Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The burden of Bildad’s speech is very much what that of Eliphaz was: the justice of God, and the impossibility of one who is not a wicked man being forsaken of God and punished. This, which is emphatically the problem of the Book of Job, was the great practical problem of the Old World, as we see from Psalms 37 and the like. It is a problem which not seldom weighs heavily on our own hearts even in the light of the Gospel, though, of course, since the redemption of the Cross of Christ this problem has once for all been practically solved. What is so conspicuous in the speeches of Job’s friends is their total want of refinement and delicacy of feeling. They blurt out without the slightest compunction the most unscrupulous charges, and they cast the most reckless insinuations against him. Here, for instance, Bildad does not hesitate to say that Job’s sons died for their transgressions because God is a righteous God, and He would not have been righteous had they, being innocent, perished. Thus, in order to save the credit of the righteous God facts must be distorted or misrepresented to any extent, as though God were not a God of truth as well as of righteousness.
Then answered Bildad the Shuhite, and said,
If thy children have sinned against him, and he have cast them away for their transgression;(4) And he have cast them away.—Literally, then he sent them away. By means of their transgression; it became their destruction.
If thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous.(6) If thou wert pure and upright.—Of course, then, there is but one inference: thou art not pure and upright. These are verily the wounds of a friend which are not faithful. Bildad brings to the maintenance of his point the experience of former generations. He wishes to be very orthodox in his assertions, and to base his statements upon authority, and he appeals to the experience of former ages long gone by, and calls them to attest the truth of what he says. He also, like Eliphaz, uses figures, and has recourse to metaphor, only his figures are highly obscure and admit of various explanations. We give that which seems to commend itself most to us. It appears, then, that Bildad contemplates two representative characters, the two which are so prominent throughout this book—namely, the righteous and the wicked. He depicts the latter first, and describes him under the likeness of the paper-reed, or rush that grows in the mire of Egyptian swamps, which, though surrounded with moisture, yet as a matter of fact is liable soon to wither: so is the wicked man, according to this moralist and philosopher. He is surrounded by mercies and blessings, but they avail him nought; he withereth in the midst of abundance.
Can the rush grow up without mire? can the flag grow without water?(11) The flag is the plant of Genesis 41:2, which the cattle feed upon. This figure is enforced by a second, that, namely, of the spider’s web, the most fragile and transient of tenements.
He shall lean upon his house, but it shall not stand: he shall hold it fast, but it shall not endure.(15) It shall not endure.—The description of the wicked man ends here.
He is green before the sun, and his branch shooteth forth in his garden.(16) He is green.—Here begins, as we understand it, another and an opposite picture, which fact is marked in the Hebrew by an emphatic pronoun. “Green is he (see Job 8:6) before the sun, &c., quite unlike the watery paper-plant. This man is verdant and luxuriant, not in the midst of moisture, but even before the sun.” There is not the same promise of verdure, but a greater realisation of it.
His roots are wrapped about the heap, and seeth the place of stones.(17) His roots are wrapped about.—This is the cause of his continual luxuriance, that his roots receive moisture from below, where they are wrapped about the spring which fertilises them underneath; they are planted near to a perennial fountain, and therefore (see Job 8:6) “he is green before the sun.”
And seeth the place of stones.—Rather, the house of stones—i.e., the stone house. He seeth the permanent and durable edifice of stone which is the habitation of civilisation and culture, and here his holding is so firm that, even if plucked up, his roots and suckers are so numerous that they leave behind them descendants and offshoots, so that out of his earth others grow; or, more correctly, out of another dust they grow. Even if transplanted, this luxuriant tree will flourish equally well in another soil.
Till he fill thy mouth with laughing, and thy lips with rejoicing.(21) Till he fill thy mouth with laughing.—Rather, he will yet fill thy mouth with laughter—afflicted though thou hast been, thou shalt again rejoice. The attitude of Bildad is one of unsympathetic selfishness. He wishes to think well of his friend because he is his friend, but he cannot reconcile his afflicted condition with any theory of righteous government, and therefore is driven to suspect that all is not right with him, though he feels warranted in promising him that if he casts away that secret sin all shall yet be well with him. We may say that if the contrast here indicated is not intended by the speaker, then we must consider the “he” of Job 8:16 the person before spoken of, and must understand his luxuriance of a merely apparent luxuriance; but then in that case one is at a loss to see why the “he,” of Job 8:16 should be emphasised as it is in the Hebrew.