Lecture 12: Bildad Speaks
Course: The Book of Job
Lecture: Bildad Speaks
The three friends of Job are Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. Eliphaz has given his first response and now Bildad will speak in chapter 8.
As you can see, the outline is pretty simple.
II. Direct Rebuke and Admonition
So let’s consider what he has to say. Starting with chapter 8, verses 2-7: “How long will you say such things? Your words are a blustering wind. Does God pervert justice? Does The Almighty pervert what is right? When your children sinned against Him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin. But if you will seek God earnestly and plead with The Almighty; if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your prosperous state. Your beginning will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be.”
Well, Bildad has taken it a step beyond what Eliphaz said. If you will remember, when Eliphaz began his speech he was extremely tactful. “If I speak, will you
listen? Would you listen to the words of a friend?” And he slowly gets into it. He does accuse Job of some pretty severe sins, but he does it slowly and tactfully and then finally says, “Job, I really think there must be something you have to repent of.”
Bildad hits him with a frontal assault. He says, “First of all, Job, you’re a blasphemer. You have blasphemed God by saying he perverts justice.” A little
more accurately, what Job has said is, he doesn’t understand what is going on. He is totally confused and dismayed by what has happened to him. It has led him to say some fairly harsh things, but he did not say that God is fundamentally unjust. So Bildad has gone a little bit beyond what Job has really said and accused him of saying things he did not say.
It becomes especially harsh in verse 4: “When your children sinned against Him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.” This is a man who just lost 10 children, seven sons, three daughters, they all got killed violently. His friends came and said, “Well, you know, your kids were sinners, and that is why God killed them all, so just accept it.” That is a pretty cruel, harsh thing to say and that is where Bildad is now in the speech.
We have to understand again, not everything the friends say is wrong, They will say a lot of true things about God and his justice and his management of the world; but they cannot answer Job’s complaint, the fact that Job does not deserve what has happened to him. And in their frustration they become more and more angry, more and more bitter; and in their anger they will say things that are not only totally harsh, but things that are untrue, just flat out untrue about him. So we see it beginning here with Bildad. “Your children were just sinners, so God killed them all, so just accept it.”
With verse 5, then, he gets into his admonition: “Seek God. Plead with him. If you are pure enough, everything will work out well for you and you will become rich again, in fact, richer than you ever were. Your future will be wonderful and prosperous.”
We will see many times, there is a lot of irony in what the friends say; because in fact at the end of the story, Job will be reconciled with God and Job will become very prosperous and rich. However, it will not be the way Bildad figures. It will not be Job repenting of some imaginary sin; it will be Job coming to understand the ways of God. Bildad himself will be condemned by God for what he has said. So the irony is, there is a lot of truth in what he says, but not the way he thinks it will be.
III. A Conservative Appeal
He then comes to talk about his conservative appeal, as I call it. “Ask the former generation and find out what their ancestors learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing and our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not instruct you and tell you? Will they not bring forth words from their
understanding?” An appeal to the elders. This is very traditional, ancient Near Eastern wisdom. We have received truth and understanding. We know how the world works because of what our elders have taught us. They are our authority. They are our source of truth. These are truths we have held onto for generations and we should not likely overthrow them.
This is what you could call the basic conservative mindset. It is the idea that there are certain truths about the human race, certain truths about God, certain truths about behavior, right and wrong that have been handed down from generation to generation and we should hold onto these truths and we should not let go of them. In effect, this is the heart of conservative thinking, that there is a lot of truth to be held onto from the past and we should not throw it away. Is this wrong? No, it is not wrong. There is a great deal of truth in it. Obviously, the elders, our parents, our grandparents have learned many hard lessons and they have passed these things down to us. The whole human race has learned many hard lessons and they have passed these truths down to us. We are foolish to neglect them and throw them away. Then, what is the problem?
The problem is again, he is misapplying a truth. We say this over and over. The truth of the doctrine of retribution that he is applying to Job, does not apply. And of course, there is also the possibility of learning something we didn’t know before; of having to wrestle with a problem that our ancestors did not wrestle with or that they never really resolved. Sometimes people do learn new things. They do encounter new issues and they have to work through those issues.
This is a case again where something that is right and true has been taken by the three friends and has been misused and is discouraging, in fact, to the
conservative mindset because ultimately Bildad is wrong. But we should not think that his basic ideal of conservative thinking is wrong, but that he has misapplied it and not fully worked through the issues.
IV. Metaphors of God’s Justice
We then come to Bildad’s metaphors of God’s justice in verses 11-18. “Can papyrus grow tall where there is no marsh? Can reeds thrive without water while
still growing and uncut? They wither more quickly than grass. Such is the destiny of all who forget God. So perishes the hope of the godless.” Let’s pause right there. This is a straightforward metaphor, right? The papyrus and the various marsh plants only grow where there is water. If a lake or a pond dries up, then all the marsh plants in it are going to die. That is a straightforward truth; and he says that God is the water in whom we all grow. God is the source of our life; and if we are cut off from Him, if we turn from God, we will die. Is that true? Well, of course it is true. But again, in Job’s case it does not apply.
Moving on, he says, verse 14: “What they trust in is fragile, what they rely on is a spider’s web. They lean on the web, but it gives away. They cling to it, but it does not hold. They are like a well-watered plant in the sunshine, spreading its roots over a garden. It entwines its roots around a pile of rocks and looks for a place among the stones; but when it is torn from its spot, the place disowns it and says ‘I never saw you.’ Surely its life withers away and from the soil other plants grow.”
Let’s pause right there. He has two metaphors here basically. Metaphor of a spider web, and that is the idea that all the ideologies people trust in besides God, fail. Whatever theory of life, whatever political theory you are holding to, it will fail ultimately. The only thing that is reliable is God. Is that true? Well, yes, it is definitely true! Once again, the issue is, Job has not abandoned God, so it doesn’t apply.
The interesting thing, though, in verse 16 and following is the metaphor of the plant or the tree, the growing tree. This is a very familiar metaphor in the Bible. Most of you, I am sure, know it from Psalm 1.
Psalm 1, we can look at this really quickly: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way sinners take or sit in the company of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on his law day and night.” Verse 3: ”That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, whose leaf does not wither. Whatever they do prospers.”
So this is the metaphor of the tree from Psalm 1. It is also used in the book of Jeremiah chapter 17, verses 5-8. It is a standard Biblical metaphor for the life of the righteous. We are like a tree with roots that go down into a reliable source of water. No matter how bad things get, even if there is a drought everywhere else, that tree will thrive, it will survive because it is rooted in streams of water that don’t dry up. So also those who are rooted in God don’t dry up and they bear fruit from God in season, their leaves do not wither.
So Bildad has taken a familiar metaphor from the Bible. He has essentially correctly described it. Those who are rooted in God thrive; those who are not rooted in God perish. Again, all we need to say here is, Job has not abandoned God. It does not apply in his case. But Bildad, again, is giving an answer that does not help.
So he concludes, verse 20 and following: “Surely God does not reject one who is blameless or strengthen the hands of evildoers. He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. Your enemies will be clothed in shame and the tents of the wicked will be no more.”
That is certainly correct. God does watch over his own and ultimately God does punish the evil. But of course, the problem is, it is made to be too automatic a process; as if every day, everybody is just saying, “The wicked fall and the righteous thrive” when we know life is a lot more complex than that; that often righteous people suffer terribly for no clear reason and wicked people thrive for no clear reason. And that is something Job will come back and throw in their faces.
A great deal of what Bildad has said is correct; but a great deal of it is misapplied and to some degree, Bildad in his anger and his frustration has become very harsh and very cruel, accusing Job’s children of having deserved the violent deaths that came to them.
So Bildad’s speech is straightforward. When we come back, we will look at Job’s answer and see how Job deals with all that Bildad has said.