No necessary connection between a wizened face and a wise heart

And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said:
    “I am young in years,
        and you are aged;
    therefore I was timid and afraid
        to declare my opinion to you.
    I said, ‘Let days speak,
        and many years teach wisdom.’
    But it is the spirit in man,
        the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.
    It is not the old who are wise,
        nor the aged who understand what is right.
(Job 32:6-9 ESV)

John Piper helps us understand Job 32:

When Job finishes defending himself and the three comforters finish defending God, Elihu explodes like a bottle of champagne (32:19); and for six chapters his heart overflows against Job and his friends.

There are a lot of students of the book of Job who think Elihu is no better than Job’s three comforters, repeating their same mistakes. But there are four reasons why I think Elihu’s speech is intended to be a preliminary word from God before God himself speaks in chapter 38. 1) If Elihu is simply a repeat of the blunders of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, would the author devote six whole chapters to it? We have just suffered through 29 chapters of half-truths. Surely Elihu marks an advance, not a setback. 2) According to 32:2 and 3 Elihu aims to say something different than both Job and his friends. 3) When Elihu is finished at the end of chapter 37, Job is silent. He does not dispute with Elihu as he did with the other comforters. Instead, God picks up and addresses Job directly. 4) When God finally turns to Job’s comforters to express his anger at them, he only mentions Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (42:7), not Elihu. Therefore, I think we should read chapters 32–37 not as another misguided effort to comfort Job with bad theology, but as the word of God’s special messenger Elihu.

In chapter 32 Elihu tells why he finally must speak. The key verses are 8 and 9, “It is the Spirit (of God) in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old that are wise, nor the aged that understand what is right. Therefore, I say, ‘Listen to me; let me also declare my opinion.'” The lesson Elihu teaches us here is that it is not age that brings wisdom but the Spirit of God. There is no necessary correlation between grey hair and good theology. There is no necessary connection between a wizened face and a wise heart. “It is not the old that are wise nor the aged that understand,” says Elihu; “it is the Spirit of God in a man that makes him understand.”

Of course, there is, then, no necessary connection between youth and wisdom, either. What Elihu has done is remove age as the dominant consideration in deciding who is wise and understanding. He teaches us that there may be folly in the old and folly in the young; wisdom in the young and wisdom in the old. When we search for a source of wisdom, we do not end our search with the question, “How old is he?” We end it with the question, “Who has the Spirit of wisdom and understanding?”…

….Now let’s sum up the lessons of Elihu. The main point from verses 8 and 9 is that there is no necessary connection between age and wisdom, or between youth and folly. Wisdom comes from the Lord and can be given to the young as well as the old. The question, therefore, is not, “Who is old?” but, “Who is full of the Spirit of wisdom?” Five things will mark these people who are stirred by the Spirit of God. 1) They will be slow to speak, eager to listen, and conscious of how much they have to learn. 2) But there comes a point when they get angry at self-justifying, God-belittling men. 3) They have a passionate love for God’s truth and can find no relief until they speak it. 4) When they speak, it is not with flattering words. The Spirit has given them rest in the promises of God, and they do not need to curry anyone’s favor. 5) What they say is genuine insight, and it increases our understanding of God’s ways and helps us trust him even through pain.

You will benefit greatly by reading or listening to the rest of Piper’s sermon, “Let the Young Speak”…click here.