Bildad the Shuhite begins to speak. I had an instructor, once, who noted that Bildad was very short in stature (“shuhite” = “shoe height” . . . Get it?). Well, regardless of his physical stature, his reasoning certainly comes up short. To Job he poses the questions: “How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a great wind? Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?” (8:2-3) That is, he argues, if Job is suffering greatly, then Job must have sinned greatly. God is just, and he would not discipline so harshly without a just reason for doing so.
See his reasoning? “Can papyrus grow where there is no marsh? Can reeds flourish where there is no water?” (8:11) That is, no marsh, no papyrus. No water, no reeds. No great transgression, no great discipline. Because of Job’s great suffering, surely, Job must have greatly transgressed.
Job responds, “Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times” (9:2-3). Job is getting it. No matter how trite or how great one’s sin, how can one be right before God? The answer to Job’s predicament, and ours, is not to be found in the degree of our wrong doing or supposed righteousness. There must be another answer! And, oh, the answer is coming! Job needs an arbiter to stand between himself and God (9:33). Job himself will arrive at the ultimate answer, but not just yet. Isaac Watts asks the same sorts of questions in his hymn.
How should the sons of Adam’s race
be pure before their God?
If he contends in righteousness,
we sink beneath his rod.
If he should mark my words and thoughts
with strict enquiring eyes,
could I for one of thousand faults
the least excuse devise? --Isaac Watts (18th century)
And, of course, Isaac Watts, as did Job, ultimately, discovered the answer to his questions:
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown? --Isaac Watts (1707)