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182. Job 18:7, A General Condemnation
At first glance, verse 7 seems to have little to do specifically with Job. In fact, it appears to be so general as to have no applicability to anyone. We have,
“The steps (tsaad, 14x) of his strength are straitened/become shortened (yatsar, 10x); and his counsel (the common etsah) shall cast him down (the common shalak).”
Though tsaad only appears 14x and can sometimes refer to the literal steps that one takes, we are surprised at its theological heft in about half a dozen places in Job, Psalms and Proverbs. “Steps” (tsaad, though the word also occurs three times as mitsad) can also stand for the way that a person walks before God. Proverbs 20:24 captures this meaning neatly, “The steps (mitsad) of a human are of (ordained by) the Lord.” The Psalmist says the same thing: “The steps of a human are established (kun) by the Lord” (37:23).
Bildad is saying here that such a God-ordained path for humans will be “shortened” (yatsar) for the wicked. That Bildad isn’t alone in thinking such a thought is apparent when we have in Proverbs 4:12 that, for the righteous person, “When you walk, your steps (also tsaad) will not be straitened/hindered/shortened (yatsar is also the verb); and when you run, you will not stumble.” Judgment for Bildad means that the process of life for the righteous person in Proverbs is reversed. Shortened or straitened steps symbolize impending judgment.
As mentioned, Bildad doesn’t explicitly tie Job to the life of shortened steps or a straitened path. Job himself takes pains in other places to emphasize that his steps are mercifully watched by God. Thus, there is no way that he will fit into Bildad’s category of people whose steps are shortened in anticipation of divine judgment. For example, Job has already said, in the difficult-to-understand 14:16, that God would “number” all his steps (see commentary above). That this isn’t a frightening thought for Job can be seen when he repeats the idea, both with the verb (saphar) and noun (tsaad) in 31:4. Like the Psalmist in 139:1-2, Job is quite aware that God numbers all his steps. God will bring Job into judgment if Job walks unrighteously, but the reason Job mentions the term “steps,” especially in 31:4, is because he is quite confident of his righteousness. Bildad might not be specifically referring to Job in 18:7 but Job, to remove all doubt, has already hinted and later will say that it doesn’t apply to him.
Bildad also mentions the general point in 18:7 that shortened steps of the wicked are combined with the wicked’s own counsel/advice/strategems that will cast him down. The word for “counsel” is the frequently-appearing (89x) etsah, and is a very common word in the wisdom tradition that stresses, depending on context, either a wise or devious process. Job is quite content to say that the counsel (etsah) of the wicked is far from him (21:16). We might see this as Job’s “response” to Bildad’s general allegation here. Therefore, Job himself will say that he doesn’t fit into Bildad’s second category.