The Pulpit Commentary

Job 32:1-22 (Job 32:1-22)

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Job 32:6-22 (Job 32:6-22)

The speech of Elihu now begins. In the present chapter, after a short apologetic exordium, excusing his youth ( Job 32:6-9 ), he addresses himself exclusively to Job's friends. He has listened attentively to them, and weighed their words (verses 11, 12). but has found nothing in them that confuted Job. They had not "found wisdom"—they had not "vanquished Job"—at the last they had been "amazed, and had not had a word more to say" (verses 13-16). Elihu, therefore, will supply their deficiency; he has kept silence with difficulty, and is full of thoughts, to which he would fain give utterance (verses 17-20). In all that he says he will show no favouritism—he will "accept no man's-person," "give no flattering titles," but express sincerely what he believes (verses 21, 22).

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Job 32:7 (Job 32:7)

I said ; i.e. "I kept saying to myself, when the desire to interrupt came upon me." Days should speak . Age should give wisdom, and the speech of the old should be most worthy of being attended to. Elihu had been brought up in this conviction, and therefore refrained himself. And multitude of years should teach wisdom . "Old experience should attain to something of prophetic strain." "One ought to give attention," says Aristotle, "to the mere unproved assertions of wise and aged men, as much as to the actual demonstrations of others" ('Eth. Nit.,' Job 6:11 , ad fin . comp. also Job 10:12 ; Job 15:10 ; Proverbs 16:31 ).

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Job 32:6-22 (Job 32:6-22)

The apology of Elihu.

I. THE REASONS OF HIS PREVIOUS RETICENCE . Elihu had been an earnest listener to the controversy Job waged with his three friends, "waiting for Job with words" (verse 4), i.e. eager to pour out in speech the arguments that trembled on his lips; and now he declares that two things had restrained him from joining earlier in the discussion.

1 . A modest respect for their superior age. He was but a young man (literally, "few of years"), while they were very old. Their venerable aspect had inspired him with such awe that he feared to utter his opinion in their presence. Young men in modern times are not always so deferential towards their elders. But seniores priores is a maxim which should be of universal application. While it is at all times unbecoming and impertinent for a youth to interrupt or precede an elder in conversation, it is a special mark of rudeness in religious discussion for an inexperienced Boy to "show his opinion" before men of mature years have delivered theirs. Jesus, at the age of twelve, among the doctors in the temple, was not delivering his convictions, but "hearing and asking them questions."

2 . A lofty esteem for their superior knowledge. He considered that old age, with its rich experience, should have had wise and weighty thoughts immeasurably more worthy of being listened to than any crude sentiments and immature judgments that he could utter. A young man who thus accurately gauges the relative importance of the wisdom of age and the "opinions" of youth is a rare phenomenon. It is characteristic of youth, though born like a wild ass's colt, to fancy itself as wise as Solomon. For the most part, the education of a lifetime is required to enable any one to gather successfully the ripe fruits of wisdom; and even then, the wisdom one gathers is chiefly this, that what one knows is as nothing in comparison to that of which one is ignorant. Occasional examples may be found of amazing talent, immense learning, extraordinary genius, in youth; but ripe wisdom, i.e. carefully verified, well-digested, skilfully arranged knowledge, is preeminently the property of age.

II. THE MOTIVES FOR HIS PRESENT INTERFERENCE . In justification of his behaviour, he offers the following considerations.

1 . That true wisdom in its ultimate analysis is an inspiration of Heaven. "Truly it is the spirit in man [literally, 'weak, feeble, mortal man'], and the breath of Shaddai that giveth them [ i.e. man collectively] understanding" (verse 8). That is to say, human life in all its departments—physical, intellectual, spiritual—is not an evolution or development from dead matter, but is the creation of God's Spirit ( Genesis 2:7 ). It is the breath of the Almighty that sustains the thinking principle in man no less than the principle of purely animal existence. Hence wild, m, spiritual insight, intellectual penetration, religious understanding, has its origin rather from within than from without. It is dependent not so much (it at all) upon accidental circumstances, such as age, capacity, opportunity, as upon the quickening influence of the vitalizing and enlightening Spirit. Nay, it demonstrates the possibility of a supernatural communication of wisdom to whomsoever Shaddai wills, and upon whatsoever theme he may please. It proves that no man can justly, or without presumption, claim a monopoly of wisdom. The doctrine of Elihu, that all intelligence in man, and much more all spiritual understanding, proceeds from a Divine afflatus which breatheth when, where, and how it wills, was the doctrine of Pharaoh ( Genesis 41:38 ), of Moses ( Exodus 31:3 ), of Nehemiah ( Nehemiah 9:20 ), of Isaiah ( Isaiah 11:2 ), of Christ ( John 16:13 ), of St. Paul ( 1 Corinthians 2:10 ), and of St. John ( 1 John 2:20 ).

2 . That true wisdom is not necessarily the property of age. "Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment" (verse 9). This was an advance upon the previous thought. Not only was wisdom not the property of age alone; the discourses to which he had listened had painfully convinced him it was not necessarily a characteristic of age at all. This witness is true. If juvenile witlings abound among all ranks and classes of society, there is unfortunately no lack of aged dullards. Partly through lack of capacity, partly from defective education, partly from long-continued negligence, many come to old age without acquiring wisdom ( Job 4:21 ), and sometimes without possessing common sense. It is not, therefore, wrong for young men of piety and culture to offer to instruct these persons in Divine truth or secular information; only even to such as these it becomes young men to manifest the courtesy and deference that are always due to age.

3 . That in particular the old men before him had not displayed a high degree of wisdom. He had hearkened to their "understandings," i.e. their explanations of the subject-matter in dispute, and had carefully examined the replies with which they had endeavoured to convince and silence Job; but in no single instance had they fairly combated his position. It was not reasonable to say, "Lo! we have found out wisdom," and here it is: "God thrusteth him down, not man," so that from this his punishment we infer his guilt (verse 13); because that was exactly the point at issue throughout the entire course of the discussion. Nor, again, was it reasonable to assert that their dogma was the absolute wisdom, though Job was of so obstinate a temper that only God could convince him, since obviously man could not. That, again, was to beg the question entirely; and, in default of argument, to abuse the plaintiff's attorney. Job's words must be fairly and honestly controverted. But these old preachers did not understand the business. A well-known interpretation of verse 13 makes Elihu say that only God could overthrow Job, while he really means that only such uncommon genius as he (Elihu) possessed could vanquish a disputant so obstinate as Job (Umbreit); but this is putting the worst construction possible on language which may legitimately signify that in Elihu's judgment Job's position could not be turned by merely human wisdom, but demanded the light of inspiration such as he was about to shed upon the theme.

4 . That the contribution he proposed to offer was entirely fresh and original. The position he intended to occupy was not one against which Job had already directed his attacks; nor had the arguments he designed to use in confutation of the patriarch occurred to any of the friends. The new thoughts Elihu proposed to introduce into the discussion related chiefly to the disciplinary character of affliction; and it is doubtful if such a view of life's tribulations could have occurred to any one apart from Divine revelation. The interpretation which understands Elihu to say that, inasmuch as he had not been personally interested in the debate which Job and the friends had conducted, he was able both to deliver an impartial verdict on the point at issue, and to preserve a more equal temper than they, the friends, had been able to do, though perhaps admissible, is not so forcible or apt.

5 . That the strength of his convictions would no longer admit of his keeping silence. So powerfully had the truth seized upon him, and so long had he endeavoured to restrain it, that now his soul (literally, "his belly," as the seat of spiritual emotions) seemed like a wine-skin on the eve of bursting through the fermentation of the liquor it contained (verses 17-19). So every Heaven-born idea, to whomsoever it is first communicated, irresistibly strives after utterance. For a season the living thought may be kept in abeyance, carefully secluded from the world at large, but ultimately there comes a moment when it asserts its Heaven-granted supremacy over the mind of the man that has received it, and, refusing to be longer concealed, eventually drives that mind to speak forth the God-imparted message. So the Word of the Lord was in Jeremiah's heart as a burning fire shut up in his bones ( Jeremiah 20:9 ). So SS . Peter and John told the Sanhedrin they could not but speak the things which they had seen and heard ( Acts 4:20 ). So St. Paul felt that necessity was laid upon him to preach the gospel ( 1 Corinthians 9:16 ). So Mahomet proclaimed to the rude Arab tribes of a later day the sublime discovery of the unity of God; and Luther could not keep back the truth which God's Spirit had flashed into his soul on Pilate's Staircase, that "the just shall live by faith." So when God gives to any man—prophet, poet, preacher, writer, inventor, discoverer, or man of genius generally, a new idea, it renders him uncomfortable until it has been liberated, brought to the birth, as it were, and sent forth to wander through the world on its Heaven-designed mission. If the possessor of such an idea would have ease and comfort in his soul, he must give it voice. As Elihu says, he must speak in order to be refreshed.

III. THE CHARACTER OF HIS FORTHCOMING UTTERANCE . The two closing verses are by some understood to contain an additional reason for Elihu's interposition, viz. that continued silence would evince such a mean and cowardly deference to merely human authority, that he could not hope to escape punishment for it at the hands of God ('Speaker's Commentary;' Cox); but it seems preferable to view them as setting forth first the principles he intended to observe in his proposed interlocution, and, secondly, the reasons or arguments on which those principles were based (Delitzsch, Carey, Fry, etc.).

1 . The principles he intended to observe. These were:

2 . The reasons he alleged for his intended behaviour. These were extremely creditable to himself.


1. There is a time to speak and a time to keep silence, even in regard to the most sacred matters.

2 . It is a high proof of wisdom to be able to recognize whence all wisdom comes.

3 . It is proper to sift the opinions and doctrines of even the oldest and wisest of men; to prove all things, and hold last that which is good.

4 . It would largely contribute to the world's happiness if those who undertook to teach others never spoke until they were impelled by the force of inward conviction.

5 . The men who move the world are those whose souls are illumined and inflamed by the light and fire of great ideas.

6 . One of the greatest pleasures a human soul can enjoy on earth is that of propounding and diffusing new and lofty thoughts.

7 . Sincerity of mind and heart is an indispensable qualification for the teacher whom God employs.

8 . Want of fidelity to the truth and to those who hear is one of the greatest crimes a preacher can commit.

9 . God despises and will punish those who yield to fear or favour.

10. God can easily remove those who are unfaithful to the trust they have received.

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Job 32:1-22 (Job 32:1-22)

The voice of juvenile self-confidence.

We now approach the solution of the mystery, the untying of the knot, the end of the controversy. Job's three friends have failed to convince Job that he is suffering the wellmented consequences of evil-doing; and he has failed to convince them of his integrity. Now a younger friend speaks with kindled wrath because the three friends "had found no answer." He speaks with the undue confidence of youth; but he weaves many words of truth and wisdom into his speech, from which we may gather some for our guidance. With some hesitation, and a complimentary reference to the claims of age, Elihu nevertheless reveals the impatient self-confidence of youth. Even though truth may be on its side, youthful self-confidence is an error. The error manifests itself here as so often elsewhere—

I. IN AN UNDUE ASSUMPTION OF EQUALITY WITH AGE , The "spirit" that is "in man" and "the inspiration of the Almighty," is assumed to give them "understanding" equally. At least Elihu puts himself on their level, though he afterwards affirms their inferiority.

II. IN A DESPISAL OF THE TEACHINGS OF AGE . So the young lips are ready to affirm, "Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment."

III. IN AN UNWARRANTED SELF - CONFIDENCE . How ready is youth to give its judgment! "I also will show mine opinion."

IV. IN AN EAGERNESS TO GIVE EXPRESSION TO OPINIONS . "I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me," etc.

V. IN A PRESUMPTION OF FREEDOM FROM PREJUDICE . "I know not to give flattering titles." Thus speaks youth in a confidence which is so often the effect of ignorance and inexperience. The true attitude for youth is

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