young man, suddenly appeared without any previous introduction or notice and immediately announced himself as one who could answer all the questions that the others had been debating. All the vanity of youth is exposed in Elihu’s speech while he engages almost twenty per cent of his whole speech on proclaiming that he has something to say. As Mason opined: 

Despite all the good that might be said of Elihu, the fact remains that he really is an astonishing pompous little windbag. He takes his entire first chapter, for example, plus portions of the second, simply to clear his throat and announce that he has something to say. “Listen to me,” he declares, “I too will tell you what I know” (32:10); “I too will have my say” (32:17); “I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply” (32:20); “My words are on the tip of my tongue” (33:2). As we first meet him, Elihu is the very archetype of the self-important bore. By the time we reach 32:18 and he states, “I am full of words,” no reader can be in any doubt that his estimation of himself is perfectly correct. As Proverbs 10:19 dryly observes, “When words are many, sin is not absent.”[3]  

Elihu’s inflated sense of wisdom and knowledge is too often a hallmark of youthful exuberance. He had waited to speak while listening carefully to the arguments of Job’s friends. Yet, he found them lacking in wisdom as they certainly were. Now, he comes as a spokesman for God or so he contends. While Elihu is not singled out for repentance by God in chapter 42, he still has some negative qualities—he talks too much, he is conceited, he repeats himself, and he misreads Job’s problem as being unrepented sin. Elihu asserts his superiority to Job’s friends by saying, “I do not know how to flatter” (Job 32:21)—while flattering himself profusely. We must always pay careful attention to what people tell us about themselves when they are bragging on themselves. Thus, Elihu tells Job: “pay attention, O Job, listen to me; keep silent, and let me speak. Then if you have something to say, answer me; speak for I desire to justify you. If not, listen to me; keep silent, and I will teach you wisdom” (Job 33:31-33). Elihu claimed that his spirit within him—or, perhaps, he meant the Spirit of God—constrained him to speak. In Job 33:4, Elihu had said, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Both in the Hebrew and the Greek, the word for Spirit/spirit can also mean breath or wind. So, it would seem that Elihu was clearly glorifying the Holy Spirit as His Creator. Whether Elihu was speaking about his own spirit or the Spirit of God in Job 32:18, one thing is clear: he did not speak to Job in his monologue with words “taught by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:13). The Spirit of God leads us to speak the truth in love and love was lacking in Elihu’s monologue, even as it was missing in the speeches of Job’s friends. The Spirit of God also teaches us humility which was not a description of Elihu who said: “One who is perfect in knowledge is with you” (Job 36:4). Elihu, in his spiritual immaturity, is a bundle of contradictions.

Elihu Misquotes Job

Elihu tells Job that he is about to unleash wisdom like he has never heard before (Cf. Job 33:1-7) then proceeds to misquote Job’s earlier statements. Sometimes, it only takes changing one word or leaving out one fact to completely change the meaning of a quote. Satan misquoted Psalm 91:11 by leaving out the phrase, “To guard you in all Your ways.” It was not  one of the ways of the Messiah to tempt the Lord and Jesus knew that. In Job 33:9, Elihu misquotes Job as claiming, “I am pure without transgression. I am innocent and there is no guilt in me.” Job never said that he was without transgression. He did say that he was guiltless and that his prayer was pure (Job 9:21; 10:7 and 16:17). The word translated three times as guiltless in Job 9:20-22 is the same word that God used in describing Job as “blameless” when Satan appeared before His throne. The whole Book of Job testifies to Job’s blamelessness, but he was not sinless. And he never claimed to be without transgression. Job’s offering of sacrifices was an indication that he knew he was a sinner.   What Job believed was that God had acquitted him of  his guilt through those sacrifices which represented Christ’s atonement and that the Lord would not punish him for his guiltiness. His prayer was pure—but not sinless—because it came from a pure heart (Cf. Matthew 5:8; 5:48; 2 Timothy 2:22). True purity of heart does not mean sinlessness or perfection. Elihu, like Job’s three friends, was deficient in understanding the gospel in that respect. Of course, it did not fit the narrative of Job’s friends or Elihu for Job to be anything but a wicked sinner. That is why all of them made terrible accusations against him. They were incited by the devil to “falsely say all kinds of evil against [Job] because of [Christ]” (Matthew 5:11). Yet, Elihu’s misquotes of Job’s words  were completely false, as Hartley says:

For while Job is confident that he has followed God faithfully (23:11-12; Cf. 10:7; 27:4-5), he never asserts that he has not sinned. His position is that he cannot recall having committed any transgression that would require such harsh punishment (9:20-21).[4]  

The stone of stumbling for Job’s friends was the gospel. None of them ever approximated the truth of redemption. Elihu, despite his other failures, was inconsistent enough that sometimes he began to see the truth. In Job 33:23-28, he speaks of a mediator; of a ransom that delivers one from going down to the pit; and, of the redemption of the soul. Such passages are completely absent in the speeches of Job’s friends and that is one reason—though not the only one—that they could never find an explanation for Job’s trials. Elihu, for all his youthful immaturity, had some insights into the gospel because he knew that the Holy Spirit must enlighten us. But Elihu’s knowledge of the gospel is still deficient. He sees the truth as in a glass dimly and not with the clarity of vision that Job expressed in Job 19:25-27. Mason correctly analyzes Elihu’s words in Job 33:23—“If there is an angel as mediator for him. . .”:

To be sure, Elihu’s notion of an angelic intermediary falls far short of the personal savior envisioned by Job. Job’s friend on high is no mere angel, but a Messiah. . . Elihu’s mediator is an angelic power, halfway between the human and the divine, who might condescend to intervene before God on behalf of man. But Job’s mediator is one who somehow fully shares both humanity and divinity and so is qualified “to lay his hand upon us both” (9:33). Why is it that the author of Hebrews devotes his entire first chapter to differentiating between the status of angels and that of God’s own Son? Job, we feel, would have understood why; it is to establish once and for all that “both the one who makes holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb. 2:11). Job would have understood why the longed-for Messiah, when He finally did appear upon the earth, would refer to Himself as the “Son of God” and the “Son of Man,” giving equal weight to His divine and His human natures.[5]

Elihu’s Error Concerning the Gospel

Just when it appeared that Elihu might be advancing towards the gospel, he falls back into the same view of salvation that Job’s friends all expressed and the view that is common among the natural man. Thus, in Job 34:10, 11, he asserts: “Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do wickedness, and from the Almighty to do wrong. For He pays a man according to his work, and makes him find it according to his way.” Inasmuch as Elihu says that God pays men according to his work, he was holding to the view of salvation as expressed in Leviticus 18:5—“So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.” That was the view of salvation according to the law, as Paul wrote in Romans 10:5—“For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by that righteousness.” What this teaches us that a half-truth is a complete untruth. Elihu almost saw the gospel in its glory, but he did not see it in truth. He saw half of it. He saw the need for a mediator, but did not see the glory of the gospel in sending the Son of God to the be the Messiah. He saw the need for ransom from the pit, but then proposed that God “pays a man according to his work.” He saw the need for the redemption of the soul, but could rise no higher in his thoughts than a man saving himself according to his own works. The distortion of the gospel has always been the greatest enemy to the soul of man. For all his flawed thinking about the Lord through these trials, Job stood squarely on the gospel and never let go of it. On the other hand, all the other human speakers—Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and now Elihu—were stuck on the false notion of works salvation. 

[1] Leroy Nixon, trans., John Calvin, Sermons from Job (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1980), 214.  

[2] Ibid. 

[3] Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1994), 343. 

[4] John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 440.  

[5] Mason. Ibid., 350. 

Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL


Please mail any contributions to: Vanguard Presbytery, PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540

I an sending out this week a portion of a chapter I am writing on the Book of Job. It is being written more as an overview of the book and the arguments therein than a commentary on every chapter. There are ten chapters and I am completing the last chapter soon. 

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