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86. Job 8:20-22, Better Days are Ahead for Job
20 “See, God will not reject a blameless person,
nor take the hand of evildoers.
21 He will yet fill your mouth with laughter,
and your lips with shouts of joy.
22 Those who hate you will be clothed with shame,
and the tent of the wicked will be no more.”
Now that Bildad has also unsuccessfully risen to the occasion to speak clearly when employing an image derived from natural history, he boldly moves to words of hope. Over the years I have learned to admire the intrepidity of those whose words make no sense but just keep ploughing on. Many of them are promoted to high positions. Because of that realization, I took a most solemn pledge of unclarity for a month in my early 30s. It was my private “Vow of Unclarity.” I rigorously tried to make almost every statement I made confusing. People’s seemingly welcome and understanding faces turned to quizzical looks, but that didn’t bother me. I felt that because that was seemingly a successful method for so many people in life, I would imitate it. After a month, however, I just had to return to clarity, though I continue to have a secret admiration for those who can make no sense and shamelessly keep speaking. Perhaps that is why I have spent so much time writing about Bildad.
But the skies clear up in the last three verses of Chapter 8. Bildad has every reason to believe that things will get better for Job. In expressing his hope, he draws upon some language already used by Eliphaz in Chapter 5 and Job in Chapter 7. His words of hope, ending with eynehu (“be no more/and not be”) are a gentle and quite calculated response to Job’s two-fold use of the term (7:8, 21). Job’s despair reached a kind of twisted climax in 7:21 when he rejoiced that God would seek him out but eyneyni,“I shall be no more.” Now Bildad is saying that the tent of the wicked will be no more. He makes it clear, however, that he doesn’t believe Job is among that number.
A closer focus on some of the language in 8:20-22 yields additional jewels. We might render verse 20 as follows: “Lo, God will not despise a blameless person, and God will not strengthen the hand of evildoers.” Bildad’s use of “despise” (maas) here contributes to the fascinating use of that verb in Job. Appearing 75x in the Bible, maas is disproportionately represented in Job (12x). Outside of Job it almost always means to “reject” or “despise.” An example is Numbers 11:20, where judgment comes because people “reject/despise” (maas) Yahweh. Sometimes people reject God’s laws (Leviticus 26:15, 43); other times God rejects someone (I Samuel 15:23). When maas is rendered "despise," it always takes an object.
Yet, when we get to the Book of Job, things change. There is, of course, the use of maas with an object, such as in 5:17, where Eliphaz says that one ought not to “despise” (maas) the discipline of the Lord or here, in 8:20, where Bildad says that God will not reject/despise (maas is verb) a “blameless/perfect” person (tam). Similar examples are found in 9:21; 10:3; 19:18. In three instances, however, maas appears without an object: 7:5, 16; 42:6. I have argued that a better rendering of maas in the first two instances is “melt away/fade away/disappear”; I will argue below that it such a translation also best renders maas (or is it masas?) in 42:6. For now, however, we see Bildad using it in the usual way when appearing with an object: “reject/despise.”
When Bildad then uses the special word already used thrice to characterize Job (tam, by the narrator and God—1:1; 8; 2:3), we see that Bildad is really referring here to Job. God will not reject Job. That is Bildad’s comforting statement. Job will no doubt be comforted by this, as he in turn then uses tam three times in his self-description in 9:20-22. The second half of verse 20 is parallel thought. God won’t strengthen (the common chazak, 290x) the hand of evildoers.