Today’s read of Job 32-37 is one long speech. Our attention is suddenly turned to a young man who has been present the entire time, quietly observing and listening. His name is Elihu. Job’s three older friends have given up. They conclude that Job is “righteous in his own eyes” and they can say nothing else that will convince him to repent for the sin that so obviously must exist, given the extent of his suffering.
We hope that Elihu will provide a different argument, a clearer view of Job’s predicament, but we are disappointed. His youthful exuberance and passion are evident but at its core, his reasoning is the same as the older men who have frustrated him with their inability to change Job’s thinking. His words literally burst from his mouth; he has restrained himself from speaking out of deference to his elders, but he can’t hold it in any longer. When he sees that Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar are finished talking, he seizes the opportunity to literally dump all his youthful wisdom on the group.
Elihu does have a wonderful, high view of God. He chastises Job for complaining that God will not answer him, rightly asserting that God doesn’t answer to anyone. He argues that God does speak if we are listening, through dreams and visions and through pain. Evidently, Job’s pain is God telling him to abandon his pretense of innocence. For all his eloquence, passion and enthusiasm, Elihu doesn’t offer any more wisdom than the three friends:
“But if people are bound in chains, held fast by cords of affliction, He [God] tells them what they have done—that they have sinned arrogantly. He makes them listen to correction and commands them to repent of their evil. If they obey and serve Him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment. But if they do not listen, they will perish by the sword and die without knowledge.” (36:9-12)
Elihu makes me think of Jesus’ words about how the Gentiles pray in Matthew 5. He says they use meaningless repetitions, supposing they will be heard for their many words. In other words, if no one is listening, it can’t be what I’m saying; it must be that I need to speak louder, longer, and with more enthusiasm! The fact is, we can’t look for wisdom based on how eloquent or fervent the speaker is. Just because someone wraps ups their opinion in a better delivery package doesn’t mean they are offering a better message.
Job doesn’t get a chance to respond to Elihu. (He’s probably in shock that a “youngster” had the audacity to speak in such a way!) When we conclude our reading of Job tomorrow, we will finally hear what really matters – what God has to say! For today, the takeaway for me is to be careful not to confuse passion for wisdom. To not be swayed by eloquence, or enthusiasm, or passion, or presentation. Instead, we must examine the words of our teachers, our preachers, our friends, our family, and our mentors carefully, to see if they line up with the words of God. That’s the only wisdom that really matters.
“I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)