IN JOB 34, AT FIRST BLUSH ELIHU seems to be repeating the arguments of the three “comforters.” He summarizes Job’s argument (Job 34:5-9): Job says that he is guiltless, that he has done no wrong, and that God denies him justice. The implication is that there is no advantage, no “profit,” in trying to please God (Job 34:9). At this point Elihu sides with Job’s three interlocutors. “Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong” (Job 34:10), Elihu insists; and again, “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice” (Job 34:12).
The following verses pile up more arguments along the same lines, and for a while it appears that Elihu will tumble into the same traps of reductionistic merit theology that devoured those he is rebuking. But then he adds an element that once again puts his speech in a framework a little different from theirs. Elihu leaves place for mystery. While he insists that God is utterly just, he does not conclude, as the three “comforters” do, that this means every case of suffering must be the direct result of God’s just punishment. Elihu can ask, “But if [God] remains silent, who can condemn him? If he hides his face, who can see him?” (Job 34:29). While Job flirts with the idea that God’s silence opens him to a charge of unfairness, Elihu assumes God’s justice, even if he (Elihu) does not draw out the inferences followed by the three miserable comforters. Elihu allows room for mystery, for divine silence that is nevertheless just silence.
Parts of Elihu’s speech are hard to take. But in the framework of the book of Job, two factors stand out. First, when God finally responds, Job is corrected (as we shall see), and the three “miserable comforters” are roundly rebuked because, God says, they “have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7)—but no charge at all is laid against Elihu. That may reflect the fact that he is a bit player; but it also reflects the fact that his basic stance is right, even if the tone is a tad self-righteous. Second, in his hinted suggestions that there may be in God mysterious realties and hidden reasons to which we do not have access, Elihu anticipates some of God’s own arguments when he speaks out of the storm in the closing chapters of the book (chaps. 38-41).
Biblical revelation provides us with many things to understand, some of which will require a lifetime of learning. But it also reminds us that God has not disclosed everything (Deut. 29:29). At some point God demands our trust and obedience, not merely our evaluation and understanding.