Bildad responds again to Job, seeking to repudiate some of his charges and to prove that God does indeed punish the wicked.
Bildad’s second response betrays a growing sense of frustration. Of course, Job treating his friends as if they were enemies does not help matters. “We’re just trying to help!,” Bildad must be thinking. “If only Job repents, that stubborn man, all would be fine. For, God would never let such a terrible thing happen to a righteous man…”
This line of thinking leads Bildad to some rather absurd conclusions.
“How long will you hunt for words?,” Bildad exclaims. “Show understanding and then we can talk. Why are we regarded as beasts, as stupid in your eyes” (Job 18:2-3)?
Bildad reacts defensively, because the exchange of negative comments that began with Zophar implying Job was irrational and obstinate like a donkey in chapter 11 and Job responding with the same in the subsequent chapter. Job went as far as to say that God has taken their understanding from them (Job 17:4)! Bildad does not view himself as “godless” as Job declares in Job 17:8).
After saying this, Bildad makes assertions that may be true in an eschatological sense, but not universally true to our present condition. He claims that the wicked will not prevail (Job 18:5-6). In order to convey this idea, he speaks four times how the “light” or “flame” of the wicked “goes out.” The invoking of “light” may refer to the wicked losing their sense of direction, which would repudiate Job’s claims in 12:17-20, where he asserts that God confuses the Earth’s leaders.
After repudiating Job, Bildad speaks of the wicked being thwarted in their own schemes, often falling into the pit they dug for others to be trapped in (Job 18:7-10, see also Prov 26:27, Prov 28:10, Psalm 9:5 and Psalm 141:10). While often this may be true, it is not a law of the universe that every time someone intends to wrong someone, they end up being wronged themselves or that they get hurt in the process.
Bildad continues: The wicked supposedly live in constant stress and apprehension (Job 18:11-12). They lose their health (Job 18:13), security (Job 18:14-16), and family name (which in ancient times was how one lived on because there was no serious conception of the afterlife, Job 18:17, 19). People are appalled at the sound of their name and want nothing to do with them (Job 18:18, 20). “Surely such are the dwellings of the wicked and this is the place of him who does not know God,” Bildad says with confidence in the final verse.
However, a cursory look at reality would discount many of these assertions. Let’s take a godless man that was a drug-addled blasphemer, adulterer, wife-beating, raging egomaniac: John Lennon. Yes, John Lennon of The Beatles fame. He was essentially healthy, wealthy, famous, and loved by all who didn’t know him too well. In fact, his name would likely be immortal if it were not for the fact that as far as we know will be thrown into the lake of fire for all of eternity.
If Bildad was speaking of generalities or eschatological truisms, there would be no reason to take issue. However, he is completely literal and thereby totally incorrect.
One final question: is Bildad referring to Satan when he speaks of the “firstborn of death” and the “king of terrors” (Job 18:13 and 14)? Yes. However, how does this make sense with the fact that Job and likely his friends view Sheol as a place of eternal rest and essentially nothingness?
Sadly, the Scripture does not give us too much detail. We do know that ancient religions did have Satan-like figures and hell-like places, such as Hades. For example, within Hades in Greek mythology Elysian Fields was essentially heaven and Tartarus was hell, and both were separate compartments. So, when one spoke of being in Hades, sometimes it was the common abode of the dead and other times there was some idea of divine retribution found therein.
This sort of dichotomous organization may be reflected in Christ’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me…’” (Luke 16:23-24). The fact Abraham in this parable hears the Rich Man shows that there is some sort of relatively close proximity between the two. We may infer from the picture drawn in the parable that Sheol has two compartments similar to Hades.
Now, whether we are supposed to take the idea totally literally is open for debate and ultimately not answerable this side of heaven. The Sadducees did not believe in an afterlife and many other ancients did not seem to take it that seriously (the wealthy or powerful would hope to make their mark on history so that their names might live forever, because there might have been a lack of confidence in any life after death). Was Bildad’s remark reveal that he rejects such eschatology? More likely, his “king of terrors” remark was likely just a passing comment which had to do more with contemporary mythology than a serious belief.
We might not get a serious portrayal of the afterlife from any of the men in this book. Yet, we can make a few firm conclusions.
First, when Job speaks of Sheol, he believes that fetuses attain to the same afterlife that dead kings and others go to (see Job 3:11-19). This accords a level of dignity to the unborn that is lost in the modern day. Further, it is suggestive of infant salvationism as Job does not take the stance that infants, born with original sin, will be subjected to the king of terrors.
Second, it is apparent that Job knows that though God slay him now, he has no reason to believe that God is absolutely capricious. We can infer from Job speaking of Sheol positively and that he is confident that the king of terrors, the pre-eminent one (“firstborn”) among the dead, is not going to be lord over him. In fact, his faith leads him to believe that even eternal rest is not the abode of the faithful, but rather resurrection.
This helps make sense of Job’s current frustration, but his trust in God. He disagrees with God’s meting out of justice on Earth, but he never accuses God of being unfair in an eschatological sense. Instead, as Job speaks of in the 27th chapter, Job takes issue with subjecting the righteous in this life and the wicked often prospering in the meantime before meeting their doom. Job, like many of us, wants everything to be made right, right now! He does not understand that God has purposes for the wicked: “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Prov 16:4).
Lastly, because Job does not group the righteous and the unrighteous alike in Sheol (the afterlife for the wicked in Job 27:17-22), we can infer that Job believes in a differentiated abode of the dead. This means that Job shares an understanding with his friends that the part of Sheol the wicked go to is different from where the righteous, and perhaps miscarried infants, go to. He may take it more seriously and as we can see in the 26th chapter in his final response to Bildad, appears to have a much more profound understanding of God, the heavens, and Sheol.
However, Job does not speak inscrutable truth every time he opens his mouth (and he will likewise make further false assertions in the upcoming chapters as well as many true ones.) That being said, neither does Bildad! Because we know this to be the case, we do not have reason to take some of these speculations about the afterlife drawn from the comments made by these men overly seriously.
For example, just because Job thinks fetuses join kings in Sheol does not mean we have strong Scriptural support for the salvation of unbelieving infants. In addition, one may argue in favor of a differentiated abode of the dead that would have existed before the resurrection of Christ from such texts as those found in this book. Such conjecture can hardly proved without a shadow of a doubt. Nonetheless, we may concede that the evidence is highly suggestive. The fact that Christ our Lord God felt it necessary to invoke the same picture of Sheol in one of His parables means that there is benefit in at the very least being acquainted with these things and their possible ramifications. We just cannot draw any firm conclusions about the matter.