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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Job 32

 

 

Verses 1-22

The Speech of Elihu.
I.

Job 32

This is the beginning of Elihu"s declaration. It is quite a new voice. We have heard nothing like this before. So startling indeed is the tone of Elihu that some have questioned whether his speech really forms part of the original poem, or has been added by some later hand. We deal with it as we find it here. It is none the less welcome to us that it is a young voice, fresh, charmful, bold, full of vitality, not wanting in the loftier music that is moral, solemn, deeply religious. It appears, too, to be an impartial voice; for Elihu says—I am no party to this controversy: Job has not said anything to me or against me, therefore, I come into the conference wholly unprejudiced: but I am bound to show my opinion: I do not speak spontaneously; I am forced to this; I cannot allow the occasion to end, though the words have been so many and the arguments so vain, without also showing what I think about the whole matter. Such a speaker is welcome. Earnest men always refresh any controversy into which they enter: and young men must speak out boldly, with characteristic freshness of thought and word; they ought to be listened to; religious questions are of infinite importance to them: sometimes they learn from their blunders; there are occasions upon which self-correction is the very best tutor. It is well for us to know what men are thinking. It is useless to be speaking to thoughts that do not exist, to inquiries that really do not excite the solicitude of men. Better know, straightly and frankly, what men are thinking about, and what they want to be at, and address oneself to their immediate pain and necessity. Elihu will help us in this direction.

"Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu... against Job was his wrath kindled.... Also against his three friends was his wrath kindled" ( Job 32:2-3).

Elihu is full of wrath. This is right. Wrath ought to have some place in the controversies of men. We cannot always be frivolous, or even clever and agile in the use of words, in the fencing of arguments; there must be some man amongst us whose anger can burn like an oven, and who will draw us away from frivolity, and fix our minds upon vital points. "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath "; "Be ye angry, and sin not." There is a holy anger. What can make men so wrathful as to hear preachers, leaders, teachers, writers giving the wrong answers to the burning questions of the time? We shall have more hope of the Church when men become more wrathful about the words that are spoken to them. The pulpit will respond to the impatience of the heart when it will not follow the lead of the arbitrary intellect. Who can sit still and hear men"s deepest questions treated lightly? Here it is that wrath comes to fulfil its proper function. It will not ask little questions, it will not be content with superficial replies; it says in effect, You do not understand the disease; you are crying Peace, peace; when there is no peace, or you are daubing the wall with untempered mortar: silence! ye teachers of vanity and followers of the wind. Anything is better in the Church than mere assent, indifference, neglect, intellectual passivity, the sort of feeling that has no feeling, mere decency of exterior, and a cultivation of patience which is only anxious to reach the conclusion. Let us have debate, controversy, exchange of opinion, vital, sympathetic conference one with another; then we shall know the true meaning, and the real depth and urgency of human want, and be sent back to find solid and living answers to the great cries of the soul.

Job 32

How courteously the young man dismisses the old form of teaching.

"I am young, and ye are very old; wherefore I was afraid, and durst not shew you mine opinion. I said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom" ( Job 32:6-7).

The old might be dismissed with some dignity. A time does come in human teaching when we pass from one set of teachers to another; but in passing to the higher range of teachers we need not be uncivil to the men who have told us all they knew, and who have brought their religious knowledge up to date. We cannot live in tomorrow; we cannot now speak the language that will be spoken in the Church fifty years hence: all we can do is to make one another welcome to our present acquisitions, and our present information, and our present sympathy. We do not claim finality for these things; we say in effect, This is all we know today: if we knew more, we would speak more; but knowing only this, we have only this to tell. Why sneer at the old theologians? They worked much harder than many work who are endeavouring to bring them into contempt. Why smile with a species of patient complacence upon the long-laboured theological treatises of the men of the seventeenth century? If they lived now they would speak the language of the day, they would adapt themselves to the methods of the day; but they did all that in their power lay, and really if we are going to leave them, what if we show some sign of civility, courtesy, indebtedness, thanking the men who went so far and saying to them, You would have gone farther if you could: in God"s name we bless you, for you have done all that lay in your power? This is not the way with men. The old preacher is often turned off uncivilly; he is said to be out of date, not to be abreast with the times, to have fallen astern; he has had his day, and he must be content to sit down. That is rough talk; that is uncourteous treatment. You would hardly treat a horse Song of Solomon , that had won many a race or served the family many a year: you would find some kind of suitable pasture for the dumb beast; you would remember how fiery and capable he once was, and would not deny him what is appropriate for his old age. Let us be thankful to our teachers who have spoken earnestly all they knew, and hail the young and new teachers with enthusiasm, only withholding our confidence until they have established their claim to it.

Elihu takes solid ground when he says:

"There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding" ( Job 32:8).

Inspired instinct is greater and trustier than cultivated intellect Let nature speak. Let all that is deepest in you have full expression. We so often talk up through the burden of our information, acquisition, attainment of any and every kind. We are kept back by the very fact that we may possibly be offending something that is written in the books. We more frequently go by the book than by the soul. By "the book" we do not mean the Book of Revelation , but the Prayer of Manasseh -made book; the traditional system, doctrine, or thought; the scientific form: we are afraid lest we should offend there; and so inspired instinct has not fair play in this great process of spiritual education. If our instinct, being inspired, had fair, free, ample utterance, it would put an end to many a wordy fray. What does inspired instinct declare? Hearing men arguing grammatically about salvation, settling doctrine upon mere grammatical accuracy, building churches upon declensions of substantives or conjugations of verbs, inspired instinct says, My Father"s house shall be called a house of prayer, and ye have made it a den of pedants. Inspired instinct says, with a warmth that is itself argumentative, It cannot be that God has fixed the eternal destiny of men upon niceties of grammar. Are then such niceties to be despised? Certainly not. Is the letter of no consequence? The letter is of great consequence: it has its place, a large and most useful place; but it is not to that suggestion that inspired instinct makes reply, it is to the suggestion that unless you are a grammarian you cannot be a penitent, unless you can parse a sentence you cannot receive a gospel. Elihu was right in urging this view of the case, and in urging it he did not for a moment dispossess the grammarian of his proper position as a teacher and guide: rather he would say to him, We are obliged to you for what you have done, but the Bible is within the Bible, the truth is within the words of its expression, the thing signified is within the sign, or is beyond the sign, and under all circumstances is greater than the sign. The soul must answer in great vital controversies, in which eternity is involved. Inspired instinct says right boldly, as a mother might say it when her holiest anger is flaming,—God cannot have chosen to save a few men, and let the others go to perdition. In vain to quote to inspired instinct chapters and verses, which some grammarians have settled in one way and other grammarians have settled in another way: the soul puts them all aside, and thinks of God, the eternal, the loving, the all-creating; the God who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to save it; and when the soul Isaiah , wrought up into that fine mood of divinest sympathy, it is simply in vain that you tell it that God has chosen a few men here and a few men there out of whom to make his invisible and triumphant Church, and all the rest are doomed to eternal fire. Inspired men who allow their souls fair play say, Whatever difficulties there may be in the grammar of this matter, there is something deeper than etymology, syntax, and prosody, "there is a spirit in Prayer of Manasseh ," and although that spirit may not be eloquent in the use of theological phrases, yet it says to all such suggestions, That cannot be: God is love: he has no pleasure in the death of the sinner; his perpetual cry Isaiah , Turn ye! turn ye! why will ye die?—and inspired instinct continues, I know there are hard-looking texts, but you must have misunderstood them: you are trying to open the lock with the wrong key; you are using violence instead of ingenuity; you have forced your theology; you have not grown it like a plant in the garden of God. Inspired instinct cannot maintain all this in words; it has a kind of motherly way of saying, You may beat me in argument, but you are wrong in theory; your words are very ponderous and pompous, but somewhere and somehow I feel you are wrong if you damn a single human creature, and charge the damnation upon the sovereignty of God. So there is a place for the young voice, the impartial voice, the wrathful spirit, the inspired instinct: let us hear them all, and consider well what they have to say. The processes of an argument may themselves be sound, but the result may be a moral error. The syllogism may be absolutely without flaw or fault; men may stand before it and say, Yes, that is logic; the three members hang together, and cannot be dissociated. So they do; but the premises are wrong. Granting the premises, the syllogistic form is right, complete, unanswerable: but the thing assumed is a lie, therefore the conclusion is a blasphemy. Our assault, therefore, must be made not upon a form but upon a false assumption; not upon something that cannot be challenged, but upon that underlying fallacy which the soul alone can detect, in its highest movements, in its sublimest affections and ecstasies.

There is no reason why the listener, the Song of Solomon -called layman, should not have his word, when all the professional preachers, and advisers, and comforters have finished the empty nothing they had to say. We must: have the truth from some quarter. "Behold, I waited for your words; I gave ear to your reasons, whilst ye searched out what to say" ( Job 32:11.)—and now I can bear it no longer. Let the pew speak when the pulpit cannot handle the occasion. This truth we must establish, that somebody must tell us really what God means in his communications with the human race. A man does not necessarily know what God means because he happens to stand on an eminent place in the church, as for example, a pulpit, or a platform, or within the shadow of the holy altar. We must know what right he has to be there by the speech he makes. What is it? Does it touch the reality of the case? Is he coming into the holiest places of the heart, and discussing the most solemn questions of life? Does he bring with him burning oil or healing balm? Does he speak in the tone of experience, or in the tone of mere adventure and conjecture? When it is ascertained that he has not given the right answer to a multitude of men gathered around him, somebody ought to stand up and say, The wrong answer has been given; the right answer is this—. Then let us hear it, consider it, and form an estimate of its value. Who told the laymen of the Church that they had no right to speak? Who imposed silence upon listeners beyond a given point? Where is the infallibility of official speech? Men who sit in pews and keep up churches, and are yet sure that the right word is not spoken, ought, by speech or by writing, by conversation or by open declaration, to tell us what the mistake Isaiah , and to express in unequivocal language what it is that is tearing their souls and beclouding all their prospects. An earnest listener will make an earnest preacher, or the preacher must sit down and let the earnest listener speak out of his soul, however incorrectly as to words, and tell us what human nature feels, and needs, and longs for, with supreme desire.

A time is coming when the old way of putting things must give way to some new method. But if the old are not always wise, the young are not always complete. We live in a time of doctrinal change. There is now an opportunity for an Elihu whose wrath is divinely kindled to make the great progress in attempting the higher education of the soul. Elihu must come; when he does come he will be killed: but another Elihu must take his place, and go forward with the work until the enemy is tired of blood, and lets the last Elihu have a hearing. We may change forms without changing substances. Personally I do not know one grand fact in the evangelical faith that needs to be changed at all, unless it be in the mere method of stating it. I feel more and more that all the evangelical faith is right. Many criticisms are passed upon it; many a rough handling it has to undergo; many an outwork has been taken; many a sentinel has been surprised and shot: but within it is pure as the love of God, large as the pity of heaven, responsive as the bosom of a mother to the cry of a helpless child. Let us allow that new methods of stating old truths are perfectly legitimate. Let us not condemn a man who resorts to novel expressions, if he does not injure the substance of the thing which he intends to reveal.

Take, for example, the doctrine of Prayer. The doctrine of prayer has been mocked, or misunderstood, or imperfectly stated. Every man must state this doctrine for himself. Only the individual man knows what he means by prayer. There is no generic and final definition which can be shut up within the scope of a lexicon. Who can define prayer once for all? Only the Almighty. Every suppliant knows what he means when he prays to his Father in heaven. He must not be overloaded with other men"s definitions; they will only burden his prayer; they will only stifle the music of his supplication. Each soul knows what it means by living, earnest, fervent prayer. What mockery has been poured upon the doctrine of praying to God for help! Suppose we say, Prayer is good in cases of sickness, but it stops short at surgery. What a wonderful thing to say! wonderful because of its emptiness and vanity. Yet how inclined we are to smile when we are told that prayer is exceedingly good in the removal of nervous or imaginary diseases, but prayer always stops short at surgery; prayer never prayed a man"s limb back again to him when he had once lost it As well say, Nursing is very good, but it always stop short at death. So it does; so it must. As well say, Reaping is very good, but reaping always stops short at winter. That is true, and that is right "That which is lacking cannot be numbered." Law must have some reasonableness, or it ceases to be law: when it loses its reasonableness it loses its dignity and the power of getting hold upon the general judgment and the personal trust of men. Even miracles themselves might be played with, turned into commonplaces, debased into familiarities utterly valueless. Prayer may and does stop short at surgery, but love itself has a point at which it stops short; the living air has a point at which it falls back, so to speak, helplessly; all the ministries of nature stop short at assignable points, saying that without assent and consent and co-operation on the other side no miracle can be done. In all these cases consider reasonableness and law, and the necessity of boundary and fixture in the education and culture of mankind. Then, again, others would deprive prayer of what many have considered to be an essential feature. In order to maintain what doctrine of prayer they may have, they are only too glad to eliminate it of the element of petition. They are not unwilling to have aspiration, a species of poetical communion with the Invisible, but they would complete a great work of eradication in the direction of request, petition, solicitation; they would dismiss the beggar from the altar, and admit only the poetic contemplatist, or the spiritual enthusiast, or the mystic communicant. For this we see no reason. We hold to the old doctrine of "Ask, and ye shall receive: ye have not because ye ask not: if any man lack Wisdom of Solomon , let him ask of God." That there may be abuses in the direction of solicitation is obvious; but we must never give up the reality because it can be abused. What is there that cannot be abused? Not art, not eloquence, not beauty, not truth itself—for even truth may be pressed into unholy alliances, and may sometimes be used as a handle to force the way of a lie. There may, indeed, be a debased use of asking or supplication; it may be so used as to express nothing but spiritual selfishness—a kind of miserliness or covetousness of heart: but is it not overlooked that in relation to the Infinite and the Eternal, man"s very position is one of dependence and need? If he never spoke a word the very limit of his life would be the beginning of his prayer. Men are not to ask for trifles; they are not to ask that the laws of the universe may be changed for their personal convenience: they are to remember that they are parts of a stupendous whole, atoms in an infinitely complex economy; and after having asked all they can imagine, they are to conclude the long continued supplication with the sweet, holy words—"Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done."

It is asked, Do we continually supplicate those whom we love to give us something? I answer, Yes, we do: the very love is a prayer, and it cannot be other. That this prayer can be made selfish, narrow, little, unworthy, petty, is obvious enough; but because it can be debased it is not therefore non-existent. Two men who love one another cannot walk together without asking something from each other; and they are always getting it: a glow of love creates a reciprocal action as between man and man; there may be no begging for money, for jewellery, or trifles: but there is a deeper desire, a longing for communion, a longing for trust, a longing for assurance that there is no secret kept from the other, but that they stand in a common brotherhood and in a common love. This is only partially analogical; no illustration even can cover the whole scope of the doctrine, but the philosophy of it would seem to be this: that to be finite is to be in necessity; to sustain a conscious relation to the Infinite is by that very relation to be continually asking the Infinite—if not in terms of interrogation or demand, yet in spirit—to complete the incomplete, and to give what is needful to make life a utility and a joy. Be assured that asking can be debased. Let us not shrink from confessing such to be the fact. God will not be made use of in that way; the heavens will not be turned into mere conveniences for the gratification of our vanity or the satisfaction of our petty necessities, which we ought to bear with fortitude, and confidence in the good government of God. But—this is our contention—when all that is allowed; there remains the necessary fact that to live is to need, to breathe is to pray, to continue from day to day in activity is to continue to receive grace, energy, succour, from him who is the fountain of energy and the spring of all solace. Whilst, therefore, the doctrine of prayer is open to certain flippant objections and petty criticisms, and whilst those who pray are open to mockery because they ask for little things or self-gratifications, all these faults, many as they may be, and serious as in some cases they are, do not interfere with the fact that we must need because we are finite, and we must ask because we need. If a man once get into his head that he must not ask, and ask minutely and daily and continuously, he blocks himself out from one of the holiest enjoyments possible to religious life. But when he has asked all, he has to repeat the prayer already quoted. I do not see why men should not often ask things that are apparently little and trivial, if they do so in the right spirit. But having urged all their requests they are to say, Father, hear my ignorance, listen to my poor weakness: I have told thee frankly all I want, thou must judge; thy No will be as gracious as thy Yes; thou art good, supremely good; good when thou givest, nor less when thou deniest: not my will, but thine, be done: yet I thought, being a creature of thine, a poor little wanderer in this great universe, I would whisper to thee all I want, I would be frank with thee, and say I want a fine day, I want a special favour, I want to be assisted through a particular difficulty, I want—I want—I want—Now I have emptied my heart at thy throne, not my will, but thine, be done. Inspired instinct will confirm that when criticism and sneering have done their little worst, and are forgotten in the angry contempt and holy solicitude of mankind.

Note

Elihu ("God-Jehovah"), one of Job"s friends, described as "the son of Barachel, a Buzite, of the kindred of Ram" ( Job 32:2). This is usually understood to imply that he was descended from Buz, the son of Abraham"s brother Nahor, from whose family the city called Buz ( Jeremiah 25:23) also took its name. The Chaldee paraphrase asserts Elihu to have been a relation of Abraham. Elihu"s name does not appear among those friends who came in the first instance to condole with Job , nor is his presence indicated till the debate between the afflicted man and his three friends had been brought to a conclusion. Then, finding there was no answer to Job"s last speech, he comes forward with considerable modesty, which he loses as he proceeds to remark on the debate, and to deliver his own opinion on the points at issue. It appears from the manner in which Elihu introduces himself, that he was by much the youngest of the party; and it is evident that he had been present from the commencement of the discussion, to which he had paid very close attention. This would suggest that the debate between Job and his friends was carried on in the presence of a deeply interested auditory, among which was this Elihu, who could not forbear from interfering when the controversy appeared to have reached an unsatisfactory conclusion.—Kitto"s Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature,

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 32:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/job-32.html. 1885-95.

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