Beckett: Commentary on Job 8, Bildad Speaks – Job Should Repent

Whereas Eliphaz appealed to his experiences (utilising the anecdotal evidence fallacy), Bildad is dogmatic, drawing from the teachings of their forefathers.

8:1-4, Bildad’s Insensitive Cruelty

Then Bildad the Shuhite answered and said: “How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a great wind?

vv. 1-2

Bildad immediately begins with unkind words. He reprimands Job for his many words—they were like “a great wind.” Job talked too much. Basically, he called him a windbag. As an introvert, I sort of get it. Sometimes people just talk too much, but Job deserves sympathy. Job literally lost everything, aside from his nagging wife who urged him to curse God and die (2:9). Why wouldn’t Job have a long-winded complaint? If you had lost your entire livelihood (home, job, food) and your children, wouldn’t you complain a lot? Wouldn’t you despair of life? We do enough complaining when the WiFi is slow.

Not only is Bildad being insensitive, but as we will soon see, he is also being quite cruel.

“Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?”

v. 3

These rhetorical questions are valid. The expected answer is no, God does not pervert justice. Even in his most strident moments, Job never accused God of being unjust (which would be cursing God like the Devil wants), yet Bildad adversely accuses Job of doing so. He’s essentially saying that what’s happening to Job is just—more specifically, God’s justice since, according to his friends’ false theology, God only curses the wicked in this life.

“If your children have sinned against Him, He has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.”

v. 4

Bildad makes an even further stab at Job: “Obviously your children transgressed against God since He killed them.” Not only is this untrue (the Scriptures do not convey his children as sinful), but Bildad is also being extremely cruel and accusing God of something He never did. While he passive-aggressively accuses Job of blasphemy, ironically Bildad is the one blaspheming God here.

Imagine grieving the loss of your children (whom God declared righteous) during or after their funeral, and then a “friend” says to you that God delivered them over to death because they gravely sinned against Him. Such cruelty. Bildad needs to be slapped.

8:5-7, Bildad Calls Job to Repent of Sins He Hasn’t Committed

“If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy…”

v. 5

Bildad begins to lecture Job. As if Job hadn’t already turned to God and implored His mercy, Bildad theologises with Job, “Hurry to God, and you will find mercy.” This is true, but context reveals Bildad’s self-righteousness.

“…if you are pure and upright, surely then He will rouse Himself for you and restore your rightful habitation. And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great.”

vv. 6-7

Bildad tells Job to become pure and upright. Yet as we know, God already considers him these things (1:8; 2:3). Have you ever been accused of something you’re not? This is something that’s currently going on with the Black Lives Matter movement. As a multiracial person who’s Black, Puerto Rican, and White, I support the movement insofar as unjust racial profiling is concerned. I do not support the movement, however, when it comes to the Left extremists who claim all White people are racist and must repent of their supposedly inherent racism and formerly owning slaves, as if racism is in White DNA (if so, that would make me half racist?).

Except not every White person is racist and not every White person has owned slaves. Many White people are not guilty of these sins. After all, my White father dated and married my biracial mom, and divorced for non-racial reasons. You can’t ask someone to repent of a sin they haven’t committed. That’s not how repentance works. You can’t tell me to repent of murder when I’ve never taken a person’s life and you can’t tell someone to repent of racism when they’ve never been a racist.

In the same way, with Job, Bildad is trying to convince Job to repent of his wickedness when he has no wickedness to repent for.

Bildad also unknowingly predicts Job’s double fortune (42:10-17), but he was wrong in that Job suffered because he had specially pissed off God. He failed to see that sometimes, God’s faithful suffer affliction for no good reason (cf. 2:3). The young Elihu also makes this point later on (33:19-22).

8:8-10, Bildad’s Patristics

“For inquire, please, of bygone ages, and consider what the fathers have searched out. For we are but of yesterday and know nothing, for our days on earth are a shadow.”

vv. 8-9

Bildad begins his patristic exercise. Some scholars believe the words here convey they lived during the time of the Patriarchs, hence the traditional dating of this book being the late third or early second millennium B.C., which was during the times of Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. Abraham lived to be 175-years-old, Jacob to 147 years, and Moses 120 years, so this isn’t entirely improbable.

“Will they not teach you and tell you and utter words out of their understanding?”

v. 10

Bildad had high regard for their teachings. He urges Job to hear their teachings, although through his own mouth, of course.

Bildad’s words here can bring us to reflect on our own reverence for patristics. Bildad is calling on the biblical patriarchs, whose teachings were inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). This is not the patristics I’m calling to mind. The patristics I’m referring to are the Church Fathers, such as Augustine and Irenaus, and even our Lutheran patriarchs such as Martin Luther and Martin Chemnitz. All of these men certainly have honour and respect due their names, but not to the extent of idolatry. Great as they were, their writings are not equal to the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures.

As a future Lutheran pastor, I agree with many of Luther’s writings and subscribe fully to the Book of Concord, but Luther and other patriarchs like Melanchthon and Aquinas have written things I don’t agree with and things that are, quite frankly, Scripturally wrong. To place their words over the Scriptures would be to idolise them. As I always tell my parishioners, “I follow Christ, not Luther,” though I certainly venerate him and many other Church Fathers.

For example, I like some of the things Aquinas has written, but he held to transubstantiation, which I, with Luther, hold to be false doctrine. C.F.W. Walther, in his famous Law and Gospel, writes that any sin is a rejection of the Holy Spirit, which neither I nor Scripture agree with. Anyway, let’s move on.

8:11-19, Bildad’s Natural Law Theory

“Can papyrus grow where there is no marsh? Can reeds flourish where there is no water? While yet in flower and not cut down, they wither before any other plant. Such are the paths of all who forget God; the hope of the godless shall perish.

“His confidence is severed, and his trust is a spider’s web. He leans against his house, but it does not stand; he lays hold of it, but it does not endure.

“He is a lush plant before the sun, and his shoots spread over his garden. His roots entwine the stone heap; he looks upon a house of stones. If he is destroyed from his place, then it will deny him, saying, ‘I have never seen you.’ Behold, this is the joy of his way, and out of the soil others will spring.”

Like Eliphaz (cf. 5:27), Bildad insists all the wicked will face certain misfortune in this life. He makes this point by drawing from nature as illustrations of this—an argument from natural law. While the argument he makes is logical, the move he makes to get there is illogical. He appeals Job to look to the teachings of the Patriarchs, but instead of turning to one or several examples from their teachings, he begins to make illustrations from natural law. At this point, I suspect Job might have been just as confused as I was. If I were in Job’s position, I’d be thinking, “You’re telling me to take heed of our fathers’ teachings, and now you’re talking about nature?”

Left to themselves, papyrus and reeds wither and die; they need water to survive. This is the wicked, which Bildad lumps Job in with them. His next illustration is a spider web, which can easily be brushed away. The hope of the godless is just as fragile. Lastly, he returns to a generic plant that flourishes for a while but eventually faces destruction. Such is the fate of the wicked, which apparently Job belongs to.

Bildad’s (poor) theology is clear: the wicked will come to an inevitable end. This is true, of course; the Psalms state this same fact (e.g. Psalm 1). He makes two errors, however:

  1. That this end occurs in this life, which is not always true. Many godless people acquire and maintain great success and wealth and are even honoured in death. Eschatologically, however, their doomful end is inevitable. Later on, Job makes the valid point that sometimes the godly suffer at the hands of the ungodly (24:1-17).
  2. Bildad erroneously assumes Job belongs in this category, but as the end of Job’s story shows, this was never true. The end of Job’s story here proves Bildad’s natural law theory false.

8:20-22, Bildad’s Prosperity Gospel

“Behold, God will not reject a blameless man, nor take the hand of evildoers. He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting. Those who hate you will be clothed with shame, and the tent of the wicked will be no more.”

Bildad spent significant time illustrating the fate of the godless. Now he briefly lays out the fate of the godly, yet the picture he paints is unrealistic. It is the same picture prosperity gospel heretics preach: the godly receive certain success and happiness (if only you “have enough faith” and do the right things—i.e. works righteousness and fideism).

This is untrue not only theologically, but every Christian with common experience knows this to be untrue. Even Jesus paints a different picture of the Christian life, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).

The apostles taught the same thing, “When [the disciples] had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21-22). Not only is tribulation to be expected of the Christian life, but tribulations are even necessary for Christians to suffer in order to enter God’s kingdom.

After all, we are coming out of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7:14), not the Great Pax. Christians are to take up their cross in order to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23), which is a heavy burden. Bearing your cross is not fun; it is troublesome and wearisome. Yet the remaining words of Christ in John 16:33 say, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Because Christ has overcome the world, so we shall overcome the world not because of anything we might do, but because of what Christ has done.

Application

I’ve placed several applications throughout this study, but what’s a general application we might take from this? What’s come to mind for me is: How do you comfort your friends as they grieve?

Recall how Bildad tried and failed to comfort Job: (1) He was insulting, insensitive, and cruel by exhibiting his annoyance with Job’s many words, reminding him of his children’s horrible deaths, and reëmphasising that they died because they sinned against God. (2) He, alongside Eliphaz, accuses Job of wickedness and urging him to repent of his non-existent wickedness. And (3) Agreeing with Eliphaz’s poor theology, he “proves” Job is wicked since, according to natural law and not just experience, the wicked suffer in this life and the godly, conversely, are blessed in this life, despite all theological and experiential evidence to the contrary.

It probably goes without saying, but do not comfort your grieving friends in this way! I don’t think I have to say that, but then again, it does happen. In my commentary on Eliphaz’s speech, the main application for that study was properly distinguishing between Law and Gospel, which Eliphaz failed to do miserably. Sometimes, we forget to do this. Walther emphasised that no one is a master of this distinction. Not even Luther himself was. It is truly an art, not a science.

Sometimes, as we live in the moment, we throw this distinction out the door. We don’t even think, “Should I give the Law or Gospel here?” Sometimes, we simply forget. We get caught up in the moment and react to our emotions rather than properly responding with God’s Word. I can recall times when I, regrettably, responded with God’s Law as an emotional reaction rather than prayerfully considering how God’s Word should be applied to the situation.

Distinguishing between Law and Gospel will be a recurring theme throughout this entire commentary series. So, I reëmphasise here: learn to distinguish between Law and Gospel. Did Job need the Law here? Absolutely not. He desperately needed the Gospel, which his friends failed to give him.

When your friend is in grief, whether this is because of the death of a loved one or something else, do you think they need Law or Gospel? Hopefully you answered Gospel. As Luther writes:

We say with Paul that the Law is good if it is used properly. Within its proper sphere the Law is an excellent thing. But if we ascribe to the Law functions for which it was never intended, we pervert not only the Law, but also the Gospel…

The first purpose of the Law, accordingly, is to restrain the wicked… Therefore, God instituted government, laws, restrictions, and civil ordinances… The second purpose of the Law is spiritual and divine. Paul describes this spiritual purpose of the Law in the words, “Because of transgressions,” i.e., to reveal to a person his sin, blindness, misery, his ignorance, hatred, and contempt of God, his death, hell, and condemnation…

The business of the Gospel, on the other hand, is to quicken, to comfort, to raise the fallen. The Gospel carries the news that God for Christ’s sake is merciful to the most unworthy sinners, if they will only believe that Christ by His death has delivered them from sin and everlasting death unto grace, forgiveness, and everlasting life.

Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, pp. 111, 112-113, 114; note on Galatians 3:19.

Bibliography

Luther, Martin. Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians. Translated by Theodore Graebner. 1535.

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