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We have seen how Job’s closing plea for his innocence in Job 29 began with a vivid description of the time when he lived in prosperity. He speaks about his place in the community, his high position, his personal sincerity and his concern for the weak and poor in the city. In Job 30 he described the misery in which he found himself, for which he cannot see any justification.
In the chapter we now have before us, he concludes his plea. In Job 29 he has spoken at length about his good things. Here, in Job 31, he declares that he has done no evil things, nothing that could be a cause of the disasters that have afflicted him. He utters severe curses upon himself, which should strike him if he were guilty of anything criminal. He does so out of the conviction that he has done nothing to deserve the disasters that have come upon him.
He is a broken man, an outcast, abandoned by God and despised by men. But his spirit is unbroken. He straightens his back and makes a powerful plea. While the Prosecutor does not let himself be heard or seen (yet), Job pleads himself free. What it amounts to is that God must now justify Himself for what He has done to him, from which He derives the ground for His dealings with him. His speech here is not addressed to his friends, but to his God.
Job lists all kinds of possible crimes. In some of them he swears that he did not commit them. Many verses start with “if”. These are what we can call “conditional” statements. In a number of cases they are followed by a curse. The idea is: if what is written in the conditional sentence would be or will be reality then what is written in the curse can and will happen.
So the “if”-phrases deny something in the most solemn way, we can say, under oath. Although not every “if” sentence is followed by a curse, we understand that the intention is to solemnly deny something. The chapter is full of solemn statements, in which Job swears that he is not guilty of the sins mentioned in those statements.
These statements of innocence are the last words we have of him that he speaks to his defense. His innocence is of the utmost importance to him. He pronounces the final conclusion in Job 31:35, where he confirms all his statements with his signature. That’s the climax.
A Covenant With the Eyes
Job’s friends never attacked his personal purity. Yet his first declaration of an evil that God must judge and that he did not commit has to do with it. It has to do with sexual desires (Job 31:1). It is remarkable and significant that he begins the list of sins he enumerates with this.
At some point, somewhere in the past, he has, he says, “made a covenant” with his eyes. It supposes that he had a hard time with this desire, as today (almost) all young people – especially boys – who want to live for the Lord Jesus, have a hard time with it in a certain period of their life. Job then made a solemn promise before God that he would keep himself pure in his thoughts and actions, and that starts with the eyes. What a lesson for young people today! He did not seek the satisfaction of his own desires. Instead, he has sought to serve others, as we have seen and also see in this chapter.
He has made a covenant with his eyes to escape the danger of adultery mentioned by the Lord Jesus (Matthew 5:27-Hosea :). In this way Job has answered the call: “Flee immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Joseph fled when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him into fornication and remained pure (Genesis 39:7-2 Kings :); David did not flee and fell into fornication (2 Samuel 11:1-Deuteronomy :). Job’s statement indicates that he held and practiced the monogamous view: he was the husband of one wife.
Job emphasizes his choice of a covenant to remain pure by referring to “the portion of God from above”. He knows himself to be responsible to Him (Job 31:2). God is above evil. He has a portion for believers, but also for unbelievers. For believers the portion is blessing, but for unbelievers the portion is judgment. When we think of “the heritage of the Almighty from on high” we can think of the right He has to exercise judgment. That right is the heritage of the Lord Jesus Who will come from on high to judge the wicked and their wickedness. The Father has given the judgment to Him, the Son of Man (John 5:22; John 5:27).
In Job 31:3 Job explains what ‘the portion’ and ‘the heritage’ is that comes from God over wrong sexual desires. It is “calamity to the unjust and disaster to those who work iniquity”. ‘Unjust’ and ‘iniquity’ is general and refers to all sins, but in this context refers primarily to fornicators and adulterers (Hebrews 13:4).
Job is well aware that God sees all His ways and numbers all his steps (Job 31:4; Jeremiah 29:23; Proverbs 5:21). God knows all the way he goes, all his life’s path. He also knows the individual steps he takes, i.e. all his individual considerations to go a certain way and how he behaves on that way. That thought was and is enough to deter him from committing what Joseph calls “this great evil” (Genesis 39:9).
We see several times that for Job the thought of God seeing him is a motive not to do something that is evil. Accountability to God pervaded his life and determined his disposition, his words, and his actions. He did not see being accountable as a threat, something to be afraid of, but as the healthy awareness of his personal responsibility to everyone he was dealing with. Something similar we see in Paul. The thought of being accountable before the judgment seat of Christ did not frighten him, but rather motivated him to be pleasing to Christ in everything (2 Corinthians 5:9-2 Samuel :). This is how it may be with us.
Falsehood and Deceit
A second evil from which Job vigorously distances himself is falsehood and deceit (Job 31:5). He has never resorted to falsehood, for example by misrepresenting himself in order to exonerate himself from an accusation. Nor has he ever used deceit quickly, for example, in order to benefit from something. He has always been sincere and honest. Here does not follow a curse, but a challenge to God to weigh him with accurate scales (Job 31:6). Then the righteous God will see how the scales turn to the side of his sincerity.
The next “if” to testify of his innocence concerns the way he has gone (Job 31:7). He has not deviated from the right path. There has been nothing in his heart that has caused him to attach himself to anything sinful that his eyes have seen and that has led him to wrong deeds, so that sin now clings to his hands.
To this “if” he attaches a “let” followed by a curse that should strike him in case of guilt (Job 31:8). If a finger could be laid at him for any of these things, he wants to be punished for it. That punishment is the lack of blessing for which he has sown and worked. In addition, he must face the fact that another person benefits from it or that the result of his work is destroyed (cf. Deuteronomy 28:33; Leviticus 26:16).
The next statement of innocence, introduced by “if,” is about immorality. Job here affirms and defends his high esteem for the marriage commitment. It is the logical consequence of the covenant of Job 31:1, which he may have made when he was still unmarried. He swears that he is free from any attempt at, or search for, an opportunity for adultery (Job 31:9). To seek that opportunity, he had to lurk at his neighbor’s door. He would then wait for the man to leave and then go to his wife. He kept away from this action with an intention of his heart.
Who today can say the same as Job with regard to the temptation to look at pornographic sites on the Internet? We can apply the expression “I have lurked at my neighbor’s doorway” to this very topic. Visiting pornographic sites is such a ‘lurking’, something that happens very sneakily. If someone reads this and is ashamed to admit that he is such a ‘lurker’, let him confess this sin immediately and make a radical break with it in his heart. He who keeps struggling or in whom the temptation has already become addiction, let him seek help.
For Job there was only one wife to whom he could give his undivided attention and devotion, and that was the wife of his youth. He swears that if he were unfaithful to her, he would bear the shame (Job 31:10). That disgrace is that his wife would be abused by another. That was a great humiliation for her, as it was for him. It would bring disgrace upon him in two ways. He would experience the rule ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’.
It is not a question for Job how he should call such behavior. There is no discussion possible. Unfaithfulness in marriage is “a lustful crime” (Job 31:11). There is never any justification for adultery, never even one good word to say. It is absolutely reprehensible. It is also “a crime” that deserves punishment, without any mitigating circumstances. Therefore, whoever commits this sin must be brought to a tribunal. The fact that this no longer happens in the Netherlands, for example, does not take anything away from the seriousness and gravity of this sin.
As mentioned before, God will judge that sin (Hebrews 13:4). It is a sin that deserves the judgment of the fire of hell (Job 31:12). Through this sin, a devastating and consuming fire is already kindled in relationships on earth. Unfaithfulness in marriage ruins and destroys the lives of every person involved – in spirit, soul, and body. Everything that life produces is affected by it and characterized by this destruction. Whoever is unfaithful in this is not reliable in any other area.
In a new declaration of innocence, Job conjures up his righteousness in the way he dealt with his male or female slaves (Job 31:13). He was not a hard, indifferent lord. His male or female slave could talk to him if they disagreed with something. He listened to them, and if they were right, he gave them what they were entitled to. Job didn’t use his position to silence them then.
Job acted as a lord who knew he had a Lord himself (Job 31:14; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1). He realized that he would have to account to God for his actions with his slaves. God watches how people treat their slaves. There comes a time when God stands up to do justice, to pronounce judgment, and to execute it. For that He will investigate everything we have done and ask why we have done it and why we have done it that way.
In rendering account before God, Job sees no distinction in social position (Job 31:15). He sees himself in the same position before God as his slave, because they are both made by the same Creator in his mother’s womb. They were both formed by one God in the womb (Psalms 139:15; Malachi 2:10). God shapes their bodies and members and gives them certain abilities. Every person must realize that he has received from God what he has.
Exploitation of the Weak
Eliphaz in his last speech accused Job of exploiting the poor by abusing his power (Job 22:5-1 Samuel :). Job calls in this section a curse on himself if any of these accusations were true. He has been guided in his life by the idea that he will be accountable to God for his actions (Job 31:23).
This section contains several statements of innocence. We can see that from the frequently used word “if”. They all have to do with the fact that he has not exploited the weak, but on the contrary has helped them. He did not do this as a benefactor handing out presents to pathetic people, but as someone who cared about the other person’s needs.
Job shows that someone who is pure and sincere in his inner being will also treat his fellow man in a benevolent way. He showed mercy. When poor people asked him for something, he gave it to them and thus fulfilled a desire (Job 31:16). Even if a widow asked nothing, but he saw the need in her eyes, he did not smother her. He had an eye for unspoken need.
He also had an eye for the orphan (Job 31:17). When he ate his bread, he thought of him and shared his bread with him. He did not do this as a generous benefactor, but as a father. He regarded the orphan as someone who had grown up with him from childhood, and gave him the feeling that he was his son (Job 31:18). He also helped the widow from the very beginning, that is, from the moment he saw her troubled condition. He did not run away from it or took a long time to think about it. Job is an example of someone who has a ‘pure and undefiled religion’ (James 1:27).
Job also shows us another example. What a blessing it must have been for the orphan that someone took care of him as much as Job did. He always found someone in Job who was like a father to him and thus provided for the lack of his own father. It must have given him the feeling, as we say today, ‘I may be here’. Isn’t Job setting an example here for all those who are foster parents?
He also had an eye for someone who was cold and therefore threatened to perish (Job 31:19). Job gave this poor man, who could not buy clothes himself, fleece of his sheep so that he could get warm again (Job 31:20). He did not dismiss such a man with beautiful talk, but showed the works of faith (James 2:15-Esther :).
His actions brought him thanks from the “loins” of those he favored (cf. Job 29:13). Here the loins are introduced as a person and represent the person with all his strength and soul. It was on the loins that the beneficent warmth was felt the most, because there the belt pressed the clothing close to the body. At the same time, the warmth gave the person strength to walk again, to which the loins also symbolically point.
Job comes back again to his attitude towards the orphan (Job 31:21; cf. Job 31:17). With regard to this socially very weak person he never raped the law. He never threatened to harm the orphan, feeling supported in the back by his fellow counselors in the gate. They would support him, because he was an inferior orphan after all. It could be that he meant that he never brought a lawsuit against an orphan in order to exploit him, knowing that he would be supported in this intention by his fellow counselors.
Job underlines all his statements of innocence with a powerful curse (Job 31:22). If he is guilty of something, he may be made completely and irreparably powerless. It is about the loss of his shoulder and arm. Both see the loss of strength. When the shoulder is gone, there is no more strength to carry something, and when the arm is gone, there is no more strength to do something.
The motive of all that Job has done, and especially has not done in this chapter, is His reverence for God (Job 31:23). He knows that God’s doom comes over the crimes he has mentioned. This has prevented him from committing them. He could prevent the judgment of men by his influence on them, but not the judgment of God. “His majesty” surpasses every human highness by far. If we are impressed by this, we will watch out that we do not commit to some form of injustice.
Greed and Idolatry
In his next statement of innocence, Job denies that he is guilty of a materialistic lifestyle. When his wealth increased, he had not put his hope and confidence in it (Job 31:24). In Job 1 Job is described as an extraordinarily rich man. To be rich is not sin; to trust in riches is sin (1 Timothy 6:17). We should not place our hope in gold, but in the Lord, for He is our hope (Proverbs 3:26; 1 Timothy 1:1).
Nor did Job gloat in the fact that his wealth was great, that he was a wealthy man (Job 31:25). The source of his gloating was not his wealth, but God. Boasting in his own accomplishments, was not present with him either. Certainly, he worked hard, “my hand”, and therefore “had secured [so] much”. He did not inherit or steal his wealth, but obtained it through his own effort. He is aware that all his work would have been in vain if God had not blessed it. He has not served himself with the results of his work, but others. That is the right way to deal with wealth.
He also swears that he does not attribute his wealth to such magnitudes in creation as the sun and the moon (Job 31:26; Deuteronomy 4:19; 2 Kings 23:5). With this Job says that he is free from idolatry. Relying on earthly possessions is a form of idolatry. Idolatry is closely related to greed and is even identified with it (Colossians 3:5). Job did not walk in the light of the sun and moon, as if he saw them as the source of his prosperity, but in the light of God.
His heart was not secretly tempted to worship those impressive celestial bodies that can so gracefully illuminate your way (Job 31:27). Nor did he express this by bringing his hand to his mouth and kissing it. This outward expression of love, of which a kiss speaks, happened in cases where the object of worship was too far away to touch itself, as is the case with the sun and moon. Here we can think of what we call a ‘hand kiss’. It is giving the hand a kiss and then blowing it in the direction of the object of love.
To worship something from creation instead of the Creator Himself is an iniquity (Job 31:28; cf. Job 31:11; Romans 1:22-Lamentations :), on which the judge must pronounce a condemnation. It is the transgression of the commandment not to have other gods before God (Exodus 20:3). This sin denies God as the One Who is above all things and sets Him aside. This is a heavy insult to Him.
Job lived, as we assume, in the time of the patriarchs, that is, when the people of Israel, and with them the law, were not yet there. Yet he knew what was fitting for God. That was because of his relationship with Him. Even if we still know little about the Bible, we can still feel through the new life and the Holy Spirit whether or not something is in accordance with God’s will. Of little children in faith it is said: “And you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know” (1 John 2:20).
Gloating and Lack of Hospitality
In this testimony of innocence Job says that he was never guilty of gloating (Job 31:29). When someone who hated him got into great financial difficulties, for example, no triumphant sense of joy came to him. Nor did he suddenly become in an excellent mood when his hater was struck by, for example, a terrible illness. Can we repeat that after him?
Apart from the fact that he did not allow any gloating within him, he also refrained from expressing it in words (Job 31:30). He distinguishes between the inner and outer sin of gloating. Job now speaks of the outer side of this sin. He did not wish his enemy anything evil by casting a curse on him, for example that he may drop dead. To be able to say in all sincerity what Job is saying here, someone has to live close to God.
An accusation of lack of hospitality is refuted by Job by pointing out people who can testify of his hospitality (Job 31:31). We can think of his servants. Anyone who has ever sat at Job’s table has enjoyed the meat he had served. Job’s hospitality was well known and widely praised.
His hospitality was not limited to a meal and not to acquaintances. He went out into the streets and invited the stranger who had no shelter to sleep with him (Job 31:32). The traveler did not have to go to an inn, but Job opened his doors to him and welcomed him into his home.
Here Job bears witness to his complete transparency before God and men. He walked in the light of God’s face. He was never hypocritical by seeking a cover for his transgressions and covering them up, but confessed them honestly (Job 31:33). Adam had covered his transgression by covering himself with an apron of fig leaves and hiding from God (Genesis 3:7-Ruth :). Job openly confessed his sin and didn’t keep it hidden within himself. Confession of sin made him feel free before God and men. This also applies to us.
Not confessing sins can also come from fear of what people will say. Job did not let this prevent him from confessing his sins (Job 31:34). He was not afraid that everyone would despise him and get completely upset. An additional consequence of this would be that he no longer dared to say anything and no longer dared to show himself anywhere. Job here declares that he has a pure conscience before God and men.
Job Challenges God
Job is almost at the end of his pleading. He has so far rejected every accusation. In Job 31:38-Matthew : there comes one last statement of innocence, and then he stops speaking. However, in Job 31:35-Haggai : he turns once again toward God. In a general complaint he says that he desires so much that somebody would want to listen to him (Job 31:35). But what he means is that he wants a judicial decision from God.
He keeps the list of his declarations of innocence before God. Let God take a good look at it. He can say that he has ‘filled out truthfully’ the whole statement, as is written under forms that we have to sign after we have filled them out. He points out to God his ‘signature’ that he placed below it. That signature says he and his whole person stand for what he said.
Then he challenges God to answer. After all, he is “the Almighty,” who controls everything and has everything in His hands. Job’s whole plea served to convince God of his innocence, God Who makes him suffer so much, Who is his adversary, for He makes him suffer without cause. The document of his innocence, confirmed by his signature, he presented to God. Let God even write down His reaction and explain why He has made him suffer so much.
He will carry the answer of God on his shoulder and bind it on himself like a crown (Job 31:36). Job also says this in the full conviction that God will not be able to give any valid reason for his suffering. The document of God will show that he suffers innocently. Everything that God will write will absolve him of all accusations against him. He would carry God’s answer around in triumph. Everyone would be convinced of his innocence. God’s acquittal would turn his defamation into an ornament.
He would account to God for all his footsteps, for every step he had taken, and that it had been done in obedience to Him (Job 31:37). In the awareness of his righteousness, he would approach God like a prince.
Job is mistaken in this conclusion, as will be shown. He will approach God quite differently when he comes face to face with Him. Job is not approaching God, but God is approaching Job. And then there is nothing of his own righteousness left, nothing of his ‘prince’ feelings, but he despises himself (Job 42:6). Then he will realize that he didn’t actually understand what he was talking about and that he should have waited for God to speak before he could say anything.
After Job has extensively declared and signed his innocence, another P.S., an after writing, follows, because actually Job still has a lot to say. He only will speak about his land, how he has dealt with it, what he has done with the proceeds and how he has treated the tenants of it. He can testify that he has managed his land with care and has not neglected it (Job 31:38). In accordance with the (later) commandment, he has given the land rest at regular intervals (Exodus 23:10-1 Kings :; Leviticus 26:35-Zephaniah :) and seeded it properly (Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:9).
The furrows he plowed on his land did not weep, which means that he worked his land properly. The cultivated land is given the floor as a person to testify of Job’s correct handling of it. He did not overexploit his land, which means that, due to unwise management of his farmland, it loses its fertility and the yield considerably decreases or even disappears. His land brought the full yield (Job 31:39). He ate and enjoyed its yield. He was not plagued by a conscience that accused him of not paying his workers who had collected and processed the yield (cf. James 5:4).
He also had owners or tenants, people who rented a piece of land from him. He did not treat them harshly by asking for more than was fair or threatening to punish them if they could not pay the rent because of crop failures. He didn’t let them sigh. Laban was a very different kind of boss. He did fleece Jacob and make him sigh (Genesis 31:7; Genesis 31:39-Mark :).
Job concludes this declaration of innocence again with a curse (Job 31:40). If he is guilty of one of the things mentioned, he deserves that briars or thistles grow instead of the wheat he has sown and that poisonous stinkweed grows instead of the barley he has sown. The blessing he thought he was getting must then turn into a curse, for he has earned it. Thistles symbolize the curse (Genesis 3:18).
Job is not unwilling to suffer if he deserved it. He has emphasized this throughout this chapter. His statements of innocence alone are intended to show that his suffering is useless if his suffering is linked to sin, for he has not sinned. He has therefore not deserved this suffering. What Job must come to is not to look at cause and effect, which his friends have always done, but at God. He is almost ready for this.
For the time being Job has finished speaking (cf. Psalms 72:20). God has patiently listened to all his words without interrupting him or responding to Job’s challenges to Him. As long as we justify ourselves, God cannot tell us anything. Only when we are finished speaking, He will have the opportunity to say something to us. In preparation for this, we first hear Elihu in the following chapters. After that, when God has spoken, Job will speak again, but briefly and very modestly.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Job 31". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany