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247. Job 25:4-6, Bildad’s Imitative Eloquence
4 “How then can a man be just with God?
Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?
5 “If even the moon has no brightness
And the stars are not pure in His sight,
6 How much less man, that maggot,
And the son of man, that worm!”
But then, in verses 4-6, Bildad moves in for the theological kill. If these lofty things and thoughts can be predicated about God,
“How can a person (enosh) be righteous (tsadeq) with God? How can something born of woman (yelud isshah) be pure? (zakah, v 4)?”
Human beings so pale in comparison to the divine majesty that purity and righteousness simply can’t be attributed to them/us. But before we praise Bildad for his eloquence, we should note here that he derives not simply his ideas but his actual words from Eliphaz. For example, Eliphaz had asked, in 15:14,
“What is the human (enosh) that he should be pure (zakah)? One that is born of a woman (yelud isshah), how can he be righteous (tsadeq)?”
Comparing the thought patterns and the language of 25:4 and 15:14 yields near identity. Note further that Eliphaz in 15:14 had picked up on and developed his own thought from 4:17:
“Can a mortal (enosh) be righteous (tsadeq) before God? Can a man (geber)
be clean (tahar) before his maker?”
Righteousness (tsadeq) continues for Eliphaz in 15:14, while tahar of 4:17 has become zakah in 15:14. In fact, language of purity in Job then generally morphs into the adjective zak, and the two verbs zakak/zakah, as well as a few other words, which I have previously mentioned. Thus, we have Bildad picking up on Eliphaz’s speech, with Eliphaz picking up on his earlier utterance.
Then we return to the language of Eliphaz in Job 15, now focusing on 15:15-16, and compare it with Bildad in 25:5-6, we see a continued thought dependence and even some linguistic borrowing. First, Eliphaz goes on to say in 15:15:
“Lo (hen), (God) puts no trust (aman) in Holy ones; the heavens are not pure (zakak) in his eyes (ayin is the word for “eye”).
Perhaps developing that idea a bit, Bildad says in 25:5,
“Lo (hen) , even the moon has no brightness (the hapax verb ahal); and the stars are
not pure (zakak) in his eyes (ayin, the same form as in 15:15).
There is very little ideological distance from Eliphaz’s “Holy ones” In 15:15 to Bildad’s “moon and stars” of 25:5. Once again, Eliphaz idea in 15:15 is probably derived from his earlier thought in 4:18. In that passage (after talking about human impurity before God), he says:
“Lo (hen), he puts no trust (aman) in his servants (the common ebed); and in his
angels he places folly (toholah).”
The thought of 4:18 is hard to understand principally because we don’t know how to render the last phrase—the construction is sim toholah. The verb sim means “to put” or “to place,” but has a wide range of meanings beyond that. But the real problem with Job 4:18 is toholah, a hapax. It might mean “folly” or “error.” In his masterful commentary on Job 1-21, Seow devotes about 700 words to trying to figure out what this word means. Suggestions as various as “insensibility, stupor, folly, contrariness, confusion,” and even “brightness” have come forth. He sagely concludes the meaning is “uncertain.” Maybe the word didn’t even mean much to the author of Job. In any case, when Eliphaz picks up the identical thought in 15:15, he drops the toholah and replaces it with “pure in his eyes.” But he keeps the verb aman (“to trust”) and the principal subject matter (heavenly beings).
When Bildad then formulates his argument in Job 25:5, relying on Eliphaz in 15:15, he picks up on the three ideas of not “trusting” and “heavens/Holy ones” and “pure in eyes.” Well, he also picks up the seemingly omnipresent hen (“Lo”). But Bildad makes more precise Eliphaz’s reference to “Holy ones” and “heavens” in 15:15 by talking about the “moon” and the “stars” in 26:5. In both places these Holy ones/moon and stars are not “pure (zakak) in his eyes.” Yet the concept of God not “trusting” (aman, the verb appears both in 4:18 and 15:15) Holy ones is probably a bit ethereal for Bildad, and so he changes the thought to the “moon” (one of the “Holy ones”) doesn’t “shine” (ahal, a hapax verb).
As with many hapaxes, we don’t know precisely what the original verb here means. Scholars have debated the issue and thought, ‘Hmm…looks like ahal, “to pitch a tent,” but that wouldn’t make much sense here,’ and so the thought has morphed to a strange form of halal, which has one meaning of ‘becoming bright.’ I go with that one.
What is interesting, and not a little amusing in my reading, is that Bildad here is picking up on Eliphaz’s fairly eloquent words in 15:15, but he doesn’t like the concept of aman (trust). So he finds a verb close enough in the “dictionary” (ahal) and sticks that in. But it is humorous because we don’t know exactly what he is saying. His only foray into personal creativity, then, ends up as a mini-nightmare. This will give the author of Job enough of a reason to pull the plug on Bildad after another verse—Bildad is, ultimately, showing himself even unable to pick a word that makes real sense after he deviates from the text he is copying.