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ELIHU: God's Gracious Messenger
"There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is heath."
In one of the oldest books of the Bible, the book of Job, we find a fascinating insight into God's ways with man. Of particular interest in this respect is the discourse of Elihu, the fourth (and last) person to respond to Job's complaint.
When the words of Job had ended, and his three friends ceased to answer him, one who had waited for their words, and given ear to their reasonings, finally began to speak. Elihu the son of Barachel would also now show his opinion. There are those who have felt that his words were marred by self-assertiveness, that he was a dogmatist, and that Jehovah's rebuke (Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?) was directed at him. However, I believe we find in Elihu a true prophet, one who spoke as God's mouth, directly addressing Job's present state, and, more importantly, his standing before God. As such he is a beautiful type, or foreshadow, of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. On the way to Emmaus (in Luke 24) the Lord expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. Could it have been that these speeches of Elihu's were referenced in that profound discourse?
In the 32nd chapter of Job, when men have run out of words to say, or even thoughts to think, a new and different character in displayed in the fourth and youngest responder. Elihu's "sonship" is noted, as if to indicate that here was one who came as his father's representative, who would not speak "from himself" (John 7:18). He was angered with Job because he justified himself rather than God, and with the three because they condemned yet had found no answer. In respect for their age he had waited on them and they had all spoken many true and wonderful words. But they all seemed to forget that there is a spirit in man, and it is the inspiration of the Almighty that gives understanding. (v.8) Experience, tradition and mere knowledge can often keep men from going directly into the presence of God for answers to their questions and problems. As God's mouthpiece (prophet), Elihu pointed out this failure, and "they were amazed, they answered no more".
Here was one in whom there was not only truth, but power: a foreshadow of the Master, "who taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes". Matt.7:29. "And no man after that durst ask him any more question." Mark 12:34.
Elihu describes the burden of his prophecy. And he had not contrived his words; instead he says, "I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me." He uses the image of new wine bubbling as it ferments. He had good news. Wine in scripture has two capabilities: to purify, and to bring joy and soothing comfort. The words bottled up within Elihu had both effects, in due time in Job. So, too, the Lord Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant, or alliance, which is like new wine that cannot be put in old skins.
In the beginning of chapter 33, Elihu assures Job of the grace with which he comes. Job had cried out for a mediator, one to stand in the breach between a man and God. Although made out of clay, just like Job, here is a sent one, a messenger, one in a thousand, an interpreter to show man the upright way. The Spirit of God made him, and the breath of the Almighty had given him life. What a beautiful foreshadow of Christ! In Luke 4:18 the Lord stands up and declares, "the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor: He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives..." This is just what Job needed, and though Elihu gave him several chances to answer back, Job quietly listened to these words of "grace and truth". According to Job's wish, here was one "to stand in God?s stead". v.6 He comforts him (v.7), "behold, my terror shall not make thee afraid, neither shall my hand be heavy upon thee"
Elihu speaks to Job's conscience and pinpoints Job's particular area of offense toward God. In verse 8 he uses an unusual phrase, "...I have heard the voice of thy words, saying..." Elihu had been listening, not only to what Job said, but how he said it. While others were occupied only with what they might say next, and how they would show Job to be at fault, only Elihu was listening closely to him and noticed his tone of voice. In so doing he was given discernment to be of a help to this older saint. The voice of Job's words betrayed the attitude of his heart. He believed that he was innocent, neither was there iniquity in him. Therefore, he felt, God was unjust in bringing these trials on him.
But Job was mistaken on two counts, and Elihu confronts him in verse 12, "Behold in this thou are not just; I will answer thee, that God is greater than man." He was wrong to presume his innocence before God, though neither Satan nor his fellow man could find any fault on which to indict him. He was also wrong to assume that God was acting in judgment or vengeance in bringing these hard times upon him. God is called into account by no man. God is greater than man. God speaks to man in mercy and in grace, yet man is dull and does not perceive it. In dreams, in visions, in the midst of deep sleep, in all kinds of ways God speaks to men. Then he opens their ears and seals their instruction. Why? To draw back man from his purpose, and to hide pride from him. Job was a branch that had borne fruit for God. He was being pruned so that he would bear even more fruit. God was not dealing in angry vengeance, but in love correcting him to keep back his soul from the pit... v.18
So God allowed Job to be brought to the depth of despair. v.19-22 His soul did draw near to the grave, and his life to the destroyers. So too, "we have the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God..." 2 Cor.1:9 But, if there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand...Then He is gracious to him, and says, "Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom." Elihu points our eyes forward to the coming of the Lamb of God, the Seed of the woman, who would give His life a ransom for many. He then tells of coming blessing on account of that ransom. Verse 25 is earthly blessing foretold, verse 26 brings in after-life. In the first, he is told that his flesh would become fresh, his youthful vigor return. The latter goes further. God would accept him, and he would see His face. Redeeming grace will be Job's song. v.27&28.
In verse 29 Elihu unfolds that not only is God doing this with Job, but "Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man." What an insight into the ways of our God as He gently deals with the fallen sons of Adam! It is good to remember that the story of Job transpired before the book of Genesis was written. God had spoken in various times and in different ways to mankind. Enoch was a prophet and a teacher. The spirit of Christ went and preached first to Noah, and then through him, warning the spirits which are now in prison of the coming judgment. In Job's time there was not yet the written Word of God. Thanks must be given to God that He has given us this book, so rich in insights into His ways and dealings with the souls of the elect. According to His own ways, counsels, and purposes, He works these things oftentimes with man, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be enlightened with the light of life. And so, when the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, John bore witness of Him, that He is the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. John 1:4,9.
Elihu's desire towards Job was not to condemn him, but rather to justify him. Job had justified himself rather than God. Job had said (34:5), I am righteous, but God has taken away my right. The Lord Jesus Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Job did not have the third, fourth and fifth chapters of Romans to read. Christ had not yet suffered for our sins and been raised from the dead for our justification. But Elihu, unfolding the heart of God toward ruined Job, shares in God's desire to justify him. How different from Job's friends, who were really tormentors.1
Job said, "God is unfair to me. He has taken away the portion that was rightly mine. He has stricken me past the point of recovery, even though I'm blameless. Nobody ever had it so bad. There is absolutely no point in trying to be pleasing to God. There is no point, no profit, in trying to live a godly life." Job had sinned with his mouth. Satan's horrible attacks had not made him sin, nor had his wife's foolish contentions. It was the wearying accusations of his most trusted friend that had been used to bring to the surface what was always in Job's heart, though he had not known it.
"Now listen to me, you men of understanding!" We can almost hear Elihu's voice rising in verse 10. "Far be it from God to do wickedness! And the Almighty to do wrong!" God would be fair in paying to man according to his work, but that is not the end of the matter. John's gospel tells us plainly that, "All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being." Again, in Revelation 4:11, "Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created." So too, in Ephesians chapter 1 it is confirmed that God has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to the kind intention which He purposed in Christ...that is, the summing up of all things in Christ. We know that it is according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will. Eph. 1:11
Elihu takes up an expanding view of God's workings from verse 12 on. No one appointed authority to God. He has made the earth, the heavens, the angels, Satan, man, the demons, all things. Everything that happens, the believer can rest assured, every single thing, not only is working for my good, but will be shown at the end of history to be part of God's plan to head up all things in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 14. "If He should determine to do so, if He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust." When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, Pilate asked Him, "Don't you know that I have authority to release you, and I have authority to crucify you?"Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above..." John 19:10,11. Nebuchadnezzar learned this after living as an animal for an appointed period. He says of God, "For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, What hast thou done?" This sentence was passed on him by angelic decree in order that the living might know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind. All authority that men have is delegated authority, but God's authority is intrinsic. He is both the Creator and the Sustainer of all things. He sets up and tears down kingdoms. God's eyes are upon the ways of a man, and He sees all his steps. v.21. James 1:17 refers to God as the "Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning."
Elihu points out that there is no darkness or deep shadow where workers of iniquity can hide themselves. When we speak of God testing man under various administrations, it is not that God needs to know anything about us. Verse 23 tells us He does not need to consider a man further, that man should go before God in judgment. All the tests, all the trials, are for the benefit of the elect. God needs nothing from man to exist. He is the Self-Existing One Who Does Not Change. We, on the other hand, need His power constantly on us and toward us in order to survive, let alone prosper, second by second. When He keeps quiet, who than can condemn? When He hides His face, who then can behold Him? This principle holds true in regard to both nations and individuals. v.29. The point cannot be overemphasized. God is sovereign. He is over all creation.
In verse 31 Elihu asks as interesting question, "Has any one said to God, I have borne chastisement: I will offend no more?" Well, the answer is yes. Most of us who are believers have at one time or another prayed and asked God to show us our secret faults. We sing, "Search me, O God. Try me." If we have asked God to do this cleansing work with us, and to produce practical sanctification in us according to His word and will, is He then bound to do it according to our terms? What a foolish thought, dear Job, says Elihu. "If I told men of understanding what you've said, they would tell me, Job speaks without knowledge... Job ought to be tried to the limit, because he answers like wicked men..." v.34-37. Note that in correct translations it is not Elihu who is accusing Job here, rather he is pointing out to him that if he were to tell any one with wisdom, this is what they would say. The Lord Jesus is our advocate with the Father. He pleads, He intercedes on our behalf. In Ezekiel 22:30, Jehovah `searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach for Me for the land, that I should not destroy it." Pilate, so unaware of what he was saying, proclaimed "Behold the man!"
In chapter 35 Elihu's reproof becomes sharper as he guidedly grapples with the soul of this dear saint. Do you really think this is right, Job, that you should say, "My righteousness in greater than God's?? But God was working in Job. Elihu's words were entering into Job's soul. Knowledge was pleasant to it. The oil and the wine were beginning to have their desired effect, so there is no answering back from Job, no justifying himself.
Job had earlier asked, not expecting such an answer, "What advantage will it be to Thee? What profit shall I have, more than if I had sinned?" Elihu says, "Now I'm going to answer you, Job, you and your three friends." He points their eyes up toward heaven; He speaks for God. That is the role of the prophet. He speaks for God and directs man's gaze heavenward.
v.5 "Look at the heavens and see: and behold the clouds, they are higher than you." I believe that at this point a storm was forming. But this was a blessed storm, as God would appear to him from it. He makes clouds His chariots. He walks on the wings of the wind. Psalm 104. Look up, troubled saints of God! The very storm clouds that hide the brightness and warmth of the sunshine are the chariot of your God, the ruler of heaven and earth. It was the whirlwind that took the lives of Job's dear children. It would be out of the whirlwind that God would speak to Job. As the heavens are high above the earth, so are His ways above our ways.
Elihu goes into more detail explaining God being above man, then in v.14 "the case is before Him, and you must wait for Him". God is the Judge, not the defendant in any dealing with the sons of men. Some have dismissed Elihu's ministry by saying that God did not need any one to speak for Him. If that were the case here, it would also have to be true in all other times when a man spoke for God. The apostle Paul says, "I have believed therefore have I spoken". God loves to use empty, broken vessels to speak for Him, to declare His glorious truth to needy men. What a privilege to be used for the perfecting of the saints.
Elihu points out, however, in verse 15 another side of his ministry. God had spared Job "because He has not visited in His anger, nor has He acknowledged transgressions well." The Jews despised the Lord Jesus because He came as the meek and lowly One, not to set up the kingdom, but to preach forgiveness of sins, and to bring the dawn of the day of grace. Had He come then as King of kings and Lord of lords, they all would have been consumed out of the earth. The Jewish leaders, like Job, opened their mouths emptily, and multiplied words without knowledge.(v.16) Chapter 36 begins with Elihu's final body of principles before he completely turns Job's attention to the storm that has now developed around them. The messenger knows that he still has more to say on God's behalf before exiting the stage to get out of his master's way. Elihu was a faithful messenger; had he not delivered the whole message, he would have been like a broken tooth or a foot out of joint. As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country. So Elihu had fetched his knowledge from afar. (v.3) And what is the good news? That although God is mighty He does not despise any. v.5 God's eternal power and His divine nature are clearly seen from creation, but it is only in the cross of Christ, looking by faith at God's only begotten Son hanging on the tree, that I can know that God is love. He is mighty in strength of understanding. Since Cain and Abel, God has spoken of mankind in two groups: the righteous and the wicked. The Lord has made everything for His own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil. The Lord does not keep the wicked alive past the use He had for them (v.6), but He does not withdraw His eyes from the righteous (v.7). Elihu, as did the New Testament prophets, presents Job with his standing before addressing his present afflicted state. With kings on the throne, God has seated you, Job,forever, and they are exalted.
If at present the righteous are bound with fetters and caught with cords of affliction, God has lovingly brought them to this place so that He can declare to them their work, and their transgressions that they have magnified themselves. And He opens their ear to instruction, and commands that they return from evil. Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep they word." Ps.119:67 "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn thy statutes." v.75 "I know O Lord, that Thy judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me." Job did not have those blessed portions to read as we do today, but God sent His servant, an interpreter, one in a thousand to show Job the upright way. God has never left Himself without witness. It may be that this portion was of great comfort to the apostle Paul as he traveled in chains aboard the ship on his way to Rome. There again the Lord answered out of the storm.
v.11 If one hears reproof, and turns and serves Him, he will finish his days in pleasures, and his years in prosperity. If not, well, all that one can expect is to perish by the sword. The Lord's sheep hear His voice; He knows them; they follow Him. They will be like a tree planted by the rivers of water. The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff driven away by the wind. They die without knowledge. There is no bowing to God when trouble comes. They do not cry for help (v.13), so their soul dies and their life perishes among the unclean. Solemn, warning! Awful, hopeless condition! How much better to have my ear opened in the time of adversity. Indeed, He has enticed us out of the mouth of distress; instead of distress He gives a broad place with no constraint. And that which He sets on our table is full of fatness. This is God's way of dealing in absolute grace with His elect. "Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness, and speak kindly to her. Then will I give her her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor as a door of hope." Hosea 2:14,15
God had in times past filled Job's table with fatness. God had lavished temporal mercies upon him. Job saw the fruits of God's unmerited favor and mistakenly thought that what he was seeing was the fruits of his own righteousness! Now everything was taken away, everything was laid bare. It always had been in God's sight. Now Job lay naked, and covered with sores upon a heap of ashes. He had been full of judgment on the wicked, now judgment and justice had taken hold of him! A solemn warning from Elihu's lips. "Beware." v.18 "Be careful, do not turn to evil; for this you have chosen rather than affliction." Satan loves to tell mankind that evil is better than troubles. Our hearts naturally look for the broad road that leads to destruction. Only when we walk in the Spirit, we choose the upright way. Only in "the new man" are we willing to suffer in the flesh with a view towards ceasing to sin. Elihu sums up this section by exclaiming in verse 22, "Behold, God is exalted in His power; who is a teacher like Him? Who has appointed Him his way, and who has said, Thou doest wrong?"
From verse 24 to the end of the next chapter the prophet turns all eyes and ears to the intensifying storm, for out of it his Master will appear. We live in an insulated world. Our houses, joined to one another, have layers of fiberglass and Styrofoam to block out cold and sound. Our cars have shock absorbers so that we don't feel the bumps in the road. Everywhere there are lights to keep us from feeling the darkness. All manner of machines and devices cushion our every moment and desensitizes us from God's creation. "Remember that you should exalt His work of which men have sung. All men have seen it; man beholds from afar." Their line goes out into all the earth. Knowledge, falsely so-called, has sought to deny the Creator, who is God over all, blessed forever. The world by wisdom knew not God. Men of science are ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. It is God who draws water up in drops. He is the One who sends the weather. "Look, Job, behold, see the clouds coming. Hear the thunder of God's voice. Watch as He comes with the lightning." He makes clouds His chariot, He walks on the wings of the wind. He makes His angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.
The very storms of trouble that upset us and caused us to fear are the source of the rain that fills the streams and brooks and waters God's plants so that they bring forth sweet and useful fruit. God has given us first that which is natural, afterwards that which is spiritual. Our present bodies are suited and tied to this earth. As the lightening begins to strike, Elihu points out to Job that God has gathered it up in His hand and commanded it that it would strike the target that He has picked out for it. Nothing happens by chance. The fire from above that had entered into Job's bones was sent by God. The terrifying noise declares His presence. The cattle also, concerning what is coming.
Chapter 37 continues: "At this also my heart trembles." God wants men to tremble at His word. Doctors give men medication to keep them from trembling when God speaks. They take drugs or drink to excess to keep from trembling. Elihu said that his heart leapt from its place. You can almost hear the excitement building in the servant's voice. "Listen closely to the thunder of His voice, and the rumbling that goes out from His mouth. Under the whole heaven He lets it loose, and His lightning to the end of the earth. After it a voice roars; He thunders with His majestic voice; and He does not restrain the lightning when His voice is heard."
He is doing great things, much more than we, little finite beings, can ever comprehend. He tells the snow to fall. He commands the rain. Both the gentle shower and the mighty deluge come at His specific command. Why complain against the weather which He has sent? When God sends cold and snow from out of the north, the animals retreat into their dens and wait. It is the north and the south winds blowing on the Lord's garden which produces the lovely fragrances He loves to smell. The trial of faith is more precious to Him than gold that perishes.
After the flood the Lord sent a very strong wind to bind up a large portion of the waters. From His breath ice is made, and the expanse of the waters (polar caps) is frozen. Lord, give us child-like faith to worship Thee in the beauty of holiness! He gathers up the water, loads up the thick cloud (v.11). It changes direction under his guidance, that it may do whatever He commands. He has the whole world in His hands.
All this takes place constantly on the whole face of the earth (v.12). Verse 13 brings out a very important principle. These things happen, "whether for correction, or for His earth, or for lovingkindness", He causes it to happen. God sends storms, both literal and figurative, for various reasons. Sometimes we never know the reasons why in this life. It may be for correction. It may be as a loving and wise provider, as He brings forth grass for the cattle, and herbs for the service of man. How hard, even impossible, for fallen man, who has followed Satan's lies, to believe that in every trouble, every stormy wind, he can trust the wise and tender planning of the One whom faith now addresses as "Abba, Father".
We are told to judge nothing before the time. We must be content to let the all-knowing God be in complete control. How our natural hearts resist this truth!
Verse 14. Elihu speaks boldly now.
Listen to this, O Job, stand and consider the wonders of God. God shines His sun on you for a brief moment, He sends his south wind and your garments become hot...Can you, with Him, spread out the skies? Make them strong like a molten mirror? When our hearts realize just how brazen our words have been, how foolishly we have lifted up ourselves, we acknowledge "we cannot arrange our case because of darkness". God does not need to be told when man speaks. He speaks to men once, yea twice, and we do not perceive it. But before the word is even in our mouth, He knows it.
v. 21 Even though the sun is always shining, there are times when we do not see it. The wind, however, sent from God, clears away the clouds. We all with unveiled face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed. Out of the north, from that empty expanse, comes the golden splendor. Around God is awesome majesty. v.22 By searching we cannot find out God. He is found of those that sought Him not. God is not unrighteous toward man, but a man trusting in his own righteousness, his own wisdom, must be brought low to fear Him, so that GRACE may be poured out. To be found in Him, not having my own righteousness...Thank God for His pure grace.
Now Job's heart is bowed. The glories appear. As the clouds lift, the whirlwind comes. Job is ready to hear God, who answers him out of the whirlwind. There is still much that God may say, and Job has much more to learn. Elihu, the servant, quietly disappears. Like Melchisedec, he has no recorded beginning nor end. He delivers up his place to God, just as in a coming day the Lord Jesus will deliver up His kingdom to God, that God will be all in all.
1 In referring to Job's tormentors, I am not speaking of the men (Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite), rather what they represent. Past or present experience, traditions of men (even good ones), and least of all, legalistic knowledge, are not in tune with the ways and gracious heart of God. They have no power but to accuse and torment the soul. They are used and allowed of God to make our lost and ruined condition manifest. They caused the sin in Job's natural heart to come out through his words.
The story of Job does not end here. The Lord challenged Job to look at the elements and array himself. Job tells the Lord, "You speak, I'll listen." Then, in the closing 3 chapters we get deeper insight into the way God deals with us. Two characters are refered to: Behemoth and Leviathan. Behemoth is "chief over the ways of God", and Leviathan is ruler over all the children of pride.
The Lord has them both at His beck and call. We might take it that, while both may have been "dinosaurs" still living in Job's day, they represent the arch angel Gabriel (Behemoth) and Satan (Levithan). If we read the first chapter of Job, we find their regular presence before the Lord, and involvement in the affairs of His people. Providentially, Behemoth stopped the Jordan river with his tail to allow the children of Isreal to enter into the land of Canaan. In Job's life, and in ours, the Lord binds Satan for His service. He plays with him as a bird within a cage. A great lesson is that Satan has no power in the life of a believer except as used as a rod of correction for our good. There was one miracle repeated 3 times in early Exodus; the rod became a serpent, and then became a rod again. This miracle was shown to Moses personally, to the elders of Isreal, and lastly before Pharaoh. The same rod that became a serpent divided the Red Sea and brought water from the rock. His rod and His staff still comfort us.