Elihu’s Rebuke #2: God is Gracious

Yesterday I introduced Elihu by looking at his introductory words in Job 32:2 – 33:7. Today we will look at the first of the four speeches in the remainder of Job 33 (verses 8 to 33). Elihu begins addressing Job’s point that because God has been silent so far in all of his suffering, that this must mean that God is his enemy (that God is angry at him). Elihu says: “Surely you have spoken in my ears, and I have heard the sound of your words. You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression; I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me. Behold, he finds occasions against me, he counts me as his enemy, he puts my feet in the stocks and watches all my paths.’ Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you, for God is greater than man.” (Job 33:8-12)

Now this is interesting, because I think we often do the same, don’t we? When we suffer, we tend to cry out to God: why?! Expecting, maybe even demanding an answer from Him, preferably straightaway. And oftentimes He doesn’t. God remains silent. And we feel that God is angry at us in some way. That we have done something wrong to piss Him off, and now it is payback time, and that we need to work our way back into His love. I mean that’s how I often feel when I suffer. I cry out to God for an answer, for an explanation. And when He doesn’t give it, my thoughts go like: But I thought you loved me, God. Am I not your child? Doesn’t Your Word say, “Ask, and it will be given to you; […] For everyone who asks receives, […] Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? […] how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:7-11)?

But Elihu is saying here to Job, “Why do you contend against him, saying, ‘He will answer none of man’ words’? For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it.” (Job 33:13-14). God does speak, but He does so in ways you may not not expect. He describes two ways God speaks to man: by his word and by suffering. “In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man; he keeps back his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword. Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed and with continual strife in his bones” (Job 33:15-19). “Behold, God does all these things, twice, three times, with a man, 30to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be lighted with the light of life.” (Job 33:29-30).

In other words, God’s purpose in suffering is not to punish but to save. Our God is a gracious God who loves us and wants us to turn from our prideful ways of life (which leads to death), and to “be lighted with the light of life.” In other words, He want us to see Jesus as our ultimate treasure. Jesus, who said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). Same wording. Elihu does not picture God as an angry silent judge but as a Redeemer, a Savior. You could say that Elihu is delivering to Job a message of hope, because he wants Job to find full restoration with God.

Elihu’s Rebuke #1: An Introduction
Elihu’s Rebuke #2: God Is Gracious
Elihu’s Rebuke #3: God is Just
Elihu’s Rebuke #4: God is Great
Elihu’s Rebuke #5: Suffering as a Discipline
Elihu’s Rebuke #6: Conclusion

Elihu’s Rebuke #1: An Introduction

Have you ever been in a situation where you have either been part of (or witnessed) a heated discussion, and after a while there is just this awkward silence because there is nothing more to say although there is no resolution? And that in that silence, all of a sudden, someone starts speaking. Someone who is usually quiet. But as that person speaks you are absolutely stunned by the wisdom with which that person speaks? Have you ever been in a situation like that?

Job and his three friends will experience such a situation. We have seen in the dialogues that his friends’ speeches became increasingly repetitive, hostile, and shorter. We have seen that Job’s friends continually argued that suffering is basically a punishment for sin and that prosperity is a reward for righteousness, and thus because Job suffers he must have sinned. We have seen Job defending himself against all their accusations, saying that based on his experience they are wrong. The righteous, the innocent, suffer too, and also the wicked prosper. And the more the friends persisted in saying that Job must have sinned to bring about all this calamity, the more Job persisted in claiming his innocence say that God was not punishing him for some committed sin. And after three rounds of brutal dialogues between Job and his three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, it is Job who delivers such a powerful closing statement, declaring himself innocent, that there is just silence. After Job’s final speech, the friends are all out of words, and also Job stops speaking to await an answer from God.

Job had won the argument, but has still found no answer for his suffering. And that’s how most of us go through life. Like Job we believe that God is good, that God is sovereign, that God is just, and that since His ways are not our ways, we simply cannot know the reason for our suffering. And that is not a bad way to live. But the writer doesn’t leave it at that. The writer wants us to know that God reveals more of His purpose in suffering than we might think.

Well, in this silence, there is a young man by the name of Elihu who starts to speak. And in Job 32:2 – 33:7 he introduces himself. We read that Elihu is compelled to defend God’s honor. He is angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God, and he is angry at the three friends because they provided no real answer to his suffering yet condemned Job. He had witnessed all of the dialogues, he had listened well, and he had not spoken because of his youth. But now, since it is clear to him that being older doesn’t necessarily means being wiser, he will declare his opinion. Compelled by their silence, a desire to be objective, and the spirit within him, he speaks, believing that he can help Job, even though the others have failed, because he says to speaks pure knowledge from an upright heart.

Is he just an arrogant foolish young man, who just wants to speak his mind? Or will Elihu actually make a difference? I think the latter. I think Elihu is a key figure in this whole story. Look at it from this perspective: We just went through 28 chapters of dialogues on why Job suffered, without a conclusion. And now Elihu will give a six chapter monologue to basically say the same? I don’t think so! No, Elihu is not just an arrogant foolish young man who just wants to speak his mind. The next two weeks we will hear what God has to say about all of this, and it is interesting to note that God does not rebuke Elihu as he does the three friends. This implies that his words are true.

OK, so Elihu is different. But how? Well, Elihu disagrees with both sides of the argument, and has no intention of trying to settle the matter the way the three friends did, but focuses more on how Job is responding to his current suffering rather than on any sins that may have led to his suffering. Elihu addresses the issue that Job is so stubbornly resisting God’s discipline and that if he does not repent of his pride more suffering will come. And through that Elihu really does offer a new understanding of the suffering of the righteous that Job and his three friends had not perceived. Overall, we could say that Elihu’s goal is to prepare Job for what’s to come, namely God will speak to Job soon. He perceives that Job in his current state will not be able to receive the words of God, and so he wants to soften Job’s heart to receive what God has to say to him, and so be restored.

Next time we will look at Elihu’s first speech in the remainder of Job 33.

Elihu’s Rebuke #1: An Introduction
Elihu’s Rebuke #2: God is Gracious
Elihu’s Rebuke #3: God is Just
Elihu’s Rebuke #4: God is Great
Elihu’s Rebuke #5: Suffering as a Discipline
Elihu’s Rebuke #6: Conclusion