When know-it-alls tell it all
“It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right. Therefore I say: Listen to me; I too will tell you what I know.“ – Job 32:9-10 NIV
Someone once asked the question, “Why does youth have to be wasted on the young?” This somewhat sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek statement, made by an obviously older person, reflects an understanding about the abundance of energy and vitality that come with youth, but the wisdom that often seems to be lacking. In today’s reading in chapters 32 and 33 of Job, we get an up-close-and-personal glimpse into just what this looks like in the life of Elihu. This young man, full of vitality and energy, has been biding his time and biting his tongue, waiting for a chance to speak his mind. And once he opens his mouth, what comes out is not exactly flattering. Like Job’s three other friends, Elihu is well-intentioned but poorly informed. He is so ready to share his wisdom with Job, he is about to explode. “I am like a wine cask without a vent. My words are ready to burst out! I must speak to find relief, so let me give my answers: (Job 32:19-20 NLT). Elihu is like a volcano ready to explode. That should have been his first sign to take a deep breath and keep his words to himself. It reminds me of the warning of James: “My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19 NLT). The Proverbs have a lot to say about choosing our words carefully and using them sparingly: “When words abound, transgression is inevitable, but the one who restrains his words is wise” (Proverbs 10:19 NET). “The truly wise person restrains his words, and the one who stays calm is discerning” (Proverbs 17:27 NET).
Elihu seems to have had a problem with restraint. He also suffered from a bad case of ego. I am amazed at how often he speaks of himself. His use of the personal pronoun has got to be an Olympic record. I lost track after 40. Elihu comes across as an arrogant and prideful young man who appears short on discernment. He has a lot of the characteristics of the fool described in the Proverbs:
The wise person accepts instructions, but the one who speaks foolishness will come to ruin. – Proverbs 10:8 NET
Those who are wise store up knowledge, but foolish speech leads to imminent destruction. – Proverbs 10:14 NET
The teaching of the righteous feeds many, but fools die for lack of wisdom. – Proverbs 10:21 NET
Elihu seems to think that because he was made by God, he was qualified to speak for God. “I speak with all sincerity; I speak the truth. For the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:3-4 NLT). That is a dangerous assumption for anyone to make. I can speak sincerely, but be sincerely wrong. I can speak what I think is the truth, but be flatly false in both my conclusions and my words.
Elihu’s pride are painfully apparent in the closing verses of chapter 33: “Pay attention, O Job, listen to me; Keep silent, and let me speak. Then if you have anything to say, answer me; Speak, for I desire to justify you. If not, listen to me; Keep silent, and I will teach you wisdom” (Job 33:31-33 NASB). WOW! The boldness of Elihu is amazing. I get embarrassed for him just reading his words. They come across as so pompous and arrogant it’s almost unbelievable. But then I have to think how many times I have probably come across the same way. Even in my “advanced” years. Elihu was right in one respect, wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. It comes from God. And it begins with a fear of God. “Fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. Only fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7 NLT). As I grow in my knowledge of God, I will grow in wisdom and discernment. I will increase in knowledge as well as discretion. I will seek to be wise, but not just in my own eyes. I will seek to be righteous, not just right. I will learn what it means to speak words of comfort, not just correction. I will have the heart of God, not just the words of God.
Father, before I attempt to speak for You, let me get to know You better. Help me bridle my tongue and limit my speech unless I know I have heard from You. Don’t let me assume I have the answers just because I have Your Spirit living within me. I know how easy it is to let my pride take precedence. I can speak my own words and fool myself into believing they are from You. And I end up doing more harm than good. So keep a watch over my mouth. Help me be quick to listen and slow to speak. And when I do speak, may I speak for you but because of You. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men