Thursday, May 7, 2009

Done yet, Elihu?

I'm a bit anxious to resume this study and even more ready to be done with Elihu. So I'm plowing through Job 35–37 today. The problem with his advice to Job is mostly the general spirit in which he gives it, although he makes some major factual missteps, too.

The best way to summarize Elihu's arrogance is his statement about himself in Chapter 36: "One perfect in knowledge is with you." Seems a bit off for him to be chastising Job's pride when he's calling himself Mr. Perfect Smartypants. But he's guilty of more than just spiritual snobbery; Elihu is acting as God's PR agent.

There are those who blaspheme God. There are those who defend God against all criticism. Both parties fail to know God as He truly is, usually because of one of two mistakes. They either expect Him to behave as a human constrained by time, space, and social standards of general politeness or they dismiss Him as so completely separate and distant from humanity that no part of Him needs to make any sense to us whatsoever. Whatever explanation will satisfy our preconceived notions about God—be you skeptic or believer—that's the one toward which we will happily gravitate.

A) God doesn't need a PR agency. I'm not saying we shouldn't defend our faith, but I do think we should be less defensive about it, particularly when it's an older, wiser brother or sister with whom we disagree. Instead of feeling responsible for making everyone align with our views on everything, it's not a bad idea to listen and think every once in awhile.

B) Just because God doesn't answer doesn't mean He don't care. Garth Brooks taught me that, and it's true. Elihu criticized Job for longing for an answer from God, arguing that God doesn't relate to us on that level; that's probably because Elihu didn't relate to God on that level. For all his ramblings about the power of God, he missed the love of God completely.

That would truly be a shame. God, I recognize your power, I can't fathom your immensity, and I'm not nearly grateful enough for your love. I can't wait to read your response to man's rants and raves.


  1. Hi, Adam -

    Glad to run across your Bible blog (via Twitter and a shared attachment to the Cubs)!

    It's been a while since I read through the whole book of Job, but I seem to remember that when Elihu is done, God appears, and says the EXACT SAME THING to Job.

    Perhaps you shouldn't be so hard on the guy. ;)

    Elihu is not saying, as Job's allegedly older & wiser "friends" did, that Job is being punished for hidden unrighteous and is refusing to confess. He is making a different point altogether: that Job has no right to demand that God give an account for his misfortunes, that God works mercy in ways we may not understand, and that Job is wrong to suspect God - as he has! - of treating him unfairly.

    As for his attitude, well, he may be a little cocky, a little bold, but he's certainly not an arrogant jerk. He's speaking up as a young man in a culture that requires deference to elders, and he has spent the last thirty chapters deferring to them! Given that Job's other friends are fruitlessly accusing Job, and Job seems to be losing patience with God, I think the devout young man may be forgiven a little for advocating for his own right to speak. He listened first to the arguments of others, and thinks he can do better.

    Given God's response, I suspect he did.

  2. Thanks for reading and responding, CircleReader. I appreciate the thoughts even if I do disagree.

    A couple of important distinctions you might want to look over:

    1. Elihu doesn't say it as directly, but he does essentially restate that God ignores the pleas of those too obstinate to repent but comes to the rescue of those who are oppressed unfairly or who repent (particularly Ch. 36). He definitely attempts to make it clear that Job's continued suffering comes as a result of his refusal to repent.

    2. Elihu speaks as one who completely understands God, yet he also asserts that God is beyond our reach. It appears he has no idea of exactly how deeply, intimately, and eternally God loves us.

    What I think stands out most of all is what Elihu and the others never say. They never say, "You didn't have this coming." Ever. In fact, Elihu's motivation is painted as the deep frustration that no one has gotten Job to repent yet. They all speak in an attempt to teach Job rather than learn from what he's going through, because they all act as though they understand what's going on.

    That is God's primary accusation against Job and those who counseled him, and I'll expound more when I finally write about the next few chapters (where have I been, sheesh, it's inexcusable!?!). It's the way they speak about God as though they have figured Him out. That really is the gist of the final chapters. God extensively and thoroughly describes just a few examples that men have no clue what it's like to think and act as God does. But that doesn't mean He doesn't relate to us. He is intimately involved with the mundane details in the lives of animals. Okay, I'll stop for now until I'm actually blogging. :)

    I do agree that Elihu probably did a better job than the other three, but it is Job, not Elihu, who God says spoke what was right about Him (in ch. 42). And Job was the one singled out by God as His favored servant.

  3. I enjoyed reading this on Elihu and I actually think Elihu is the "who" in 38:2. Elihu spoke things that were true, but 'in God's stead'(33:6) is alarming. There is a difference between'mediator' and 'stead.
    When people talk about God there may be untruth mixed with truth. It seems like the miserable comforters could be prayed for as they were redeemable.


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