The book of James, which is often highlighted for its similarities to Old Testament Wisdom Literature, gives us an important principle to which we should all pay heed if we want to live wisely. James tells us that we should be “slow to speak” (1:19)—that we should not be quick to make a reply to others. Rather, we should take time to evaluate the situation, consider whether what we are thinking has already been suggested, and beware lest our rash tongue get us into trouble.
Job’s dialogues with his friends (Job 3–31) provide a great illustration of what happens when this principle is not followed. Because Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were quick to judge by appearances and spoke before their poor theology of suffering could be tested, they gave Job a lot of bad advice. They rightly understood that the Lord judges sinners, but they wrongly applied this principle in affirming the doctrine that all human suffering is evidence of human sin. But as Job was innocent, these three men were finally revealed as fools (31; 42:8). However, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are not the only individuals in the book of Job who illustrate the folly of speaking too quickly. Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite (32:6), also exemplifies the principle that if we speak too quickly, we may end up speaking foolishly out of ignorance and thus offer no real help to anyone.
Elihu first appears on the scene in Job 32. We learn that he was a younger contemporary of Job and his friends, and that he had been standing by silently as the older men argued about divine justice (v. 4). At first, it seems that Elihu might have been humble and willing to defer to his elders, for he did not speak right away but let them go first (vv. 4–6). However, by the end of his speeches to Job he was revealed to be quite the arrogant young man.
Though he listened to the dialogues between Job and his friends, Elihu never actually heard what they were saying. All he could finally offer was the same tired, old argument that Job suffered greatly because of some specific sin (36:5–12). In this, commentators argue, Elihu represents the arrogance of youth, the view that the rising generations somehow possess greater insight than their forefathers. He is the unteachable person, the one who thinks he has all the answers (36:4). Yet as he could offer no other counsel than what had been given, his arrogant claim was falsified. Let us not think that we always know better than those who came before us, for we may just be repeating their mistakes.