For the Love of God, Volume 2/March 4

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Exodus 15; Luke 18; Job 33; 2 Corinthians 3

ONCE THE EXCHANGES BETWEEN JOB and the “miserable comforters” have ground to a halt, a new figure appears on the scene. Elihu’s speech takes up chapters 32— 37. He is a young man who has not spoken until now because the etiquette of the day demanded that the older men speak first. Elihu comes across as a rather bumptious individual who up to this point has only just barely restrained himself from speaking. But now he pours forth words like a torrent (as he himself acknowledges, 32:18-21) and vows that he will treat no one with corrosive flattery (32:22).

The substance of Elihu’s address first takes form in Job 33. Once one allows for his slightly defensive pomposity, Elihu nevertheless has some important things to say. At several points he skirts very close to what the others have said, yet he veers away from their most egregious errors so that the total configuration of his utterance is quite different.

In this chapter he addresses Job; later he will address the “comforters.” To Job he drives home two primary points.

First, Elihu asserts that although Job has acknowledged God’s greatness— indeed, Job has insisted on God’s greatness—he has gone over the top by so insisting on his own righteousness that he has made God out to be some sort of ogre. “I tell you, in this you are not right” (33:12). Wisely, Elihu stops there. He does not go on to say, as did the three “comforters,” that Job should also admit to being thoroughly guilty. Job’s sole guilt, so far as Elihu is concerned, is in charging God with guilt.

Second, Elihu asserts that God is not as distant and as inaccessible as Job makes him out to be (33:14ff.). God may come to a person in some strange dream of the night that warns him or her to abandon some evil path (33:15-18). Or— more to the point—God may actually speak in the language of pain, forestalling arrogance and independence (33:19-28). He may do these things more than once to someone, thereby turning back his soul from the grave (33:29-30). Elihu has thus opened up questions as to the purpose of suffering not entertained by either Job or his antagonists. He is certainly not saying that Job deserves all the suffering he is facing; indeed, Elihu insists that he wants Job to be cleared (33:32).

Apart from the importance of the issue itself—that suffering may have for its purpose something other than deserved punishment—the entire discussion reminds us of an important pastoral lesson. Of course, it is not invariably so; but sometimes when two opponents square off and neither will give an inch, neither has adequately reflected on the full parameters of the topic.

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