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The Life and Times of Elihu: or Is John Piper a Character in the Bible?

August 5, 2007

One of the most interesting books in the Bible is the book of Job. The structure of the book is as follows: Job loses everything in the first few chapters. Then, the bulk of the book is Job and his three friends arguing over whether this is because of sin on Job’s part. Job argues that no, he didn’t sin, and basically spends a lot of time lamenting to God about how unfair all of this is. Job’s friends take the position “come on, the only reason all this is happening to you is that you sinned.” After going on like this for almost 30 chapters, Job and the three stooges are done, and then comes Job 32-37. This is how the chapters are introduced:

32:1 So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 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. 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. 4 Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were older than he. 5 And when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, he burned with anger.

First off, I love how the narrative basically says “Job’s three friends had no clue what to say after this”.  One of the points that the narrator makes is that they did not respond rightly to Job justifying himself rather than God, which is something that he frowns upon.  Basically, at this point, everyone is in the wrong.  A quick note is that it is possible to confront someone in a way that is not helpful to them, and that this doesn’t serve God.

However, here comes Elihu.  The preceding quote from Job is the first time he is ever mentioned, and once Elihu goes silent, he is never mentioned again.  He respects his elders, but is actually wiser than them, as his five chapters of dialog will prove.  He is also very zealous of God’s glory – he is angry that Job justifies himself and not God: in essence, Job is taking the credit for being righteous, and demanding fairness from God.  Elihu hates this, and proceeds to respond to Job and his friends.

In chapter 32, Elihu basically rebukes Job’s friends, and then in 33, he begins talking about Job.  Elihu seems to have a very small view of himself:

Behold, I am toward God as you are;
I too was pinched off from a piece of clay.
Behold, no fear of me need terrify you;
my pressure will not be heavy upon you.

He then states Job’s claim, and brings a different response to it than Job’s friends:

You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression;
I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me.
10 Behold, he finds occasions against me,
he counts me as his enemy,
11 he puts my feet in the stocks
and watches all my paths.’

12 “Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you,
for God is greater than man.
13 Why do you contend against him,
saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s [2] words’? [3]
14 For God speaks in one way,
and in two, though man does not perceive it.

Here you see how Elihu responds: he doesn’t see Job’s horrible situation and say “see, that proves you have done wrong!”  He rather says “You are in a horrible circumstance, and you demand answers.  You claim to be blameless: even if you are, who are you to demand answers of God?  He may speak in ways you do not understand.”

Elihu constantly extols the greatness of God and the insignificance of man.  Here is another response to Job’s complaint that he is being treated unfairly in chapter 35:

2 “Do you think this to be just?
Do you say, ‘It is my right before God,’
that you ask, ‘What advantage have I?
How am I better off than if I had sinned?’
I will answer you
and your friends with you.
Look at the heavens, and see;
and behold the clouds, which are higher than you.
If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him?
And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him?
If you are righteous, what do you give to him?
Or what does he receive from your hand?
Your wickedness concerns a man like yourself,
and your righteousness a son of man.

In other words, “realize God is higher than man, and what man does is inconsequential to God.  So what if you were righteous?  Does this make you anything before God?  Does he get anything out of this?  Do your sins hurt him?”

In chapters 36-37, Elihu extols God’s greatness.  One of the most interesting verses is 36:15:

13 “The godless in heart cherish anger;
they do not cry for help when he binds them.
14 They die in youth,
and their life ends among the cult prostitutes.
15 He delivers the afflicted by their affliction
and opens their ear by adversity.
16 He also allured you out of distress
into a broad place where there was no cramping,
and what was set on your table was full of fatness.

He delivers the afflicted  by their affliction . . . what does that even mean?  I think Elihu is talking about how God uses affliction not just as a punishment, but as a way of deliverance.  Opening our ear by adversity, God teaches us through suffering, which is sometimes brought on by what we have done, but sometimes is not: however, it is ALWAYS there to teach us something.

The interesting thing is that as I studied Elihu more closely, I thought of a modern day preacher.  John Piper is radically God-centered.  If you listen to him, you realize that this man cares much more about what God thinks and what God is like than anything else.  This seems to be the case with Elihu.  To him, Job’s greatest sin wasn’t what brought on his suffering, although he definitely thought it could be the result of sin, but the most important sin Job was committing was in his response to his trials: he was defaming God by charging God with wrongdoing.  Elihu would not let this stand, and challenges Job to think of God in a very different light.  I hope to follow his example, as well as the modern example of John Piper, and be someone who cares more about God than anything else.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 8, 2007 3:23 pm

    I just have to tell you again that I am enjoying your blog. I’ve gone back and read some of your brother’s posts, too. Sounds like you guys have your head (s)! on straight. Nice to read writing like this from someone with the same name as us. We’ve felt like the family is totally “pagan” if you know what I mean. But God has saved others! Would be nice to learn more. I may have sons about your ages (just guessing from some of your comments).

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