Job 32: How to NOT offer spiritual advice

Continuing my study on Job, today I came to chapter 32. This is an important point in the story, because we come across a new face: Elihu the Buzite (Buz was an ancient Arabian tribe – cf. Jer. 25:23).

From what he says in this chapter, he’s been there with Job’s other three friends all along, or at least long enough to appreciate the stalemate of their conversation with the suffering Job. And we also find out that he’s younger than the other four men (Job 32:4,6), young enough for him to observe the Near Eastern custom of keeping your mouth shut while your elders speak (a good attitude generally – cf. James 1:19). But Elihu’s respect for his elders is only on the surface, as will become clear the moment he opens his mouth.

Now, why are we looking at Elihu? Generally speaking, his point of view is no more helpful or correct than the others’. He does go a bit further than them later on by declaring that God uses suffering to bring people to repentance (Job 36:15), but even that is offset by his unfair hammering of Job. So why would we want to occupy ourselves with Elihu’s overall unhelpful spiel?

Because this is the Word of God, and everything contained in it is graciously given to us for our growth and for deepening our understanding of God. I really hope you approach Bible study with that attitude, and not skim over the “boring bits”. Everything in there is in there for a reason. Remind yourself of that next time you’re about to pass over Leviticus.

Including Elihu, and his blistering verbiage. As I read this today, I couldn’t help but think that his attitude is so typical of young people throughout the ages – and especially in the Christian world. Sadly, Elihu’s attitude reflects a heart that is all-too-often the mark of the younger generation of any given time, and we would do well to examine ourselves as we look at him.

As we said, Elihu’s probably been there all along, and has had the good sense to not speak out of turn. But when he finally does open his mouth, bile comes out.

1. “I’m angry; therefore I am right.”

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 5: And when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, he burned with anger.

Elihu’s angry – with everyone and indiscriminately. And here’s the point: He justifies his anger as “righteous indignation” at the apparent foolishness of the “old guys”. The fact that he’s as wrong as them eludes him. He doesn’t stop to think and discern. He’s angry with Job because he thinks that Job justifies himself. He’s angry with the three friends because they seem to be at a loss for words. He’s mad and he’s got something to say, and that’s all the reason he needs to let it out.

2. “I’m disappointed with you old guys.”

Verse 9: “It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right.”

Ouch. This youngster turns to the elders – including Job – and basically tells them that they’re dumb; they haven’t lived up to his expectations of wisdom (vv.6-7). They really shouldn’t even call themselves “elders”. So much for his professed respect.

Translation: Out with the old.

3. “Only I speak the truth.”

Verse 8: “But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.”

In shocking “holier-than-thou” attitude, Elihu claims that at least he is speaking by God’s wisdom – and thus implying that no-one else has done so until now.

Translation: In with the new.

4. “I know what I’m talking about!”

Verses 11-12: “Behold, I waited for your words, I listened for your wise sayings, while you searched out what to say. I gave you my attention, and, behold, there was none among you who refuted Job or who answered his words.”

Just in case they ignore him, Elihu lets them know that he’s done his homework. He’s not being rash, he says. He’s given this due thought. In a sense, he’s buttering them up to accept upfront what he’s about to say, before he says it.

Now there would be no problem with this; we’d hope that everyone who enters a conversation comes in well-informed. But if you actually read Elihu’s “admonition” in the following five chapters, you will find the opposite. For example, later on he resorts to blatantly putting words into Job’s mouth (Job 34:9) and there is no doubt that, although he goes for a different approach, he still misses the point of Job’s suffering.

A personal case comes to mind. Some time ago I got into a brief theological debate with a dear friend who offered me documents of pages upon pages supporting his particular view. The problem was that, before he even began making his case, he made sure to gravely warn me about how I risked the Lord’s displeasure if I disagreed with him, how if I did disagree with him it would be because of my own ignorance, brain-washing and hard heart and if I didn’t accept what he was about to say, well, there wasn’t really much to be done for me anymore.

And that’s pretty much what Elihu’s doing here: He’s validating himself. Strange, since he’s already declared a confidence that it is the Almighty who gives his this wisdom (Job 32:8).

Point: If you are truly declaring the word of God, let it speak for itself. It doesn’t need your credentials.

5. “I’m here to save the day.”

Verses 15-17: “They are dismayed; they answer no more; they have not a word to say. And shall I wait, because they do not speak, because they stand there, and answer no more? I also will answer with my share; I also will declare my opinion.”

As far as he’s concerned, Elihu could have might as well be wearing a red cape and a big S across his chest. If it wasn’t for him, the world would keel out of balance.

And how often don’t we fancy ourselves as spiritual superheroes?

6. “I have a lot to say; therefore I am right.”

Verses 18-20: “For I am full of words; the spirit within me constrains me. Behold, my belly is like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak, that I may find relief; I must open my lips and answer.”

Elihu confuses quantity for quality. And it’s true: He talks for six whole chapters. But for him, the validity of his argument comes from the fact that he feels compelled to speak – not from a thoughtful processing of what he’s about to say.

Now think about it: the reason he feels “full of words” is simply because he got wrongfully angry in the first place. So, poor understanding leading to anger interpreted as righteous indignation produces a torrent of chastising arguments, which, in Elihu’s mind, are valid because they come from his righteous indignation that was wrong to start with… did someone say “circular logic”?

Some thoughts on this: How many books do you know out there that have nothing but air inside? How many sermons have you heard that run for an hour but don’t contain more than two-minute substance? How often do we talk and talk and talk without checking to see if what we’re saying is actually edifying (Eph. 4:29)?

7. “And by the way, I’m totally objective.”

Verses 21-22: “I will not show partiality to any man or use flattery toward any person. For I do not know how to flatter, else my Maker would soon take me away.”

Concluding his buttering-up, Elihu declares his objectivity and righteousness before all. And this, at least, it true: he really doesn’t flatter anyone in his forthcoming speech; on the contrary, he’s unsympathetic and patronising throughout. But judging from his arrogance, it seems that his righteous objectivity simply means that he doesn’t put himself in the same boat with anyone; it’s a euphemism for spiritual snobbery and self-righteousness. Look at Job 36:4, where, speaking of himself, he says: “For truly my words are not false; one who is perfect in knowledge is with you.”

Elihu’s “objectiveness” was like that of the Pharisees: Looking down at everyone but themselves, passing judgement came easy.

Well, I’ll leave it there. I hope that in Elihu, you will find a good example to avoid rather than imitate.

One thought on “Job 32: How to NOT offer spiritual advice

  1. Nik,I appreciate what you said about reading Leviticus! I have recently been reading through the Law (Exodus – Deuteronomy) and absolutly loved my time there.God Bless!In His Hand,Markwww.onethirst.blogspot.com

    Like

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