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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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JOB 31

JOB'S GREAT OATH OF INNOCENCEF1

This is the third part of the trilogy.

"This priceless testament is a fitting consummation of `the words of Job' (Job 31:40)."F2 "The picture that Job here presents of himself is extraordinarily like that of a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, as revealed by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. He goes beyond act to thought, and beneath conduct to the heart."F3

This affirmation by Job regarding his innocence mentions the sins of which his `friends' had accused him, but it also includes a denial of things which they had not mentioned. "Without any system whatever, sins against God, and sins against one's neighbor follow each other in the list."F4 This is especially important, because it removes any reason for allowing the various rearrangements of the text which certain scholars have presumed to make. Like many other Biblical books, Job does not always follow the classical rules for writing. We shall receive and interpret the text as it stands.

Job 31:1-4

JOB AFFIRMS HIS INNOCENCE REGARDING THE LUST OF THE EYE

I made a covenant with mine eyes;

How then should I look upon a virgin?

For what is the portion from God above,

And the heritage from the Almighty on high?

Is it not calamity to the unrighteous,

And disaster to the workers of iniquity?

Doth not he see my ways,

And number all my steps?"


 
Verses 1-4
I made a covenant with mine eyes; How then should I look upon a virgin? For what is the portion from God above, And the heritage from the Almighty on high? Is it not calamity to the unrighteous, And disaster to the workers of iniquity? Doth not he see my ways, And number all my steps?
(Job 31:1). Even as Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount, Job here traced adultery to the lust of the eye which precedes it. As Hesser noted, Impure thinking is the sin which Job disclaimed in these first four verses.F5 Pope mentions that, Critics who retain the reading here transfer the verse to the section that treats on the relations to women after Job 31:12.F6 This is exactly the kind of meddling with the sacred text which this writer finds so offensive. Pope even emended the word virgin here, making it read folly instead. This list is not arranged according to conventional standards of logical development, degrees, or seriousness, or climactic order. Our standards in such things are not the same as those which in a different culture guided Job.F7

Job, in these verses, mentions the convictions that had guided him throughout his life, those convictions being exactly the same doctrine of sin and suffering that had been maintained by Job's friends during the dialogues, indicating that, "Those ideas had been unquestioned by himself until his own personal experience had demonstrated their falsehood."F8

The sins which Job here solemnly swears that he had not committed reveal a very high ethical standard of morality and excellence. "Here we have the high-water mark of the Old Testament ethic."F9 Job's ideas, as revealed in this chapter, are not very far from the glorious ideals proclaimed by the Christ himself.

JOB'S OATHS OF IMPRECATION ATTEST HIS INNOCENCE

If I have walked with falsehood,

And my foot hath hasted to deceit

(Let me be weighed in an even balance,

That God may know mine integrity);

If my step hath turned out of the way,

And mine heart walked after mine eyes,

And if any spot hath cleaved to my hands:

Then let me sow, and let another eat:

Yea, let the produce of my field be rooted out."


 
Verses 5-8
If I have walked with falsehood, And my foot hath hasted to deceit (Let me be weighed in an even balance, That God may know mine integrity); If my step hath turned out of the way, And my heart walked after mine eyes, And if any spot hath cleaved to my hands: Then let me sow, and let another eat; Yea, let the produce of my field be rooted out.
(Job 31:5,7). Nearly twenty times in this chapter we encounter these if' clauses; and their significance was explained by Van Selms. Job here appealed to the self-imprecatory oath: God do so to me, and more also, if I ... etc. (2 Samuel 3:35).F10

Then let me sow, and let another eat
(Job 31:8). This is the imprecation Job invoked upon himself in case he was found to be lying. In this chapter, we may understand all of the if clauses as an appeal to exactly this same kind of an oath, even though an imprecation is not always stated. It was the most solemn way that any man could affirm and protest his innocence in ancient times.

Job's saying, "Let me sow; and let another eat," is only one of a whole avalanche of curses given in Deut. 28." This particular one is Deut. 28:30.

If my heart hath been enticed unto a woman,

And I have laid wait at my neighbor's door;

Then let my wife grind unto another,

And let others bow down upon her.

For that were an heinous crime;

Yea, it were an iniquity to be punished by the judges:

For it is afire that consumeth unto Destruction,

And would root out all mine increase.

If I have despised the cause of my man-servant or my maid-servant,

When they contended with me;

What then shall I do when God riseth up?

And when he visiteth, what shall I answer him?

Did not he that made me in the womb make him?

And did not one fashion us in the womb?"

The secret of righteous living is clearly revealed in these remarkable words. Job's honorable behavior was entirely due to his consciousness of God's existence, and of the certainty of God's bringing every human action into judgment. If today men wonder why immorality and vicious crimes are destroying our society, let them read the answer here. Men are no longer fully aware that God sees and knows their deeds, and that eternal punishment shall eventually reward the reprobate. Men may avoid or deceive policemen, judges and human law-enforcement systems; but they shall not be able to avoid or frustrate their eventual judgment by the Creator.

It should also be noted that Job's evaluation of the sin of adultery stressed the iniquity of it, "As a flagrant offense, not only subject to divine punishment, but also dealt with by magistrates and the criminal law."F11 Our own beloved country has removed adultery from the list of felonies, and in so doing has invited and encouraged social and national decay. There cannot be any doubt that when the current increasing departure from the wisdom of the ages has run its course in the U.S.A., the ruin and ultimate wreckage of our vaunted culture will be the terminal result.


 
Verses 9-15
If my heart hath been enticed unto a woman, And I have laid wait at my neighbor's door; Then let my wife grind unto another, And let others bow down upon her. For that were a heinous crime; Yea, it were an iniquity to be punished by the judges: For it is a fire that consumeth unto Destruction, And would root out all mine increase. If I have despised the cause of my man-servant or of my maid-servant, When they contended with me; What then shall I do when God riseth up? And when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? Did not he that made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?
(Job 31:10). Here the imprecatory sanction is specified, the accused adulterer asking to be repaid in kind (if its true) (see Ruth 1:17). To have one's betrothed ravished by another man is one of the most repugnant of curses (Deut. 28:30ff).F12

Did not he that made me in the womb make him
(Job 31:15). This passage is as close to expressing the full implication of the doctrine of the universal fatherhood of God and its corollary, the brotherhood of all mankind, as anything in the Old Testament. Malachi wrote, `Have we not all one Father? Did not God create us'? But the context there limits the application to Israel. Paul in his letter to Christian masters of slaves at Ephesus said no more on this score than we have here, namely, that both masters and slaves have a common heavenly Master who shows no partiality (Ephesians 6:9).F13 A fellow-human being, whom God has fashioned with care must be treated with care and respect by God's other creatures.F14

JOB STRESSES OTHER AREAS OF HIS INNOCENCE

If I have withheld the poor from their desire,

Or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,

Or have eaten my morsel alone,

And the fatherless have not eaten thereof

(Nay, from my youth he grew up with me as a father,

And her have I guided from my mother's womb);

If I have seen any perish for want of clothing,

Or that the needy had no covering;

If his loins have not blessed me,

And if he have not been warned with the fleece of my sheep;

If I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless,

Because I saw my help in the gate:

Then let my shoulder fall from the shoulder-blade,

And mine arm be broken from the bone.

For calamity from God is a terror to me,

And by reason of his majesty I can do nothing."

These verses carry Job's protest that he has not been careless or negligent in his duty toward the fatherless, the widows, the poor, the needy, the hungry, or the naked. Job was rich, "But there is no sin in being rich. The sin comes when we use our riches selfishly and ignore God. Money is not the root of all evil; that root is the love of money. Job was not guilty of this sin; but how about you"?F15 In our world today, there are countless thousands of rich and affluent people who use their wealth solely for selfish and personal reasons without regard to anyone except themselves.


 
Verses 16-23
If I have withheld the poor from [their] desire, Or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, Or have eaten my morsel alone, And the fatherless hath not eaten thereof (Nay, from my youth he grew up with me as with a father, And her have I guided from my mother's womb); If I have seen any perish for want of clothing, Or that the needy had no covering; If his loins have not blessed me, And if he hath not been warmed with the fleece of my sheep; If I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless, Because I saw my help in the gate: Then let my shoulder fall from the shoulder-blade, And mine arm be broken from the bone. For calamity from God is a terror to me, And by reason of his majesty I can do nothing.
(Job 31:17). Job does not mean that he has maintained a continual open house for his friends, but that he has shared his plenty with the destitute. His haunting words here still live in the consciences of many.F16

Her have I guided from my mother's womb
(Job 31:18). This is hyperbole in which Job is saying that as far back as he can remember, he has been careful to minister to the needs of widows, orphans, and the poor.

JOB'S INNOCENCE IN OTHER AREAS ALSO

If I have made gold my hope,

And have said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence;

If I have rejoiced because my wealth was great,

And because my hand had gotten much;

If I have beheld the sun when it shined,

Or the moon walking in brightness,

And my heart hath been secretly enticed,

And my mouth hath kissed my hand:

This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judges;

For I should have denied the God that is above.

If l have rejoiced at the destruction of him that hated me,

Or lifted up myself when evil found him

(Yea, I have not suffered my mouth to sin

By asking his life with a curse)."


 
Verses 24-30
If I have made gold my hope, And have said to the fine gold, [Thou art] my confidence; If I have rejoiced because my wealth was great, And because my hand had gotten much; If I have beheld the sun when it shined, Or the moon walking in brightness, And my heart hath been secretly enticed, And my mouth hath kissed my hand: This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judges; For I should have denied the God that is above. If I have rejoiced at the destruction of him that hated me, Or lifted up myself when evil found him; (Yea, I have not suffered by mouth to sin By asking his life with a curse);
(Job 31:27). The thing referred to here is that of throwing kisses to idols, or other objects of worship. Although not alluded to again in the Old Testament, the habit is abundantly attested elsewhere.F17 The actual kissing of idols is mentioned in 1 Kings 19:18 and in Hos. 13:2. What Job denies here is any participation in the pagan worship of the heavenly bodies.F18

The appeal of the heavenly host to Job is obvious here; "But Job does not confound the moon with the Maker: the glorious bodies of light (sun and moon) are God's creatures. Their glory is a witness to God; but to worship or pay homage to them is tantamount to denying the one true God."F19

I have not suffered my mouth to sin by asking his life with a curse (v. 30). Job is here speaking of his enemies. "He was untainted by bitterness toward his enemies; and in this he is traveling in the direction of our Lord's words in Matt. 5:44."F20

JOB'S PERSONAL SERVANTS NAMED AS WITNESSES OF HIS INNOCENCE

If the men of my tent have not said,

Who can find one that hath not been filled with his meat?

(The sojourner hath not lodged in the street;

But I have opened my doors to the travelers);

If like Adam I have covered my transgressions,

By hiding mine iniquity in my bosom,

Because I have feared the great multitude,

And the contempt o f families terrified me,

So that I kept silence, and went not out of the door --"

In all of the holy Scriptures there is not a more beautiful portrait of an upright, godly, righteous man than that which reaches a climax in this chapter. Here is the man whom God Himself in the prologue has called, "blameless and upright." "This is a true picture of Job the righteous, the perfect example of Old Testament righteousness for which the Law provided incentive and direction."F21 In the last analysis, Job's friends were silenced; they were unable to deny anything that he had said. Note that he broke off his words at this point and concluded with a paragraph which some of the scholars have, without any authority, relocated earlier in the chapter. It is this writer's opinion that the final paragraph belongs exactly where it is.

JOB'S FINAL WORDS

Oh that I had one to hear me!

(Lo, here is my signature, let the Almighty answer me)

And that I had the indictment which mine adversary hath written!

Surely I would carry it upon my shoulder;

I would bind it unto me as a crown:

I would declare unto him the number of my steps;

As a prince I would go near unto him.

If my land crieth out against me,

And the furrows thereof weep together;

If I have eaten the fruits thereof without money,

Or have caused the owners thereof to lose their life:

Let the thistles grow instead of wheat,

And cockle instead of barley.

The words of Job are ended."

Driver and other scholars relocated this final paragraph; but not even James Moffatt's Translation of the Bible (1929) accepted such an act as valid. It does seem that the word "signature" here should have restrained any such maneuver. Where else should the signature of anything be expected except at the end? Van Selms pointed out that, "Scholars find no agreement on the place where these verses may belong," adding that, "The Aramaic version has these verses in the same location as our text. So we shall just leave them there."F22


 
Verses 35-40
Oh that I had one to hear me! (Lo, here is my signature, let the Almighty answer me); And [that I had] the indictment which mine adversary hath written! Surely I would carry it upon my shoulder; I would bind it unto me as a crown: I would declare unto him the number of my steps; As a prince would I go near unto him. If my land crieth out against me, And the furrows thereof weep together; If I have eaten the fruits thereof without money, Or have caused the owners thereof to lose their life: Let thistles grow instead of wheat, And cockle instead of barley. The words of Job are ended.
(Job 31:40). This marks the end of the long discussion between Job and his three friends.F23 Job will speak again before the book ends, but he will not honor the speech of Elihu with any notice whatever.


Footnotes for Job 31
1: Van Selms, P. 112.
2:Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 13, p. 238.
3: New Century Bible Commentary, p. 198.
4: Van Selms, p. 113.
5: R. B. Sweet Publishing Company, 216, p. 58.
6: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982), Job, p. 200.
7: Layman's Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, p. 125.
8: International Critical Commentary, Job, p. 263.
9: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 437.
10: Van Selms, p. 112.
11: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 265.
12: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982), Job, p. 203.
13: Ibid., p. 204.
14: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 266.
15: Blair, p. 269.
16: New Century Bible Commentary, p. 201.
17: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 269.
18: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 482.
19: International Critical Commentary, p. 269.
20: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 438.
21: Layman's Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, p. 128.
22: Van Selms, p. 114.
23: New Century Bible Commentary, p. 206.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Job 31". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=job&chapter=031>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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