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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Job 8

 

 

Verse 1

BILDAD’S FIRST ADDRESS.

1. Answered Bildad — The structure of his address and the doctrine he maintains do not differ essentially from those of Eliphaz. He, too, sees in affliction the stern features of retribution. The first speaker had assailed Job from an intrenchment in the universal sinfulness of our race. Bildad now renews the assault from an older and more impregnable position — the inexorable justice of God. From his point of view he sees but one side of the divine nature — justice. He coolly insinuates that Job’s children must have been wicked because they were killed. In this he was sustained by the convictions of antiquity, since “sudden death, to the ancient mind, bore the aspect of a judgment — a work of the divine wrath.” — Kitto. In like manner if the parent suffer he must also be a sinner. His discourse, therefore, like that of Eliphaz, closes with an earnest exhortation to repentance. Fortunately for us, Bildad is a stickler for antiquity, since he rescues from oblivion an ancient and most precious relic, combining in symmetrical beauty a threefold simile. Job 8:11-19. This ancient poem sings the fate of all those who forget God. The spirit of this entire discourse sets Bildad before us in an unfavourable light. Like Saul of Tarsus before his conversion, he is zealously affected for God. Bildad also would seemingly have been ready to carry out his convictions, even at the point of the sword.


Verse 2

The first strophe — THE COURSE OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE DISPLAYS THE JUSTICE OF GOD, Job 8:2-7.

a. Since God cannot pervert the right, the death of Job’s children shows that they must have sinned, Job 8:2-4.

2. A strong wind — Omit like. A common figure with poets. The irony of Aristophanes furnishes a good comment: “A whirlwind of words is preparing to burst forth.” Job’s words are also boisterous, but none the less empty.


Verse 3

3. God… the Almighty אל, el, and שׁדי, shaddai. Though differing in form, the root idea of both is that of power. These, perhaps, were world-wide titles of God, while the name Jehovah was confined to the chosen people. Balaam (as well as the Gentile Job and his friends) uses the terms el and shaddai, (Numbers 24:4 ; Numbers 24:16,) and in a juxtaposition similar to that of our text. The latter name rarely appears in the later books of the Bible. it occurs nine times in the Pentateuch, twice in Ruth, thirty-one times in Job, and six times in all the other poets. The word shaddai is a plural of pre-eminence, probably from shadhadh, “to be strong.” Shaddai is the God who makes good his covenants, (Genesis 17:1, see note,) who everywhere enforces his will, punishes the wicked, and protects the just. Here for the first time appears the favourite thought of Job’s co-reasoners, that an almighty being cannot do wrong. Bildad, the apostle of inexorable law, contemplated God only through the attribute of his almightiness, from which justice is inseparable.


Verse 4

4. If — The hypothetical way of putting the case by no means deadens the stroke dealt by the following word, thy children. Compare the delicate and impersonal allusion of Eliphaz in Job 5:4. And — Better, then. Thus the verse is complete in itself.

For their transgression — Then hath he given them into the hand of their transgression, as in margin. Divine wisdom has ordained that wickedness should be its own punishment. The law is as unerring as that of gravitation. The retributive sting may be concealed, but it is none the less the endowment of evil. From the moment of transgression the elements of evil bestir themselves to punish, though the stroke be delayed.


Verse 5

b. Divine Providence, that punishes the wicked, will as certainly reward the man who conciliates his God, Job 8:5-7.

5. Thou — Emphatic. While the dead children cannot, thou mayest repent.


Verse 6

6. Awake corresponds to the “seeking early,” (betimes,) תשׁחר, a verb whose root signifies “the early light,” or “dawn.” Underlying the figure is the thought that what burdens the heart leads to early action. In response to earnest (early) supplication God arouses himself — awakes.

Habitation of thy righteousness — The abode where thou, when righteous, shalt dwell. Bildad insinuates, according to Schultens, that the home of Job had been one of wickedness.


Verse 7

7. Though And if. An unconscious prophecy of what actually took place.


Verse 8

Second long strophe — THE WISE TEACHINGS OF THE ANCIENTS AS RESPECTS THE MERITED END OF THOSE WHO FORGET GOD, Job 8:8-19.

a. Introductory — Praise of the collective wisdom of the ancients, “the oldest patriarchs,” (Dr. Clarke and Ewald,) whose vastly longer lives afforded a vastly wider range of experience and observation than that enjoyed by Job and his brother ephemera, Job 8:8-10.

8. Search — Rather, the results of searching — deep wisdom, that which comes from profound investigation.


Verse 9

9. For we (are…) yesterday — Such is the terse original, as may be seen in the English version. The life of an individual is too short to comprehend the purposes of God. The astronomer gathers up the observations of all who have preceded him for a basis of reasoning. A like appeal Bildad makes to the moral observations of the past. Or he may intimate that the effusion he is about to cite contains the wisdom of one of the most aged patriarchs, whose opportunities for ripened knowledge far surpassed those of the short lives he and Job had thus far lived.

Touching the painful brevity of human life, the classics have nothing that vies with the abrupt expression of Bildad. By Sophocles man is called “the shadow of smoke,” and by AEschylus “the image of a shade.” Nor is the more extended moralizing of Saadi, the Persian poet, more impressive: “Surely the world is like a fading shadow, or like a guest who remains a night and then departs; or like a dream which a sleeping man has seen, which, when the night is gone, has vanished.” Compare 1 Chronicles 29:15.


Verse 10

10. Shall not they teach thee — Job had confidently said, (Job 6:24,) Teach me, and Bildad adduces a most remarkable passage out of the heart of ancient times. He summons the fathers, that they may deal Job a crushing blow. In the early history of most nations knowledge was preserved in the form of proverbs, maxims, and apothegms. Lacking the advantage of circulated books for the transmission of thought, they compressed it into as small a compass as possible, that it might be more easily remembered, and thus preserved for the generations to come. We have before us fragments of a poem (Job 8:11-19) that probably came to Bildad from a very remote age. Some have conjectured that they may be relics of some primeval revelation. The imagery employed, as well as the Egyptian words gome, (Coptic, kam,) reed, (papyrus,) and ahhou, (flag,) satisfy Carey and others that this ancient lay was composed in Egypt.


Verse 11

b. The luxuriant water-reeds that tower above the marshes of the Nile, and quickly wither when its waters are suddenly withdrawn, image forth the short-lived prosperity of the wicked, whose roots take hold upon worldly slime and mire rather than upon God, Job 8:11-13.

[image]

11. The rush גמא, gome, unquestionably the papyrus; thus in the Septuagint. This plant flourishes in pools of still water, reaching from ten to fifteen feet above, and descending two or three feet beneath, the surface. The plant had a diameter at the bottom of about three inches, tapered upward, was without leaves, and was crowned with a graceful tuft, not unlike the broom. The ark in which the infant Moses was placed was made of this plant. Exodus 2:3 . See Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 35:7, where the word rush is also used. The papyrus (hence our word paper) was of great renown, because it furnished the material from which the ancients made their paper. The process was so simple that it may be briefly described. The stalk, having been pared, was split lengthwise into thin slices, two courses of which were laid one above the other, crosswise and at right angles, and glued together, probably by the juice of the plant. The plant formerly abounded along the Nile, springing up from its mire, but now is wholly extinct in Egypt. It is still found in two places in Palestine. It grows luxuriously in a swamp at the north end of the plain of Gennesaret; it also covers many acres in the inaccessible marshes of the Huleh, the ancient Merom. Tristram thus describes his experiences in the papyrus marsh of the Huleh: “A false step off its roots will take the intruder over head in suffocating peat mud… In fact, the whole is simply a floating bog of several miles square — a very thin crust of vegetation over an unknown depth of water; and if the weight of the explorer breaks through this, suffocation is imminent. Some of the Arabs, who were tilling the plain for cotton, assured us that even a wild boar never got through it. We shot two bitterns, but, in endeavouring to retrieve them, I slipped from the root on which I was standing, and was drawn down in a moment, only saving myself from drowning by my gun, which had providentially caught across a papyrus stem.” — Land of Israel, p. 587.

Flag אחו, (ahhu,) including reeds, grass, particularly Nile grass. (Furst.) The use of the word in Genesis 41:2, where it is translated “meadow,” points to some specific plant eaten by cattle. But little more is known about the word now than in the times of Jerome, who, having inquired of the learned as to what it signified, “heard from the Egyptians that it meant every green herb which grew in a marsh.” Peyron, in his Coptic Lexicon, defines the word in the exact language of Jerome. “The edible rush, and the beautiful flowering rush, would either meet the requirements of the sacred text.” — TRISTRAM, Nat. History of the Bible, p. 435.

Without water — What mire is to the papyrus, and water to the Nile grass, such is the grace of God to the soul. For want of oil the lamps of the five foolish virgins went out.


Verse 12

12. It withereth — Our translators have disregarded the (in this case) important ו : while yet it is in its greenness, it is uncut, (and) THEN, sooner than all (other) grass, it drieth up. The passage strikingly illustrates the estate of the hypocrite — the man who forgets God. The tall and graceful plant need not be cut down that it may suddenly die. Take from it the moisture of the marsh, and it withers. Thus with one who assumes to be what he is not. False and characterless he stands. He has no life of God in the soul. Withdraw the grace of God, and his nakedness stands self-confessed. He withers before he dies. Few are the exceptions to the law that the character of men is known to their fellows before they are cut down. The scene of the first three verses of this poem is evidently the Nile. The hot sun dries up the marsh water, and the plants perish. Still not far away rolls the majestic river, sometimes, as we have seen, called the ocean. In like manner the sinner perishes in the morass, not far from the river of life.


Verse 13

13. Forget God — Ingratitude is a burning wind that dries up the fountains of piety and the streams of love. (St. Bernard.)

The hypocrite חנ Š. At the root of this word, occurring so often in this book, unquestionably lies the idea of veiling or concealing. The word also signifies the ungodly, which is the meaning that Gesenius and most interpreters of Job give it. Hitzig, however, renders as in the text. Our English word in its Greek original explains itself. A hypocrite is one who acts a part, like a stageplayer. (See on our text two sermons by Dr. South.)


Verse 14

14. A spider’s web — Rather, house. Comp. Isaiah 59:5. A favourite Oriental figure. Thus Mohammed: “The likeness of those who take other patrons besides God is as the likeness of the spider which maketh herself a house; but the weakest of all houses surely is the house of the spider; if they knew this.” — Sura 29:40, entitled The Spider. The Arabs have a proverb that “time destroys the wall of the well-built house as well as the web of the spider.” The Chinese call the spider the wise insect, a view which agrees with that of Solomon, who classes it among creatures exceedingly wise. Proverbs 30:24-28. Frail as is the spider’s house, it is the best and strongest she can build; but not thus with the godless man.


Verses 14-19

b. Such a man can build on nothing securely; (Hirtzel;) supports, apparently the firmest, fail him, Job 8:14-19.

The preceding image parts asunder into similes: the one of “a spider’s house,” confessedly frail, and the other of a succulent garden plant, whose “house of stones” is more enduring — yet destruction in either case is certain. The same word house, in Job 8:14-15; Job 8:17, is pivotal in the entire comparison. Job’s home had been swept away, but the prospective habitation of righteousness (Job 8:6) shall endure.


Verse 16

16. Before the sun — “In the glow of the sun, where other plants wither, it thrives and remains fresh.” — Hirtzel. The poem has spoken of marsh plants; it now suddenly introduces a climbing plant of the garden, probably parasitical. This was more familiar, and would better illustrate Bildad’s theme.


Verse 17

17. About the heap — Literally, Over a heap (of stones) are his roots intertwined: he seeth a house of stones. A stone heap ( גל ) sometimes served for a memorial of honour. Genesis 31:46-48. Joseph, (also of Egypt,) on the contrary, was a fruitful bough, whose branches ran over the wall. Genesis 49:22.

Seeth the place of stones — Rather, A house of stones. “He is like a tree which seems firmly rooted in a heap of stones, and looks down, as it were, with a domineering aspect and a proud consciousness of strength on a house of stone, in which he appears to be firmly built as in a marble palace; yet he will soon be withered and rooted up, and vanish from the face of the earth.” — Wordsworth. Comp. Matthew 13:5-6.


Verse 18

18. If he (God) destroy — Or the subject of the verb may be indefinite. The plant was apparently a useless growth, which any one would do well to destroy,

Him — Or, It. The interweaving of the image and its object throughout this entire citation is a sign, not only of its great antiquity, but also of its foreign origin. The Hebrew mind wielded an imagination which was always clear and distinct.

Deny him — The earth that had given the plant its life is moved with such a sense of shame as to deny that it had seen him, (or it.) A powerful personification. For nature’s abhorrence of human fungi, see Job 27:21-23.


Verse 19

19. The joy of his way — Deeply ironical. With a touch the poet discloses hidden deeps of misery and of doom.

Shall others grow אחר, another, used collectively. One crop of weeds is followed by another. The law of nature in the moral world is not the boasted law of science — “the selection of the best;” for, without the hand of the tiller, the worse overpowers the better. The wheat soon succumbs before the tares. One generation of evil doers is followed by “another and another.” In the protracted struggle between good and evil, evil alone has power to perpetuate itself. It may never come to pass that a generation of the godly shall bring forth a like godly generation. Of the hundred generations that have already lived, each one has been evil. Dark is the mystery. The labourer for God, like the sower in the parable, must toil on against fearful odds, knowing that with each generation be must begin anew.


Verse 20

20. Help — Literally, Grasp the hand; that is, to protect evil doers against the consequences of their actions. The sentiment negatively expressed is that of Job 8:4.


Verses 20-22

The concluding short strophe gives an application of the wisdom of the ancients to the case of Job, Job 8:20-22.

Hirtzel substantially reads the moral thus: “The same law of cause and effect holds in the moral as in the physical world. The drying up of the waters is the cause of the quick withering of the plant; so alienation from God is the cause of quickly decaying earthly bliss.” This substantiates the doctrine of justice taught in the succeeding strophe, Job 8:20-22.


Verse 22

22. Clothed with shame לבשׁ clothe, when employed metaphorically is for the most part used of righteousness, (Job 29:14;) also of the divine Spirit, light, glory, etc.; here, (also Psalms 35:26,) with concealed sarcasm, the signification is, their best attire is shame.

Dwelling-place —In the place of בית, house, three times appearing in the ancient poem, we now have אהל, ohel, tent, happily chosen to set forth the transitoriness of the home of the wicked in comparison with that of the spider, and even the running vine.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 8:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/job-8.html. 1874-1909.

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