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Bible Commentaries
Job 18

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-21



Job 18:1-21


COMPOSED in the orderly parallelism of the finished mashal, this speech of Bildad stands out in its strength and subtlety and, no less, in its cruel rigour quite distinct among those addressed to Job. It is the most trenchant attack the sufferer has to bear. The law of retribution is stated in a hard collected tone which seems to leave no room for doubt. The force that overbears and kills is presented rather as fate or destiny than as moral government. No attempt is made to describe the character of the man on whom punishment falls. We hear nothing of proud defiance or the crime of settling in habitations under the Divine curse. Bildad ventures no definitions that may not fit Job’s case. He labels a man godless, and then, with a dogged relish, follows his entanglement in the net of disaster. All he says is general, abstract; nevertheless, the whole of it is calculated to pierce the armour of Job’s supposed presumption. It is not to be borne longer; that against all wisdom and certainty this man, plainly set among the objects of wrath, should go on defending himself as if the judgment of men and God went for nothing.

With singular inconsistency the wicked man is spoken of as one who for some time prospers in the world. He has a settlement from which he is ejected, a family that perishes, a name of some repute which he loses. Bildad begins by admitting what he afterwards denies, that a man of evil life may have success. It is indeed only for a time, and perhaps the idea is that he becomes wicked as he becomes rich and strong. Yet if the effect of prosperity is to make a man proud and cruel and so bring him at once into snares and pitfalls according to a rigorous natural law-how then can worldly success be the reward of virtue? Bildad is nearer the mark with description than with reasoning. It is as though he said to Job, Doubtless you were a good man once; you were my friend and a servant of God; but I very much fear that prosperity has done you harm. It is clear that, as a godless man, you are now driven from light into darkness, that fear and death wait for you. The speaker does not see that he is overturning his own scheme of world rule.

There is bitterness here, the personal feeling of one who has a view to enforce. Does the man before him think he is of such account that the Almighty will intervene to become surety for him and justify his self-righteousness? It is necessary that Job shall not even seem to get the best of the argument. No bystander shall say his novel heresies appear to have a colour of truth. The speaker is accordingly very unlike what he was in his first address. The show of politeness and friendship is laid aside. We see the temper of a mind fed on traditional views of truth, bound in the fetters of self-satisfied incompetence. In his admirable exposition of this part of the book Dr. Cox cites various Arabic proverbs of long standing which are embodied, one way or other, in Bildad’s speech. It is a cold creed which builds on this wisdom of the world. He who can use grim sayings against others is apt to think himself superior to their frailties, in no danger of the penalties he threatens. And the speech of Bildad is irritating just because everything is omitted which might give a hinge or loop to Job’s criticism.

Nowhere is the skill of the author better shown than in making these protagonists of Job say false things plausibly and effectively. His resources are marvellous. After the first circle of speeches the lines of opposition to Job marked out by the tenor of the controversy might seem to admit no more or very little fresh argument. Yet this address is as graphic and picturesque as those before it. The full strength of the opposition is thrown into those sentences piling threat on threat with such apparent truth. The reason is that the crisis approaches. By Bildad’s attack the sufferer is to be roused to his loftiest effort, -that prophetic word which is in one sense the raison d’etre of the book. One may say the work done here is for all time. The manifesto of humanity against rabbinism, of the plain man’s faith against hard theology, is set beside the most specious arguments for a rule dividing men into good and bad, simply as they appear to be happy or unfortunate.

Bildad opens the attack by charging Job with hunting for words-an accusation of a general kind apparently referring to the strong expressions he had used in describing his sufferings at the hand of God and from the criticism of men. He then calls Job to understand his own errors, that he may be in a position to receive the truth. Perverting and exaggerating the language of Job, he demands why the friends should be counted as beasts and unclean, and why they should be so branded by a man who was in revolt against providence.

"Why are we counted as beasts,

As unclean even in your sight?

Thou that tearest thyself in thine anger-

For thy sake shall the earth be forsaken,

And the rock be moved from its place?"

Ewald’s interpretation here brings out the force of the questions. "Does this madman who complained that God’s wrath tore him, but who, on the contrary, sufficiently betrays his own bad conscience by tearing himself in his anger, really demand that on his account, that he may be justified, the earth shall be made desolate (since really, if God Himself should pervert justice, order, and peace, the blessings of the happy occupation of the earth could not subsist)? Does he also hope that what is firmest, the Divine order of the world, should be removed from its place? Oh, the fool, who in his own perversity and confusion rebels against the everlasting order of the universe!" All is settled from time immemorial by the laws of providence. Without more discussion Bildad reaffirms what the unchangeable decree, as he knows it, certainly is.

Nevertheless the light of the wicked shall be put out,

And the gleam of his fire shall not shine,

The light shall fade in his tent,

And his lamp over him shall be put out.

The steps of his strength shall be straitened,

And his own counsel shall cast him down.

For into a net his own feet urge him,

And he walketh over the toils.

A snare seizeth him by the heel,

And a noose holdeth him fast:

In the ground its loop is hidden,

And its mesh in the path.

By reiteration, by a play on words the fact as it appears to Bildad is made very clear-that for the wicked man the world is full of perils, deliberately prepared as snares for wild animals are set by the hunter. The general proposition is that the light of his prosperity is an accident. It shall soon be put out and his home be given to desolation. This comes to pass first by a restraint put on his movements. The sense of some inimical power observing him, pursuing him, compels him to move carefully and no longer with the free stride of security. Then in the narrow range to which he is confined he is caught again and again by the snares and meshes set for him by invisible hands. His best devices for his own safety bring him into peril.

In the open country and in the narrow path alike he is seized and held fast. More and more closely the adverse power confines him, bearing upon his freedom and his life till his superstitious fears are kindled. Terrors confound him now on every side and suddenly presented startle him to his feet. This once strong man becomes weak; he who had abundance knows what it is to hunger. And death is now plainly in his cup. Destruction, a hateful figure, is constantly at his side, appearing as disease which attacks the body. It is leprosy, the very disease Job is suffering.

"It devoureth the members of his skin,

Devoureth his members, even the firstborn of death,

He is plucked from the tent of his confidence,

And he is brought to the king of terrors."

The personification of death here is natural, and many parallels to the figure are easily found. Horror of death is a mark of strong healthy life, especially among those who see beyond only some dark Sheol of dreary hopeless existence. The "firstborn of death" is the frightful black leprosy, and it has that figurative name as possessing more than other diseases that power to corrupt the body which death itself fully exercises.

This cold prediction of the death of the godless from the very malady that has attacked Job is cruel indeed, especially from the lids of one who formerly promised health and felicity in this world as the result of penitence. We may say that Bildad has found it his duty to preach the terrors of God, and the duty appears congenial to him, for he describes with insistence and ornament the end of the godless. But he should have deferred this terrible homily till he had clear proof of Job’s wickedness. Bildad says things in his zeal of his spirit against the godless which he will afterwards bitterly regret.

Having brought the victim of destiny to the grave, the speaker has yet more to say. There were consequences that extended beyond a man’s own suffering and extinction. His family, his name, all that was desired of remembrance in this world would be denied to the evildoer. In the universe, as Bildad sees it, there is no room for repentance or hope even to the children of the man against whom the decree of fate has gone forth.

They shall dwell in his tent that are none of his!

Brimstone shall be showered on his habitation;

His roots shall be dried up beneath,

And above his branches shall wither;

His memory shall perish from the land,

And he shall have no name in the earth-

It shall be driven from light into darkness,

And chased out of the world.

The habitation of the sinner shall either pass into the hand of utter strangers or be covered with brimstone and made accursed. The roots of his family or clan, those who still survive of an older generation, and the branches above-children or grandchildren, as in Job 18:19 -shall wither away. So his memory shall perish, alike in the land where he dwelt and abroad in other regions. His name shall go into oblivion, chased with aversion and disgust out of the world. Such, says Bildad, is the fate of the wicked. Job saw fit to speak of men being astonished at the vindication he was to enjoy when God appeared for him. But the surprise would be of a different kind. At the utter destruction of the wicked man and his seed, his homestead and memory, they of the west would be astonished and they of the east affrighted. As logical as many another scheme since offered to the world, a moral scheme also, this of Bildad is at once determined and incoherent. He has no doubt, no hesitation in presenting it. Were he the moral governor, there would be no mercy for sinners who refused to be convicted of sin, in his way and according to his law of judgment. He would lay snares for them, hunt them down, snatch at every argument against them. In his view that is the only way to overcome unregenerate hearts and convince them of guilt. In order to save a man he would destroy him. To make him penitent and holy he would attack his whole right to live. Of the humane temper Bildad has almost none.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Job 18". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/job-18.html.
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