Job 31
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 31. Job solemnly clears himself of all offences

The chapter consists of a series of protestations on the one hand, accompanied on the other by curses on himself if these protestations of innocence are not true. Occasionally appeals are made to God to judge him; and in some instances the considerations are stated which weighed with him and restrained him from the sins of which he protests his innocence. In Job’s present condition, when he now speaks, some of these imprecations appear unsuitable. But we must consider that as he is reviewing his past life, his mind throws him back into the circumstances in which he was then living, and this brings before him the considerations and feelings which then weighed with him.

The chapter falls into three sections,

First, Job 31:1-12, Job clears himself of all those secret sensual desires of the heart which seduce men into shameful conduct.

Second, Job 31:13-23, he repudiates all abuse of his power in reference to those inferior in rank, and all selfish indifference to the sufferings and wants of the unfortunate.

Third, Job 31:24-40, he clears himself of every secret feeling that would be accounted dishonourable, whether in regard to men or God.

I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?
1. The “eye,” the lusts of which are frequently spoken of in scripture, is the great inlet through which that which is without affects the heart and stirs evil desire. Job made a “covenant” or agreement with his eyes, that they should obey his mind, or act always in harmony with his higher self.

why then should I think] Or, how then should I look? Under his contract with his eyes such sinful looking upon a woman (Matthew 5:28) was impossible; comp. Romans 6:2, We that died to sin, how shall we live any longer therein?

1–12. Job clears himself of cherishing or yielding to sensuous desires. This idea is pursued through a series of instances; (1) simple desire, excited by the eye, Job 31:1-4; (2) actual yielding to such desire in word or deed, Job 31:5-8; (3) the grossest form of sensual sin, Job 31:9-12.

For what portion of God is there from above? and what inheritance of the Almighty from on high?
2–4. The considerations that restrained him from such a sin. These are recited as they then influenced his mind.

2.  And what is the portion from God above?

And what the heritage from the Almighty on high?

3.  Is it not destruction to the wicked,

And calamity to the workers of iniquity?

Is not destruction to the wicked? and a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity?
Doth not he see my ways, and count all my steps?
4. Here “ways” and “steps” are said of things so slight as the glance of the eye. These are “seen” and “counted” by God. The thought of God in these verses is as lofty as the conception of morality is close and inward.

If I have walked with vanity, or if my foot hath hasted to deceit;
5. “Falsehood” or vanity, which is not merely in word but in thought, and “deceit” are here treated as persons; with the one Job denies that he has “walked,” i. e. accompanied it, and the other he denies that he “hasted after,” i. e. followed it. He has made no companion of falsity nor followed after deceit, to do aught that they would seduce him to. From the imprecation in Job 31:8, Let me sow and another eat! it is probable that what Job clears himself of is all false dealing prompted by cupidity.

5–8. These verses continue to amplify the thought that Job refused to give way to any evil desire. The protestation lies in Job 31:5 and Job 31:7, the curse imprecated on himself in Job 31:8, while Job 31:6 is parenthetical, thrown in to confirm the denial implicitly contained in Job 31:5.

5.  If I have walked with falsehood,

And my foot hath hasted after deceit

6.  (Let him weigh me in an even balance,

And let God know mine integrity),

7.  If my step hath turned out of the way, &c.

Let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know mine integrity.
6. A solemn assertion before God the judge that his denial in Job 31:5 is true. The words are parenthetical.

If my step hath turned out of the way, and mine heart walked after mine eyes, and if any blot hath cleaved to mine hands;
7. out of the way] i. e. the way of rectitude, set before him by God, ch. Job 23:11. This going out of the way is amplified in the next words, if mine heart walked after mine eyes, i. e. if my mind consented and yielded to the lust of the eye. By such yielding he would have fallen into deeds that would have left a “blot” or stain upon his hands; comp. Psalm 24:4.

Then let me sow, and let another eat; yea, let my offspring be rooted out.
8. The imprecation.

let my offspring be rooted out] Rather, let my produce, i. e. what springs out of that which I have planted or sown; comp. Leviticus 26:16; Deuteronomy 28:33.

If mine heart have been deceived by a woman, or if I have laid wait at my neighbour's door;
9–12. The grossest sensual sin, adultery.

heart have been deceived] Or, befooled, infatuated.

Then let my wife grind unto another, and let others bow down upon her.
10. To “grind unto another,” i. e. at the mill, is to be the slave of another, Isaiah 47:2. The slave was at the same time usually the concubine of her master, and the curse means, Let my wife be the slave (first clause) and the concubine (second clause) of others. It is probable, however, that in usage the language of the first clause carried the same sense as the second.

For this is an heinous crime; yea, it is an iniquity to be punished by the judges.
11. a heinous crime] Or, an enormity, Hosea 6:9 marg.; cf. Leviticus 18:17. Adultery was a capital crime in Israel, Deuteronomy 22:22; John 8:5.

For it is a fire that consumeth to destruction, and would root out all mine increase.
12. to destruction] Heb. abaddon, i. e. Sheol or Death, as a place, ch. Job 26:6, Job 28:22. As to the complete ruin which this sin entailed comp. the passage Proverbs 6:24-35, particularly the last verses; see also Proverbs 5:8-14; Proverbs 7:26-27.

If I did despise the cause of my manservant or of my maidservant, when they contended with me;
13. Job refers to what he might have done in his high position; he might have “despised” or slighted the cause of his servants when they had ground of complaint against him. He treated them not as possessions but as persons, who had rights as well as himself, 14, 15. This treatment of them was forced on him by the feeling that all men, his servant and himself alike, are children of the same one God, who will avenge wrong done to any, whether slave or free; Ephesians 6:9.

13–23. Job repudiates all misuse of the power which his rank gave him, denying (1) that he treated contemptuously his servants when they had a cause against him, Job 31:13-15; (2) that he was indifferent to the wants of the unprotected, or refused to bestow on them of his own bread and raiment, Job 31:16-20; (3) that he violently wronged any, even though he could have secured a judgment favourable to him before the tribunal, Job 31:21; after which follows the imprecation, Job 31:22-23.

What then shall I do when God riseth up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him?
14. when God riseth up] i. e. to judge, as the expression “visiteth” in the next clause suggests.

Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb?
If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail;
16. eyes of the widow to fail] i. e. with looking in vain for help, Psalm 69:3.

Or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof;
(For from my youth he was brought up with me, as with a father, and I have guided her from my mother's womb;)
18. he was brought up with me] Rather, he (the fatherless) grew up with me. Job probably did not achieve his greatness, he was born to it. And possibly he inherited the traditions of a great and benevolent house. And thus even from his youth he took the place toward the poor of a patron and father.

If I have seen any perish for want of clothing, or any poor without covering;
19. seen any perish] Rather, perishing, or ready to perish, ch. Job 29:13.

If his loins have not blessed me, and if he were not warmed with the fleece of my sheep;
If I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless, when I saw my help in the gate:
21. if I have lift up my hand] i. e. to strike him down. The expression is figurative, meaning to oppress violently.

I saw my help in the gate] i. e. because he saw that if the cause came before the judges (the gate) he could secure from them, by his inference, a verdict favourable to himself.

Then let mine arm fall from my shoulder blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone.
22. The imprecation is closely connected in form with the preceding verse—if I have lifted up mine hand, then let mine arm, &c.

mine arm fall] Or, my shoulder fall.

from the bone] Marg. the chanel bone, “an old term for the collar bone” (Wright, Bible Word-Book). The word is lit. tube, or shaft.

For destruction from God was a terror to me, and by reason of his highness I could not endure.
23. highness I could not endure] Or, majesty I was powerless, lit. I was unable. The verse closes the whole passage Job 31:16-22, expressing the feeling by which Job’s conduct was regulated; his awe before the majesty of God and fear of His judicial anger restrained him, so that he was “powerless” to commit any of the wrongs to which he has just made reference.

If I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence;
24–34. Repudiation of another class of secret sins, that would have dishonoured him: (1) secret joy in the possession of wealth—that love of gain which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5), Job 31:24-25; (2) a momentary impulse to salute the rising sun or the moon in her splendour and thus be false to the true spiritual God on high, Job 31:26-28; (3) secret joy of heart at the misfortune of his enemy, Job 31:29-30; (4) narrowness of soul and niggardliness, Job 31:31-32; and finally, hypocrisy, Job 31:33-34.

If I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because mine hand had gotten much;
If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness;
And my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand:
27. or my mouth hath kissed my hand] lit. and my hand hath kissed my mouth. The meaning is, if his hand touched his mouth “in order to wave the homage of the lips towards the object of adoration” (Con.). Pliny (quoted in Del.) says, Inter adorandum dexteram ad osculum referimus et totum corpus circumagimus. The worship of the heavenly bodies was widely spread in the East and in Arabia. The remarkable passage, Jeremiah 44:17 seq., shews that before the Exile worship of the “queen of heaven” had long been practised among all classes and in all the towns of Israel; comp. Ezekiel 8:16.

This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge: for I should have denied the God that is above.
28. Comp. Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3-7. Such adoration would have been a “denial” of, or a being false to, God, the one spiritual God, above. Much more than a thousand years later Mohammed has still to say to his Arabs, “Worship not the sun, neither the moon: but worship God who created them,” Kor. ch. 41. A pretty fable is told also of Abraham—“When night closed over him he saw a star, and said, This is my Lord; but when it set he said, I love not those that set. And when he saw the moon appearing he said, This is my Lord; but when it set he said, Surely if my Lord direct me not aright I shall be of the people that go astray. And when he saw the sun rising he said, This is my Lord, this is the greatest; but when it set he said, O my people, verily I am clear of what ye associate with God; verily I have turned my face towards Him who hath created heaven and earth,” &c. Kor. ch. 6:76.

If I rejoiced at the destruction of him that hated me, or lifted up myself when evil found him:
29. at the destruction] Or, at the misfortune, ch. Job 12:5.

lift up myself] Or, exalted.

Neither have I suffered my mouth to sin by wishing a curse to his soul.
30. The verse, which is parenthetical, reads,

(Yea, I suffered not my mouth to sin,

To ask, with a curse, his life).

He was so far from rejoicing in the evil that befell his enemy that he had never permitted himself even in hasty anger to throw out an imprecation against him. On the obligation of love to enemies comp. Proverbs 24:17 seq., Proverbs 25:21 seq.

If the men of my tabernacle said not, Oh that we had of his flesh! we cannot be satisfied.
31. The verse appears to mean,

If the men of my tent have not said,

Would that we could find any not filled with his flesh!

The men of his tent are of course his servants. The verse describes Job’s princely hospitality; his servants are represented as expressing the wish that they could find any one who has not yet (like others) been filled from Job’s rich table—hence the particular word flesh is used instead of the more general “meat,” flesh being served chiefly on occasions of entertainment in the East. The servants were well aware of their master’s generosity, and did their best to give it effect. The language might appear exaggerated were it not a question of Oriental manners. In the story of the Banker of Bagdad in the Arabian Nights the servants are introduced speaking in the same way. The Caliph Elmo‘taddid and his companion Ibn Hamdoon went out one day, disguised as merchants, to divert themselves among the people; and being overpowered by the heat of the sun they sat down to rest at the door of a large mansion. Out of this house there came a servant, accompanied by another, like a piece of the moon; and the one said to the other, Our master will be sad to-day, for it is already this time of day and no one has come to him, and he loves to have guests. The Caliph was surprised at his words and said, This is proof of the generosity of the owner of this mansion, we must go in, &c.

The stranger did not lodge in the street: but I opened my doors to the traveller.
32. to the traveller] The word might mean to the way, the street; the general sense is the same. The verse confirms Job’s universal hospitality and liberality.

If I covered my transgressions as Adam, by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom:
33–34. The verses should probably be read,

33.  If I have covered my transgressions like men,

Hiding mine iniquity in my bosom,

34.  Because I feared the great multitude,

And the contempt of the families terrified me,

So that I kept still and went not out of the door.

33. as Adam] This is possible, and so Hosea 6:7; such a reference, however, seems without motive here. The words rather mean, like common men, like the world (Ew.), Psalm 17:4.

Did I fear a great multitude, or did the contempt of families terrify me, that I kept silence, and went not out of the door?
34. a great multitude] i. e. the general mass, or the assembly, of the people.

contempt of families] i. e. the great clans or tribes. The verse gives the reason why Job, if he had been conscious of sins, would have refrained from going forth at the door, fear of the contempt of men would have deterred him. The passage ch. Job 29:7 seq. shews that he was deterred by no such fear, he constantly frequented the assembly and “sat as king” in the midst of the people.

What Job affirms in these verses is not of course that, when he was guilty of any transgressions, he did not conceal but openly acknowledged them. On the contrary he affirms that he had no sins which he needed to conceal. He lived in the broad day and without fear confronted all (ch. Job 29:7 seq.) because he had nothing to hide. Job repudiates all hypocritical conduct or secret transgression. This was the charge his friends made against him. And this consciousness of purity of heart, struggling with false accusations of hypocrisy, forces from him a new appeal to God to make known to him the sins laid to his charge, Job 31:35-37. The verses are closely connected with Job 31:33-34.

35.  Oh that I had one who would hear me!—

Behold my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!—

And that I had the charge which mine adversary had written!

36.  Surely I would carry it upon my shoulder,

I would bind it as a crown unto me;

37.  I would declare unto him the number of my steps,

As a prince would I go near unto him.

Oh that one would hear me! behold, my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine adversary had written a book.
35. The words “one that would hear me,” though spoken generally, refer of course to God. It is He that Job desires to hear him. In the third clause he names Him his adversary, i. e. opponent in the plea concerning his innocence. And he desires that he had the charge, Heb. book, i. e. the libellus, libel or indictment, which his accuser had written and handed in against him. The middle clause consists of two exclamations which force themselves in between the two parts of the wish which he expresses. By the first, behold my signature, Job means to say that he affixes his signature to all the protestations of his innocence just made in the preceding verses of the chapter, and attests them as his plea on his side. By the other, let the Almighty answer me, he challenges God, his accuser, to put in His plea in answer to his own. The language is evidently taken from the judicial practice of the time, according to which both charge and defence were laid before the court in writing. This is known to have been the practice in Egypt, though perhaps in many parts of the East the proceedings may have been oral. The word signature or sign (Ezekiel 9:4) is tav in Heb. This is the name of the letter T, the old form of which was a cross, but the inference that Job’s signature, or that signatures in his time, had the form of a cross is scarcely warranted.

Surely I would take it upon my shoulder, and bind it as a crown to me.
36. upon my shoulder] If Job but possessed the Almighty’s indictment against him he would not hide it as a thing that caused him shame, he would bear it in triumph before the world as that which was his greatest honour. He would even wear it as a diadem upon his brows, as that which would give him kingly dignity and adornment. The language expresses the strongest assurance of innocence and that the indictment could in truth contain nothing against him.

I would declare unto him the number of my steps; as a prince would I go near unto him.
37. the number of my steps] i. e. every act of my life.

as a prince] In the consciousness and pride of true nobility; with the confident step and erect bearing of one who knows that nothing dishonouring can be laid to his charge.

If my land cry against me, or that the furrows likewise thereof complain;
38. The literal meaning of the figurative expressions in this verse is given in Job 31:39. The land, unjustly seized, is supposed to cry out to heaven against the cruelty and wrong done its true owner from whom it had been robbed (“without money,” Job 31:39). The land and its rightful owner have a common cause, it feels and weeps over the injury he has suffered.

38–40. Job resumes his protestations, imprecating a curse upon his lands if he have acquired them unjustly, and wishing that they may bring forth weeds instead of grain.

38.  If my land cry out against me,

And the furrows thereof weep together;

39.  If I have eaten the fruits thereof without money,

And caused the soul of its owners to expire:

40.  Let thistles, &c.

If I have eaten the fruits thereof without money, or have caused the owners thereof to lose their life:
39. to lose their life] lit. if I have caused the soul of the owners thereof to breathe out. The reference may be either to oppressions which brought the owners to death, after which their land was seized without money, or to oppressive appropriation of the land so that the rightful owner was brought to death through penury and misery.

Let thistles grow instead of wheat, and cockle instead of barley. The words of Job are ended.
40. For “thistles” perhaps thorns is more accurate. The word translated “cockle” means perhaps any noisome weed. The concrete expressions, however, add to the vigour of the passage.

Some have thought that these last verses (38–40) have been misplaced, and ought to be introduced at some other point in the chapter, allowing Job’s challenge Job 31:35-37 to be the last words which he utters. To modern feeling the passage would thus gain in rhetorical effect; but it is not certain that the Author’s taste would have coincided with modern feeling in this instance. And it is difficult to find in the chapter a suitable place where the verses could be inserted. If the verses belong to the passage at all, which there is no reason to doubt, they seem to stand in the only place suitable for them.

The concluding statement “the words of Job are ended” hardly belongs to the Author of the Book. It is the remark of some editor or copyist, who drew attention to the fact that Job’s connected discourses here come to an end. It is rather hazardous to draw any critical conclusion from it in reference to the immediately following speeches of Elihu.

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