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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Job 31

Verses 1-40

E. Job’s Concluding Soliloquies chs. 28-31

Job’s three friends had nothing more to say, but Job did. He continued to talk about God’s wisdom (ch. 28) and to defend his own innocence (chs. 29-31).

Verses 1-40

2. Job’s defense of his innocence ch. 29-31

Job gave a soliloquy before his dialogue with his three friends began (ch. 3). Now he concluded that dialogue with two soliloquies (chs. 28 and 29-31). In this second of the bracketing two, Job longed for his past state of blessedness (ch. 29), lamented his present misery (ch. 30), and reaffirmed his innocence calling on God to vindicate him in the future (ch. 31). This whole discourse is a kind of concluding summary of his case, and he delivered it as if he were in court. He made no reference to his three companions in it.

"Job has decided how he will rest his case. He takes a daring step in a final attempt to clear himself. He swears an avowal of innocence. His oath forces the issue, for the oath compels God either to clear him or to activate the curses. Even if God continues to remain silent, that would be an answer, for if the curses Job utters are not activated, the entire community would be convinced that Job is innocent. So after swearing this avowal of innocence, Job will sit in silence, awaiting God’s answer." [Note: Hartley, p. 385.]

Verses 1-40

Job’s continuing innocence ch. 31

As was common in ancient Near Eastern judicial cases, Job concluded his summary defense with an oath of innocence. He did so in the form of a negative confession complete with self-imprecations. [Note: Parsons, p. 141. Cf. Michael Brennan Dick, "The Legal Metaphor in Job 31," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 41 (1979):42, 47.] He concluded with a challenge to God to present His charges in writing (Job 31:35-37). Job’s idea was that if God remained silent this would be a vindication of his innocence. However, if he had been guilty, God would have to intervene and impose the punishment Job had designated. [Note: Norman C. Habel, The Book of Job, p. 164.] Note the frequent repetition of the phrase, "If I have . . ." and its equivalents.

"Chapter 31 as to its literary format is a negative testament by which Job will close the matter of whether he is being punished for his sins. After such a statement, in the jurisprudence of the ancient Near East, the burden of proof fell on the court. That is why Job 31:40 says, ’The words of Job are ended.’ Each disavowal had to be accompanied by an oath that called for the same punishment the offense deserved on the basis of the principle of lex talionis (Job 31:5-10). Because the charges against Job were wide and varied, he must give a similarly wide disavowal. He had already done this in a general way (cf. Job 23:10-12), but now he specifies and calls for condemnation and punishment from both God and man (Job 31:8; Job 31:11-12; Job 31:14; Job 31:22-23) if he is guilty of any of these sins." [Note: Smick, "Architectonics, Structured . . .," p. 94. Cf. Hartley, p. 406.]

Job claimed purity from ethical defilement in two ways. He referred to the binding covenant he had made with his eyes (Job 31:1). Then he used the oath form "if" such and such be true "then" (sometimes not stated) let thus and so happen (Job 31:5-10; Job 31:13; Job 31:16; Job 31:19-20 [twice], 21-22, 24, 25, 26, 38, 39-40).

"The making of a covenant with his eyes is not merely a promise not to lust after a girl. The sin he has in mind is far more fundamental, or it would not have commanded this position in the poem. Job is emphatically denying an insidious and widespread form of idolatry: devotion to the betula, ’the maiden,’ the goddess of fertility. This Venus of the Semitic world was variously known as the Maiden Anat in Ugaritic, Ashtoreth in preexilic Israel, and Ishtar in Babylonian sources, wherein she is described as ’laden with vitality, charm and voluptuousness.’ She is probably the ’Queen of Heaven’ mentioned in Jeremiah 7:18; Jeremiah 44:16-19." [Note: Smick, "Architectonics, Structured . . .," p. 96.]

Most of the 14 sins that Job mentioned in this chapter were not heinous crimes but relatively minor deviations from the ethical ideal. They were covert rather than overt iniquities. Thus Job claimed innocence on the highest level of morality (cf. Matthew 5:27-28). Note also that he continued to assume that God punishes the wicked (Job 31:2-3).

"As a consequence of his suffering, Job viewed man’s relationship to God as being based on God’s sovereign caprice; therefore man could hope for happiness only by adhering to an ethical rightness superior to God’s whereby he could demand vindication (Job 31; cf. Job 35:2 b)." [Note: Parsons, p. 144.]

Job 31:10 has in view Job’s wife grinding corn with a hard millstone, the work of a slave, and being overpowered by men sexually.

"His hypothetical adultery would in Hebrew eyes be an offence against her husband, and so another’s adultery with his wife would be a similar offence against him. In Hebrew law adultery always involved a married woman. The marital state of the man was immaterial." [Note: Rowley, p. 200.]

Fundamentally, adultery involves a married man or a married woman (cf. Leviticus 20:10), but in Israel, as well as in Roman society, infidelity by the husband was not commonly viewed as constituting adultery. [Note: See Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 1957 ed., s.v. "Adultery."] Job’s words about adultery (Job 31:9-12) are classic and reveal righteous abhorrence of that sin. Likewise, his statements regarding the importance of treating slaves as human beings (Job 31:13-15) reveal Job’s fear of God and love for his fellowman. He respected human life highly (Job 31:16-23). Job further claimed that he was not an idolater (Job 31:24-28), selfish (Job 31:29-32), or hypocritical (Job 31:33-34).

"Here then is either a very clean conscience or a very calloused one." [Note: Andersen, p. 244.]

Job’s cry for a hearer of his claims (Job 31:35) probably implied God rather than the mediator he had requested earlier (Job 16:19; Job 19:25; cf. Job 30:20).

"An examination of biblical and extra-biblical legal documents establishes Job 31:35 as a dependent’s official appeal before a third party for a civil hearing at which the judge would compel the plaintiff to formalize his accusations and to present any supporting evidence. As we shall see, this request was ordinarily made only after all attempts at informal arbitration had been exhausted and was often accompanied by a sworn statement of innocence. In Job 31 the oath of innocence has been expanded to embrace the entire chapter." [Note: Dick, p. 38.]

His "adversary" in this verse was also God (cf. Job 13:24; Job 16:9; Job 19:11). We should probably understand "owners" (Job 31:39) as "workers."

Having ended his final summation in defense of his innocence, Job rested his case and waited for God’s verdict. This is another climax in the book. Job had claimed innocence in his personal life (Job 31:1-12), toward his neighbor (Job 31:13-20), and toward God (Job 31:24-34; cf. Job 1:11). Job’s friends believed that God always punishes sin, therefore Job was a sinner. Job believed that God was punishing him when he was innocent, therefore God was unfair.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Job 31". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/job-31.html. 2012.