1 Then Elihu answered and said:
2 “Hear my words, you wise men,
and give ear to me, you who know;
3 for the ear tests words
as the palate tastes food.
4 Let us choose what is right;
let us know among ourselves what is good.
5 For Job has said, ‘I am in the right,
and God has taken away my right;
6 in spite of my right I am counted a liar;
my wound is incurable, though I am without transgression.’
7 What man is like Job,
who drinks up scoffing like water,
8 who travels in company with evildoers
and walks with wicked men?
9 For he has said, ‘It profits a man nothing
that he should take delight in God.’
10 “Therefore, hear me, you men of understanding:
far be it from God that he should do wickedness,
and from the Almighty that he should do wrong.
11 For according to the work of a man he will repay him,
and according to his ways he will make it befall him.
12 Of a truth, God will not do wickedly,
and the Almighty will not pervert justice.
13 Who gave him charge over the earth,
and who laid on him the whole world?
14 If he should set his heart to it
and gather to himself his spirit and his breath,
15 all flesh would perish together,
and man would return to dust.”– Job 34:1-15 ESV
You reap what you sow. That’s the basic idea behind Elihu’s entire argument, and from his “learned” perspective, Job was living proof of that proverbial adage. But Elihu could not claim credit for having coined that phrase; it was Eliphaz who first broached the topic.
“As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.” – Job 4:8 ESV
The prophet Hosea records Yahweh using the same idea to condemn the rebellious people of Israel.
“I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness,
and you will harvest a crop of love.
Plow up the hard ground of your hearts,
for now is the time to seek the Lord,
that he may come
and shower righteousness upon you.’
“But you have cultivated wickedness
and harvested a thriving crop of sins.” – Hosea 10:12-13 NLT
And the apostle Paul picked up on this theme when writing to the believers living in Galatia.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. – Galatians 6:7-8 ESV
Of course, Elihu attempts to give his personal touch to the topic by paraphrasing it in a slightly different way.
“The Almighty can do no wrong.
He repays people according to their deeds.
He treats people as they deserve.” – Job 34:10-11 ESV
His places the emphasis on God because he is trying to show that Job is guilty of falsely accusing Yahweh of injustice. Not only has Job committed sins worthy of God’s wrath and judgment, but he has also blasphemed the name and character of God – at least according to Elihu’s estimation.
But Elihu is guilty of twisting Job’s words. Yes, Job is frustrated and has spoken rashly and, sometimes, unwisely, but at no point has Job disparaged God. He has actually championed Yahweh’s sovereignty, declaring his belief that, ultimately, God is in control of all things. That’s the reason he longs to have God provide him with an explanation for his suffering. Job isn’t discrediting the character of God; he is simply having a difficult time justifying his own pain and suffering. He refuses to accept the idea that his losses are the result of personal sin and that is what is driving Elihu crazy.
Elihu resorts to quoting Job but takes liberties in doing so.
“For Job also said, ‘I am innocent,
but God has taken away my rights.
I am innocent, but they call me a liar.
My suffering is incurable, though I have not sinned.’” – Job 34:5-6 NLT
A look back at chapter 27 reveals that Elihu conveniently disregarded a few pertinent points from Job’s comments.
“I vow by the living God, who has taken away my rights,
by the Almighty who has embittered my soul—
As long as I live,
while I have breath from God,
my lips will speak no evil,
and my tongue will speak no lies.
I will never concede that you are right;
I will defend my integrity until I die.
I will maintain my innocence without wavering.
My conscience is clear for as long as I live.” – Job 27:2-6 NLT
Job did not disparage God but simply acknowledged that his fate was in God’s hands. His whole point was that there was nothing Elihu, Bildad, Eliphaz, or Zophar could say that would make him deny his innocence. Job’s belief in the sovereignty of God was so great that he was forced to conclude his trials were the handiwork of God.
Elihu was disingenuous and deceptive in using Job’s words against him. But he was desperate to portray Job as a wicked and ungodly man who was getting exactly what he deserved. In fact, he goes out of his way to paint Job in the least favorable light.
“Tell me, has there ever been a man like Job,
with his thirst for irreverent talk?
He chooses evil people as companions.
He spends his time with wicked men.
He has even said, ‘Why waste time
trying to please God?’” – Job 34;7-9 NLT
For all his self-proclaimed wisdom, Elihu displays rather unsophisticated reasoning skills. For him, it boiled down to one simple equation: God is right and men are wrong.
“Everyone knows that God doesn’t sin!
The Almighty can do no wrong.” – Job 34:10 NLT
No one in his right mind would argue with that conclusion, including Job. But Elihu wants to make it appear as if Job was accusing God of sin. At best, all Job was guilty of was questioning the fairness of his situation. He couldn’t understand why he had been forced to endure such devastating losses. But at no time had Job accused God of wickedness. He knew there was a reason behind his suffering and all he was asking for was an explanation.
But Elihu is engaging a bit of slight of hand. He is attempting to make this a battle between Job and the Almighty, with Job playing the part of the evil antagonist. In Elihu’s heavily fabricated version of events, God is wearing the white hat while Job is relegated to the role of the dastardly desperado.
“Truly, God will not do wrong.
The Almighty will not twist justice.” – Job 34:12 NLT
This overly simplistic view of Job’s situation was designed to make it a black and white matter. God was good and Job was bad. As far as Elihu could see it, Job was lucky to be alive.
“If God were to take back his spirit
and withdraw his breath,
all life would cease,
and humanity would turn again to dust.” – Job 34:14-15 NLT
But Elihu is a windbag who lives to hear himself talk. He is in love with the sound of his own voice. He goes on and on, spouting his words of wisdom, but never really saying anything of substance. Amazingly, he accuses Job of talking utter nonsense. He claims that Job speaks without knowledge or insight, and he opens his mouth in empty talk. But in reality, Elihu is the one who is saying a lot without saying anything at all. He is so convinced he is right that he even gets vindictive and hateful toward Job, wishing him harm and not good.
We all could learn a lot from Elihu; not so much from what he says, but how he says it. In his pride and arrogance, this young man cares more about being right than being showing love to someone who is hurting. He takes it upon himself to defend God, when God needs no defense. He speaks for God when he has no clue what God is doing or thinking.
But we can do the same thing. It is too easy to jump to conclusions regarding situations and circumstances, and make determinations that are neither correct nor corrective. We judge too quickly and condemn too easily. Sometimes our declarations of guilt have less to do with the facts than wishful thinking. There is little doubt that there were those who took a perverse sort of pleasure in Job’s demise. They had watched him prosper and succeed, all the while harboring jealous feelings toward him. Now that he had taken a tumble, it was easy to dog-pile and relish in his apparent sinfulness.
They say if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. That’s probably what Job’s friends were thinking about him. And sometimes we can harbor the same feelings towards those in our sphere of influence whom we have watched suffer a sudden fall from grace. Sure, we tell them we’re praying for them, but we actually find their demise somewhat enjoyable. We find pleasure in trying to ascertain the sin that led to their fall. If we’re kind, we try to remind them that they’re far from perfect. And we do all this because if we can find fault in others, it usually makes us feel better about ourselves.
But what Job needed was encouragement, reassurance, and comfort. He needed to know that God loved him and had not abandoned him. This suffering saint was in need of the calming presence of compassionate companions, not the harsh criticism of fair-weather friends. So when we encounter friends who are going through difficult times, will we offer them a tale … full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? Or will we offer them our unconditional love and unwavering support?
While it is easy to condemn Elihu, we must be careful to keep from becoming just like him. That requires God to open our eyes so that we can see any similarities we may share with Elihu. It means that we must ask the Holy Spirit to control our tongues and create in us hearts of compassion. They say that silence is golden. There are times when saying nothing can speak volumes. So, may we ask God for the wisdom and discernment to know when to speak up and when to shut up, so that whenever we encounter anyone going through difficulty, we can be the ones who lift them up.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.