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Bible Commentaries
Job 31

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


Job’s Monologue, (continued.)

THIRD PART, chap. 31.

In “this masterly piece of moral painting” we have a most pleasing view of a gentle and amiable spirit ennobled by the one common love of God and man. At the first sight, this review of Job’s life seems a pharisaical display of virtue, a quasi invoice of righteousness; but it is to be remembered that Job has been forced to a defence under circumstances which Sir Richard Steele states “may justify a man in saying not only as much as will refute his adversaries, but if he can, he may assert things of himself praiseworthy, which ought not to be called vanity in him, but simply justice as against his opponents.”

We have, moreover, an insight into the patriarchal religion, the most ancient religion of our race. The religion of Job was not of Israel, nor from Moses, but Abrahamic, the din Ibrahim, (religion of Abraham,) as the Arab calls it even to the present day. There is a striking resemblance between this exhibit of moral duty and the ten commandments of piety peculiar to the din Ibrahim. (See Delitzsch, 2:173.) There is displayed a most remarkable insight into the motives and springs of moral action, the rudiments of good and evil. The heart he regards as the fount of moral action the field from which man may look the saint but be the devil.

Job anticipates, to a wonderful degree, various elements of “the sermon on the mount,” more especially the responsibility connected with the subtle beginnings of action, the unseen primordia of the outward deed. And yet it is worthy of special consideration that “a conscience so wonderfully delicate and enlightened as that which Job had disclosed in these his closing discourses, appears as in need of repentance, and unable to secure from God a verdict of unconditional justification.” Zockler.

Verse 1

Third division JOB’S ASSEVERATION OF HIS INNOCENCE, UNDER THE MOST SOLEMN APPEALS TO GOD, chapter 31. First strophe, Job 31:1-8.

a. A preliminary declaration that he had prescribed terms to the most treacherous of the senses, and planted a guard over his entire being, and that, too, impelled by the highest considerations of regard for God, Job 31:1-4.

1. With mine eyes The eyes, says a Talmudic proverb, are “the procuresses of evil.” So intimately is this most delicate and precious of the senses related to the soul, that Pliny said of the mind. “it certainly dwells in the eyes.” Here the eye is singled out as a representative sense, as if he who had the mastery of this were lord of all. Job has “made a covenant” to ( ל ) or for his eyes prescribed limitations with all the form and solemnity of a covenant, which, through the divine strength of grace, he has determined they shall not transgress.

Why then should I think How then should I look, or gaze, look wistfully upon, אתבונן . Thus translated, there is a striking resemblance in this question to the saying of Christ, (Matthew 5:28.) At a time when polygamy or some other form of concubinage almost universally prevailed, Job stands conspicuously forth as a high-toned moralist, who looked upon chastity of the heart as no less important than chastity of the life.

Verse 2

2. What portion of God In the sense of retribution. These questions are answered by the questions of verses three and four.

Verse 3

3. A strange punishment נכר . The word bears a similar meaning in the Arabic. Thus Mohammed: “He shall visit him with a strange, ( nukran,) or awful, penalty.” The punishment of such “workers of iniquity” is strange, extraordinary. The diseases and the remorse that spring from a life of licentiousness are markedly exceptional, and argue peculiar punishment in the next life.

Verse 5

b. Job’s first protestation is, that he has not practiced deceit, nor acted on dishonest principles, nor departed from the way of chastity, ( as indicated in Job 31:1,) a specification which prepares the way for the next protestation, Job 31:5-8.

5. If The usual form of oaths. See note on Job 27:2; Job 27:4-5. He means to attest his innocence under the most solemn sanctions.

Vanity The prime meaning of the Hebrew is, falsity. A sad companionship is that of a false, hollow, hypocritical nature; such every corrupt man must “walk with.”

Verse 6

6. Let me be weighed, etc. Literally, let him weigh me in a balance of righteousness, and God shall know mine integrity.

Balance See note, Job 6:2. According to the Egyptian mythology, when the soul appears before Osiris it is weighed in a balance. A series of questions (amounting to as many as forty-two) are proposed, of the most severe and searching character, which “illustrate the nature of that secret and self-judging law which everywhere, in spite of intellectual aberrations, is still active in the cause of truth and righteousness, among the inmost fibres of the human heart.” HARDWICK. (See his work, “Christ,” etc., 2:301-303; also Bib. Sac., 25:97-103.)

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In this picture, taken from Champollion, the good deeds of an entire life, supposed to have been deposited in a vase, are being weighed in the one scale; while an ostrich feather, the emblem of truth or justice, serves as a weight in the other. A report of the issue is in process of reading to Osiris, before whom sits the dog Cerberus, the keeper of the gates of the invisible world. The trial has evidently gone against the dead man, who is being ferried back to earth in the form of a hog under the guidance of a monkey.

Verse 7

7. The way Used figuratively for the law of God.

Mine heart לב here, as in many other places, denotes the will or active reason, rather than the mere feeling. It is what Socrates calls the reversal, or turning upside down, or wrong end foremost, of human nature, indicating a dire catastrophe; the reason following the sense, and submitting to the sense instead of controlling it. (Tayler Lewis.)

Mine eyes As in Job 31:1. Blot See the gloss of Elihu upon Job’s self-righteousness, Job 33:9.

Verse 8

8. Let me sow, etc. A proverbial phrase. See John 4:37.

Offspring Produce of the land.

Verse 9

Second strophe Job affirms that he has practised righteousness in all the relationships of DOMESTIC life; and at the same time protests, first, with contempt and detestation, that he had never been be-fooled by a woman, and thus led away into adultery; and again, that he had never despised the cause of his servant, whose rights were co-equal with his own in the sight of God, Job 31:9-15.

9. Deceived Enticed or befooled. At the root of the Hebrew lies the idea of simplicity. Compare Job 31:27; Proverbs 7:7; Proverbs 9:4. He now declares himself guiltless of adultery, as he had before of fornication, (Job 31:1.)

Verse 10

10. Grind Burckhardt, speaking of the people of Medina, says, “The women of the cultivators and of the inhabitants of the suburbs serve in the families of the towns-people as domestics, principally to grind corn in the hand-mills.” Arabia, 2:265. The oldest versions understand the word to express a deeper degradation, in illustration of which Dr. Clarke gives an excursus. The second clause is explained by Job 24:15.

Verse 11

11. A heinous crime זמה , the usual Thorah word for the shameless, subtle encroachments of sensual desires. (Delitzsch.) The various stages of meaning through which this word has passed first, of thought or intent; second, of (supposed) cunning; third, of lewdness, (of the mind;) fourth, of heinous deed, Leviticus 18:17, (adultery, incest,) paint in brief the descent and degradation of vice.

Verse 12

12. Destruction Hebrews Abaddon. The sin spoken of is a fire that ceases not to burn till it has taken hold of hell itself. (Proverbs 7:27.) “It drags him whom it has seized down with it into the deepest depth of ruin, and as it were melts him away.” Delitzsch. See Caryl, in loc. In the earliest ages adultery was punished by burning. Genesis 38:24.

Verse 13

13. The cause of my manservant The importance of the subject is indicated by the form of oath, if, now for the fourth time introduced. His servants were regarded not as chattels, but as human beings. True nobility of character is as truly displayed in the proper treatment of dependents as in any of the so-called higher relationships of life.

Verse 14

14. Riseth up To judgment: such is the divine indignation at the contemplation of man’s cruelty to man. Stephen in the hour of martyrdom saw the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Verse 15

15. Did not one fashion us “There is,” said Seneca, “the same beginning, the same origin, for all; no one is more noble than another.” De Benef., 3:28. Nature, as she contemplates her two great estates, life and death, man’s entrance into and his departure from life, has many a moral for man, such as humility, forbearance, charity, and brotherly love. The charter of human rights rests upon our oneness in nature, and our equality before the ONE who made us God.

Verse 18

Third strophe In CIVIL life, also, Job declares he had practised righteousness towards the dependent, and shown mercy to the suffering and defenceless. The entire strophe contemplates the false charges Eliphaz had made upon this very point, (Job 22:6-9,) and is enforced by a threefold appeal to God, and an imprecation that if he speak not the truth great bodily harm may come upon him, Job 31:16-23.

18. He The fatherless.

Her The widow.

Verse 20

20. The loins, previously naked, are personified and poetically described as invoking upon him every blessing.

Verse 21

21. Help in the gate Patrons and friends, ready to defend him in case of mal-administration of justice. The gate is the forum in Eastern towns, where all kinds of important business are transacted. See note, Job 29:7.

Verse 22

22. Mine arm There is a striking grandeur in this imprecation on the arm that was lifted up to threaten an orphan in the court of justice. (Scott.)

Verse 23

23. Destruction… a terror It was not unworthy of Job to confess that the fear of God even of destruction “from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9) was the mainspring of his moral life. Religious life may have its roots in the wintry soil of fear, but it matures and ripens under the summer sun of divine love.

Verse 24

24. Gold my hope Job here links the love of the shining metals with the worship of the shining luminaries covert idolatry with overt idolatry and thus anticipates the apostle in his estimate of covetousness. Colossians 3:5. “They whose God is gold have not God.” Dr. Chalmers has a serm on (in loc., Job 31:24-28) on “The Love of Money.”

Verses 24-34

Fourth strophe Job declares himself to have discharged his more secret and private obligations to God and man. He was not only free from covetous extortion, as he had previously declared, (Job 31:21,) but also from avaricious idolatry of glittering wealth and a concealed adoration of the most conspicuous of the heavenly bodies. Nor had he cherished emotions of retaliation and revenge, nor neglected the rites of hospitality, nor in general laid claim to virtues which he possessed not, Job 31:24-34.

Dillmann and others make the fourth strophe end with Job 31:32; Hengstenberg continues it to Job 31:34, and calls it a new decalogue of trespasses with an appended curse. The strophe divides itself into halves the first, treating of sin directly against God; the second, of sin against man.

Verse 26

26. The sun… the moon Traces of the worship of these bodies are found in the most ancient heathen religions. 2 Kings 17:16; 2 Kings 21:3; Psalms 19:0. “The first generation of men in Egypt,” says Diodorus Siculus, (book i, chapter 1,) “contemplating the beauty of the superior world, and admiring with astonishment the frame and order of the universe, supposed that there were two chief gods that were eternal, that is to say, the sun and the moon, the first of which they called Osiris and the other Isis, both names having proper etymologles: for Osiris, in the Greek language, signifies a thing with many eyes, which may be very properly applied to the sun, darting his rays into every corner, and, as it were, with so many eyes viewing and surveying the whole land and sea; with which agrees the poet

The sun from his lofty sphere all sees and hears.

… They hold that these gods govern the whole world, cherishing and increasing all things.” See also PLUTARCH’S Treatise Concerning Isis and Osiris, section 52. The Persians (B.C. about 523) conquered Egypt, and replaced, as far as lay in their power, the sculptural representations made by the Egyptians of their divinity Ra, (the sun,) by representations of their own divinity, of which the following figure is an illustration.

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The sun in this is distinguished from the sun of the Egyptians by the absence of wings or asps, and more particularly by the want of the human figure or statue of the god, and by its sending forth a number of rays, each ending with a human hand. The ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun under the title of not only Ra or Re, but of Amun Ra, “the hidden” sun. The Papyri furnish extensive and important invocations and hymns to Ra and Amun Ra, illustrations of which may be seen in The Records of the Past, 2:117-136. The Nabataeans (commonly regarded as Arabs) worshipped the sun at “an altar constructed on the top of a house, pouring out libations and burning frankincense upon it every day.” Strabo, xvi, c. 4. section 26. “The astral character of the old Arabian idolatry,” says Rawlinson, “is indubitable.” (See his Herodotus, ii, p. 336.) In Egyptian hieroglyphics the idea of prayer was represented by a man holding up his hands accompanied by a star. The ancient Assyrians subordinated the worship of the sun (Shamas) to that of (Sin) the moon-god. (RAWLINSON’S Anc. Mon., 2:16, 17.) That the rising sun was also worshipped in Syria is affirmed by Tacitus, ( Hist., 3:24.) Such worship spread all over the world, and lasted in England even to the times of Canute, who, according to Dupuis, prescribed the form of worship to be rendered to the sun, etc. Evidences of this idolatry still linger in the names of the first two days of the week, Sun-day, Mon or Moon-day.

Walking in brightness Job dwells upon the dazzling beauty and great glory of these heavenly bodies as though they might be the sources of a subtle power to entice the affections of mortals. The Arabs have a proverb, “Take care of looking at the splendour of the stars.” Most forms of ancient idolatry certainly the worship of the powers of nature drifted into the grossest licentiousness, which may have been the chief reason that, in the days of Job, it was “punished by the judges.”

Verse 27

27. Mouth… kissed… hand Literally, My hand hath kissed my mouth, as in the margin. “In the act of worship,” says Pliny, we “kiss the right hand, and turn the whole body to the right,” Job 28:2; Job 28:5; also Job 11:45. Worshippers of the rising sun in Western Asia and Greece, according to Lucian, also kissed the hand to this luminary, “and then thought their adoration complete.” The act was expressive of affection for these objects.

Verse 28

28. Denied the God above The transfer of the predominant affection of the heart from the Creator to the creature is a practical denial of God.

Verse 29

29. Rejoiced at the destruction, etc. Rejoicing in the sufferings of others is a most hateful form of evil. (See note on Job 15:27.) In Job’s bitterest invectives there is no trace of hate. Here he speaks of him who hated me. Noble as Job appears in such a light, Christ demands more than this negative moral action, even the love of an enemy; “a voice,” says Lord Bacon, “beyond the light of nature.” Comp. Exodus 23:4-5; Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 23:7; Proverbs 20:22; Proverbs 24:17; Proverbs 25:21-22; and Cicero, De Officiis, 1, 25.

Verse 30

30. Wishing a curse to his soul Rather, demanding his life with a curse. See note, Job 3:8. Job denies that he has by any imprecation sought to enlist deity against his enemy. Tacitus, speaking of the interference of Piso with the offering of sacrifices for the recovery of Germanicus from dangerous illness, says, “Even the victims already at the altar were driven away, and the apparatus for sacrifice overturned,” etc. Annals, 2:69. Compare 1 Kings 3:11.

Verse 31

31. Oh that we had, etc. Rather, Who can show any one not satisfied with his meat. His hospitality was such that the men of his tent, who had the best opportunities to know, could not point out any one who had not been fed at his table.

Flesh is used for slaughtered food, as in 1 Samuel 25:11.

Verse 32

32. To the traveller Literally, to the way. The Mishna has a precept, “Let thy house be open to the way, and may the poor be thy guests.” Christ was crucified near to the way. “Certainly the place of his execution was upon a frequented way.” (Meyer on Matthew 27:39.) His heart is open for all wayfaring, sorrowing ones.

Verse 33

33. As Adam Hosea 6:7. Many expositors translate as in the margin; but others, Samuel Wesley. ( Diss. in Jobum, xiv,) Schultens, ( in loc.,) and Hitzig, satisfactorily defend the reading, “as Adam.” The following verse furnishes, as the point of comparison, the sinner’s dread of the light a universal fact of our fallen nature, for which fallen Adam will ever stand as the prototype. Genesis 3:8-11. There is no reason for supposing that Job was ignorant of “the fall.”

Verse 34

34. Did I fear, etc. Because I feared the great multitude, and the contempt of families terrified me, so that I kept silence, and went not out of the door. He affirms with renewed solemnity (with the if as before) that he has covered no transgression (Job 31:33) because he feared the stigma of the families, and the consequent loss of reputation. (Job 31:34.) Had he been such a secret sinner as the friends represented him to be, he would rather have slunk away from society. Brentius cites the case of Demosthenes, who feared to enter the popular assembly lest he should be accused of corruption, and alleged as an excuse for his silence and absence that he had the quinsy, when, so his enemies said, he had the silver-quinsy. PLUTARCH, Demos., 25.

Verse 35

Fifth strophe The statement he has made, Job would dare to sign in the presence of God, and carry about as a triumphant declaration that he has not been guilty of deceit and hypocrisy. Nor, in conclusion, has he been guilty of the certain nameless sin which his friends had cowardly insinuated, but dared not mention. See note, Job 13:23.

In view of the infliction of a like curse upon Adam because of his sin, (compare Job 31:40; Job 31:33 with Genesis 3:17-18,) the final imprecation of a curse upon the ground, his widespread domain, which was his only remaining wealth, forms a pre-eminent climax to Job’s defence, and more especially to this series of imprecations, Job 31:35-40.

35. The most probable reading is, Oh that I had one who would hear me! Behold my signature! Let the Almighty answer me.

My desire תוי , tavi: literally, my sign, ( tav,) as in the margin. Compare Ezekiel 9:4. In the opinion of some this mark was cruciform, as in the Phoenician letter Taw, which, being the last of the letters, served as the signature of the alphabet. Job now declares that he is ready to sign all the protestations he has just made. The ancient Egyptian courts required the accused to sign his reply. Mine adversary, etc. Some read, “Oh that I had the charge mine adversary had written!” Comp. Job 19:23. Job speaks of God, who he assumes has “written bitter things against him,” Job 13:26. Job has made his statement; conscious of his innocence, he would now see the divine statement. With the ancient Egyptian it was necessary that the charge of the accuser should be a written one, and read in open court. If it were not that Job, like all human beings, was frail and sinful, this challenge of God to judgment, with which he crowns his defence, would partake of the morally sublime. “Bolder words than these Job had not uttered in the whole dispute. These provoked Elihu to renew the debate; and these are the expressions for which the Almighty chiefly reprimanded him.” Michaelis on Lowth.

Book See note on Job 19:23.

Verse 36

36. Surely If not. God do so and more to me if I would not display it as a visible badge of honour; for Job was sure that his life contained nothing grossly criminal. Wilkinson tells us that the ancient Egyptian is sometimes represented after death as wearing round his neck the same vase which in the scales typified his good actions, or bearing on his head the ostrich feather of truth. They were both intended to show that he had been deemed worthy of admission to the mansions of the just. The Ancient Egyptians, P.A., 2:383. Crown Literally, crowns. The word differs from that of Job 29:14. The plural, עשׂרות , is either the plural of excellence, or is used descriptively of diadems arising each but of the other. Revelation 19:12.

Verse 37

37. Near unto him In the hour of fancied triumph he regards as his highest honour that of drawing near unto God.

Verse 38

38. Complain Weep. The rabbinical proverb embodies a similar figure, “The altar of God weeps over him who separates himself from the wife of his youth.” Comp. Habakkuk 2:11.

Verses 38-39

38-39. Some, without good ground, have thought that these verses are misplaced, and that they should have appeared before in the list of affirmations; according to Eichhorn, after Job 31:25; and Stuhlmann, after Job 31:34. Such criticism, forgetful that nature loves irregularities of landscape, would reduce all to the same dead level. The perfection of this defence is secured by this last solemn asseveration. Seemingly an after-consideration, it looks boldly in the face the most serious of all the charges, the unnamed something which the friends have darkly hinted, for instance, Bildad, in chap. 8; Zophar in chaps. 11 and 20; and Eliphaz in chap. 22. Comp. Job 13:23.

Verse 39

39. To lose their life Literally, breathe out their life. The idea seems to be, not of direct murder, but of “harassing to death” (thus Maurer) the rightful owners, in order that their lands might be secured.

Verse 40

40. Thistles Translated elsewhere thorns.

Cockle The Hebrew root points to some kind of noxious, ill-smelling weed. The word is also the last in the Hebrew text, and forms a surprising climax to the discourse, and possibly an unsavory reflection on the friends. Among the calamities Sennacherib declares himself to have entailed upon a conquered race was the sowing of thistles over their corn fields. Inscription 30. The words of Job are ended The poetical accents with which this sentence is marked express the very ancient opinion that these closing words are the words of Job. Hitzig, however, regards them as “a boundary set up by the revisers of Job!” A boundary stone they may be, but, by whomsoever set up, they serve to mark the line between Job’s darkness and despair on the one side, and the rich dawning light of a divine solution on the other, first through Elihu, God’s servant, and then from God himself. “All words,” observes Hengstenberg, “spoken against God come, after a brief season, to an end, either of grace, as in Job’s case, who begs that the folly of his discourses may be forgiven, or of wrath, when the mouth that uttereth great things is closed with violence.”

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 31". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/job-31.html. 1874-1909.
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