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75. Looking at the Language and Argument of Job 8:2-7

2 “How long will you say these things,
    and the words of your mouth be a great wind?
3 Does God pervert justice?
    Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
4 If your children sinned against him,
    he delivered them into the power of their transgression.
5 If you will seek God
    and make supplication to the Almighty,
6 if you are pure and upright,
    surely then he will rouse himself for you
    and restore to you your rightful place.
7 Though your beginning was small,
    your latter days will be very great.

The question “how long” (ad an, literally “to when?”, v 2) is also posed by Bildad in his second speech (18:2) as well as taken up by Job in his response (19:2); it is a formulation seen about eight or nine other times in the Bible (e.g., Exodus 16:28; Joshua 18:3; four times in Psalm 13:1-2). One can also say ad mathay (Psalm 6:3; Exodus 10:7) to express the same idea. As mentioned previously, malal (“to speak/say”) is a rare way of expressing the idea of speaking; normally we would have the verb dabar or amar. Job uses the verb malal again in 33:3, while its appearance in Proverbs 6:13 is, literally, “to speak (i.e., signal) with the feet,” a somewhat arresting concept from the perspective of body language theory. Though malal infrequently appears in the Bible, its corresponding noun millah, we recall, is “owned” by Job (34/38 appearances in Job). It is Job’s special word for “words/speak.” If we were to try to capture its meaning today it probably would be, “How long will you utter these (words). . .?”  

 

The second thought of verse 2 may give us one of the keys to Bildad’s approach: “And the words (imrey) of your mouth be a mighty (kabir) wind?”  Bildad, the man with razor-sharp theological categories, also will know how to drop in ambiguous or suggestive lines that potentially damn his opponent but which he could quickly back away from if challenged. Two of those in verses 2-7 are the “mighty” wind of verse 2 and his ‘hypothetical suggestion’ that Job’s children died because of their own sin in verse 4.  

 

The ambiguity or suggestiveness of the rest of verse 2 is in the connection of “mighty wind” here with “great wind” of 1:19. The modifying adjectives are different (kabir in 8:2; gadol in 1:19) but the parallelism is immediately apparent. Is Bildad suggesting that Jobs seemingly uncontrolled explosion of words is like the mighty wind that destroyed the house that killed his children? Bildad’s point would then be that Job’s words “kill,” from a theological perspective, just like the wind physically “killed” his children. Of course, Bildad could always back away from an allegation that he was likening Job’s outburst to the fatal wind (‘pure coincidence’ in the language of plausible deniability) but it is just enough to set Job’s teeth further on edge. The word kabir here functions similarly to Eliphaz’s opening verb of “testing” (nasah) in 4:2; it sends a signal that the species of love, if any, that the friends will dish out is tough love. 

 

One of the argumentative tricks of those whose theological categories are hyper-clear is to act as if an opponent’s argument or words about God with which they disagree are not just weak or incoherent or indefensible arguments but are offensive words. This allows the hyper-clear category person to appear personally injured and thus use overcharged language in response, really changing the nature of the debate into a personal attack rather than a consideration of ideas. Bildad does that in verse 3. He selects a relatively rare verb whose best translation is “pervert” or “subvert” (avath) and asks, using the verb twice “Does God pervert justice?” ‘Do we have some kind of heavenly pervert here, Job?’  Once you start using the language of perversion to respond to another’s personal experience, you have changed the nature of the discussion. Note, however, that Bildad will again draw back from the excessively personal language of verse 3 in his more “neutral” theological section of verses 11-19 and his positive words of verses 20-22.  He is theologically passive-aggressive, as if he secretly knows that his clear theological categories aren’t sufficient to describe the world, but he is also unwilling or unable to refine them.

 

Avath (literally “be bent/crooked”) appears 11x in the Bible and twice in 8:3. The verb appears twice more in Job, once on Elihu's lips (34:12) and once by Job (19:6). Job will assert in 19:6 that God perverts justice, a sort of delayed riposte to Bildad’s question in 8:3, while Elihu will give a delayed answer Bildad’s question in 34:12 with a resounding, ‘No, God does not pervert justice.’ As I have indicated above, the greatest indebtedness of the friends to each other in argument is often that they borrow each other’s words, even though they often borrow simply to turn the words on their heads. That is what Job will do with avath. More precisely, in 19:6 he will assert that God has avath him, which might best be translated that God has “made my way crooked.” If we render it this way we can see Job’s use of it in 19:6 as a brilliant way not only to show indebtedness to Bildad (‘thanks for the word, guy’) but as a subtle attack on the optimistic theory of Proverbs 3:5-6. Instead of God’s “making your way straight” of Proverbs 3:6, Job would say that God has “made my way crooked.”  

 

Almost always where there are parallel thoughts in the same verse in Job or Proverbs, the speaker uses synonymous rather than the identical verbs in successive clauses. Not here. Bildad’s double use of avath is meant to drive home the point that he finds Job’s words not simply incorrect but actually offensive and insulting. ‘Are you saying that God is crooked? Is that what you are saying?’ Bildad has matched Job’s emotion, and indignation, very quickly.