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77. Job 8:5-7, Turning to Exhortation

 

So, in verse 5 Bildad turns to exhortation. Again, he might use the conjunction (or is it a hypothetical particle?) im to give the impression of studied distance and mature reflection, but behind all of it is the realization that Bildad is a proclaimer of Truth. Capital T. The Truth is that your children sinned. The Truth is that you need “earnestly to seek (shachar, 11x) God and to the Almighty make your supplication” (v 5).  Note that Bildad here skillfully turns Job’s use of shachar (7:21) on its head.  Job had concluded his previous speech with ‘Nah-nah’ defiance of God by saying to God, “you will seek me diligently (shachar) but I will not be,” i.e., you won’t find me God, because I will be dead. But here Bildad says to Job, ‘You’ve got it wrong, buddy. God doesn’t search you out (shachar);you search God out. Thems be the rules!’ Bildad is the world’s first theological shock-jock. But sometimes you may have to shock someone back into right thinking!

 

The language of shachar is probably stronger even than that of darash. Though shachar is used in one of the most memorable Psalms to describe David’s quest for God (“O God, you are my God; I earnestly seek (shachar) you,” 63:1), it can also be used in secular contexts. Job uses it to describe a search for food (24:5); Proverbs uses it to describe a prostitute’s earnest search for a client (7:15). One can diligently seek good, and not simply God (Proverbs 11:27). Yet when Bildad used it in 8:5, its meaning is unambiguous—seek God with all your heart.  


Bildad returns to the more normal form of speech in the wisdom tradition in the second clause of verse 5 by using a synonym for shachar to express his meaning. Job is to “implore (chanan) the Almighty.” The two clauses of verse 5 are parallel. Interestingly, like Eliphaz in 5:7, whose four consecutive uses of el either indicated great literary prowess or the onset of stuttering, Bildad uses three consecutive el’s here: “to God and to. . .” is the construction. He, however, couldn’t quite match Eliphaz’s heroic literary effort.

 

Now that we have discounted the import of the first two im's of Bildad (vv 4, 5) by arguing they are declarative statements rather than hypothetical clauses, the question arises of whether or not to take the third im, at the beginning of verse 6, seriously. It really doesn’t matter; meaning is unaffected. “If you are pure and upright” or “You are pure and upright” are the two thoughts, but that isn't the emphasis in the verse; his interest is in what happens to the pure and upright person. “Now (atah) it/he (God is probably meant) would awake over you, and the habitation (naveh again) of your righteousness shall be at peace/prosper.” 

 

Two points invite consideration in verse 6: Bildad’s language of purity and the hopeful conclusion of the verse. Job has already been described a few times as tam and yashar, or “blameless and upright.” Note that when Eliphaz spoke in general about God’s principle of judgment in 4:7 he used naqiy (“innocent”) and yashar (“upright”) to describe behavior acceptable to God. But this is the first time in Job that the concept of purity (zak, 11x) has appeared. Related roots to zak are the verbs zakak/zakah; other words for purity abound in the Bible. Most of the appearances of zak-related words are in Job; perhaps we can see it as the ethical equivalent of millah, Job’s special word for “words.” Zophar claims in 11:4 that Job has used the word zak to describe himself, though Job only mentions that his prayer is zak in 16:17. Elihu also will argue that Job claims purity (zak) for himself (33:9). We don’t know how they are using the term; indeed, all the moral terminology in Job may simply all be saying pretty much the same thing: that Job is a really, really good guy. Granular examination might not yield useful results.

 

If we take verse 6 as an assertion, Bildad would be saying, “You are/claim to be pure and upright.” The result of this is that “now” God will arise. The “now” (atah) ought to be noted. Bildad isn’t one who expects or looks forward to salvation in the distant future. It will come right away. God will awake/rouse himself/be stirred up (the common verb ur) and bring peace to/make prosperous (the common verb shalam) your righteous habitation.  

 

The last phrase of verse 6 is striking in a few ways. First is the use of shalam, “to make amends/bring peace.” We are somewhat surprised to see it until we realize that this was the verb Eliphaz used when he predicted good things for Job in 5:23. In the arresting language of Eliphaz, “You will have a covenant with the stones of the field, and the living creatures of the field shall be at peace (shalam) with you.” Job’s will also have a future “habitation of righteousness” (v 6), with his habitation described using the word that only appears on the lips of the friends (naveh; 5:3, 24). We see that Bildad’s optimism here, sincere as it may be, is a derivative one—derived from the language of Eliphaz’s longer section at the end of Job 5.  

 

Bildad’s optimism continues into verse 7.  We literally have, “And was your beginning small, also your after times shall increase very much.” Since a comparison is no doubt intended, the first clause is often rendered, “And though your beginning was small. . .”  As with earlier verses, he uses distinctive phrases even though his ideas are unexceptional. The pure and upright person starts small, but ends up with great increase. It is straight out of the wisdom tradition of Israel, captured neatly in Proverbs 3:11-12. That passage teaches that by honoring God with your first fruits you will receive a marvelous harvest. Bildad’s ideas are not too different from those.


Yet his vocabulary is rare. The “small” here is mitsar (5x; two of which occur in Genesis 19:20), though the typical words for “little/small” are meat (102x) and qaton (101x). It would be like saying

in English, “Though you had nugatory beginnings. . .” The speaker of such a line would either be quoting someone or be deliberately affected in speech. That affectation continues in the second half of the verse through the use of “increase” (sagah, 4x). One of its other three appearances is just four verses later, so in the other 700+ pages of the Hebrew Bible, the verb sagah appears only twice (Psalm 73:12; 92:12; an obviously derivative saga only appears in Job—12:23; 36:24). We might have expected a verb with the r-b root.

 

The only difficulty with Bildad’s borrowed optimism at this point is that it doesn’t seem to match what we know of Job’s actual situation. Job is never portrayed as a person who went “from small to big,” the typical economic paradigm. For all we know he might have been rich from the cradle. And his greatest desire, expressed poignantly in his peroration of Chapters 29-31 is for a return of the old days, and not for a great increase (sagah meod). It isn’t necessarily the case that those with finely calibrated theological systems are necessarily deaf to the complexity of the throbbing realities before them. Yet, the desire to make sure that people’s lives conform to the understanding provided by a logical system can be very strong. Job needs to act a certain way (pure and upright); the result will follow: from small beginnings to great ends.  We feel we have heard something like this hinted at already, and so we have—in the conclusion of Eliphaz’s speech, especially 5:25.