Alfred Place Baptist Church

32–34 A young man speaks

Let’s turn again to the book of Job, to chapter 32 and the prose section there: “So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him. Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he. But when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused. So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said . . .” and so on.

Let’s consider the first three chapters of Elihu’s long speech (chapters 32, 33 and 34). The three men have ended their speeches and Job has given his last speech. You would now expect God to intervene, that the Almighty would perforate this whole scene with his presence and speak out, lifting up his voice. It might seem to us that it would be impossible for God, having heard all this misinterpretation of his providences, misrepresentation of his faithful servant Job, that he would remain silent for a moment longer. Yet that doesn’t occur. Instead, a fourth character is introduced to us in the above words, and it’s clearly a new section because of the uncharacteristic prose that introduces this section. You can see how the poetry is all laid out for us before and afterwards in its short lines, but in the introductory verses there is prose.

This young man Elihu gets to his feet and he makes the longest speech in the book, longer than any of the three comforters’ words, longer than any of the speeches that Job has made rebutting what the comforters have said to him, in fact longer than God’s words, speaking at the end of the book.

You see the extraordinary literary genius of the author of this book of Job, how he prolongs the narrative, introduces a new personality, drawing in our attention and building up the suspense, before God finally does intervene and make his final comments on everything. We are on the edge of our seats. Job has thrown down the gauntlet, we see at the end of chapter 31 v.35, “Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defence—let the Almighty answer me”, he says. He yearns for God to speak, and so you would expect, right now, Jehovah to come and address this group of men and vindicate Job. I mean, God has spoken to Satan, so surely God will speak to Job? Instead, what we have is this little voice, a young man’s voice piping up. We’re still to wait longer for the end of the encounter before the Creator of the world speaks from the whirlwind and gives his final word.

1. THE MAN ELIHU.

So, firstly, who is Elihu? We’re told little about him, that he’s the son of Barakel. He’s got a fine name. His father had a fine name and he came from an unknown place called Buz. So Job, remember, came from Uz, and so this man comes from Buz. Perhaps he’s a relation of Job, maybe a distant cousin. You know how families gather together at wakes, and this has been a wake. His family’s name is Ram, but we have been told earlier in the dialogues that Job’s family had been no help to him at all at this crisis in his life. So we have little expectation in the hope we are going to receive from young Elihu Ram from Buz.

i] He was a bystander limited in his counsels by his ignorance.

Elihu belonged to a crowd of people that must have gathered around the dungheap in a silent fascinated outer circle. They’ve stood or sat there listening to all the dialogue as it’s gone on and all the dynamic of the occasion, the most I portent event in the world at that time. They paid attention to the three men as one by one they had spoken and as Job had responded. Elihu doesn’t have the maturity of those three men. He lacks the honoured rank in society that came with age. He’s a bystander, but he’s gripped, intensely, by the whole drama. It must have been a talking point in all the land, mustn’t it? “Have you heard about Job? . . . Do you know about Job? . . . Of course everyone has heard of Job . . . we know Job. He’s the most famous, the most wealthy, the most respected, the wisest man in the world. God love Job. He sits at the gates and gives counsel in disputes and litigation, and criminal cases, and when he speaks nobody else says a word afterwards. He overflows with wisdom in everything he says. His very table talk is repeated . . . Do you know that Job has been plunged into poverty? Do you know that he’s lost all his herds? They’ve been taken away by the Sabeans. He’s been plunged into poverty. He’s lost his children, do you know that all ten of them were killed in a horrible accident? He’s lost his health, and is covered with boils. There are stories of domestic difficulties that he’s having with his wife. Can you believe that God should have dealt with this man Job, his own servant, in such a way? Well, you know what they say, there’s no smoke without a fire, is there? Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. What’s he been doing in his house? What’s he been doing when he goes over the hills?” So that’s the atmosphere of suspicion building up, of men justifying themselves when nothing untoward happens to them and they prosper. So they point the finger at godly men when troubles come into their lives.

Young Elihu has been listening to those three men with growing impatience. Now, the fundamental problem with Elihu is that he knows no more about the incidents described in the first two chapters of the book of Job than anybody else living at that time. He is no wiser about those events which God has made us party to than the three so-called friends of Job, or even Job himself. Elihu is, then, in the darkness trying to find an explanation for Job’s suffering, but you see, we know that God has pronounced Job blameless, and God has taken the initiative in all the shcking providences that occur in putting Job to such test, that greatest that any believing sinner has ever had to face or ever will, handing Job over to Satan’s malice, taking down the hedge that protects Job, lowering a little those mighty ramparts of preservation and letting Satan manifest his hatred for those who are God’s people. But the Lord has said firstly, “Don’t affect his health,” and then later the Lord says, “Don’t touch his life but sickness may smite my servant.” Elihu doesn’t know that that is what has happened, that God deeply loves his servant Job, and so Elihu is very limited in his counsels by this ignorance of God.

ii] An angry young man.

And secondly, Elihu was a very angry young man. The word ‘anger’ occurs three or four times in the opening words of the sentence. He’s angry with Job. You and I are not angry with Job, are we? We’ve looked at Job now these last fifteen weeks and we’re not cross with him. We’re compassionate and grieving; we are filled with admiration for this terrific fellow and so sorry that all these things have happened to him, but I don’t think anyone is annoyed with Job. Elihu, though, was angry because Job was, to his thinking, proudly and defiantly justifying himself rather than giving glory to God by confessing he deserved all he had received because of his secret sin. But we know that Job was merely saying about himself what God says, what the Holy Spirit says in the opening words of the book; “This man was blameless and upright; He feared God and shunned evil” (v.1). Whatever else you forget, don’t forget this: Job was without notorious sin. He was a righteous and blameless man. God himself says to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no-one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil”. But young Elihu believes Job is guilty and is being punished for his wickedness. He has that same fatal flaw that the other three old men also have. So he’s angry with Job because Job refuses to say, “Yes, I’m a sinner. It’s happened to me because of some notorious sins in my life which no one knew about save for God. My past has caught up with me.” Job will not say that because to say it would be to lie.

And then Elihu was also angry with Job’s friends “because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him” (v.3). They couldn’t put a finger on Job. They looked at his life and they couldn’t find anyone, any witness, a woman, a man, old or young, who would speak up and condemn even referring to a sin of omission – “I was hungry and you didn’t help me in any way.” Yet the three had persisted with their accusations. They kept on saying, “There must be something . . . must be . . . must be . . .” One accuser would stop and then the next one would start, “ . . . must be some sin in your life. Come on, acknowledge it. And it must be so heinous that God is punishing it to this degree.” Job has answered them and Elihu is waiting. Are they now going to say, “We’re so sorry that we’ve spoken so stridently to you at this time of great mourning and grief in your life”. No apology. “But when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused” (v.5). They didn’t say, “You’ve been suffering and we’ve been blabbering on like this, in this inconsiderate way”.

So Elihu speaks at a time of burning anger. He is cross with Job, and angry with the three men. He’s built up a head of steam, and so that’s why he goes on and on for six whole chapters. He’s been rehearsing all the time, making mental notes of what he’s going to say next, as he’s been listening to these three men. It is not helpful to speak when you’re angry, is it? Your tongue runs away with you and you hurt. You live to regret it. A friend of mine had a memory in his own life that illustrates that. He says, “I remember one winter my father needed firewood and he found a dead tree and he sawed it down, and in the spring, to his dismay, new shoots sprung out from around the trunk. The father said to his son, ‘I thought for sure it was dead. The leaves had all dropped in the wintertime. It was so cold, the twigs snapped. There seemed to be no life left. It was a dead tree to me, but now I see there was life in the taproot’. He looked at me and he said, ‘Bob, don’t forget this lesson. Never cut a tree down in the winter.’” Never make a negative decision at a low time in your life. Never take the most important decisions that you can take at your worst moments. Don’t speak to someone when you’re angry with them. Parents wait before addressing your defiant children. Be patient. The storm will pass, a calmer time will come. Elihu is angry. Elihu speaks up and at length, and Elihu is ignorant of the real causes of why all this has happened to Job. Job has suffered as he had but Elihu is deeply certain that he’s got something to say.

2. ELIHU’S SPEECH.

What does Elihu say? He certainly takes a long time to say what he’s got to say. He’s so deferential, he is most apologetic for speaking at all. He is utterly fulsome, and you can try to excuse his wordiness by saying that that’s the Middle Eastern way of talking. But it wasn’t the Middle Eastern way of Jehovah’s prophets talking or even our Lord Jesus Christ speaking, this obsequiousness introduction. Look at vv.6–12: “I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know. I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’ 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. Therefore I say: Listen to me; I too will tell you what I know. I waited while you spoke, 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”, he says. So here’s this long introduction and you see how often he refers to “I” and “Me” in this?

Elihu is justifying himself, but he hasn’t finished, because look at vv.16–22: “Must I wait, now that they are silent, now that they stand there with no reply? 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. I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply. I will show partiality to no-one, nor will I flatter any man; for if I was skilled in flattery, my Maker would soon take me away.” Phew! He says that, and then he hasn’t finished! “But now, Job, listen to my words; pay attention to everything I say. I am about to open my mouth; my words are on the tip of my tongue. My words come from an upright heart; my lips sincerely speak what I know. The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. 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. But you have said in my hearing—I heard the very words . . .” (chap. 33 vv.1–8). Then Elihu gets to the point of what has irritated him. So it’s such an introduction, isn’t it? Here is an extraordinary self-consciousness of staggering proportions. He feels bottled-up and he’s got to speak. But such feelings do not guarantee that Elihu is serving the Lord in wht he says. I know that. I have to speak in public a thousand times more than you all and there were times I felt that I had to say something but it wasn’t of the Lord. Looking back I’ve so many regrets. It would have been so much wiser if I had been quiet. Certainly with Elihu there’s nothing dull or academic about his words, but he’s over-confident that he’s got something of the utmost importance to say aloud to everyone, and yet he is ignorant of the contents of chapters 1 and 2 of this book. He feels what he has to offer is revolutionary, but as you read the six chapters of his speech they’re not all that different, not significantly different from what the other men have spoken, even though he has some lovely insights. We’re thankful that the Holy Spirit has recorded what he says here in the Old Testament) but the truth is that Elihu doesn’t know more than anybody else who is ignorant of those opening chapters about why Job was being dealt with in these fearful ways. In fact, the youngest child here in the Kingdom of God knows more about Job and why he suffered than Elihu or any of his three friends, because we’ve got a comprehensive revelation. In fact, through the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ we know much more about why pain comes on the holy and the godly. Yet there are some things Elihu says that are great.

i] God saves men and women from the pit.

Elihu knew that God saves men and women from the pit. Now some of you don’t know that, you don’t know it experientially. You hear us sing: “We have heard the joyful sound, Jesus saves!”, and you know many of the people in this congregation claim that they’ve been saved from sin and its curse and condemnation by the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of you know that, but you don’t know it experientially, so that you can affirm, “He loved ME and he gave himself for ME”. Now Elihu knows that God can save men from the pit. He says that in chapter 33 and verse 28, that the light of God can shine into the darkness of a man’s own soul; that he doesn’t need to go on saying, “We don’t know.” We CAN know because God gives us understanding, and Elihu is most anxious, then, that Job should be saved because he takes the protestations of Job about his own integrity as if Job was pleading that he was free entirely from sin, which Job never claimed.

Elihu can see that what brings a man to the salvation of God is a sense of guilt, an awareness of his sin, and that that drives us to go to the One who says, “Look unto me and be ye saved all the ends of the earth.” So Elihu is worried when he hears Job protest that he’s pure and without sin (v.9). He’s familiar with the sentiment that “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves — we don’t deceive anyone else — and the truth is not in us.” In the New Testament John tells us that clearly, and, of course, Job was protesting his integrity. Job was claiming, “I’ve not done a secret, enormous, heinous act for which God is punishing me.” That’s what Job was saying. But Elihu wants to say, “Job, if you think that you are sinless, your view of God is terribly inadequate, because we only know ourselves what kind of people we are when we know who God is because God made us in his image”. So that people who don’t know God, don’t know themselves. That’s the problem. And that’s the problem with fallen mankind. There’s this extraordinary absence of self-understanding, because a loss of God means a loss of personal identity. “Who am I? Why am I in the world? What’s the point of life?” You can only answer those questions and know the answers, if you know God first, and so Elihu has a real pastoral concern now for Job.

Elihu also says to Job that his view of God is too small – “God is greater than man” (v.12). “God”, he says, “does speak” (v.14). The God who is, is not silent. He speaks to us, for example, in dreams (vv.15–16). He spoke to Joseph and Pharaoh and the butler and the baker in dreams, didn’t he? Those dreams can alarm us, they can wake us up. We can see fearful judgement ahead, we can see ourselves before God. We can see hell’s fire (vv.17–18). We have gone to bed, thinking nothing about God, like people sleeping off last night’s carousing, and then God summons us at two o’clock in the morning, to stand before his Judgement Throne. Men see what lies ahead. They have a horrible dream. They experience no peace.There can be no peace for the wicked. God determines this. Sometimes, Elihu says — and this is wise too — God awakens us to our need of him by chastening us, by making sickness a rod, and on our sick beds we think of him. We see how he says that there in verse 19, “a man may be chastened on a bed of pain with constant distress in his bones.”

Most of all, Elihu says, “God provides a Mediator through whom we can approach him. One who pleads for us” and there’s this wonderful description in vv.23–24 of this Mediator. “. . .There is an angel on his side as a mediator, one out of a thousand, to tell a man what is right for him, to be gracious to him and say, ‘Spare him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom for him’”. That’s what this Mediator says. God has provided this Angel of the covenant. He is the fairest of ten thousand, amongst a thousand glorious beings he would stand out. Elihu is talking about the coming Messiah, the Mediator, who says to God, “Spare a sinner like Job. Spare him. Spare Saul of Tarsus from going down to the pit,” and if we find him nd lay hold of him he will deliver us from the grave. If we find favour with God (v.26) then we’ll see God’s face by faith, and we’ll shout for joy. We can be restored to God; we can be righteous. That is Elihu’s conviction. Then we will testify to men and women what God has done for us. You see it here so wonderfully. Hear verses 27 and 28 describing the saved sinner’s concern for his fellow men; “Then he comes to men and says, ‘I have sinned, and perverted what was right, but I did not get what I deserved. He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I shall live to enjoy the light.’” He’s like the lost man in Psalm 40 who waited patiently for God and then the Lord heard him and delivered him from the fearful pit and the miry clay. He placed his feet on the rock and he gave him a new song to sing for all who would listen. He was a delivered man. Elihu is saying to Job here, “You know, this is real. God saves men who confess their sin.” We know of an Ethiopian eunuch, who was thus saved and went on his way rejoicing back to Africa again.

“This is what God does for men, Job,” says Elihu, “for the man who knows his sin and for the man who knows that he needs the God who speaks, the man who is humbled by God,” and he pleads with Job to make sure that this is done for him. He says that in vv.31–33. It’s an earnest plea that will come from a thousand pulpits each Sunday. “Pay attention. Listen to me. Be silent. I will speak. If you have anything to say, answer me. Speak up, I want you to be cleared. If not, listen to me. Be silent. I will teach you wisdom.” This is Christ speaking, the great Prophet who comes where two or three gather in his name who teaches us through his servants. Through the Word of God the Saviour speaks. Every gospel preacher who has come to know the Mediator, the loveliest of ten thousand, wants the world to be saved from the pit. Elihu knows it’s possible to be restored to God through a Mediator. Please pay attention. Please heed this passage. Listen! Be silent and I will speak. So Elihu speaks up on behalf of every gospel servant.

I think if Elihu had quit then he would have been ahead. He’s said so much; he’s declared the very best things. You know with some people whom you hear preach that your response is that if they were half as long, they’d be twice as good! Somebody said to me last year — I was speaking at a conference — and an esteemed man said afterwards, “You preached us into a good frame of mind, and then you preached us out of it, because you preached too long.” Such comments are fair enough, and so it was with Elihu. He has made a good point especially for a young man, but he goes on for another four chapters.

ii] God’s righteousness and justice.

The next chapter, chapter 34, is not really that significant in the book of Job, but let me just mention it. Elihu calls on the three comforters to listen, and to test his words and discern what is right that they learn together. Job has persistently declared his innocence, and has protested that God hasn’t been righteous in punishing him through these awesome providences for they are not commensurate with how he has lived. God has fired terrible arrows at Job and they’re stuck into the soul of Job. He has to get by with thess arrows in his heart now — the death of his children, his ill health, his wife turning against him, the loss of all his possessions and the loss of his name. He has become the taunt of the mockers in the taverns. It is a huge arrow that God has fired that. The whole trajectory comes from the throne of the universe and it ends buried in his life leaving Job half dead, but Elihu says, “You shouldn’t talk like that.” “Evil-doers say things like that,” he says. “You’ve just been sitting in the company of wicked men. You’ve been infected by their wrong attitudes.” So Elihu proceeds to emphasise the righteousness and the justice of God. He makes this great statement. “My friends, listen to this, listen to how righteous God is. Far be it from God to do evil, for the Almighty to do wrong. He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves. It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice. Who appointed him over the earth? Who put him in charge of the whole world? If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust” (vv.10–15). Men and women, those are solemn words. That’s true. You should heed them and they should make you tremble because such words are true. We didn’t put God in heaven. We didn’t make him a judge. God made us, keeps us alive, and God sustains us so that we answer to him. He could take the breath away from every one of you, just like that, and then this chapel would be like Bethania Congregationalist Chapel, Aberfan on October 21st 1966, when there was a dead body in every pew from the 144 that were brought out of the school there when the tip had roller-coasted down the mountain and crushed it. The bodies of the children were laid one in each pew. The chapel was full of the dead. God can permit something like that. If it were his intention, if he withdrew his spirit and breath, all of mankind would perish together.

I have told you of a student who was in her last year here and she was a great encouragement to me. She’d lost her father and her brother before she’d come to college and then in her last term, within a week of her Finals she lost her mother with cancer and we went through grief that together. Her great fear, through the fiery darts of the evil one, was that in heaven there was a God of malice; cosmic malice reigned and by this power he was taking all these precious people from her. Such comforting words of the righteousness of God as we see in the twelfth verse, with their affirmation of the goodness of God, are our bedrock at times like that. “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong.” It is unthinkable . . . Put them in letters of gold. Place them on your fridge with a magnet this week. Put them on your desk. “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong.” The earth is shaking; your worst fears are being realised; the lump is malignant; the phone rings; the police car comes outside the door. Whatever it is, “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong”. Joseph was sold into slavery and taken as a young boy from home, never to go back there again, to spend his life living in Egypt. There he has to take every bit of faith and set it on a word like this: “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong. You meant it for evil. It is unthinkable that God would mean it for evil. God meant it for good.”

iii] God’s supreme authority over the world.

In the next section, vv.16–31, Elihu speaks of the fact that God is the supreme ruler of the world. You know today, at this moment, there are over six thousand million people in the world and everyone of them is living and moving and having his being in God; in everyone of them their breath is in God’s hands. Every single one. Not one of them on the Day of Judgement will be able to complain to God and say, “You didn’t treat me fairly. You treated me unjustly”. Not one. You see what Elihu says in v.17: “Can he who hates justice govern? Will you condemn the just and mighty One?” God isn’t intimidated by the bluster of tyrants. How does God address them? “You’re worthless,” he says to them. “That fox Herod,” said Jesus. God isn’t impressed by the rank of nobles; “You’re wicked.” He can say to a noble man with great power, “You’re an evil man”. He shows no partiality to princes, he doesn’t favour the super-rich. Rich and poor alike made by him. Rich and poor alike die by his decree in an instant – “the mighty are removed without a human hand” (v.20). For God knows everything about everyone (v.21). There’s no hiding place from him. There’s no higher court that you can appeal to if you once appear before him, it’s a court of total integrity and absolute justice (v.23).

God is watching. God overthrows some (v.25). God punishes others (v.26). If God weren’t involved, if he were some distant deity it would be different. Yet God is over every individual, six thousand million of them, and God is involved, knowing, living, moving having their being in him (v.29). God overthrows some (v.30). Mugabe will be overthrown as Mao and Stalin and Hitler were overthrown.

Then in vv.31–37 Elihu raises the question of a criminal, a terrible man who simply repeats some words to God about turning over a new leaf, this serial killer, and then he thinks at the end he can simply say to God, “I am guilty but will offend no more. Teach me what I cannot see; if I have done wrong, I will not do so again” (vv.31–32). “Do you expect a reward”, Elihu says, “for words like that? You are refusing to repent”. It’s not words, it’s repentance. So then Elihu again points to poor Job, the man who refuses to say, “I’ve done wrong, and these pains that I’m enduring are the evil I have done.” Elihu concludes his speech with these sad harsh words of condemnation of a man the latchet of whose shoe Elihu is not worthy to loose: “Men of understanding declare, wise men who hear me say to me, ‘Job speaks without knowledge; his words lack insight.’ 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.” (vv. 34-37).

Elihu has said great things. He says the best a man can say who doesn’t see the whole scene, who doesn’t have the whole picture. Often Christians don’t have all the facts. Often the elders don’t have all the facts. A wife accuses a husband of assaulting her and then he says, “No, no she’s exaggerating”. We weren’t there. Did you see what happened? So it might be very frustrating for you, not taking sides, wanting somebody to be denounced for either deceit or violenc. But until we know more our love and ignorance will make us silent. We often have limited knowledge. Elihu had limited knowledge about the plight of Job, but did he speak at great length, didn’t he? The Lord Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus and he said to him, “I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know and testify of what we’ve seen. I am telling you the truth; we speak of what we know.” Whatever Jesus said came from knowledge. He knew origins and conclusions. He knew God. No man knows the Father save the Son. He knows what lies after death, and he knows you. So whatever Jesus says to you, they are true. We worship the God called Jesus who speaks the truth. So we’ve got to act on those words. Take the words of Jesus. They’re not like the words of Elihu, they’re not like my words, they’re not like the words of anyone else without relative knowledge. We do see in part. All of us see through a glass darkly, even the apostle Paul, but Jesus sees every one of us. He knows our destinies, our past, our problems, where we are today and who we are. He can help you. He’s the only one who can. But the key words for us to remember this morning are: “IT IS UNTHINKABLE THAT GOD COULD DO WRONG”. When he brought you here, when he brought you into the Christian orbit, and when he brought you under the influence of the Word of God here week by week, it is unthinkable that he did wrong in doing that, and he’s brought you this far that you should know him as your God and Saviour.

3rd March 2002 Geoff Thomas