In the book of Job, we have been subjected to chapter after chapter of Job's three friends waxing eloquent with false doctrine and firmly asserting wrong assumptions. However, last Thursday night, we read at the end of chapter 31,
Some eyes brightened and people sat up, only to find that it was only the words of Job the man which were ended. Job the book still has eleven more chapters remaining. Fortunately, once we get through tonight's chapters, we'll be back on the solid foundation of inspiration.
Why are tonight's chapters difficult? Well, as it turns out, Job's three friends weren't the only ones who showed up to offer their strange brand of sympathy and comfort...
Elihu, the son of Baw-rak-ALE the BOOZ-ite had also come along, but had remained silent up to this point because the men around him were so much older than he. But once Job had shot down all of their accusations and assumptions, Elihu couldn't help but jump in.
Elihu says, "I've been patient while you talked. I was silent while you considered what to say. But you have failed in your task to successfully condemn Job, so now stand back and watch the verbal axe come down because the job has clearly fallen to me!"
"I'm ready to explode," Elihu tells Job. "I'm full of words, and I've got to get them out!"
"I'm a man, just like you. But I'm about to give you some wisdom that you're not going to be able to argue with."
"I've heard you assert that you're blameless, but the fact is, you are not right."
At this point, I remind you of God's statement back in chapters one and two.
Job 1:8 ..."Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil."
Job's behavior had set him apart as blameless. Anyone who ever interacted with him personally knew that this was a man who lived righteously.
Although Elihu began by saying that he had the real wisdom that no one else in the group seemed to have, he makes the same assertions the other three had made: 1) God punishes the wicked and rewards the good. 2) Job had no right to question why this had happened, because it was obvious.
Back in chapter nine, Job had said that he and God could not go to court together. He said,
Job 9:33 "There is no umpire between us, who may lay his hand upon us both."
"If only I had an umpire, a mediator, an intercessor." Elihu now responds to that statement, saying, "Job, you would need an angel to mediate. To solve this situation, he'd have to on one hand be reminding you what is right, and on the other hand be appealing for God's grace. Only then would you be restored."
At this point, Job no doubt had to be opening his mouth to respond to Elihu's tirades. But Elihu was going to keep talking, no matter what. "You just keep quiet, Job. I'm sharing some amazing wisdom here, some valuable insights for you."
Although his original statement was that the three friends had been wrong, he is just rehashing and reprocessing the same old statements they'd already made. In this case, the same old accusations of Job's wickedness.
Job has already defended himself, saying, "Ask anyone who knows me. They will tell you that I don't run with the wicked crowd. I run the wicked out of town!" But that doesn't matter to Elihu - he's on a roll.
Now, Elihu makes a very grandiose speech. "God is just, and will not pervert justice. He watches men and they don't get away with anything without Him seeing it. God sees evil and wipes out the evildoers, it's as simple as that. You cannot accuse Him of acting wickedly - He is just."
The problem with this thinking isn't obvious at first. After all, Isaiah wrote,
Is. 30:18 ...the LORD is a God of justice
So, couldn't we claim, "Since God is a just God, He can only do just things. Since it would be unjust to afflict a man without reason, God would not do that."?
But the problem with Elihu's reasoning is that it's based on man's definition of justice rather than God's. Yes, God is just. But God also allowed Job to be smitten though he was blameless. Therefore, it must not be unjust for a blameless person to suffer, regardless of how difficult it is for us to accept or understand that here on earth.
The proverb says,
Prov. 28:5 Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand all things.
Man has perverted justice, not God. And even though it stretches our brains, if we seek the Lord in His sovereignty, we will understand it.
This is where Elihu's reasoning begins to differ from the three other friends. You see, they had all been insisting that if Job repented, and he would be restored. But now Elihu is claiming that repentance isn't possible. He says God won't accept the statement, "I'm sorry, I won't do it again." In Elihu's opinion, repentance is making God agree to your terms, a reward for behaving wickedly.
"That wouldn't be just!" Elihu cries. "God doesn't answer sinners who cry out to Him!"
But we know that God is a God who offers forgivenesss for the repentant. Remember that when Peter asked Jesus,
Matt. 18:21-22 ..."Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
We must be the same for one another.
Eph. 4:32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Job must have been ready to speak again, but Elihu keeps it going. The words he speaks here are incredible. "I'm speaking on God's behalf. I have perfect knowledge, and I'm sharing it with you."
Ah, the young man Elihu. Full of fire, excited about righteousness. Ready to take on the world with his clear understanding of God's truth. I know Elihu because I have been Elihu. Maybe you have too. Someone said to me just the other day, "Oh, how I wish I could erase all the dogmatic religious statements I made as a young man." I am also in that camp. I look back at the theological arguments, the emphatic insistence, as I knew that God had entrusted all truth to me alone. I was the keeper of truth, and would dispense it as brutally as I saw fit.
One thing I am learning with age is that most often it is the aged who have learned.
Prov. 20:29 The glory of young men is their strength, and the honor of old men is their gray hair.
As a young man, I was strong in the Word, but weak in my application of it. I often think back with shame at many things I did and said in youthful exuberance. But Paul said,
Phil. 3:13-14 ...forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
And so, I look ahead to the old wise man God is creating out of this foolish young man.
Elihu has not learned the lessons of wisdom and age yet. He is still being dogmatic about that which he knows not. "Those who please God prosper. Those who are godless perish."
"Now, Job, you have been judged for your sinfulness. But you need to be careful that this judgment doesn't cause you to sin even more."
"God is so powerful. You should be thankful that He hasn't smitten you even worse! He is certainly able to strike you with a lightning bolt, after all!"
I don't know about you, but I'm not comforted in my affliction when someone compares it to something worse. "Yes, it's bad that you lost your job, but just think, your house could have burned down on the same day!" That doesn't work for me.
With his final words, Elihu gives summary to his whole assertion, "God is just and doesn't do violence to justice. Therefore, what has happened to you is fair and deserved, regardless of what you think."
At this point, the troublesome portion of Job is over. In the final five chapters of the book, we will not have to worry about sorting through the words to figure out which part is true and which is not. Much of the frustration we experience in studying Job is seeing where the true statements mutate into falsehoods. Elihu was right in saying that God is awesome in power. But he was wrong in saying that He won't listen to our cries of repentance, for our God is He...
Ex. 34:7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin