Job 31 Commentary: Have you ever found yourself in the position of needing to give a defense of your actions? Or even a defense of your character?
It’s difficult to do. And one thing that makes it so difficult is that you’re not wanting to boast of yourself. You’d rather let the lips of another man praise you and not your own. You’re wanting to be humble and modest.
Even the Apostle Paul experienced this uncomfortable need to defend himself in 2 Corinthians and you can tell by the phrases he chooses there that this was not his desire – to be speaking so highly and glowingly of himself.
And this is what we see the biblical character Job having to do in Job chapter 31. So, let’s turn our attention to that chapter. Job 31.
Job chapter 31 records Job’s last words of self-defense. He’s had to defend himself against the accusation that his friends have been making that he’s secretly sinning.
Job’s friends believe that God works in this world in such a way that good is always and only rewarded and sin is always and only punished – in this life. And so, the friends see what’s happened to Job and all of his suffering and they assume that God is punishing him for some sort of sin.
At the same time, Job also has believed generally the same thing that his friends believe. But he has the advantage of knowing that he has not committed some sort of sin that would warrant God’s punishment.
And that causes great confusion in Job’s soul. God’s ways aren’t making sense to him.
And so, in this chapter – chapter 31 – Job is basically calling to God’s attention the fact that he’s not done anything deserving the kind of treatment that God has been giving him.
In fact, in the first 23 verses of this chapter we have six different areas that Job wants to bring up in which he’s been righteous and undeserving of God’s punishment.
Job 31 Commentary 1-4 Lust
And so, Job starts off in verses 1-4 by claiming that he’s been free of sexual immorality – even in the form of lusting after women.
KJV Job 31:1 I made a covenant with mine eyes;
[why/how] then [should/could] I [think upon/gaze at/entertain thoughts against] a [maid/virgin]?
So, Job had made a promise – as it were – with his eyes. And that promise involved “a maid’ or a young unmarried woman – or, really, all young unmarried women.
And it comes as no surprise that this sin that Job is speaking of is a big problem for men.
There’s a reason – that as the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is clarifying and intensifying the Old Testament Law – where he’s trying to make us see that it’s not just sins of the body that matter – but sins of the heart are also just as damning – that Jesus intensifies the commandment against adultery – which most people would take to be physical – and he clarifies that even the lust that would lead to adultery is itself adultery.
The current so-called #MeToo movement where numerous women are coming forward and claiming sexual abuse by men who held some power and influence in their lives is another testament to the fact that what Job is addressing is a tendency and temptation that is common to man.
It’s a common sin, then. And the amazing fact is that Job had an uncommon approach to this temptation.
He made a promise with his eyes not to lust after young women. And he’s implying that he had kept that promise with himself. And – for Job – he’s saying that this is one reason that he doesn’t deserve the kind of treatment that he’s receiving from God.
And I like Job’s wording that he uses here and would advocate it to everyone here who struggles in this area of lust – to think to yourself whenever the temptation arises – “Why then should I think upon” this area of temptation?
Ask yourself “why?” In the heat of the moment – “Why should I do this?”
And I’m not saying that asking this question alone is going to solve all of your problems, but I think we’d do well to approach temptation with Job’s mindset on it – “why?”
Well, Job has an answer to his “why?” question. He’s going to answer the question of what happens if someone does indulge in that temptation and gives in and sins with lustful thoughts.
Here’s what Job says of people who constantly give-in to lusting with their eyes.
2 [For/And/Then] what [portion/lot] of God is there from above?
and what [inheritance/heritage] of the Almighty from on high?
In other words, a person who constantly gives in to breaking his promise with his eyes to lust after young women – well, Job wonders aloud what he’ll receive from God.
And he doesn’t wonder for long. In verse 3, he answers the question posed – what does a person who constantly gives-in to lust receive from God?
3 Is [it…] not [destruction/calamity/misfortune] [to/for] the [wicked/unjust]?
and [a strange punishment/disaster] [to/for] [the workers of/those who work] iniquity?
So, this kind of lusting with the eyes is characteristic of the “wicked” and “workers of iniquity.” And Job says that it’s common knowledge that these individuals meet with destruction and disaster from God. That’s their portion.
Now, we do need to remind ourselves that in Christ all of our sins are forgiven – even the sin of lusting. God has promised in the New Covenant to not remember our sins and lawless deeds ever again. And we praise him for these wonderful merciful realities.
But it would be dishonoring to God to pretend as if he’s now fine with us lusting with our eyes. The Apostle Paul warns us not to use our liberty as an opportunity for the flesh.
So, while we rejoice in God’s free forgiveness of our sins in Christ – we can’t approach this area of life with a “who cares?” kind of attitude. We need to be serious about being pure individuals – both physically and mentally – with our bodies and our minds. In Christ, we are now free to live lust-free lives.
And Job was a pure man – he was pure with his eyes as he says here – and later on he’ll address the matter of his body not being involved in immorality either.
And because of this purity – but then the matter of God seeming to punish him – Job speaks into the air as-it-were and laments that God doesn’t seem to take notice of his attempts to remain pure.
4 Doth not he see my ways,
and [count/number] all my steps?
So, I think he’s appealing to God. God has seen the reality of Job’s claim in verse 1 – that he’s kept his covenant with his eyes and has not lusted after young women.
And I think Job is saying both that God knows the reality of what Job is claiming – but also, Job is sort of complaining that God doesn’t seem to take notice of this purity in Job’s life. Job’s still being punished by God – even though he’s been able to do what many men fail at – to resist lusting with their eyes.
Job could also be giving here a reason for his concern for not lusting with his eyes. If Job looks at young women with lust, won’t God look at him and realize what he’s doing? And that thought is unsettling to Job.
Job 31 Commentary 5-6 Lying
Well, next, in verses 5 and 6, Job claims that he hasn’t lied. And he presents this in terms of a conditional clause – and “if-then” statement.
5 If I have walked [with/in] [vanity/falsehood],
or if my foot hath hasted to deceit;
6 Let me be weighed [in/with] [an even/accurate/honest] [balance/scales],
And I’ll stop there before he gets to his second statement.
But what Job is saying so far in these two verses is he’s assuming for a moment that he’s lied. “If I’ve lied…” Well, if he’s lied, then he says that God can weigh him with scales that don’t lie – an even balance.
And if someone lies, and God weighs him on a right balance, then you’d expect that this man would be found to be a liar.
But that’s not what Job says in the last line of verse 6. In the last line of verse 6, Job can’t seem to keep up the theoretical possibility that he’s a liar. So, when he’s weighed by God, this is what will happen – not that he’ll be found guilty, but…
[that God may/and let God/then God] [know/will discover] mine integrity.
So, Job portrays it like God is going to discover something new that he didn’t know. God is going to discover that Job is a man of integrity.
And I think this goes along with the thinking of Job that God is maybe a little mistaken in his assumptions about Job.
Why else would God be punishing a righteous man? Because – again – Job is under the assumption that God only and always rewards good and only and always punishes sin.
God is punishing the righteous Job. Therefore, God is…wrong?! In need of being informed?? God needs to weigh Job on truthful balances – and then perhaps finally God will see that Job is unworthy of this suffering in his life.
That’s what Job is saying.
So far then, Job has vehemently asserted that he has not been immoral or deceitful.
Job 31 Commentary 7-8 Et Cetera
And next in verses 7 and 8, Job declares that he’s innocent of all sorts of general sins.
7 If my [step/footsteps] hath [turned/strayed] [out of/from] the way,
and mine heart [walked after/followed/has gone after] mine eyes,
and if any [blot/spot] hath [cleaved/stuck] to mine hands [thus defiling them…];
So – if what Job has done with his feet or his heart or his hands has been unfaithful to God…
8 Then let me sow, and let another eat;
yea, let my [offspring/crops/“what sprouts up”] be [rooted out/uprooted].
So, Job is trying to prove to both his friends and his God that he’s done right – and one way to do that is to utter this kind of a curse on oneself. People tend to resort to calling down some awful calamity upon themselves if this-or-that is the case or is not the case – and they do that in order to try to prove that they’re innocent.
And that’s what Job is doing here and has been doing. “If I’ve sinned, then let me sow – and instead of me eating what I’ve sown” – which is how it normally should work – “let someone else eat it.”
And even worse – whatever Job plants he says can be – not eaten by others – but rather totally uprooted if he’s guilty of sin in the realms of feet, heart, or hands.
Job 31 Commentary 9-12 Adultery
So, after contending that he’s innocent of lust, lying, and sin in general, Job returns to the matter of sexual purity.
And he goes a step beyond what he addressed in verses 1-4. In verses 1-4 he was denying that he lusted in his heart with his eyes. But now in verses 9-12 Job is going to speak of the logical conclusion of lust in the heart – and that is physical adultery with the wife of one’s neighbor.
And he says that he’s never done that.
9 If mine heart have been [deceived/enticed] by a woman,
or if I have [laid wait/lurked/lain in wait] at my neighbour's door;
So, Job paints the picture of a possibility – that of being drawn-in or enticed by a woman – and then taking it one step further and actually pursuing that woman – even to the doorstep of that woman’s house – and not caring that that woman is actually the wife of your neighbor!
That’s something that people do! You and I know people who have done that.
And in Job’s mind, verse 10 is the kind of repercussion that a man like this deserves.
10 Then let my wife [grind/turn the millstone] [unto/for] another [man…],
and let others [bow/kneel] down [upon/over] her. [have sexual relations with her…]
And, what we just heard is distasteful. It’s shameful.
Job is saying that if he has been unfaithful to his wife – then it would serve him right if his wife was taken by another man.
And it seems that he’s envisioning a concubine situation. In the first line of verse 10 he speaks of his wife grinding grain for another man – making his food – taking care of his need to eat.
And that second line speaks of Job’s wife being involved in intimate physical relations – not just with one other man – but he says “others” – which again is all very shameful and not the most pleasant thing to be speaking of in a mixed audience or any audience, really.
But in Job’s mind – in this life it’s tit-for-tat – you sin and your punishment should fit the crime – lex talionis.
And that’s what’s so difficult for Job. He’s looking at his life and seeing punishment that would fit a crime of a tremendously heinous magnitude. But the problem is that he’s not guilty of it.
In the context of verses 9 and 10, he has not been adulterous. And even though we don’t have explicit reason to believe that any of these things have really happened to Job’s wife – although we haven’t heard anything about her since the first few chapters of this book. But even though it seems like these things probably didn’t happen to Job’s wife – the suffering that Job is experiencing seems to be just as painful as experiencing something like verse 10 happening in Job’s life.
Well, both physical adultery and the punishment earned by adulterers is all so odious that Job needs to take the next two verses to speak of how horrendous this whole hypothetical situation really is.
11 For [this is/that would be/I would have committed] [an/a] [heinous/lustful/shameful] [crime/act];
[yea/moreover], it is an iniquity to be [punished by the judges/judged].
So, if anyone thinks that the punishment that Job claims is appropriate for adultery is over-the-top, Job wants to argue his point. Adultery is heinous and it’s a crime and it’s iniquity and it’s something to be judged.
And he also acknowledges that should he ever commit adultery, he’d be playing with deadly fire.
12 For it is a fire that [consumeth/devours even] to [destruction/Abaddon],
and would [root out/uproot] all mine [increase/harvest].
So, adultery – as Job testifies – would destroy both him and his substance.
And the point that Job is trying to convey is not just that he hasn’t committed adultery – but even that the thought of it is completely abhorrent to him.
And so, Job adds this sin as yet another one that he is not guilty of.
So, Job has vehemently denied lusting after young women, lying, sin in general, and adultery.
Job 31 Commentary 13-15 Servants
And next in verses 13-15 Job is going to deny doing wrong to his servants – even when they had a complaint against him.
13 If I [did/have] [despise/disregarded] the [cause/claim/right] of my manservant or of my maidservant,
when they [contended/filed a complaint/disputed] [with/against] me;
So, Job once again calls our attention to something that’s rather common among our human race. And it’s actually twofold: first, to despise or think little of those who serve us or whom we perceive to be lower than us in some way – and second, to especially discount what this kind of person would say – especially when it relates to them complaining about us.
I think many of us know what it is at work – to make some proclamation just like your boss would – but no one reacts to it the same way as they react to him. You’re lower than the big boss – and so it’s very natural for people to discount what you have to say. Even though you’re saying the same exact thing as the big boss is saying – and everyone would listen to him when he says it. This is unfortunately very natural.
And then of course, the natural way of reacting to someone complaining against you is to get offended and to tell them off or to ignore them.
But Job says that he didn’t take advantage of his position. He heard people out – even when they had problems with him – even when they were his very own servants!
Nobody was forcing him to act that way. That’s just the kind of a man he was and still is at this point.
But if he were to despise his servants – especially the ones that complain to him – here’s what Job acknowledges would be the case concerning his standing with God.
14 What then [shall/could/will] I do when God [riseth up/arises/confronts me in judgement]?
and when he [visiteth/calls me to account/intervenes], [what/how] shall I [answer/respond to] him?
So, if Job ignored the “little people” in his life – then how could he – a little person in God’s eyes – have any hope of God listening to him.
Again, Job is looking at things as if every action has an equal reaction – every sin has a corresponding punishment – every act of righteousness has a corresponding blessing from God.
So, if Job despises those lower than him, then he could expect to be despised by God as one who is lower than God.
And when it comes down to it – when Job puts himself in the position of God in a way – in the sense of him being higher than his workers like God is higher than Job – well, it makes Job acknowledge that when it comes down to it – he and his servants are all on the same level – unlike his position in relation to God…
15 Did not he that made me in the womb make him?
and did not [the same…] one fashion us in the womb?
In other words, all men are created equal. Ultimately, how do we differ from one another? Job is expressing what he’s always believed – that though he was wealthy and incredibly blessed – yet, he’s just like anyone else – he’s just one of us – he puts his pants on one leg at a time.
So, Job has not lusted, lied, sinned in various and sundry ways, committed adultery, or thought little of his servants.
Job 31 Commentary 16-23 Poor and Needy
And the next thing that Job is going to deny ever doing is mistreating the poor.
So, he’s treated his servants equitably. And he’s also treated the poor and needy with much grace and kindness.
But he’s going to say it from another angle and with a number of conditional “if” clauses…
16 If I have [withheld/kept/refused to give] the poor [from their/what they] desire,
or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail;
Now, verses 16-21 contain a large “if” statement. The “then” comes in verse 22.
And so, Job starts this “if” section by giving the possibility that he hasn’t given the poor what they desire and has caused the eyes of the widow to fail – or that he’s caused widows to give up hope and caused them to weep.
And he doesn’t give the appropriate punishment for such a crime – as I’ve said – until verse 22.
So, until then, Job continues to fill-out how he could have sinned against the poor – but of course he didn’t do it…
17 Or have eaten my morsel [of bread…] myself alone,
and the [fatherless/orphan] hath not eaten thereof;
So, Job could have been the type to withhold his food from the orphan without sharing. He could have consumed all of what he had on himself.
But then the hypothetical gets to be too much for Job and he declares in verse 18 that verses 16 and 17 are totally preposterous in light of Job’s life.
18 ([For/But] from my youth he [was brought/grew] up with me, as with a father [i.e., that’s how Job raised him…],
and I have guided [her/the widow] from [my mother's womb/infancy];)
And there’s probably some hyperbole at work here. Job speaks of his caring for the orphan and widow from his youth – no, actually from his mother’s womb!
Job is exaggerating for effect and to highlight that caring for the needy has been his continual practice for as long as he can remember.
And so, now that Job has set the record straight on his treatment of the orphan and widow, he’s going to throw out the possibility that he’s been unrighteous to those who lack proper clothing.
19 If I have seen [any/anyone about to] perish for [want/lack] of clothing,
or [any poor/a poor man] without [covering/a coat];
So, in this situation where a person is lacking clothing and is about to die because of it, Job indicates what kind of treatment this man would have received from him…
20 [If his/whose] [loins/heart] [have/did] not [blessed/thank] me, [but they did…]
[and if/as] he [were not warmed/warmed himself] with the fleece of my sheep; [but he was…]
So, in the case of people who lacked clothing – Job came to the rescue with clothing made from the fleece of his own sheep – and the result was that this kind of person blessed and thanked Job.
And Job is going to address one more situation regarding the poor and needy – and that is, how he used to treat them in judicial matters…
21 If I have [lifted up/raised] my hand [to vote…] against the [fatherless/orphan],
when I saw [my help/I had support] in the [gate/court]:
So, Job is envisioning a time when in theory he could have voted against an orphan – one with no power – and what could have encouraged Job to do so was that he had support from others in the “gate” – where all the judicial proceedings took place.
Job would have had support to vote against the powerless for his own gain. He had support among those in power. And by contrast this orphan wouldn’t have had any such power. There’s not a thing that the orphan could do to stop Job if Job wanted to be that kind of guy.
But here’s the kind of punishment that Job thinks that kind of theoretical action would call for…
22 Then let mine arm fall from my shoulder blade,
and mine arm be broken [from the bone/off at the elbow (or socket)].
So, it’s the arm that would have been raised in a vote against the orphan. And so – according to Job’s tendency to assign an appropriate punishment to the crime – he envisions the appropriate punishment as being his own arm falling off.
And Job finishes this sub-section explaining why he acted with kindness and equity toward the poor.
23 For [destruction/calamity] from God was a terror to me,
and by reason of his [highness/majesty] I [could not endure/can do nothing/was powerless].
It’s just like the author said back in chapter 1. Job “feared God.” He knew God’s desire regarding the poor and needy. And he knew that if he didn’t carry out God’s merciful desires for the poor that he himself would be in trouble.
Job regarded God’s demands with sobriety and a desire to do them in his life.
And Job is going to go on in the rest of the chapter to speak of how he hasn’t committed idolatry or hated his enemy or withheld things from others or hid his sin or been unjust with his property. And he’s even going to lament God’s treatment of him and call God his “adversary.”
We’ll study all of that next time, Lord-willing.