Bildad’s first speech contains some important (negative) lessons about human nature in general and about the qualities of counsellors in particular. Bildad hears Job’s words with his ears, but he does not listen with his heart. Bildad’s attitude should be seen in the light of Job’s begging for pity in Job 6. All people need pity in most everyday situations, how much more Job in his exceptional suffering. Repeatedly Job calls himself helpless (Job 6:13) and desperate (Job 6:14,26), a man who needs the pity of his friends.
Anyone who curses his birthday and prefers death to life needs help. His three friends have come to that end, but it does not come to anything. Job, by their attitude, sees them more as part of his problem than as those who offer a solution.
It is almost unbelievable that his friend Bildad answers him so insensitive. There is not only indifference to Job’s condition, but also a certain arrogance. For example, he suggests that Job’s children have received what they deserved (verse 4) and that Job is on his way to suffer the same fate (verse 5). The lesson to be learned is that there are such people in the world. They do their ‘non-service’ to people under the guise that they are special friends of God. And we are no better by nature. If the Lord does not keep us, we, like Bildad, can be businesslike, sharp and arrogant towards those who are in great need.
The lessons we learn from Job’s friends about help are negative, but the three friends are not equal. There is a difference between them. The book proposes three helpers instead of one, because each of them has their own approach of and message for Job. Eliphaz does start with some sense of Job’s need, but later he also loses his patience (Job 22). The other two are more distant and are above him. None of them is able to accept Job unconditionally.
Certainly, Job is a persistent ‘patient’, but they are incapable of being involved with him. Their advice will be well-intentioned, but has the effect of making Job even more persistent towards them and offering them more and more resistance. Undoubtedly much of the problem is their academic insistence on the point of view – which they refuse to change – that sin causes suffering, and vice versa that suffering proves that there is sin.
An important lesson to be learned from this book is that counselors, those who provide pastoral care, should not sit in an ivory tower. They should be able to listen, get involved and respect the sincerity of the personality of the person they are trying to help. They should also always keep in mind that they may not have a full understanding of the nature of the problem. Again, our understanding is limited and our knowing is in part and therefore imperfect (1Cor 13:9).
1 - 2 Bildad Blames Job
1 Then Bildad the Shuhite answered,
2 “How long will you say these things,
And the words of your mouth be a mighty wind?
Bildad, the Shuhite – probably a descendant of Shuah, a son of Abraham (Gen 25:1-2) – takes the word to answer Job (verse 1). He assumes the same basic idea as Eliphaz, only his tone is harsher and sharper. Eliphaz begins questioning (Job 4:2), but Bildad immediately takes a condemning attitude (verse 2). He is fully committed to what Job has answered Eliphaz and wants to silence him immediately. Job experiences God as an adversary and Bildad wants to defend the righteousness of God. Maybe that is the reason for his fierceness and sharp tone.
How long does Job intend to keep proclaiming such nonsense? Let him stop that right now. His words are nothing at all. He has complained that the three friends regard his words as wind, i.e. as meaning nothing (Job 6:26). Bildad reinforces this assessment and now calls Job’s’ words “a mighty wind”. With this he says that Job’s words are not only nothing, “wind”, but that they are also blown-up, “great” (cf. Job 15:2). Bildad judges Job’s cry of distress as, what we would say, “all bells and whistles and zero utility”.
3 - 7 Is God Unrighteous?
3 “Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?
4 “If your sons sinned against Him,
Then He delivered them into the power of their transgression.
5 “If you would seek God
And implore the compassion of the Almighty,
6 If you are pure and upright,
Surely now He would rouse Himself for you
And restore your righteous estate.
7 “Though your beginning was insignificant,
Job should listen carefully, Bildad seems to say. To awaken Job, Bildad opens his argument in questioning form with a theological truth that stands like a house (verse 3). It seems as if he is quoting his ancestor Abraham (Gen 18:25). Of course, God does not pervert justice and the Almighty does not pervert what is right. So, Job, what happens to you is nothing but that God’s justice has its course and that the Almighty exercises His righteousness, and that is because you have sinned.
In verse 4, Bildad even suggests that Job’s children are to blame for their own sins (cf. Psa 55:23). This reproach must be heartbreaking for the feelings of a father who has found no evidence of such wickedness in his children and who has carefully guarded their spiritual well-being (Job 1:5). It is as if Bildad says to him: ‘Your prayers have been useless. God was not willing to save your children.’
‘By the way,’ Bildad continues, ‘you yourself will do well to seek God seriously and implore the Almighty for compassion’ (verse 5). This is what Eliphaz has already advised Job to do (Job 5:8). Seeking God is good advice. Who will deny it? But in this case the clear assumption in this advice is that Job himself has also sinned. The Lord Jesus speaks differently about cause and effect in response to disasters that affect people than Bildad does and perhaps we do too (Lk 13:1-5).
Apart from the fact that Job must seek God and implore the Almighty for compassion, according to Bildad Job must also become “pure and upright” (verse 6). Here too we hear the undertone of the accusation that Job is not. Bildad reasons from the situation of Job. Job has always pretended to be pure and upright, but that has all been hypocrisy. This can clearly be deduced from the disasters God has brought upon him. With his assessment, but above all condemnation of Job, Bildad goes against the testimony God has given of Job (Job 1:1,8; 2:3). Man who judges only by what he perceives with his eyes (1Sam 16:7) always comes into conflict with God’s judgment.
Bildad continues to reason and promises Job that God will certainly “rouse Himself” for his sake when he ‘repents’. By this he means that God will again become active for his benefit and will commit Himself for his good. Now it is as if God has taken His hands off Job and is not paying attention to him. But if Job shows that he has learned his lesson – but the lesson that Bildad teaches him, of course – that will change.
According to Bildad’s logic, God will “restore your righteous estate”. This implies the assumption that Job’s house had become a house of wickedness. The former prosperity will return there when Job repents. His children and servants will live in peace and he will once again be rich in cattle. In fact, what he had – and Job was one of the richest people in the East (Job 1:3) – will seem small and insignificant compared to what he will receive (verse 7).
What Bildad says will indeed be fulfilled (Job 42:12), but in a very different way than he indicates. The reasoning of Bildad is based on the idea of achievement and quid pro quo. Job will not be blessed for his integrity, nor will he be blessed for a confession of supposed evil. He will be blessed, not because he has earned it, but because God gives it to him in grace.
8 - 10 The Light of the Past
8 “Please inquire of past generations,
And consider the things searched out by their fathers.
9 “For we are [only] of yesterday and know nothing,
Because our days on earth are as a shadow.
10 “Will they not teach you [and] tell you,
And bring forth words from their minds?
While Eliphaz appeals to his own experience, Bildad relies on tradition. His claims come from wisdom of the past, from the traditions of the fathers (verse 8). You can read about this in their stories and sayings. Then Job will see that his arguments are correct because that is how it worked in the past. A man lives too short to acquire wisdom, and so he must rely on the wisdom of the ancestors.
At least, that is Bildad’s interpretation. His thesis is that the collected and handed down insights of the ancestors teaches what he claims. Only a fool will argue against that. Then you get all previous generations against you. Surely you don’t want to think you know any better than all those people who have gone before you, do you? They all say that the righteous in this life will be rewarded and the wicked will have disasters over them.
Let us not imagine anything, Bildad says, because “we are [only] of yesterday and know nothing, because our days on earth are as a shadow” (verse 9). We just showed up and from the beginning we are a diminishing matter (cf. 1Chr 29:15). Before we know it, we have disappeared from the world stage again. What will we be able to observe in that short period of time in order to come to a well-founded conclusion? We shouldn’t think that in our short human lives we can take a different view of history, let alone rewrite it.
No, just listen to what the generations before us have been through. If you take their teaching to heart and let it speak to you, you will receive wisdom and speak as they did (verse 10). You will not be stubbornly holding on to your own views about the disasters that have struck you, but will join their findings.
With his appeal to tradition Bildad completely misses the point. Life is indeed too short to come to an understanding in your own strength. The ancestors may indeed have acquired certain wisdom. Nevertheless, in order to get to know God’s thoughts, we must not turn to the past, but to God and His Word (1Cor 2:9-10). History teaches that a one-sided and exaggerated admiration for what ‘the ancestors’ have thought and learned has always hindered God’s work. No matter how much blessing there is in a spiritual inheritance, we learn to understand the truth only from the Word of God and through practicing fellowship with Him ourselves.
God sometimes wants to bring old, forgotten truths back to the attention of His own at a given time. He wants to put in the right light other truths that are known, but applied one-sidedly and pushed forward too much. But when human statements, however beautiful and true they may be, are placed between God’s living and powerful Word and the believer, they only create obstacles to the workings of the Spirit.
11 - 19 The Day of the Wicked
11 “Can the papyrus grow up without a marsh?
Can the rushes grow without water?
12 “While it is still green [and] not cut down,
Yet it withers before any [other] plant.
13 “So are the paths of all who forget God;
And the hope of the godless will perish,
14 Whose confidence is fragile,
And whose trust a spider’s web.
15 “He trusts in his house, but it does not stand;
He holds fast to it, but it does not endure.
16 “He thrives before the sun,
And his shoots spread out over his garden.
17 “His roots wrap around a rock pile,
He grasps a house of stones.
18 “If he is removed from his place,
Then it will deny him, [saying], ‘I never saw you.’
19 “Behold, this is the joy of His way;
And out of the dust others will spring.
Bildad supports his account of cause and effect with an example from nature. He also connects to his reference to previous generations and the brevity of their existence. The wisdom of the past has already seen that no papyrus grow where there is no marsh and that rushes does not grow without water (verse 11). Job knows as well as he and previous generations that this is so.
It is also clear how short-lived rushes is when there is no water (verse 12). If it isn’t cut down, it won’t last long. Bildad then applies this to “the paths of all who forget God” and “the hope of the godless” (verse 13). He also seems to deepen this application from the wisdom of previous generations. He only wants to say that he is not saying anything new and that Job should take this into account.
In the past it has always been the case that he who is rooted in God has prosperity and that he who acts and walks without involving God has only a brief life. He who forgets God can also forget his hope of blessing, just as rushes does not have to count on growing if there is no water. The godless is he who thinks he is receiving God’s blessing, while simply ignoring God in his activities. In veiled terms, Bildad says Job is godless. To him, the suffering of Job is proof that Job has forgotten God. This is a very low insinuation towards a sincere man immersed in misery.
He who forgets God and is punished by Him for it, has a confidence that turns out to be fragile (verse 14). Job, Bildad says again in veiled terms, put his confidence in his sincerity and believed that God would bless him. But this trust turns out to have the power of a spider’s web, so no power at all. When a storm comes, the spider tries to hold all the threads of his cobwebs, his spun house, together, but the wind blows his house away. It is foolish to assume that cobwebs offer any protection against a storm (cf. Isa 59:6).
“Spider web” is in Hebrew ‘house of a spider’. This leads Bildad to move on to the house of the one who forgets God (verse 15). Such a person may well think that his house is his strength, but he will be very much mistaken about it. His spider’s house offers him no security; if he wants to hold fast to it, it collapses.
Surely Job must recognize this picture? Isn’t that how it went with him and his house? With all his true words, Bildad completely misses the point by presenting everything he says to Job. He paints Job as someone who has forgotten God and therefore has nothing left of everything he used to rely on. According to Bildad Job is a hypocrite. All his uprightness he has always played. Such uprightness is like a cobweb and offers no protection when a storm rages over his life. Surely this is evident from his current situation.
Bildad still compares Job with a sap-rich plant that “shivers before the sun” (verse 16). This looks at the situation of prosperity in which Job used to live. “His shoots” represent Job’s children. But because of the stony ground the plant does not shoot a root (verse 17; cf. Mt 13:5, 20-21). A storm easily tears the plant away from its place (verse 18). There is nothing left of that ‘sap-rich plant’; it looks as if it has never been there (Psa 37:35-36). In Job’s present situation, nothing reminds one of his former prosperity.
In verse 19 Bildad says with some sarcasm what he meant by the preceding equations. The joy of someone who has known a great deal of prosperity and has become famous for it is only of short duration. That is the fate of all hypocrites. He has been there for a while and then he disappears from the earth and also from memory. In his place others will emerge from the dust and take his place. Nobody thinks about him anymore, everything revolves around these newcomers now.
20 - 22 Divine Retribution for the Righteous
20 “Lo, God will not reject [a man of] integrity,
Nor will He support the evildoers.
21 “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter
And your lips with shouting.
22 “Those who hate you will be clothed with shame,
And the tent of the wicked will be no longer.”
Bildad returns to the direct attack on Job. With the call “behold” he asks Job’s attention (verse 20). He tells him that God does not reject “[a man of] integrity”. A man of integrity means someone with a clean conscience, someone who is ‘innocent’. Bildad says here that God does not reject an innocent person. The underlying accusation is again that Job is rejected by God and that Job is not upright or innocent. Bildad is again grossly mistaken. For he does not look at Job the way God looks at him, for God has said of him that he is upright (Job 1:1,8; 2:3).
Nor is Job an ‘evildoer’, as Bildad supposes. Indeed, God does not “support the evildoers” to help them, which He does to His own. Bildad does not know it, but God has also given the clear testimony of Job that he turns away from evil (Job 1:1,8; 2:3). If a man is unaware of God’s view of a person or a thing, he always comes to wrong conclusions. Whoever takes into account that only God has complete knowledge of a person or a thing, will be cautious and reluctant in his judgment of another.
At the end of his first speech Bildad has another promise for Job (verse 21). It is a promise that follows everything he said before. It means that God will make Job laugh again when he has converted from his wrong way. Job’s enemies will then be finished and even gone (verse 22). Job may count on inner satisfaction and outer peace and security.
What Bildad says is nothing but a businesslike enumeration of cause and effect. This line of reasoning characterizes the three friends. There is not a trace of compassion and comfort for Job in it.