Monday, August 11, 2003

Job 8: Bildad's Wisdom from the Ancients

Job appealed to his friends for kindness and defended his character. Did they take heart and let up?

This post is part of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning. At the end of each post you will find a link to the next.


Job had lamented his condition. Eliphaz then suggested that Job had acted foolishly. Job responded by asking for kindness and understanding. He maintained his integrity and righteousness and opened his life to investigation. Against this backdrop, Bildad's words were nothing short of vicious:

Then Bildad the Shuhite spoke up and said: “How long will you speak these things, seeing that the words of your mouth are like a great wind? 

Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert what is right? If your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin. 

But if you will look to God, and make your supplication to the Almighty, if you become pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself for you, and will restore your righteous abode. Your beginning will seem so small, since your future will flourish. (Job 8:1-7, The Net Bible)

"The words of your mouth are like a great winds." Really! Was Bildad still thinking of Job's opening outburst. Did he not hear Job settle into a rational perspective of his condition? Could Bildad really have spoken of Job's response to Eliphaz? If so, Bildad must have concluded that Job was lying. I have concluded that Bildad meant all of Job's words so far. As far as he was concerned, Job had said nothing of value or importance.

"Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?" For Bildad, to investigate Job's assertion of innocence would be a waste of time. God's justice has inflicted Job with sufferings. End of discussion.

Bildad, following Eliphaz's lead, again hits Job with the death of his children, "If your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin." The logical extension of Bildad's belief that Job suffered for sin was that Job's children likewise suffered for their sin. Here we must remember how Job continually offered sacrifices for his children, "just in case." If Job were to believe Bildad, that activity had been a waste of time.

For Bildad, the answer for Job was simple, "Look to God. ... become pure and upright." But we know that Job, in the Lord's eyes, was already "pure and upright." The advice was bad.

Eliphaz held is convictions by observation, although it would seem that they were selective observations. Bildad's opinions came from religious study. Whereas Eliphaz might have possibly been persuaded to change his mind, Bildad was entrenched:

“For inquire now of the former generation, and pay attention to the findings of their ancestors; For we are recent and do not have knowledge, since our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not instruct you and speak to you, and bring forth words from their understanding? (Job 8:8-10)

Now we ourselves have the Scriptures, which are our words of the ancients. So we must conclude that Bildad was not entirely wrong in what he believed. The same would be true for Eliphaz; it was not wrong for him to observe and draw conclusions. However, both men were confronting a new situation and were not able to see it. Eliphaz was the religious intellectual and Bildad was the religious scholar. Religion is often adequate to handle the status quo, but throughout history it does poorly with new situations.

  • Once upon a time, Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, the language of his day.
  • Some time later, Tyndale suffered a martyr's death for translating the Bible into English for the same reason. However, at the time Latin was God's language.
  • A good English translation finally came to be with the Authorized Version, aka the King James Version. Its language use and idiom contemporary with its day.
  • Many today would say that the King James is the only good English Bible and speak ill of any contemporary English version.
  • Among those who accept contemporary English translations, there has arisen an issue concerning how gender specific Hebrew and Greek words should now be translated. [See: Bock, Darrell L. Do Gender Sensitive Translations Distort Scripture? Not Necessarily (Online: Available]

I do not mean, by the above, to be critical as illustrative. Religion tends to stabilize and perpetuate, and that is a useful function. But to grow and meet the needs of succeeding generations, religion must learn how to change. It must acquire wisdom to know what to change. Eliphaz, Bildad, and soon Zophar faced something they had never thought to see: a righteous man who suffered. Their religion blinded them to seeing an important truth, and in that blindness, these good men became cruel. The book of Job is about the sovereignty of God. It is also about the tendency of religion to lock itself into perpetuating patterns that fail to achieve its own purposes.

So Bildad, appealed to ancient wisdom that contradicted Job's correct assertions of innocence. I think much of what Bildad then said consisted of quoted material:

Can the papyrus plant grow tall where there is no marsh? Can reeds flourish without water? While they are still in their early flowering and not ripe for cutting, they can wither away faster than any grass! Such is the destiny of all who forget God, and the hope of the godless perishes, whose trust is in something futile, whose security is a spider’s web. 

He leans against his house but it does not hold up, he takes hold of it but it does not stand. 

He is a well-watered plant in the sun, its shoots spread over its garden. It wraps its roots around a heap of stones and it looks for a place among stones. If he is uprooted from his place, then that place will disown him, saying, ‘I have never seen you!’ Indeed, this is the joy of his way, and out of the earth others spring up. 

What was Bildad saying about Job?

  • Job was like a papyrus plant in a drained marsh. Papyrus needs a lot of water and will very quickly shrivel up in less than marsh conditions. Job had allowed the protecting dam to break.
  • Job had built his life on a bad foundation and poor construction.
  • The connection between Job and the "well-watered plant in the sun" seems to be this. Some plants grow into unwanted areas and the gardners will remove them. The ground does not care, because other plants will grow in their place. Job tried to grow in rocky places and was easily uprooted.

So Bildad's message for Job was to shape up and watch God move on his behalf.

Surely, God does not reject a blameless man, nor does he grasp the hand of the evildoers. He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with gladness. Those who hate you will be clothed with shame, and the tent of the wicked will be no more.” (Job 8:11-22)

If only Job, "pure and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evi,l" would become pure and upright. Then God would no longer reject, but accept him and change his fortunes.

Tuesday: Job responds to Bildad

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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