Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Blog through the Bible: Elihu- Part 1

In Job 32 a new voice takes the stage. A young man named Elihu had been listening. When he see’s that Jobs friends have no answers, he decides that it’s time for him to speak. He looks at Job, who is “righteous in his own eyes”, and he looks at the tree friends, who have run out of ideas and have nothing more to say to Job, but are still condemning Job, and he explodes with anger…up until now, he has been silent, because that is the etiquette of the culture… The summary of his thoughts are, “The wisdom of old age may have failed, but my wisdom comes from God, so let me speak. How can you say that it’s useless to serve God, and that God is unjust? Who are you to demand justice when you’re a sinner? You should learn from your suffering. God will answer, and he will uphold justice, but it’s not for you to demand an immediate hearing. You must wait for him. We can only guess at the reasons for God’s actions. He is far beyond our comprehension and you should be in awe.”

In Elihu’s first words, we find an introduction. He is young, and young men in that culture didn’t speak to older wiser men. But he says, not it’s time for me to talk. Some see this first speech as bragging. But they are not, suggests Roy Zuck, who writes they are “necessary as a way to gain a hearing.” He is an outsider to the conversation. He has to show why he should be allowed to speak.

His argument for why he should speak begins with his defense of his wisdom in 32:6-9, as he declares that understanding is not something that comes from years, but God. "I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know…. 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.” He then goes on and says, 10-14 I’ve listened to you for a long time, now, you should give me a hearing. Your arguments have been a disappointed. While you searched for words, none of you has proved Job wrong or answered his arguments. You shouldn’t say “we’ve found wisdom” because you haven’t. Instead, “let God deal with Job, since man can’t refute him”. Job hasn’t been against me, so I won’t use your argument.

Then he says, “I have to speak.” My spirit compels me. I have to have my say “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. I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.” He promises not to flatter, declaring “I will show partiality to no one, nor will I flatter any man; for if I were skilled in flattery, my Maker would soon take me away.”

From there, we turn into his responses and thoughts. What’s interesting is that while he is seems somewhat full of himself, he has some very important things to say, and, as D.A. Carson notes, while “at several points he skirts very close to what the others have said, he veers away from their most egregious errors so that the total configuration of his utterance is quite different.

In his first response, chapter 33, he responds to Job’s assertion that “God is silent, he does not respond to me”. His answer is, “God does speak, through dreams and through pain”. After asking for permission to speak (33:1-7), and summarizing Jobs words (33:8-11), “I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy. He fastens my feet in shackles; he keeps close watch on all my paths.” He says that while Job has acknowledged God’s greatness (and he has insisted on God’s greatness), he has gone too far by so insisting on his own righteousness that he has made God out to be some kind of cruel monster. He declares (33:12) “I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than man. But…notice what he doesn’t say. That Job should also admit to being thoroughly guilty. D.A. Carson points out that “Job’s sole guilt, so far as Elihu is concerned, is in charging God with guilt”.

Elihu goes on to point out that God is not inaccessible… he does speak, through dreams (33:15-18), “Why do you complain to him that he answers none of man's words? For God does speak--now one way, now another-- though man may not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” 

Furthermore, Elihu says, God may be speaking in the language of pain, preventing arrogance and independence (33:19-28). He may do these things more than once to someone, “twice, even three times” so that they might be “Spare him from going down to the pit (33:24), and “turn back his soul from the pit (33:30)”. With these words, Elihu opens up a whole line of discussion on suffering not yet considered by Job or his “friends”. 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), saying, speak up… but he says, if you won’t speak up “then listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom."

What’s refreshing about his words is that he is willing to examine the situation from a different angle. D.A. Carson applies that situation to pastoral ministry, but it could go for any controversy…as he writes “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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