The Book of Job - Part 14

Series: My Preaching Bucket List

February 11, 2018
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

We were left with a cliffhanger last week. Job risked everything in a bid to have an audience with God so he could plead his case.

What did Job do? He invoked an oath. Oaths in his day and culture were serious business, functioning as a sort of binding contract. To break an oath was unheard of.

An oath was often sworn in a sort of if-then formula. If I don’t do this (or I do, or if I have done), then may this bad outcome happen to me, may I be cursed.

Chapter 31 is pretty much one big oath-swearing party where Job lists all the sins he was innocent off, declaring that if he was guilty of them, may he be cursed. Such as what we see…

Job 31:16–22 (ESV) — 16 “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, 17 or have eaten my morsel alone, and the fatherless has not eaten of it 18 (for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as with a father, and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow), 19 if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or the needy without covering, 20 if his body has not blessed me, and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep, 21 if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, because I saw my help in the gate, 22 then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket.

It was one thing to make an oath with a regular person, it was quite another to make it with God. Job swore this unthinkable oath to Almighty God and his friends were like, “Oh, no he didn’t!” And they backed away, afraid of what was coming. For the first time, they were at a loss for words.

Cliffhangers are all about anticipation and suspense. We know that. We also know they always come with a suspense raising pause. If it’s a TV show, the cliffhanger comes at the end of a season, and you have to wait until the next one to find out what happens. If it’s a book, it’s at the end of a chapter and sometimes at the end of the book, making you crave more.

It’s no different here in Job. Instead of jumping to what happens next, a necessary and suspense raising pause is inserted with the narrator of the story stepping back in (haven’t heard from him since chapter 2)… 

Job 32:1–5 (ESV) — 1 So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar all give up because in their eyes, Job was righteous in his own eyes. They couldn’t convince him of his sin, so they assumed he was deceived in himself. And then this guy comes out of nowhere…

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.

Bible scholars don’t quite know what to do with this fellow. It’s like he just jumps out the shadows and says, “Boo!” Here’s what we do know…

His lineage. He’s the son of Barachel the Buzite of the family of Ram. Names in our day don’t carry the weight they did back in Job’s. My name means “broad meadow,” but I’m neither a broad or a meadow. Abraham, though, means the father of many nations. Israel was another name for Jacob, given after he “wrestled with God.” Job, unsurprisingly may mean “one who is persecuted.”

Elihu is a variant of the familiar Hebrew name, Elijah, which means “God is the Lord.” His father’s name, Barachel, means “God blesses.” However, they both are Buzites, which means “contemptible” and of the family of Ram, which means “elevated.” Keep all that in mind as we learn what Elihu has to say.

His age. He was much younger than Job and his three friends. Age comes with some respect in our culture but not near enough (I’m figuring that out more and more, though I dread the day the little gal at McDonalds automatically gives me the senior discount). 

Age was a huge deal in ancient Near Eastern times. Elders were held in the highest regard, while younger folks were expected to keep their place. Elihu did that by patiently waiting until Job and his friends were finished before speaking up.

His disposition. The secret word is anger. Every time you hear that word go “Woo hoo!” Let me read those verses again…

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.

Four times we are told he burned with anger. He was angry because he felt Job had slandered God in claiming his own innocence. He was angry at the three friends because they hadn’t been able to convince Job of his sin.

So we know Elihu’s lineage, his age, and his disposition, but what does he have to add to the conversation? Let’s see if we can figure that out.

Job 32:6–12 (ESV) — 6 And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said: “I am young in years, and you are aged; therefore I was timid and afraid to declare my opinion to you. 7 I said, ‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.’ 8 But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. 9 It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right. 10 Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me; let me also declare my opinion.’ 11 “Behold, I waited for your words, I listened for your wise sayings, while you searched out what to say. 12 I gave you my attention, and, behold, there was none among you who refuted Job or who answered his words.

He’s right. Age does not guarantee wisdom. One fellow said, “Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up all by itself.” — Tom Wilson.

Paul even told young pastor Timothy not to despise his age.

Elihu begins his words to Job with a defense of his youth. No problem there. But look at…

Job 32:18 (ESV) — 18 For I am full of words; the spirit within me constrains me.

No lie! “Elihu’s speeches are longer than twelve other OT books and seventeen of the twenty-seven NT books.” We don’t have the time - and I don’t have the inclination - to cover all that.

Elihu, like Job’s three friends, shows little empathy and a offers a lot of redundancy, but, to his credit, he acts in two ways Job’s three friends did not…

1. He listens. 

Job 33:8–12 (ESV) — 8 “Surely you have spoken in my ears, and I have heard the sound of your words. 9 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.

Elihu carefully and accurately assesses Job’s complaints, even though he disagrees with Job’s claims of no wrongdoing. This requires active listening.

2. He allows for more than just one reason a person suffers.

Remember, the theology of the three amigos was bound to a narrow, inflexible formula about the ways of God and suffering: Only guilty people suffer before God, ergo: it’s all Job’s fault.

Or as one pastor puts it, they were saying “Job wouldn’t be suffering like this unless he had failed to pray, trust, and obey God in some way. God would never be so unjust as to let all this happen unless Job had done something to deserve it. So if Job wants to be restored, he simply needs to confess all his known sins and get his life straight.”

In the three friend’s theology, suffering is exclusively punitive, punishment for sins committed.

We know this view of God and suffering can’t be true because the book’s beginning reveals Job’s agony came because he was righteous, not because he had sinned.

Elihu, however, comes much closer to hitting the mark. In chapter 33 he declares that sometimes God brings suffering into the lives of his people to keep them from sin, not because they have sinned.

Job 33:29–30 (ESV) — 29 “Behold, God does all these things, twice, three times, with a man, 30 to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be lighted with the light of life.

Job 33:29–30 (The Message) — 29 “This is the way God works. Over and over again 30 He pulls our souls back from certain destruction so we’ll see the light—and live in the light!

Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary on Job says, “… we must not say that all suffering is a punishment for sin. Elihu argues that sometimes God permits suffering in order to keep people from sinning and going to the pit. God gave Paul a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from getting proud, and Paul learned to thank God for it (2 Cor. 12:7–10). Elihu hoped that Job would submit to God, accept his painful situation, and get from it the blessings God had for him.”

In Elihu’s theology, suffering can be preventive as well punitive. Good job Elihu! Unlike those old geezers who should have known better, you listened and you actually had a better understanding of God and suffering.

So what, then, are we to do with Elihu? Is he a good guy? Well, no. Ultimately he’s not any better a fellow than Job’s three friends (maybe worse). Here’s why.

His anger is inappropriate.

Anger is not necessarily bad. Righteous anger is very appropriate. That’s where we get upset when God is made to look bad. Jesus displayed righteous indignation when he routed the moneychangers in the temple. 

The key, though, is not letting anger lead you into sin.

King David wrote…

Psalm 4:4 (ESV) — 4 Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah

James said of anger…

James 1:19–20 (ESV) — 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

Someone wisely observed, “Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, and in the right way—that is not easy.” I don’t think Elihu meets those criteria. Jesus, of course, as God’s perfect Son did.

Another reason Elihu isn’t a good guy is…

His humility is absent.

Job 36:1–4 (ESV) — 1 And Elihu continued, and said: 2 “Bear with me a little, and I will show you, for I have yet something to say on God’s behalf. 3 I will get my knowledge from afar and ascribe righteousness to my Maker. 4 For truly my words are not false; one who is perfect in knowledge is with you.

Job 36:1–4 (The Message) — 1 Here Elihu took a deep breath, but kept going: 2 “Stay with me a little longer. I’ll convince you. There’s still more to be said on God’s side. 3 I learned all this firsthand from the Source; everything I know about justice I owe to my Maker himself. 4 Trust me, I’m giving you undiluted truth; believe me, I know these things inside and out.

If there is one thing God cannot stand, it’s pride. It’s been said all sins find their source in pride (Lucifer’s “I wills”). On the other hand, if there’s one thing God values in his people, it’s humility.

Jesus said…

Matthew 23:12 (ESV) — 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Paul said of Jesus…

Philippians 2:3–11 (ESV) — 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

By his own words, it’s obvious Elihu is guilty of pride. He thinks he actually deserves representing God before Job. “I have something to say on God’s behalf…” That makes me weak in the knees. This is much bolder than making an oath to God in my book.

Isn’t it ironic that Elihu and Job’s three friends believed Job to be righteous in his own eyes when in truth they were!

Now to the last reason Elihu is not a good guy…

His intentions are self-centered.

Job 32:20 (ESV) — 20 I must speak, that I may find relief; I must open my lips and answer.

Who is he considering here? Not God or Job. He wanted relief for himself. And this is evidence he was actually acting in the opposite vein of humility, which is thinking about others before yourself, like Jesus.

Often we cloak selfishness in the guise of spirituality. We convey what appear to be good motives, but in our hearts we actually desire to promote “me, myself, and I.” Such as when we post on Facebook how humbled we were with the opportunity to share Jesus with that person, or give money to that person, or spend quiet time with the Lord this morning. This is humble bragging.

If Elihu had corrected Job today, he would have taken a selfie with the poor fellow and posted it on Instagram.

Elihu was angry, prideful, and self-centered, and definitely not in a position to chastise poor Job.

Conclusion: As we close, you may be thinking:

Pastor, are you implying we should never attempt to correct people if they are in error? Are there not times we are obligated to speak up when we observe sin or error in others? Are you chanting the old judge not lest you be judged mantra?

No. There are times like that. There are occasions when, if we truly love someone and are convinced they are in error, we must speak. And that "judge not thing” has to do with setting yourself up as judge and condemning someone, not applying the truths of the one true Judge to their lives. 

But I am saying, when we are compelled to confront, we better make sure we do it in the right way, at the right time, and for the right reasons.

Elihu, bless his heart, gives us an example of how not to speak truth into someone’s life. And if we turn that around into a positive, he gives us a good checklist of questions to ask ourselves before we do…

  1. Am I angry about it? If so, is that anger justified? If so, am I reacting out of that anger? Do I need to wait and let the anger settle before acting?
  2. Am I humble? If you think you are, you’re probably not. If you think you aren’t, you’re probably on the right track.
  3. Are my intentions focused on the person I’m trying to help or myself?

Man, this applies to me more than any of you. I speak God’s truth in love for a living! I have to watch myself. There’s been more than one preacher who has succumbed to the Elihu syndrome: caring more about hearing one’s self speak than helping those being spoken to.

Elihu shows us something else. Note the contrast between him and the three friends. The three friend’s theology is off though their intentions are good. Elihu’s theology is pretty good but his intentions are off. This hints at something about God we need to hear right now…

God is just as concerned with how we live out His truth as he is with what we hold to be His truth.

Or put another way, God is just as concerned with our faith’s expression as our faith’s content (theology).

Elihu has given us a needed pause following Job’s cliffhanger. Next time, the suspense ends. Boy does it ever end.

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