Gordon E. Johnson

DEVOTIONALS from the Book of Job


Taking the Measure of the "Messenger" – Elihu

Job 32-37

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute

The inspired writer of Job dedicates six chapters to Elihu, the last "messenger" sent by God to Job. The final one will be God Himself who will humble Job, but upon hearing his heart-felt repentance He will refine, restore and reward him double (Job 38-41). 

God's actions in the epilogue will end the Old Testament classic on God's unique School of Suffering. Job will have learned at the cost of his self-righteousness and pride the true meaning of holiness and humility. God's last words will justify His love and grace in the perfecting of one of His own.

We have seen in Job 32, 33 the entrance of the youthful Elihu, the unexpected and yet a gracious and wise counselor. He had been an "ear-witness" to all that had transpired between Job and his three friends. He had deferred to them until he could no longer hold his peace. With a brief and measured statement, he reproved Job (33:8-12). With a single rhetorical question he silenced  Job: "Why do you contend with Him? for He does not give an account of any of His words" (v.13).

What follows as a result of Elihu's question is in colloquial language: Elihu "nails it." In the fewest of words, Elihu says: God speaks to man in one way or another: dreams (v.15), being chastened by pain on his bed (vvs. 19-22). "Then He opens the ears of men and seals their instruction, in order to turn man from his deed, and hide pride from man. He keeps back his soul from the Pit and his life from perishing by the sword" (vvs. 14-18).

But God has another way to speak to man and He has spoken in His Son: "through a "messenger, a mediator, one among thousand to show man His righteousness" (vvs. 23-30). My own interpretation outlined in my previous lesson (# 11) is to me one of the most profound prophecies and truths of the incarnate Christ revealed so early in the Old Testament and also to Job.

No doubt Job and Elihu did not grasp the full but hidden meaning of His words so eloquent and fitting. But faith transcends the intellect and the Spirit speaks. Job remains silent throughout the remainder of the book. Job, however, must have sensed what God was doing in his life.  It is a logical conclusion that Job was seriously weighing these words. Such silence confounded Elihu, the "messenger." Nor did Job speak again until after God's first "round" had ended (Job 40:3,4).

Elihu, the "Messenger" or Counselor, Loses His Way    Job 34, 35

Indeed Elihu has been God's spokesman when he showed restraint and deference before the aged. While he held his tongue, God impacted his spirit to speak. In the appointed time he opened his mouth and gave to Job, whether he understood it or not, God's sovereign message; later that message was graciously fulfilled in Christ being the true messenger incarnate.

One may even sense a slight change in attitude of Elihu toward Job as he concludes his message: "Give ear, Job, listen to me; hold your peace, and I will speak. If you have anything to say, answer me; speak, for I desire to justify you.  If not, listen to me; hold your peace, and I will teach you wisdom" (33:31-33).  Six times he repeats the first person pronoun, "I" and "me." Five times he uses "you" and "your"' in a rather condescending manner.  Do we see the emergence of the "ego" of Elihu? Such a nuanced reference to himself will later explode into a torrent of accusatory words in the next two chapters. To say "I will teach you wisdom" is an overreach to say the least.

Listen to the wise words of Mrs. Jesse-Lewis: "The messenger of God needs the patience of God [author's emphasis] as well as the message! Elihu was so sure that he had the light of the Spirit upon Job's path that he probably expected an immediate result to all that he had said, but why did he not quietly give the word and go his way? Why did he fail to understand the fitness of things, and remember Job's position with the aged listeners looking on? Why did Elihu expect Job to confess that the word had met his need? God had humbled him; it was not for Elihu to add one jot to the humiliation!"[1]

Elihu now continues in his errant ways, of all things, by turning to the three friends of Job whom he had criticized so strongly for the error of their ways. "Hear my word, you wise men; give ear to me, you who have knowledge . . . Let us choose justice for ourselves; let us know among ourselves what is good" (34:2,4). What follows is hard to believe, a denunciation of Job in the presence of the three friends.

He accuses Job of the selfsame sins that his friends had earlier accused him of. "'My wound is incurable, though I am without transgression.' What man is like Job, who drinks up scorn like water, who goes in company with the workers of iniquity, and walks with wicked men? for he has said, ‘it profits a man nothing that he should delight in God'" (vv. 6-9).

Such a charge is an about-face totally unjustified. Job had never said that he was interested in seeking a profit from God. True, Job had defended his self-righteousness countless times, but he was seeking some indication of why he was stripped naked of all his possessions, his reputation, family and wife. He simply walked with God as best he knew. We can understand in part the "why" of Job's faith being tested with no overt sin having been committed.

Elihu Expounds in Greater Depth on His View of Job's Wickedness     Job 34

Elihu launches into a "defense" of God's righteousness, hardly a necessity.  The three friends had done that in describing God in the stereotypes of God's accepting repentance for sins committed followed by restoration and everything, and now everything is the pleasant path of God's unmitigated blessing. Elihu adds the well-known facts that God can do no wickedness (v.10); He repays man according to his works (v.11); who gave to Him authority over the whole world? (v.13); if He chooses all flesh would perish together and man would return to dust (v.15).

Elihu continues to challenge his audience of four: "If you have understanding, hear this; listen to the sound of my word.  Should one who hates justice govern? Will you condemn Him who is most just" (vv.16.17). In the rest of chapter 34, Elihu describes God's wrath on the wicked; God breaks in pieces the mighty men without inquiry . . . because they turned back from Him, and would not consider any of His ways (vv. 24, 27). When God gives quietness who then can make trouble . . . whether it is against a nation or a man alone? (vv. 29,30). Thus God justly punishes the hypocrite.  Of course, the accurate description of God is this context is that Job is a typical hypocrite. Elihu has let his feelings and impatience lead him far astray from the truth. God never accused Job as a sinner or a hypocrite.

But the worst is yet to come. "Men of understanding say to me, wise men who listen to me; Job speaks without knowledge, his words are without wisdom. Oh, that Job were  tried to the utmost; because his answers are like those of wicked men! For he adds rebellion to his sin; he claps his hands among us, and multiplies his words against God" (vv.34-37).  These are powerful accusations! This is the same Job that God had defended in the prologue; however, none knew God's heart nor His final design to bless after He had dealt with Job's self-righteousness.

Elihu Continues His Rant on Job in Somewhat More Indefinite Terms     Job 35

Elihu, in his impatience missed God hidden design and asks some exaggerated questions in the presence of his "wise" friends. "Do you think this is right? Do you say my righteousness is more than God's? for you say, what advantage will it be to You? What profit shall I have, more than if I had sinned? (vv.2, 3). Again this is an invention of Elihu which Job had never spoken. Elihu speaks of the three friends calling them of all things wise "men of understanding" (34:34). He has reversed course since his initial condemnation of their wisdom (32:3).

In the presence of such a diatribe Job remains silent. We can only guess what his reactions were to the accusations levelled against him that he had never made. In this context of Elihu's describing God's wrath on the wicked and the hypocrite, he is indirectly accusing Job of being one of them. Job's silence becomes an aggravation for Elihu. His view of Job's indifference to his truth triggered his wrath in the presence of the three vanquished friends.

With a false confidence Elihu responds "I will answer you, and your companions. "Look to the  heavens, and see; and behold the clouds which are higher than you." He asks Job. "If you sin, what do you accomplish before Him? . . . If you are righteous, what do you give Him?  (vv.4-7). Your sin only affects a man and your righteousness a son of man (vv.6-8).

"Because  of the multitude of oppressions they cry out for help . . . But no one says, Where is God my Maker, who give songs in the night, who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth . . . There they cry out, but He does not answer, because of  the pride of evil man" (vv.9-12).  Elihu  describes the wicked as rejected by a just God. They have no hope nor do they know to whom to turn. Pride has destroyed their lives [a recurring concept in the book of Job].

After summing up the plight of the wicked, Elihu draws his conclusion. "And now, because He has not punished in His anger, nor taken much notice of folly, therefore Job opens his mouth in vain; he multiplies words without knowledge" (vv.15,16). The irony is that Job has not spoken since he began to speak.

Elihu, the "Messenger" e hasntppunished in  Hisanger, Nor tkanemuch notice of foll. there for Job opens  hismouth in vain’Hemultipies words without knowledge Recovers His Message and Ministry to Job      Job 36, 37

Just as soon as Elihu had "nailed it" in his God-given message to Job in chapters 32, 33, he strays far afield from that divine message to join the three friends accusing him even more harshly.  But now Elihu begins to speak again but with the earlier deference and humility, choosing his words carefully without in any way excusing Job's self-righteousness. He now moderates his tone and message using some of the same arguments of God's creative powers in nature that God will use later in His reproof of Job in 38-41.

Elihu begins with requesting the patience of Job to hear him out. His tone is fraught with humility and kindness. His very apparent reversion is a sign of God having done a deeper work of grace in him; he is now God's spokesman once again (33:6). "Bear with me a little, and I will show you that there are yet words to speak on God's behalf. I will fetch my knowledge from afar; I will ascribe righteousness to my Maker, for truly my words are not false; one who is perfect in knowledge is with you" (36:2-4). He assures Job that God is with him disciplining him in mercy.

He alludes to his earlier message of God "opening the ear to seal their instruction" and to conceal pride from man (33:16, 17). He reiterates the same words: "He opens their ear to instruction, and command that they turn from iniquity. If they obey and serve Him, they will spend their days in prosperity" (vv.10-11). 

What follows may seem to echo the regular chastisement of God on the sinner and hypocrite (vv. 5-14), but now it is simply stated without a personal vendetta against Job. Elihu is learning to be merely God's spokesman and not the "messenger" with his added applications. He is letting God Himself convince Job. He had earlier sought to do God's work of conviction. No "messenger" can assume to be the very voice of God. God's spokesman speaks the truth but must let the God's message do its own work of repentance in due time.

Elihu develops the wisdom and strength of God in aspects of His creation letting the inference be that God is equally able to do the same and much more in the heart of man. Elihu describes the Creator in His sovereign power to accomplish the wonders of nature.  Jehovah Himself will reinforce this approach in His reproof of Job, letting His sovereign power overwhelm man and reduce him to his being but a mere creature unable to judge the Almighty.

The remainder of Job 37:22--37:1-24 doubles down on the divine comparisons with nature and His own; He in wisdom and justice will choose what He knows is best.  The Creator never asks the creature for advice or counsel.

Elihu's last conclusion leaves Job with a higher concept of God and without personal comment. For the "messenger" the message stands vindicated in every way. "As for the Almighty, we cannot find Him; He is excellent in power, in judgment and abundant in justice; he does not oppress. Therefore men fear Him; He shows no partiality to any who is wise of heart" (37:23, 24).

Perils To Be Avoided and Lessons Learned by Counselor and Preacher

 The Apostle Paul aptly admonitions us today: "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (2 Corinthians 10:11,12).   When Dios in His inspiration of Scripture includes 6 chapters on the "messages" of  Elihu, some of doubtful value but others of profound truth, there must be lessons for us to learn today.  God foresees our need for caution in ministry.

1. The "messenger" (Job 33:21) is God's spokesman to share the burden of the message. He may apply the truth with grace but not impose his own views on the truth. Conviction of sin comes only from the Spirit's work, not with accusations and harshness but rather letting the truth do its work in God's way and time.

2. The counselor or preacher must know when to speak and when to stop speaking. A ministry once given in grace always remains God's ministry, not ours. He who gave it, may in His wisdom take it from us and give to another. But so often our labors become our supposed "worth." Too often our pride rules instead of the will of God and the wellbeing of the work.

3. The messenger is not the important one but rather from Whom the message comes. Paul rebukes the Corinthian church as carnal and fleshly because of divisions related to personalities.   "I planted, Apollo watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, but each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor"

(1 Corinthians 4:6-8).

4. Another error commonly found in schools and seminaries is to promote an advanced degree as  the essential step to a greater ministry. God chose fishermen and a tax collector. An advanced degree is no doubt a most useful asset. At some levels it may be a necessity.  Of course, the discipline of learning is always a most valuable tool, but no tool has any value in itself until it is in hands skilled to use it. A degree may lead to greater pride. More importantly, God must do a deeper work of breaking, unveiling the subtleties of the self-life before He can share His unction on our learning. Personal holiness and humility are the prime qualities for any ministry large or small by human standards.

Frances R. Havergal sums up the essentials of a God-honoring ministry in Songs of Victory, hymns I sang in my adolescence.

Live out thy life within me, O Jesus, King of kings!

Be Thou Thyself the answer to all my questionings.

Live out Thy life within me, In all things have Thy way!

I, the transparent medium, Thy glory to display.

The temple has been yielded, and purified of sin;

 Let Thy Shekinah glory Now flash forth from within.

And all the earth keep silence, the body henceforth be

Thy silent, docile servant, Moved only as by Thee.

Its members every moment Held subject to Thy call;

Ready to have Thee use them, Or not be used at all.

Held without restless longings, Or strain or stress or fret,

 Or chafings at thy dealing, Or thoughts of vain regret.

Kept restful, calm, and pliant, From bond and bias free,

Permitting Thee to settle When Thou hast need of me.

Live out Thy life within me, O Jesus, King of kings!

Be Thou the glorious answer To all my questionings


[1] Jesse Penn-Lewis, The Story of Job, (Bournemouth, “Cartref”:The Overcomer Bookroom), 1902, p.158.