Damien F. Mackey
Was the young Elihu of the Book of Job (ch’s 32-37), as according to some, an enlightened prophet whose input is crucial to the dialogue, providing a “bridge” between Job and God, or, as according to Mason, “… an astonishingly pompous little windbag. He takes the entire first chapter, for example, plus portions of the second, simply to clear his throat and announce that he has something to say.”?
Not pompous, but modest
According to Tom Brown, “Why Job Suffered”, the poorly-known Elihu was given by God an “insight into the true nature of Job’s sufferings” (http://tbm.org/why_job_suffered.htm):
THE UNFORGOTTEN HERO
Do you remember the last character in the book of Job? Elihu is his name. He was not one of Job’s friends. He was simply listening to Job’s friends judging him and Job defending himself. As he began to listen to all four, God gave him insight into the true nature of Job’s sufferings.
Out of all the human characters, only Elihu understood why Job suffered. It is amazing that I haven’t heard anyone ever mention Elihu. We almost forget him. But the truth is, Elihu was the only one with true insight, not only into the sufferings of Job but, insight into the sufferings of all mankind. This is why Elihu is the last to speak concerning Job’s sufferings. It is interesting to note that when God appeared to Job, He rebuked Job for not having insight and He rebuked Job’s three friends for falsely judging Job. Yet God never rebuked Elihu. Why? Because Elihu was correct in understanding suffering.
Elihu begins by saying,
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. (Job 32:6-8)
Notice, Elihu is about to give wisdom not because of any human understanding, but because God’s Spirit gave him understanding. The first thing he does is correct Job’s friends.
I waited while you [Job’s three friends] 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 argument. (Job 32:11-12)
Elihu showed Job’s friends that they were wrong in judging him. The second thing Elihu does is correct Job, but he does it in humility.
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– “I AM PURE AND WITHOUT SIN; I AM CLEAN AND FREE FROM GUILT..” (Job 33:1-9)
Elihu saw one fundamental flaw in Job: that Job believed that he was without original sin. Job was self-righteous. Yes, he was righteous as far as men are concerned, but he was not righteous as far as God was concerned.
Since Job thought he was sinless and not under the curse of sin, he could not figure out how he could suffer. This bothered Job. But Elihu points out the fact that Job was a sinner like everyone else and is subject to the curse of sin which includes sickness and poverty.
People erroneously think that the book of Job was written to try to answer the question: Why does God allow good people to suffer? But Elihu has no trouble with that question because he knows that there are no truly “good” people in God’s sight. The thing that perplexed Elihu was not the fact that Job was suffering, but why weren’t he and Job’s friends suffering along with Job. In fact, Elihu is wondering why everyone doesn’t suffer all the time since everyone is a sinner.
Elihu realized that sinners are under the curse of sin, and therefore have no legal right to get mad when they suffer. They should realize that they deserve to suffer and if they are not suffering, they should praise God even more because He is having mercy on them.
WHY ARE SINNERS BLESSED?
Elihu asked the right question, “Why does God allow sinners to be blessed?” The answer: Because God is merciful.
In other words, before Job had his trials, he experienced the mercy of God. But when Job had his trials, he experienced the justice of God–he only got what he deserved.
Immediately after Elihu spoke, God answered Job in a whirlwind and rebuked him for falsely accusing God of injustice. Job wisely repented. ….
[End of quote]
By contrast with Brown’s favourable view of Elihu, is the put-down of the young man by Mason as already quoted (http://biblehub.com/commentaries/guzik/commentaries/1833.htm):
Despite all the good that might be said of Elihu, the fact remains that he really is an astonishingly pompous little windbag. He takes the entire first chapter, for example, plus portions of the second, simply to clear his throat and announce that he has something to say.
Two quite contrasting views here, Elihu a man of ‘true insight’ (Brown), Elihu ‘a pompous little windbag’ (Mason)!
Nigel Bernard’s most sensitive estimation of Elihu is likewise, as Brown’s, a favourable one. Elihu is a “modest” (not pompous) “messenger of God” (thus not bent upon self-justification) http://nhiemstra.wordpress.com/2009/02/19/elihu-the-messenger-of-god/
Elihu: The Messenger of God
Now comes the part of the whole story that is my personal favorite, at least my favorite character. You see, sitting back and listening to everything that was being said was a young man named Elihu. He was never mentioned before, probably because he was too young to be noticed. But once he starts talking, there is no doubt he possessed a spiritual discernment unknown by the others.
It’s pleasant to notice Elihu’s modesty and tact in entering the discussion with his elders. It says that his “wrath was kindled” against Job and the three friends. This is explained later when he talks about the constraining of the Spirit within him, so that he was “ready to burst.”
Ezekiel refers to this “heat of the Spirit” when the Lord had moved him to speak. Jeremiah spoke of God’s word being “in his heart like a burning fire” and being “weary of holding it in. Indeed (he) could not” (Jeremiah 20:9). When “the Sovereign Lord has spoken, who can but prophesy” (Amos 3:8)? “Woe to me, if I do not . . .” (I Corinthians. 9:16).
Who could blame Elihu? Here he was sitting there as he saw Job becoming more and more concerned about clearing his own character than justifying the love and character of God. He also watched as his elders condemned Job without mercy and never were able to find an answer to Job’s complaints or to explain to him God’s purpose.
Elihu realizes that he is in a very delicate position for a young man. How is he going to speak to these dignified seniors? He holds himself back, waits and watches for the right moment. If indeed the Spirit of God has chosen him to be the “interpreter,” he will wait until He opens the way for him.
That is where many of us miss it. We think that just because we have a message from the Lord, whether it is to a specific brother or sister or in a congregational time of worship, we have to give it now! Do you notice the urgency? I’m sure we have all said, “Lord, what would you have me to say?” However, we also need to ask, “Lord, when would you have me say it?”
Proverbs 15:23 says: “A man has joy in making an apt answer and a word spoken in the right moment—how good it is!”
So finally, there’s a pause. The friends “stopped answering Job” and “the words of Job are ended.” The Lord’s message comes to Elihu and he obediently speaks. He takes from the beginning a place of humility and acknowledges his youthfulness and confesses how he had shrunk from saying what was on his heart because of their age and his respect for them. He knows there’s “a spirit in man,” and that it’s “the breath of the Almighty” alone that gives understanding and not age or position. So he is going to be obedient to the Lord and boldly say “Listen to me” although he is young.
He had waited and listened very attentively to every word that the older men had “searched out to say” while they were reasoning with Job, but he saw that they had utterly failed to convince him. “Not one of you has proved him wrong and none of you has answered his arguments. Look, Job hasn’t said anything to me, so I’m not going to answer anything he said. All I want to do is speak for the truth, not revenge.”
After all that, Elihu pauses almost as if he was waiting for some kind of encouragement from them or something. But they just sit there.
“You sit there baffled and embarrassed with no more replies. Should I just sit here and wait because you haven’t said anything?” No, he must be faithful to God regardless of their silence. He has to fulfill his “part” in God’s purpose and give the light that has been given to him. ….
Elihu, who must have been – according to my reconstructions of the life of the righteous Job – a contemporary of the prophet Ezekiel, is found to have “similarities” with that prophet.
According to my reconstructions of the life and times of Job (as Tobias, son of Tobit) such as:
Job’s Life and Times
Stellar Life and Career of the holy Prophet Job
Job’s long life during the neo-Assyrian era took him at least as far as the destruction of Nineveh (c. 612 BC, conventional dating). This would mean that Elihu, a young man when Job was already old, had lived during the Chaldean era. And the Chaldean era was, of course, the very era during which the prophet Ezekiel had lived and prophesied.
Now, returning to Nigel Bernard, we read of these intriguing comparisons of Elihu and Ezekiel (http://www.testimony-magazine.org/back/apr2010/bernard.pdf)
There are several similarities between Elihu and Ezekiel. Comparisons include whirlwinds; sitting for seven days; not speaking; and rebuking elders even though they themselves were much younger.
IN LAST MONTH’S article we considered Elihu and Elijah. In this second article we consider Elihu and Ezekiel. As in the previous study, a whirlwind plays an important role.
In the opening chapter of Ezekiel we read of a whirlwind: “And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire” (v. 4). Just as the speech of Elihu was terminated by a whirlwind, the first vision that Ezekiel sees begins with a whirlwind. In Job the whirlwind provided a demonstration of power out of which God spoke. The whirlwind in Ezekiel is spoken of in more detail, and from it emerge the cherubim.
Sat seven days
When Job’s friends came to him (and we know that Elihu was also there) we read, “So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great. After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day” (2:13; 3:1). Likewise, Ezekiel spent a period of seven days simply sitting with a group of people, apparently saying nothing—at least, not words from God: “Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel-abib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days. And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the LORD [Yahweh] came unto me, saying . . .” (Ezek. 3:15,16).
In Job 21:5 Job says, “Mark me, and be astonished, and lay your hand upon your mouth”. Ezekiel later follows in the spirit of Job’s request, being “astonished”, and effectively having his hand upon his mouth. Yet, in the case of Job, all the time Elihu was indeed laying his hand upon his mouth, no doubt humble enough to be astonished too.
As we read the speeches of Job and his three friends, the presence of Elihu can be felt. We know that he is there listening, but he restrains himself from speaking: “And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said, I am young, and ye are very old; wherefore I was afraid, and durst not shew you mine opinion” (32:6). He was voluntarily dumb, a dumbness out of respect and fear for his elders, on the basis that “Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom” (v. 7).
Ezekiel was also to be silent, speaking only when God caused him to speak. But his silence, unlike Elihu’s, was miraculously enforced, for he was made dumb: “and I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover: for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD [Yahweh]; He that heareth, let him hear; and he that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house” (Ezek. 3:26,27).
Ezekiel was made dumb because the house of Israel were rebellious. In contrast, after Elihu and God had spoken, Job showed humility towards God and repented “in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
As we have seen, Elihu says to Job’s friends, “I am young, and ye are very old”. This theme of a younger person rebuking elders is also echoed in Ezekiel. Assuming that it is his age which is being spoken of, Ezekiel tells us that it was in his “thirtieth year” that he saw “visions of God” (1:1). At his comparatively young age he had to deal on more than one occasion with the elders of Israel, as the following verses show:
“And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I sat in mine house, and the elders of Judah sat before me, that the hand of the Lord GOD [Yahweh] fell there upon me” (8:1);
“Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me” (14:1);
“And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to enquire of the LORD [Yahweh], and sat before me” (20:1); “Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD [Yahweh]; Are ye come to enquire of Me? As I live, saith the Lord GOD [Yahweh], I will not be enquired of by you” (v. 3).
In the case of both the friends of Job and the elders of Judah, old age proved to be no guarantee of wisdom or obedience. Their rebuke by younger men only served to heighten their folly.
Priest and ancestry
[Mackey’s comment: In the following section, Bernard, whilst continuing to find similarities between Elihu and Ezekiel, will distinguish between “Ezekiel … the priest” and “Elihu … not a priest”. Whether or not Elihu was a priest has yet, I think, to be determined].
Ezekiel is described as “the priest, the son of Buzi”. That he was both a priest and the son of Buzi provides a link with Elihu. Malachi wrote that “the priest’s lips should keep knowledge” (2:7). Although not a priest, Elihu sought to live the spirit of these words, for he said, “my lips shall utter knowledge clearly” (Job 33:3).
Elihu is said to be “the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram” (32:2). That Elihu was a Buzite could mean that he was a descendant of Buz, the son of Nahor (see Gen. 22:20,21), and/or he lived in a territory called Buz. According to Strong, “Buzi” in Ezekiel 1:3 is the same word as “Buzite” in Job 32:2. This is a rare name in Scripture. That both Elihu and Ezekiel have this name mentioned in their ancestry alerts us to look for other similarities between these two men.
There are other significant connections between the book of Job and Ezekiel, which, although not relating directly to Elihu, form an important background to the links we have seen.
For example, some aspects of the cherubim reflect the words used by God of creation in His speech to Job. God asks Job, “Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go, and say unto thee, Here we are?” (Job 38:35). In Ezekiel it is said of the cherubim, “and out of the fire went forth lightning” (1:13). God also asks Job, “Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south?” (Job 39:26). The Hebrew word for “hawk” is related to the word translated “sparkled” in Ezekiel 1:7, where it is stated that the feet of the cherubim “sparkled like the colour of burnished brass”. As the hawk flew swiftly south, it did so with a flashing brilliance, sparkling against the sun. As such, as the cherubim came sparkling from the north, it was like the hawk flying toward the south.
The Hebrew word Shaddai occurs forty-eight times in the Bible and is always translated ‘Almighty’. It is a key word in Job, occurring thirty-one times. It is used only four times in all of the prophets: once in Isaiah, once in Joel, and twice in Ezekiel. It is significant that a key word in Job, so rare in the prophets, should occur twice in Ezekiel.
Of course, Job is actually mentioned in Ezekiel: “though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD [Yahweh]” (14:14). Furthermore, the phrase “these three men” is itself taken, ironically, from the book of Job, ironic because here it refers to the three friends of Job, who were delivered as a consequence of the prayer of Job: “So these three men ceased to answer Job . . .” (32:1).
[Mackey’s comment: How fascinating! Bernard is perfectly correct here. The exact same Hebrew phrase (שְׁלֹשֶׁת הָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה), “these three men”, is found in both Ezekiel 14:14 and Job 32:1].
As we have seen in this and the previous article, there are several connections between Elihu and the two prophets Elijah and Ezekiel. As well as helping us to understand the work of Elijah and Ezekiel, these comparisons also help us to see Elihu in a new light, supporting the view, in my opinion, that Elihu’s speech was vital for preparing the mind of Job for when God would speak to him.
Elihu may even be Ezekiel
Elihu and Ezekiel were contemporaries, both of whom referred to Job (Elihu addressed Job),
Buzites, they experienced similar awesome theophanies, and were filled with God’s spirit.
- Taking Elihu Seriously
Continuing firstly with the view that Elihu, far from being a pompous young upstart, was an inspired messenger of God, let us consider what Mark Block wrote about him (4th February, 2013 – full reference no longer available), in his section, “Reasons to Accept Elihu’s Speech”:
Many Bible interpreters disavow what Elihu has to say in the Book of Job. Below I will give a few reasons why I believe his speech to Job is true and is good theology.
1) God never rebukes Elihu. After God has finished speaking, He states that His wrath is upon the three other friends that gave counsel to Job. God does not include Elihu into the group of people who have not spoken rightly. (Job 42:7)
2) There is a break in the text to introduce him. The words of Elihu in Job 32:1-3 are not continuing what the other three friends have said, but stating something new. There is a break in the text that introduces something new. Elihu should not get lumped into the group of the other three friends with bad theology.
3) Six chapters are given to Elihu in the Book of Job. The writer of this Book devotes six chapters to Elihu. With much space given to Elihu, surely there is some importance to it.
4) Elihu shows how Job’s other friends are wrong. God also rebuked Job’s other three friends.
5) Elihu claims to be full of the Holy Spirit. In chapter 32 Elihu uses similar language to what Jeremiah used. He reminds me of Jeremiah saying, that the word of the Lord it is like a fire shut up in his bones. Elihu says, “For I am full of words; the spirit within me compels me. Indeed my belly is like wine that has no vent; it is ready to burst like new wine skins. I will speak, that I may find relief…”
6) Elihu signals Gods coming to speak. In 37:11-12 Elihu is describing a whirlwind and attributes the whirlwind to God. We see just a few verses later that God is answering Job out of the whirlwind. Verse one in chapter 38 states, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.” Notice the writer of this book did not say “A” whirlwind. But he says, “THE” That means that there must have been a whirlwind that was taking place, that had already been mentioned previously in the Book of Job. All throughout Elihu’s speech we see him referring to nature. I believe that Elihu is referring to what was actually taking place in front of Job and his three friends. He is describing what was going on while also signaling that God is coming to speak.
What do you think? ….
[End of quote]
Well, to answer Block here, I, for my part, “think” that Elihu was definitely a Jeremiah type, a prophetic messenger sent by God, wholly aflame with the spirit of God, full of eloquence yet humble and modest, and young at the same time that Jeremiah was young.
As we read in Part One, Elihu was, like Jeremiah, enflamed with the Holy Spirit:
It’s pleasant to notice Elihu’s modesty and tact in entering the discussion with his elders. It says that his “wrath was kindled” against Job and the three friends. This is explained later when he talks about the constraining of the Spirit within him, so that he was “ready to burst. …. Jeremiah spoke of God’s word being “in his heart like a burning fire” and being “weary of holding it in. Indeed (he) could not” (Jeremiah 20:9).
But, if I should have to choose a biblical alter ego for Elihu, my preference – based on what we have read in Part One and Part Two – would be for the prophet Ezekiel, rather than Jeremiah.
“Ezekiel [too] refers to this “heat of the Spirit” when the Lord had moved him to speak”.
- Can they be the same?
“Elihu [was the] son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram” (Job 32:2).
“Ezekiel [was] the priest, the son of Buzi …” (Ezekiel 1:3).
We now know that Elihu and Ezekiel were contemporaries.
They also have in common the rare name, Buzi: “According to Strong, “Buzi” in Ezekiel 1:3 is the same word as “Buzite” in Job 32:2. This is a rare name in Scripture. That both Elihu and Ezekiel have this name mentioned in their ancestry alerts us to look for other similarities between these two men”.
Ezekiel 1:3: (בּוּזִי)
Job 32:2: (הַבּוּזִי).
They both refer to Job:
Elihu says (Job 33:1): ‘But now, Job, listen to my words; pay attention to everything I say’.
Ezekiel twice has God proclaim (Ezekiel 14:14, 20): ‘… even if these three men—Noah, Daniela and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness …’.
And most strikingly in relation to this situation we learned that: “The exact same Hebrew phrase (שְׁלֹשֶׁת הָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה), “these three men”, is found in both Ezekiel 14:14 and Job 32:1.
Then in Part Two, we further learned of a whole variety of parallels and links between Elihu and Ezekiel, for example: “Comparisons include whirlwinds; sitting for seven days; not speaking; and rebuking elders even though they themselves were much younger”.
Nigel Bernard, who had provided us with some of the best of these likenesses, did, however, distinguish “Ezekiel … “the priest, the son of Buzi”. That he was both a priest and the son of Buzi provides a link with Elihu. Malachi wrote that “the priest’s lips should keep knowledge” (2:7)” from Elihu: “Although not a priest, Elihu sought to live the spirit of these words, for he said, “my lips shall utter knowledge clearly” (Job 33:3)”.
To which I had attached this comment: “Whether or not Elihu was a priest has yet, I think, to be determined”.
The prophet Ezekiel was most definitely a priest, as is clear from 1:3: “Ezekiel the priest …”. So, in order even to consider whether or not Elihu and Ezekiel could be the same person, one would need to be able to show that Elihu’s genealogy (the only one given in the Book of Job) (32:2): “… son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram”, was Levite.
Given that this is the only reference in the Bible to the name Barachel, the task is a difficult one.
Moreover, the phrase “of the family of Ram” (מִמִּשְׁפַּחַת-רָם), has led some to the conclusion that young Elihu was an Aram(= Ram)ite, i.e., of the Syrian race.
However, the Hebrew phrase rendered here invariably refers to “family”, rather than to race.
Leaving open the possibility that Elihu was Ezekiel, hence a priest, then I would take:
- Ram to be a Levitical “family” line;
- the name Buzi to be a reference to Elihu’s geographical location, situated near Job’s “Uz” (= Bashan) (see my Job articles);
- Barachel unknown for the present;
My best choice for Ram would be meaning Amram (Am-Ram), the father of Moses and Aaron.