The Contribution of the Speeches of Elihu to the Argument about Suffering in the Book of Job

Larry J. Waters Edwin Mellen Pr, Lewiston, NY June 3, 2009

“Elihu refuted the claims of compensation theology [by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar] that presumed that a relationship between God and man was a fixed business contract defining predictable and precise responses from God in reply to a person’s conformity or nonconformity to the stipulations of that contract” (p. 193). This sentence well summarizes Elihu’s position regarding compensation theology or retribution theology—the view that suffering is always punishment for sin. Elihu challenged Job’s three antagonists by opposing this view of suffering. But he also challenged Job for insisting that God’s justice was flawed and that his suffering was undeserved (p. 195). “Elihu presented the proper theological perspective of retribution theology: God acts according to His own criteria” (p. 255).

Elihu responded to Job’s false assertions that God was his enemy and was unfair and unresponsive to his pleadings. Whereas Job judged God, Elihu defended God. He defended His wisdom (Job 32), goodness (chap. 33), justice (chap. 34), care (chap. 35), and power (chaps. 36–37). And Elihu suggested ten purposes for suffering. It can be preventive, corrective, educational, glorificational (bringing glory to God by being faithful), revelational (gaining a deeper understanding of God), organizational (helping prioritize one’s relationship to God), relational (as a stimulus to prayer), judgmental, liberational (delivering the sufferer), declarative (magnifying God’s justice and greatness). Thus it is clear that “suffering allowed by God can be attributed to reasons other than sin and punishment” (p. 269). Thus “in living a life of faith, suffering can be embraced and endured with trust in an all-knowing, loving, and gracious God even when there is no logical or rational reason to do so” (p. 199).

On pages 236–43 Waters includes a lengthy, helpful chart that summarizes Elihu’s views on suffering with other views—the view of the ancient Near East; the view of Satan; the view of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar; Job’s view; and God’s view.

These observations show that the Elihu speeches are an integral part of the Book of Job, in contrast to the view of many critics who say that chapters 32–37 are not an original part of the book and were added later after the other chapters were written. Also Waters’s discussion of Elihu’s four speeches shows that critics are wrong in suggesting Elihu’s view of suffering was no different from that of Job’s three companions.

Waters has made an outstanding contribution to the study of the Book of Job and the subject of undeserved suffering.

—Roy B. Zuck

April 1, 2011

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2011 vol. 168 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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