Tuesday, April 30, 2013

the angry young counselor

Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were older than he. And when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, he burned with anger.
Job 32:4-5

Elihu is different from all the other friends of Job. His "counsel" is not dialogue, but rather a long, drawn-out monologue. He is a young man who deferred to Job's old friends Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad out of respect. You can see in his opening description a literary set-up that prepares the reader for the "different" viewpoint of Elihu. Elihu is angry. Elihu is young. Elihu attempts to counsel where others have failed.

The text goes out of its way to speak of the anger of Elihu. Elihu "burned with anger", which makes me think that perhaps the entire set of exchanges between Job and his other friends were not setting well with him. In the background he grimaces and squirms, waiting it out in a growing frustration. And he just kept letting that anger build up while he clammed up. That's never a good combination. The text gives two reasons why he "burned with anger": 1) because Job justified himself rather than God, and 2) because none of the other friends had an answer for Job when they accused him. As his monologue plays out, the reasons for his anger factor into his "answer" for Job.

The fact that Elihu was a young man whom Job considered a friend is interesting. Our deepest friendships are usually with our own generational connections. But Elihu was a young man. What then was his connection to Job? Was he a friend of Job's now dead children come to pay his respects and comfort their grieving father? I tend to think that perhaps he was a young protégé of Job's who had a profitable learning relationship from his older friend. Job seems to be the kind of man who invested his life in helping people and it would make sense for him to invest wisdom into the next generation. It fits Job's godly character to have a relationship with a guy like Elihu.

Elihu's attempts at counsel are worth considering with that "mentoring" relationship with Job as the background. In some ways his words may mirror back to Job the kind of wisdom Job had once shared with Elihu. That would explain why Elihu comes closest to getting the theology of God's ways in alignment. He still accuses Job, but he gets a good handle on who God is, which is why God does not rebuke him like He does the other three friends at the end of the book. That does not mean that Elihu was 100% right about Job... obviously. He just cared more to speak of God's ways with more careful thought.

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