In Job Chapter 32, a new character enters the scene all of a sudden. Elihu is a fascinating character to me, mysterious and fodder for scholarly speculation. The first time he was mentioned in the Bible was at the beginning of his 6-chapters long speech in Job 32, and the last time he was mentioned in the Bible was when he ended his speech in Chapter 37. I like him a lot – in terms of his theology there are grounds for different takes on it, and I personally am pro-Elihu and I do think that there is sufficient evidence in the book of Job to argue that he played a very significant role in Job‘s story. That though, is a lengthy discourse better saved for another verse. In this verse we’re not going to talk about his theology, but only about the indisputable fact that he spoke up. Here we’re going to look into youth and how his youth factored in his speech.
At this point in the book of Job, 3 rounds of arguments between Job and each of his three friends had passed, spanning a massive 29 chapters and rendering the trio speechless. Their doctrine collapsed in the face of Job’s righteousness, and they were left confused, angry, and without any arguments left. Elihu, on seeing that the three can no longer speak, stepped in and rebuked not only the three but also Job. For 6 chapters, Elihu went on and on, and when he stopped, Job did not argue against him – God spoke to Job immediately after Elihu’s speech. I mentioned earlier that Elihu‘s last mention in the Bible was when he ended his speech – it is significant to note that when God rebuked the three friends, Elihu was not included. A very low-profile Biblical character whom many often neglect when talking about the book of Job. We know that he is a Buzite of the family of Ram [Job 32:2], we know that he is young, we know that he is a friend of Job, close enough to travel to him in his time of suffering. From his words we also know that he was a young man of God, not unlike how Job and his three men were familiar with the teachings.
Analysis: Age does not bring wisdom
We are often taught that the old are wise; and it seems like a reliable idea, for we know that even centuries ago age and seniority was associated with wisdom and authority. Elihu was a subscriber of that teaching [Job 32:7]; consulting the elders was a frequent act [1 Kings 12:6] in Jewish culture; and the three friends of Job (and even Job himself) obviously subscribe to this teaching as well – [Job 8:8-9; Job 12:12; Job 15:10] – it was their culture, it was natural to them, and they lived out that teaching strictly.
By speaking up, Elihu had defied that culture. He removed age from the equation – age does not make you wiser than the youth. However, youth certainly doesn’t mean that you are wiser than the old, either. Wisdom comes from an understanding of God‘s precepts, and has nothing to do with age. It comes not from age, but from the Spirit of God. The Psalmist has more understanding than the elders, for he obeys God’s precepts [Psalms 119:100].
Even till today, the general idea that maturity and wisdom comes with age is still present. Why? Is it true? If it is untrue, how can it last through the centuries? In logical thinking, the one thing that older people have over the younger is time, which may mean more life experiences or more time to study God‘s words – the two things that typically lead to greater understanding of God‘s precepts, ie spiritual knowledge. It is not an unfounded perspective, but it is not a guarantee. Younger people may have the opportunity to experience more and study more. Or, they may simply just have the Spirit of God in their hearts, granting them a gift of wisdom.
It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right. The old can be foolish, the young can be wise. Likewise, the young can be foolish, and the old can be wise. When looking for wisdom, look not for the aged, look not for the youthful, but look for those whom the Spirit of God resides. Psalm 111:10 says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
Analysis: Age old ideas
Peter instructs Timothy – Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity [1 Tim 4:12]. The young should take courage, and not be afraid of the old. The old should speak up, but so should the youth. Speak with God‘s wisdom.
I’d like to draw a connection from wisdom to the ideas that have been passed on from generation to generation. Are the ideas that have been held on the longest the truest? The doctrine that Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar held was the traditional belief held by the Jews. It was the general doctrine that everyone knew, accepted, and passed on to their next generation. Time and age does not make a man wise, and likewise, it doesn’t make a doctrine sound. We have to test these ideas against the word of God in accordance to the Spirit. Ideas do not become correct merely because everybody believes in it. Hence, let us always fall back to the scripture in our study and analysis of the doctrine.
While wisdom is not a guarantee in the aged, that does not mean that the young shouldn’t honor or respect them. Elihu honored his elders, despite speaking harshly against them and their words. In explaining that not only the aged who understand what is right, he is ‘apologizing’ in advance for his speaking up against them. This is but just one of the many things we can possibly learn from the fascinating character of Elihu. He’s not perfect, and some will insist that he is arrogant and attempt to find faults in his speech, but he brings to us valuable lessons that few other characters in the Bible can.
I am discussing this from the viewpoint of a 22 year-old, and in the eyes of many I’m probably just a little young fool who don’t really know what I am talking about. I’m inclined to agree with them, if all the knowledge in God’s kingdom is 100%, what I know would be scarcely 0.1%, and I’m probably rounding it up already. Thus, I’m grateful that you read to the end in patience. I’m still learning, desperately learning, but I do realise that there are some experiences that truly only comes with age. Though this is not the main point of today, please, regardless of your age or generation, work together. Honor those who come before you; help those who come after you to gain more understanding, so that they can be wiser. Most humbly, I present to you Psalm 71:18…
Even when I am old and gray,
do not forsake me, O God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
your might to all who are to come.
Thank you and God bless,