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Devotions on the Book of Job (Thursday, Week 13)

July 21, 2016 | by: Ben O'Donoghue | 0 Comments

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This week we are looking at the newcomer to the “let’s fix Job" mix- the young and fired-up Elihu. Christopher Ash is right when he says that there are only two ways we can listen to Elihu: either he is a false prophet or he is a true prophet. Ash argues for the latter (as summarised in Tuesday’s devotion). For what it’s worth, I disagree and take the false-prophet option.

Like much of the book, it’s not always easy to discern who is speaking rightly and who is speaking wrongly. Admittedly, Elihu says some right-sounding things. And yet, when all is said and done it seems to miss the mark. Elihu provides yet another example of the right words spoken to the wrong man!

The fact that no one responds to Elihu- not Job, not the other friends, and notably not God who speaks immediately after him, make interpreting his speeches somewhat ambiguous. And yet, there are good reasons for reading Job 32-37 as nothing more than a buffer before God Almighty himself speaks.

For a start, the narrator introduces Elihu as an angry (angry, angry, angry) man (see Job 32, verses 2 (twice), 3 and 4)- not the most positive of first impressions! It’s unlikely that he speaks with the righteous anger of God, because this does not reflect God’s posture toward Job at the beginning and end of the book.

While he does take a subtly different approach in rebuking Job, there is not a significant variation to his ultimate message (one commentator suggests that “Elihu’s speeches are no more than a pastiche of threadbare arguments already discarded”). Perhaps the most original part of Elihu’s tirade is his observation that suffering can be seen as discipline as distinct from flat-out punishment (see Job 33:14-30 where Elihu teaches that a person can be chastised through suffering in order to bring them closer to God).

This is indeed a biblical theme (see Deuteronomy 8:5, Proverbs 3:11-13 and Hebrews 12:5-11), but it is not expressed anywhere else in the book, let alone from God himself. So again, we must be wary in giving too much weight to Elihu’s words in the context what is yet to come.

Ironically, Elihu is convinced that God will not speak with Job and so it is left to him to speak on God’s behalf (see Job 35:12–13). God’s immediate appearance serves to dismiss and undermine Elihu’s claims.

The most likely function of these chapters is to provide space between Job’s summons (31:35-37) and God’s appearance. Throughout the Book of Job, God is pictured as freely sovereign, and can be found only when he takes the initiative to reveal himself. If God were to appear immediately on Job’s summons, he could hardly make a powerful speech about his sovereignty over the universe.

For me, though, the most damning words from Elihu’s mouth are when he says “Be assured that my words are not false; one perfect in knowledge is with you” (Job 36:4) By claiming to know perfectly what is going on, Elihu joins the host of characters who show they lack wisdom. As we saw last week, one of the key messages of this book is a realisation of the limitations of human understanding.

Thus (as Andersen puts it), “Elihu gives the human estimate; Yahweh gives the divine appraisal”. And so to the Word of the Lord we turn together on Sunday!

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