Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 32–37. The speeches of Elihu
Ch. 32. Introduction of Elihu, a new speaker; with his reasons for taking part in the controversy
The Chapter contains three parts:
First, Job 32:1. The reason why Job’s three friends refrained from speaking further—they failed to make any impression on Job: he was right in his own eyes.
Second, Job 32:2-5. The Author in his own words introduces Elihu, stating the reasons which constrained this speaker to take part in the dispute. The anger of Elihu was kindled, first, against Job, because he justified himself as against God, held himself in the right at the expense of God’s righteousness; and second, against the three friends because they failed to bring forward such arguments as effectively to condemn Job, that is, shew him to be in the wrong in his complaints of God. In other words, the sole point which Elihu has in view is justification of God, and towards this point all his reasoning is directed. Job is guilty of wrong against God, and the three friends are to blame because they have not been able to bring this wrong home to Job.
These five verses are in prose, though curiously enough they are pointed with the Poetical Accentuation.
Third, Job 32:6-22. Elihu is then introduced speaking in his own person, and stating the reasons which hitherto have kept him from speaking, and those which induce him now to take part in the controversy. He would have spoken sooner had he not been a youth in the midst of aged and presumably wise men. But he reflects, and indeed present events shew it, that wisdom is not the prerogative of mere age; it is a gift of God, and therefore he will advance his opinion. It is intolerable to him (Job 32:19) that a man like Job, who utters such perverse and godless sentiments (ch. Job 34:7), should not be put to silence; and he is conscious of ability (Job 32:8; Job 32:18) to answer him and all his class (ch. Job 35:4).
So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.1. he was righteous] i. e. would admit no guilt, or, was in the right in his plea against God. Job’s friends abandoned further argument with him because they could not move him from his assertion that God afflicted him wrongly and unjustly; comp. ch. Job 27:2-6.
Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram: against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God.2–5. Introduction of Elihu, a new speaker, who appears to have been a listener during the progress of the former debate. The descent of Elihu is given with fuller details than in the case of the other speakers. The name Elihu, meaning probably my God is he, occurs elsewhere, 1 Samuel 1:1; 1 Chronicles 12:20. He is named the Buzite. Buz was brother of Uz, Genesis 22:21, and son of Nahor. In Jeremiah 25:23 Buz is mentioned along with Tema (cf. Job 6:19), and reckoned among the Arab tribes. The name Ram, therefore, which does not occur elsewhere, is scarcely to be taken as a contraction for Aram or Syria (though comp. 2 Chronicles 22:5, where Ramites = Aramites).
justified himself rather than God] The meaning appears to be, justified himself as against God, in his plea with God and at the expense of God’s justice. The sense is given in ch. Job 40:8, where the Lord says to Job, “Wilt thou condemn me that thou mayest be righteous”? There are two points to be attended to in these passages when the question of right is raised, the one a formal point and the other a material one. God had afflicted Job and thus, in Job’s view and the view of his time, passed a verdict of wickedness on him. Against this verdict Job reclaims, God does him wrong in this. This is the formal question of right between Job and God. But this naturally goes back into the material question of Job’s past life. Elihu, defending the righteousness of God, keeps before him chiefly the formal question. He touches little upon Job’s life and history, differing in this entirely from the three friends. He makes a general, abstract question out of Job’s complaints against God, which he argues on general lines with almost no reference to Job’s particular case. Job’s complaints do little more than suggest to him the question, Can God be justly complained of?
Also against his three friends was his wrath kindled, because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job.3. had found no answer, and yet had condemned] Rather, had not found an answer and condemned, i. e. found no answer wherewith to condemn Job. Elihu’s anger was kindled against the three friends because they had not found such an answer as effectively to put Job in the wrong in his charges against God; comp. Job 32:5; Job 32:12. Elihu is more deeply pained and offended by Job’s charges against God than even the three friends were (ch. Job 34:7 seq., Job 34:35 seq.); he is far from blaming them for condemning Job; neither does he hold the balance between Job and them and blame them for condemning him without good reasons; he blames them for not finding such good reasons as effectively to condemn him, as he deserves. Coverdale: because they had found no reasonable answer to overcome him.
Now Elihu had waited till Job had spoken, because they were elder than he.4. waited till Job had spoken] Rather, waited to speak unto Job, lit. waited for Job with words. Elihu had waited (till the friends spoke) prepared to address Job, as he now does.
When Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, then his wrath was kindled.
And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said, I am young, and ye are very old; wherefore I was afraid, and durst not shew you mine opinion.6–10. Elihu, being a youth, shrank from interfering in a dispute in which aged men were engaged; but he perceived that wisdom did not always accompany grey hairs; it is a gift of God, and, conscious of possessing it, he desires now to be heard.
I said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom.
But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.8. the inspiration of the Almighty] lit. the breath of the Almighty, as ch. Job 33:4. Both “spirit” and “breath” refer to God’s spirit of life breathed into man when he is brought into existence (Genesis 2:7), there is no allusion to any extraordinary illumination given to Elihu at the moment when he speaks. This spirit of God is a spirit of intelligence as well as of life (ch. Job 33:4), and under the impulse of the crowding thoughts which rush into his mind at this instant Elihu feels that this spirit has been given to himself in great fulness.
Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.9. Great men] Or, old men—great in age, as the parallel in the second clause explains; cf. Genesis 25:23 (lit. the greater shall serve the less).
Therefore I said, Hearken to me; I also will shew mine opinion.
Behold, I waited for your words; I gave ear to your reasons, whilst ye searched out what to say.11. I gave ear to your reasons] Or, I listened for your reasons, until ye should search out what to say. The meaning seems to be that Elihu looked for further and different arguments from the three friends.
11–14. Elihu, directly addressing the three friends, states more clearly his reasons for taking upon him to speak: he had hoped to hear them confute Job, and was disappointed in their arguments; Job may be shewn to be in the wrong, though with different arguments from those they had employed. In Elihu’s opinion the cause of the three friends was much better than their advocacy of it.
Yea, I attended unto you, and, behold, there was none of you that convinced Job, or that answered his words:
Lest ye should say, We have found out wisdom: God thrusteth him down, not man.13–14. These verses mean,
13. Say not, We have found wisdom,
God may thrust him down, not man;
14. For he hath not directed his words against me, &c.
Elihu refuses to let the three friends excuse themselves for their failure to answer Job by the plea that they had found an unexpected wisdom in him, against which human logic was of no avail, and which only God could overcome. Job’s wisdom was not so invincible. It remained to be seen how it would come out of the encounter with another wisdom, different from that of the Friends:—Job had not yet replied to Elihu’s arguments, he has not directed his words against me (Job 32:14, cf. ch. Job 33:5), and these arguments would be found of another kind from those of the three friends.
Now he hath not directed his words against me: neither will I answer him with your speeches.
They were amazed, they answered no more: they left off speaking.15. they left off speaking] lit. words have removed, or, are gone from them (Genesis 12:8)—they are reduced to silence.
15–22. Turning from the three friends Elihu seems to speak in soliloquy and present to his own mind the singular situation: the three friends are discomfited before Job and reduced to silence; this should not be; therefore he will express his convictions. His breast is filled with thoughts and emotions that will not be repressed: he must speak, that he may find relief. And he will speak fearlessly and in sincerity, not regarding the person of any man.
When I had waited, (for they spake not, but stood still, and answered no more;)16–17. Job 32:16 is most naturally to be taken as a question,
16. And shall I wait because they speak not,
Because they stand still and answer no more?
17. I will answer also my part, &c.
The discomfiture and silence of the three friends shall not have the effect of imposing silence on him.
I said, I will answer also my part, I also will shew mine opinion.
For I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me.18–19. Elihu feels a crowd of thoughts and arguments fermenting in his bosom and pressing for utterance with a force not to be resisted. The word “belly” corresponds to the English “breast” or bosom. What stirs the spirit of Elihu is not only his eagerness to express his convictions on the question, but also indignation at the retreat and silence of the three friends.
Behold, my belly is as wine which hath no vent; it is ready to burst like new bottles.
I will speak, that I may be refreshed: I will open my lips and answer.20. be refreshed] Rather, find relief; lit. get air or vent. The figure is still that of fermenting wine, Job 32:19.
Let me not, I pray you, accept any man's person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man.21. neither let me give] Rather, neither will I give flattery. The words express the speaker’s resolution to be sincere and fearless, to have regard to the question itself solely, and not to allow himself to be influenced by respect to the persons interested in it. Elihu does not refer here to impartiality between Job and the three friends. There is no allusion to the friends. He speaks generally, saying that he will have respect to truth only; comp. the language, ch. Job 33:3, Job 34:2-4. Coverdale goes far enough when he renders: “no man wil I spare.” Hitzig oversteps the line when he says that Elihu “intimates his intention of being rude to Job.”
For I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing my maker would soon take me away.22. Elihu is conscious of sincerity; it is not in his nature to flatter. His fear of God also and sense of His rectitude would deter him from such a thing; comp. Job’s language, ch. Job 13:7 seq.
These last words and many other things which Elihu says enable us to judge rightly of the part which the author intends him to play. There are some things in his manner of introducing himself and in the way in which he speaks of his own arguments, which seem to offend against modesty and almost shock our sense of decorum. We must not, however, apply Western standards of taste to the East. There was nothing further from the intention of the author of these Chapters than to make Elihu play a ridiculous part. This speaker is meant to offer what the writer judged a weighty contribution to the discussion, and to the vindication of the ways of God to man. It is just this fact, however, that Elihu is a serious speaker and yet so characterized by mannerisms that raises the question whether the author of such a character possessed the severe taste and high dramatic genius which so conspicuously belong to the author of the other characters; in other words, the question whether these chapters are not the composition of a different writer (see the Introduction).