Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
I keep running into a problem when I read the book of Job. What keeps challenging me is that initially, Elephaz seems like a nice guy, Bildad makes sense, and Zophar… well sometimes I’m not sure who he’s really talking to since he sorta just says whatever he wants. This time while reading through Job, I tried to focus in on Bildad’s initial speech in Job 8. However, there’s a problem: his doctrine seems spot on.
If you’re asking yourself “Why is that a problem?” I’ll assume you haven’t read Job yet. Anyway, before explaining why this is an issue at all let’s take a look at the speech and how it lines up with the rest of Scripture. After saying that Job’s borderline blasphemy in his complaining is a “blustering wind,” Bildad starts to make his argument:
Does God pervert justice?
Does the Almighty pervert what is right?
When your children sinned against him,
He gave them over to the penalty of their sin (Job 8:3-4).
First, a little background: Job’s kids died through a horrible freak accident (the house they were in fell on them). Now they were known for having parties- which I presume Bildad is referring to in his condemnation of them. These must have been some pretty exciting parties, because Job felt it necessary to sacrifice on his children’s behalf. Check it out,
His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom (Job 1:4-5).
Job makes it a pretty high priority to cleanse his children in the eyes of the Lord, not only does he get up early to pray and sacrifice for them, but he also sends people to purify them- who knows what they were up to when they were high in spirits, but Bildad suggest it wasn’t very spiritual. Anyway, Bildad’s right, God doesn’t pervert justice because he’s perfect- not only is he perfect, but he is perfect in judgment. And, sin requires punishment (or “chastisement” if the word punishment bothers you as a saved Christian). Sin requires some sort of response from the Lord, for it is written in Numbers 32:23, “But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.” This particular passage has to do with part of Israel not helping their brother’s fight against Canaan. God is strong about us following his commands and makes clear that there will be repercussions to sin. Listen to what he told the Israelites;
But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you (Leviticus 26:14-17).
To be sure, sin requires some sort of a response from God; he’s perfect and cannot pervert justice. Alright, now that you’ve been sufficiently scared (and the Holy Spirit has lit up some sin that needs taking care of in your life), Bildad moves on to the Lord’s awesome mercy:
But if you will look to God
And plead with the Almighty,
If you are pure and upright,
Even now he will rouse himself on your behalf
And restore you to your rightful place.
Your beginnings will seem humble,
So prosperous will your future be (Job 8:5-7).
Any Christian knows that God forgives those who seek him for forgiveness. Peter, in his first sermon covered this. Acts 2:38 says, “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” So to be sure, Christ brings forgiveness and the Holy Spirit. But even in the Old Testament it’s fairly well documented that if you act rightly, the Lord will bless you: “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth” (Deuteronomy 28:1). So as far as I can see, when it comes to sin and righteousness, Bildad is spot on.
Alright, well, what else does he have to say? Maybe his doctrine is messed up somewhere else. Bildad continues,
As the former generations
And find out what their fathers learned,
For we were born only yesterday and know nothing,
And our days on earth are but a shadow.
Will they not instruct you and tell you?
Will they not bring forth words from their understanding? (Job 8:8-10)
According to Bildad, when you’re in doubt you should consult the Scriptures. Paul agrees with this notion, for he writes, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Hebrews notes the power of the Bible,
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
Or how about Psalm 119? It’s basically a love letter to the Law:
I will praise you with an upright heart
As I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees;
Do not utterly forsake me.
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to your word (Psalms 119:7-9).
If that’s not enough, check out the whole of Psalm 119, it is 176 verses of “The Bible (“the Law”) is good for you!” So it seems Bildad is right on target: you should check the Bible when in doubt on any matter- or just for daily reading and guidance.
Hmm, so far so good. Maybe Bildad will trip up soon. He continues his speech,
Can papyrus grow tall where there is not marsh?
Can reeds thrive without water?
While still growing and uncut,
They wither more quickly than grass.
Such is the destiny of all who forget God;
So perishes the hope of the godless.
What he trusts in is fragile;
What he relies on is a spider’s web.
He leans on his web, but it gives way;
He clings to it, but it does not hold.
He is like a well-watered plant in the sunshine,
Spreading its shoots over the garden;
It entwines its roots around a pile of rocks
And looks for a place among the stones.
But when it is torn from its spot,
That place disowns it and says, “I never saw you.”
Surely its life withers away,
And from the soil other plants grow (Job 8:11-19).
Bildad explains that the godless will find ruin eventually. This is backed up all over in Scripture (especially in Job). But more importantly for us, the Bible says that those who are without God will not only find ruin, but also death- eternal death in hell. This is noted by Christ in the Gospels:
Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”
This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?”
But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:21-24).
Jesus plainly told the people that if they did not acknowledge that he was “I am” (the name for God) [Yes, I understand that some Bibles have extra in there, but my NIV suggests it’s been added for clarification] that they would die in their sins and never see him again. However, things are quite different for the believer, as noted by Bildad as he finishes his speech:
Surely God does not reject a blameless man
Or strengthen the hands of evildoers.
He will yet fill your mouth with laughter
And your lips with shouts of joy.
Your enemies will be clothed in shame,
And the tents of the wicked will be no more (Job 8:20-22).
The Lord won’t turn away from those made blameless through Christ. Even when things completely go south (like they did for Job), God is working something good through it. Again, Bildad’s doctrine is correct; for it is written, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). God always has something good in mind for believers.
…But there’s a problem. See, at the end of Job, God says that Bildad (as well as Job’s other friends) was in the wrong. Scripture records,
After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).
Something must be missing. As I looked confusedly at the passage, trying to figure out where I went wrong on my reading of Bildad the Holy Spirit spoke up and explained. Job was in pain (emotionally and physically since not only where his kids dead but he had contracted some horrible skin condition as well) and it caused him to cry out in his anguish. As he cried and moaned and complained, Job said some pretty edgy things that were borderline blasphemy about how God was inflicting undue punishment on him. Though, he did defend himself,
If only my anguish could be weighed
And all my misery be placed on the scales!
It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas-
No wonder my words have been impetuous (Job 6:2-3).
So what do you do? Your friend is having a heck of a time and starts saying things that aren’t very Godly. What do you do? Jobs friends decided to mostly chew him out. Bildad was completely in the right in regards to his doctrine and the Scriptures. However, he was missing a key element: mercy. It was for folks like him that the Lord said, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Sacrifice and burnt offerings were actually required by the Law of God; but when it comes down to it, the Lord would rather we be merciful than anything else. The Lord himself is merciful and understanding of those in trouble. Check out the heart of the Lord Jesus, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). Just seeing people in need moves the heart of the Lord. Even those who are in their sins and need some help find mercy from God. When a woman who was caught in adultery was brought to Jesus to be stoned (as the Law required), he shamed everyone else into leaving her alone with him. And after they left…
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:10-11).
That’s right, through his mercy, the Lord looks past sins. In fact, he died for you while you were still in your sins; for it is written, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Our God is not one of wrath and judgment, but one of love and mercy. Speaking of Israel, the Lord said in Ezekiel 16:5-6,
No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.
Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!”
God looked after his hated little people (and still does), and he looks after you too- on your good days and on your bad days.
We, as a church, should never forget the love and mercy of the Lord. It’s very easy to put things before mercy, like being right, or following the rules or things like that; but God told Bildad to shut up and defended Job instead. Despite watching sermon after sermon I couldn’t tell what Bildad was doing wrong until finally, after years of reading the Bible, the Holy Spirit explained to me what was missing. Was this missing in my heart as well, or was it missing from others’ teaching of the Word? Who knows? But something was missing for me; make sure it’s not missing in you too.