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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Job 8

 

 

Verses 1-22

XIX.

VENTURESOME THEOLOGY

Job 8:1-22

BILDAD SPEAKS

THE first attempt to meet Job has been made by one who relies on his own experience and takes pleasure in recounting the things which he has seen. Bildad of Shuach, on the other hand, is a man who holds to the wisdom of the fathers and supports himself at all times with their answers to the questions of life. Vain to him is the reasoning of one who sees all as through coloured glass, everything of this tint or that, according to his state or notions for the time being. The personal impression counts for nothing with Bildad. He finds no authority there. In him we have the Catholic theologian opposing individualism. Unfortunately he fails in the power most needed, of distinguishing chaff from grain. Back to antiquity, back to the fathers, say some; but, although they profess the excellent temper of reverence, there is no guarantee that they will not select the follies of the past instead of its wisdom to admire. Everything depends upon the man, the individual, after all, whether he has an open mind, a preference if not a passion for great ideas. There are those who go back to the apostles and find only dogmatism, instead of the glorious breadth of Divine poetry and hope. Yea, some go to the Light of the World, and report as their discovery some pragmatical scheme, some weak arrangement of details, a bondage or a futility. Bildad is not one of these. He is intelligent and well-informed, an able man, as we say; but he has no sympathy with new ideas that burst the old wine skins of tradition, no sympathy with daring words that throw doubt on old orthodoxies. You can fancy his pious horror when the rude hand of Job seemed to rend the sacred garments of established truth. It would have been like him to turn away and leave to fate and judgment a man so venturesome.

With the instinct of the highest and noblest thought, utterly removed from all impiety, the writer has shown his inspiration in leading Job to a climax of impassioned inquiry as one who wrestles in the swellings of Jordan with the angel of Jehovah. Now he brings forward Bildad speaking cold words from a mind quite unable to understand the crisis. This is a man who firmly believed himself possessed of authority and insight. When Job added entreaty to entreaty, demand to demand, Bildad would feel as if his ears were deceiving him, for what he heard seemed to be an impious assault on the justice of the Most High, an attempt to convict the Infinitely Righteous of unrighteousness. He burns to speak; and Job has no sooner sunk down exhausted than he begins:-

How long wilt thou speak these things?

A mighty wind, forsooth, are the words of thy mouth.

God:-will He pervert judgment?

Almighty God:-will He pervert righteousness?

If thy children sinned against Him,

And He cast them away into the hand of their rebellion;

If thou wilt seek unto God,

And unto the Almighty wilt make entreaty;

If spotless and upright thou art,

Surely now He would awake for thee

And make prosperous thy righteous habitation.

So that thy beginning shall prove small

And thy latter end exceedingly great.

How far wrong Bildad is may be seen in this, that he dangles before Job the hope of greater worldly prosperity. The children must have sinned, for they have perished. Yet Job himself may possibly be innocent. If he is, then a simple entreaty to God will insure His renewed favour and help. Job is required to seek wealth and greatness again as a pledge of his own uprightness. But the whole difficulty lies in the fact that, being upright, he has been plunged into poverty, desolation, and a living death. He desires to know the reason of what has occurred. Apart altogether from the restoration of his prosperity and health, he would know what God means. Bildad does not see this in the least. Himself a prosperous man, devoted to the doctrine that opulence is the proof of religious acceptance and security, he has nothing for Job but the advice to get God to prove him righteous by giving him back his goods. There is a taunt in Bildad’s speech. He privately believes that there has been sin, and that only by way of repentance good can come again. Since his friend is so obstinate let him try to regain his prosperity and fail. Bildad is lavish in promises, extravagant indeed. He can only be acquitted of a sinister meaning in his large prediction if we judge that he reckons God to be under a debt to a faithful servant whom He had unwittingly, while He was not observing, allowed to be overtaken by disaster.

Next the speaker parades his learning, the wisdom he had gathered from the past:-

"Inquire, I pray thee, of the bygone age,

And attend to the research of their fathers.

(For we are but of yesterday and know nothing;

A shadow indeed, are our days upon the earth)-

Shall not they teach thee and tell thee,

Bring forth words from their heart?"

The man of today is nothing, a poor creature. Only by the proved wisdom of the long ages can end come to controversy. Let Job listen, then, and be convinced.

Now it must be owned there is not simply an air of truth but truth itself in what Bildad proceeds to say in the very picturesque passage that follows. Truths, however, may be taken hold of in a wrong way to establish false conclusions; and in this way Job’s interlocutor errs with not a few of his painstaking successors. The rush or papyrus of the riverside cannot grow without mire; the reed grass needs moisture. If the water fails they wither. So are the paths of all that forget God. Yes: if you take it aright, what can be more impressively certain? The hope of a godless man perishes. His confidence is cut off; it is as if he trusted in a spider’s web. Even his house, however strongly built, shall not support him. The man who has abandoned God must come to this-that every earthly stay shall snap asunder, every expectation fade. There shall be nothing between him and despair. His strength, his wisdom, his inheritance, his possessions piled together in abundance, how can they avail when the demand is urged by Divine justice - What hast thou done with thy life? This, however, is not at all in Bildad’s mind. He is not thinking of the prosperity of the soul and exultation in God, but of outward success, that a man should spread his visible existence like a green bay tree. Beyond that visible existence he cannot stretch thought or reasoning. His school, generally, believed in God much after the manner of English eighteenth-century deists, standing on the earth, looking over the life of man here, and demanding in the present world the vindication of providence. The position is realistic, the good of life solely mundane. If one is brought low who flourished in luxuriance and sent forth his shoots over the garden and was rooted near the spring, his poverty is his destruction; he is destroyed because somehow the law of life, that is of prosperity, has been transgressed, and the God of success punishes the fault. We are made to feel that beneath the promise of returning honour and joy with which Bildad closes there is an if. "God will not cast away a perfect man." Is Job perfect? Then his mouth will be filled with laughter, and his haters shall be clothed with shame. That issue is problematical. And yet, on the whole, doubt is kept well in the background, and the final word of cheer is made as generous and hopeful as circumstances will allow. Bildad means to leave the impression on Job’s mind that the wisdom of the ancients as applied to his case is reassuring.

But one sentence of his speech, that in which (Job 8:4) he implies the belief that Job’s children had sinned and been "cast away into the hand of their rebellion," shows the cold, relentless side of his orthodoxy, the logic, not unknown still, which presses to its point over the whole human race. Bildad meant, it appears, to shift from Job the burden of his children’s fate. The catastrophe which overtook them might have seemed to be one of the arrows of judgment aimed at the father. Job himself may have had great perplexity as well as keen distress whenever he thought of his sons and daughters. Now Bildad is throwing on them the guilt which he believes to have been so terribly punished, even to the extremity of irremediable death. But there is no enlightenment in the suggestion. Rather does it add to the difficulties of the case. The sons and daughters whom Job loved, over whom he watched with such religious care lest they should renounce God in their hearts-were they condemned by the Most High? A man of the old world, accustomed to think of himself as standing in God’s stead to his household, Job cannot receive this. Thought having been once stirred to its depths, he is resentful now against a doctrine that may never before have been questioned. Is there, then no fatherhood in the Almighty, no magnanimity such as Job himself would have shown? If so, then the spirit would fail before Him, and the souls which He has made. [Isaiah 57:16] The dogmatist with his wisdom of the ages drops in the by-going one of his commonplaces of theological thought. It is a coal of fire in the heart of the sufferer.

Those who attempt to explain God’s ways for edification and comfort need to be very simple and genuine in their feeling with men, their effort on behalf of God. Everyone who believes and thinks has something in his spiritual experience worth recounting, and may help an afflicted brother by retracing his own history. But to make a creed learned by rote the basis of consolation is perilous. The aspect it takes to those under trial will often surprise the best meaning consoler. A point is emphasised by the keen mind of sorrow, and, like Elijah’s cloud, it soon sweeps over the whole sky, a storm of doubt and dismay.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Job 8:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/job-8.html.

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