Job 32-37: Be Wary of those who Claim to Know God’s Will for Your Life

It is the rare Bible student or teacher who has not been afflicted with the temptation to become arrogant in some way about the knowledge he has gained in his understanding of the Bible. Most of us have probably known arrogant and humble Calvinists, Arminians, Dispensationalists, Covenantalists, Premillenialists, Postmillenialists, Amillenialists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Open Bretheren, Closed Bretheren, Pentecostals, Congregationalists, Mennonites, Evidentialists, Presuppositionalists, Keswicks, Reformed and Perfectionists.  Paul, who was raised with the finest religious education that money could literally buy, once said this, “. . . we know that we all possess knowledge.  Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.  But the man who loves God is known by God” (I Corinthians 8:1-2).  In other words, love trumps knowledge.




In this section, we are introduced to a new character in this great book of poetry.  His name is Elihu, and it is my intention to argue here that Elihu was theologically arrogant.  I believe that he was arrogant on many levels, but no claim more pompous than when he claimed to speak for God. In fact, he claimed to speak for God with absolute perfection (Job 36:2-4).




Now, before I go on and make my case, I must admit that I am not as confident about my view here as I may have been in previous posts.  Elihu seems to me to be a bit of an enigma.  This section in which he gives his speech or his speeches (as some would interpret) is the longest section of prose allocated to any one speaker.  While he is verbose, it doesn’t mean that he has a lot to say.  In fact, he spends most of his time preparing everyone for the great words that he is going to deliver and only seems to bring a modified version of what he had berated the other three friends for sharing with Job.  Yet, it greatly troubles me that he shares his views as one speaking for God and there is something about this claim that seems to be a clue for his place in this wonderful book.



So why do I share this view with a greater degree of uncertainty than the other sections?  First of all, there has been great agreement among many commentators historically that Elihu is a heroic figure.  One commentator argued that his entrance served in this text as a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ.  Just as Jesus is our mediator,  according to some commentators, Elihu was Job’s.  Others have rightly pointed out that Elihu wasn’t in the wrong because he is not mentioned in the epilogue along with the other three friends of whom God asked for sacrifices from and for Job to remember in prayer because they had angered God.  Could it be that somehow that God was not angry with Elihu, even though his message was very similar to the three friends?  Many other scholars have speculate that the section of Elihu’s speech was a later addition to the original text; meaning that God’s entrance would have come immediately after begging for a trial in chapter 31.  John C. L. Gibson of the University of Edinburgh has written this about Elihu’s speech: “For the speeches of Elihu, which with many other scholars I do not regard as original to the Book of Job . . .  It is my view that both dramatically and theologically, the speeches of the Lord from the whirlwind must follow at this point. Our patience has been stretched to breaking point and cannot be asked to endure another intrusion of human words.” Robert Alden, formerly a professor of Old Testament at Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary has stated in a particularly candid way about Elihu,





“. . .  No one answered him, and he is not included in the indictment of Eliphaz and the other two friends in chap. 42. Mainly for these reasons many consider these speeches a non-original part of the book. But they are in the text, and in many ways they link to and echo other speeches. The very fact that they are long, repetitive and even boring points to the quandary human beings face when confronted by unresolved propositions. The fact that no one answers Elihu points to the frustrating fact that there are no human answers to the dilemma Job and many subsequent sufferers have faced.” 




While I would not agree that Elihu is boring, we notice here that there is a great deal of struggle among even conservative scholars on how to deal with the character of Elihu. If we happen to have any OT scholars who happen to read this article, I would appreciate it if you took a moment to weigh in on the role that Elihu takes on in this book. For me, I will accept that the part of Elihu is authentic to the book of Job and I hope to share what I think is happening with him. 




As I have previously mentioned, it is my view that Elihu is an arrogant young man.  Someone I read called him the original, “angry young man.” While the original angry young man label may be better placed on the shoulders of Cain, we all get the point.  In the text we notice that in the first 5 verses of chapter 32 and in the introduction of this young man, Elihu is said to be angry four times.  While in the NIV appears to show three instances of anger, this is simply because the NIV “omits” one of the occurrences in verse 2 (Carson, New Bible Commentary).  Elihu is angry with Job, he is angry at the three friends, moreover, he was angry that Job silenced them. We notice from the text that Elihu only jumped into the discussion after the friends spoke.  He did not speak out of respect for the ages and honor of Job’s elderly friends. 




When Elihu does begin to speak, he spends half the narrative speaking about himself and the game changing information that he is about to bring.  Consider for a moment the pomp and circumstance which created for himself throughout the narrative:

But it is the spirit in a man the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.  It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right (Job 32:8-9).




“Therefore I say: listen to me; I too will tell you what I know.  I waited while you spike, I listened to your reasoning; while you were searching for words, I gave you my full attention but not one of you has proved Job wrong; none of you has answered his arguments” (Job 32:10-12)




“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.  For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst” (Job 32:17-19).




“I am about to open my mouth; my words are on the tip of my tongue.  My words from an upright heart; my lips sincerely speak what I know” (Job 33:2-3).




“Answer me then, if you can; prepare yourself and confront me.  I am just like you before God; I too have been taken from clay.  No fear of me should alarm you, nor should my hand be heavy upon you” (Job 33:5-7).




“Pay attention, Job, and listen to me; be silent, and I will speak.  If you have anything to say, answer me; speak up, for I want you to be cleared.  But if not, then listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom” (33:31-33).


“Hear my words, you wise men; listen to me, you men of learning.  For the ear tests words as the tongue tastes food.  Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good” (Job 34:2-4).




“So listen to me, you men of understanding . . .” (Job 34:10).




“If you have understanding, hear this; listen to what I say” (Job 34:16).




“Oh, that Job might be tested to the utmost for answering like a wicked man! To his sin he adds rebellion; scornfully he claps his hands among us and multiplies his words against God” (Job 34:37).




“I would like to reply to you and to your friends with you” (Job 35:4).




“So Job opens his mouth with empty talk; without knowledge he multiplies words” (Job 35:16).




“Bear with me a little longer and I will show you that there is more to be said in God’s behalf. I get my knowledge from afar; I will ascribe justice to my maker.  Be assured that my words are not false; one perfect in knowledge is with you” (Job 36:2-4).


It is true that many commentators have taken a high view of Elihu and his message. Yet, in reading these words by a young man who appears to have really overstepped his place in that culture and society, his words strike me as very haughty. 




Elihu’s Argument

In his argument, he points out that God is sovereign and has the right to punish anyone’s sin in any way he should chose.  Moreover, Elihu argued that God character defines righteousness and because he knows a man’s every step, there is no doubt that his decisions are right even though we don’t understand how he comes to his decisions or how he determines appropriate punishments (Job 34:10-30; 36:27-33).  Finally, Elihu argues that should a man repent, God will be quick to restore him and bring him back into a state of prosperity (36:11).




The reality, once again is that for all of Elihu’s rhetoric, he is simply rehashing the same law of retribution with his own twist that the three friends had previously argued for.  Once again, the law states that God rewards or punishes us in keeping with what we have done.  In other words, we commit evil actions, God repays us with terrible suffering. If we do what is right, God will repay us with prosperity.    The twist of Elihu’s argument is that the type of suffering God inflicts for evil doing is not predictable and does not have to be in any particular correlation with the acts committed. Since we are all sinners, God is free to punish us in any way he should choose fitting. 




The aspects of his speech that really gets to me is that Elihu, in all of his pomp, actually attempted to be God’s spokesman.  Not only does he claim to speak for God, but he claims to speak as one who has learned from afar and speaks with “perfect knowledge.”  After all of words and his promise of novelty and brilliance, he only produces the same material (with slight modifications) as the older friends of Job had previously.




At the beginning of chapter 38 when God speaks, the first thing he said was, “who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge.”  Many commentators argue that statement refers to Job, his friends and Elihu.  Yet, who could have it been more applicable than the one who had just claimed to have “perfect knowledge” and who also claimed to speak for God? 

It must have been such a shock to Elihu after this defense of God (that appears to have been unacceptable before God) to actually have God actually show up and appear for the trial that Job had requested throughout the book.  It seems to strike a very ironic cord that Elihu, for all of his self-imposed importance and all of his words about the transcendence of God, would only end up realizing that he wasted his words defending God because God decided to show up on his own for the trial?  Such a display of God would undoubtedly demonstrate God’s humility; a humility that Jesus displayed in his incarnation (Philippians 2:1-11). God reserves the right to speak for himself, and we must be very careful of those who believe that they have been commissioned to speak about those things that are clearly veiled.  While we ought to proclaim the open things of God, we must be very careful about making ourselves the mouthpiece for only those things that God knows. 

Gibson, John C. L.: Job. Louisville : Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, c1985 (The Daily Study Bible Series), S. 219

Alden, Robert L.: Job. electronic ed. Nashville : Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1993 (Logos Library System; The New American Commentary 11), S. 314

6 Responses to “Job 32-37: Be Wary of those who Claim to Know God’s Will for Your Life”

  1. John Crutchfield Says:

    Cngregationalists? Surely you jest. =}
    As I read your post, I imagined what it would be like to sit in a church where a pastor claimed for himself absolute authority on behalf of God. The door would not hit me in the rear.
    Elihu certainly does come across as hauty at the very least, but one could also imagine he thought of himself as the messiah. How could anyone of the flesh think he has “perfect knowledge”?
    Thanks again and God bless you.

  2. Bruce Smith Says:

    I know that many pastors have claimed to have some secret access to God’s special will for people’s lives. It probably sounds a little funny, but I have known many church attendees who were convinced that they knew God’s will for my life. I have learned to respect what people have to say, because who am I to pre-judge? Yet, I have learned to be very careful in evaluating the direction being given.

  3. Lisa Aleo Says:

    hello, this is really Elizabeth and my computer was down for a while so i had trouble finding what verses to read.
    When i was reading this it bothered me that Elihu was so puffed up. He should never have claimed to be speaking words directing from God as they were clearly just a mix of his own and repetitions of his friends’.
    Have a nice day,

  4. Darv Says:

    “The reality, once again is that for all of Elihu’s rhetoric, he is simply rehashing the same law of retribution with his own twist that the three friends had previously argued for. ”

    The real arrogance is to think that the author of this book recorded the same argument over and over again. Elihu’s discourse may sound the same on the surface, but it is different. It seems to me he is trying to look at what is going on from God’s perspective, over against Eliphaz (the secret knowledge guy), Bildad (the traditional guy) and Zophar (the legalist guy).

    Not that I’ve figured Elihu out yet. His arguments are more “orthodox” than the other three. In fact, they appear to be closer to God’s argument than those of the other three. But I’m not sure yet if his theology is dead on. Otherwise, wouldn’t God have commended him in chapter 42 along with Job? If his theology is not quite right, is it no more than a pack of lies like the others, and shouldn’t he be reproached along with the other three? Trying to argue it away as “not original” is just a cop-out. It is part of the canon and has been part of this book as far back as anyone can trace.

    What really gives me pause is is to think that if Elihu isn’t quite right, his arguments are also a pack of lies. How many times do I proclaim a teaching that only tells a portion of who God is, and end up communicating a pack of lies myself?

    I’m convinced that every word in this book is God’s word for our instruction and edification. It’s going to take some work to figure Elihu out.

  5. Adam Says:

    Wow, what a great read. It’s hard dealing with Elihu’s in your life without becoming one yourself! This was a great encouragement to me. 🙂

  6. Bruce Smith Says:

    Thanks Adam for your words of encouragement. This is one of the things that is so great about the Bible — it challenges us every time we read . . . if we are teachable.

    Also, thank you Darv for your comments as well. There is no doubt that Elihu is the x-factor in this story and one’s view of Elihu really shapes the way this book will be interpreted.

    There is only one other thing here that might be mentioned here: I’m not sure why it is arrogant to take the view that Elihu makes the same argument as the other friends with his own spin. We would all agree that he first three made the same basic argument; so it would be only consistent with the approach of the book to view the fourth friend in the same light. There is not doubt that I may be wrong, but I don’t understand what is particularly arrogant about taking this position as long as it is done so humbly.

    Thanks for taking the time to write your thoughts.

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