When I was younger, I remember one of the memory cues related to the Book of Job came in the form of a question: who was the shortest man named in the Bible? The answer was Bildad the Shuhite (shoe height). Our introduction to this “friend” and “comforter” of Job comes in the eighth chapter of the book.
The exact meaning of Bildad’s name is uncertain, but there is a connotation Bel has loved. Bel (or Baal) was an ancient Babylonian deity and Bildad’s initial speech urges Job to consult the ancient (possibly religious) authorities in order to understand his current suffering.
From his first words, Bildad is hardly soothing in his approach. He accuses Job of being a windbag. Then he declares Job’s sons were demonstrably guilty and that’s why God destroyed them. While Bildad doesn’t directly accuse Job of wrongdoing, the implication is that he failed to keep his sons in line. So the guilt of their sin lies on Job’s shoulders. Shame!
Reading chapters of Job from various versions of the Bible, one finds shades of difference in the narrative. In the Easy-to-Read version (a loose translation intended to simplify vocabulary) of this passage, the translators appear to opt for simplicity while sacrificing integrity. The translator renders Bildad’s assertion (in verse 3) “God is always fair.” Contrast this to the NIV where the same statement is translated: “Does God pervert justice?” In my view, these statements are quite different.
No, I’m not an authority in Bible translation. Nevertheless, the statement “God is always fair” rings false on its face. First and foremost, one must define the concept of “fair.” If God is always fair (as the translator offers), why is Job suffering while his companions are not? This doesn’t reflect “fairness.”
In our culture, there’s often the demand for “fairness.” The presumption is that fairness is even possible in the world. The notion of equity (everyone treated the same) is counterintuitive to me. I’m reminded of one particular Christmas at our house when our children were under the age of twelve or so. In prior years, we’d had typical child complaints about “I like his present more than mine.” or “I wish I’d gotten one of those.”
My Beloved and I decided an object lesson was in order, so we designed Christmas gifts for our four children around the theme of fairness. No catering to Christmas lists (our usual habit). What one child received, the others received a facsimile. If there were dolls, all received one. Ditto, if there were trucks. (I don’t remember exactly what the gifts were; it’s been too many years ago.) But our adult children haven’t forgotten the horrors of their equal treatment.
Back to Job Chapter 8, there’s another statement of Bildad’s translated in the ERV that is also problematic for me. In verse 4, Bildad says Job’s children (the ones who died) “paid for their sins.” Again, this begs the question: why is Job suffering if his children “paid for their sins”?
Bildad offers some truths, but he fails to be a comforter. His recommendation to seek wisdom from ancient philosophy shows he has more confidence in a dead past than in a Living God. Bildad’s perspective echoes what countless other people through time have believed.
The sonnet below presents some of his reasoning for why Job has been punished, for indeed, Bildad believes Job is responsible for his own mess … and once he’s been properly chastised, Bildad suggests Job’s former state will be restored.