Throughout the debate phase of the book, Job achieves victory over the friends and develops in faith, but a problem is also highlighted. Initially, Job had believed, like his friends, in exact retribution (4:3-4; 31:23) and on this basis he accused God of injustice and being impossible to understand (16:9; 19:7-11; 30:21).

While he came to see exact retribution is not true, by the end of chapter 31, Job is completely bewildered. That suffering may have a purpose other than punishment had not occurred to him. His confusion is evident as he speaks about God and wrestles with his experience of God, both before and after the calamities struck. The old thinking is now destroyed, but he has no replacement framework to understand God within.

Initially, Job tells us:

  1. he was the work of God’s hands from conception (10:8-11)
  2. God watched over and preserved him (10:12)
  3. he was guided by and lived in a two-way relationship with God (12:4; 29:2-5)
  4. God was his intimate friend (7:21; 14:15; 19:27)

But his view of God becomes distorted during the debate as he battles his way through a crisis of faith. Look at how he describes God:

He is an unjust destroyer of hope (ch 3)

  1. He is a pitiless watcher and tormenter (ch 6–7)
  2. He is a stern judge/creator (ch 9–10)
  3. He is an enemy, a destroyer, a false accuser/yet his salvation (ch 13–14)
  4. He is an overbearing bully/yet his witness and advocate (ch 16–17)
  5. He is unjust/yet his redeemer (ch 19)

This imbalance needs to be corrected because Job makes a number of accusations against God through the course of the debates. In the end, God roundly condemns this false evaluation of Himself (38:1-2; 40:1-2,8). While Job does express faith in God’s salvation and the ultimate justice of God (7:21; 9:33; 13:15-16; 14:15; 16:19-21; 19:25-27), he doesn’t understand God’s character and purpose, or the reason for his suffering. Time and again he denies his own wrongdoing and emphasises his own blamelessness (7:19-21; 9:17; 13:18; 16:15-18; 17:9; 23:3-7, 10-12; 27:6) at the expense of presenting God as unjust and unrighteous (3:23; 9:22; 14:16- 17; 16:11-14; 19:7-10; 23:15-16; 27:2, 7; 31:35-37).

Job’s accusations against God are summarised in two broad groupings below:

God is a poor ruler of the world
God acts arbitrarily and destructively9:5-7,12-13; 12:14-25; 23:13-16; 26:12
God can’t be understood and hides His wisdom26:5-14; 28:20-28
God has mistreated me
God treats me with cruelty and injustice7:19-21; 9:17,28-31; 10:14-18; 13:25-27; 16:9-17; 19:8-12; 27:2; 30:20-23
I am personally righteous9:21 (RSV); 10:7; 13:15; 16:17; 23:11-12; 27:5-6
I want audience with and vindication from God9:32-35; 10:2; 13:15-18, 22: 14:13-15; 16:19-21; 19:23-27; 23:3-10; 31:35-37

Job raises a crucial issue in chapter 9:33; there is no ‘daysman’ (a judge or an umpire) to mediate between himself and God. The judge Job envisages is of great standing; he is going to put his hands on both Job and God as it were and bring them together to settle their differences. This is Job’s true desire – restoration of his former relationship with God. In chapters 9:34-35 and 12:20-22 Job lists two conditions under which, if met, Job would feel comfortable in facing Yahweh and debating his righteousness with Him. By chapter 19 these conditions are absent from Job’s narrative, illustrative of his overconfidence in believing he had a watertight case against God.

While Job was victorious over his friends in debate, by chpter 21, it is a pyrrhic victory. The old belief in exact retribution is thrown out, but he is not sure what to replace it with. He speaks uninterruptedly from chapters 26–31, to the detriment of his spiritual state (in ch 29–31 he refers to himself 200 times). He is wholly absorbed in proving his own righteousness; in chapter 31:35-37 he is so confident he is innocent of gross misconduct that he wishes he had a copy of the indictment written by God. He would wear it as a badge of honour; he would go before God confidently like a prince to make his defence. He would go through God’s own indictment line by line to show Him he was not worthy of his terrible suffering.

Job has said things about God that are inappropriate, even challenging Him to a debate about the injustice of his treatment. He has over-emphasised his own achievements and how other people perceived him, focussing on how he felt God should respond to his (self ) righteousness. His words do not reflect the humble attitude the created ought to adopt towards his Creator and so he needs to be humbled and have his understanding of how God works broadened. He needs to acknowledge his need of forgiveness and realise pride prevents him from achieving the relationship with God he seeks.

Job and the three friends argued about the relationship between God and men and none of them got it right. Despite the passion, they are all ill-equipped to handle the subject matter under discussion. The three, because of their limited perspective and sclerotic adherence to exact retribution; Job, because he believed his self-righteousness entitled him to certain responses from God. By the end of chapter 31, there are such significant unresolved tensions that, had Job’s requested interview with God occurred, his destruction seems a certain outcome.

This is where Elihu providentially intervenes in chapter 32 and performs the role of a mediator for Job. He unknowingly prepares Job for the imminent revelation of God by opening his mind to a completely different way of thinking and creating the conditions necessary for Job to be humbled. God is about to fully educate him in the way He works in the lives of those He has called, and Elihu’s speeches prepare the way.

When Elihu realised the three were unable to respond to Job’s monologues, his desire to see God honoured above all compelled him to stand up and speak. He is constrained by:

  1. his desire that God’s righteousness alone be upheld (32:2)
  2. the failure of the friends to provide answers to Job’s accusations against God and their consequential inadvertent condemnation of God (32:3)
  3. the error the friends had made in being respecters of persons and seeking to flatter God by their defence of what they believed was His position (32:21-22)
  4. his concern for Job’s eternal well-being because of his self-justification (33:32; 34:34-37)
  5. the stirring up of his spirit so he couldn’t refrain from speaking (32:18-20; cp 1 Chron 5:26 and 2 Chron 21:16)

Elihu had waited, believing age would provide the wisdom to answer Job’s accusations against God (32:3,9). He had listened carefully to the friends’ arguments, but detected no wisdom in any of them, so he advises them to admit defeat in verse 13 and not to say, ‘God will prove us right in the end’. Those arguments were so bad that he says he will not use them in answering Job (v14), nor would he follow their lead and respect persons (vv20-21).

Elihu makes four speeches from chapters 33-37, dealing with the human element first in chapter 33, and then going to the heart of Job’s mental distress over the seeming disintegration of his relationship with God. In the next three speeches he moves on to the broader issues the debate has raised. In combating the charges made against God, he references Job’s speeches; extending his arguments to their logical conclusion in an attempt to represent God’s perspective and convince Job to adopt a humbler attitude.

After appealing for attention, he offers himself as a suitable mediator to Job in chapter 32:6 in answer to Job’s appeal in chapter 9:33. His qualifications are that:

  1. he is sustained by the same source as Job; a living, breathing creature (33:4)
  2. he believed he had arguments Job may not be able to answer (see 6:24; 13:19) — the suggestion is Job is not ready to meet God at all (33:5)
  3. he is the mediator Job requested and is a creature made of the same clay as Job (33:6)
  4. he is a man; he doesn’t have power to terrify or afflict Job (33:7)

Elihu’s name means “Whose God is He”and his stated aim is to represent God to Job. He wishes to do for Job what Jesus Christ did for the world. He is only a shadow of the Lord, but the essentials are there — one of our race explaining God’s character, righteousness and grace towards men. In chapter 33:15-30 Elihu touches on how God communicates with man by revelation (vv15-18), by suffering (vv19- 22) and by a mediator (vv23-30). Here he expands on the qualities and role of a mediator in a remarkable foreshadowing of the work of Jesus Christ.

Continuing his speech in chapter 33, Elihu states that God’s purpose in communicating to men by His messenger is:

  1. To impart instruction to men and divert them away from their own works and pride (vv16-17)
  2. To save man’s life from the consequence of his ways (vv18,22,24,28,30)
  3. To chasten and school him (v19)
  4. To reveal His righteousness to men (v23)
  5. To reveal to man His way of atonement (v24)
  6. To give prayer meaning (v26)
  7. To provide the opportunity for repentance and forgiveness (v27)
  8. To give a basis on which to impute righteousness to man (v26)
  9. To open the way for resurrection (v30)

This is done by God for the benefit of man, so man will ultimately be raised from the dead and be “enlightened with the light of life” (33:30 RV ) — to be made immortal!

Elihu is at pains to emphasise the issue of pride and the need for man to humble himself before his maker. He clearly highlights pride as the issue Job needed to confront; an analysis supported by God (38:11; 40:11-24; 41:15,34). The key occurrences of these themes are:

  1. Chapter 33:16-18 – Job has confidence in his own ‘purpose’ (AV mg ‘work’ – i.e. Job’s self-righteousness) and honour.
  2. Chapter 34:31-32 – suffering is to teach us about ourselves and what God wants from us; the implication is that Job should have adopted a humbler attitude and asked God for help to learn from his chastening.
  3. Chapter 35:9-13 – the attitude we approach God in, not the volume of words we speak, is most important. Men cry to God in bad times but forget Him in the good; God doesn’t hear them because their motivation is selfishness and pride, not a desire to respond to Him.
  4. Chapter 36:5-15 – God watches over the righteous and causes them to suffer when they sin. Through their suffering He explains what they have done wrong, points out their rebellion and pride so they can open their ears and turn back from their pride. The humble are delivered and educated through their suffering. Pride and resentment towards God are stripped away, ears are unstopped and God is able to work with them.
  5. Chapter 37:23-24 – while God is so far above us we can’t understand Him, He doesn’t err in judgement and takes no pleasure in suffering. Wise men reverence Him because He has no respect for anyone who is wise in their own eyes (RSV “conceit”).

Elihu was successful in reframing the debate, turning the argument from whether or not Job was righteous to the fact God IS righteous. In his speeches, Elihu’s intention was to help Job expand his mind and moderate his attitude by emphasising that God has always been with him and was speaking to him through his sufferings. He also puts heavy emphasis on the fact that God is in control of everything — even when we don’t understand what is happening to us.

Elihu’s speeches bridge the great gulf Job had created between himself and God. He is a true mediator representing God’s character to Job and preparing the way for God’s appearing by alluding to the breadth of God’s workings and His righteousness. Job is silent before Elihu’s words, realising that he is beginning to understand God’s character and purpose in a way he had not previously considered. As a result, Job began to humble himself and modify his attitude towards God, before the interview he had so earnestly desired descended upon him from the north in the form of a cherubim riding on a whirlwind.