New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Job 31:1 I made a covenant with my eyes, how then should I look lustfully at a young woman?- This chapter is Job's clearing of himself, and has similarities to Babylonian legal documents. An accused person could begin his court case by such a statement of detailed denial. The accusers could respond with silence, in which case they dropped their case; or continue. The friends are reduced to silence after this great clearing of himself. Job's righteousness in a legal sense was unassailable. We may consider that their silence after this speech means that Job has 'won'. After his great clearing speech, the audience is expecting his justification. But then we have the interlude with Elihu, and then God appears Himself- and condemns yet saves Job, justifying him by condemning him, in the spirit of Paul's legal arguments in Rom. 1-8. See on :2.

Job 31:2 For what is the portion from God above, and the heritage from the Almighty on high?-
Job considers it unthinkable that he would have looked lustfully on a woman, because there was such an obvious judgment for adultery. He was well ahead of his time in considering that looking lustfully is the same as adultery- especially considering he was living at a time when "sin" was not a concept dwelt upon in religious circles, and the idea that we can sin in our minds was a new idea.

Job 31:3 Is it not calamity to the unrighteous, and disaster to the workers of iniquity?-
As noted on :2, Job sees thoughts as 'working' iniquity, a conception well ahead of his time, and reflective of his deep spirituality; see on Mt. 5:27-30. Here Job uses the same Hebrew phrase used regarding the punishment of Cain's iniquity in Gen. 4:13, thus saying that it was the wicked of the world, not him, who were the real counterparts of Cain; and he was only suffering as Cain, when he was as righteous Abel. See on 31:39.


Job 31:4 Doesn’t He see my ways, and number all my steps?-
Job knew that it was impossible that, e.g.,  he would lust after a woman, if he really believed (as he claimed he did) that God was omniscient. "Why then should I think upon a maid [as the friends implied he had done]?... doth not he [God] see my ways, and count all my steps?" (Job 31:4 AV). Likewise God had to remind Israel: “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? Saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (Jer. 23:24). The context is appealing to the people to quit their sins.  We should labour to enter the Kingdom, because God knows absolutely every thought and action of ours and will ultimately judge them (Heb. 4:11-13). The Sermon on the Mount is really based around translating the knowledge that God sees and knows all things into practice.

Job 31:5 If I have walked with falsehood, and my foot has hurried to deceit-
"Falsehood" is likely a reference to idol worship.

Job 31:6 (let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know my integrity)-
The same word is used in the prologue of how God already considers Job to be of "integrity" (Job 2:3,9). Job has forgotten, as we can forget, that He counts us as if we are righteous- by grace. Instead Job seeks to establish that 'righteous' status, his own integrity, by his own good deeds and avoidance of sin, seeking now to legally establish it- rather than accepting that God simply loved him and would count him of integrity by grace.

Job 31:7 if my step has turned out of the way, if my heart walked after my eyes-
Again, as noted on :3, Job perceives ahead of his time that the essence of sin is in the heart.

If any defilement has stuck to my hands- Job has been made ritually defiled by his illness, and being forced to live with unclean animals (Job 30:29). All this was to try to make him realize that all his protestations of legal purity, of not being defiled because he had avoided sin and done good deeds, could not make him undefiled. And this was to come to full term in God's appearance at the end.

Job 31:8 then let me sow, and let another eat. Yes, let the produce of my field be rooted out-
This was the judgment to come upon Israel for disobedience. The reality was that Job was living in deserted houses and had lost his property. So he is saying 'This should only have happened to me if I were a sinner'. He had lost his realization that his sufferings were not related to himself; they were his bearing of the judgments of others, the just for the unjust.

The Lord likened His preachers to men reaping a harvest. He speaks of how they fulfilled the proverb that one sows and another reaps (Jn. 4:37,38). Yet this ‘proverb’ has no direct Biblical source. What we do find in the Old Testament is the repeated idea that if someone sows but another reaps, this is a sign that they are suffering God’s judgment for their sins (Dt. 20:6; 28:30; Job 31:8; Mic. 6:15). But the Lord turns around the ‘proverb’ concerning Israel’s condemnation; He makes it apply to the way that the preacher / reaper who doesn’t sow is the one who harvests others in converting them to Him. Surely His implication was that His preacher-reapers were those who had known condemnation for their sins, but on that basis were His humbled harvesters in the mission field.

Job 31:9 If my heart has been enticed by a woman, and I have laid wait at my neighbour’s door-
Again Job reflects some spiritual insight in recognizing the process of temptation as beginning in the human heart (James 1:13-15). We noted this on :3 also.    

Job 31:10 then let my wife grind for another, and let others sleep with her-
This could imply that despite Job's wife not spiritually supporting him in the prologue, they remained married.

Job 31:11 For that would be a heinous crime. Yes, it would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges-
"Heinous crime" is "lewdness", the word used of the moral apostasy of God's people and their unfaithfulness to Him (s.w. Jer. 13:27; Ez. 16:27,43,58; 23:27 etc.). Job was refusing to hold to his sense that his sufferings were a bearing of the condemnation of others; he is now crying out against this, and requires the rebukes he is soon to be given by God. This too is where we go wrong; in focusing upon the injustice of situations to the point that we forget that we are called to use our experiences to minister to others.

Job 31:12 for it is a fire that consumes to destruction, and would root out all my increase-
All Job's increase had been rooted out; his argument is that this ought to only have happened if he had committed adultery, which he says he had not done so, not even in his heart. He had lost his realization that his sufferings were not related to himself; they were his bearing of the judgments of others, the just for the unjust.

Job 31:13 If I have despised the cause of my male servant or of my female servant, when they contended with me-
Job is coming out with the reasoning of Bildad, that God will not despise a perfect man (Job 8:20 s.w.). And now he is getting angry that he is being despised when he has not despised others. He is logically building up a strong case for his self-justification. But he is omitting to factor in God's wider plan of wisdom. In spiritual terms, this final speech of Job appears to be Job at his lowest. And he lacks the humility to accept that although he had apparently not despised his servants, he had despised others (Job 30:1).

Job 31:14 what then shall I do when God rises up? When He visits, what shall I answer Him?-
Job's point was that as he had not despised the cause of his servants (:13), therefore he did not have anything to fear before God's judgment. God's final appearance was proof enough that he of himself had no right to answer back to God. "What shall I answer You?" (Job 40:4) was his final word. But here, Job insists he could only be speechless before God if he had committed sins like adultery- which he was insistent he hadn't. Job is led to realize that he has sinned and fallen short of God's glory, although he had avoided the sins like adultery which counted as major sins in the view of his society.

Job 31:15 Didn’t He who made me in the womb make him? Didn’t One fashion us in the womb?-
Job had just argued that some men he despised as almost less than human (Job 30:1); now he argues that all human beings are formed by God in the womb and therefore no human should ever be despised. This could be just put down to the oscillations of a depressed person; or it appears Job is not being completely honest, using spiritual truths to justify himself as needed rather than accepting their true implication.

Job 31:16 If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail-
This is Job's direct answer to the false accusation of Job 22:7 (s.w.). Again we note how Job actually engages with the words of the friends, whereas they respond to him in terms of vague generalities and knocking down a straw man image of him they had created in their own minds. The whole drama is an example of how dialogue breaks down.


Job 31:17 or have eaten my morsel alone, and the fatherless has not eaten of it-
Bildad assumes Job must have done the very opposite, to deserve his sufferings (Job 20:19). Job engages with what Bildad says and denies it (Job 29:12; 31:17). Again we note that Job engages with the actual words of the friends, whereas they tend to attack him in terms of the straw man image of him they had built up in their minds, ignoring him as a person and the actual words he says. This is typical of how dialogue goes wrong.

Job 31:18 (no, from my youth he grew up with me as with a father, her have I guided from my mother’s womb)-
In summary, as GNB "All my life I have taken care of them". Job is at pains to now claim that he had not sinned even in his youth, even from a baby he claims to have cared for the poor. This is a protestation of innocence too far. He has moved away from his earlier acceptance of sin to now claim he had not sinned even from the womb. No wonder he needed the rebuke which is soon to come from him. The audience is intended to wince at this point, and to expect a rebuke and conviction of sin- which indeed comes.

Job 31:19 if I have seen any perish for want of clothing, or that the needy had no covering-
Job has a strong awareness of his pas good works; the blessing of people ready to perish came upon him, for he recalled how he had saved them (s.w. Job 29:13). Job now was ready to perish (s.w. Job 4:7; 14:19; 18:17; 20:7). He feels that he ought to be saved from perishing because he had saved others from perishing. In this final speech, Job becomes very works based. He becomes the epitome of justification by works; and God's display of His works in creation and salvation was going to convict him that his works were irrelevant, and salvation was by grace alone.

Job 31:20 if his heart hasn’t blessed me, if he hasn’t been warmed with my sheep’s fleece-
Job in a legalistic way (see on :19) seems to consider that the blessings given him by those whom he had helped (Job 29:13) ought to have actual meaning; instead of his perishing in shame and lack of clothing. Again, he is arguing for justification by works and human blessing. He was to be taught that Divine blessing is the only blessing which can save.

Job 31:21 if I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless, because I saw my help in the gate-
The idea is as LXX "if I lifted my hand against an orphan, trusting that my strength was far superior to his" and GNB "If I have ever cheated an orphan, knowing I could win in court". Job was confident that he had not misused legal process, and so he longs for some kind of court case with God whereby he can be justified. He was to learn that his apparent justice was as nothing compared to Divine justice.

Job 31:22 then let my shoulder fall from the shoulder blade, and my arm be broken from the bone-
The arm may represent his power. But his power, his arm, had been broken. So he is arguing that what has happened to him should only have happened if he had done the things he was accused of. And seeing he hadn't, this breaking of his life shouldn't have happened. He totally forgot the parameters set in the prologue; that his suffering was not punishment for sin. And he has moved away from his earlier perception that he was in some sense suffering for the sake of others' salvation, even if he only dimly perceived that.

Job 31:23 For calamity from God is a terror to me. Because of His majesty, I can do nothing-
The idea is as GNB "Because I fear God's punishment, I could never do such a thing". And here we have a window into Job's motivation; he feared condemnation and therefore he was careful to be strictly legally obedient. It was this mindset which was to be dismantled by God's final appearance. See on :28.

Job 31:24 If I have made gold my hope, and have said to the fine gold, ‘You are my confidence’-
Job 31:24,25,28 speak in dire and chilling terms of trusting in wealth- and note that these words come from a rich believer who lost it all: “had I put my trust in gold, or called fine gold my security [cp. assurance and insurance policies, bank balances, portfolios of investments… banknotes stored under the carpet, jewelry hidden in a corner of some peasant home]… this would be a crime for condemnation; for I should have denied God above”. It’s noteworthy that Job claims that despite having been one of the wealthiest men in the Middle East, he never put his trust in it. But that shouldn’t lead us to think that we can so easily handle the possession of wealth. For to possess wealth leads most people to trust in it. And if we do this… this is a crime calling for our condemnation, it’s a denial of God, an effective atheism. Attitudes to wealth are that important.

Job 31:25 if I have rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because my hand had gotten much-
Again we see Job moving outside of the parameters provided in the prologue. There it was made clear that his wealth was given by God's hand; but now he claims it was from his own hand. This is the problem with suffering and false accusation; it can make us terribly self congratulatory, listing our own good deeds, rather than serving to humble us and recognize our humanity. Job previously has had points where he does indeed appear to be responding rightly; but finally now he reveals his essential self justification. No longer does he groan about his physical sufferings; instead he is pouring out self justification.

Job 31:26 if I have seen the sun when it shined, or the moon moving in splendour-
The reference is to worshipping the sun and moon. This was common enough at the time, and was called Sabaism (from tsaba, "the heavenly hosts"). It could be argued that the term "Lord of Sabaoth" ["Yahweh of hosts"] was a deconstruction of this common view, presenting Yahweh as the God of the heavenly hosts.


Job 31:27 and my heart has been secretly enticed, and my hand threw a kiss from my mouth-
Again as noted on :1,7, Job perceives that the essence of idolatry is in the human heart. He realized what James was to later make explicit (James 1:13-15)- that the process of temptation begins within the heart. Idolatry is essentially an affair of the heart.

Job 31:28 this also would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges; for I should have denied the God who is above-
 And here we have a window into Job's motivation; he feared condemnation and therefore he was careful to be strictly legally obedient. He was careful not to follow his wife's advice to deny or curse God and die; and he as it were parades his faithfulness to God by recalling how he had refused to yield to her. It was this mindset which was to be dismantled by God's final appearance. See on :23.

Job 31:29 If I have rejoiced at the destruction of him who hated me, or lifted up myself when evil found him-
Job had not had an altogether easy life even before the sufferings came. He had experience of being hated, and had seen the destruction of those people. But he insists he had not rejoiced; instead he had been sad. And this sorrow for the lost is revealed several times in his genuine concern for the friends' salvation. This basic desire is to be used by God when Job is made the one whose prayer and representational suffering saves the friends.

Job 31:30 (yes, I have not allowed my mouth to sin by asking his life with a curse)-
Again we get the impression of Job parading his steel willed self control, not allowing his mouth to sin. Acceptability with God is not a function of how strong is our will. For some have more steel in their will than others. It's about believing in grace an accepting it. Perhaps the Lord alludes to Job favourably at this point (despite his surrounding words being so full of self justification); for He taught that instead of doing evil to our enemies, "I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for them that persecute you" (Mt. 5:44). And this is what Job did- his prayer for the friends, who apparently were his actual persecutors, bringing many of the trials upon him, was finally answered.

Job 31:31 if the men of my tent have not said, ‘Who can find one who has not been filled with his meat?’-
Job's own family were bound to recognize that Job had been generous to the hungry and stranger (:32). But his wife turned away from him, and his wider family only appear on the scene at the end. They knew he was of integrity, but Job's wife had urged him to curse God and resign his integrity. 

Job 31:32 (the foreigner has not lodged in the street, but I have opened my doors to the traveller)-
Job may be alluding to the well known hospitality of Abraham and Lot in fairly recent history. Again he is presenting himself as a seed of Abraham by works rather than by faith.

Job 31:33 if like Adam I have covered my transgressions, by hiding my iniquity in my heart-
Here Job denies that he is like Adam in that unlike him, he has no sin to hide. The same word for "hiding" is used in Gen. 3:8,10, of Adam hiding himself from God. But Job was like Adam, and part of the lesson is that he was denying his humanity. And so like Adam he was humiliated by God's questioning at the end of the book. Job is associated with Adam several times in the book- see on Job 9:17; 10:9; 13:20-22. But he was denial of his humanity, unable to accept that he was a son of Adam who was also a sinner, even if seen as righteous.

LXX "or if too having sinned unintentionally, I hid my sin;
 (for I did not stand in awe of a great multitude, so as not to declare boldly before them:)". Job recognizes that sins of ignorance are still sins and apparently confessed such sins before others, perhaps at the regular meetings of the "sons of God" (Job 1:6). But even this he cites as a reason for his justification; rather than recognizing that therefore he is not in fact perfect and sinless.

Job 31:34 because I feared the great multitude, and the contempt of families terrified me, so that I kept silence, and didn’t go out of the door-
I noted on :32 that Job compares his hospitality to that of Abraham and Lot. He alludes to how Lot went out of the door to the great crowd in order to defend his guests' honour. Again he presents himself as a seed of the faithful family by works rather than by faith. He has little to say about the great promises to Abraham and the patriarchs; he felt his own works eclipsed their importance.

"Terrify" is the word elsewhere translated 'dismay', and is used of how the exiles were urged not to be dismayed but to believe that God would indeed bring them from exile to restoration in His restored Kingdom (Is. 51:7; Jer. 30:10; 46:27). Job begins by being dismayed / scared (Job 7:14), but develops to not be dismayed (Job 31:34 s.w.), following the example of the Lord's battle horse (Job 39:22).

Job 31:35 oh that I had one to hear me!-
Job appeals for ‘witnesses’ (Job 9:33–35; 16:18–22; 19:20–27), an advocate in Heaven (Job 9:33), denies his guilt and demands a legal list of his sins (Job 13:19), he wishes for God to come to trial (Job 9:3), and thus Job is described as a man who has taken out a ‘case’ with God (Job 23:4; 40:2). Job 29–31 is effectively Job’s declaration of legal innocence and an appeal to God to hear his case more sympathetically (Job 31:35). And of course God pronounces a final legal verdict at the very end (Job 42:7), in response to Job’s earlier plea: “Sleeplessly I wait for His reply” (Job 16:22). It’s as if the whole experience of Job was [at least partly] in order to test out the Canaanite theories of ‘Satan’, suffering and evil in the court of Heaven; and also the various theories which arose to explain Judah's captivity in Babylon. The friends represent the traditional views of evil, and often make reference to the myths of their day about ‘Satan’ figures. They speak as if they are the final court – Eliphaz speaks of how the judges and elders of their day, the “holy ones”, had concluded Job was guilty, and that they, the friends, were right: “To which of the holy ones will you appeal [legal language]?... we have [legally] examined this, and it [Job’s guilt] is true” (Job 5:1,27). This is of great comfort to those who feel misjudged by man – above them in Heaven the ultimate Heavenly court is considering our case, and that is all that matters.

Behold, here is my signature, let the Almighty answer me; let the accuser write my indictment!- Or, "Behold my sign". The legal mark made on statements of defence in those days was originally a cross; and hence the letter Tau or T. We are invited to see him swearing as it were by the cross. His challenge to God to write an indictment was arrogant, and is answered by God's personal appearance, convicting him of sin. Again we note that Job perceives his "adversary" (AV) or accuser as effectively God. Although it was the satan, who morphs into the friends, who in practice accused him- of only believing in God because he had received Divine blessing.

Job 31:36 Surely I would carry it on my shoulder; and I would bind it to me as a crown-
His desire that the accusations be written down was ultimately answered by the production of the book of Job. But the whole story is hardly a crown of glory to Job, because at the end he is humiliated and condemned.

Job 31:37 I would declare to Him the number of my steps. As a prince would I go near to Him-
Job definitely had to be humbled from this arrogant position. He was no prince before God. And in this we see him as representative of Israel, 'prince with God'. Through repentance and recognizing his humanity, he would eventually become 'prince with God', as Israel could have done, and as the exiles were bidden do by following Job's path.

Job 31:38 If my land cries out against me, and its furrows weep together-
The land is put by metonymy for the workers of it, who would have cried out against him for being deceived of their wages (:39). But they didn't. Job had acted with integrity. Just as he had not caused people to lose their lives in tending his land (:39), so perhaps he farmed his land sensitive to the land itself, not greedily seeking the maximum gain from it, so that its furrows didn't as it were weep.

Job 31:39 if I have eaten its fruits without money, or have caused its owners to lose their life-
See on :38. James 5:4 alludes here, condemning the early Christians for abusing their workers, and thereby holding up Job and his repentance as their pattern. Perhaps here we have another example of Job saying that he was being unfairly treated like Cain: "If I have eaten the strength (of my land) without money... let thistles grow instead of wheat" (31:39,40 AVmg.). This is referring back to the curse on Cain, that "when thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength" (Gen.4:12). Job is saying that his land has yielded its strength to him, and that only if he sinned should the Adamic curse of thistles come upon him. We too can resent the limitations of our own nature, not least in the proneness to sin which it gives us, and become bitter against God because of it as Job did. See on 11:15; 13:27; 16:17,18; 31:3.

Job 31:40 let briars grow instead of wheat, and stinkweed instead of barley. The words of Job are ended
- Thistles were part of the curse. Again we see Job failing to recognize his humanity, acting as if he were not under the curse of Eden, and arguing that it was unfair that it applied to him, concluding that it should only apply to him if he had sinned. He was counted righteous by God at the beginning and at the end of the book, but he was a sinner. He was not the Lord Jesus. Had he been in Adam's place, he would have done the same thing; and in that sense, we all sinned "in Adam" (Rom. 5:12). Job has now to be convicted of his humanity.