Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Who Is Elihu?

Biblegms #24
But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he. So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said: “I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know (Job 32:2-6).

In the book of Job there is in chapter thirty-two a sudden and jarring introduction to the reader of a man named Elihu, who has apparently been on the scene the whole time with Job and his three other friends. The question is, who is this man Elihu, and why was he never introduced with the others?

In modern day literature it is considered a major gaff to have a character in a story seemingly appear out of nowhere, especially when that character is presented as having been on the scene for some time. A couple of things need to be kept in mind here, however. One, if Job were a modern work of fiction, then this criticism would certainly be legitimate. But Job is neither modern nor fictional1. And even if it were fictional, modern rules of story construction did not apply in ancient Israel.

Second, the book of Job does adhere to ancient Near Eastern forms of literature, and contains several literary types, including poetry, Wisdom literature style, prose, history and others. Chapter 32:1-5, where Elihu is first encountered, is actually an intentional break from dialogue with a Hebrew poetic style. This was used to alert the reader that a change in content was about to take place.2 It might be loosely compared to the literary device often used in modern fiction where a space of several lines between paragraphs indicates a change in scene is about to take place. That poetic style is lost, for the most part, in translation.

As to why Elihu was never introduced with the other “counselors” at the beginning, the answer lies in the text itself. Verse six quotes Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite as saying “…I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know.” In Job’s day the community elders, as distinguished by age—not title—were treated with great respect and deference.

Not only so, but until a Hebrew male reached the age of thirty he was not considered mature enough to speak with authority, particularly in the presence of elders. In fact, his presence among elders would not even be recognized unless something drew attention to him—as was the case here—where he offered his un-asked for opinion. Elihu, by admitting his youth, draws attention to the fact that under normal circumstances his presence would not even be acknowledged.

1 Intorduction to The Old Testament, R. K. Harrison. Eerdmans pub, 1969. pg. 1032
2 Ibid, pg. 1030


  1. Does God not mention Elihu in the last chapter for the same reason that the author did not mention him (because he was too young to be worth mentioning)?

    1. Perhaps He was not angry with Elihu because he stuck up for God instead of saying Job must have sinned.

  2. Cynthia writes:

    I appreciate your Biblegems and the opportunity to "dig deeper" into scripture.

    I puzzle a lot about how to be a good steward and know that I am not alone in that. It is not that I could not buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks — but knowing that that money is a day's income for many people in the world makes that a difficult decision. We all do have a selfish nature, yet some natural enjoyment is likely permitted. So many Christians do live comfortably, and much of the world is hungry.

    Could you suggest some scripture or principles that I could study - or perhaps address in Biblegems — on how we who have been blessed can best be good stewards?