The Significance of the “One in a Thousand” Phrase in Elihu’s Speech: Insights from William Perkins’ “The Art of Prophesying”

“If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness: Then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom,” (Job. 33:23-24).

The book of Job offers profound insights into the nature of suffering and the questions it raises about divine justice. Elihu’s speech in Job, specifically the phrase “one in a thousand,” has garnered significant attention and interpretation. In his book “The Art of Prophesying,” William Perkins explains this phrase, referring to the ministry, offering valuable practical insights into its meaning and theological significance for ministers.

According to Perkins, the proper interpretation of the “one in a thousand” phrase in Elihu’s speech signifies the extraordinary role that Elihu assumes in bringing divine revelation to Job as a minister. Perkins explains that ministers are chosen by God to deliver His Word to the people, and that they are one in a thousand. He states, “God’s ministers are as one in a thousand, and are therefore accounted the greatest benefactors of the world, and more to be esteemed than all the men of the world” (Perkins, “The Art of Prophesying,” p. 2). Perkins’ interpretation aligns Elihu with this ministerial role, emphasizing his unique position as a conduit of divine wisdom in the midst of Job’s suffering.

He highlights the exceptional calling and role of ministers where he writes, “A minister, though he be but a man, is the servant and ambassador of the most high God, to deliver the mysteries of salvation to men’s consciences. And being so called and sent by God, is endued with God’s authority and power to this purpose” (Perkins, “The Art of Prophesying,” p. 3). This underscores the divine authority bestowed upon ministers, aligning with Perkins’ interpretation of Elihu as a messenger of God delivering a unique message to Job.

Perkins further elaborates on the minister’s responsibility to faithfully convey God’s Word. He states, “A preacher is not to speak his own word, or the word of any man, but the Word of God” (Perkins, “The Art of Prophesying,” p. 4). Here, Perkins emphasizes the importance of ministers speaking on behalf of God, indicating their role as mediators between God and fallen humanity to show a man his righteousness. This understanding of the ministerial office supports the notion of Elihu as a representative of divine wisdom in his speech.

The impact of a minister’s words affirm that they carry eternal weight and authority. He writes, “The voice of a minister then is like to the voice of God; for his breath is as the breath of the Almighty” (Perkins, “The Art of Prophesying,” p. 3). This reinforces the concept of ministers embodying God’s message, ascribing divine power and authority to their words. In the context of Elihu’s speech, this perspective accentuates the significance of his message to Job.

Perkins’ interpretation of the “one in a thousand” phrase in Elihu’s speech sheds light on Elihu’s unique role as a minister of God, delivering a message of divine wisdom to Job. Elihu’s words are not merely the reflections of a young man but are seen as a direct channel of divine revelation. Perkins’ perspective underscores the profound significance of God’s Word and the role of ministers in communicating it.

Moreover, Perkins’ understanding of the ministerial office helps illuminate God’s purpose in Elihu’s speech. Through Elihu, God offers insight, correction, and an opportunity for Job’s spiritual renewal. Elihu’s words carry the weight of divine authority, urging Job to humbly submit to God’s wisdom and sovereignty.

Perkins’ interpretation of the “one in a thousand” phrase in Elihu’s speech is exegetically correct, and it serves as a powerful reminder (and solemn rebuke) for modern ministers to take heed in how they preach. Understanding themselves as vessels of divine authority, all true ministers today must recognize the weight and responsibility that comes with delivering God’s Word to the congregation. Just as Elihu’s speech carried profound implications for Job’s understanding and spiritual renewal, contemporary ministers bear the task of conveying God’s truth with clarity, accuracy, and humility. They must approach their role with reverence, recognizing that their words have the potential to impact the lives of those they serve. By studying and adhering to the principles of faithful preaching espoused by Perkins and other theologians, modern ministers can strive to faithfully convey God’s message and minister to the spiritual needs of their congregations in a manner that brings glory to God and edification to His people.

This carries significant implications for ministers who do not preach as it is related to God’s law and the truth (they are wolves in sheep’s clothing). Ministers are not mere conveyors of their own opinions or human wisdom but are entrusted with the responsibility of faithfully delivering God’s Word. They are called to speak with divine authority, recognizing the weight and power that accompanies their role as representatives of God. They are not to cater to the people, or have the fear of men.

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