The God of Elihu: Job V

Let’s cut to the chase. Here’s what Elihu thinks about God:

Therefore hear me, intelligent people:
Far be it from El to be in the wrong!
Or Shaddai to be guilty of injustice,
For he pays humans for their work
And requites mortals for their conduct. (34:10-11)

Behold the heavens and see;
Look at the clouds high above you.
If you sin, what are you doing to him?
If your transgressions are legion, how do you affect him?
If you are righteous, what do you render him?
Or what does he receive from your hand?
Your wickedness affects mortals like yourself;
Your righteousness fellow human beings. (35:5-8)

Ah. Finally we get to some ideas about God that make good sense. He’s the Almighty, of course, standing above the fray. His judgments are just and neither wickedness nor righteousness affects him.

Except…er,…except… The reader knows from the prologue that God is affected by human behavior, at least enough to get involved with the Satan on the matter. And the reader also know that Job’s current situation is anything but what he would enjoy if God really did “requite mortals for their conduct.” Beyond that, the Elihu chapters have a prologue, and prologues in Job seem to be, um, important. Indispensable, in fact. So maybe we’ll go read the Elihu prologue.

Elihu’s Prologue

Elihu appears on the scene after the three friends have fallen silent and after Job has delivered his climatic defense of his own innocence and made a formal request for a public legal hearing with God as the respondent. The narrative is at a critical point. Will God appear and answer Job after remaining silent for so long? Elihu has a prediction, but let’s start with the Elihu prologue:

So these three men ceased answering Job because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then the anger of Elihu, son of Barachel the Buzite from the clan of Ram, flared up against Job because he thought himself more righteous than God. His anger also flared up against his three friends because they had found no answer and so had made God appear guilty. Elihu had waited with Job while they spoke, for they were older than he. But when Elihu saw that these three men had no answer in their mouth, his anger flared up again. (32:1-5)

A triple repetition of the word “anger” with Elihu as the subject. And a reference to Elihu’s youth. That’s a combination that makes you go “Hmmmm” for sure. Could Elihu be a young, passionate, hothead, determined to defend God’s honor? And is there something ironic about feeling the need to defend God when you’ve otherwise described him as the Almighty?

Elihu’s Apology

Let’s see what Elihu has to say about his own motivations:

I am young in days
And you are old men;
So I was scared and afraid
To speak my mind before you.
I said to myself, “Days will testify
And many years teach Wisdom.”
Surely she is the spirit in humans
And the breath of Shaddai that gives them insight.
But the aged are not wise
Nor do old men understand litigation.
So I say, “Listen to me!
I will speak my mind. Yes, I will” (32:6b-10)

I will answer with my piece. Yes, I will!
I will speak my mind. Yes, I will!
For I am bloated with arguments
And wind distend my belly.
Behold, my belly is like unvented wine,
Like new wineskins, ready to explode.
I will speak and be relieved;
I will open my lips and answer.
I will be partial to no one
And flatter no human.
For if I knew how to flatter,
My Make would soon dispatch me. (32:17-22)

Oh boy. Where to start? For one thing, there’s the idea that Wisdom is “the spirit in humans,” and that it is the breath of God animating humans. If so, humans are born with wisdom and there’s no need to grow old searching for it. Elihu thinks himself a “born sage,” no less!

Then there’s a conflict between the prologue and Elihu’s apology. Elihu finds himself patient, sensitive, and respectful. He also believes himself superior in wisdom to the four older men, but his language makes him look far more like the brash fool of his prologue. Here are two points.

First, consider the triple repetition of “anger” and the triple repetition of “Yes, I will!.” Elihu’s anger is matched by his ego. Beyond that, there may also be a double entendre, for “anger” is ’ap and “Yes, I will!” is ’ap ’ni. Now this latter phrase is a common form of self-assertion, but in its present context it’s like Elihu almost says “Yes, I am anger.” So Job just dissed God, and Elihu is mad as all heck about it!

Second, the reader remembers that Eliphaz had earlier made this nasty comment to Job:

Should a wise man answer with a mind of wind,
And bloat his belly with an east wind? (15:2)

The answer is obviously “no,” but these are the precise ideas used by Elihu to describe his own situation. In other words, Elihu’s need to speak is like, um, gas pains. That’s right. The best way to contemplate Elihu, then, is to stand back let your Inner Deacon have his way. This of course precludes the ladies from understanding this passage, but such are the burdens of the gentler, less audible, sex…

Elihu’s Prediction

The final pertinent point here is Elihu’s prediction of God’s response to Job’s demand for formal litigation. According to Elihu, there is no flaw in God’s justice; it is apparent for all to see. Therefore, there is no need for God to respond:

So if you have discernment, hear this!
Give ear to the force of my argument!
Would one hates justice govern?
Would you prove the Just and Mighty One wrong,
Who pronounces a king “Scoundrel”
And rulers “Condemnd,”
Who defers not to princes
And favors not the rich over the poor,
For they are all the work of his hands? (34:16-19)

There is no darkness or shadowy realm
Where evildoers may hide.
Indeed, it is not for a mortal to set a time
To come before El in litigation. (34:22-23)

Now Elihu does not think that God refrains from any answer; in fact, God does speak to humans through dreams and afflictions (33:12-28). But he does not answer formal requests such as that tendered by Job. Job asked for a response from God in 31:35:

Oh, if only someone would conduct my hearing!
Here is my signature! Let Shaddai be my respondent!
Let my adversary at law draft a document!

Elihu’s final words are his prediction of how God will respond to Job:

Shaddai—we cannot reach him!
Great in his might and justice,
Mighty in his righteousness—
He does not answer!
Therefore, mortals fear him;
But even the wise of heart cannot see him.(37:23-24)

And what follows this bold declaration is surely one of history’s greatest put-downs, in the very next words of the text (38:1):

Then Yahweh answered Job from the whirlwind…

7 Replies to “The God of Elihu: Job V”

  1. “…your Inner Deacon…” and “…the gentler, less audible, sex…”

    Two phrases that illustrate why I will always envy but never write as well as Mogget.

  2. Mogget,

    Point well taken re: my Inner Deacon (and teacher, and priest, and elder, and, dare I say it, high priest).

    Don’t you think that Elihu also displays some of the petulance characteristic of a Beehive? As you present him here, I can imagine him with his hands on his hips, stamping his foot to make a point.

    Thanks for helping this book make sense to me.

  3. Thanks Mogget. Tactfully put as always. Your series here has given Job a new focus to me. I used to think that Job was just about enduring trials and putting up with idiots who don’t know God or the Gospel. Now I think the story is more about teaching that we don’t know God well enough to stuff him and his actions into a box and predict them. I like your way better, it makes more sense.

    As I’ve thought about Job over the past week+ I’ve begun to wonder if there is anyway that this story isn’t borrowed. It seems to be set far out of Israel, but the personal names, focus on El/Yahweh, and even references to wisdom seem to confuse the context a lot. Of course, it is easy to borrow a story and change all the particulars to fit your own country so what I want to know is: is there any way this story is originally Israelite in origin?

  4. Ah, I’ve been exposed as sexist and I plead guilty. I much prefer the foibles of males to those of females. If I commented on the distaff side, it would come across too sharply to be humorous.

    And Brian J., I could lay out a selection of vices that, if practised consistently, would enable you too to be irreverent, vulgar, and sarcastic in even the most sanctified circumstances. I staple my mouth shut each week before I go to the temple, you know.

    Nice, chaste, Mogget-kisses to all the gentlemen out there.

    Hello, J. Watkins!

    David J.’s next question will be “Why don’t they have internet in Canada yet?”

    Beyond that, yes, Job is not about faith or patience and to mine it as a proof-text for the resurrection or the pre-mortal council lies somewhere between ignorant and criminal. I guess I have an attitude or something.

    The way I’ve approached it, it’s a profound treatment of the human-God relationship. I’m sure you’ve noticed that there’s a relationship between each character and the god they create. This creates a particularly pungent critique in the Elihu section, since Elihu’s god represents the “typical” God we all deal with on a practical basis. That this, the most popular form of god, should be layed out by a man with intellectual constipation is very ironical. It tells us quite a bit about ourselves.

    As far as I know, the Book of Job is unique in ancient NE lit. There are some works that have some similarities, but nothing comprehensive. But I defer to the OT guys and the Semitics guys for final judgment.

    David J.? HP? Ronan? Monk?

  5. “As far as I know, the Book of Job is unique in ancient NE lit. There are some works that have some similarities, but nothing comprehensive. But I defer to the OT guys and the Semitics guys for final judgment.”

    I think it depends on what you looking for. There are several satires in Egyptian, although they usually don’t mock wisdom lit (as the scribes are the source of most wisdom lit). There are theodicies in both Mesopotamian and Egyptian lit. So, on a broad level, there are parallel works. However, the particular conclusion that Job comes to and the story itself (God and Satan, Job, his wife and friends, etc.) are, as far as I know off the top of my head, unique. But I am happy to be corrected should someone else know better.

  6. I do agree with you that Elihu is a “Peter” of the Old Testamnet, but I do disagree that spiritual wisdom is obtained the same as earthly wisdom; through time and experience. Earthly wisdom certainly must be obtained through the earthly means of time and experience, but spiritual wisdom is given to each according to the Lord’s will and purpose. We can and must learn obedience just as Christ did, but that is an earthly practice and experience that benefits us Spirituall, and seeing as Jesus was (and is) God … He obviously had no need for increased spiritual wisdom. When Paul met God on the road to Damascus he did not have much choice in the matter. He went from killing and torturing Christians to teaching all of them God’s wisdom. He certainly had AN experience, but it was the Lord’s purpose to provide Paul with all of the wisdom and revelation needed; not because of anything Paul did but simply because the Lord willed to use him. We learn obedience but we are in no need that anyone should teach us because it is the annointing of the Holy Spirit that provides us with all of the spiritual knowledge and insight needed according to the Father’s purpose. The two, however, do go hand in hand because this revelation and wisdom CAN NEVER be about us. He will only bless us with revelation and wisdom according to the level of our obedience or, as in Paul’s case, “forced” obedience. He knows our hearts and He knows Who can be trusted with revelation and wisdom. He knows which servants will soley boast in Christ and not in the receiving of the revelation. He sees through works based obedience, he knows the heart… so obedience is not a method to obtain revelation and wisdom because the person with that heart will never receive it, no matter how severe the “obedience”. He used Paul because his spiritual wisdom and revelation were obviously not about him to the Christians of his day. If the wisest were the Rabbi’s who had spent their lives learning “wisdom” than God would have used them, but He could not because their wisdom was about them even though their “intent” was Godly glory. The understanding of this principle will save us from much needless toil in earthly “spiritual education”. It is essential that we study the Word and pray, but as we do it for the Father’s pleasure alone than the Spirit is able to open the floodgates of revelation and understanding… and when all is said and done you find you only need to know one thing… Christ crucified.

    God bless.

    1 John 2:26-27

    1 Corinthians 1:20-29; 2:1-5

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