Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Does the Prophet Jeremiah Figure in the Book of Job?

by

Damien F. Mackey


 
 

Prologue

 

 

In my fairly recent article for Academia.edu, entitled

 

“Job’s Life and Times”

 


 

I had confidently identified the mysterious holy man, Job, with young Tobias son of Tobit (Book of Tobit). This reconstruction, I believe, finally anchored Job chronologically, to the neo-Assyrian period of the C8th BC (conventional dating) - to the time of Shalmaneser V and Sennacherib - when the young Tobias had lived, but also beyond that, considering his very long life of more than a century. It lifted Job right away from where commentators generally try to situate him, at the approximate time of Abraham - though this seems to me quite anachronistic given the obvious literary connections with the Book of Jeremiah and Lamentations (cf. e.g. Job 3 and Jeremiah 20:7-18), in the C7th BC (conventional dating) - and transported the prophet Job back down to his rightful (as I see it) place more than a millennium later than Abraham.

Now, though as I have said I am ‘confident’ that my Job = Tobias is a right connection, it had occurred to me that this reconstruction could be really secured for readers if I were able to take it yet a step further, by positively identifying also Job’s three friends, and the young Elihu. The latter had in fact seemed the most promising prospect for identification given that he is the only character in the Book of Job to have been afforded a patronymic.

However I, until now, had been quite unable to achieve this purpose, despite plenty of effort. The Book of Job is extremely lacking in biographical detail for its characters.

In this new attempt to bolster my Jobian thesis, I shall be proposing an identification that would be, according to the conventional placement of the character, Job, a complete impossibility – but one that, in my revised historical context, C8th-C7th’s BC, may have much to recommend it. But that will be up to the reader to decide. Here, focussing upon the promising Elihu, I shall be arguing that this highly precocious young man was actually the famous prophet Jeremiah, at about the time of the latter’s calling, as a mere ‘boy’ (na’ar), in the 13th year of king Josiah of Judah (c. 627 BC, conventional dating). (Cf. Jeremiah 1:2, 6) By then, Job would have been an old man, because he had married young after the assassination of king Sennacherib of Assyria some 70 years earlier (cf. Tobit 1:18, 21; 5:16; 7:12).    

A corollary of this chronological anchoring of the Book of Job is that the highly intelligent young Elihu (Jeremiah, I shall be arguing) could actually have written the Book of Job based upon his first-hand knowledge of what had transpired. I have already referred to the fact that the book’s literary style is so notably compatible with that of the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations.

 

Comparing Young Elihu With Jeremiah

 

 

(i)                 Elihu as a Jeremiah type

 

Though textbook wisdom would have it that Elihu had well pre-dated the prophet Jeremiah, there is no getting away from certain very strong resemblances between the supposedly two. This has been picked up recently by some commentators/bloggers, along with a tendency to rate Elihu’s wisdom and contribution far higher than might previously have been the case. Indeed my own earlier opinion of young Elihu had been, right in line with an impression of him that I had picked up in standard commentaries, that he was (apart from his obvious piety and intelligence) a somewhat pompous and inexperienced contributor to the Jobian debate. But some recent commentaries on Elihu have helped me greatly to revise this opinion of him – especially when coupled with the view that Elihu might actually have been the prophet Jeremiah. Elihu was in fact extremely humble and modest, just like Jeremiah who had, despite his zeal, been extremely reluctant to serve as a prophet (Jeremiah 1:6). The discourses of Elihu, far from being a distraction to the main debate in the Book of Job, were words aflame with the spirit of God, and hence were the very bridge between Job and the Almighty. Elihu, as Jeremiah (1:7): ‘You must go on whatever errand I send you’, had apparently been sent to the afflicted Job as a very messenger of God.


 

Elihu: The Messenger of God

Now comes the part of the whole story that is my personal favorite, at least my favorite character. You see, sitting back and listening to everything that was being said was a young man named Elihu. He was never mentioned before, probably because he was too young to be noticed. But once he starts talking, there is no doubt he possessed a spiritual discernment unknown by the others.

 

Elihu’s Modesty

It’s pleasant to notice Elihu’s modesty and tact in entering the discussion with his elders. It says that his “wrath was kindled” against Job and the three friends. This is explained later when he talks about the constraining of the Spirit within him, so that he was “ready to burst.”

Ezekiel refers to this “heat of the Spirit” when the Lord had moved him to speak. Jeremiah spoke of God’s word being “in his heart like a burning fire” and being “weary of holding it in. Indeed (he) could not” (Jeremiah 20:9). When “the Sovereign Lord has spoken, who can but prophesy” (Amos 3:8)? “Woe to me, if I do not . . .” (I Corinthians. 9:16).

Who could blame Elihu? Here he was sitting there as he saw Job becoming more and more concerned about clearing his own character than justifying the love and character of God. He also watched as his elders condemned Job without mercy and never were able to find an answer to Job’s complaints or to explain to him God’s purpose.

Elihu realizes that he is in a very delicate position for a young man. How is he going to speak to these dignified seniors? He holds himself back, waits and watches for the right moment. If indeed the Spirit of God has chosen him to be the “interpreter,” he will wait until He opens the way for him.

That is where many of us miss it. We think that just because we have a message from the Lord, whether it is to a specific brother or sister or in a congregational time of worship, we have to give it now! Do you notice the urgency? I’m sure we have all said, “Lord, what would you have me to say?” However, we also need to ask, “Lord, when would you have me say it?”

Proverbs 15:23 says: “A man has joy in making an apt answer and a word spoken in the right moment—how good it is!”

So finally, there’s a pause. The friends “stopped answering Job” and “the words of Job are ended.” The Lord’s message comes to Elihu and he obediently speaks. He takes from the beginning a place of humility and acknowledges his youthfulness and confesses how he had shrunk from saying what was on his heart because of their age and his respect for them. He knows there’s “a spirit in man,” and that it’s “the breath of the Almighty” alone that gives understanding and not age or position. So he is going to be obedient to the Lord and boldly say “Listen to me” although he is young.

He had waited and listened very attentively to every word that the older men had “searched out to say” while they were reasoning with Job, but he saw that they had utterly failed to convince him. “Not one of you has proved him wrong and none of you has answered his arguments. Look, Job hasn’t said anything to me, so I’m not going to answer anything he said. All I want to do is speak for the truth, not revenge.”

After all that, Elihu pauses almost as if he was waiting for some kind of encouragement from them or something. But they just sit there.

“You sit there baffled and embarrassed with no more replies. Should I just sit here and wait because you haven’t said anything?” No, he must be faithful to God regardless of their silence. He has to fulfill his “part” in God’s purpose and give the light that has been given to him.

…. The Lord instructed Jeremiah very distinctly to “tell them whatever I tell you to say. Don’t be afraid of them, or else I will make a fool out of you in front of them because I have made you impervious to their attacks. They cannot harm you.” He told Ezekiel to “go to the people and whether or not they will listen, tell them: This is what the Lord God says!” Elihu had no choice. He must be obedient.

The older men had searched out what to say to Job and when they finally figured it out, it was powerless and unconvincing. Elihu was “full of words.” He was in every sense the messenger of God. The Spirit within him was pouring the message into his mind, so that he would have to speak to find relief. No matter how uncomfortable he felt because of his youth and position, he had no alternative but to deliver his message. He would beg their forgiveness if he did not speak as respectfully as he should but he did not want to show any partiality or do anything that would prevent him from giving the message of God. He did not want to use any flattering titles, he just wanted to be very frank, or the Lord would put him aside and he would not be entrusted with this honor again.

....

[End of quote]

 

And along similar lines in favour of Elihu’s wisdom, from Tom Brown’s “Why Job Suffered” (http://tbm.org/why_job_suffered.htm)

 

….

THE UNFORGOTTEN HERO

 

Do you remember the last character in the book of Job? Elihu is his name. He was not one of Job's friends. He was simply listening to Job's friends judging him and Job defending himself. As he began to listen to all four, God gave him insight into the true nature of Job's sufferings.

Out of all the human characters, only Elihu understood why Job suffered. It is amazing that I haven't heard anyone ever mention Elihu. We almost forget him. But the truth is, Elihu was the only one with true insight, not only into the sufferings of Job but, insight into the sufferings of all mankind. This is why Elihu is the last to speak concerning Job's sufferings. It is interesting to note that when God appeared to Job, He rebuked Job for not having insight and He rebuked Job's three friends for falsely judging Job. Yet God never rebuked Elihu. Why? Because Elihu was correct in understanding suffering.

Elihu begins by saying,

I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know. I thought, "Age should speak, advanced years should teach wisdom." But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding. (Job 32:6-8)

Notice, Elihu is about to give wisdom not because of any human understanding, but because God's Spirit gave him understanding. The first thing he does is correct Job's friends.

I waited while you [Job's three friends] spoke, I listened to your reasoning; while you were searching for words, I gave you my full attention. But not one of you has proved Job wrong; none of you has answered his argument. (Job 32:11-12)

Elihu showed Job's friends that they were wrong in judging him. The second thing Elihu does is correct Job, but he does it in humility.

But now, Job, listen to my words; pay attention to everything I say. I am about to open my mouth; my words are on the tip of my tongue. My words come from an upright heart; my lips sincerely speak what I know. The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Answer me then, if you can; prepare yourself and confront me. I am just like you before God; I too have been taken from clay. No fear of me should alarm you, nor should my hand be heavy upon you. But you have said in my hearing--I heard the very words-- "I AM PURE AND WITHOUT SIN; I AM CLEAN AND FREE FROM GUILT.." (Job 33:1-9)

….

People erroneously think that the book of Job was written to try to answer the question: Why does God allow good people to suffer? But Elihu has no trouble with that question because he knows that there are no truly "good" people in God's sight. The thing that perplexed Elihu was not the fact that Job was suffering, but why weren't he and Job's friends suffering along with Job. …

Elihu realized that sinners are under the curse of sin, and therefore have no legal right to get mad when they suffer. They should realize that they deserve to suffer and if they are not suffering, they should praise God even more because He is having mercy on them.

 

WHY ARE SINNERS BLESSED?

 

Elihu asked the right question, "Why does God allow sinners to be blessed?" The answer: Because God is merciful.

….

Immediately after Elihu spoke, God answered Job in a whirlwind and rebuked him for falsely accusing God of injustice. Job wisely repented.

You might be saying, "I understand what you are saying, but how can we claim our healing and prosperity, if we are sinners? Sinners, after all, have no right to healing and prosperity."

That was true, before the cross! But, through the cross, we have been made the righteousness of God, therefore we have right-standing with God. We are living after the cross. This is why God commanded Job's three friends to offer a sacrifice. ....

 

[End of quote]

 


 

Reasons to Accept Elihu’s Speech

 


 

Many Bible interpreters disavow what Elihu has to say in the Book of Job. Below I will give a few reasons why I believe his speech to Job is true and is good theology.

 

1) God never rebukes Elihu. After God has finished speaking, He states that His wrath is upon the three other friends that gave counsel to Job. God does not include Elihu into the group of people who have not spoken rightly. (Job 42:7)

 

2) There is a break in the text to introduce him. The words of Elihu in Job 32:1-3 are not continuing what the other three friends have said, but stating something new. There is a break in the text that introduces something new. Elihu should not get lumped into the group of the other three friends with bad theology.

 

3) Six chapters are given to Elihu in the Book of Job. The writer of this Book devotes six chapters to Elihu. With much space given to Elihu, surely there is some importance to it.

 

4) Elihu shows how Job’s other friends are wrong. God also rebuked Job’s other three friends.

 

5) Elihu claims to be full of the Holy Spirit. In chapter 32 Elihu uses similar language to what Jeremiah used. He reminds me of Jeremiah saying, that the word of the Lord it is like a fire shut up in his bones. Elihu says, “For I am full of words; the spirit within me compels me. Indeed my belly is like wine that has no vent; it is ready to burst like new wine skins. I will speak, that I may find relief…”

 

6) Elihu signals Gods coming to speak. In 37:11-12 Elihu is describing a whirlwind and attributes the whirlwind to God. We see just a few verses later that God is answering Job out of the whirlwind. Verse one in chapter 38 states, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.” Notice the writer of this book did not say “A” whirlwind. But he says, “THE” That means that there must have been a whirlwind that was taking place, that had already been mentioned previously in the Book of Job. All throughout Elihu’s speech we see him referring to nature. I believe that Elihu is referring to what was actually taking place in front of Job and his three friends. He is describing what was going on while also signaling that God is coming to speak.

 

What do you think? ....

[End of quote]

 

Well, I think that Elihu was definitely a Jeremiah type, a prophetic messenger sent by God, wholly aflame with the spirit of God, full of eloquence yet humble and modest, and young at the very same time in history when the prophet Jeremiah was a young man.

So far, so good.

Less obviously comparable, though, are the (albeit meagre) biographical details for Elihu and Jeremiah with regards to ‘their’:

 

(ii)               Patronymic, Race and Geography

 

“Elihu [was the] son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family [or race] of Ram” (Job 32:1).

 

“… Jeremiah [was the] son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin” (Jeremiah 1:1).

 

Seemingly, not a single point of connection here: different name; different father; different tribe or race; different geography! Whilst Jeremiah was apparently a Levite, a priest living just to the north of Jerusalem, Elihu hailed from either Edom or Transjordan (Buz), and may even have been of Syrian (Ram = Aram?) descent.

What with these apparently gross disparities (plus the conventional chronological estimation) it is little wonder that Elihu has not readily - despite his character likenesses to Jeremiah - been identified with the great prophet Jeremiah.

However - and what follows is admittedly tentative - there may be a passage in the Book of Jeremiah itself that supplies an important genealogical clue enabling one to form a biographical connection between the prophet Jeremiah and Elihu that the meagre information of Jeremiah 1:1 fails to do. I refer to Jeremiah 35, the account of those enigmatic Rechabites. There, in v. 3, we may find a bridge that enables us to connect Jeremiah to the Buzite Elihu by associating Jeremiah also with a Buzite father. The verse in question reads:

 

“Then I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, the son of Habaziniah,

his brothers and all his sons, and the whole house of the Rechabites …”.

 

Whilst commentators are usually quick to advise that the “Jeremiah” referred to in this verse is different from the prophet Jeremiah, I am not going to be put off quite so easily.

Why?

Because (and it took me a long time to notice this), the father of this Jeremiah has a name that could (and linguists may want to quarrel with this) be boiled down to “the Buzi-te”: namely, Ha (the) Bazi (Buzi) Niah (-ite).

 

I am aware that the name Habaziniah, as it now appears, commences with Hebrew ‘chet’    

ח

rather than a ‘hey’ (‘hei’)

ה

but must nevertheless wonder if this name of possibly ‘unknown’ origin or meaning (see e.g. http://idea.library.drexel.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1860/465/Stuhlman_Daniel.pdf?sequence=12 had originally commenced with the Hebrew letter ‘hey’.

 

If the connection is a correct one, that Jeremiah was the son of Habaziniah (or Habazziniah) - that is, the “son of the Buzite” - then that would of necessity make Jeremiah, too - like Habaziniah and his relatives - a Rechabite! In that case the prophet Jeremiah would be ‘tempting’, to drink wine, his very own son (e.g. Jaazaniah) and relatives, but who he knew would refuse to do so, just as he himself would have (if indeed he were a Rechabite). Jeremiah 35:4-11 (cf. 25:15, 23):

 

…. and I brought them into the house of the Lord, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan the son of Igdaliah, a man of God, which was by the chamber of the princes, above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the door. 5 Then I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites bowls full of wine, and cups; and I said to them, “Drink wine.”

6 But they said, “We will drink no wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, ‘You shall drink no wine, you nor your sons, forever. 7 You shall not build a house, sow seed, plant a vineyard, nor have any of these; but all your days you shall dwell in tents, that you may live many days in the land where you are sojourners.’ 8 Thus we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he charged us, to drink no wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, or our daughters, 9 nor to build ourselves houses to dwell in; nor do we have vineyard, field, or seed. 10 But we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us. 11 But it came to pass, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up into the land, that we said, ‘Come, let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans and for fear of the army of the Syrians.’ So we dwell at Jerusalem.”

 

The difficulty now becomes to merge the brief genealogical information in Jeremiah 1:1 with that of Job 32:1.

So far I have possibly accounted for the Buzite factor.

Now, whilst Barachel (“Whom God has blessed”) could be an honorific title for one named Hilkiah (“God is my portion”), my preference would be otherwise. I would suggest that, whilst Hilkiah was the actual father of the prophet Jeremiah, “the Buzite” (Habaziniah) may have been a famous ancestor of his, just as the Rechabites retrospected to their ancestor, Jonadab. In my university thesis

 

A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah

and its Background

 


 

I had tentatively identified the prophet Elisha with this Jonadab (Jehonadab), as a Rechabite (pp. 117, 238). (See also http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/westcott/Rechabites.html for a comparison between the two). Now Elisha may have, like Job, hailed from Transjordan – though the location of Elisha’s Abel-meholah (I Kings 19:16) is much disputed.

Elihu (“My God is Yahweh”) is like one of those biblical abbreviated names (such as Jehu). Jeremiah, “Exaltation of the Lord”, is at least quite compatible with it.

Another possibility (but one that needs more work), considering our need now to connect the Rechabite and “Ram” (of Job 32:1) elements, is the fact that a prolific Rechabiah is to be found as a descendant of Moses’s father, Amram (= Ram?) (I Chronicles 23:13-17); Moses himself being also, of course, connected to the Kenites through his father-in-law, Jethro (or Reuel): http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0012_0_11033.html): Hobab (*Jethro), son of Reuel the Midianite, who aided the Israelites in the desert and served as their pathfinder (Num. 10:29–32), was also known as the Kenite (Judg. 1:16; 4:11)”.

That the Rechabites encountered by the prophet Jeremiah were, like Jeremiah himself, Levites, seems to be clear from the following statement in favour of the Rechabites’ fidelity (Jeremiah 35:19): “… therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not lack a man to stand before Me forever’.” (Cf. Deuteronomy 18:5)

 

The Geographical Problem

 

The above could also account for the anticipated objection as to why the prophet Jeremiah, now of Buzite origin, would be, as we read above, “one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin”. For, I would suggest, whilst Jeremiah and his father were indeed located at Anathoth, the ancestral family could originally have hailed from the land of Buz, near to Job’s land of Uz (Hauran in Bashan in my reconstructions). This would appear to be a more satisfactory explanation than was my original proposal, to accommodate my reconstruction, that the “Benjamin” referred to in Jeremiah 1:1 has wrongly been substituted for an original bene ammon, and that “Anathoth” there could then refer to a Transjordanian town or city near to the land of Uz where Job lived.

 

 

No comments: