Job 32-37: Elihu the kibitzer

Reading: Job 32-37

Elihu’s speech is one of the most challenging parts of Job for me — he comes out of nowhere, and then he after making his comments he is no longer there. Nobody answers him, nobody responds to him, and nobody corrects him. I don’t even know if Job or Job’s friends heard Elihu’s rant. When God answers, God answers Job. When God condemns Job’s friends, God has nothing to say to Elihu.

Whatever we think of Job’s friends, they chose to engage Job in a philosophical debate, hoping that they could convince him to change his mind, repent of whatever sin he might have embraced, and somehow move on with his life. Job engaged them in this, arguing his innocence. This debate ended in a stalemate.

When I read about this, I see Elihu getting involved in a debate that did not concern him. He was passionate about being right, even though all evidence points to him being completely outside of this discussion. God does not evaluate Elihu’s rant, so we cannot know whether it was the correct solution or not.

What I think of when reading this is what happens when there are three chess players in a room. Two of the chess players pay a game, and the third player watches. The person who watches is able to look for mistakes in both people’s game, and consider what might be better moves. Now, for chess players, if that third player Kibitz on the chess game, it is quite rude. It is almost as if Elihu offered uninvited commentary on the debate.

Elihu was by far the worst of the comforters. He was not one who sat in the dirt with Job. Job did not ask him any questions, so Job did not invite answers from him. Elihu heard a discussion between people who did not understand, and he was angry when he heard ignorance in the face of loss and suffering. It is no wonder that Elihu was ignored, I hope for Job’s sake that he was also unheard.

Elihu correctly observes that Job’s friends do not answer Job’s questions. The most important question Job asks is “what sin should I repent of? I’m innocent!” Elihu accuses Job of being self centered, and of painting God too distantly. Elihu points out that God speaks to humanity in various ways, such as through dreams and through suffering. Suffering might be a way of bringing the self-reliant to God, rather than a punishment for a crime.

Elihu also condemns Job as behaving rebelliously, rather than properly seeking God. He, like Job’s friends see Job’s complaints as a condemnation of God’s justice. He condemns Job of trying to second guess God, as Job defends himself pointing out how God does not punish the wicked in a timely manner. Elihu suggests that Job repent of his foolish rebellion.

Elihu might claim to speak for God, but when God comes, Elihu’s right to speak for God falls into question. When I read Elihu, I read somebody who stepped into a conversation that he was not part of, who judged someone without compassion, and who was gone without offering any comfort or companionship. The only authority his words have is the authority of offering the last words on the subject. We know his opinion, but we don’t know how the debate would have played out if he were the one in conversation with Job.

In the end, I don’t care if Elihu was right, nor do I care if Job was wrong. What matters the most is that Job was suffering. When I read scripture, I read about a God who gives humans permission to suffer, and to call out in suffering. I read passages such as Psalm 22 which begins: “My God My God why have you forsaken me…” I read the prayer of Elijah where he asks God to let him die (1 Kings 19:4), and I read some of the prayers of Jesus in the last days of his life. I see in all of this that God is not offended by what people say when they are suffering. God accepts this part of our humanity. Elihu was wrong, Job was not rebellious, Job was human.

Continued: Job 38-42 God speaks and restores Job

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