Let’s cut to the chase. Here’s what Elihu thinks about God:
Therefore hear me, intelligent people:
Far be it from El to be in the wrong!
Or Shaddai to be guilty of injustice,
For he pays humans for their work
And requites mortals for their conduct. (34:10-11)
Behold the heavens and see;
Look at the clouds high above you.
If you sin, what are you doing to him?
If your transgressions are legion, how do you affect him?
If you are righteous, what do you render him?
Or what does he receive from your hand?
Your wickedness affects mortals like yourself;
Your righteousness fellow human beings. (35:5-8)
Ah. Finally we get to some ideas about God that make good sense. He’s the Almighty, of course, standing above the fray. His judgments are just and neither wickedness nor righteousness affects him.
Except…er,…except… The reader knows from the prologue that God is affected by human behavior, at least enough to get involved with the Satan on the matter. And the reader also know that Job’s current situation is anything but what he would enjoy if God really did “requite mortals for their conduct.” Beyond that, the Elihu chapters have a prologue, and prologues in Job seem to be, um, important. Indispensable, in fact. So maybe we’ll go read the Elihu prologue.
Elihu appears on the scene after the three friends have fallen silent and after Job has delivered his climatic defense of his own innocence and made a formal request for a public legal hearing with God as the respondent. The narrative is at a critical point. Will God appear and answer Job after remaining silent for so long? Elihu has a prediction, but let’s start with the Elihu prologue:
So these three men ceased answering Job because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then the anger of Elihu, son of Barachel the Buzite from the clan of Ram, flared up against Job because he thought himself more righteous than God. His anger also flared up against his three friends because they had found no answer and so had made God appear guilty. Elihu had waited with Job while they spoke, for they were older than he. But when Elihu saw that these three men had no answer in their mouth, his anger flared up again. (32:1-5)
A triple repetition of the word “anger” with Elihu as the subject. And a reference to Elihu’s youth. That’s a combination that makes you go “Hmmmm” for sure. Could Elihu be a young, passionate, hothead, determined to defend God’s honor? And is there something ironic about feeling the need to defend God when you’ve otherwise described him as the Almighty?
Let’s see what Elihu has to say about his own motivations:
I am young in days
And you are old men;
So I was scared and afraid
To speak my mind before you.
I said to myself, “Days will testify
And many years teach Wisdom.”
Surely she is the spirit in humans
And the breath of Shaddai that gives them insight.
But the aged are not wise
Nor do old men understand litigation.
So I say, “Listen to me!
I will speak my mind. Yes, I will” (32:6b-10)
I will answer with my piece. Yes, I will!
I will speak my mind. Yes, I will!
For I am bloated with arguments
And wind distend my belly.
Behold, my belly is like unvented wine,
Like new wineskins, ready to explode.
I will speak and be relieved;
I will open my lips and answer.
I will be partial to no one
And flatter no human.
For if I knew how to flatter,
My Make would soon dispatch me. (32:17-22)
Oh boy. Where to start? For one thing, there’s the idea that Wisdom is “the spirit in humans,” and that it is the breath of God animating humans. If so, humans are born with wisdom and there’s no need to grow old searching for it. Elihu thinks himself a “born sage,” no less!
Then there’s a conflict between the prologue and Elihu’s apology. Elihu finds himself patient, sensitive, and respectful. He also believes himself superior in wisdom to the four older men, but his language makes him look far more like the brash fool of his prologue. Here are two points.
First, consider the triple repetition of “anger” and the triple repetition of “Yes, I will!.” Elihu’s anger is matched by his ego. Beyond that, there may also be a double entendre, for “anger” is ’ap and “Yes, I will!” is ’ap ’ni. Now this latter phrase is a common form of self-assertion, but in its present context it’s like Elihu almost says “Yes, I am anger.” So Job just dissed God, and Elihu is mad as all heck about it!
Second, the reader remembers that Eliphaz had earlier made this nasty comment to Job:
Should a wise man answer with a mind of wind,
And bloat his belly with an east wind? (15:2)
The answer is obviously “no,” but these are the precise ideas used by Elihu to describe his own situation. In other words, Elihu’s need to speak is like, um, gas pains. That’s right. The best way to contemplate Elihu, then, is to stand back let your Inner Deacon have his way. This of course precludes the ladies from understanding this passage, but such are the burdens of the gentler, less audible, sex…
The final pertinent point here is Elihu’s prediction of God’s response to Job’s demand for formal litigation. According to Elihu, there is no flaw in God’s justice; it is apparent for all to see. Therefore, there is no need for God to respond:
So if you have discernment, hear this!
Give ear to the force of my argument!
Would one hates justice govern?
Would you prove the Just and Mighty One wrong,
Who pronounces a king “Scoundrel”
And rulers “Condemnd,”
Who defers not to princes
And favors not the rich over the poor,
For they are all the work of his hands? (34:16-19)
There is no darkness or shadowy realm
Where evildoers may hide.
Indeed, it is not for a mortal to set a time
To come before El in litigation. (34:22-23)
Now Elihu does not think that God refrains from any answer; in fact, God does speak to humans through dreams and afflictions (33:12-28). But he does not answer formal requests such as that tendered by Job. Job asked for a response from God in 31:35:
Oh, if only someone would conduct my hearing!
Here is my signature! Let Shaddai be my respondent!
Let my adversary at law draft a document!
Elihu’s final words are his prediction of how God will respond to Job:
Shaddai—we cannot reach him!
Great in his might and justice,
Mighty in his righteousness—
He does not answer!
Therefore, mortals fear him;
But even the wise of heart cannot see him.(37:23-24)
And what follows this bold declaration is surely one of history’s greatest put-downs, in the very next words of the text (38:1):
Then Yahweh answered Job from the whirlwind…