Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Job, Elihu, and Becoming like Children

If the book of Job is in part the record of one man growing up from immaturity to maturity, going from the glory of a priest to the glory of a prophet, going from outside the assembly of the sons of God to being ushered into the whirlwind presence of God, I wonder if Elihu comes at the end of the debates, as the youthful counselor, to indicate two things:

First, I take Elihu to be a fool who is not explicitly condemned by God because of his youthfulness. He is not a political threat to Job like the three court advisers are. Elihu does not appear to be vying for Job's throne like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. But Elihu does help to underline the fact that the story is centered around a kind of generational tension. The "older" advisers are "younger" in stature, since they are apparently nobles or lesser magistrates of some sort. Job is the "older" King. But in another sense, Job is still "young" in so far as he is contrasted at the beginning of the book with the "sons of God." The sons of God who assemble before the face of Yahweh are "older" than Job, they have been granted even greater glory, greater authority as advisers to the King of Kings.

Second, Elihu though a fool, signifies something true about what Job must become. Elihu is a foolish, ignorant child, but Job must also become a child. In order for Job to grow up into maturity, he must become young. Thus, Elihu is the transition from Job's "old," foolish counselors to the youthfulness of the Lord of the whirlwind, the King who plays with dragons. Elihu is wrong and foolish like the others, but he is a lesser fool in so far as he is a young fool. But in order for Job to grow up into glory, he must become a child. Elihu is the wrong sort of child, but Elihu, like every child, points to the truth. We must be young again. For unless we are born again, we will not see the kingdom of God.


Remy said...


Barry said...

I've always admired Elihu; and I admire his broad, bold defense of the Glory of YaHWH. I'm awed by the fact that God shows up even as Elihu is speaking, the manifestation of His Presence nearing and building, until God Himself begins to speak. I see nothing childlike in him except for his admirable and open faith. Would that all professed believers were more like Elihu.

Toby said...

Hey Barry,

Thanks for the comment. You're definitely not in poor company having a high view of Elihu. John Calvin and many others have had similar views.

Basically, two things have pushed me in the other direction:

1. While I think Elihu says some things that are factually true, he is ultimately wrong and is flatly contradicted by YHWH. Elihu spends the last chapter or so explaining how YHWH is a great and terrible storm and that it is inconceivable for Job to think that he could speak to God. But in the very next verse in 38:1, YHWH answers from the whirlwind. Job does in fact speak with the Storm.

2. The other reason is a little more subtle, but I think that the author gives us a number of clues to make us suspect Elihu. Elihu is full of "wind." He says he is full of words and his belly is bursting with wind. He needs to "relieve" himself (32:20). In short, I think there is some mild comedy in play with Elihu. Secondly, Elihu's words are endless, he even "answers" himself several times, but he has no real conversation partners. Job's words have ended, but Elihu jumps on stage intending to be God's "spokesman" (33:6).

Again, the point of this post was to recognize that Elihu perhaps has more going for him than even he realizes. He's youthful (32:6) and comes off clunky and ultimately a bit misguided, but he's certainly not guilty of anything so high handed as the three friends. And in a more subtle way is leading the way to YHWH.

Hope that helps a bit, and thanks for the interaction.