Elihu here appears to have been,
I. A man of great modesty and humility. Though a young man, and a man of abilities, yet not pert, and confident, and assuming: his face shone, and, like Moses, he did not know it, which made it shine so much the brighter. Let it be observed by all, especially by young people, as worthy their imitation, 1. What a diffidence he had of himself and of his own judgment (Job 32:6): “I am young, and therefore I was afraid, and durst not show you my opinion, for fear I should either prove mistaken or do that which was unbecoming me.” He was so observant of all that passed, and applied his mind so closely to what he heard, that he had formed in himself a judgment of it. He neither neglected it as foreign, nor declined it as intricate; but, how clear soever the matter was to himself, he was afraid to deliver his mind upon it, because he differed in his sentiments from those that were older than he. Note, It becomes us to be suspicious of our own judgment in matters of doubtful disputation, to be swift to hear the sentiments of others and slow to speak our own, especially when we go contrary to the judgment of those for whom, upon the score of their learning and piety, we justly have a veneration. 2. What a deference he paid to his seniors, and what great expectations he had from them, (Job 32:7): I said, Days should speak. Note, Age and experience give a man great advantage in judging of things, both as they furnish a man with so much the more matter for his thoughts to work upon and as they ripen and improve the facilities he is to work with, which is a good reason why old people should take pains both to learn themselves and to teach others (else the advantages of their age are a reproach to them), and why young people should attend on their instructions. It is a good lodging with an old disciple, Acts 21:16; Titus 2:4. Elihu’s modesty appeared in the patient attention he gave to what his seniors said, Job 32:11, 12. He waited for their words as one that expected much from them, agreeably to the opinion he had of these grave men. He gave ear to their reasons, that he might take their meaning, and fully understand what was the drift of their discourse and what the force of their arguments. He attended to them with diligence and care, and this, (1.) Though they were slow, and took up a great deal of time in searching out what to say. Though they had often to seek for matter and words, paused and hesitated, and were unready at their work, yet he overlooked that, and gave ear to their reasons, which, if really convincing, he would not think the less so for the disadvantages of the delivery of them. (2.) Though they trifled and made nothing of it, though none of them answered Job’s words nor said what was proper to convince him, yet he attended to them, in hopes they would bring it to some head at last. We must often be willing to hear what we do not like, else we cannot prove all things. His patient attendance on their discourses he pleads, [1.] As that which entitled him to a liberty of speech in his turn and empowered him to require their attention. Hanc veniam petimusque damusque vicissim—This liberty we mutually allow and ask. Those that have heard may speak, and those that have learned may teach. [2.] As that which enabled him to pass a judgment upon what they had said. He had observed what they aimed at, and therefore knew what to say to it. Let us be thoroughly apprized of the sentiments of our brethren before we censure them; for he that answers a matter before he hears it, or when he has heard it only by halves, it is folly and shame to him, and bespeaks him both impertinent and imperious.
II. A man of great sense and courage, and one that knew as well when and how to speak as when and how to keep silence. Though he had so much respect to his friends as not to interrupt them with his speaking, yet he had so much regard to truth and justice (his better friends) as not to betray them by his silence. He boldly pleads,
1. That man is a rational creature, and therefore that every man has for himself a judgment of discretion and ought to be allowed a liberty of speech in his turn. He means the same that Job did (Job 12:2; But I have understanding as well as you) when he says (Job 32:8), But there is a spirit in man; only he expresses it a little more modestly, that one man has understanding as well as another, and no man can pretend to have the monopoly of reason or to engross all the trade of it. Had he meant I have revelation as well as you (as some understand it), he must have proved it; but, if he meant only I have reason as well as you, they cannot deny it, for it is every man’s honour, and it is no presumption to claim it, nor could they gainsay his inference from it (Job 32:10): Therefore hearken to me. Learn here, (1.) That the soul is a spirit, neither material itself nor dependent upon matter, but capable of conversing with things spiritual, which are not the objects of sense. (2.) It is an understanding spirit. It is able to discover and receive truth, to discourse and reason upon it, and to direct and rule accordingly. (3.) This understanding spirit is in every man; it is the light that lighteth every man, John 1:9. (4.) It is the inspiration of the Almighty that gives us this understanding spirit; for he is the Father of spirits and fountain of understanding. See Gen. 2:7; Eccl. 12:7; Zech. 12:1.
2. That those who are advanced above others in grandeur and gravity do not always proportionably go beyond them in knowledge and wisdom (Job 32:9): Great men are not always wise; it is a pity but they were, for then they would never do hurt with their greatness and would do so much the more good with their wisdom. Men should be preferred for their wisdom, and those that are in honour and power have most need of wisdom and have the greatest opportunity of improving in it; and yet it does not follow that great men are always wise, and therefore it is folly to subscribe to the dictates of any with an implicit faith. The aged do not always understand judgment; even they may be mistaken, and therefore must not expect to bring every thought into obedience to them: nay, therefore they must not take it as an affront to be contradicted, but rather take it as a kindness to be instructed, by their juniors: Therefore I said, hearken to me, Job 32:10. We must be willing to hear reason from those that are every way inferior to us, and to yield to it. He that has a good eye can see further upon level ground than he that is purblind can from the top of the highest mountain. Better is a poor and wise child then an old and foolish king, Eccl. 4:13.
3. That it was requisite for something to be said, for the setting of this controversy in a true light, which, by all that had hitherto been said, was but rendered more intricate and perplexed (Job 32:13): “I must speak, lest you should say, We have found out wisdom, lest you should think your argument against Job conclusive and irrefragable, and that Job cannot be convinced and humbled by any other argument than this of yours, That God casteth him down and not man, that it appears by his extraordinary afflictions that God is his enemy, and therefore he is certainly a wicked man. I must show you that this is a false hypothesis and that Job may be convinced without maintaining it.” Or, “Lest you should think you have found out the wisest way, to reason no more with him, but leave it to God to thrust him down.” It is time to speak when we hear errors advanced and disputed for, especially under pretence of supporting the cause of God with them. It is time to speak when God’s judgments are vouched for the patronizing of men’s pride and passion and their unjust uncharitable censures of their brethren; then we must speak on God’s behalf.
4. That he had something new to offer, and would endeavour to manage the dispute in a better manner than it had hitherto been managed, Job 32:14. He thinks he may expect a favourable hearing; for, (1.) He will not reply to Job’s protestations of his integrity, but allows the truth of them, and therefore does not interpose as his enemy: “He hath not directed his words against me. I have nothing to say against the main scope of his discourse, nor do I differ from his principles. I have only a gentle reproof to give him for his passionate expressions.” (2.) He will not repeat their arguments, nor go upon their principles: “Neither will I answer him with your speeches—not with the same matter, for should I only say what has been said I might justly be silenced as impertinent,—nor in the same manner; I will not be guilty of that peevishness towards him myself which I dislike in you.” The controversy that has already been fully handled a wise man will let alone, unless he can amend and improve what has been done; why should he actum agere—do that which has been done already?15 They were amazed, they answered no more: they left off speaking. 16 When I had waited, (for they spake not, but stood still, and answered no more;) 17 I said, I will answer also my part, I also will show mine opinion. 18 For I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me. 19 Behold, my belly is as wine which hath no vent; it is ready to burst like new bottles. 20 I will speak, that I may be refreshed: I will open my lips and answer. 21 Let me not, I pray you, accept any man’s person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man. 22 For I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing my maker would soon take me away.