Bible Commentaries
Job 31

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

Verse 1


Job makes a solemn protestation of his integrity, and concludes with a prayer that his defence might be heard and recorded.

Before Christ 1645.

Job 31:1. Why then should I think upon a maid? This has been generally understood to mean the great care and circumspection which Job had used to avoid all temptations and occasions of sin; and he subjoins in the following verses the high and reasonable motives which had urged him, and should urge every man, to such a circumspection: Job 31:2. For what is the portion which God distributeth from above, and the inheritance of the Almighty from the place of his exaltation? Is it not destruction to the wicked, and a rejection of the workers of iniquity? ver.4. Doth he not see my ways, and numbereth he not all my steps? Which passage is a further proof that his prospects were to another life; for this very thing, had he meant it of a temporal destruction, was what his antagonists had repeated over and over to him, and had urged it as an argument of his guilt, that he was thus miserably destroyed. When Job, therefore, says the same thing, namely, that a sure destruction attends the wicked, it is their portion, an inheritance from God; it is plain that he must understand it in another sense than his antagonists did; namely, of their final retribution in a future state. See Peters, and the note on Job 31:13; Job 31:24. Mr. Heath, however, is of opinion, that the word rendered a maid is improperly translated. The passage throughout, says he, has no relation to adultery or fornication, but to idolatry. This the following verses evidently demonstrate: בתולה bethulah, therefore is certainly an idol; and what that idol was we are informed by Eusebius, who, from Sanchoniathan's history, tells us, that Ouranos was the first introducer of Baitulia, when he erected animated stones. Bochart supposes that the original word, rendered animated stones, signifies rather anointed stones. The custom, indeed, of anointing pillars was very ancient. So Jacob set up a pillar and had anointed it, and the stone itself was called by him, אלהים בית beth elohim. These pillars were afterwards turned to idolatrous uses; and it is one of the commands to the children of Israel to break them in pieces on their entrance into the land of Canaan. Exodus 34:13. Photius says, that he saw many of them in Mount Libanus. At first, these idols were only rude stones or pillars; afterwards they were made in human and brutal forms. For more concerning these betulia, see Boch. Geogr. Sacr. lib. 2: cap. 2.

Verse 5

Job 31:5. If I have walked with vanity If I have followed after a lie, or my foot hath hastened to fraud. Houbigant.

Verse 7

Job 31:7. And mine heart walked after mine eyes The expression is strong and beautiful. The meaning of this latter clause is, "If my eyes have seduced my heart, or any corruption have defiled my hands."

Verse 10

Job 31:10. Then let my wife grind unto another May my wife be defiled by another.

Verses 13-14

Job 31:13-14. If I did despise, &c.— See on chap. Job 19:25. The 14th verse should be rendered in the future, agreeably to the Hebrew; what shall I do, when God shall arise; and when he shall visit, what shall I answer him? Job here plainly speaks of something which he was infallibly to expect, had he behaved unjustly to his slave: but could we suppose him to mean it of any temporal judgment or visitation of God, what is it that he had to expect? He seems to think his condition so miserable already, that it was scarcely possible for him to fall lower; and therefore he often and earnestly wishes for death, as the happiest thing that could befal him. We need not question, therefore, but he had an eye to the future judgment; and it is remarkable, that he expresses himself in the same phrase here as he does in chap. Job 19:25. When God shall arise. See Peters, and the note on that place.

Verse 17

Job 31:17. Or have eaten my morsel myself alone This is agreeable to the early ideas of hospitality, and is as strong an expression of benevolence as can be conceived. The Arabs practise it to this very day in its greatest extent. On a journey, after they have prepared their food, they go to the highest ground in the neighbourhood, and call out thrice with a loud voice to all their brethren, the sons of the faithful, to come and partake of it: Dr. Shaw tells us, that they did so when he travelled in that country, though none of those brethren were in view, or perhaps within a hundred miles of them. This custom, however, they maintain to be a token at least of their great benevolence, as indeed it would have been of their hospitality, provided they had had an opportunity to have shewn it. See the Preface to his Travels, p. 12. Schultens observes, very agreeably, that this verse affords us a beautiful picture of liberality and tender charity; which would not suffer Job to eat even the least morsel of bread without imparting some little portion to the poor and needy.

Verse 18

Job 31:18. For from my youth, &c.— Houbigant renders this most beautifully: how far it may be agreeable to the Hebrew, I take not upon me to determine. For compassion educated me from a child; she brought me up, even from my mother's womb. Heath reads the passage thus; If from his youth I brought him not up as a father; yea I guided her from her mother's womb; referring to both the male and female orphan.

Verse 21

Job 31:21. When I saw my help in the gate When I saw myself superior in the gate. Houbigant. That is, superior in authority, sufficient to influence those judges, whose usual place of hearing causes was in the gates of cities, as we have often had occasion to observe.

Verse 22

Job 31:22. Then let mine arm fall from my shoulder-blade May my shoulder-blade fall from my shoulder, and my arm be broken from my elbow. Heath and Houbigant.

Verse 28

Job 31:28. This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge The Hebrew of this passage is only two words, פלילי עון avon pelili, which Schultens renders iniquitas arbitratoria; meaning, as he explains it, such an iniquity as any one must judge to be so; and he confirms his interpretation by the use of the word פלילים pelilim, Deuteronomy 32:31. Their rock is not as our rock, even our enemies themselves being Judges 1:0 :e. in the judgment or opinion even of our very enemies; so that here is nothing intimated of a judicial trial or punishment; but only the notoriety of the sin observed; and thus it is that the Chaldee paraphrase, as well as the Greek and Latin versions, interpret it; a great or heinous iniquity. But, supposing that it were rightly rendered an iniquity to be punished by the judge; as this may be well understood of the Supreme Judge of all, who shall say that it does not belong to him, as the lord and sovereign of the world, to punish those who in effect deny him to be such, and transfer his honour to another? Peters. Houbigant renders it, This also is a wickedness worthy of judgment; and the next clause seems plainly to prove, that it was the divine judgment whereof Job thought it worthy. The phrase may be rendered in the same manner in the 11th verse, This is a heinous crime, yea, an iniquity worthy of judgment.

Verse 31

Job 31:31. If the men of my tabernacle said not If the men of my dwelling had not said, Who can shew the man who hath not filled himself with his victuals? Heath and Schultens.

Verse 33

Job 31:33. If I covered my transgressions as Adam This passage contains an allusion to one circumstance in the history of the fall. Among the particulars wherein Job vindicates his integrity, one is, that he was ever ready to acknowledge his errors. The allusion to Adam's hiding himself is proper and apposite; but if you render the passage agreeably to the marginal reading of our English Bible, after the manner of men, it becomes an accusation of others; and the vindication of himself has in it a mixture of pride which does not suit the character of the speaker. See Sherlock on Prophesy, p. 212.

Verse 34

Job 31:34. Did I fear a great multitude Then may I be afraid of the great multitude, and may the contempt of kindred terrify me. May I even be silent, and not go out of my door. Heath.

Verses 35-37

Job 31:35-37. Oh that one would hear me, &c.— The clause, behold, my desire is, &c. might be better rendered, Lo, here my sign or pledge, let the Almighty question me: for the Hebrew word signifies, equally, let him answer me, or let him make me to answer. Job here, as in other places, shews a great earnestness to come upon his trial: they were his friends, and not God, who were his accusers: for God, he was well persuaded, would soon clear him if he were but once admitted to come in judgment before him. The meaning of the verse, therefore, seems plainly to be this: "O that I had but a hearing granted me! "See there my mark or gage;" תוי tavi: (something as a pledge or earnest that he would stand the trial) "Let the Almighty interrogate me; and let any of you, my accusers, write a bill of indictment against me." It follows, Job 31:36. Surely I would take it upon my shoulder, and bind it as a crown to me: that is, "I would be so far from being ashamed, or terrified, that I should rejoice and triumph in it; as knowing well that so impotent an accusation would only serve the more to clear my innocence." He adds, Job 31:37. I would declare unto him [to the Almighty, my Judge] the number of my steps, as a prince I would approach him: i.e. "I would give him a full and free narration of my whole life, and would stand before him with a look as upright and assured as a prince." Nothing can be plainer than that the book or libel here supposed to be written by Job's adversary, cannot be meant of one drawn up by God. For how was it possible for him to triumph in this? If it was a bill of accusation, coming from the God of truth, he had surely more reason to tremble than to triumph. If it was a bill without an accusation, or without any crime alleged, what sort of an indictment was this? We must therefore conclude, that by the adversary must be meant Job's friends, who were his only accusers that we know of; and God is here appealed to as a hearer or judge between them. In this it is that job with reason triumphs, as being conscious of a well-spent life; and therefore he says, that he would approach his judge with a look as upright and assured as a prince. Peters.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Two of the most common and most besetting sins are, lewdness, and an inordinate love of the world; of both these Job protests his innocence.

1. Of lewdness. So far was he from every grosser indulgence, that his eyes, the inlets of beauty's beams, through which, like the rays collected in the burning-glass, the fire of impure desires is kindled in the heart; these were kept from wandering on forbidden objects: nor in his secret thoughts did he ever harbour or cherish the fancies of an unchaste imagination. Nor was he thus circumspect, because of the shame or inconvenience which might ensue from indulgence; no; it was the fear of God which restrained him: he knew that uncleanness must exclude him from the regard and favour of God; must expose him to the terrors of divine vengeance, to strange diseases here, and eternal sufferings hereafter. Nor could he hope for concealment in his most secret sins, even in thought, fully persuaded of God's all-seeing eye, from which nothing is hid, nothing is secret. Note; (1.) Fleshly lusts are most dangerous enemies of the soul, and call for especial watchfulness. (2.) They who would keep their hearts pure, must keep their eye single: the least impure indulgencies allowed, lay open the soul to a deluge of iniquity. None who once slacken the rein know where they shall stop. (3.) However unexceptionable our outward conduct appear, there is a God who marks our secret steps, is with us amidst the darkness, and sees the hidden thoughts of our minds; let us remember then continually, that his eye is upon us. (4.) Impurity of temper, and the enjoyment of God, are incompatible: into the new Jerusalem the defiled and unclean cannot enter. (5.) It should deter us from the thought of sin, to look forward to its punishment; the highest indulgence of corrupt appetite will miserably repay us for devouring fire and everlasting burnings.

2. Of an inordinate love of the world. No vanity or deceit was in his walk or conversation: he never told a lie to make a good bargain; unreasonably commended his own goods, or decried his neighbour's as they scruple not to do who are in haste to be rich. His step turned not from the path of justice, warped by self-love and partiality from the rule of truth and uprightness; nor did he covet what he saw, or use any illicit method to procure, as Achan did, the tempting bait. No blot cleaved to him, not merely of outward crimes, for which men could accuse him, but his heart was restrained from the desires of inordinate concupiscence; so that he could be content that God should weigh him in the balance, conscious of his integrity, and readily resting his all upon the trial; content, if guilty, to suffer the loss of substance, family, children and all, as the just punishment of his transgression. Note; (1.) A truly honest man is a great character. (2.) They who are full of talk in their worldly dealings, are generally to be suspected as full of fraud. Honesty needs no varnish. (3.) The gain of covetousness, however fair our character, will leave a blot in the sight of God, which nothing but atoning blood can wash away. (4.) The fruits of injustice must be restored, or in the day of judgment they will be cast into the opposite scale; and when we are weighed, we shall be found wanting. (5.) They who are conscious of integrity, never shun a scrutiny. But (6.) all our genuine virtue and integrity are through grace, and our holiest things need the washing of the atoning blood.

2nd, Two other instances of Job's integrity are produced.
1. He abhorred adultery. His neighbour's wife never enticed his heart: he yielded neither to her solicitations nor allurements, or spread the net of seduction, or watched the unguarded moment, to rob her of her honour. He imprecates the most dreadful of evils, acknowledges himself worthy to suffer the deepest shame and dishonour, and deserving to be punished in kind, if such guilt were found in him. But a variety of considerations made him detest the thought. [1.] The heinous nature of the crime; an injury to his neighbour the most irreparable, and to his own soul, the most destructive. [2.] The just judgment that he might expect from man, even death, to which in the earliest ages adulterers were doomed; and, indeed, how much more deserving is he of death, who steals from a man that most precious jewel his wife, his honour, than he who robs his house, or takes his purse! [3.] It would now kindle a fire in his conscience to torment him, of God's wrath to punish him, through eternity, and of present judgments, such as fell on Sodom, to mark God's abhorrence of such hateful deeds. Note; (1.) Adultery is among the most crying sins. (2.) The deceitfulness of sin is great: they who think to take some undue liberties and to rest there, know not how unable they are to refrain from the greatest lengths of lewdness, if once they enter into temptation. (3.) Though our laws have no longer numbered adultery among the capital crimes, and so secret may the sin be kept that human suspicion may never reach it, yet whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

2. He shewed to his servants the greatest equity and tenderness. He did not condemn them unheard, or, if they complained, slight their expostulations; but examined their remonstrances without being offended, and gave them whatever redress their just grievances called for: and this on these great considerations: [1.] he considered that he had a Master in heaven, with whom was no respect of persons, and to whom he must give an account; [2.] that, however exalted his station was above them, they were made of the same clay, partakers of the same human nature, and fashioned by the same hand. Note; (1.) A good man will be a kind master, and not a lion in his house and frantic among his servants. (2.) If our servants are perverse or faulty, it becomes us not to be harsh or inexorable, lest we should find as little mercy and kindness from our Master in heaven, as we shew to them. (3.) It should serve to humble the highest, and keep them from valuing themselves as if creatures of a different species from their inferiors, to remember the common womb from whence they came, and the same grave to which they go.

3rdly, Accused as Job had been of cruel unmercifulness, it not only appears that the charge was utterly groundless, but that his character had been the very reverse from this earliest days.
1. He describes the attention and regard that he ever paid the poor, the fatherless, and the widow. The poor never presented his supplication unheard, or was grieved with the denial of any reasonable request. The widow's eyes did not fail, either through the delay of her petition, or through inattention to her speaking looks, when she knew not how to ask. Alone he had never eaten his morsel; the fatherless was not only fed at his table, but honoured with his presence. From his youth he was the father of the orphan, and the husband of the widow to counsel, guide, and protect them. Never did the poor want covering, or the naked go shivering from his door; his fleece clothed them, and, warned by his charitable gifts, they blessed his bounty, and prayed to God to reward him. In the gate, no frowns or menace discouraged the fatherless; not a finger was ever lifted against them, though, had he been disposed to oppression, so great was his influence, that he might have done it with impunity. Note; (1.) Kindness to the poor is not only highly acceptable to God, but brings with it, in the secret satisfaction it ministers, an abundant reward. (2.) The poor need clothes as much as meat, and we must not forget any of their wants. (3.) Respect shewn to those who, through poverty, are too commonly despised, is a cheap, yet most grateful kindness. (4.) The more power we have to do ill, the more careful should we be never to abuse it.

2. He imprecates vengeance upon himself, if ever he had done as Eliphaz suggested, chap. Job 22:9 even that his arm might drop from his shoulder, or be broken from the bone. Note; Though the use of imprecations upon ourselves in general, is sinful and evil; yet in a solemn clearing of ourselves, like an oath, they may be used to God's glory.

3. He mentions the restraints which withheld him from all uncharitableness and unkindness. He feared to provoke that holy God, who is the avenger of the injured, and the guardian of the poor. He knew the terror of the Most High, and how little he could endure his judgments, should he provoke him by such displeasing conduct. Note; (1.) The highest must remember that there is one higher than they, to whom they must give an account. (2.) Holy fear of God is a needful restraint from sin.

4thly, Compelled to commend himself, in vindication of his character from the most unjust aspersions, Job proceeds to other instances of his simplicity before God and man.
1. This world never engaged his heart with idolatrous affection; he never placed his hope in the pursuit of gold, or his confidence on what he possessed; his gain gave him no joy comparable with his God; he received it as God's gift, and employed it to God's glory. Note; (1.) Covetousness is idolatry. The affection of the heart set on gold, and our joy and confidence placed on the creature, are equally criminal with the knee bent to the stock or stone, and frequently more so. (2.) Riches are very apt to steal away the soul into inordinate love of them; hence so few rich men enter the kingdom of heaven.

2. He renounces all idolatrous worship paid to the luminaries of heaven. These, probably, were the first of all the Pagan deities that obtained divine honours. In the time of Job, this worship began to grow in vogue; but far, very far, was he from joining in the abominable service, either openly or secretly. When he went forth, and beheld the sun in its meridian splendour, or in the clear night saw in her silver orb the moon diffusing grateful light to the benighted earth, his heart was never seduced to adoration; or, bowing, kissed he his hand before them, the usual method of worship in token of divine honours. He regarded idolatry as a crime deserving the most ignominious punishment from the magistrate; and more detested it as the highest affront to God, who will not give his glory to another, and who regards the worship of other gods as the denial of himself.
3. No revenge, even against his bitterest enemy when in his power, found a place in his bosom; so far from doing him an injury, he never rejoiced when misfortune befel him: he never suffered his lips to speak a word of imprecation, or his heart to harbour a wish of malevolence against him; nay, when those of his house, his friends, or servants, urged him to resent the wrongs done him, and wished for the flesh of those who hated him, that they might avenge their master's cause, he neither attended to their instigations, nor suffered them to shew their resentment. Note; (1.) Among the first of graces are, the forgiveness of injuries, and the love of our enemies. (2.) Joy in the fall of an enemy, is malice and murder in the heart. (3.) The greatest provocation will never justify our revenge. (4.) There are seldom wanting those who are ready to blow the coals of contention; to such the wise will turn a deaf ear.

4. He mentions the hospitable entertainment that every traveller met with from him; which, when there were yet no public inns, was more especially needful. His door was ever open to the traveller, or to the way, his house by the way-side, that the weary might turn in thither and find refreshment, repose in safety under his roof, and not lodge in the street, exposed to the inclemencies of the weather.

5thly, We have Job reiterating the protestations of his sincerity, and concluding with his appeal to God.
1. He protests his sincerity.
(1.) He never concealed his iniquity, as Adam did, or as men in general do, desiring to find excuse, and to lay the blame on others. He acknowledged himself a sinner; many transgressions he was chargeable with; for, who liveth and hath not sinned? but no wickedness, no hypocrisy, contradictory to his profession as a good man, were chargeable upon him; all that he knew he freely owned, and desired to be humbled for before God. Note; (1.) Hypocritically to excuse, palliate, or conceal our sins, is only to deceive and destroy our own souls. (2.) Humble confession to God, through Christ, is the sure way to instant pardon.

(2.) No fear of man intimidated him from his duty as a professor or a magistrate; he was not ashamed of his religion, nor feared any ridicule to which it might expose him; he paid no regard to persons in judgment; the quality of the party never influenced his decisions, nor could he ever be prevailed upon to sit silent by while truth and justice were oppressed; but he openly remonstrated against it, unconcerned as to who were displeased or offended; alike indifferent to the clamours of the vulgar, as unmoved by the contempt of the great. Note; (1.) The fear of man is a great snare; it requires much Christian fortitude to get above it. (2.) They who hear a good cause run down, or see injustice committed, without vindicating the one, and remonstrating against the other, become criminal by their silence and connivance.

(3.) His possessions were honestly come by; his land had no accusation against him for oppression; the wages of the labourer kept back, never cried against him; nor did his hard hand squeeze his tenants, or his unreasonable demands of work beyond their strength endanger the lives of his servants; land, tenants, or labourers, never had reason to complain. With solemn imprecations he binds his judgment upon him, if he falsified in his evidence; and wishes that barrenness and the curse might desolate his fields, instead of plenty crowning the year with increase. Note; Ill gotten estates are often untoward possessions, and disappoint the hopes of the unjust.

2. He once more renews his appeal to God, and his eager desire to have his cause heard at his bar. O that one would hear me, that he might have a judge appointed, before whom he could plead his cause. Behold, let it stand upon record, as the thing which, so far from fearing as a hypocrite, I long for, my desire is that the Almighty would answer me; a rash wish, if he meant that God would enter the lists in judgment against him, but allowable if he desired only to plead his cause, in opposition to his friends before him; and that mine adversary had written a book, a bill of indictment, containing the charges to be heard at the bar of God. Surely I would take it upon my shoulder, so confident was he that he could vindicate his cause from every accusation of his unkind friends; far from fearing to be crushed by it, he would carry it off in triumph; and bind it as a crown to me, his righteousness should shine the brighter, the more it was examined; and the impeachment of his integrity should issue to his more distinguished honour. I would declare unto him the number of my steps; truth needs no disguise; he would lay bare his bosom and every secret step, nor dread the strictest scrutiny; and as a prince would I go near unto him, not trembling as a criminal, and keeping at a distance; but with confidence and majesty boldly advancing to the judgment-seat, without a fear that his cause should miscarry. Note; (1.) Consciousness of innocence longs for the trial. (2.) They who have now God's verdict in their favour, will in a judgment-day surround his throne as princes, yea, as assessors with him.

Thus the words of Job are ended. If this be not thought by his friends convincing, it would be vain to multiply arguments; and in self-vindication he will add no more.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Job 31". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.