There are three cycles of speeches that go back and forth between Job and his three friends in this wisdom book on the subjects of suffering and hope. We are in the first cycle, which gives us our first opportunity to hear the wisdom of each of Job’s three friends. We have already heard from Eliphaz and considered Job’s reply to him in the presence of God. Now we hear from the second friend, Bildad the Shuhite.
Whatever we might imagine concerning these three friends, we know this: They are not as righteous as Job. We also know that they do not speak rightly about God. That does not mean that everything they said about God is wrong. We should look for Job to identify some of the right things they say, and we should keep our eyes open for their errors.
One of their most significant errors is their attitude toward the suffering and righteous man Job. As we move from Eliphaz to Bildad to Zophar we are not getting better but worse, and as we move from speech one to speech two to speech three for each man (Zophar is not even given a speech three) we see more and more evidence of their poor attitude toward Job.
Bildad begins by calling this suffering man’s complaint a “great wind.” He would step in between Job’s words and the Almighty in order to defend God. It is not that Bildad is wrong about God’s justice, righteousness, and mercy, yet Bildad does not need to instruct Job on these matters. Furthermore, there are many things that happen under the sun that are not right and good. Our understanding of God’s complete sovereignty over all things does not imply that all things that He decrees are good. Some things that happen are very bad, and are in some sense against God’s declared will of what is morally right.
Specifically, Bildad seems to have figured out why Job’s children died. That is what his words suggest: “If your children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.” Bildad, like a false prophet, believes that he can answer questions that only God can know, things that the Almighty has chosen to conceal for His own glory. Bildad is fairly certain that he knows what has happened here. He also knows how to fix the problem: “If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy, if you are pure and upright, surely then He will rouse Himself for you and restore your rightful habitation.”
Of course, it is not that easy. Some things cannot be restored. The order of life and death in this world after the entrance of sin insists that death cannot be overturned. The Lord does not bring about a resurrection every time a righteous mother and father ask for the return of their child. That is a fact. The Lord’s compassion fails not, but His ways are very difficult to interpret. Some events that look like the worst disasters can be great moments of God’s mercy, but not so plainly that anyone should even say so.
Bildad also calls Job to listen to what wise and holy men of old have discovered about these matters. There is something to this kind of advice. People have thought about the problems of misery and death for centuries. Even some who have spoken words of mere human wisdom have been keen observers of natural revelation. Yet Job was not a man to be lectured on this point. As the “greatest of all the people of the east,” he surely had awareness of what previous interpreters of the existence of man had concluded concerning the ways of the Almighty.
What has happened to Job’s children, and therefore to their father, is a devastating event. Yet, as Bildad points out here, these troubles do not spring out of the air without some source. Papyrus grows where there is a marsh. Something makes the plants grow, but something makes those plants die before others, as if they were cut off before their time. This is true, and Job certainly knows these things, as he himself will say in the next chapter, but Bildad suggests that he is able to say something more about Job’s children. Were they godless? The hope of the godless shall perish. Did they forget God? Such men and women trust in something that is no more secure than a spider’s web is for a fly. His house may fall on him, even if his beginning was very promising.
Bildad ends with words that he must have thought to be an encouragement about the future, but there really is no replacing lost loved ones. Such consolations about better days ahead are only a deeper wound to the grieving heart.
But there is hope for the children of God, based on the deep wounds of the Son of God for us: “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” Here is love for us and for our children: Not that they are without sin before God, or that we are perfect in holiness, but that Christ is without sin, and His righteousness is perfect before His Father. We can say this: “The promise is for you and for your children.” We can proclaim this fact: “All who call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved.” The message of suffering and hope that brings healing to our bones cannot be about our merit or about the merit of our children. It must be about the worthiness of the only-begotten Son of God who suffered and died for us, and who lives forever to make intercession for the unworthy.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Merciful Lord, we have said more than we should. We have thought that we knew things that we do not know. Your providence is beyond our wisdom and understanding. Would we accuse a godly man of sin in the day of his greatest loss? He has been serving You in faithfulness in every way that we could ever see. We know that You do not owe him anything, but who are we to offer words of instruction? Forgive us, O Lord. Remember the prayers of Your Son for us, and help our brothers and sisters who seem to be swallowed up by astonishing and overwhelming trouble.