Job 31 – Job Proclaims His Purity and Innocence
“This whole chapter is occupied with Job’s solemn oath of innocence. It was his final and explicit answer to the line of argument adopted by his three friends.” (G. Campbell Morgan)
A. Job proclaims his innocence
1. (1-4) He was not guilty of lust.
“I have made a covenant with my eyes;
Why then should I look upon a young woman?
For what is the allotment of God from above,
And the inheritance of the Almighty from on high?
Is it not destruction for the wicked,
And disaster for the workers of iniquity?
Does He not see my ways,
And count all my steps?”
a. I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman: In this section, Job protested that he was a godly and blameless man, at least on a human scale. His larger context was to explain the sense of injustice he felt at his suffering and humiliation, and to make a final defense before his friends who accused him of special sin deserving of special judgment.
i. This chapter has an interesting similarity to ancient “defense documents.” “The material is similar in form, if not in content, to the negative confession given by the deceased who stands before Osiris in the Egyptian Book of the Dead… Under oath the subject lists the evil things he has not done with the hope he will be vindicated and pass through the portals unscathed.” (Smick)
ii. “It is an oath of clearance in the form of a negative confession. The procedure was well known in ancient jurisprudence. A crime could be disowned by calling down a curse on oneself if one had committed it.” (Andersen)
iii. Yet it also has a clear connection to the Sermon on the Mount. “Chapter 31 is Job’s Sermon on the Mount, for in it he touches on many of the same issues of spiritual ethics that Jesus covers in Matthew 5-7, including the relationship between lust and adultery (Job 31:1, 9-12), loving one’s neighbor as oneself (Job 31:13-15), almsgiving and social justice (Job 31:16-23), and the love of money and other idolatries (Job 31:24-28).” (Mason)
iv. We are clearly told in Job 1 that Job was a blameless and upright man; this is the chapter that most clearly explains what that godly life looked like. “The chapter that we now open breathes, almost or quite throughout, a spirit that belongs rather to the New than to the Old Covenant. It is a practical anticipation of much of the teaching that was to come from Him Who ‘sat down and taught’ His disciples on the mountain. It is the picture of one perfect and upright, who feared God, and eschewed evil.” (Bradley)
b. I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman: In defending his righteous life, Job began with explaining that he was a morally pure man who did not look upon a young woman in impure and inappropriate ways.
i. It is significant that in this long section where Job explained his righteous life, he began with noting that he guarded his eyes from lustful looks upon a young woman. This rightly suggests that a man’s ability to not look upon lustful images is an important indicator of his general righteousness and blamelessness.
ii. This also suggests that the eyes are a gateway for lust, especially for men. This is demonstrated over and over again by both personal experience and empirical study. When a man places enticing, sensual, lust-inducing images before his eyes, it is a form of foreplay, especially considering that it often or frequently causes some level of sexual arousal in the man.
iii. “In Hebrew the same word signifieth both an eye and a fountain; to show, saith one, that from the eye, as a fountain, floweth both sin and misery.” (Trapp)
iv. “Lustfully consider her beauty, till my heart be hot as an oven with lawless lusts, and my body be moiled with that abominable filth… Look upon the woeful chain of David’s lust, and remember how many died of the wound in the eye.” (Trapp)
c. A covenant with my eyes: Job’s ability to control himself was connected with a covenant he made. He made a vow, a promise, a commitment with his own eyes that he would not look upon a young woman in a sinful way.
i. Bullinger says that the Hebrew does not literally say that Job made a covenant with his eyes. “Not ‘made with’… The covenant here was made with God, against his eyes, which are regarded as an enemy likely to lead him astray.”
ii. “When Job says that he has made a covenant with his eyes to abstain from lust, he does not mean that he has stopped experiencing lust altogether. What he means is that he refuses to dwell upon the lustful feelings which, as the normal red-blooded male he is, come to him very naturally.” (Mason)
iii. Job insisted that he would not look upon a young woman – a maiden in this way. This was especially meaningful, because in that culture it would be somewhat accepted for a rich and powerful man like Job to seduce or ravish a maiden, and then add her as either a wife or a concubine. Job restrained himself from women that others in his same circumstances would not restrain themselves from.
iv. “He restrained himself from the very thoughts and desires of filthiness with such persons, wherewith the generality of men allowed themselves to commit gross fornication, as deeming it to be either none, or but a very little sin.” (Poole)
d. For what is the allotment of God from above: In the context of Job’s self-control when it came to lust, he considered what the allotment of God from above was. He understood that the young woman he would be enticed to look upon was not the allotment of God for him; she and her nakedness did not belong to Job in any sense.
i. Leviticus 18:1-18 reinforces this Biblical principle. It relates how the nakedness of an individual “belongs” to that individual and to their spouse, and it does not “belong” to anyone else. Therefore, when a man looks upon the nakedness of a woman who is not his wife, he takes something that does not belong to him.
ii. There certainly existed some type of pornography in Job’s day; some of the earliest artistic images are of women and men in highly sexualized motifs. Nevertheless, Job certainly did not have to contend with the sophisticated, gigantic, and far-reaching modern pornography industry. The availability of modern pornography has made it a significantly greater challenge for men to confine their visual arousal to the allotment of God from above for them.
iii. In this context, it is helpful for a man to ask himself: “Whose nakedness belongs to me, and whose does not?” Only a proud and depraved man would think that every woman’s nakedness belongs to him. A moment of thought reinforces the clear principle: only the nakedness of his own wife is the allotment of God from above for a man; only his own wife is the inheritance of the Almighty from on high for his visual arousal.
iv. “Hereby we plainly see that the command of Christ, Matthew 5:29, was no new command peculiar to the gospel, as some would have it, but the very same which the law of God revealed in his word, and written in men’s hearts by nature.” (Poole)
e. Is it not destruction for the wicked, and disaster for the workers of iniquity: In the context of Job’s self-control when it came to lust, he also considered the destructive nature of allowing one’s self to be aroused by alluring images. He perhaps considered the lives of others that had been destroyed by lust and sexual sin that began with visual arousal.
i. “For in those days, he knew well, he tells us, that God had assigned his heaviest judgments as the sure inheritance of those who infringed that noble law of purity which lifts man above the brute.” (Bradley)
ii. The potential for destruction is all the more real in the modern world, because the challenges to Biblical purity are all the more formidable. Using very rough estimates, we can, compare the world of a man in the year a.d. 1500 to the world a.d. 2000:
· In 1500 the average age of a man’s economic independence was 16; today it is 26.
· In 1500 the average age of marriage for a man was 18; today it is 28 (or more).
· In 1500 the average age of male puberty was 20; today it is 12.
iii. “The ruin of impure souls is infallible, unsupportable, unavoidable; if God hath aversion from all other sinners, he hath hatred and horror for the unchaste; such stinking goats shall be set on the left hand, and sent to hell; where they shall have so much the more of punishment as they had here of sensual and sinful pleasure, as sour sauce to their sweet meats.” (Trapp)
iv. This means that there are many biological, cultural, economic, social, and technological factors that make it much more difficult for a man today to make a covenant with his eyes to not look upon a young woman in the sense meant here by Job. It is much more difficult for a man to choose satisfaction with the allotment of God from above and to avoid the destruction and disaster Job spoke of. Nevertheless, by the power of God’s Spirit it can be done, and obedience to God in this arena is a precious, wonderful sacrifice made unto Him; a genuine way to present our bodies as a living sacrifice unto Him, not being conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2).
f. Does He not see all my ways, and count all my steps: In the context of Job’s self-control when it came to lust, it was helpful for him to consider that God’s eye was upon him all the time. Most men indulge in ungodly visual arousal with the (at least temporary) delusion that their conduct is unseen by God. It helped Job to know that God did see all his ways.
2. (5-8) He was not guilty of falsehood.
“If I have walked with falsehood,
Or if my foot has hastened to deceit,
Let me be weighed on honest scales,
That God may know my integrity.
If my step has turned from the way,
Or my heart walked after my eyes,
Or if any spot adheres to my hands,
Then let me sow, and another eat;
Yes, let my harvest be rooted out.”
a. If I have walked with falsehood: Job also proclaimed his blameless life because he lived an essentially truthful life. He was not afraid to beweighed on honest scales, and have his life examined in an honest way.
i. “The self-curse of crop failure (Job 31:8) suggests that verse 5 refers to shady business practices.” (Andersen)
b. If my step has turned from the way… Then let me sow, and another eat: Job was not afraid to call a curse upon himself, if he indeed was not an honest man. He was willing to be deprived of the fruit of his own labor if it was true that he was found lacking on the honest scales of God’s judgment.
i. The confidence Job had in calling curses upon himself if he were not truthful is impressive. It is as if he said to his friends, “Do you think that I am trying to make out before God that I am what I have not been? Would I talk to God with what would be blatant insolence if I had not the facts to back me up?” (Chambers)
3. (9-12) He was not an adulterer.
“If my heart has been enticed by a woman,
Or if I have lurked at my neighbor’s door,
Then let my wife grind for another,
And let others bow down over her.
For that would be wickedness;
Yes, it would be iniquity deserving of judgment.
For that would be a fire that consumes to destruction,
And would root out all my increase.”
a. If my heart has been enticed by a woman: The next area of integrity Job proclaimed had to do with faithfulness to his wife within the marriage. He understood that this had more than a sexual aspect (perhaps first mentioned in Job 31:1-4), but also included the heart being enticed.
i. Job touched upon a significant truth; that it is entirely possible to allow one’s heart to be enticed by another. These things happen because of choices one makes, not merely because one has been acted upon by the mystical or magical power of romantic love.
ii. Instead, Job insisted that for him to have his heart enticed by another would be wickedness, and indeed it would be iniquity deserving of judgment. He understood that he had control over whom he would allow his heart to be enticed by.
iii. “The phrase is very emphatical, taking from himself and others the vain excuses wherewith men use to palliate their sins, by pretending that they did not design the wickedness, but were merely drawn in and seduced by the strong enticements and provocations of others; all which Job supposeth, and yet nevertheless owns the great guilt of such practices even in that case, as well knowing that temptation to sin is no justification of it.” (Poole)
b. Then let my wife grind for another: Job insisted that if he had been unfaithful in heart or in action towards his wife, then he would deserve to have his wife taken from him and given to another.
i. “Let her be his slave… or rather, let her be his whore; and may my sin, which hath served her for example, serve her also for excuse.” (Trapp)
ii. “Let others bow down upon her; another modest expression of a filthy action; whereby the Holy Ghost gives us a pattern and a precept to avoid not only unclean actions, but also all immodest expressions.” (Poole)
iii. “Job is so conscious of his own innocence, that he is willing it should be put to the utmost proof; and if found guilty, that he may be exposed to the most distressing and humiliating punishment, even to that of being deprived of his goods, bereaved of his children, his wife made a slave, and subjected to all indignities in that state.” (Clarke)
c. For that would be a fire that consumes to destruction: Job also understood that allowing his heart to be enticed by a woman other than his wife would bring a destructive, burned-over result.
i. And root out all my increase: Many men who feel themselves under oppressive alimony or child support payments because they allowed their hearts to be enticed by another woman have lived this statement by Job and have seen all their increase rooted out.
ii. In this we can see that Job was tempted to adultery but resisted the temptation. “The devil’s fire fell upon wet tinder; and if he knocked at Job’s door, there was nobody at home to look out at the window and let him in; for he considered the punishment both human, Job 31:11, and divine, Job 31:12, due to this great wickedness.” (Trapp)
4. (13-15) He did not treat his servants cruelly.
“If I have despised the cause of my male or female servant
When they complained against me,
What then shall I do when God rises up?
When He punishes, how shall I answer Him?
Did not He who made me in the womb make them?
Did not the same One fashion us in the womb?”
a. If I have despised the cause of my male or female servant: Job continued the presentation of his own righteousness by noting the good and compassionate treatment of his servants. The goodness of a man or a woman is often best indicated by how they treat those thought to be inferior to them, not how they treat their peers or those thought to be superior to them.
b. What then shall I do when God rises up? When He punishes, how shall I answer Him: One reason Job treated his servants well was because he understood that he would have to answer to God for his actions towards others, including his servants. He understood that God cared about his servants and would avenge ill-treatment of them.
i. “This section embodies a human ethic unmatched in the ancient world.” (Andersen)
ii. Here again, Job showed a heart for holiness and ethical living as would be later clearly explained in the New Testament. Paul gave much the same idea in Ephesians 6:9, where he told masters to treat their servants well: And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
c. Did not He who made me in the womb make them: Another reason Job treated his servants well was because he recognized their essential humanity. This was both remarkable and admirable in a time when it was almost universally understood that servants and slaves were subhuman next to those whom they served.
i. “Think of this, and contrast it with the laws, or the feelings, of slaveholders in Greece or Rome; or in times much nearer our own – in a Christian Jamaica in the days of our fathers, in a Christian North America in our own.” (Bradley, writing in 1886)
5. (16-23) He did not victimize the poor or the weak.
“If I have kept the poor from their desire,
Or caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
Or eaten my morsel by myself,
So that the fatherless could not eat of it
(But from my youth I reared him as a father,
And from my mother’s womb I guided the widow);
If I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
Or any poor man without covering;
If his heart has not blessed me,
And if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep;
If I have raised my hand against the fatherless,
When I saw I had help in the gate;
Then let my arm fall from my shoulder,
Let my arm be torn from the socket.
For destruction from God is a terror to me,
And because of His magnificence I cannot endure.”
a. If I have kept the poor from their desire, or caused the eyes of the widow to fail: As a further testimony to his righteousness, Job insisted that he had been good and kind to the poor and to the helpless (such as the widow and the fatherless).
b. If I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing… Then let my arm fall from my shoulder: In the same manner as before, Job called for a curse upon himself it if was true that he had not cared for the poor and helpless as he claimed he had. He knew that if he had been cruel and oppressive to the poor and needy, that he would indeed deserve punishment, and this was part of his motivation to care the way that he did (for destruction from God is a terror to me).
i. “Most of the good deeds that Job presents as evidence of his righteousness are simple, ordinary things… More than any one of these acts alone, it is the accumulation of them that is impressive.” (Mason)
6. (24-28) He was not greedy or a seeker of false gods.
“If I have made gold my hope,
Or said to fine gold, ‘You are my confidence’;
If I have rejoiced because my wealth was great,
And because my hand had gained much;
If I have observed the sun when it shines,
Or the moon moving in brightness,
So that my heart has been secretly enticed,
And my mouth has kissed my hand;
This also would be an iniquity deserving of judgment,
For I would have denied God who is above.”
a. If I have made gold my hope: Job knew that wealthy men often found it easy to trust in riches. Therefore, he again insisted that he had not made riches his hope or his confidence, and also had not rejoiced because his wealth was great.
b. If I have observed the sun when it shines: Job meant that he had not engaged in the common practice of sun worship. His heart was not secretly enticed to idolatry, which was apparently sometimes worshipped with the kissing of the hand.
i. If I have observed the sun: “Not simply, nor only with admiration; (for it is a glorious work of God, which we ought to contemplate and admire;) but for the end here following, or so as to ascribe to it the honour peculiar to God.” (Poole)
ii. “And when the idols were out of the reach of idolaters, that they could not kiss them, they used to kiss their hands, and, as it were, to throw kisses at them; of which we have many examples in heathen writers.” (Poole)
c. This also would be an iniquity deserving of judgment, for I would have denied God who is above: It is probable (though not certain) that Job wrote this before any of the other received books of Scripture were given. Therefore, he knew that idolatry was wrong by both natural revelation and by conscience. He knew that since there was a true, living God enthroned in the heavens, it was an iniquity deserving of judgment to deny the God who is above and to worship any other.
7. (29-34) He was generally without blame.
“If I have rejoiced at the destruction of him who hated me,
Or lifted myself up when evil found him
(Indeed I have not allowed my mouth to sin
By asking for a curse on his soul);
If the men of my tent have not said,
‘Who is there that has not been satisfied with his meat?’
(But no sojourner had to lodge in the street,
For I have opened my doors to the traveler);
If I have covered my transgressions as Adam,
By hiding my iniquity in my bosom,
Because I feared the great multitude,
And dreaded the contempt of families,
So that I kept silence
And did not go out of the door;
a. If I have rejoiced at the destruction of him who hated me: As further testimony to his personal righteousness, Job claimed that he had not been happy when his enemies had suffered and been destroyed. This is certainly one mark of a man after God’s heart, who also takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11)
b. By asking for a curse on his soul: Job did not even curse his enemies. He kept himself from this most natural reaction.
c. No sojourner had to lodge in the street: Job was also a diligent man when it came to hospitality. He would not allow a visitor to sleep on the street and instead he opened his doors to the traveler.
d. If I have covered my transgressions as Adam, by hiding iniquity in my bosom: The basic and consistent argument of Job’s friends against him was that though he appeared to be righteous, he really must be covering some serious sin that made sense of the calamity that came against him. Therefore, Job insisted that he was not covering his sins as Adam, who blamed Eve and vainly tried to cover his sin.
i. “Job has never dissembled, attempting to conceal his sin ‘like Adam.’” (Andersen)
e. Because I feared the great multitude: Here, Job answered the accusation that he was motivated to hide his sin because of the fear of how it would appear before the public. Job’s friends had probably known many seemingly righteous people who had hidden their sins and were destroyed when they were eventually exposed, and they assumed Job was like them. Job here rightly protested that he was not like such men who hide their sin out of fear of public humiliation and contempt.
B. Job concludes his plea.
1. (35-37) Job demands an audience with God.
Oh, that I had one to hear me!
Here is my mark.
Oh, that the Almighty would answer me,
That my Prosecutor had written a book!
Surely I would carry it on my shoulder,
And bind it on me like a crown;
I would declare to Him the number of my steps;
Like a prince I would approach Him.”
a. Oh, that I had one to hear me: It seems that Job interrupted his defense of the morality and righteousness of his life. He probably had much more he could say to defend himself, but broke off that line of reasoning and made a final, dramatic appeal to be heard before the throne of God.
i. “Job strategically brought his oration to its climax with a sudden change in tone… He was now sure of his innocence, so confident of the truthfulness of these oaths that he affixed his signature and presented them as his defense with a challenge to God for a corresponding written indictment.” (Smick)
ii. The finality of his words are demonstrated by the phrase, “Here is my mark.” “Job’s statement means literally, ‘Here is my taw.’ Some versions translate this, ‘Here is my signature,’ since taw, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, could be used like our letter ‘X’ to denote a person’s ‘mark’ or ‘signature.’ Yet even more interesting is the fact that in the ancient Hebrew script used by the author of Job, this letter taw was a cross-shaped mark. In a sense, therefore, what Job was saying is, ‘Here is my cross.’” (Mason)
b. Oh, that the Almighty would answer me: Job was absolutely convinced that what he needed was vindication (or at least an answer) from God. His friends thoroughly analyzed his situation and came to completely wrong conclusions. Job couldn’t make sense of it himself. Here, he called God out to answer for what He had done.
i. This is the demand that Job would later repent of in Job 42:5-6. Job would come to find that he had no right to demand an answer from God, and indeed had to be content when God seemed to refuse an answer.
c. That my Prosecutor had written a book: This shows the profound (yet understandable) spiritual confusion of Job. He felt that God was his accuser (my Prosecutor), when really it was Satan. We sympathize with Job, knowing that he could not see behind that mysterious curtain that separated earth from heaven; yet we learn from what Job should have known.
i. “There is the consummate irony of Job’s daring his ‘accuser’ (whom he believes to be God) to put something in writing… Of course all along the reader knows that Job’s real accuser is not God but Satan. But Job does not know this.” (Mason)
d. Surely I would carry it on my shoulder: Here Job, stepping over bound he would later repent of, longed to have the accusation of God against him written out so he could refute it as he had so effectively refuted his friends. He was so confident in what he knew of himself that he said he would approach God like a prince.
i. Job was indeed confident in what he did know; that he was a blameless and upright man who did not bring the catastrophe upon himself by his own special sin. What he was much too confident about were the things he could not see; the things that happened in the spiritual realm, known to the reader of Job 1-2, but unknown to Job in the story. Somewhat like his friends, Job thought he had it all figured out, but he didn’t.
ii. “Upon my shoulder; as a trophy or badge of honour. I should not fear nor smother it, but glory in it, and make open show of it, as that which gave me the happy and long-desired occasion of vindicating myself.” (Poole)
iii. I would declare to Him the number of my steps: “Far from being abashed, Job is belligerent to the last, eager to have his case settled, confident of the outcome. He is capable of giving a full account of all his steps.” (Andersen)
2. (38-40) The conclusion of Job’s words.
“If my land cries out against me,
And its furrows weep together;
If I have eaten its fruit without money,
Or caused its owners to lose their lives;
Then let thistles grow instead of wheat,
And weeds instead of barley.”
The words of Job are ended.
a. If my land cries out against me: In this chapter Job testified to his own integrity in the most solemn of terms, calling repeated curses upon himself if his friends could indeed demonstrate that he was a conspicuous sinner worthy of conspicuous judgment or discipline from God. Now, he called one more witness on his behalf: his own land and property.
i. This was not unusual in the ancient thinking. “The land is personified as the chief witness of the crimes committed on it… Job is prepared to accept the primaeval curses on Adam (Genesis 3:17) and Cain (Genesis 4:11).” (Andersen)
b. The words of Job are ended: It isn’t that there are no more words from Job in this Book of Job; he will speak again briefly in later chapters. Yet Job is definitely done arguing his case. He is finished; one more man will try in vain to fix the problem; and then God will appear. We might rightly say that God – silent to this point – could not (or would not) appear and speak until all the arguments of man were exhausted.
i. “This is not a mere epigraph of a writer, or editor. They are the concluding words which Job uttered: by which he informed his friends that he did not intend to carry the controversy any further; but that he had now said all he meant to say. So far as he was concerned, the controversy was ended.” (Bullinger)
ii. “At this point, then, we have reached the end of Job’s expressions of pain. The end is silence. That is God’s opportunity for speech. He often waits until we have said everything: and then, in the silence prepared for such speech, He answers.” (Morgan)
©2019 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission