When we talk about Job's friends, we usually talk about Job's three friends. Even pastors are prone to talk about Job's three friends, the three guys who finally just shut up and stopped trying to talk to him but didn't leave (as we've been seeing this week). But Job had a fourth friend who was also present in his trouble, and it is this fourth friend who really turns the whole thing.
The Scriptures tell us that Elihu, this fourth friend, was the youngest of them all. He waited for his turn to speak, allowing his elders their voice and their wisdom before stepping in with his own. And this gives him an incredible perspective on the whole thing.
We introduced to Elihu really when he finally speaks, all the way in Job 32. He prefaces what he's about to say by acknowledging his youth, acknowledging the eldership of the others and their wisdom, and humbling himself before them all, if only he will be permitted to speak, but this is no meek, timid, fearful character. He burns with a passion, which has only been enhanced by his willingness to sit quietly and take it all in.
He's angry with Job, the Bible tells us, when he begins to speak. He's angry that Job has spent all of this time defending himself and has missed out on the opportunity to defend God. He's angry that Job's voice has more often been spent on his own righteousness than on the righteousness of God. In other words, he's heard the very real, very true things that Job's friends have said about God and has watched Job dismiss them in his own defense, and he's calling Job out for missing it.
He's angry with Job's friends, the Bible tells us, when he begins to speak. He's angry that these three so-called friends have failed to hear what Job has been saying and have refused to take into account what they know about their friend. They are quick to condemn, quick to judge, but they haven't done a whole lot of listening, either. And he's going to set them straight.
As a quiet observer, Elihu has been able to build a profile not just of the situation, but of the dynamic. He's watched long enough to see what's going on and why this conversation is going nowhere. And he's about to wax eloquent on both sides of it.
He speaks as both a witness and a friend, but it's more than that. He speaks also as a lover of God, which is a heart that is glaringly absent from the way that Job's other friends have spoken. Look at the way that he opens the final section of his speech, a section in which he talks about how incredible God is: At this my heart trembles, and it is moved out of its place. In other words, I'm speaking to you out of the depth of my own heart for God; let me never forget that I, too, worship Him.
And when he is done, when Elihu has spoken great wisdom - wisdom far beyond what he thought he was capable of or was going to offer - to the human and the holy in this sacred space, something incredible happens: God Himself speaks.
What Elihu has done in his tender and gentle spirit, even as he has rebuked both Job and his friends, is that he has set the stage for God to speak. He has pressed the pause button on the human impulse and the broken relational dynamic at play here and has created the space in which all parties present are able to hear in a new way. And at the very moment when their ears are finally open, when their justifications and defenses all fall away, when they become infinitely less interested in being heard and are centered on hearing, God speaks.
Yet, you know, Job only had three friends.
Oh, no. It is this fourth, it is this Elihu, who is perhaps the truest friend of all, for he has been and done all of the things that we need in a great friend - he has been patient, he has been present, he has been passionate, he has been purposeful. And it is he who settles things out so that they can be truly lifted up. Oh, that we would all have a friend like Elihu.
And it's worth noting, as well, that at the very end of the book, at the very end of Job's story, God condemns Job's three friends, requiring Job to offer sacrifices on their behalf. But no sacrifices are required for Elihu. Actually, you know what? Even God doesn't mention Elihu; He only mentions Job's friends.
Perhaps, then, I'm wrong. Maybe Elihu was never a friend of Job at all.
Maybe he was an angel.
Maybe what we all need is an angel.