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JOB 31

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Job Asserts His Integrity Job's Summary Statement
(29:1-31:40)
The Final Defense of Job
(29:1-31:40)
Job's Final Statement of His Case
(29:1-31:40)
Job's Apologia
31:1-4
(1-4)
31:1-4
(1-4)
31:1-4
(1-4)
31:1-4
(1-4)
31:1-15,38-40b
(1-15)
31:5-8
(5-8)
31:5-8
(5-8)
31:5-8
(5-8)
31:5-8
(5-8)
31:9-12
(9-12)
31:9-12
(9-12)
31:9-12
(9-12)
31:9-12
(9-12)
 
31:13-15
(13-15)
31:13-15
(13-15)
31:13-15
(13-15)
31:13-15
(13-15)
 
31:16-23
(16-23)
31:16-23
(16-23)
31:16-23
(16-23)
31:16-18
(16-18)
31:16-23
(16-23)
      31:19-20
(19-20)
 
      31:21-23
(21-23)
 
31:24-28
(24-28)
31:24-28
(24-28)
31:24-28
(24-28)
31:24-28
(24-28)
31:24-33,34-37
(24-33)
31:29-37
(29-37)
31:29-37
(29-37)
31:29-37
(29-37)
31:29-32
(29-32)
 
      31:33-34
(33-34)


(34-37)
      31:35a-c
(35a-c)
 
      31:35d-37
(35d-37)
 
31:38-40b
(38-40b)
31:38-40b
(38-40b)
31:38-40b
(38-40b)
31:38-40b
(38-40b)
(38-40b)
31:40c 31:40c 31:40c 31:40c 31:40c

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This chapter is Job's defense against the accusations of secret sins (i.e., a negative oath of innocence). Many of the items may have been specific charges of his family, friends, neighbors, or the three comforters (some spoken, some just imagined).

 

B. Job restates "the two ways" theology (i.e., Job. 31:2-3,8,12). If Job has sinned he should be punished. But he has not (i.e., he should be blessed, as before [Job 29]).

 

C. The ethics mentioned were aspects of ANE culture (but the care for the poor and powerless are uniquely Mosaic) and may reflect the Mosaic covenant (i.e., social responsibility). I believe that a Judean court sage took the oral historical account of the historical Edomite, Job, and crafted the poetic dialogues and prose introduction and conclusions to encourage and inform the people of God. From time to time (as here) his theological orientation (i.e., Mosaic covenant) shows through.

 

D. Here is a list of the things Job denies he ever did. Some of the things are stated negatively and some positively.

1. gaze at a "virgin," Job 31:1b

2. walked with falsehood, Job 31:5a

3. walked after deceit, Job 31:5b

4. walked in God's ways, Job 31:7

5. no "spot" (BDB 548) has stuck to my hands, Job 31:7c

6. another allusion to extramarital sexual sin, Job 31:9

7. treated servants unfairly, Job 31:13

8-10.  mistreated or failed to help

a. the poor, Job 31:16a

b. the widow, Job 31:16b

c. the orphan, Job 31:17,21

d. the naked, Job 31:19-20

11. put confidence or trust in wealth, Job 31:24-25

12. idolatry, Job 31:26-27

13. rejoiced over the fall of an enemy, Job 31:29-30

14. failed to adequately help his family, Job 31:31

15. failed to help the alien or traveler, Job 31:32

16. mistreated share croppers, Job 31:38-40

 

E. Job's curse statements (jussives, "Let. . ." There are 11 imperfects used in a jussive sense).

 1-2. let God weigh me,

let God know my integrity, Job 31:6

 3-4. let me sow but another eat,

let my crops be uprooted, Job 31:8

 5-6. let my wife grind for another,

let others kneel over her, Job 31:10

 7-8. let my shoulder be out of joint,

let my arms be broken, Job 31:22

9. let the Almighty answer me, Job 31:35

10-11. let briars grow,

let stinkweed grow, Job 31:40

 

F. The writings of John H. Walton have blessed me with insight into the mindset of the ANE. His evaluation of this chapter in The NIV Application Commentary, Job, pp. 330-337, is convincing and helpful.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 31:1-4
 1"I have made a covenant with my eyes;
 How then could I gaze at a virgin?
 2And what is the portion of God from above 
 Or the heritage of the Almighty from on high?
 3Is it not calamity to the unjust
 And disaster to those who work iniquity?
 4Does He not see my ways
 And number all my steps?"

31:1 "made a covenant" The verb (BDB 503, KB 500, Qal perfect) is literally "to cut," which probably refers to the animal sacrifice that usually accompanied covenants. It may reflect a curse that if one party breaks the obligation, may they be like the animal. See SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT.

Here the verb is used as imagery for a self-willed commitment to moral conduct (i.e., marital fidelity, cf. Job 31:9-12).

Job is using "covenant" as a curse formula (i.e., "If. . .") to forcibly assert his innocence!

▣ "with my eyes. . .gaze" The "eyes" are a window to the soul. The later rabbis asserted that the mind is like a plowed garden, ready for seed. What a person lets in through the eyes and ears, if dwelt on, becomes who they are and will result in actions (cf. Matt. 5:28). Guard your mind!

▣ "gaze at a virgin" John H. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary, Job, pp. 321-323, makes the case that

1. this verb in the Hiphael never refers to lust

2. "virgin" could refer to another marriage, or more likely, a way of referring to a harem (i.e., wealth, as in Job 31:24-25)

Even if this is correct, Job 31:1 does not seem to fit. If it refers to lust, then you would expect it with the strophe, Job 31:9-12.

Elmer B. Smick, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 4, pp. 992-993, takes "virgin" as a reference to a female fertility goddess.

1. Maiden Anat (Ugaritic)

2. Ashtoreth (Canaanite, cf. Jdgs. 2:13; 10:6; 1 Sam. 7:3-4; 1 Kgs. 11:5,33)

3. "Queen of Heaven" in Jer. 7:18; 44:16-19

4. Ishtar (Babylonian)

5. Venus (Greek)

But if this is true, why is this reference separated from the idolatry verses of Job 31:26-28?

31:2 "the portion. . .the heritage" These two nouns (BDB 324 and BDB 635) also appear together in Job 20:29; 27:13. They imply something as a gift or reward from God. Job 31:3 describes the gift as calamity and disaster for the wicked.

▣ "the Almighty" See SPECIAL TOPIC: The Almighty (Shaddai).

▣ "from above. . .from on high" These are parallel and refer to God's abode (cf. Job 16:19). See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HEAVENS AND THE THIRD HEAVEN and the Third Heaven.

31:3 "disaster" This noun (BDB 648) occurs only here in the OT. It has the same consonants as the noun "foreignness." JPSOA translates it as "misfortune." KJV tries to keep the root meaning by "strange (i.e., foreign) punishment."

31:4 This verse asserts the sovereignty and omniscience of God.

1. He sees my ways – Job 11:11; 24:23; 28:24; 34:21; Ps. 11:4; 33:13-14; 66:7b; 119:168; Pro. 5:21; 15:3; Jer. 16:17; 23:24; 32:19; 1 Cor. 4:5; Heb. 4:13

2. He numbers all my steps – Job 14:16; 31:37; 34:21

There is no hiding from God (cf. Luke 12:2)!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 31:5-8
 5"If I have walked with falsehood,
 And my foot has hastened after deceit,
 6Let Him weigh me with accurate scales,
 And let God know my integrity.
 7If my step has turned from the way,
 Or my heart followed my eyes,
 Or if any spot has stuck to my hands,
 8Let me sow and another eat,
 And let my crops be uprooted."

31:6 There is an evaluation day coming when every human will give an account to his/her Creator for the stewardship of the gift of life (cf. Job 7:18; 23:10). The question is "when."

1. in time

2. afterlife (at death)

3. at eschatological judgment

"The two ways" theology assumes the evaluation is within time! However, look at Job 31:14. Job wanted to be vindicated in time, but if not, he wanted his name vindicated after his death.

▣ "accurate scales" One wonders if this is a comment directed toward

1. Job's three comforters, who falsely accused him

2. God, who seemed to have become his accuser (i.e., the two ways)

 

31:7a "step. . .path" These are metaphors for a life, positive or negative (i.e., Ps. 119:105; Eph. 4:1,17; 5:2,15). For the righteous (i.e., the two ways) God makes the path straight, smooth, with no obstacles. However, the faithful follower must stay on the path/way (i.e., a conditional covenant).

31:7c "spot" This noun (BDB 548) is used only twice in the OT.

1. here as a moral defect or stain (cf. Job 9:30)

2. in Dan. 1:4 as a physical or mental defect/blemish

Some scholars and versions (i.e., Peshitta) see this not as #1 but as #2 below

1. מאום – stain

2. מאוה (BDB 548) – anything

 

31:8 This verse reflects the "cursing and blessing" passages in Lev. 26:16 and Deut. 28:38-40. This same curse is expressed in Amos 5:11; Mic. 6:15; Zeph. 1:13. Another hint at a Mosaic link to Edomite theology is the Judean sage author of the book.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 31:9-12
 9"If my heart has been enticed by a woman,
 Or I have lurked at my neighbor's doorway,
 10May my wife grind for another,
 And let others kneel down over her.
 11For that would be a lustful crime;
 Moreover, it would be an iniquity punishable by judges.
 12For it would be fire that consumes to Abaddon,
 And would uproot all my increase."

31:9 The reason adultery was so serious to Israel had to do with inheritance rights. God gave the land to tribes and families (i.e., Joshua). Therefore, who one's father was became a very significant issue. This is another link to Israelite life.

The second line of this verse implies seducing a neighbor's wife (TEV). This is condemned in Exod. 20:17; Deut. 5:21. This type of violation of a covenant/tribal, societal neighbor would cause havoc in a community, much less a revelatory community like Israel.

31:10a "grind" This implies servitude (i.e., working to support the family). The grinding of grain was woman's work in the ANE.

31:10b "kneel down over her" This was a euphemism for sexual relations. It is possible that both lines of this verse have this connotation (see Targums and Vulgate).

31:12 At first this seems to imply an afterlife setting but the second line and Job 15:30 show it does not.

▣ "fire" This is often associated with judgment (i.e., Deut. 32:22). See SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE.

▣ "Abaddon" See note at Job 26:6. See Special Topic: Abaddon. . .Apollyon.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 31:13-15
 13"If I have despised the claim of my male or female slaves
 When they filed a complaint against me,
 14What then could I do when God arises?
 And when He calls me to account, what will I answer Him?
 15Did not He who made me in the womb make him,
 And the same one fashion us in the womb?"

31:13 This reflects Deut. 24:14-15. The Mosaic law was unique in the ANE for its concern for the poor, women, and aliens. Even a slave had rights and limited legal recourse. The Israelite laws are spelled out in Exod. 21:2-11. Here again is another link to Mosaic legislation.

31:14a The phrase "when God arises" can be understood in two ways.

1. arise from His throne to act

2. becomes aware after a period of time (i.e., pay attention, cf. Ps. 35:23; 44:23)

 

31:14b "when He calls me to account" See note at Job 31:6.

31:15 This verse asserts the unity of mankind, both slave and free, rich and poor, has one Creator (cf. Job 10:3,8; 14:15; Ps. 100:3; 138:8; Isa. 64:8). This theological concept was rare in the ANE.

▣ "one" It is possible this (BDB 25) is a name for God (cf. NKJV, JPSOA, cf. Zech. 14:9).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 31:16-23
 16"If I have kept the poor from their desire,
 Or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
 17Or have eaten my morsel alone,
 And the orphan has not shared it
 18(But from my youth he grew up with me as with a father,
 And from infancy I guided her),
 19If I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
 Or that the needy had no covering,
 20If his loins have not thanked me,
 And if he has not been warmed with the fleece of my sheep,
 21If I have lifted up my hand against the orphan,
 Because I saw I had support in the gate,
 22Let my shoulder fall from the socket,
 And my arm be broken off at the elbow.
 23For calamity from God is a terror to me,
 And because of His majesty I can do nothing."

31:16-23 This may be Job's response to Eliphaz's charges of Job 22:7-9.

The NIDOTTE, vol 1, p. 228, has a good reminder about the concept of the poor and needy.

"Where western thinking stresses the economic aspect of poverty, the ANE understood poverty in the context of shame and honor."

Job was poor because he lost all his possessions (Job 1-2) as well as his social standing and honor/dignity (Job 30).

31:20 "loins" This noun (BDB 323) refers to the area of the human body between the lower ribs and where the legs start. It is used in several senses in the Bible.

1. fruit of the loins – children

2. symbol of virility – Gen. 35:11; 1 Kgs. 8:19

3. used of a woman's birth pains, cf. Jer. 30:6

4. gird up your loins – imagery to get ready for strenuous labor, battle, or metaphorical for thinking – Job 38:3; 40:7

5. here it is personified as blessing the one who gives them clothing

 

31:21 "in the gate" This was the place of justice in the ANE (cf. Job 29:7).

31:22 The NET Bible (p. 828, #22,25) relates "lifted my hand" (BDB 631, KB 682, Hiphil perfect) of Job 31:21 as the consequence of a lying vote or oath in court (i.e., arm damaged).

The problem is that the meaning of the verb is uncertain (NIDOTTE, vol. 3, pp. 63-67). In context it must refer to some kind of help, not an attack.

31:23 There are consequences for disobedience and/or lack of compassion toward other humans. Job's actions were a combination of

1. concern for the needs of fellow humans

2. a fear/awe/respect for God

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 31:24-28
 24"If I have put my confidence in gold,
 And called fine gold my trust,
 25If I have gloated because my wealth was great,
 And because my hand had secured so much;
 26If I have looked at the sun when it shone
 Or the moon going in splendor,
 27And my heart became secretly enticed,
 And my hand threw a kiss from my mouth,
 28That too would have been an iniquity calling for judgment,
 For I would have denied God above."

31:24-28 This may be Job's response to Eliphaz's charges in Job 22:24-25. Wealth was not a "god" for him. It is possible to see Job 31:24-28 as all referring to the god of wealth. However, Job 30:26 surely looks like astral worship of the sun and moon, so common in the ANE.

31:24 "confidence. . .trust" These are powerful religious terms.

1. BDB 492

2. BDB 105

Job's orientation in life was not the physical but the spiritual (i.e., God).

It is interesting that the noun (BDB 105) has three connotations.

1. loins (but different word than Job 31:20)

2. stupidity, folly

3. confidence

This root is used in Job 8:13-14, where it speaks of those who do not follow God; they have a false, frail confidence. Humans putting their confidence in anything but God and His will for their lives (i.e., wisdom) is stupid and will result in judgment (Job 31:28).

31:26-28 These verses may refer to astral worship (i.e., idolatry). Even though Job is from Edom, he is a monotheist.

See SPECIAL TOPIC: MOON WORSHIP.

31:27b This line of poetry has been interpreted in various ways.

1. kissing an idol (or blowing a kiss to an idol), cf. 1 Kgs. 19:18; Hos. 13:2

2. putting one's hand over his/her mouth (i.e., kissing the hand) as a gesture of reverence in the presence of a deity

 

31:28b "I would have denied God above" The verb (BDB 471, KB 469, Piel perfect) basically means "to deceive." Job has often admitted that God knows all (i.e., Job 31:4). It would be foolish to try to deceive the God "above" (cf. Job 31:2).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 31:29-37
 29"Have I rejoiced at the extinction of my enemy,
 Or exulted when evil befell him?
 30No, I have not allowed my mouth to sin
 By asking for his life in a curse.
 31Have the men of my tent not said,
 ‘Who can find one who has not been satisfied with his meat'?
 32The alien has not lodged outside,
 For I have opened my doors to the traveler.
 33Have I covered my transgressions like Adam,
 By hiding my iniquity in my bosom,
 34Because I feared the great multitude,
 And the contempt of families terrified me,
 And kept silent and did not go out of doors?
 35Oh that I had one to hear me!
 Behold, here is my signature;
 Let the Almighty answer me!
 And the indictment which my adversary has written,
 36Surely I would carry it on my shoulder,
 I would bind it to myself like a crown.
 37I would declare to Him the number of my steps;
 Like a prince I would approach Him."

31:33 In rather cryptic imagery, this verse asserts that Job never tried to hide or conceal his sin/guilt (if a reference to "Adam" see Gen. 3:10; if humans in general, see Pro. 28:13). Option #2 fits the context best.

If this is Adam it shows the author's knowledge of Genesis or the Patriarchal oral traditions behind it. However, the second line of poetry supports the more general reference to the sinfulness of all mankind.

▣ "bosom" This noun (BDB 285) occurs only here in the OT. It is from an Aramaic root. The normal Hebrew root for this word is found in BDB 300.

31:34 This verse seems to address the reason and consequences of hiding one's sin.

1. fear of condemnation of others (i.e., his own community or extended family)

2. because of fear of remaining secluded and isolated

3. also fear of God in Job 31:23

 

31:35-37 These verses relate to Job's desire to have his day in court with God (cf. Job 13:22-23; 19:23-24; 23:4).

Job has formalized his defense document. He has signed it. Now he waits to present it before God. Job's adversary (i.e., God) also has a written judicial document (i.e., Job's indictment scroll, cf. Job 31:35d). Job is employing legal terminology and procedures. If God has a list of charges, let Him bring it forth. This may be Job's attempt to force God to court. If God does not present an indictment, Job would be considered innocent, as he has always claimed. Job's oath of innocence must be true if God did not immediately judge him (cf. Job 13:14-16). If this happens he will publicly display and announce his innocence (Job 31:36-37).

31:35 "the Almighty" See SPECIAL TOPIC: The Almighty (Shaddai).

31:36 This imagery may reflect Hebrew imagery for "wisdom" as an ornament to be worn (cf. Pro. 1:9; 3:22).

This verb (BDB 772, KB 851, Qal imperfect) occurs only here and Pro. 6:21, where a father's teaching (i.e., wisdom) is tied around the son's neck as an ornament.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 31:38-40b
 38"If my land cries out against me,
 And its furrows weep together;
 39If I have eaten its fruit without money,
 Or have caused its owners to lose their lives,
 40Let briars grow instead of wheat,
 And stinkweed instead of barley."

31:39 "its owners to lose their lives" The MT has "the soul/life of its owners to breathe out." This is an idiom for death (i.e., the physical body's last exhale, which is opposite of Gen. 2:7 (cf. Job 11:20; Jer. 15:9).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 31:40c
 40c"The words of Job are ended."

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. How is Job 31 related to Job 29 and 30?

2. Why do the subjects of Job's negative curses seem out of order?

3. How is Job 31:4 related to the theology of Psalm 139?

4. Does Job 31:6 imply God had judged him with unfair scales?

5. How is Job 31:13-15 so unusual in the ANE?

6. Does Job 31:24-28 refer to idolatry? If so, what kind?

7. What is the significance of Job 31:35?

8. Why does Job 31:38-40b seem anticlimactic?

 

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