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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Job 8

 

 

Verses 1-22

The First Speech of Bildad

Job 8

Considering the whole case, we must never forget the exact condition in which the three comforters found Job himself. This is not a merely speculative discussion, all the men being upon equal terms, and all enjoying the luxury of intellectual vitality, and the delight of talking over subjects which have no practical bearing: one of the men is hardly alive. What was his condition? Children all dead, flocks destroyed, camels carried away, servants slain by the edge of the sword, and Job smitten "with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown. And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes." A man in such circumstances is not likely to enjoy any exercise in merely intellectual gymnastics. The other men were simply lookers-on; they did not feel the pain. It is one thing to observe a sufferer, and quite another to be that sufferer himself. The words of the sufferer cause him suffering; they come a long way, they struggle forward from the very centre of the heart; they are coloured with blood; they are accentuated with agony. Keeping this fact in view, we must make large allowances for the kind of utterance in which Job indulged. Bildad had but to answer—Job had to suffer. They who view grief in the abstract, they who have only to lecture grief or account for it, are not themselves likely to speak as he will speak in whose soul the iron is far thrust. We may be tempted to lecture Job. The only thing that can ever make us understand the Book of Job is to be in something like the situation of Job himself. We cannot preach ourselves into the meaning: we must die into it.

Bildad charges Job with running off into mere talk:—

"How long wilt thou speak these things? and how long shall the words of thy mouth be like a strong wind?" ( Job 6:2).

To Bildad it was mere rhetoric. To those who are not in keenest—that is to say, most vital—sympathy with the sufferer, all that the sufferer may say will be of the nature of mere talk—a rhetorical evaporation—a kind of suicide in eloquence. So it must ever be in all kinds of suffering. If a speaker be charged with a message which he must deliver, being perfectly aware that every word will bring back insult, sneer, disbelief, in proportion as he feels the pain of his mission will he be charged with being a mere verbal craftsman, having skill in vocal tricks, and pleasing himself with trope and image and appeal. The kind of man represented by Bildad lives in all ages, listens to all speakers, treats all occasions in the same high and uncondescending manner. What is Bildad wanting in? He is wanting in sympathy, wherever you find him. Not that he is without feeling. A man may have tears in his eyes, and yet have no sympathy in his heart, because the tears may relate to circumstances, accidents, transient phases of the event, and the soul may be all the while out of sympathy with the central meaning, the inner and divine suggestion.

Bildad copied Eliphaz. We find in him precisely the same lofty theological tone, the same design always to appeal to the justice of God—the immeasurable righteousness as against the measurable sufferer. The tone of the third verse is surely not without nobleness:—"Doth God pervert judgment? or doth the Almighty pervert justice?" As much as to say, If he does so in this instance, it is the first time he ever did it. A man"s words may be right, and yet the tone in which he speaks them may fail to carry the words to the mark to which they are addressed. We may even so challenge the righteousness of God as to make men feel its burdensomeness. We cannot hurl the whole of the righteousness of God against a man in one great thunder-shock without blowing out his feeble prayer and discouraging him in his prostrate attitude. Even righteousness must be accommodated to human weakness when the approach of it is intended to be not a threatening but a gospel. Then there are hours in which we cannot bear to hear about righteousness, law; the words themselves are tyrannous, overwhelming: we want to hear about pity, tenderness, hope; and, blessed be God, pity, tenderness, and hope may be so preached as still to involve all that is grandest and most enduring in the divine righteousness. We are not preaching righteousness when we are exercising severity. Austerity is but one form of the law. When the law comes to be properly read by its writer, it will be so read as to discover in it mercy, and hope, and pity, and love.

Job"s two comforters—for only two have spoken up to this point—find the difficulty of applying general principles to particular cases. But it is in the application of such principles to such cases that true spiritual skill is discovered. We should frighten the world by preaching righteousness only. We should discourage mankind by being too grandiloquent upon the unchangeableness of mere law. Bildad had seized the idea that God was righteous, God was just, whatever God did was beyond all challenge and criticism, and with this weapon he smote the prostrate patriarch. His principle was right; his application of it was defective. To tell the world that railway accidents are but as one to a million is to preach a very comfortable doctrine, but it is not at all comfortable to the friends of the one man who was killed. We must, therefore, be very careful how we apply general statistics to individual sufferers. Who would think of going to a family the head of which had been killed in a railway accident to preach the doctrine that after all such catastrophes occur very rarely, and that according to statistical authority they only occur as one to a million of the population? What a comforting doctrine to the family that has been bereaved! Better keep out of view the statistical phase. Better proceed upon another line altogether. Better say,—How sad the case is; how pitiful the whole position in which you as a bereaved family are placed! But let us see what we can of brightness even in this distress: the woe is very great; the loss Isaiah , humanly speaking, irreparable, but even here perhaps, by patient waiting, we may discover some alleviating circumstance, or some thought that leads in the direction of palliation and assuagement of the heart-pain. A tone of that; kind may reach the bereaved heart, but some grand statistical demonstration that accidents occur but very seldom would only aggravate the suffering it was clumsily intended to mitigate.

Bildad will put the case with some discernment, but may perhaps lose himself in the very nicety of his discrimination. In the ministry of sympathy we must not be too discerning, discriminate, critical, and hair-splitting. Bildad ventures upon very delicate ground in the fourth verse.—

"If thy children have sinned against him, and he have cast them away for their transgression." ( Job 6:4)

Well, even there Bildad might shelter himself behind Job: for did not Job say in the first instance, and may he not have given some indication of it to his friends, that "it may be that my sons have sinned"? They were at all events taken away. Bildad assumes that they may have been taken away on account of their transgression. But, he would say, that is over; all that is past, and beyond recall: it may be as thou hast thought in thine heart that thy children have sinned, and that God has punished them in the very midst of their iniquity. Now he comes to lay the emphasis upon the word "thou," in the fifth verse:—"If thou wouldest seek unto God betimes." As a general rule, such a word as "thou" is rather to be slurred than pronounced with weight of emphasis or sharpness of accent. It is but a secondary word in a sentence, and is to be spoken trippingly by the tongue, and almost lost in the vocal exercise; but as spoken in the argument of Bildad, the word "thou" is the emphatic word in the sentence, and is meant to balance the word "children" in the first part of the argument: If thy children have sinned and been taken away, who can help it? The circumstance is beyond all amendment and reparation; but if thou—still a living man—if thou wouldest seek unto God, if thou wert pure and upright, the case might be wholly different. So Bildad fixes his eyes upon the point of hope. He says, perhaps not flippantly,—The children are gone, why mourn over their graves? Weeping cannot recall them; it is not in human power to recover those that are dead; therefore betake thyself to the point of hope; that point of hope is in thyself,—if thou wouldest seek unto God, if thou wert pure and upright;—it is from that point that the new departure must begin. Bildad"s speech is in these respects full of wisdom. He points Job in the right direction. "If thou wouldest seek unto God betimes." We always fall back upon God in grief. The word "God" comes easily into our speech in the dark and wintry night-time of desolation, bereavement, solitude. Even atheists negatively pray. There are hours when we are not afraid to speak the name of God. Men who would never mention it in business, or on the highways of life, who would never dream of uttering it whilst they were driving in the golden chariot of abundance and prosperity, may whine it out to doctor, or nurse, or ghostly ministrant, in the black night-time of conscious self-helplessness. Is God, then, not more than what is known as righteous? Are not his eyes full of tears? Is not the mighty hand capable of expressing itself in softest touch? If men have taken liberties with God, what if God himself may be partly accountable for this? If he had struck the universe with a lightning-rod every time it sinned, the universe might not have trifled with him; if for every iniquity there had been an instantaneous and everlasting hell, creation might have been held upon its good behaviour. But good behaviour founded upon a philosophy of fear is only vice in a fit of dejection.

Bildad instructs Job in the right tone. In the fifth verse he uses the word "supplication." That English word does not give the full meaning of the speaker. In the word which Bildad used there was a red line of blood,—there was a cry for mercy, there was a confession of error, there was a music of contrition. Job was not called to write out a legal document, to go into court and take his stand upon it, and to argue his case before the bar of the Almighty, with the dignity of an injured Prayer of Manasseh , and with the eloquence of one who was in a righteous passion; he was called upon to fall down, to fasten his eyes in the earth, to be the publican of the gospel before the time, to say, God be merciful to me a sinner! Thus, it is not enough to come in the right direction—namely, to God—we must come in the right tone, with the right quality of words; we must bring with us not argument, defence, and the spirit of exultation, but weakness, self-renunciation, self-helplessness, and trust in the living God. He is merciful as well as just.

Bildad then assures Job of a grand issue:—If thou wilt do this, "though thy beginning was small, yet thy latter end should greatly increase" ( Job 6:7). All beginnings are small. When does God ever begin at the supreme end or at the point of culmination? The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed. The coming of the day is a little whitening of the east, but that little dawn means that the whole arch of heaven shall presently be bright with ineffable glory. Do not judge by the beginning. Rather have fear of any beginning that is large, overwhelming. Better begin low, and proceed little by little, to the whole height of God"s generous purpose.

Now in his further speech Bildad is philosophical and strong:—

"For inquire, I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to the search of their fathers: (for we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow:) shall not they teach thee, and tell thee, and utter words out of their heart?" ( Job 6:8-10).

This argument has often been misunderstood. It has been supposed that in the ninth verse Bildad was showing the emptiness and worthlessness of all human knowledge; the word "we" has been supposed to include the whole of the human race; then the text would read: For all men—whenever they have lived, whoever they may be—all men are but of yesterday, and know nothing. That may be in a sense true, but it was not the truth spoken by Bildad. The speaker was meaning that the men who were then waiting upon Job in a visit of sympathy were but moderns, contemporaries, children of yesterday; whatever they might say would have upon it the weakness of novelty. Bildad therefore says, Take no account of us, we are hardly born; but search back in history, a century, ten centuries; get back as far as you can, and let the days that are venerable teach thee. It is marvellous how much store has been set on antiquity by the greatest thinkers, whether Christian or pagan. Aristotle says, "The more ancient a witness is the more creditable and the more credible." Aristotle was not a Bible prophet, and therefore his name may be quoted with some effect to those who think that all men out of the Bible were necessarily great men. A Latin judge has said, "Nothing can be more ancient to me." What did he mean by the word "ancient" in such a case as that? He meant nothing could be more trustworthy, reputable, respectable. The farther you go back in history the farther you get away from the refinements of a technical civilisation—from that miserable casuistry which can make the worse appear the better cause—from that skill in dialectics whose business it is to twist meanings and pervert purposes and discolour all that appeals to the senses. But is there not a meaning still deeper than that? Certainly. In all this wish to go back, and to have antiquity on one"s side, lies the sublime doctrine that out of eternity must come the rule and proper direction of time. Why do we not amplify all instincts, and all solid reasonings, and all well-tested arguments, and give them their highest aspect and their completest force? We are accustomed to consult the antiquary upon certain difficult questions. The most learned judge asks, Is there a precedent? The most profoundly philosophical student in law, in history, in philosophy, is delighted to find that a thousand years ago—yea, five thousand years since—judgment was pronounced upon this very case, whatever it may be. Nothing will satisfy the truly scholarly and disciplined mind but getting right back to origins. Such a mind must have a Book of Genesis in its literature. This is supposed to be right, and we are not disposed to question its rectitude; but what is the true interpretation of this? Why this love of antiquity? Why this searching back from precedent to precedent? Why this quest of origin? The meaning is that we want to hear what eternity has to say. When allusion is made to our sin, we cannot be contented with modern instances, and novel discourses and theories; we must be taken back to Adam, beyond him: what waits us there in that deep depth of eternity? This, that the Lamb was slain from before the foundation of the earth; in other words, the atonement wrought out by Christ, for the redemption of men and the forgiveness of sins, was not a point in history; it was the very centre and supreme thought of eternity. It is only because truth is eternal that it can accommodate itself to passing phases and immediate experiences. Truth did not come into the world at a given point in history; it is the expression of eternity; it is an Incarnation of Godhead; it is a visitant from the upper spaces. This is the reason why men cannot get rid of it. If it were the latest invention, it might be superseded; if it were the discovery of a single mind, some greater mind might arise that would overthrow it; but truth comes up from eternity, fills the little day to overflow, and passes on from age to age, the contemporary of every century, because the expression of eternity.

Now Bildad resorts to the final point of Eliphaz. He concludes his discourse with words of promise. Having thrown a proverb or two at the head of Job; as, for example, "Can the rush grow up without mire? Can the flag grow without water?" having discoursed, it may be, in a satirical vein, upon water-plants, showing that they are only green and flourishing so long as they are full of water, and that when the water ceases their greenness fades; and having told him, needlessly, that "the hypocrite"s hope shall perish," for there was no hypocrisy in Job; having touched upon the frail tenement of the spider as a type of the refuge of men who tell lies, he refers to one who "is green before the sun, and his branch shooteth forth in his garden," a heart that is rooted in God, a soul that lives in eternity, so that, come winter, come summer, come famine of food, or thirst of water, come what may, this heart looks on to the stone-house, the rock that cannot be shaken; and having wrought himself up into this noble ecstasy Bildad concludes his speech with words of comfort:—

"Behold, this is the joy of his way, and out of the earth shall others grow. Behold, God will not cast away a perfect Prayer of Manasseh , neither will he help the evil doers: till he fill thy mouth with laughing, and thy lips with rejoicing. They that hate thee shall be clothed with shame; and the dwelling place of the wicked shall come to nought" ( Job 6:19-22.)

Bildad began with criticism, he ended with sympathy. Who could do otherwise? The sight was heart-rending. He who would have taken his stand upon eternal principles was forced down into pity and thoughtfulness and human consideration, when he saw the man smitten all over with sore boils, without one healthy spot upon his whole flesh; robbed by thieves without name; smitten, crushed, forsaken, an offence to those nearest and dearest to him. Sometimes we are thus forced into sympathy. Sometimes there is more strength in our argument than in our sympathy, yet we cannot withdraw without some words of promise. This is not so with Jesus Christ, who comes to us in our distress and helplessness and uttermost misery. He does not speak words only: he dies to redeem us. Himself bare our sins, carried our iniquities; yea, he took to himself our diseases, he was loaded with our putridity, our deathfulness, he took it all. That was sympathy! Not to talk to your grief, but to absorb it; not to enumerate your diseases, but to transfer them to himself. This is a great mystery; but a mystery falls becomingly into the whole history of Christ. It is a mystery not of darkness but of light; a mystery not as indicating a difficulty of the intellect, but as pointing to a supreme effort of the heart,—how to die, and yet to live; how to take the iniquities and diseases of the world, and to bear them away. Ask us to explain it, and we say we have no words. Speech dies at that point. Ask us if we feel it, and we say, radiantly, gratefully, Yes, we feel it all, and know it to be true.

Note

Job"s disease.—The opinion that the malady under which Job suffered was elephantiasis, or black leprosy, is so ancient, that it is found, according to Origen"s Hexapla, in the rendering which one of the Greek versions has made of Job 2:7. It was also entertained by Abulfeda (Hist. Anteisl, p26); and in modern times by the best scholars generally. The passages which are considered to indicate this disease are found in the description of his skin burning from head to foot, so that he took a potsherd to scrape himself ( Job 2:7-8); in its being covered with putrefaction and crusts of earth, and being at one time stiff and hard, while at another it cracked and discharged fluid ( Job 7:5); in the offensive breath which drove away the kindness of attendants ( Job 19:17); in the restless nights, which were either sleepless or scared with frightful dreams ( Job 7:13-14; Job 30:17); in general emaciation ( Job 16:8); and in so intense a loathing of the burden of life, that strangling and death were preferable to it ( Job 7:15).

In this picture of Job"s sufferings, the state of the skin is not so distinctly described as to enable us to identify the disease with elephantiasis in a rigorous sense. The difficulty is also increased by the fact that ‏שׁחין‎ (shechin) is generally rendered "boils." But that word, according to its radical sense, only means burning, inflammation—a hot sense of pain, which, although it attends boils and abscesses, is common to other cutaneous irritations. Moreover, the fact that Job scraped himself with a potsherd is irreconcilable with the notion that his body was covered with boils or open sores, but agrees very well with the thickened state of the skin which characterises this disease.

In this, as in most other Biblical diseases, there is too little distinct description of the symptoms to enable us to determine the precise malady intended. But the general character of the complaint under which Job suffered bears a greater resemblance to elephantiasis than to any other disease.—Kitto"s Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature.


Verse 7

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Though thy beginning was small, yet thy latter end should greatly increase."Job 8:7

So life is not to be judged by its beginning, but by its end.—This is true, scientifically as well as morally.—We need not doubt that the beginning of all life was small: but who can deny that the development of life has been sure, profound, and beneficent?—Man may have had the lowliest possible origin, yet he brings with him a seal higher than human; the very token of God is in his spirit; his very figure is an argument and a suggestion.—The text encourages the spirit of hope.—The Bible does not incite us towards mere review; it continually calls us to anticipation: "It doth not yet appear what we shall be."—We might look back until our spirits sickened and all our hope perished in coldness and dismay; but we are to look forward and behold ourselves, sanctified and glorified, the purpose of our manhood in full fruition, and the service of God becoming the very music of our life.—There is a review of life which is simply unprofitable; when we have settled that our origin was as low as possible, we have done nothing to encourage the soul, but rather to bring it into self-contempt: but when, in the Spirit of Christ, we forecast the future, seeing what God meant us to be when he created us, then we have an ideal towards which we can grow; we are beckoned by a celestial perfection, and assured that every effort in that direction will be crowned with the fullest reward.—This message may be delivered to those who have just begun to believe in the Son of God.—The kingdom of God itself is like unto a grain of mustard-seed.—At first our faith may be small, hardly indeed distinguishable from unbelief; our prayer may be "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief": but the very fact that we have begun to believe should cheer us, and bring with it the assurance that this faith will grow, until it dominates the whole life and rules the destiny, beyond the reach of temptation or overthrow on the part of the enemy.—What man ceases to nurture his body, because his beginning as an infant was small? He does not dwell upon the days when he could neither speak, nor reason, nor help himself: when he looks back, upon those days, it is with wonder that his advance has been so great and so sure; what is true in the flesh is truer still in the spirit; we began at a point almost invisible, but, by the grace of God, we have been trained to some measure of manhood, strength, and dominance.—What has been done is but a hint of what may yet be done.—"My soul, hope thou in God."

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 8:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/job-8.html. 1885-95.

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