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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Job 32

Introduction

EXCURSUS No. VI.

ELIHU.

A new interlocutor now enters upon the scene. He is a young man of high descent, ( רם , ram, high,) probably of the lineage of Abraham, and has thus far stood modestly in the background among the silent auditory. He is unmentioned in the prologue, and altogether unheralded, except by “the kindled wrath” of which the sacred writer four times speaks in Job 32:2-18.32.5. That wrath has been kindled by the miserable fiasco “the friends” have made, and by displeasure at the self-righteousness with which, as Elihu conceives, Job has plumed himself. He speaks only because he can no longer hold his emotions in check, and because he believes that he is inspired to announce principles of the divine government which Job and his friends have both ignored. “He represents, as it were, the better I of Job, for he knows how to say effectively to Job all that it is necessary and wholesome for him to know concerning the causes of his sorrows.” Andrea.

As to the discourses of Elihu it is difficult to account for the wide diversity of opinion they have called forth. On the one side stand the Jewish rabbis, who regarded him as a prophet of the Gentile world; Chrysostom, who represented him “as a witness to true wisdom both as respects his speeches and his silence;” Hengstenberg, who entitles him “God’s spokesman,” and his discourses “the throbbing heart” of the whole poem; and Bishop Wordsworth, who calls Elihu “the St. Stephen of the patriarchal Church.” See note on Job 35:15. On the other hand, the Venerable Bede identifies Elihu with the false prophet Balaam; Hahn calls him “a most conceited and arrogant young man;” Delitsch (in Hertzog) charges that his speeches are filled with “manufactured pathos; “while Herder and Eichhorn see in him but an empty babbler.

Similarly depreciating views have led some of the leading German exegetes to regard the Elihu section as an interpolation. Ewald goes so far as to detach and place it at the end of the work; notwithstanding he inconsistently admits that “the thoughts in this speech are in themselves exceedingly pure and true, conceived with greater depth, and presented with more force, than in the rest of the book;” which he proceeds to account for by the advanced stage of the debate when Elihu appeared. On the contrary, Schlottmann ( Einl., p. 55) and Stickel (228-232) have displayed consummate skill in tracing out the intimate relations this section sustains to the rest of the work; in gathering together the incomplete thoughts of the preceding speakers, which find their end and solution only in Elihu; and in showing that this whole section dovetails with the rest of the book according to the workmanship of a god rather than that of a man. See note, Job 34:9. it proves to be like the nervous system, which not only finds a place in the body, but is so interwoven with it as to be inseparable. The plane from which Elihu speaks is more elevated than that of Job and his co-disputants; his view of the moral government of God is more consistent and comprehensive; and the key to the mystery of suffering which he holds fits more of the dark and intricate wards of evil. This advanced knowledge “these doctrines more skilfully combined” leads Renan to say that they “appear to be more modern than those of the other interlocutors;” while he oddly enough adds, “but it would be difficult to say whether ages were necessary to produce this transformation,” (p. 57;) an admission which quite offsets the disparaging views concerning Elihu which he had previously expressed.

The office Elihu fills in the poem, structurally considered, is that of preparing the way for the coming of Jehovah. He is a quasi John the Baptist a divinely commissioned bearer of truth whose voice dies not away until the coming of Him who is greater than he. God reasons at large with man, through man: an Elihu is a necessity in the divine plan at least so far as its features have been disclosed to us. Dr. Walter Hedges (1750) went so far as to suppose that Elihu was a type of Christ in his human nature. When God himself shall appear and speak, he will speak like a God. In response to the repeated demands of Job that God should judge his cause, God will finally appear as judge, and if he speak, speak in the character of judge. Job’s appeals virtually criminate the Judge. The pious heart is startled by the boldness and vain-glory of his final summons of God. (Job 31:35-18.31.37.) Job’s whole being, to use one of his own figures, (Job 7:12,) is like the sea or its monsters, which unceasingly chafe beneath the divine will. In order that the character and function of the Judge may stand above even a conceivable impeachment, it is necessary that an advocate should intervene between the disputants, filling the part of an Elihu. Ere the God speak in adjudication, the reason of Job must be convinced; “the Titan must first be made puny in his own eyes,” and reduced to silence by probing his self-righteousness to the quick, and showing him that the true seat and source of his woes lies, not in God but in himself, and that the purification and exaltation of man’s being is the ulterior and loving end of the divine chastisement. The addresses of Elihu remove the stain of aspersion cast upon the divine nature, and open the way for a wise and righteous adjustment of the case at issue. The lacuna which would follow upon the excision of an Elihu from the scheme of the poem would be most palpable, and irreparable by other than a divine hand.

“To deny the genuineness of the speeches of Elihu,” says Hengstenberg, “is equivalent to plucking out the eyes of the book.” With the excision of Elihu, the poem would, indeed, prove a torso mutilated at the heart rather than at the extremities.

The Unravelment: Chaps. 32-42.

THE FOUR SPEECHES OF ELIHU THE FIRST PART OF THE POSITIVE SOLUTION OF THE PROBLEM. Chapters 32-37.

Verse 1

1. Righteous in his own eyes The friends had failed to convince him of unrighteousness. On the contrary, in arraigning the rightness of the divine government, they conceived his object to be the establishment of his own righteousness. Seemingly about to retire from the field and leave Job to his vanity and obduracy, the friends console themselves, and excuse their pitiable defeat, by the solace that Job is “righteous in his own eyes.” The author apparently makes the remark in the interest of “the friends,” notwithstanding Hengstenberg’s view that he speaks in his own person.

The words are significant in their bearing upon the solution of the problem of the book.

Verses 1-6

Introduction in Prose accounting for the intervention of Elihu, Job 32:1-18.32.6 a.

The sacred writer proceeds to apologize for the intervention of Elihu, and more especially for the imperfections of his first address; not only for the impetuosity and conceit which it betokened, but for its painful embarrassment and the obvious inadequacy of its exordium the former of which were unbecoming a young man, and the latter of which should seemingly have led him to keep his silence. (See note on Job 32:6.) The introduction, however, quietly assures us in advance of the noble character of the speaker and of the fitness of his speech, notwithstanding adverse appearances; and prepares us to coincide with the estimate of Lowth: “The lenity and moderation of Elihu serve as a beautiful contrast to the intemperance and asperity of the other three. He is pious, mild, and equitable; equally free from adulation and severity; and endued with singular wisdom, which he attributes entirely to the inspiration of God; and his modesty, moderation, and wisdom are the more entitled to commendation when we consider his unripe youth. As the characters of his detractors were in all respects calculated to inflame the mind of Job, that of this arbitrator is admirably adapted to soothe and compose it. To this point the whole drift of the argument tends, and on this the very purport of it seems to depend.” Hebrew Poetry, sec. 34.

Verse 2

2. Elihu My God is he, (Gesenius.) This name, together with that of his father, Barachel, “May God bless,” points to a religious line of descent, perhaps through Nahor, the brother of Abraham. Genesis 22:21. The Buzite Huz and Buz, the names of two sons of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, thus reappear, the one in the name of Job’s country, and the other in that of the tribe to which Elihu belonged. “The circumstance of his belonging to the family of Buz was thus pointedly mentioned by the sacred writer to draw respectful attention to him, notwithstanding his youth, on account of his relationship to Abraham.” ( Kitto, D.B.I.) Genealogical wastes like that of Genesis 22:21 are made to blossom, as one part of the Scripture thus interweaves itself with another.

Kindred of Ram Ewald and others think the word Ram may be interchangeable with the Aram mentioned in Genesis in connexion with Huz and Buz. Genesis 22:21. This may sufficiently account for the Aramaic forms of speech with which the language of Elihu is marked, and nullify all objections urged against Elihu on the ground of his Aramaisms.

Rather than God The same comparison as in Job 4:17, on which see note.

Verse 3

3. Condemned Job The only way they could justify God’s ways was to condemn Job.

Verse 4

4. Waited till Job had spoken Elihu had modestly stood in the background and “awaited Job with words.” Kitto ( Pictorial Bible) tells us, that “at the present time, in Arabia, every one that pleases attends whenever a discussion is in progress. It is not courteous for any one to interpose until the original parties in the dispute have exhausted themselves: then any have a right to declare their views of the subject.” This custom may account for the fact that no other notice is taken of Elihu either before or after his speeches.

Verse 6

ELIHU’S FIRST ADDRESS. Job 32:6 b Job 33:33.

PREAMBLE SETTING FORTH AT LENGTH THE REASONS WHICH LED HIM, A YOUNG MAN, TO SPEAK. Job 32:6 b Job 33:7.

First section. Elihu makes an apologetic and conciliatory address to all the disputants, in which he recognises the fact that superior knowledge is to be expected from those of advanced years; but he is not unmindful that the highest wisdom is the direct gift of the divine Spirit rather than the necessary endowment of old age. Job 32:6-18.32.10.

6. I am young That a young man should speak before such an assemblage would, with an Arabian, be an unpardonable presumption, or, as Scott calls it, “an astonishing phenomenon.” The prejudice of the Arab against youth resembled that of our own Indians. The repetitions of Elihu in his introductory remarks are due to his extreme embarrassment.

I was afraid The prime idea of the Hebrew is to creep, thence “creep along fearfully.” (Furst;) or, “He drew near with a fearful step,” (Gesenius.)

Mine opinion דעי , My knowledge. The frequent use of this ex-cathedra word is in harmony with the superhuman plane from which Elihu proposes to speak. Job 32:10; Job 32:17; Job 33:3; Job 36:3-18.36.4.

Verse 7

7. Days should speak See Sermon by Paley, in loc., on “The Advantages of Old Age.”

Verse 8

8. But there is a spirit in man Literally, But the Spirit, it is in mortal man; or, רוח היא , the Spirit itself is, etc. The parallel, “inspiration of the Almighty,” requires us to understand by the “spirit in man,” the divine Spirit. The Hebrew regarded all physical and spiritual power as a divine inspiration. The word rendered man is enosh, mortal or decaying man. See note Job 4:17. Frail and perishable man has a capacity for God: the vessel may be fragile, ( earthen, 2 Corinthians 4:7,) yet it may be not only the residence of the divine Spirit, but the medium through which it may act. Through faith in God Elihu is emboldened to speak upon a subject that has overtasked his superiors. The divine Spirit honoured his confidence by making him (St. Augustine says) “as superior in wisdom as he was in modesty.”

The inspiration of the Almighty נשׁמת שׁדי , same as in Job 33:4, where it is rendered “the breath of the Almighty,” which in both cases agrees with the Vulgate; while the Septuagint, in like manner, gives for each, πνοη , breath. The same Hebrew is used in Genesis 2:7 for breath of life, which leads Mercerus unhesitatingly to say that Elihu alludes to the first creation of man, when God breathed into man the breath of life. See note Job 33:4; also a sermon by Dr. Bushnell, in loc., on “The Spirit in Man,” and Eaton’s Bampton Lecture, (1872.)

Verse 9

9. Great men are not… wise Literally, not the great are wise, that is, (according to the Septuagint,) “the great in years.” Old age does not necessarily imply wisdom.

Verse 10

10. Show mine opinion The original will bear a more modest rendering, I will declare my knowledge, even I.

Verse 13

Second section. Directly and exclusively addressing the three friends, for the first and last time, ( save in the incidental allusion of Job 35:4,) Elihu declares his surprise and indignation at their failure to answer Job, and shows that this was due to their dealing in personal invective as the ground of his refutation rather than in the impartial and inoffensive principles of right and reason, Job 32:11-18.32.14.

13. We have found out wisdom Lest, in case the friends had succeeded they should triumph over their victory, God reserves to himself the glory of refuting Job: He alone (through Elihu) “can thrust him down.” The secret of their failure was their inordinate vanity, (Job 12:2.) On this account God would not employ them as his instruments. According to Hengstenberg, Elihu “gives the reason for freely reminding the friends of their insufficiency. He would free them from their illusion.” “Their want of success bears witness against themselves, and proves nothing against the possibility that a fresh disputant may conquer Job.” Hitzig. Zockler and Dillmann err in their interpretation: “We have come upon such superior wisdom in Job that only God can drive him out of the field;” thus attributing to the friends not only a concession of defeat, but an acknowledgment of Job’s superior wisdom. On the contrary, they seemingly ascribe their failure to a moral perversion in Job which none but God can subdue. Elihu quietly intimates that the agent for the accomplishment of this result is he himself.

Thrusteth him down More correctly, putteth him to flight. נד is used also of the chasing away of smoke, chaff, etc. Psalms 1:4; Psalms 68:2.

Verse 14

14. He Job.

Directed Better, arrayed. ערךְ is a military word used in a forensic sense, Job 13:18. With your speeches Elihu will not argue in their offensive and passionate manner, as he has no hard blows dealt by Job to resent. He proposes to “limit his censure to Job’s answer in this dispute.” Elihu can enter the debate free from prejudice and animosity.

Verse 15

Third section He now turns and addresses another auditory, ( probably the silent one from which he has so recently come, whom it is important also to conciliate, see note on Job 32:4,) and gives in detail his reasons for speaking: 1) The complete discomfiture of the friends. 2) The divine and irresistible afflatus within him. 3) The spirit of impartiality by which he is animated. 4) An abiding sense of God’s fear, Job 32:15-18.32.22.

15. They were amazed The three friends are confounded.

Verse 16

16. When I had waited This may be regarded as a question. Should I wait because they speak not, because they stand still? etc.

Verse 17

17. Mine opinion Rather. My knowledge. “Elihu speaks more in the scholastic tone of controversy than the three.” Delitzsch.

Verse 18

18. The spirit within me Literally, The spirit of my inward part, בשׂני . The experience of the prophets was similar to that of Elihu. Jeremiah 4:19; Amos 3:8.

Verse 19

19. Belly See note Job 15:2. “My inward part,” bitni, same as in Job 32:18. New bottles These bottles (see Matthew 9:17) were commonly made of goat’s skin; sometimes, also, of ass or camel’s skin. New bottles were used for new wine, and yet they too sometimes burst under the fermentation. Burning with religions zeal, and, as he believes, divinely inspired, Elihu can no longer restrain his pent-up emotions a thought most happily illustrated in the rush of words (“matter,” Job 32:18) which marks his introduction. The mocking Jews applied the figure of the text to the apostles on the day of Pentecost: “These men are full of new wine:” in other words, like wine-skins, the apostles were bursting from excessive fermentation. Hardy remarks of a Buddhistic sectary, that such was the extent of his learning that he feared his body would burst from its expansion; and to prevent this misfortune he bound himself with an iron girdle. “This conceit arose,” says Hardy, “from the idea that the heart is the seat of the thoughts as well as of the affections.” Manual of Buddhism, p. 256.

Verse 20

20. I will speak He carries on the metaphor in this verse; the bottle must be opened to save it from bursting.

Be refreshed The margin is more literal. In like manner, Young:

“Good sense will stagnate: Thoughts shut up want air.”

The spirit within constraineth him. The precursor of the apostle Paul in enthusiasm, sincerity, and tenaciousness of the truth, he cannot resist the divine constraint. His inner nature burns with the truths he waits to deliver; one, for instance the sinner’s justification through the mercy of God; “the quintessence of all his words,” thereby anticipating the apostle in the doctrine of justification by faith, even as the morn anticipates the day.

Verse 21

21. Accept any man’s person. See note Job 13:8. Young as he is, Elihu will regard no one, but strive to be impartial. Job charged the friends with perverting the truth that they might please God, and thus “accept His person.”

Verse 22

22. Give flattering titles This expression means to give proud titles to persons who are worthless. (Dr. Clarke.) The practice was common among the Orientals of addressing superiors with long and fulsome, and even divine, titles. The ancient Egyptian and Assyrian inscriptions abound in illustrations. In thus paying greater homage to the creature than the Creator, “his Maker would soon take him away.”

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 32". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/job-32.html. 1874-1909.