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Job 32 opens to an eerie silence. Job’s three friends had been silenced, frustrated at their inability to get a confession from him. Job himself had ended his words, having delivered every defence he could, now determined to hear from God. The silence was deafening.

Chapter 32 introduces us to a yet unmentioned character. This man, Elihu, had sat in silence as the conversation between Job and his friends had unfolded. He had grown increasingly irked by the three counsellors’ inability to draw a confession from Job and even more irked by Job’s honest wrestling with God. He had grown angrier and angrier. Now, with silence hovering in the air, he could contain himself no longer. He simply must speak, and he would deliver the longest and most passionate of the speeches in the book, spanning chapters 32–37. We will consider his speech, as we have each of the others, in a single sitting.

Of all Job’s friends, Elihu came closest to the truth. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had straightforward theology: Job was suffering because he was sinner. Elihu was unconvinced. The three counsellors believed that suffering served a single purpose: punishment for sin. Elihu had a more nuanced view of suffering, realising that suffering sometimes keeps us from sin (33:18, 24) or moves us toward holiness (36:1–15).

Elihu got a lot of things right, but ultimately his correctness proved helpless to Job. We will consider some of the reasons for that in a moment, but first consider, in very brief summary, his sound defence of God’s character.

Elihu believed, first, that God is gracious (chapter 33). He had obviously listened carefully to the speeches that went before him, for he quoted (and sometimes misquoted) them at several points throughout his discourse. In chapter 33, he recalled Job’s claim to sinlessness (or his perception of Job’s claim to sinlessness) (33:9) and his complaint that God was unjustly treating him like an enemy (33:10–11). This, he believed, was a horrible misrepresentation of God’s character. God was far more gracious than Job gave him credit for. God spoke to his people and gave them opportunity to respond rightly to him. Job had no right to malign God’s grace.

Second, Elihu affirmed that God is just (chapters 34–35). It disturbed him greatly that Job would dare to suggest that there might be injustice with God. If God was not just, he would not be God (34:10–15). If God was not just, there could be no justice among men (34:16–20). If God was not just, he was blind to injustice in the world (34:21–30). Job needed to be done with his foolish talk and confess that God was, indeed, just.

Third, Elihu confessed that God is great (chapter 36–37). Job had undermined God’s greatness by calling into question his graciousness and justice. God clearly displayed his greatness in his mercy toward humanity (36:1–25) and in his marvels in nature (36:26–37:13). If Job could not see the greatness of God in these ways, he evidently knew far less than he professed to know. Even if he could not fully understand God’s ways, he must confess God’s greatness and understand that God does not afflict without purpose.

As I have said, for all the truth that he spoke, Elihu appears to have benefited Job absolutely nothing. Job did not thank him. Job did not respond to him. Job did not even acknowledge any of the wonderful theology that the young man exhibited. He remained disinterestedly silent. That may sound strange, for we are trained to think that truth is a balm for the wounded soul. But Elihu’s uselessness lay less in what he said and more in how he said it. We see at least two unhelpful attitudes that Elihu adopted as he delivered his theologically conservative speech.

First, Elihu was unhelpfully angry. The narrator tells us four times in five verses that Elihu “burned with anger” (36:1–5). Anger is rarely an admirable disposition when trying to soothe those under the weight of affliction.

Second, Elihu was unhelpfully dogmatic. In 32:6–22, Elihu basically claimed that he had the truth because, in essence, the Spirit had inspired his speech. There was no room for disagreement. Anyone who questioned his wisdom was simply wrong. He showed no humility. He intended to be the teacher with no hope of every being taught.

Anger and arrogant dogmatism are rarely helpful when you are trying to help people. Even if you are right, your tone will come across as disrespectful and, ultimately, unhelpful. People are unlikely to receive help from those who obviously disrespect them.

As you meditate on Job 32–27 this morning, ask God to help you to remain faithful to the truth, but to do so in a humble way so that you can use the truth you believe to help those who are suffering.