[Note: This is the prepared text of a sermonette given to the Portland UCG congregation on Sabbath, July 9, 2022.]
In my last sermonette, I spoke about the attitude of David and his practice concerning the issue of receiving godly rebuke, and we saw that there was no gap between David’s praise of such communication and his willingness to accept it in practice. What I would like to do today is to discuss a related situation to the example of David in the Book of Job, and to discuss the place of Elihu within the structure of the book of Job as well as his place as a figure of godly rebuke that can bridge the gulf between Job and his friends and God Himself, a role that offers a lot of lessons for us as well.
Elihu’s words take up the space between Job 32 and 37 and form an important bridge to the conclusion of the book. Job’s structure is interesting, and let us briefly discuss it before we discuss Elihu in greater detail. Job begins with a prologue that shows God’s bet with Satan about Job’s faithfulness. The vast majority of the book is taken up by the dialogues between Job and his friends where Job defends his integrity while his friends make the false assumption that Job’s problems are the result of his sin. It is at this point, when Job’s friends have nothing more to say, that Elihu speaks up. What I would like to focus on here is Elihu’s fitness to serve as a bridge between Job and his friends and God, whose dialogue with Job follows, before an epilogue section provides an example of Job’s renewed blessings.
Elihu begins his discussion with Job in Job 32:1-10. Here is the beginning of what Elihu has to say to Job and his friends. Job 32:1-10 reads: “So these three men ceased answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then the wrath of Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, was aroused against Job; his wrath was aroused because he justified himself rather than God. Also against his three friends his wrath was aroused, because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job. Now because they were years older than he, Elihu had waited to speak to Job. When Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, his wrath was aroused. So Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, answered and said: “I am young in years, and you are very old; therefore I was afraid, and dared not declare my opinion to you. I said, ‘Age should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom.’ But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding. Great men are not always wise, nor do the aged always understand justice. “Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me, I also will declare my opinion.’”
What we find here is that one of the most important parts about giving godly rebuke is knowing the right opportunity to speak. While Elihu might have been able to provide more godly insight than Job’s three friends at the start of his observation of the situation–it would not have been hard to do so–he gained a lot by listening to them go around in circles and miss some important aspects of God’s justice. What Job’s friends missed in their discussions provided Elihu with an opportunity to speak up well. It is interesting to note as well that one thing that helps him to give godly correction is that he is at a position of disadvantage to them. We may often resent people younger than us or less powerful than us trying to tell us what we need to deal with, but there is a great biblical advantage that Elihu points out to this particular state.
Let us now turn to the next chapter of Job and see what else Elihu says about precisely this point. In Job 33:1-7, Elihu states his qualifications to help mediate between Job and God. In Job 33:1-7, we read: ““But please, Job, hear my speech, and listen to all my words. Now, I open my mouth; my tongue speaks in my mouth. My words come from my upright heart; my lips utter pure knowledge. The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. If you can answer me, set your words in order before me; take your stand. Truly I am as your spokesman before God; I also have been formed out of clay. Surely no fear of me will terrify you, nor will my hand be heavy on you.”
One of the qualifications that Elihu gives for his being fit to mediate between God and Job concerning Job’s contention about the heaviness of God’s hand upon him, undeserved in his opinion, is that Job will not have any fear of Elihu nor will Elihu have a heavy hand against Job. One of the burdens that keeps advice and correction from being taken gracefully is that it comes from those who have power over others. When people who are in positions of authority try to get others to change, they will likely gain compliance but bring about a spirit of some ill will because their power is being used to force a change on other people. Elihu does not have this sort of baggage. He speaks as a younger person, someone with less status, no great power or position to lord it over others, and as a result, what he brings to the table is information without coercion. It is often easier to give godly counsel and rebuke when one does not have the power to attempt to force others to do it. The only power you have in such a situation is the strength of your character as a person and the wisdom and power of your words, and as God has formed us all and the breath of the Almighty has given us all life, that can be power enough for such purposes as bringing people into an awareness of where they stand before God.
It is the humility that Elihu had that allowed him to most defend the authority and majesty of God. Let us consider, after all, as our final scripture today what Elihu had to say about God’s authority in Job 34:12-17. Job 34:12-17 reads: “Surely God will never do wickedly, nor will the Almighty pervert justice. Who gave Him charge over the earth? Or who appointed Him over the whole world? If He should set His heart on it, if He should gather to Himself His Spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust. “If you have understanding, hear this; listen to the sound of my words: Should one who hates justice govern? Will you condemn Him who is most just?”
In our lives, we have a great deal of arguments over matters of justice. People compete and strive for the opportunity to rule over others. And the wickedness of those corrupt authorities is charged to God’s account. People wonder if God is just because human beings in offices behave wickedly and abuse their power for selfish benefit. Yet Elihu affirms God’s justice and points out that those who govern should be people who love justice and behave fairly and equitably and righteously. God did not need anyone to give him authority or vote him into office. He had such authority as the creator of the universe and the standards of law and justice that are provided in the scriptures are descriptions of His very nature and being. And Elihu’s lack of power and authority allowed him to convey a truth to Job about the way that authority works in a way that again did not coerce Job and did not come with any sort of unpleasant pressure.
The example of Elihu has more than can be said in a short message as this one. Out of six chapters of material, I have only been able to briefly discuss three passages in those subjects. And yet from this we can gain something of useful insight from the place of Elihu as a mediator between God and man and as a dispenser of godly rebuke and correction. Elihu came from a place of humility and lacked the formal power to force or coerce Job or anyone else to act on the counsel he brought. The authority that Elihu claimed to be able to give godly correction to Job and his friends is a ground of authority that any of can claim. We are all created by God in His image, and we all have life and breath by the grace of God Almighty. The insights that Elihu gave are accessible to all of us who read scripture and who can observe the sorry and corrupt state of the world and its institutions around us. We live in a world where people who hate justice routinely seek power over others to gratify their own selfish desires and ambitions. All too often, that search for power hinders our ability to give godly rebuke as Elihu did. Let us therefore cultivate our ability to give counsel from a point of view of humility and allow the power of God that made us and that is within us to encourage others rather than the power that we might seek through politics so that we might be fit to serve as peacemakers in the quarrels between God and man that we see all around us.