Last week we looked at chapters 29 to 31 which contain Job’s final words. In chapter 29 he described his former happiness and those days when God watched over him and when God’s intimate friendship blessed his house and when God was still with him and his children were still with him. Job described his former happiness. And then, in chapter 30, he lamented his present suffering and how the sons of the lowest members of the community mocked him; and it felt like his life was ebbing away and days of suffering gripped him; and how he cried out to God, but God did not answer; and he stood up to appeal to God for help, but God merely looked at him with indifference; and when he hoped for joy, but evil came; and when he looked for light, but only darkness came. He lamented his present suffering. And in chapter 31 he once again protested his innocence. His three so-called friends believed he must have done something to deserve his suffering. They believed Job was suffering because he was a sinner. But again and again and again, and once again in chapter 31, he insisted that he was blameless. He had not done anything to deserve this suffering. And having protested his innocence once more time, the words of Job came to an end. He had nothing more to say and his three so-called friends had nothing more to say.
But the book hasn’t come to an end. The Lord God has yet to appear and the Lord will appear soon and speak to Job and his friends. But before the Lord appears, this young man, Elihu, speaks. He’s been waiting for his turn, because he had to wait until his elders had finished before he could speak. And he now has four speeches to make. We’ll spend our time this evening on the first of his speeches and come back to his three remaining speeches next week and perhaps the week afterwards as well.
Before we get to his first speech, I should say that the Bible commentators are divided about Elihu. Some regard him as just an angry young man who is opinionated and proud and brash and who needs to grow up. Once he grows up, he’ll realise how foolish he sounded when he claimed to know better than Job and his three friends. And so, he’s only a clown, a comic figure, who is very earnest, but foolish. And the fact that the Lord, when he appears, says nothing whatsoever about Elihu suggests that the Lord regarded him as irrelevant. Just as we might try to ignore a child who is showing off, so God wants to ignore Elihu. In fact, some commentators think these chapters don’t belong in the book of Job, but that someone added them after the book was complete. In other words, we could jump from the end of chapter 31 to the beginning of chapter 38 and not notice, because Elihu adds nothing to the book and what he says isn’t that much different from what the three friends said.
That’s what some commentators think. Others — and I agree with them — are more positive about Elihu and the contribution he brings. Some of them make the point that if you listen carefully to Elihu, you’ll see that, whereas the three friends said that Job was suffering because he had sinned, Elihu says that Job had sinned because he was suffering. Let me say that again: whereas the three friends said that Job was suffering because he had sinned, Elihu says that Job had sinned because he was suffering. Job had not done anything to deserve his suffering. But now that he was suffering, he said things about God which were not right. And so, Elihu wants to correct Job. He also wants to correct the three friends, because what they said about Job was wrong too. And he wants to maintain the honour of the Lord who always does what is right. And therefore Elihu’s speeches are a fitting introduction to what the Lord will say. Elihu is God’s forerunner, who begins to state God’s case against Job and his friends.
Having said that, let’s turn to chapter 32 which can be divided into two main parts. There’s the opening five verses which introduce us to Elihu and then there’s the rest of the chapter which contains the first part of his first speech which is really addressed to the three friends. He then turns his attention to Job in chapter 33.
The opening five verses are similar to the chapters 1 and 2. They’re similar because they’re written in prose and not in verse. That is, they’re written as narrative and not as a poem. And they’re also similar because chapters 1 and 2 introduced us to Job and his friends and these five verses introduce us to Elihu. So, when the author wants to introduce someone, he writes in prose. When he tells us what they said, he writes in verse.
Verse 1 tells us that the three friends stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Job was convinced that he was righteous and hadn’t done anything to deserve his suffering. In this he was right, because we know from the beginning of the book that God regarded Job as upright and blameless. And the friends stopped answering him, because they couldn’t refute him. They couldn’t convince him otherwise. They had nothing more to say.
And then we’re told that Elihu — who presumably had been listening the whole time to their speeches — is now very angry. He’s very angry with Job and he’s very angry with the three friends. Other English translations say he burned with angry. Interestingly, the same word for anger is used to describe the Lord’s anger towards the three friends in chapter 42. And that suggests that Elihu’s anger is similar to the Lord’s anger and they are angry about the same things.
One commentator suggests that we should perhaps use the word ‘indignant’. Elihu was indignant about Job and his friends because all of them dishonoured the Lord. Job dishonoured the Lord because, as verse 2 tells us, Job justified himself rather than God. That means he was more interested in vindicating his own name than in vindicating the name of the Lord. The three friends were saying that Job deserved to suffer. And he argued that he had done nothing wrong and did not deserve his suffering. And so, if anyone was in the wrong, it was God, not Job. And so, Job dishonoured the Lord.
And the three friends had dishonoured the Lord, because they found no way to refute Job. Job had said God was in the wrong and the three friends had not managed to silence him. Anyone listening would think that Job was right and God was wrong. And so, they dishonoured God by not proving Job wrong.
And so, because Job had dishonoured God ans because the three friends had dishonoured God, Elihu was indignant. He was angry. He burned with anger.
And yet, he waited until his elders had finished speaking. But when he saw that they had finished and that Job’s words had come to an end and his friends had stopped answering him, Elihu began to speak.
And he begins by saying that he is young in years and they are old. And so, he was afraid to speak up, because older people should be given the first opportunity to speak, because they’re older and wiser, right? Certainly we assume that older people are wiser than younger people. After all, they have lived a lot and they’ve seen a lot and they’ve learnt a lot, whereas the young often know nothing. Typically young people are not known for their wisdom, and we hope that, as they become older, they’ll become wiser.
However, while that’s what we naturally assume, Elihu goes on to make the point that it is the spirit in a man that gives him understanding. And the little footnote beside the word spirit suggests that it should perhaps have a capital letter, because he’s not referring to our human spirit or soul, but to the Holy Spirit, who is the breath of the Almighty. In other words, God gives us wisdom.
Remember when we looked at Isaiah 11 over Christmas where Isaiah spoke of the coming of the Saviour and how the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him: the Spirit of wisdom and understanding and of counsel and of knowledge? God is able to give us wisdom beyond our years. And so, it is not only the old who are wise and it’s not only the aged who understand what is right. That’s what Elihu says in verse 9 and he’s saying that God has given him understanding.
And so, even though I am young, listen to me. I waited while you spoke and I listened to your reasoning. And while you were searching for the right thing to say, I gave you my full attention. So, I’ve been listening carefully, but he’s come to realise that none of the three friends has been able to prove Job wrong. You weren’t able to answer him. And he then adds in verse 13 that they mustn’t leave it up to God. They mustn’t say: I haven’t been able to answer you and it’s up to God now! No, we have to answer Job. And if you can’t do it, I will. I will answer him, but I’ll not use your arguments. I have more own words to say.
He says in verse 15 that ‘they’ are dismayed. He’s referring to the three friends. They are dismayed and they have nothing more to say. But now I’m going to have my say and I am full of words. Do you see that in verse 18? And he adds that the spirit within him is compelling him to speak. He’s like a bottle which is about to burst. He must get his words out and speak because this pressure inside him to speak has been building as each friend spoke and Job replied. It’s been building and building and building and he’s ready to burst. He must speak. He is compelled to speak. And he promises not to show partiality or favouritism and he won’t flatter anyone with insincere praise. He’ll speak directly and sincerely and truthfully.
And Elihu’s first speech continues into chapter 33, where he turns his attention away from the three friends and on to Job. He asks Job to listen and pay attention to him. I am about to open my mouth, he says. My words are on the tip of my tongue.
By the way, Elihu says ‘I’ and ‘my’ a lot, which is one reason why some of the commentators dismiss him as a clown and as proud and opinionated. It seems that he’s full of his own importance. But I don’t think we should disregard Elihu so easily, because what he says is wise, even though he says ‘I’ and ‘my’ a lot.
And, he goes on to say, Job should listen to him, because his heart is upright and he’s sincere and honest and the Spirit of God made him and the breath of God gave him life. He’s presumably claiming that the Spirit who made him has also given him understanding. And so, Job should listen to him. And he says in verse 6 the he is just like Job before God and both of them have been taken from clay. He means that they are both human and therefore Job shouldn’t be afraid of him. In previous chapters, Job complained that God is terrifying; and so, how could Job hope to stand up to God, who is so mighty and powerful? Well, he doesn’t need to fear Elihu, because they’re just the same. So, listen to me.
And then, in verses 8 to 13 Elihu summarises some of the things Job had been saying. So, Elihu has been listening carefully and there are some things which Job said which Elihu wants to bring up and answer.
So, what did Job say? That he is pure and without sin and clean and free from guilt. Yet, Job said, God has found fault with me and is treating me like an enemy. God regards me like an enemy. And Elihu is right: that is one of the things which Job had been saying.
And then Elihu refers to God’s greatness and to his silence and to Job’s complaint that God does not answer him. Do you see that in verses 12 and 13? Elihu said: ‘for God is greater than man. Why do you complain to him that he answers none of man’s words?’ And Elihu is right: that is one of the things which Job had been saying. For instance, back in 19:7, Job complained that though he cried out to God, he got no response from God. And in 30:20, he said that he cried out to God, but God did not answer. So, Job complained that God is silent. He does not answer. That’s one of Job’s complaint.
And Elihu puts God’s greatness and God’s silence next to one another because Job needs to realise that God is greater than us and therefore he’s not at our beck and call as if he’s our servant who has to answer whenever we call. When the master calls for his servant, he expects the servant to answer right away. But God is not our servant. And furthermore, it’s not true to say that God does not speak to us and is silent, because God does speak to us. And he speaks to us in two ways. And this takes us to verses 14 to 30.
The first way God speaks to us — and this is verses 15 to 18 — is through special revelation. Elihu refers to dreams and visions. No one really knows when Job was alive, but some commentators think he was alive in the days of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And that means he was alive in the days before any of the Scriptures had been written. And so, in those days, before we had God’s word to guide us, God revealed himself to his people through dreams and visions. And according to verse 16, God spoke in this way to warn men and to turn them away from wrongdoing. For instance, in Genesis 20 we read how God came to Abimelech in a dream and warned him because he had taken Abraham’s wife, Sarah, for himself. God warned him in a dream.
So, God speaks to us through special revelation. In those days, it meant through dreams and visions. In our day, it means through his written word, the Bible. And God speaks to us in order to turn us from wrongdoing. He speaks to us to keep us from sin. And therefore he also keeps us from the punishment which our sin would involve (Green). So, his purpose in speaking to us and in warning us is gracious and good: he wants to keep us from sin and from suffering his punishment.
And the second way God speaks to us is through suffering and affliction. This is in verses 19 to 30. And, of course, this applies to Job: God has been speaking to Job through his suffering.
Elihu explains that a man may be chastened or rebuked by God on a bed of pain and with constant distress in his bones. His flesh wastes away to nothing and his bones, once hidden, now stick out because he’s lost so much weight. He is being chastened by God. He is being rebuked by God. God is speaking to us through our pain. As C. S. Lewis says: suffering is God’s megaphone. Lewis says that we rest contentedly in our sins. So, we’re not bothered by them. And though God is his word forbids us to sin, we can easily disregard God’s word. However, pain insists on being attended to. We can’t ignore it. It demands our attention. And through what we suffer, God speaks to us. As Lewis says: he shouts in our pains. Suffering is his megaphone to get our attention.
And he speaks to us in this way with the same gracious purpose, which is to turn us from wrongdoing and to keep us from sin. Or, as Job goes on to say in verses 29 and 30, God does all these things to a man — twice, even three times — to turn back his soul from the pit and so that the light of life may shine on him. When God sends affliction into our life, it’s to turn us away from sin. It’s to keep us from going astray and it’s to keep us faithful to the Lord.
One of the commentators (Green) explains it this way: Job’s friends said Job was suffering because he was a sinner. Therefore his suffering was punitive and God was punishing him. But Elihu is saying that Job’s suffering was not punitive, but curative. He sends it into our lives to cure us from sin. Or as another commentator puts it (Jones), Job’s suffering is preventative. He sends it into our lives to prevent us from sinning. He sends it into our lives to keep us from sinning against the Lord. And so, suffering is of benefit to us.
And doesn’t that match what James says in his New Testament letter? James tells us to consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds, because the testing of our faith develops perseverance. Some good comes from our suffering and our trials have a beneficial effect on us. And Peter, in his first New Testament letter, says that trials come on us to test the genuineness of our faith and it results in praise and glory and honour. Again, they have a beneficial effect on us. And the writer to the Hebrews also speaks about the beneficial effect of our suffering, because he says that God is disciplining us for our good so that we might share in his holiness.
And so, that means we’re to regard suffering as a sign of God’s kindness to us, because who knows what trouble would befall us if he had left us alone? Who knows how we might have fallen into sin or gone astray if he had not sent that trial into our life? A parent who does not discipline his children when they are young should not be surprised if the child goes astray when they are older. And so, wise parents will discipline their children to keep them on the right path. And God disciplines us by sending suffering into our lives; and he uses our suffering for our good.
I’m reminded of the Y2K bug. Do you remember? There were dire warnings about what was going to happen when we moved from the year 1999 to the year 2000, because there was a problem with the way computers were set up and they would get confused when the date changed. But as it turned out, nothing much happened when the new year began and everything was fine. Aeroplanes did not fall from the sky, as some predicted. The computers in our banks did not break and so that we lost all our money, which was another fear. Hospital equipment did not stop working. And the world did not end. And afterwards, people said it was all a lot of fuss over nothing. It wasn’t a problem after all, because nothing bad happened. But, of course, nothing bad happened because the right people paid attention to the warnings and made the necessary preparations in order to avoid catastrophe. They prevented disaster by paying attention to the warnings. And Elihu is saying that God sends affliction into our lives to keep us from sinning and from falling away from him.
When Satan asked God’s permission to attack Job, Satan had his own wicked purpose in mind. He wanted to destroy Job’s faith and demonstrate that Job only worshipped God for what he could get from God in this life. Satan’s purpose in sending trouble into Job’s life was evil. But God also had his own purpose in allowing Satan to attack Job. The Lord allowed Satan to attack Job, because God speaks to us through what we suffer to keep us from sin and from going astray.
In verses 23 to 28, Elihu refers to an angel on our side, a mediator, who is one in a thousand, who tells a man what is right for him. One of the commentators explains that the word translated ‘angel’ can mean ‘angel’ or it can mean ‘messenger’. And so, he suggests that it should be translated ‘messenger’ here and that Elihu is referring to himself. He’s is God’s messenger; and God has sent Elihu to explain these things to Job. So, Elihu tells Job what is right for him, so that Job will be spared from going down to the pit. And Elihu refers to a ransom for Job and how Job will be renewed and restored. Job is therefore able to pray to God and find favour with him. He will see God’s face and shout for joy. He is restored by God. And then afterwards, he’ll say to his neighbours that he sinned, but he did not get what he deserved, because God redeemed his life from going down to the pit.
And so, one of the commentators says that Elihu is the messenger from God. That’s one interpretation. Another commentator lists various suggestions concerning the identity of this messenger, because the identity of the messenger is not clear. However, as I studied this passage, it occurred to me — and I haven’t found a commentator to back me up — but it occurred to me that when Elihu refers to this messenger from God, he could be referring to Job’s suffering. Job’s suffering is a messenger from God, a mediator, one out of a thousand, to tell Job what is right for him.
And it’s not such a far-fetched suggestion, because in 2 Corinthians 12 the Apostle Paul referred to the thorn in his flesh which tormented him. And he calls the thorn in his flesh ‘a messenger from Satan’. Suffering is a messenger from Satan which Satan sends into our lives to hurt us. But suffering is also a messenger from God which God sends into our lives to teach us what is right for us and what is good and to keep us from going down to the pit.
And so, God does these things for us. He speaks to us through special revelation and he speaks to us through suffering. He does these things for us to turn back our soul from the pit. If that suffering did not come into your life, who knows where you would have ended up? Perhaps you were headed for danger. You did not know it, because you do not know the future. But God knew the danger you were in and he sent troubles and trials and pain and heartache into your life to turn you from danger and to keep you on the narrow way that leads to life.
And so, Satan had a wicked purpose in mind when he asked permission to attack Job. But God had a gracious purpose in mind when he allowed Satan to attack him. And Satan comes at us with his wicked schemes which are evil. But God graciously overrules and he uses our suffering for our good.
And, of course, we see this most clearly in the suffering of our Saviour. Ever since the Lord Jesus was born, Satan was trying to destroy him. He stirred up King Herod to try to kill him. And when the Lord began his ministry, the people in the synagogue in Nazareth took offence at him and they took him to the brow of a hill in order to throw him down the cliff. Later, the Devil sent the Pharisees and Sadducees and the teachers of the law to test the Lord Jesus. And then they began to plot to kill him; and eventually they had him arrested and tried and beaten and whipped and killed. And it seemed that Satan had won and he has managed to carry out his evil plan to kill God’s Anointed King. The Devil intended to do him harm.
And yet, this all happened according to God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, because it was the will of God for the Lord Jesus to suffer and die on the cross to pay for our sins with his life before rising again to give us life. The Devil’s purpose was wicked and evil. He wanted to kill the Saviour of the world. But God permitted all these things to happen to his Son, because his gracious purpose in all of this was the salvation of his people.
And so, if we want proof that God is able to use suffering for good, we see it at the cross. Wicked men — stirred up by Satan — hated the Lord Jesus, and wanted to kill him. But God allowed it because, through his suffering, we would receive life. And when a believer suffers today, it’s not because God hates us and is punishing us. He’s not punishing us, because Christ was punished in our place and no further payment will ever be required from us. When a believer suffers today, it’s because God loves us and he’s got some gracious purpose in mind and he’s using our suffering for our good, as a messenger from God to speak to us and to tell us what is right and to keep us from sin and to keep us from going down to the pit and to keep us faithful to the Lord.
And God speaks to us not only through suffering, but he also speaks to us through special revelation. In the past, that meant God spoke through dreams and visions to warn people. These days, he speaks to us through his written word, the Bible. And he comes to us in his word and he warns us. And he comes to us in his word and he directs us in the way that we should go. And in his word, he comes and tells us what Christ has done to make peace between us. And since we have peace with God, then we have nothing to fear from him; and we can know that his plans for us and his purpose for us are good and gracious and kind.