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327. Job 32:1-5, Introducing Elihu

 

We might profitably outline Job 32 as follows:

 

Job 32:1-5, Introducing Elihu

Job 32:6-10, Caution at First, then Throwing off Restraints

Job 32:11-15, The Hopelessness of the Friends

Job 32:16-22, Let Me Answer

 

32:1 Then these three men ceased answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 2 But the anger of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram burned; against Job his anger burned because he justified himself before God. 3 And his anger burned against his three friends because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job. 4 Now Elihu had waited [b]to speak to Job because they were years older than he. 5 And when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of the three men his anger burned.

 

This is the first extended prose section since Job 2. It both introduces Elihu and tells the reason for his intervention at this point. According to this brief narrative, Elihu had been listening in all along, though he never was previously mentioned, but had held his tongue because the three companions were “older” (the common zaqen) than he. They were the ones who should have been wise, according to the wisdom tradition. It was proper for them to speak first.

 

But now Elihu can hold back no longer. As he will later say, “My belly is like wine that has no space to breathe; like new wine-skins that are ready to burst” (32:19). He has to speak. Necessity compels him. But he also speaks because he is angry. This characteristic is pointed out in the same language (charah aph) in verses 2 (twice), 3 and 5. But it isn’t simply a generic anger that spews from his lips. He is angry at the participants for very specific reasons. With Job he is angry because he (Job) is “righteous” (tsedeq) in his own eyes (32:1). He is livid with the three friends because “they found no answer, and yet they condemned Job” (32:3).  

 

Job’s purported righteousness is more fully explained in verse 2. Job had, at least in Elihu’s mind, “justified himself more than God." The last phrase can be read two ways, but the upshot it the same: Job considers himself in the right and God in the wrong. Job is more righteous than God in this instance. Elihu doesn’t say why this angers him but we can well imagine it is because a creature, like Job, would be vaunting himself at the expense of the creator. The order of creation is thereby violated. Job, it seems, needs to be brought down a peg.


But the friends were unable to do so to Job. This is the cause of Elihu’s anger at them. They, literally, “did not find an answer, and they condemned Job.” In other words, as a observer just watching things unfold, Elihu saw that the answers of the friends ultimately weren’t convincing. We see why he may have thought this way. The answers of the friends, in general, are either “repentance-based” or “judgment-based.” That is, they saw the solution to Job’s problem (which they analyzed with lightning speed) as requiring him to take his traditional theological medicine: repent and then see how things will get better. If he doesn’t do so, a fearful judgment impends. This, of course, oversimplifies the friends’ case, but not by much. This may have been the reason for Elihu’s dissatisfaction with them. They had condemned Job (rasha, 35x, here in the causative or hiphil), but they really didn’t “answer” (the common anah) him.  

 

Elihu’s little thought in verse 3 that “they found no answer” is telling. Of course, the friends had an answer; they had loads of answers. But their “answer” was not convincing to Job or satisfying to Elihu. By saying this Elihu no doubt believed that he had an “answer” to Job, one that might not “condemn” Job and that might also be convincing to Job. We see, in Elihu’s pique, a possible means for him to proceed.


What is most impressive, however, is the intensity of emotion felt by Elihu at this point.  Why would the author mention four times that Elihu is angry? No doubt so that we won’t miss the point. But I see Elihu’s anger here as similar to Jonah’s in Jonah 4:1, where the experience of Jonah’s seeing God’s action of pardoning the Ninevites led  not only to his perceiving it as an evil, but as a very great evil, and as an evil that angered Jonah. The language of Jonah 4:1 builds to the crescendo of anger much like the language of Job 32:1-5. Anger drives people to do a lot of things. In Jonah it led, as I have argued elsewhere, to a most unexpected conclusion to the book. In Job it will lead Elihu on a long series of speeches where he not only tries to “set Job straight” but inadvertently gives Job ammunition to use against God when the Book of Job actually comes to its conclusion in Job 42.