Introduction: In this chapter, a bystander named Elihu erupted in anger at both Job’s friends and at Job. He would give a speech that would exceed in length every prior speaker and even God’s final words to Job. Yet, in the end, neither Job nor God would even respond to or acknowledge his words. Like Job’s friends, Elihu would state many theologically accurate statements. His speeches would contain many true statements. Yet, in the end, his words would not apply to Job. In this chapter, Elihu spends the entire time introducing himself without giving a single word of counsel to Job. Through Elihu’s actions and his descriptions of himself, the Bible reveals seven signs of a person motivated by their flesh and not the Spirit. These include being: (1) unloving, (2) angry, (3) prideful, (4) insecure, (5) impulsive, (6) prayerless, and (7) narcissistic.
First, Elihu burned with anger at Job for his self-righteousness. Even if Job’s claims were wrong, he was a grieving man who needed compassion. A person motivated by their flesh is frequently unloving. Second, Elihu burned with anger at Job’s friends for failing to impeach Job’s claims that he was blameless. He considered them incompetent. Although Job claimed to be blameless, God had affirmed that he was blameless. A person motivated by their flesh is also prone to unjustified anger. Third, even though he believed that he could have made better arguments, Elihu boasted that he allowed his elders to speak uninterrupted. A person who is motivated by their flesh is also prideful. Fourth, before offering his counsel, he demanded in advance that his words be given respect. A person motivated by their flesh is also frequently insecure. Fifth, Elihu claimed that his words were ready to burst, and he could no longer contain himself. A person motivated by their flesh is also frequently impulsive. Sixth, Elihu felt compelled by a spirit within him to speak. Yet, he never prayed to determine if his words were from God. A person of the flesh also makes decisions without praying. Finally, Elihu boasted that he was being impartial to no one. Although being impartial is a good thing, the only person Elihu impressed was himself. A person of the flesh is also frequently motivated out of self-love.
Elihu burned with anger against Job for his alleged self-righteousness. After Job’s friends failed to respond to Job’s assertions of innocence, Elihu became filled with anger: “1 Then these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 2 But the anger of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, burned against Job; his anger burned because he justified himself before God.” (Job 32:1-2). Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar all arrived together and sat silently with Job for seven days (Job 2:11-13). Although Elihu did not come with them, he was able to observe the dialogue. Of all the speakers, Elihu is the only person with a genealogy provided. He was a “Buzite” (Job 32:2). Thus, he was likely a descendant of Abraham’s relative “Buz”: “Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel (the father of Aram),” (Gen. 22:21). Elihu’s name was also a Hebrew name, meaning “My God is He.” These facts are most likely included to suggest that he likely had a closer ancestral relationship to Job than the others. His arguments were also closer to the truth. But they were still wrong when applied to Job. God would not affirm his comments or even allow Job to respond.
Elihu lectured Job’s older accusers for failing to effectively rebuke Job1
Elihu’s anger was misplaced. Elihu was likely a bystander who believed that Job’s claim to be “blameless” was blasphemous to God: “The Prologue says nothing of bystanders, though it implies Job sat in an open place where the friends could see him at a distance (2:12). These verses imply that Elihu was among bystanders who listened to Job and his counselors. . . [Elihu’s] speeches are only presented as a human reaction to Job’s apparent ‘self-righteousness’ and the counselor’s ineptitude. Elihu’s concern was not that they falsely condemned Job (v.3) but, that in failing to disprove Job’s claims about his blameless life, they succeeded in condemning God. After all, they held that God never afflicts the innocent and always punishes the wicked.” (Frank Gaebelein, Elmer Smick, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, 1, 2 Kgs., 1, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job (Zondervan Publishing House 1988) p. 999). Yet, like the others, Elihu shared the same sin in claiming to know God’s will. God would later reveal that His reasons for allowing good people to suffer can be beyond our limited comprehension.
Job was guilty of proclaiming his righteousness, but God affirmed his statements as true. Job had made a number of statements to either God or his friends that could easily be defined as self-righteous: “Far be it from me that I should declare you right; until I die, I will not give up my integrity.” (Job 27:5). “Let Him weigh me with accurate scales, and let God know my integrity.” (Job 31:6). “I have kept hold of my righteousness and will not let it go.” (Job 27:6a). “According to Your knowledge I am indeed not guilty, yet there is no one to save me from Your hand.” (Job 10:7). “Behold now, I have prepared my case; I know that I will be vindicated.” (Job 13:18). Yet, God twice affirmed that Job was in fact “blameless,” not sinless: “The LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”’ (Job 1:8; 2:3). God also later condemned Job’s three friends for falsely attacking Job’s integrity (Job 42:7). Job’s lesson would be the need to learn to submit to God, even if the reasons for a trial are unknown (Ro. 8:28).
Job needed compassion, not a lecture. In the midst of the theological debate between Job and his friends, it is easy to forget that Job had experienced a tragedy that few could imagine. Evil men first stole his animals and then murdered his servants (Job 1:13-15, 17). A fire then burned his remaining animals (Job 1:16). A storm then killed his ten children (Job 1:18-19). Job then suffered from a host of debilitating illnesses. These included: (1) painful, itchy sores from head to toe (Job 2:7-8), (2) decaying, blackened, maggot-ridden flesh (Job 30:30a; 7:5a), (3) hardened, dead flesh with oozing scars (Job 7:5b), (4) burning bone pains (Job 30:30b), (5) difficulty breathing (Job 9:18), (4) sleeplessness from intense pains (Job 30:17; 7:3-4), (5) misery and sorrow (Job 17:7; 30:27-28), (6) intense crying (Job 16:16; 16:20b), (7) ongoing fatigue and anxiety (Job 16:7a; 3:26), (8) nightmares (Job 7:14), (9) severe emaciation from an inability to eat (Job 17:7b; 19:20; 33:21), (10) a repulsive appearance and breath (Job 19:17), (11) public scorn and abandonment (Job 16:20a; 19:13), and (12) depression and suicidal thoughts (Job 6:9; 7:15-16; 9:21; 10:1). After seven days of silent mourning, Job cursed his birth (Job 3:1-10). He lamented that he did not die at birth (Job 3:11-19). He then cried out for God to let him die (Job 3:20-26). Even though Job was wrong to question God’s fairness, he was still entitled to mercy, grace, and compassion as he grieved for his loss.
Believers are called upon to encourage one another and show compassion. Although Job’s theology was wrong, he mostly needed love and support. As a believer, you are commanded to encourage others: “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13). Believers are also called upon to be compassionate: “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32). “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience;” (Col. 3:12). “But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.” (Heb. 13:22). “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Cor. 16:13). Are you using God’s Word to encourage those who are suffering?
Elihu burned with anger against Job for alleged incompetence. Elihu also burned with anger at Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar for failing to convict Job for his alleged hidden sins: “3 And his anger burned against his three friends because they had found no answer, yet they had condemned Job. 4 Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were years older than he. 5 But when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of the three men, his anger burned.” (Job 32:3-5). Elihu was not angry at them for expressing bad theology or for being unkind to Job. Instead, he thought that they were incompetent prosecutors. In Elihu’s mind, Job needed to be convicted for his self-righteousness.
Anger is rarely the right approach when engaging in a dialogue with other people. Elihu was an angry young man. In the first five verses, Elihu is described on four separate occasions as being filled with “anger” at everyone (Job 32:2,3,5). Yet, with only limited exceptions, angry outbursts are a tool of the flesh, not the Spirit: “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,” (Ro. 8:7). If he were led by the Spirit, Elihu would have gently rebuked the alleged sinners (Job and his friends) and then encouraged them to do what was right: “Brothers and sisters, even if a person is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual are to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you are not tempted as well.” (Gal. 6:1). “What do you desire? That I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Cor. 4:21). “For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish, and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, selfishness, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances;” (2 Cor. 12:20). Do you confront alleged sinners with a loving and gentle heart or with anger?
Anger can be a sign of an unloving heart. There are many examples in the Bible where people who acted with anger had an unloving heart towards God’s people. For example, the Egyptians showed cruelty toward Jews, whom they considered to be inferior (Ex. 1:11, 14, 5:6-10). As another example, King Rehoboam’s pride caused him to respond to the people’s complaints with cruelty (1 Kgs. 12:11). During the end times, people will also become unloving and brutal to each other: “For men will be . . ., unloving, . . . brutal, haters of good,” (2 Tim. 3:2-3). “For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:21). People will become “unfeeling, and unmerciful;” (Rom. 1:31). When you offer counsel to others, always do so in love.
Righteous anger is most frequently focused on leaders who cause others to stumble. When anger has been justified, it is typically focused on leaders who mislead the people away from God. For example, Moses was filled with anger at Aaron and the leaders for building a golden calf and misleading the people into idolatry just as he was receiving the Ten Commandments: “And it came about, as soon as Moses approached the camp, that he saw the calf and the people dancing; and Moses’ anger burned, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.” (Ex. 32:19). Likewise, Nehemiah became angry at the religious leaders who misused God’s holy Temple for their personal profit (Neh. 13:7-8). Jesus also became angry at the money changers who misused God’s Temple (Jo. 2:13-18). Jesus also looked at the religious leaders “with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.” (Mk. 3:5). Thus, anger is only appropriate in limited circumstances. This would include false prophets and false teachers. Is your anger focused on leaders who draw the masses away from Jesus?
Rebuke an alleged sinner with gentleness because no one is free from sin. Instead of rebuking an alleged sinner out of anger like Elihu, believers are called upon to correct sinners in a spirit of gentleness: “Brothers and sisters, even if a person is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual are to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness; . . .” (Gal. 6:1). You should typically be gentle in rebuking a sinner because everyone is guilty of sin: “And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, or no person living is righteous in Your sight.” (Ps. 143:2; Ecc. 7:20). “When they sin against You (for there is no person who does not sin) and You are angry with them and turn them over to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to the land of the enemy, distant or near;” (1 Kgs. 8:46). “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Ro. 3:23). When you need to correct another for a sin, do you do so with gentleness and humility?
Elihu was prideful that he was smarter than his elders. Elihu claimed to show deference to his elders by waiting to speak, but he still felt pride that he only could speak the truth: “6 So Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite spoke out and said, ‘I am young in years and you are old; therefore I was shy and afraid to tell you what I think. 7 I thought age should speak, and increased years should teach wisdom. 8 But it is a spirit that is in mankind, and the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding. 9 The abundant in years may not be wise, nor may elders understand justice.” (Job 32:6-9). It is wise to respect and honor your elders (Prov. 16:31). Elihu was also following the cultural norms of respect that existed at his time (1 Kgs. 12:6,8). Thus, Elihu’s willingness to not interrupt earlier was commendable. But because he thought that he was better than his elders in his alleged ability to convict Job of his purported sins, his heart was motivated by pride.
William Blake (1757 - 1827) “The Book of Job - 12” (engraving 1826)2
Test every claim that is allegedly from God. Elihu proclaimed that “the Almighty” gave him “understanding.” (Job 32:8). This sounds convincing, and he would say things that were closer to the truth than Job’s three friends. Yet, Eliphaz also claimed to have authority to speak based upon a vision that he received (Job 4:12-16), while his vision was most likely demonic. True wisdom instead belongs to God alone: “Wisdom and might are with Him; advice and understanding belong to Him.” (Job 12:13; Prov. 2:6; Ecc. 2:26). Thus, believers are called upon to test everyone who claims to speak for God: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 Jo. 4:1). “but examine everything; hold firmly to that which is good,” (1 Thess. 5:21). The Bible is filled with examples of people who falsely claimed to speak for God (e.g., 1 Kgs. 13:18; Jer. 14:14; 23:26; 29:8; Matt. 7:5). God doesn’t change (Nu. 23:19; Ps. 102:25-27; Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8). Because God tells believers to correct a sinner in gentleness (Gal. 6:1), God would not tell a prophet to lash out at Job in anger for having a theological misunderstanding during a time of intense grief. Indeed, when God did finally speak, He completely ignored Elihu’s words. Thus, without hearing his actual words of advice, the reader is placed on notice that Elihu was speaking for himself and not for God.
Pride is a sign of someone speaking from their flesh and not of the Spirit. When Solomon listed the sins that God “hates”, pride was number one on the list (Prov. 8:13; 6:16-17; 16:5). Solomon also warned that pride leads to “strife.” (Prov. 13:10). “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” (Prov. 16:18; 18:12).
Jeremiah also warned that pride can “deceive” the prideful person from seeing the truth (Jer. 49:16). Because of his pride, Elihu could not see how his words glorified himself. “This is what the LORD says: ‘Let no wise man boast of his wisdom, nor let the mighty man boast of his might, nor a rich man boast of his riches;”’ (Jer. 9:23; 1 Cor. 1:31). Before you claim to speak for God, ask if you are seeking to glorify Him or yourself.
Elihu demanded that his words be given respect. Out of frustration that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had failed to impeach Job, he demanded his words be listened to with respect: “10 So I say, ‘Listen to me, I too will tell what I think.’ 11 ‘Behold, I waited for your words, I listened to your skillful speech, while you pondered what to say. 12 I also paid close attention to you; but indeed, there was no one who refuted Job, not one of you who answered his words. 13 So do not say, ‘We have found wisdom: God will defeat him, not man.’ 14 But he has not presented his words against me, nor will I reply to him with your arguments.”’ (Job 32:10-14). If Elihu had convincing words of wisdom, he could have simply stated them. Instead, he demanded the right to have the others “Listen to me.”
Elihu demanded that Job listen to his words3
A person speaking for God does not need to speak out of insecurity. When Paul spoke he did not care if he was rejected because he did not seek the approval of men: “For am I now seeking the favor of people, or of God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” (Gal. 1:10;1 Thess. 2:4). When you speak, do you seek God’s approval or the approval of your peers?
Elihu asserted his right to be impatient. Apparently aware of his friends disgust at his tone, Elihu sarcastically questioned how long he needed to wait before impeaching Job: “15 They are dismayed, they no longer answer; words have failed them. 16 Should I wait, because they are not speaking, because they have stopped and no longer answer? 17 I too will give my share of answers; I also will tell my opinion.” (Job 32:15-17). Elihu apparently looked upon Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar with contempt for failing to make the right arguments against Job. Thus, he could no longer contain his many words.
Impulsive lectures normally lead to sin. Although there are many times when you may feel compelled to speak or lecture, the Bible repeatedly warns against hasty words: “Do you see a person who is hasty with his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Prov. 29:20). “One who is slow to anger has great understanding; but one who is quick-tempered exalts foolishness.” (Prov. 14:29). “One who withholds his words has knowledge, and one who has a cool spirit is a person of understanding.” (Prov. 17:27). “Do not be eager in your spirit to be angry, for anger resides in the heart of fools.” (Ecc. 7:9). “You know this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Now everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger;” (Jam. 1:19). When you feel tempted to lash out at others for making mistakes, do you restrain your words?
Elihu asserted his right to be impulsive. Without ever stopping to pray for God’s guidance, Elihu proclaimed the right to spout out the words that were pent up within him: “18 For I am full of words; the spirit within me compels me. 19 Behold, my belly is like unvented wine; like new wineskins, it is about to burst. 20 Let me speak so that I may get relief; let me open my lips and answer.” (Job 32:18-20). “Elihu feels almost suffocated by conflicting feelings of rage (vers. 1-3), disappointment (vers. 11, 12), and anxiety to vindicate God’s honor (ver. 2).” (Pulpit Commentary Job 32:20). Jesus used the analogy of a busting wineskin for person who was not yet a new creation and therefore not yet suitable for the Spirit: “Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matt. 9:17; Mk. 2:22; Lk. 5:37).
Be careful when offering wisdom that comes from yourself. Elihu would soon offer words that were closer to the truth than Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. But his words were still from his own worldly wisdom and not from God: “Do you see a person wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Prov. 26:12). “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil.” (Prov. 3:7).
Pray for wisdom and read God’s Word before you offer advice. If you wish to avoid making Elihu’s mistake, pray for wisdom and read God’s Word: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Jam. 1:5). “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:6). “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in secret You will make wisdom known to me.” (Ps. 51:6). “For to a person who is good in His sight, He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, . ..” (Ecc. 2:26). Are you praying for wisdom when others are in need of help?
God’s Word is greater than worldly wisdom. Believers have a response when someone demands that you follow their experience over God’s Word. The Psalmist proclaimed that God’s Word made him wiser than even a teacher: “Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than those who are old, because I have complied with Your precepts.” (Ps. 119:98-100). Moses also stated that true wisdom comes from keeping God’s Word: “So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” (Dt. 4:6). “and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15). Are you reading God’s Word to protect yourself from bad advice?
Elihu sought only to flatter himself. In an act of false modesty, Elihu claimed that he would not seek to be partial or flatter anyone with the many great arguments he would make: “21 Let me be partial to no one, nor flatter any man. 22 For I do not know how to flatter, otherwise my Maker would quickly take me away.” (Job 32:21-22). God does require impartiality (Lev. 19:15; Dt. 1:17; 16:19; Ex. 23:3; Jo. 7:24). But Elihu wanted to first draw attention to himself before making his actual argument. This was a sign of narcissism. “Elihu was determined to flatter no man, except himself. In this obviously self-flattering introduction to the speech, Elihu has clearly presented himself as smarter, wiser, and having more understanding than any of the four other men with him. Elihu seems painfully unaware of how he sounded and looked.” (David Guzik on Job 32).4
Elihu’s many words were not a sign of his godliness. The entire chapter ended without a sign word of actual advice. Elihu’s speech would go on to be longer in length than any prior speaker and longer than even God’s final words to Job. “Nearly half of Elihu’s first speech is consumed with his elaborate introduction of himself.” (Robert Alden, The New American Commentary, Vol. 11, Job (B&H Publishing Group 1993) p. 315). “Elihu’s speeches are longer than twelve other [Old Testament] books and seventeen of the twenty-seven [New Testament] books.” (Id. at 314 fn. 1). But Elihu’s words ultimately counted for nothing: “When there are many words, wrongdoing is unavoidable, but one who restrains his lips is wise.” (Prov. 10:14). Jesus also condemned people who try to appear overly pious through their long prayers: “And when you are praying, do not use thoughtless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matt. 6:7). During the end times, people will also become “lovers of self,” (2 Tim. 3:2-3). Do your words draw attention to God or yourself?
Spirit-led counsel is concise, gentle, loving, and praises God. Solomon urged believers to be patient and concise when you speak: “Do not be quick with your mouth or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.” (Ecc. 5:2). When you do speak, do so with gentleness, love, and humility (Gal. 6:1). Most importantly, give Jesus all the glory for your advice: “Let’s rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, . . . ” (Rev. 19:7a).
Image credit: William Blake: The Book of Job - 12 (artbible.info)↩︎