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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Job 32

Verses 1-5

THE SPEECHES OF ELIHU

Job 32:1—37:24

Introduction (32:1-5)

A glance at the format of verses 1-5 of chapter 32 in the Revised Standard Version shows that here a striking break in the Book of Job is reached, a fact which is confirmed strongly by the content of these verses. The section is in prose, like an island surrounded by a sea of poetry. Moreover, these verses introduce a new character into the discussion, one "Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram." It is often pointed out by interpreters of the book that since Elihu is not mentioned in the Prologue his presence here seems suspiciously like an after-thought, and even an afterthought by someone other than the original author. It has similarly been pointed out that Elihu’s contributions are not completely in harmony with the apparent intent of the author, and in fact appear at times to be an attempt to correct some of the excesses of the former discussion.

It must be said that, at least from the standpoint of contemporary literary standards, the conclusion is justifiable. But it must be realized too that practically all of the arguments against regarding Elihu’s words as the work of the original author are arguments based on modern views of literary structure, dramatic effect, and climactic order. All of these considerations are in the end matters of taste, and one must be hesitant about imposing standards of taste, especially modern ones, upon the creations of antiquity. One could affirm, with justice, that Elihu was not mentioned in the Prologue because he was not part of the original story used by the author as dramatic background, but that the author deliberately held him in reserve for dramatic effect, intending to present some of his own theological positions through this new mouth.

Similarly one could say that, although to Western and modern ears, tutored by Greek and Shakespearean notions of drama, the intervention of Elihu dulls the sharp effect achieved by placing the speeches of the Almighty next to the closing words of Job, this may be a deliberate device. It is conceivable that the intent was to provide a literary transition from the discussion to the closing speeches.

At a deeper level it is possible to argue that the words of Elihu form a kind of logical climax to the discussion itself. It has been pointed out before that, particularly near the close, the drama assumes more and more the character of a courtroom proceeding. The closing speech of Job (chs. 28 ?, 29-31) may be likened to a summation of Job’s point of view, presented in less passionate terms than before. In Elihu the excessive and exaggerated statements of the friends appear in more reflective fashion, and, indeed, in his words one finds the best that can be said for the view that there is some meaning in some suffering. And this, in the end, is what Elihu with all his own eccentric mannerisms seems to be saying. That it is also the viewpoint of the original author is possible and even probable.

The new speaker carries a familiar name, Elihu, meaning "He is my God" (see, for example, 1 Samuel 1:1 and 1 Chronicles 27:18; for "Buzite" see Genesis 22:21 and compare Job 1:1; and for "Ram" see Ruth 4:18-22, although the two names do not point to the same family or tribe).

The cause of Elihu’s concern is twofold. First, there was Job’s self-justification, or literally Job’s determination to maintain his own righteousness in the presence of God (vs. 2). Second, there was the silence of the friends, which Elihu takes to be an admission of defeat (vs. 3).

The little prologue to Elihu’s speeches supplies one additional fact: that Elihu was younger than the other participants in the discussion. This is used as explanation of his reticence in speaking, as his wrath is explanation of the breach of reticence. Elihu’s youth is sometimes seen by interpreters as a kind of comic feature, and some have accordingly found comic values in his words. Again this is to judge the literary creation by contemporary standards. There is no suggestion that the author intended the youth of the speaker to be a humorous matter, and it is as easy to assume that he meant to indicate that here, at least, was one instance in which when youth spoke it showed greater wisdom than did age, particularly when age was bound by a paralyzed orthodoxy.

Verses 6-7

The First Speech (32:6-33:33)

Let Me Also Declare My Opinion (32:6-33:7)

In a long introductory statement Elihu justifies to the friends, who are presumably still present (Job 32:6-14), to any nearby witnesses (Job 32:15-22), and to (Job 33:1-7), the fact that he now enters the discussion.

Elihu’s justification, so far as Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are concerned, is clearly that he feels they have been bested by Job. In deference to their greater age and therefore presumably greater wisdom he has waited. But, in his view, wisdom is not necessarily the virtue of age, for it comes from the "spirit" or "breath of the Almighty" in a man. Elihu here is completely in harmony with a basic position of the wisdom school, namely, that true wisdom, which belongs to God alone, can be achieved by man only by virtue of his "share" in the divine wisdom, the wisdom that brought him into being and still directs him. Underlying Elihu’s words is a profound understanding of the Creation story, in which man comes to life in the image of God as God breathes into him "the breath of life" (Genesis 2:7), coupled with the concept of the creative and providential wisdom of God as found, for instance, in Proverbs 8. This "spirit" which is equivalent to "wisdom" Elihu claims as his own (see 32:18).

In a more negative way Elihu also condemns the three friends for their complete failure with Job Verses13, 14 are some-what difficult, although they must carry basically the same thought as verses 11 and 12. Verse 13 is certainly a warning to the friends not to think either that they have represented "wisdom" by their speeches or that they have discovered it in Job’s. The last line may be a sarcastic reference to their conclusion that Job could not be defeated by man’s arguments and that God must now "vanquish him." If so, then verse 14 is Elihu’s insistence that what they have not been able to accomplish he will undertake, although the connection between the two lines of the verse is not clear.

In verses 15-22 the speaker turns away from the friends. He is represented as speaking to actual bystanders or perhaps better to himself, since an audience is generally not suggested in the poem. He declares that he cannot keep silence, that he is ready to burst with "the spirit" which gives him wisdom, and that he will show no personal bias in his words.

Finally, in the preamble to his contribution Elihu addresses Job directly (Job 33:1-7). Again he justifies his words by an appeal to his possession of the divine creative spirit of wisdom (Job 33:4). But more especially he speaks to Job’s former appeals. Job has previously bewailed the fact that God "is not a man" as he himself is, and therefore he has begged that God "take his rod away" and "let not dread of him terrify" (Job 9:32-34). The latter plea was reiterated in 13:21. To this complaint Elihu now offers himself in answer. Elihu is not the strange and unapproachable God, but a man as Job is, "toward God" in the same way, made also "from a piece of clay." He therefore will not terrify and his "pressure" (or more probably, with the Greek translation, "hand," see also 13:21) will not be "heavy" upon Job. It is possible that Elihu means to offer his services as the "umpire" for whom Job has longed, the one who could represent both God and man. The truth is, however, that despite Elihu’s claims, he represents only man and not God. In the end God must speak for himself.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Job 32". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/job-32.html.