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3-2-3 The Role Of Elihu In Job

We have spoken much about the vital place of Elihu in understanding the message of Job. As typical of Christ, he was the resolution to all Job's problems. His speeches produced a true self-realization within Job, rather than compounding his agony, as the words of the friends did. Comparison of the following passages will show how Elihu is indeed God's representative; note that his words are not rebuked by God at the end, whilst those of the friends are: 




38:2; 42:3







Words, Words

There is much connection between Elihu and the word of God, as there is between Christ and the word. It may be that Elihu actually wrote the book of Job  (32:15,16 imply this). He was therefore the fulfilment of Job's desire that someone would sympathetically write his grief and record his mental agonies (19:23). Of few other Bible characters, apart from the Lord Jesus, is it so emphasized that they spoke God's words. It might be possible to speculate as to the tone of voice in which Elihu spoke. By contrast to the friends' " hard speeches" , Elihu assures Job at the start of their dialogue: " My fear shall not terrify thee, neither shall my hand be heavy upon thee" (33:7 LXX) (1). A similar contrast is pointed by Elihu's claim to be speaking as a result of God's spirit within him (32:8), whereas Zophar and the friends spoke from their own spirit (20:3). Apart from God's specific confirmation of Elihu's words, Job evidently perceived Elihu to be the answer to his pleas to find God. Job's desire for " a daysman" was answered by Elihu: " I am according to thy wish" . Job did not dispute this. If one of the friends had claimed to be such a " daysman" , we can imagine Job's indignant denial of it!  

Job's words in 23:3-6 repay examination in this regard: " Oh that I knew where I might find (God)! that I might come even to His seat!. I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments...Will He plead against me with his great power? No." God, and Elihu, did plead against Job by recounting God's power. When Elihu was established in Job's mind as God's true representative, he found that he had nothing to say, as he thought he would have. Elihu seems to refer back to these words when he challenges the dumfounded Job: " If thou hast anything to say, answer me...if thou canst answer me, set thy words in order before me" (33:32,5). Job several times spoke of how he would fully explain himself to God, if he found Him. Yet in the presence of God and Elihu, he finds that all the words dry up. Words became irrelevant. All he can do is behold the majesty of God's righteousness, and declare his own unrighteousness. That spiritual pinnacle of Job still lies ahead for the majority of us. The desire to speak is a desire to express our own thoughts. Words are a construct which can trap us. Only God's words can liberate. There is a wordless element in being truly humbled before the Almighty. Job's sacrifice of a truly broken spirit was worth more than thousands of apposite words. Job had dimly imagined that this would be so: " Teach me, and I will hold my tongue; and cause me to understand wherein I have erred" (6:24). When Elihu did teach him and show him that he was erring by nature rather than specific sin, Job truly held his tongue: " I will lay mine hand upon my mouth...I will not answer...I will proceed no further" (40:4,5; notice the threefold repetition). This is one of several examples of Job knowing the truth in abstract theory, but not appreciating it until the mixture of reflection on his trials and Elihu / Jesus, brought it home. Thus Elihu's words silenced and humbled Job, preparing him for the direct speech of God to Job. Likewise, the words of Christ lead men to a personal hearing of the Father's words.  


The degree to which Elihu was Job's exact representative helps us appreciate the precision of our Lord's representation of us. Indeed this appears to be the role of Elihu in Job. The LXX brings this out well. 33:5,6 give the picture of Elihu asking Job to physically stand up against him, back to back, to bring home how identical they were: " Stand against me, and I will stand against thee. Thou art formed out of the clay as also I: we have been formed out of the same substance" . It seems that Elihu had been through Job's very experiences, of 'death' and rising again: " He has delivered my soul from death, that my life may praise him in the light. Hearken, Job, and hear me" (33:30,31 LXX). And this is exactly what Job did.  

True Empathy

The more we appreciate the representative nature of our Lord Jesus, the more we will really believe that we have a true friend, one who can truly empathize rather than just sympathize with our sufferings. It has been rightly said that appreciating the atonement is the very crux of our day to day living in Christ. Because we are individual personalities, it is impossible for any other believer to totally empathize with us. You might break a leg, and so might I, but I cannot fully enter into how you feel about it. 'I know just how you feel' so often just provokes even deeper pain. Yet if we believe properly in Christ, then we will truly believe that He does empathize, as Job felt towards Elihu as opposed to the friends, and the " saints" of his ecclesia (5:1). Study of the atonement ceases to become abstract once we realize that Christ really does empathize completely with us, in a way in which no other person can.  

We are one Spirit with Christ (1 Cor. 6:17). He is in us, and we in him. " The spirit itself maketh intercession for us..." (Rom. 8:26) occurs in the context of " the Spirit" referring to the spiritual mind within us. Yet evidently Christ is our only intercessor. " The spirit itself maketh intercession for us" in that our spiritual man is totally one with the spirit of Christ. Such is the unity between us that Paul can speak of our own spirit making intercession for us! The wonder  of it! Yet all this stems from a correct appreciation of the doctrine of representation as opposed to substitution. How can some say that this doctrinal aspect is unimportant? It is at the heart of our moment by moment relationship with the Lord Jesus, as the representative nature of the Mediator was at the core of Job's new spiritual life. Because we are " one Spirit" with Christ, we can better appreciate how Christ can truly empathize with our every situation in life, even though He personally may not have experienced it in his own flesh. The degree to which Christ is " The Lord the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18 R.V.) is perhaps not recognized by us as it should be. How many conceive of 'Christ' as a piece of doctrine, a human being who somehow ascended to Heaven, where He rigidly sits until His return?  

No Platitudes

Elihu was no friend of platitudes. In order to truly help Job by justifying him, Elihu had to persuade Job of his total sinfulness, and the inability of his own righteousness to save him. One could almost say that Elihu chose to dwell on the bad things about Job, rather than the many good aspects of his character. Yet the 'bad' things were all facets of Job's human nature, rather than any specific sins.  Elihu's emphasis shows how serious sin is, in God's sight. In doing so, Elihu appears to misquote some of Job's words. Had the friends done this, we can imagine Job flaring up about it. But never does he challenge Elihu. The reason is that the Spirit within Elihu was recalling not only Job's words, but the thoughts and motives behind them (e.g. 9:22,23 cp. 34:5-9, and 10:2; 13:23 cp. 34:31,32) (2). All of Job was made naked and opened unto the eyes of both God and himself. Elihu was not afraid to convict Job of the implications of the off-hand words which he had spoken. Thus he makes the point that by justifying himself rather than recognizing God's righteousness, Job was effectively saying that God was unrighteous (33:2). We need the re-conversion experience of Job to realize the sinfulness of our every off-hand sin. Appreciating the seriousness of sin is one of our weakest points. It is quite possible that all trial has this ultimate purpose. Only from knowing our sinful selves can we appreciate God's righteousness, and the wonder of the atonement. It is possible that some brands of Christianity have driven underground any form of self-knowledge. To appreciate oneself is not necessarily pride. Humility, as the opposite of pride, does not mean driving 'self' underground to the point that we pretend it isn't there. Job seems to have gone wrong here. He drove the very thought of sinfulness out of himself to such a degree that he failed to appreciate his own natural alienation from the Almighty. He came to reverence God's physical power and majesty rather than His moral majesty. David got the balance right when he reflected: " Thy righteousness is like the great mountains" (Ps. 36:6). He saw God's moral strength reflected in the massive physicality of God's creation.  And this was the purpose of Job being taken on a tour of some of Godís creations in the end. He had previously prided himself on his appreciation, as he thought, of Godís hand in creation, and how creation revealed the greatness of God (e.g. chapter 28). But now he was taught that what he thought he so appreciated, he really didnít; and he was taught the true knowledge of God. Unclean animals are brought to his attention in ch. 39; he then repents in 40:2-4, as if he finally saw in them symbols of himself. And then chapters 40 and 41 go on to speak of the joy of clean animals in their relationship with God, and the inability of man to come between them and their maker.  


And so the words of God and Elihu brought Job to a shuddering spiritual climax. From his heart he cried: " I am vile...I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes...I am melted " (LXX). It was concerning this matchless confession that God could say that Job had " spoken of me the thing which is right(eousness) " (42:8). God swept over the times when Job shook his fist at God, imputing righteousness to him on behalf of this confession. Thus the Spirit later speaks of the long-enduring patience of Job (James 5:11); God was able to look on his good side rather than the bad side, due to Job's confession of that bad side. To confess our sinfulness properly is to declare, by implication, righteous things about God.  

" I am vile...I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes...I am melted " (LXX).

The more we enter into that man's thoughts and experience- and enter in we are bidden- the more those words come as a breakthrough, a victory. One can weep and almost cheer as we read them, " I am vile...I abhor myself" . One senses the Sons of God in Heaven shouting for joy, the Father's Spirit exalting, Elihu inwardly grinning to himself as he mopped his brow, the triumph of the spirit of Christ and of His cross, the wordless, wordless joy of salvation and self-realization starting to dawn within Job, as amidst the desperation of his self-hate and shame, he was born again (3). Earlier, his reins had been consumed within him with longing for the day when he would see God (19:26,27); and finally even in this life, he came to see God for himself (42:5). He had thought this would only be at the resurrection (19:26), seeing a full relationship with God was, he felt, impossible in this life (28:12,20); but he came to see that even in this life, with the joy of a good conscience, the principle is even now realisable. He exalted that now, his eye saw God. It wasnít all abstractly reserved for the Kingdom. In our trials and losses, or in our bitter realization of our own sins and fundamental sinfulness (4), we really can go through the re-conversion which Job experienced. Some of the last words in the record are that Job gave his daughters an equal inheritance with his sons (Job 42:15)- something which would have been unusual in those times. Through all his sufferings, Job came to see the value and meaning of persons before God, be they male or female; he overcame the background culture, the thinking of his surrounding society, and openly showed to all the immense value he had come to place upon each and every human being, regardless of their gender.  

" Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man" (33:29). For all on that road, having all these things worked out within them- God be with us.  


(1) Compare this with how the Angel spoke the " fiery law" of Moses in a relaxed, friendly way, " as a man speaketh unto his friend" (Ex. 33:11).

(2) This is an important principle to appreciate. It explains why many New Testament quotations from the Old Testament are no precise quotations of the Hebrew text; and why some of them impose interpretations which appear to be out of context. The Spirit is mixing interpretation with quotation, as Elihu did when quoting Job's words.

(3) The record of Job's later life in Job 42, especially in the LXX, imply a complete new beginning, with a new wife, new children, animals and lands- with a life-span to match a new life starting after his trials ended.

(4) We do not necessarily have to experience physical loss to have the Job conversion. David's confession of sin in Ps. 51:3,4 is packed with Job allusions; as if Job's physical trials brought about the same effect as David's full recognition of his sin. Such recognition ought to be easily possible for each of us, regardless of our 'physical' experiences in life.