Job 8 – “Bildad’s First Speech”

prod-holt-eldersHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Bildad, the second of Job’s friends, gives his first speech in chapter 8. He explains that all suffering is a form of punishment, describes how the wicked suffer, and assures Job that he will be rewarded if he turns to God.

II. Photo
Bildad attempts to persuade Job to turn to God: “Ask the generation past, Study what their fathers have searched out… Surely they will teach you and tell you, Speaking out of their understanding.” (vv. 8, 10)

III. Important Verses
v. 2: How long will you speak such things? Your utterances are a mighty wind!
v. 3: Will God pervert the right? Will the Almighty pervert justice?
vv. 5-7: But if you seek God And supplicate the Almighty, If you are blameless and upright, He will protect you, And grant well-being to your righteous home. Though your beginning be small, In the end you will grow very great.
vv. 13-14: Such is the fate of all who forget God; The hope of the impious man comes to naught — Whose confidence is a thread of gossamer, Whose trust is a spider’s web.
v. 20: Surely God does not despise the blameless; He gives no support to evildoers.
v. 21: He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, And your lips with shouts of joy.

IV. Outline
1. Introduction
2. Opening remark
3-7. The doctrine of retribution
8-19. The fate of the wicked
20-22. A happy future for Job

V. Comment
In chapter 8 Bildad gives his first speech, and it consists of three parts. The first section is a reflection on how suffering is a form of punishment (“the doctrine of retribution,” vv. 3-7), the second section describes the fate of the wicked (vv. 8-19), and the third section garauntees Job a happy future. In terms of literary structure, Bildad’s speech incorporates “triplets” (units of three two-line verses, cf. vv. 2-4. 5-7, 8-10, 11-13, 20-22). There is also an emphasis on turning to one’s elders (vv. 8-10), a hallmark of Wisdom literature (see below).

Bildad begins his speech brusquely, “How long will you speak (temallel) such things? Your utterances (imrei fikhe) are a mighty wind! Will God pervert the right? Will the Almighty pervert justice?” Like most speeches in the book, Bildad’s opening remarks reference the words or speaking of his predecessor (cf. 4:2; 9:2; 11:2–3; 15:2–3; 16:2–3; 18:2; 20:2; 21:2; 32:6–33:3; 34:2; 36:2; 38:2). It is interesting to note that Bildad’s speech is much like Eliphaz’s (ch. 4-5), but with a stronger tone. Both friends strictly adhere to the doctrine of retribution: Bildad says in v. 3, “Will God pervert the right? Will the Almighty pervert justice?” and Eliphaz says in 4:7, “Think now, what innocent man ever perished? Where have the upright been destroyed?” Yet, while Eliphaz was timid and conciliatory, Bildad takes a confrontational  approach. Clines writes (p. 212), “there is a more distinct air of severity in Bildad’s speech. It is apparent in 8:2 where Bildad professes himself shocked by Job’s tempestuous words against God; it is seen again in the brusque statement of the reasons for the death of Job’s children. It shows itself also in the single-mindedness with which Bildad expounds the doctrine of retribution; for him (unlike Eliphaz), no other considerations are relevant to Job’s condition. Above all, it is plain in the retributionist theology itself which he espouses: the behavior of God and humans alike is rigidly schematized, and the moral universe is conceived entirely in black and white.”

In vv. 8-19 Bildad describes the fate of the wicked. While it might seem odd for him to describe the wicked at this point (is he calling Job wicked?), Eliphaz did the same in 5:2-7. It seems that both speakers wish to encourage Job to remain loyal to God – to do otherwise would mean death. Yet, they both seem to miss the point: Job doesn’t want better days, he wants his days to end.

In vv. 8-10 Bildad tries to “convince” Job by appealing to the elders, “Ask the generation past, Study what their fathers have searched out — For we are of yesterday and know nothing; Our days on earth are a shadow — Surely they will teach you and tell you, Speaking out of their understanding.” Similar appeals to the “elders” are found in Deuteronomy and have analogs in Wisdom literature. For instance, Deut. 32:7 says “Remember the days of old, consider the years for past ages: ask thy father, and he shall relate to thee, thine elders, and they shall tell thee,” and Deut. 4:32 says, “Ask of the former days which were before thee, from the day when God created man upon the earth, and beginning at the one end of heaven to the other end of heaven, if there has happened any thing like to this great event, if such a thing has been heard.” Similarly, Ben Sira 8:9 says, “Miss not the discourse of the elders: for they also learned of their fathers, and of them thou shalt learn understanding, and to give answer as need requireth,” and the book of Proverbs is full of speeches of men to younger boys.

In evaluating the efficacy of Bildad’s speech, Clines makes an important point (p. 207): “The truth about human existence, according to Bildad, is to be learned, and learned from others. The truth is knowledge, not experience. Job knows the force of traditional doctrine (9:2a; 12:3; 13:1–2; 16:4), but his own experience is every bit as real to him as the learned dogma, and it contradicts the dogma. In appealing to knowledge rather than to personal experience Bildad talks straight past Job, and deserves the name of “traitor” that Job has already applied to the friends (6:15).” Thus, because he sticks to dogma, Bildad is not be able to convince Job to change his ways.

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Clines, Proverbs 1-20 (Word Biblical Commentary)
Photo taken from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/worldbalance/images/prod-holt-elders.jpg

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