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245. Job 25, Bildad’s Third Speech, Introduction
Of all the curious things in the Book of Job, Job 25 is certainly one of the most curious. Bildad is given the floor for the third time and, instead of developing a long and impassioned response to Job’s 42 verses from the previous two chapters, speaks six verses only before he stops. If we discount the introductory verse (“Then Bildad the Shuhite answered”), he really speaks but five verses, none of which is 10 words or longer in Hebrew.
Such a situation has led to endless speculation among scholars about whether the “rest” of Bildad’s speech lurks in what follows in Job 26 or whether stopping him after verse 6 was conscious literary design. Clines, among others, finds words attributed to Job in chapter 26 to be compatible with Bildad’s theology, and so blithely ignores Job 26:1 and just reads Job 26 as Bildad’s extended speech.
But, as indicated earlier, I take it as my first task to see if an explanation of the text as received makes sense. In this case, I think six verses to Bildad not only makes sense here, but that there are good reasons for the author to “pull the plug/kill the mike” on Bildad after 25:6. Bildad speaks eloquently, to be sure, as eloquent as we have ever seen him, but he has already made his point by the end of verse 3. God is glorious, supreme over all, in the heavens. Because of this glorious position of God, we know even without the author’s saying it that God will be able to do according to the divine desires. He need say no more.
He does say more, even though it is only three more verses. Humans are insignificant creatures (vv 4-6) and are unable to bring any light to God’s effulgent brightness. Yet, as we look at the language of verses 4-6, we will see that they mimic Eliphaz’s earlier words, and sometimes very precisely, both in Job 4 and Job 15. The author is trying to tell us that Bildad has run out of his own things to say. And, when he does say something unique or powerful (vv 2-3), the implications of the theology for Job’s case are so clear that he need not say another word. There is no need for the author to put another speech about the judgment of the wicked on Bildad’s lips: we have heard that already.
The author thus grants Bildad his few thoughts on the radiant majesty of God (vv 2-3) before having him repeat Eliphaz’s thoughts. By having him repeat Eliphaz’s thoughts, the author signals us that there really is no need for Bildad to say anything more. He is finished. Truth be told, few readers are actually disappointed that Bildad stops here.
But Bildad’s speech closes with the slightest of ironies. The last Hebrew word is tola, rendered in both the NRSV and NASB as “worm.” He who wanted so much to have his last word be the glorious majesty of God ends up with the word “worm” ringing in our ears.