“Human beings are hard wired to think things ought to be fair. From the schoolchild indignant when the teacher punishes the wrong child to the soccer crowd furious at a referee’s error in giving a red card, we know with passionate intensity that unfairness is rotten.”That sentence begins Christopher Ash’s commentary on Job 8. It sets the tone well for Job 8, because in it we find an angry man named Bildad who believes two things about God: that God is sovereign and that God is just or fair. Now, to believe these two things isn’t wrong, not at all. They’re true are they not? To believe and intrinsically long for fairness and justice is itself evidence of the just God we were made by and for. But if sovereignty and justice were all that we believed about God we’d be…well we’d be Bildad and the rest of Job’s friends. And interestingly enough, in most other world religions who believe in a god, often it is only these two things that are recognized and believed about the so-called god in view.
Anywho, recall that as Job’s friends began responding to him in chapter 4 it was the patient and kind Eliphaz who began. There is a vivid contrast as Bildad, the next friend, speaks up in chapter 8:1. He isn’t patient, he isn’t kind, no, he’s rude. The only good thing we can say about Bildad’s words to Job is that he’s quite brief so we don’t have to endure much of him. Nonetheless, though his words may be short but they certainly sharp enough to cause harm.
He begins in v2 saying, “How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a great wind?” We’ve all been in those conversations where someone was talking to us and as they dragged on the conversation we couldn’t help but butt in and stop them.
I remember a particular time when someone asked me to discuss the gospel with them. I was thrilled! The man wasn’t a Christian so for him to ask that was nothing short of amazing to me. So we began talking and as I brought up the beginnings of an explanation about the gospel he cut me off. I tried jumping back in to say something else and he cut me off again. I tried again, and got cut off again. This time he went off on a tangent about how I had been influenced by the Pope and didn’t really know it and that myself and all other protestants are really just part of the illuminati. I caught off guard, to say the least, and in an effort to redeem this conversation I sought to address the weighty claims he was bringing up and I got cut off 3 more times again. Finally after about 5 more minutes this man berating me of ridiculous claims in our very one way discussion I was pretty well fed up with the lies he was spouting against me and all other Christians so I held up a hand, motioned for a time out, and said, “You didn’t really want to have a conversation did you?” He honestly replied that he didn’t and just wanted to tell me how wrong and foolish I was. I’m not quite sure what happened after that but I can tell you that our discussion didn’t continue for much longer. We’ve all had moments like this where the person talking to us was so offensive, so vulgar, or so wrong that we reached the end of our restraint and intruded into the conversation to call them out for their errors. This is what Bildad was doing to Job. After hearing all that Job had to say in his response to Eliphaz in chapters 6-7 he couldn’t remain quiet any longer. So he speaks up and says Job ought to close mouth and that words are nothing more than hot air.
Bildad is so angered by what Job said he blurts out his main point in v3, “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?” Bildad is making a large claim here. God, to him, is perfect, completely just and right. To say otherwise isn’t just a mere case of saying something that is wrong it is utter blasphemy. This is the reason Bildad is so angry because, againto him, Job has done just that. Job has said that God has treated him unfairly and that to do so is out of order.
Bildad continues in v4-6 continuing to unfold his opinion of Job saying, “If your children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression. If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy, if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful habitation.” This is, to say the least, brutal. To tell a man whose children have died the reason that they died was because they deserved to die it isn’t a good idea. Does Bildad not know of Job’s daily sacrifices he made for his children? Clearly he doesn’t, and it probably wouldn’t matter to him if he did know it because to him and his theology, bad things happen to bad people, and God did this to Job’s kids because they were bad people. That’s v4, then in v5-7 Bildad applies these things to Job saying that if he were to turn toward the good again that good things would begin happening to him. So implied in his words here is that because Job is still alive means he isn’t as bad as his kids were. So Bildad’s counsel is to ‘seek God’, to ‘plead with the Almighty for mercy’, to ‘be pure’, to ‘be upright’, then if Job does these good things God will do good things for him like ‘rousing himself for Job’, and ‘restoring Job.’ Then on top of all this v7 comes out of his mouth saying, “And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great.” We think, wait a minute, did Job have a small beginning? Was he not the greatest man in all the east? That’s what 1:3 said he was.But apparently to Bildad, Job’s initial greatness wasn’t so great at all, or at least not as great as his own greatness off in the city of Shua. Nonetheless, if Job turns away from evil and toward good God will make him great. This is the simple, black and white, theology of Job’s friends. Bad things happen to bad people, good things happen to good people. There is no place for sacrifice, no place for innocent or redemptive suffering, and no patience needed with bad people. The only counsel bad people need is this: stop doing bad things and begin doing good things. This is what Bildad tells Job.
To further prove his case Bildad does what Eliphaz did earlier in pointing to an external source that validates his opinions. Recall that Eliphaz pointed to a strange vision in the night that really turned out to be more of a nightmare, here Bildad doesn’t do that but he does point to the external source of wisdom and tradition of long ago in v8-10, “For inquire, please, of bygone ages, and consider what the fathers have searched out. For we are but of yesterday and know nothing, for our days on earth are a shadow. Will they not teach you and tell you and utter words out of their understanding?” In essence Bildad is telling Job that what he’s telling him now isn’t new. It isn’t something he made up, it isn’t even something the older and wiser Eliphaz made up. No, it’s historic truth, known and taught by the ‘fathers’ of a bygone era. And because they’ve only been around for a brief time they should stop struggling to see things differently and trust the traditions passed down to them. For in them is where true wisdom and understanding is found. As well intended as this counsel might be to himself, Bildad isn’t listening to Job. Job’s words in chapter 6-7 have made him angry and instead of asking Job more probing questions and getting to the root of his suffering, Bildad just points him to their traditions and wise men of the past and reminds him to fall back on what they all know to be true. Sounds good, but Job’s experience is teaching him something else. And nothing in the wisdom of the past can settle his pain.
To drive his point home Bildad, in v11-19 begins speaking of plants to illustrate what he means. “Can papyrus grow where there is no marsh? Can reeds flourish where there is no water? While yet in flower and not cut down, they wither before any other plant. Such are the paths of all who forget God; the hope of the godless shall perish. His confidence is severed, and his trust is a spider’s web. He leans against his house, but it does not stand; he lays hold of it, but it does not endure. He is a lush plant before the sun, and his shoots spread over his garden. His roots entwine the stone heap; he looks upon a house of stones. If he is destroyed from his place, then it will deny him, saying, ‘I have never seen you.’ Behold, this is the joy of his way, and out of the soil others will spring.”
In v11-15 I think it’s pretty clear what’s being said. Bildad refers to Job as a papyrus shoot planted outside of a marsh, or a reed planted in dry ground. He may have shot up quickly at first but in the end his confidence will be severed, his trust will fall, he will be destroyed and will not endure if he continues to forget God and blame God for his current suffering. His experience will be like leaning a heavy burden on a spider web and falling right through it. That is clear. What’s unclear is v16-19. When Bildad begins speaking of the lush plant in the sun that growing, expanding, and wrapping it’s shoots all around the garden, is he talking about what Job would be if he turned away from evil and turned toward good? I don’t think he is because this illustration also ends in a bad way and so far it seems that Bildad has told Job that his end would be a good one if he turns away from evil. This illustration ends with destruction as well but links it with a communal joy in v19. Some think here that Bildad is referring to himself and the other two friends here. Specifically when Job is finally destroyed they will look on him and say, ‘I have never seen you’ and walk off in the joy of their way. Whether it’s a plea for Job to turn and end life well, or it’s about them ending well with lives already being lived rightly, it still misses the point of what’s going on with Job and speaks right past him and his circumstances.
Bildad wraps it all up in v20-22 saying, “Behold, God will not reject a blameless man, nor take the hand of evildoers. He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting. Those who hate you will be clothed with shame, and the tent of the wicked will be no more.” According to Bildad Job can be sure of one thing. God won’t reject a man whose blameless, and if he turns away from evil his current despair will be replaced with laughter, shouting, and fullness. And Job can sit back and smile at his enemies perishing around him. Ironically Bildad says what is true here but has reversed the roles present among them. Bildad thinks he and the other friends are the blameless ones and Job is the wicked one. Yet the reality is just the opposite. Job is the one who is blameless among them (chapter 1-2 already told us that many times) and his friends are the wicked who in the end of this will be shamed while Job will be vindicated.
Bildad’s system of belief is sure neat and tidy, with very definable categories of right and wrong. His system has all sorts of pleasant qualities about it except for the fact that it adds to Job’s suffering and does nothing to alleviate it at all. His system has no room for mess. No room for godly people doing bad things. And most importantly no room for godly people suffering for doing godly things. That just won’t fit into Bildad’s system, which is why he can’t understand Job and must believe Job has turned away from God. We could end right here and be in the dumps with Job feeling hopeless with such a system. But we won’t.
Remember, Bildad believes God is fair. That God gives good things to good people and bad things to bad people. Many people today believe God is fair, just as he did. What they all miss is that we don’t want God’s fairness, we want His mercy. If God were fair, and truly did give good things to good people and bad things to bad people no one after Genesis 3 would ever receive a good thing from God at all. Bildad misses this because he is too high an opinion of himself. Deep down he believes God has blessed him for his greatness and goodness and because of this he misses how sinful he really is. Bildad really needs the mercy of God if he is to be saved. And I think that Job, because of his suffering, is beginning to know this about himself. That he is a man who needs a mediator, someone to stand in the gap between he and God to bring them both together again. That, of course, is found only in Christ. And in the very next chapter we see this rise to the surface in a wonderful manner.
Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 133.