Job Rests His Case (Job 31:1-32:1) April 3-4
Job brings his discourse to a close. He basically places himself under an oath of innocence, inviting God to impose curses on him if he can be proven guilty. Where the New King James Version in verse 35 has the words, "Here is my mark," the NIV has "I sign now my defense." In other words, with this chapter, Job is resting his case—waiting, as the same verse explains, for God to answer him. It is clear from the chapter that Job must be extremely confident of acquittal.
The Nelson Study Bible states that Job's oath "bears a general similarity to the oath of clearance, widely used in ancient Mesopotamia. In this oath, an accused person would swear his innocence at a trial. However, the ethical content of Job's confession, with its emphasis on inward motivation (see vv. 1, 2, 24, 25, 33, 34) and attitude (see vv. 1, 7, 9, 26, 27, 29, 30), is unique and unparalleled until Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 5-7)" (note on Job 31:1-40).
Indeed, Job in the first verse mentions having made a covenant with his eyes not to look on a young woman. The typical Hebrew word for "look" is not used here. Rather, the word here, translated "think" in the old KJV, is biyn, which conveys a sense of setting apart mentally (Strong, No. 995)—really focusing. The obvious implication is that this looking is with lustful intent. Job knew it was wrong to sexually desire a woman other than his wife, as Christ would later make clear (see Matthew 5:27). In an Old Testament setting, this seems rather remarkable and demonstrates that Job well understood the spirit of God's law. He also realized that violation of even the spirit of the law would ultimately bring punishment from God (Job 31:2-3). Of course, it is not wrong to merely look at a beautiful woman. Nor is it wrong to appreciate beauty. Most likely, Job's determination was that if the sight of a woman began to entice him to lust, then he would look away and think about other things. This is the approach all of us should take.
No doubt Job, in trying to understand what was happening to him, had for months been taking a sweeping personal inventory of his life—including his inward thoughts and motivations. And here we see his concluding declaration on the various aspects of his life.
Besides avoiding sexual lust, we see that Job was not a person of falsehood and deceit (verse 5). In verse 7 he says that his heart has not walked after his eyes, probably meaning here that he has not been motivated by "the lust of the eyes" (1 John 2:16) in coveting things he sees. Job then remarks further on his commitment to not even entertain adulterous thoughts, much less act on them or to even allow himself to be in a compromising or tempting situation (Job 31:9).
In verses 13-15 Job addresses his treatment of his servants. Though a great ruler, Job's approach and reasoning here is again remarkable. He realized that it was important to properly esteem them or he would face divine retribution. Moreover, he saw that this esteem was utterly legitimate. Unlike other rulers of his day, Job would well agree with the words in the U.S. Declaration of Independence defying Old World aristocracy: "All men are created equal." Since God made all people, all people must be respected for that very fact—and they must all be treated according to the standards God has given for dealing with all other human beings.
In verses 16-23, Job comments on his treatment of the needy—the poor, widows and orphans. Again, as in the previous chapter, he rebuts Eliphaz's specific accusations against him in 22:5-9. In verses 24-25, Job rejects his friends' earlier implied accusations that he was motivated by greed and wealth or made proud by it (see 20:18-22; 22:23-26).
In verses 26-28 of chapter 31, Job maintains that he has not observed the sun and moon and been motivated to kiss his hand, referring to "the apparent ancient custom of kissing the hand as a prelude to the superstitious and idolatrous act of throwing a kiss to the heavenly bodies" (Nelson, note on verse 27).
In verse 29-30, we may again be surprised at Job's "New Testament approach" to dealing with enemies—not cursing them or gloating over their misfortunes. Yet we should realize that this approach is mentioned in the Old Testament as well as the New (compare Exodus 23:4-5; Proverbs 24:17-18; Matthew 5:43-47; Romans 12:17-21). Interestingly, Job understood these principles before Exodus and Proverbs were written. It is not improbable that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were familiar with these concepts.
In verses 31-32 we see that Job freely shared his food and home with his servants and all who came his way.
The translation of verse 33 is disputed since the word adam can mean the first man Adam or man in general. So Job could be saying either "If I have covered my transgressions as Adam did..." (compare NKJV) or "If I have covered my transgressions as men do..." (compare NIV). The latter seems more likely since the first man Adam was not motivated by fear of contempt from groups of people (compare verse 34). In any case, Job's point here is that he has not been hiding secret sins.
In verse 35, as already noted, Job essentially declares that he rests his case. Note again the NIV rendering, along with the end of the verse: "I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing." Job says he would then carry the list of accusations to God and answer every one, approaching God boldly as a prince would (verses 36-37).
Finally, Job remembers one more area in which he might be accused—his stewardship over the land God had entrusted to his care. Here, too, Job is confident of his innocence (verses 38-40). And with this statement, Job ends his words.
His three friends have no more to say either. They are convinced that Job is a hopeless cause because he remains righteous or innocent in his own eyes (32:1). Their mistake of course is that Job has accurately detailed the course of his life—he has not committed some great sin to bring his suffering as they believe. There is a problem with Job's self-proclaimed innocence, though they are far from comprehending it, as we will see.
With all fallen silent, what will happen next? How will God answer?