What struck me most in reading the speeches of Elihu in these chapters this time around was his arrogance. In 33:3 Elihu begins by saying, “My words declare the uprightness of my heart…” Elihu is rather cocksure of his own righteousness and rightness.
Elihu also has a rather provocative way of addressing Job: “Answer me, if you can; set your words in order before me; take your stand.” (33:5) Is this any way to address someone who is suffering?
Elihu is sure that Job is missing something. “But in this you are not right. I will answer you.” Elihu seems to view himself as God’s gift to Job.
Yet, even in his arrogance, Elihu has some good things to say. I like where he notes in 34:19 that God does not regard “the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands”. In one way, God is the great leveler. In another way it is good to know that God cares for each of us equally, no matter how small and unimportant we may seem in our own eyes.
Elihu’s overarching theme seems to be that God is higher than human beings; God is beyond our scope of understanding. Seeing this truth, one would think that Elihu would speak with greater gentleness. Yet, he does not. He continues to batter Job with his words: “Job opens his mouth in empty talk, he multiplies words without knowledge.” (35:16) Furthermore, Elihu maintains his own superiority throughout these speeches. “For truly my words are not false; one who is perfect in knowledge is with you.” (36:4)
In addition, Elihu seems to operate under the same false assumption as Job’s other counselors. In 36:21 he says, “Beware! Do not turn to iniquity; because of that you have been tried by affliction.” Elihu, like everyone else, seems to assume, falsely, some sort of cause and effect relationship between Job’s sin and his suffering.
Elihu ends by saying that mortals fear God because God “does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.” (37:24) If Elihu was really listening to himself, then he would realize that he was trying to be wise in his own conceit and he would have shut his mouth earlier, or not spoken at all.
Yet again, despite Elihu’s arrogance, his speeches prepare us for God’s speech beginning in chapter 38. Elihu has brought us to the point, once again, where we are confronted with the fact that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. David Atkinson sums this up nicely in his commentary on Job when he says,
Elihu is thus a bridge in the book of Job, stretching from the inadequate theology of a detached God—a God of power, might, majesty and dominion but detached from human pain and experience—to the need for Wisdom. We are able to glimpse the divine Wisdom, the ‘wild order of things’, and to receive his gift to enable us to cope. We are brought to the ‘fear of the Lord’, the way of living before God in obedience and dependence on grace; that experience of the Lord’s active presence which Wisdom implies.