Monday, October 13, 2003

Job 25, 26: Bildad Almost Speaks

This essay is #29 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.

Bildad

Bildad was the friend who argued from the traditions of the past. The problem with viewing the world exclusively from past traditions is that they can leave you short of ideas when new ones are needed. I think that was what happened to Bildad when he next tried to speak to Job. He opened his mouth. He began to speak. He expected the proverb to be there and it never came. He closed his mouth and became silent. 

Here is his last speech in its entirety:

Then Bildad the Shuhite answered: “Dominion and awesome might belong to God; he establishes peace in his heights. Can his armies be numbered? On whom does his light not rise? How then can a human being be righteous before God? How can one born of a woman be pure? If even the moon is not bright, and the stars are not pure as far as he is concerned, how much less a mortal man, who is but a maggot— a son of man, who is only a worm!” (Job 25:1-6)

His ideas were gone. He had no more to say. The words of Bildad are ended. It is as if all that is left is that no one can be righteous. Bildad has dropped into despair.

Job

As we might expect, from the cycle of speeches so far, Job spoke next. But also had very little to say.

Then Job replied: “How you have helped the powerless! How you have saved the person who has no strength! How you have advised the one without wisdom, and abundantly revealed your insight! To whom did you utter these words? And whose spirit has come forth from your mouth?" (Job 26:1-4)

Job, it would seem was content to let Bildad's words rest as a final dig.

Who Speaks Next?

If you have been following this series of Job closely, you should now know that:

  • Job believed that he could stand before the Lord and win his case.
  • Eliphaz had a somewhat dark view of God and believed Job to be suffering from specific sin.
  • Bildad had run out of things to say.
  • Zophar had never had an original thought. Seeing that Eliphaz and Bildad had no more to say, he did not join the third cycle.

To whom then would you ascribe these next words? Before you read them, you should note that there is no break from Job's words in Job 26:1-4. so perhaps they belong to Job. However, Job 27:1 reads, "And Job took up his discourse again." This seems to imply that there was a break somewhere.

“The dead tremble— those beneath the waters and all that live in them. The underworld is naked before God; the place of destruction lies uncovered. He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth on nothing. He locks the waters in his clouds, and the clouds do not burst with the weight of them. He conceals the face of the full moon, shrouding it with his clouds. He marks out the horizon on the surface of the waters as a boundary between light and darkness. The pillars of the heavens tremble and are amazed at his rebuke. By his power he stills the sea; by his wisdom he cut the great sea monster to pieces. By his breath the skies became fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent. Indeed, these are but the outer fringes of his ways! How faint is the whisper we hear of him! But who can understand the thunder of his power?” (Job 26:5-14)

To who would you ascribe these words? Do you see that they fit neither Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, or Zophar. None of the speakers has made reference to the nature of God without using it to drive home one of their pet ideas. But these words are simply about who God is and His power. These words also contain a foreshadowing of the Behemoth and Leviathan chapters. "By his power, he stills the sea, by his wisdom he cut the great sea monster to pieces."

This brief passage foreshadows the end of the book of Job. The sea serpent is Leviathan. This is the fearful creature that Job invoked in his opening lament:

Let those who curse the day curse it— those who are prepared to rouse Leviathan. (Job 3:8)

And it is the fire breathing dragon that the Lord will bring to Job later:

“Can you pull in Leviathan with a hook, and tie down its tongue with a rope?  ...  The likes of it is not on earth, a creature without fear. It looks on every haughty being; it is king over all that are proud.” (Job 41:1, 33-34)

As Job progresses, the Leviathan motif becomes a metaphor for Job's pride. Here in this interlude, the author foreshadows the slaying of this sea monster and fleeing serpent.

It is my opinion that the author of Job has interjected his own thoughts here at this crucial point on the book. The dialog cycle is over. We have heard from Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar and we will not hear from them again. No one has answered Job, but Job has raised the big issues of the suffering innocent and comfortable wicked. Job has silenced his critics, but the book now teeters on the edge of despair. The author now reminds us about the omniscience and power of God over nature and evil. He tells that there is yet hope.  It is also my belief that this was a normal literary form of the day. In other words, the original readers of Job may have expected this interjection at this point in the story.

So what does this author tell us:

  1. Death and Hades are fully exposed to God.
  2. He is the sole creator of the world and the master of nature.
  3. The moon appears or does not appear by the will of God. It is not a deity.
  4. He commands the world and it obeys.
  5. He has destroyed the great sea monster, the fleeing serpent.

"How faint is the whisper we hear of him!" The author lends his commentary to the dialogs. They have drifted from the nature of God. The author tells us to reconnect to God before hearing more of what Job has to say.

There will be a similar interjection at chapter 28. But that will be for later.

Tuesday: Job's First Monolog

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

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