The Book of Job is one of my favorites in the Bible, and Elihu is one of my favorite characters within the book. I have written on Elihu at length, but here, I just want to focus on Elihu’s role in what I like to think of as the “delightful surprise” of Job.
For a little bit of context to those who are not intimately familiar with the structure of Job, it goes something like this:
- Prologue (Job 1-2): We are introduced to Job, learn of the wager between God and Satan, and watch as Job is dealt one devastating blow after another.
- Dialogue Between Job and Friends (Job 3-28): Job laments his condition and three of his friends offer their thoughts, ultimately making things worse.*
- Job’s Closing Monologue (Job 29-31): Job presents his summary defense and, maintaining his innocence, longs for an audience with God.
- Elihu’s Speeches (Job 32-37): Young Elihu enters the scene, corrects Job’s friends, and foreshadows the appearance of God.
- God’s Speeches (Job 38-42.8): God appears and addresses Job (with Job’s brief responses).
- Epilogue (Job 42.9-17): The story of Job is resolved and his fortunes are restored.
I have argued that the primary purpose that Elihu serves is that he seeks to take Job’s focus off of his own troubles and turn his thinking to God instead. He concludes his speeches in Job 37 with repeated reference to the majesty of God, as illustrated by the power seen in thunder, storms, lightning, and other aspects of God’s creation. Elihu concludes his thoughts on God’s majesty and indeed, his speeches, by basically telling Job (cf. Job 37.23): “God is beyond us. We cannot understand Him and He owes us no explanation…don’t expect Him to show up!” From a literary perspective, this is part of the masterpiece of Job and the deep irony of Elihu: simultaneously, his talk of God’s majesty prepare us for a God who appears out of a whirlwind while his concluding statement tells us not to expect any appearance at all!
Elihu disappears from the scene and then, the surprising and incredible thing happens. Contrary to Elihu’s expectations, and Job’s expectations, and the reader’s expectations, the God of majesty who shows His power in the wonder of creation, the God who is beyond us…shows up!
When He does, he doesn’t give Job what he wants—He doesn’t give an explanation for why Job has suffered and why so many terrible things have happened to him. In this way, God’s response confirms what Elihu was saying: God is beyond Job, and doesn’t owe him an explanation for everything. But even better than God’s explanation is His presence! He appears before Job, and that response of presence is better than any explanation. It is enough for Job to continue on in faith, despite what he has experienced.
Reading Scripture from a Christological perspective, I think this appearance of God foreshadows His ultimate appearance in the incarnation: Jesus comes and lives as a man, dies a cruel death, and is then raised from the dead. Ultimately, Jesus does all of this not to answer all of our questions, but to show that He is truly with us.
Better than God’s explanation is His presence:
- In the incarnation, He is present with us in our very nature.
- In the crucifixion, He is present with us in the experience of suffering.
- In the resurrection, He gifts us the hope of His eternal presence.
And rather than explanation, it is God’s presence, seen through Jesus Christ, that gives us comfort even when life deals us inexplicable hardship and suffering!
*Many scholars would break this down further and some would remove Job 28 as a separate poem to wisdom. That level of specificity is beyond my purposes here.