By Pastor John Eger, Intro by Tim Bourquin

The older I get the less I know.  That’s not to say I’m becoming more stupid, although that may be too.  At 40 years old I know half as much as I thought I knew at 20 years old.  Elihu is young and sure of himself.  When I read these chapters in Job I just want to pinch his cheek and tell him how adorable he is.  This kid has it all figured out!

With age and wisdom, we begin to realize that life is complicated.  How much more complicated, intricate, complex is the Source of life?  In truth I don’t want to understand God completely.  I don’t want to worship a God that I can contain in my limited, finite brain.  But the opposite of certainty is uncertainty and feeling like I can’t know God is equally troubling.

Although God is completely transcendent, He is not unknowable.  He has made Himself known.  God has revealed His character and will in the pages of scripture and more fully as Jesus Christ, Immanuel God with us.  Following Christ is a beautiful balance of constantly learning more about Him while also being fully known by Him.  I might never completely know Him, but He knows me, and loves me anyway!  He knows me yesterday, today, and He knows me in the tomorrow yet to transpire.  It will take me a lifetime to fully grasp the glimpse of Himself he has revealed. But on that journey, I’m also secure in His love.  I’m glad God didn’t wait for me to get it all figured out.  He came for me just as I am. “While we were sinners Christ died for us.”

Here’s Pastor John…

Elihu is a surprise guest that shows up toward the end of the book of Job.  He takes up five chapters, 32-37 and cuts his way into the conversation whether or not anyone wants to hear him.

We are introduced to this late comer like this:

2 Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, burned with anger. He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God. 3 He burned with anger also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong. 4 Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were older than he. 5And when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, he burned with anger.  Job 32:1–5.

We know that he is young and four times in four verses we are told that he “burns with anger.” That anger is our filter to understand Elihu’s theology.  For five chapters, anger in tow, Elihu confronts Job. We never get to hear what Job thinks of this rant but what follows Elihu’s monologue is God’s response to the entire book.  We will hold off on discussing those chapters at this point but the placement of Elihu provides a perfect foil to reflect the true character of God.

Elihu represents a theology that we are supposed to look at for five chapters and then watch dissolve into nothing when God speaks.  Chapters 32-37 create a tension that move us toward wanting nothing more than to hear nothing more from Elihu.  God’s response starting in chapter 38 is a refreshing blast compared to Elihu’s furnace.

Here are three things we can take from Elihu’s theology that God will fracture in His following response.  We hold onto this understanding as a way of not thinking about God.

God, to Elihu, can only be retributive. If God is not doing anything, then it is Job’s fault.  According to Elihu it is completely up to Job for God to act.  

Elihus directly blames Job for his suffering.  That if Job is suffering it must be God’s discipline.

13 Surely God does not hear an empty cry,

nor does the Almighty regard it.

14 How much less when you say that you do not see him,

that the case is before him, and you are waiting for him!

15 And now, because his anger does not punish,

and he does not take much note of transgression,

16 Job opens his mouth in empty talk;

he multiplies words without knowledge.”  Job 35:13–16.

When God only acts based on our goodness or evil, God is a God only of retribution.  And to follow that thinking, God is bound by our actions.  He can only respond to our goodness with good things and our evil with punishment.

We will see in Chapter 38 that God is not just a list of good and bad.  God is a Being who has sovereignty and a perfect will that exists outside of our behavior.  He is not bound by us and whether or not we do good or bad.

Elihu is rigid and fixed and cannot think of a God who does not follow Elihu’s rules.

Elihu tells Job that he completely understands God and will proceed to speak on God’s behalf.

Bear with me a little, and I will show you,

for I have yet something to say on God’s behalf.

3 I will get my knowledge from afar

and ascribe righteousness to my Maker.

4 For truly my words are not false;

one who is perfect in knowledge is with you. Job 36:2–4.

Elihu cannot perceive of a God who does not follow Elihu’s rules.  It is dangerous to attempt to create a god of our own making.  But while Elihu exalts God, he cannot see the world outside of a binary filter.  Things are either good or evil.  And God only responds with favor or punishment.  There is no place for God in what Job is experiencing.

11 If they listen and serve him,

they complete their days in prosperity,

and their years in pleasantness.

12 But if they do not listen, they perish by the sword

and die without knowledge.

13 “The godless in heart cherish anger;

they do not cry for help when he binds them.

14 They die in youth,

and their life ends among the cult prostitutes.

15 He delivers the afflicted by their affliction

and opens their ear by adversity. Job 36:11–15

To Elihu God is 2 dimensional and while powerful is not capable of relationship because he is only bound by behavior.  The God that Job extols and the God that we hear from starting in verse 38 is much greater than our behavior and He is a God who comes to His people, not in correction of behavior but in expectation of worship.

Elihu attempts to speak about God, but in doing so speaks about what God does to others. Even in extolling God, God is transactional. 

God is only known in the space between how people act and their consequences. This is the only space where Elihu understands God, in between someone’s action and the resulting consequence.  God, to Elihu can only be found in one space.  But we see in the following chapters that God is not just in one space but is in every space.

Simone Weil, a 20th century author, writes about this distance between action and effect. That the space in between what we do and the consequences that result from what we do always has the possibility of the “interference of alien wills” (Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace). In this one space there is the opportunity for interruption from others.  I think the only reason that Elihu focuses on this space between an action and consequence is because it is the only space he can interject into someone else’s life.  It is the only place he can assert control.  And because all he wants is control, he occupies this space with bad theology.

5 Behold, God is mighty, and does not despise any;

he is mighty in strength of understanding.

6 He does not keep the wicked alive,

but gives the afflicted their right.

7 He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous,

but with kings on the throne

he sets them forever, and they are exalted.

8 And if they are bound in chains

and caught in the cords of affliction,

9 then he declares to them their work

and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.

10 He opens their ears to instruction

and commands that they return from iniquity.

11 If they listen and serve him,

they complete their days in prosperity,

and their years in pleasantness.

12 But if they do not listen, they perish by the sword

and die without knowledge.

Even in this passage Elihu is trying to extol God but in so doing, can’t help but frame God within the limits of human action.

To Elihu, God can only exist in a certain space, a certain way and a certain set of behaviors.  Everything chapters 32-37 does is to communicate how Elihu, and us by proxy, try to form God into our will.  We try to make sense of who God is but in doing so, we make Him small in our minds.  We think to force Him into small spaces and think we have Him figured out.

By the time we get to chapter 38 we will want to hear from God more than ever.  Because we will want to hear what God is really like.  And by the time we get there we will see that God does not exist in one space or one time or one action, He exists in and rules them all.