Have you noticed that true friendship can be measured by both words and silence? A real friend knows when to talk and when to keep still. As has often been pointed out, Job’s friends showed genuine wisdom in their seven days of silence when they came to share Job’s grief. But once they began to speak, they seemed unable to stop. Much of what they said was obvious. Some of it was even true. When it came to suffering, however, they were as much in the dark as Job. When God finally spoke (see Job 38:1-41:34), He silenced everyone.
Of the four friends who spoke to Job, Elihu came closest to expressing the truth. He encouraged Job to look beyond his circumstances and trust the Lord. We don’t know how Job responded to Elihu, because God spoke right after this young man. Special attention should be given to Elihu’s words because he alone escaped God’s reproof. God ordered the other three friends to repent and apologize to Job (Job 42:7-11). The avalanche of accusations from his friends had backed Job into a corner. Elihu gently tried to point out that Job had overstated his own righteousness (Job 33:7, 8). He repeated Job’s claims of personal virtue (Job 33:9) and his complaints about God’s unfairness (Job 33:10, 11). Then Elihu reminded his elder that God’s relationship with men and women is not mechanical (Job 33:12-18). We worship, obey, love, and understand God within limits. But God always remains beyond our complete understanding. Elihu put it simply, “God is greater than man" (Job 33:12).
After his soft-spoken challenge to Job, Elihu moved to his main point. If a messenger introduced us to God (Job 33:23), he wouldn’t do so in order to give us an opportunity to justify ourselves before Him. The more we see only ourselves, the more likely we are to offer God excuses and explanations. The more we see God’s glory and His perfect righteousness, the more likely we will fall to our knees in silent, shocked repentance. Eventually, this is exactly what happened to Job: “Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth” (Job 40:4).
Elihu gave the “messenger” other titles: “mediator”, “ransom”, someone able to “deliver” (Job 33:23, 24). Elihu wasn’t describing his own role in Job’s situation. He was directing Job’s attention back to God. On the way to the “Pit” (Job 33:22), people need more than words; they need someone who can rescue them. Recognizing our basic unrighteousness doesn’t save us. It simply prepares us to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation. Admitting our sin is an important step towards salvation, but we haven’t arrived until we accept the ransom: Jesus. He is the “one among a thousand” (Job 33:23) who plainly shows us God’s righteousness and gives to us God’s righteousness (Job 33:26).