We come today to the first speech by Bildad and Job’s response to it. Bildad was one of Job’s three friends who came to sympathise with him and to comfort him in his suffering after he lost his family and his possessions and his health. For seven days and nights they sat with Job in silence. Finally Job began to speak; and, in Job’s first speech, he cursed the day of his birth; and he made clear that he wished he was dead, because then his suffering would be over and he’d be able to rest in peace.
And I explained last week that after Job’s first speech, we have three cycles of speech. In the first cycle of speeches, the three friends — Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar — take turns to speak to Job; and he responds to each one in turn. That pattern is repeating in the second cycle of speeches. But the third cycle of speeches is shortened, because Zophar has nothing more to say. And so, in the third cycle of speeches, Eliphaz speaks and Job responds; and Bildad speaks and Job responds. That takes us up to chapter 28 of the book of Job.
And I said last week that some of the commentators suggest that these three friends might be, unknowingly, agents of Satan. They might be agents of Satan, because, although they came to sympathise with Job and to comfort him, they did not bring him any comfort or peace. Their words only made things worse for Job. And so, it’s possible that Satan was using these three friends to get Job to curse God. That was Satan’s aim all along, wasn’t it? That’s why he took away Job’s family and possessions and that’s why he took away Job’s health. Satan was hoping that Job would curse God. And when Job did not curse God immediately, it’s possible that Satan sent these friends to turn Job against God by the things they said to him.
And the problem with the three friends was their faulty theology. Now, much of what they believed was true. So, they believed that God is absolutely in control of all things. And he is. And they believed that God is absolutely just and fair. And he is. And they believed that God will punish the wicked and that he will bless the righteous. And that is true as well. But as I said last week, it’s more complicated than that, because while it’s true that God will punish the wicked and bless the righteous, we know from the Lord’s parable of the wheat and the weeds that God’s punishment of the wicked has been postponed until the end of the age. He will definitely punish the wicked one day. But that day has not yet arrived. The day of judgment is yet to come. And in the meantime, God may punish the wicked and he may bless the righteous. But he may also cause the wicked to prosper and he may cause the righteous to suffer.
Job’s three friends believed in vending machine theology. You put your money in the vending machine and out comes a snack. It happens every time and it happens immediately. And so, if you put evil in the vending machine, then out comes punishment. Every time and immediately. If you put good in the vending machine, then out comes blessings from God. Every time and immediately. That’s vending machine theology. But it’s more complicated than that; and God may cause the wicked to prosper and the righteous to suffer in this life. And when he does, we need to trust in his fatherly goodness and in his perfect wisdom; we need to keep believing that he’s working all things together according to his most holy and perfect will. We need to keep believing that no matter what happens in the world, God is still in control and he is working out his purposes and his purposes are good. I may not understand what he’s doing. I may not know why I’m suffering. Nevertheless I must believe that he is in control and that he is good. And so, we need to keep trusting in him and in his fatherly goodness.
Having said that, let’s turn to chapter 8 and Bildad’s first speech to Job. And if you were talking to someone who had suffered a great deal, how would you begin? I hope you would be gentle and kind. I hope you would be patient. I hope you would choose your words wisely. Even when we need to correct someone, we’re to speak the truth in love. But look how Bildad begins. He’s impatient with Job. ‘How long will you say such things?’ He’s already fed up listening to Job. He can’t take any more of it. He’s saying: Must you keep going on like this? And the reason for his impatient is because he thinks Job’s words are ‘a blustering wind’. Do you see that in verse 2. He might be saying that Job is a windbag and that he’s full of hot air. In that case, he’s saying that Job is talking too much; and what he’s saying is of no value. So, instead of being patient and understanding and listening carefully to Job, he thinks Job is talking nonsense. And not only does he think it, he says it.
However, it’s also possible that the words ‘a blustering wind’ are to be taken in another way. He might be saying that Job’s words are like a mighty wind. His words are like a storm or a tempestuous wind by which he attacks heaven. His words are a destroying wind which he has directed towards God, because he’s been complaining about God’s treatment of him. In that case, Bildad is asking how long must we listen to you as you attack God with your words?
And then Bildad asks, ‘Does God pervert justice?’ Like the other two friends, Bildad believes that God is absolutely just. And therefore God always and immediately punishes the wicked; and he always and immediately blesses the righteous. Anything else would be unjust. And God is not unjust. He does not pervert justice. He does not twist it or bend it. He always does what is just. And so, Bildad goes on in verse 4 to make clear that, as far as he is concerned, Job’s children, who recently died, must have sinned against God. They must have done something to deserve what happened to them. So, when your children sinned against God, God gave them over to the penalty of their sin. They sinned and God punished them.
Now, other English translations replace the word ‘when’ with the word ‘if’. So: if your children sinned against you, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin. However, there’s really no uncertainty in what Bildad says, because he believes in vending machine theology. Put wickedness into the vending machine; and punishment is the outcome — always and immediately. And so, if something terrible happened to them, it must be because they sinned.
And, of course, this is a heartless thing to say to Job. Remember Job is sitting in the ash heap, with ash on his head and torn clothes on his body, a body which is covered in painful sores. And he’s grieving for his children who recently died. And along comes Bildad who suggests that God must have been punishing them for some prior sin. It’s a heartless thing to say to Job.
But Bildad then says to Job in verse 5 that if he will now look to God — that is, if he will turn to God in repentance — and plead with the Almighty for mercy, and if you are pure and upright, then even now God will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you. He’s implying that Job must have done something to deserve his present suffering. Whatever his sin, it can’t be as bad as the sin of his children, otherwise God would have struck him dead. But he must have done something wrong to deserve his suffering. And so, he should turn to God in repentance so that God will restore him to his rightful place. God will bless you with so much that what you had before will seem like nothing.
And, of course, we know that, in the end, God will bless Job with so much then he had before. He will have twice the number of sheep and camels and oxen and donkeys. And he will have more children. That’s how the book ends. But Bildad is wrong when he says that the way for Job to receive these blessings is to repent of his sin. He is wrong, because Job has no sin from which to repent. He has not done anything to deserve his suffering. He was a blameless and upright man. God is not punishing him for his sin. He was suffering, not because he was a sinner, but because he was a saint.
But to support his case, Bildad appeals to tradition. ‘Ask the former generation,’ he says in verse 8. And find out what their fathers learned. So, let’s learn from what our elders knew. He says about his own generation that they were only born yesterday. We know nothing. And so, we need to rely on their tried and tested wisdom. They will instruct us and give us understanding of these things. And so, what do they teach us? Bildad follows this up with three illustrations, which presumably represent the teaching of their tradition.
Firstly, he refers to papyrus and reeds. Can they grow tell where there is no marsh or water? No, they will wither without water. Such is the destiny of all who forget God. That is, those who forget God are like reeds without water. They will perish. Secondly, he refers to a man who leans on a spider’s web for support. But, of course, the web gives way. It’s fragile. And whatever the wicked person is trusting in is fragile too. It cannot support him. He will perish. Thirdly, he refers to a well-watered plant in the sunshine. And because it’s well-watered and because it’s in the sunshine, it spreads its shoots over the garden. It even entwines its roots around a pile of rocks. It seems to be doing well. However, it can still be uprooted and torn from its spot. And then it will wither; and other plants will take it place. Just so the wicked. They may think they are secure, but they will be uprooted and destroyed.
Bildad doesn’t mention Job by name, but his illustrations tell us what he thinks has happened to Job. Job must have forgotten God; and now he is withering like a reed without water. Job must have been trusting in something other than God; and now his life has collapsed. Job must have done something wrong; because God has uprooted him from his place.
And Bildad closes his speech by summing up what he believes. God does not reject a blameless man and he does not strengthen the hand of evildoers. That is, he blesses the righteous and he punishes the wicked. And if Job turns from his wickedness and turns back to God, God will fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. Your enemies will be clothed in shame and the tents of the wicked will be no more.
In Bildad’s world, there is, in a sense, no need for faith. There is no need for faith, because his world is a world of straightforward and immediate cause and effect. In his world, suffering is always caused by sin. That’s the way his world works. That’s his vending machine theology. And so, there’s no need for faith, because it always happens that way. It never happens differently. And it happens immediately.
But we know that Job is blameless and upright. He has done nothing to deserve his suffering. He is not suffering because he’s a sinner, but because he’s a saint. And since we don’t live in Bildad’s world, we need faith. We need faith to believe that, no matter what happens, and no matter how I suffer, God is still in control; and his purposes are good; and he will work all things together for my good and for his glory. No matter what we suffer, we must keep trusting in God’s fatherly goodness. And our loving heavenly Father has promised that when our life in this fallen world is over, God will bring us into the new and better world to come. That’s when he will wipe the tears from our eyes. And in that world to come, there will be no more sorrow or suffering or mourning or pain. In that world to come, there will only be perfect peace and rest. And until that new world comes, we will go on suffering. And until the new world comes, we must go on trusting in God’s fatherly goodness.
And so, we turn now to Job’s response. ‘Indeed, I know that this is true.’ That’s how he begins. Many of the commentators think he’s sarcastic. So, he doesn’t really believe that what Bildad says is true. Or perhaps he once believed what Bildad believes, but not any longer, because he knows he has don’t anything to deserve his suffering. So, perhaps he’s being sarcastic.
Or perhaps he’s referring to what Bildad said in verse 20 that God does not reject a blameless man. So, I know that’s true. I know God will never reject a blameless man. However, how can a mortal be righteous before God? How can anyone be blameless in his sight? God may never reject a blameless man; but who is blameless in his sight? Who is righteous before him?
That’s his question in verse 2. And perhaps we should put the emphasis on the phrase ‘before God’. So, how can anyone stand before God? How can anyone appear before God in order to argue his case? In this speech, Job is thinking about his legal position before God. How could he ever argue his case before the bar of God’s courtroom? And so, he says in verse 3 that though someone wanted to dispute with God, that person would not be able to answer God. How could anyone ever hope to win an argument with God? After all, God’s wisdom is profound and his power is vast. He knows all things and he can do all things. And so, who has ever resisted God and come out unscathed?
And Job goes on to describe the greatness of God, who is able to move mountains, without their knowing it. And he’s able to overturn them in his anger. The earth seems unmovable to us. But God is able to shake it. He commands the sun not to shine and he cuts off the light of the stars. He alones stretches out the heavens, putting the planets and the stars in their place. And he treads the waters. That is, he’s able to walk across the water. And he made the stars and their constellations. And so, he performs wonders that cannot be fathomed. Who can understand what he does? This is our God. He is great. He is mighty. He is all-powerful and he can do all that he wishes. He knows all things. How can we ever win an argument with him? When he passes me, says Job in verse 11, I cannot see him. He’s invisible and mysterious. And so, if he snatches something away from me, who can stop him? How can we stop him, when we can’t see him? And who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?’ Who can question him? Who can stop him? Who can challenge him and hope to succeed? And so, how can anyone hope to stand in his presence and contend with him successfully?
Job refers to Rahab in verse 13. Rahab was a mythical sea-monster, which represented chaos and evil. And so, Job is saying that even the helpers of this great, wicked sea-monster are afraid of God. And so, how can I dispute with God? If Rahab’s helpers are afraid of God, how can I approach him? How can I find the words to answer him? Though I were innocent, he says in verse 15, I could not answer him. And Job is innocent. He is blameless and upright. And yet, he feels he wouldn’t be able to stand before God and argue his case. All he could hope to do is ask for mercy, but he wouldn’t be able to win the argument, because who can stand up to God?
And Job complains in verse 17 that God would only crush him with a storm and that he would multiply his wounds without reason. He wouldn’t let me regain my breath. His opposition would be relentless and he will only overwhelm me with misery. So, how can Job win? If it’s a matter of strength, God is almighty. If it’s a matter of justice, who has the power and authority to summon God to court? Even if I were innocent, he says in verse 20, my mouth would condemn me and he would pronounce me guilty. Job knows he’s innocent; but he knows he wouldn’t be able to prove it. How could Job ever hope to win an argument with God?
In fact, it seems to Job that God destroys both the blameless and the wicked. Do you see that in verse 22? Bildad has been saying that God destroys the wicked, but blesses the righteous. But it seems to Job that God destroys them both. And he thinks this way because he is blameless and yet God is destroying him. And when the innocent are in distress, it seems that God is mocking them, because he could deliver them, but he doesn’t. And God allows whole nations to fall into the hands of the wicked. God is the one who does it. And so, why doesn’t he do something about it?
In verse 25, Job complains that his life is running out. His days are flying away like a boat sailing down the river, like a eagle swooping down on its prey. So, his time is running out. What will he do? Three options occur to him.
The first option is in verses 27 to 29 and it’s to forget his complaint and get on with life. I’ll smile and get on with it. However, if God is still against Job, then who knows what future suffering Job will face? The second option is in verses 30 and 31 and it’s to try to cleanse himself. He’ll wash himself with soap and washing soda. He’s referring, of course, to moral cleansing. However, if God is still against Job, God will only plunge him into a slimy pit. The third option is in verses 32 to 35 and it’s for someone to arbitrate between them: someone who would level the field between them so that Job would be able to speak up without being afraid. But he adds at the end of verse 35 that for now, he cannot do that. There is no arbiter. There is no mediator between them.
And so, in chapter 10, he once again says that he loathes his life. And he wants to ask God to tell him what charges God has against him. Why are you against me? What have I done wrong? And he wants to know if it pleases God to oppress him, while he smiles on the wicked? Job also wants to know why God is watching him so carefully to search out his faults and to probe after his sins even though God knows he is not guilty. So, God hasn’t been able to find fault with him, but he keeps looking for faults. Job doesn’t understand why it is like this.
And he’s puzzled because he knows God made him. God carefully shaped Job. So, why are you now destroying something you made so carefully? You gave me life and showed me kindness. And you watched over me the way a mother watches over her child. But it now seems that your plan all along was to watch me in order to see when I sinned, so that you could punish me. And he adds in verse 15 that if he is guilty, then woe to me. But I’m not guilty. I’m innocent. And yet, I cannot lift up my head, but I’m bowed down in shame and because of my affliction, which is bearing down on me to crush me. When I stand up, you knock me down. You even bring new witnesses against me; and your forces come against me like waves, over and over and over and over and over again. And so, how can Job hope to stand in court before God and win the argument? God is too powerful for him. He keeps knocking him down. He brings out more witnesses. Job is unable to prove his innocence, because he cannot stand up to God.
So, why did you bring me from my mother’s womb? Why could I not have died before I was born? If only I had never come into being. And since my days are almost over, why won’t you turn away from me and give me a moment’s peace before I die and go to the place of no return and to the land of gloom and deep shadow, to the land of deepest night, where even the light is like darkness.
Back in chapter 3, Job longed for death, because he thought that death would bring him peace. Now he speaks of death as a land of gloom and darkness, a place where there is no light.
While Old Testament saints believed in the life to come, it seems that their understanding of what that life would be like was shrouded in darkness. It was a deep mystery. To them, the life to come seemed to be a land of deepest night. But with the resurrection of our Saviour, we have been given a fuller picture of the life to come and the glory of the new heavens and earth, where the righteous will live with God and where there is no more sorrow or sadness or mourning or death and where our present suffering will pale in comparison to the glory to be revealed in us when Christ comes again and makes everything new.
For Job, death meant the end of his suffering. And that’s really as far as it went for him. But for us, death leads to the resurrection and to the enjoyment of that perfect peace and rest which the Lord Jesus has prepared for us in the world to come. And so, for the joy set before us of resurrection life in the presence of God, we should endure all things now and continue to look to our loving Heavenly Father to give us the help and strength we need to persevere through all our trials.
But let’s also think about Job’s wish for an arbiter: someone who would level the field between God and Job so that Job would be able to speak up without being afraid. And the good news is that we have an arbiter, a mediator, between God and us. And it’s the Lord Jesus Christ, who has made peace between God and us by the sacrifice of himself on the cross to pay for our sins. God was justly angry with us because we are guilty sinners who deserve to be condemned and punished forever. But Christ our mediator has paid for our sins with his life and has satisfied the justice of God in full when he took the blame for us and suffered the punishment we deserve. And so, through faith in him, we now have peace with God.
But Job was unsure of God’s attitude towards him. He did now know why God had afflicted him or why God had brought so much suffering into his life. He did not know why God was giving him no peace. And it seemed to Job that God was against him. If he faced God in court, it seemed to him that he would not be able to stand before God. But we have a mediator between God and us, who has made peace between us forever. We’re able to come before God with confidence and not with fear or uncertainty. And no matter what happens to us in the world, and even though God sends affliction into our life, we can be certain of this one thing: that God does not hate us, and he’s not against us, but he loves us because of Christ.
And Christ who is our mediator is now in heaven where he intercedes for us before the Father and asks the Father for all we need to persevere and to stand firm and to keep going. And he will continue to intercede for us until we enter our eternal rest.