Job 31 Meaning: Let’s turn our attention to Job, chapter 31.
The 31st chapter of the book of Job contains Job’s last words of self-defense in this book.
Last time as we studied verses 1-23, we saw that Job denied lusting, lying, committing sins with his hands, heart, and feet, committing adultery, mistreating his servants, and mistreating the poor.
And this time in verses 24-40, he’s going to deny committing five other types of sin. And in addition he’s going to challenge God – whom he designates as his “adversary” – to reveal why he’s punishing Job.
Job 31 Meaning 24-28 Idolatry
So, as we begin – in verses 24-28, Job entertains the theoretical possibility that he has participated in idolatry. But it’s all theoretical, because Job is going to communicate that he hasn’t done it.
And he sets this up with a very long “if” statement – spanning verses 24-27. And then he has his “then” statement in verse 28.
And even at that, he breaks-up his “if” statement into two sub-sections – in verses 24-25 he speaks of worshipping money… and then in verses 26-27 he speaks of worshipping the sun and the moon.
So, let’s witness Job entertain the idea that perhaps he had worshipped his money in times past.
24 If I have [made gold my hope/put my confidence in gold],
or have said to [the fine/pure] gold, Thou art my [confidence/trust/security];
25 If I rejoiced because [my wealth was great/of the extent of my wealth],
and because mine hand had [gotten/secured so/gained so] much [wealth…];
So, Job was a man of great means. We learned that back in the first few chapters of this book. He had numerous cattle and sheep and donkeys and servants. He was the greatest of the men of the east in terms of material wealth.
Added to that wealth – though – was his righteousness before the Lord. And it’s that righteousness that didn’t allow that wealth to become an idol to him.
I think that many people – if they were to have the wealth of a man like Job – would let it go to their heads, as we say. But beyond that, I think that these same people would let it go to their hearts.
There’s a way that money can become our source of confidence. Even as we heard last Sunday from Pastor Kindstedt’s message from Proverbs 18:10-11, the rich man’s wealth can become in his mind a strong city or a high wall. In his mind, his wealth can protect him. And yet, that’s all just “in his mind.” It’s illusionary.
And Job says that it’s idolatry.
And that might not be apparent immediately as you first read through this chapter – that Job is speaking of worshipping wealth here.
But that’s where it’s helpful to try to break-down these sections in this chapter.
Consider that verses 24-25 have no “then” statement. They have an “if” – but no “then.”
Well, where’s the “then?” It’s at the other side of verses 26-27. And that means that these two shorter “if” statements are brought together by their common “then” statement at the end of this smaller section.
So, let’s look at the second area in which Job could have been idolatrous – and where numerous fellow-humans have been idolatrous and worshipful – and that’s in regard to the celestial bodies.
26 If I beheld the sun when it shined,
or the moon [walking in brightness/going in splendor/advancing as a precious thing];
27 And my heart hath been secretly enticed,
or my mouth hath kissed my hand [my hand threw them a kiss from my mouth…]:
So, again, Job is holding out these things as a possibility.
Humanity has a way of taking what God created and has given to us as gifts – and turning them into objects of worship! We are so perverse that we see the good gifts – and instead of worshipping the giver of those gifts – we worship the gifts themselves.
And we already heard Job speak of one of those gifts – money – wealth – material provisions. And as God extends his gracious hand and gives these things to us, we can snatch them away and clutch them and start thinking as if the gifts themselves have some deity to them.
The same holds true of celestial bodies – the sun and moon and even the stars. Ancient civilizations worshipped the sun and moon. Egypt did. The Mayan civilization did. Numerous cultures at various times in the history of the earth have worshipped these good gifts that God has given us.
But God gave us these heavenly bodies for times and seasons and to declare his glory!
But how does mankind use them? As objects of worship.
But it’s not unusual. It’s pretty common – and it was even more common in Job’s day than it is in ours.
But even though it’s common to worship money and the heavenly bodies – God’s good gifts to us – Job says that the following is the reality about engaging in such activities.
28 This also [were/would be] an iniquity [to be punished by the judge/calling for judgement/to be judged]:
for I [should/would] have [denied/been false to] the God that is above.
Worshipping anything besides the true God calls for judgement. Why? Because it involves a denial of the true God.
And Job says that he hasn’t done that. He has not committed idolatry. And this is one more reason that he feels like he shouldn’t be receiving punishment from God in the form that he’s been experiencing.
Job 31 Meaning 29-30 Hating Enemies
But not only has Job not committed idolatry. He also has not hated his enemies.
Now, the thought that God – before New Testament times – wanted people to hate their enemies is not uncommon.
In fact, as you know, Jesus mentions that idea in the Sermon on the Mount. He tells the people that they’ve heard it said that they should love their neighbor and – what? And hate their enemy.
But that supposed command to hate one’s enemy is not found in Scripture – either Old or New Testament.
And the righteous Job didn’t take that approach to his enemy either.
29 [If/Have?] I rejoiced [at the destruction/at the extinction/over the misfortune] of [him that hated me/my enemy],
or [lifted up myself/exulted] [when/because] [evil/calamity] [found/befell] him:
So, if Job had rejoiced in the destruction of someone else – even his enemy – he could perhaps expect retribution from God in the form of his own personal destruction.
And Job was indeed receiving personal destruction. But the condition that he thinks would earn him that destruction is not present – he hasn’t rejoiced in the destruction of others – and in particular of his enemy.
Now, Job phrases what he just said as a conditional sentence. And the “if” part was in verse 29. And so, if you’re paying attention you’re looking for the “then” part. But we’re not going to find it.
In fact, it seems like the only “then” statement that we’re going to find is the last verse of this whole chapter. And so, let me point out something that I think is going on in the larger context of this chapter at this point.
What we’re going to find before the end of this chapter is that Job laments God’s apparent silence. He says “if this were the case and if that were the case and if the other were the case” and then “dot, dot, dot…” He doesn’t give a “then.” He just goes right into “If only I had someone to hear me!”
And I think that shows a certain desperation on the part of Job. He’s wearing himself out with all of this self-justification. But he feels compelled to continue.
So, back to the immediate context, Job gave the “if” part of his conditional statement. And he’s not going to give the “then” part. Instead, he’s going to assume a negative answer to his previous question concerning whether he ever rejoiced when his enemy was destroyed – and then magnify what he just asserted.
Not only has Job not rejoiced and exulted over the destruction of his enemy – but he’s not even asked God to curse those people either.
30 [Neither have I/No, I have not/I have not even] [suffered/allowed/permitted] my mouth to sin
by [wishing/asking in/asking through] a curse [to his soul/for his life].
So, Job was not one to curse even his enemies. He wouldn’t do it even to these friends of his who have proven so unhelpful.
And so, Job wouldn’t passively seek his enemies’ destruction by secretly rejoicing when they were destroyed.
And therefore, he certainly would not have actively sought the destruction of any of these people by cursing them, either.
And that’s how Job ends the consideration of his treatment of his enemies.
So, Job hasn’t been idolatrous. He hasn’t hated his enemies.
Job 31 Meaning 31-32 Lack of Hospitality
And next, Job is going to deny any lack of hospitality to others.
31 [If/Have?] the [men/members] of my [tabernacle/tent/household] [said not/not said/have never said],
Oh that we [had/could find] [of his flesh! we cannot be satisfied/someone who has not been satisfied with Job’s meat].
So, Job seems to be picturing a situation in which the members of his household gather together and discuss something about Job’s food.
And either they’re saying that they themselves don’t have enough to eat. Or they’re saying that they can’t find anyone who hasn’t had enough to eat of the food that Job provides.
And it’s difficult to make the call as to which of those two Job is saying – partly because of all the negatives in this verse. If…someone said not…that someone is not satisfied…
And then of course adding to the difficulty is that Job doesn’t give the “then” part of this statement – which tends to render the “if” statement as more of a question – “Has anyone in my house said, ‘I wish we could find someone who hasn’t been filled with Job’s food.’”
Whatever the details of the structure of this sentence, it’s apparent that Job is denying a lack of hospitality when taken together with the next sentence.
No one could say that Job hadn’t provided food for them. And no one could say that Job hadn’t provided lodging for them either…
32 The [stranger/alien] did not [lodge in the street/have to spend the night outside]:
but I opened my doors to the traveller.
So, strangers and travelers were always welcome in Job’s house. He provided for those in need.
That’s the kind of guy that Job was. He shared his food. He shared his home. He was hospitable to all.
He loved his enemies. He refrained from idolatry and worshiped the true God alone.
And yet, Job is suffering worse than any of these kinds of people would. And that makes no sense to him.
Job 31 Meaning 33-34 Covering Sin
Well, Job goes on to give one more area in which he’s done right in verses 33-34. He’s been truthful about his sin.
33 [If/Have?] I covered my transgressions as [Adam/men do],
by hiding mine iniquity in my [bosom/heart]:
And I think this verse is a helpful balance to everything else that Job has said to this point. He’s admitting here to sinning. He’s not claiming sinless perfection – even though you start to get that sense in this chapter.
But Job is doing what tends to happen whenever a situation becomes totally polarized – when you have one group that is so far over to one side of the issue that they’re really distorting reality in the process. And the other group might want to remain in the middle concerning whatever the issue is. But the tendency is to pull in the opposite direction of that first group – because of how radical they are.
So, Job would tend to not say very much about his own righteousness. That’s just what righteous people do – you don’t boast of your own accomplishments and such.
But because Job’s friends have been accusing him so vehemently, now Job is exasperated and finding the need to proclaim his own righteousness.
And yet – back to verse 33 – Job admits that he doesn’t hide his sin – which indicates that he does indeed sin. But when he does, he doesn’t cover it – like Adam did – like the first man did when he sinned in the garden.
Job apparently would have been confessing his sin – and offering a sacrifice appropriate to the transgression. And we saw in the first chapter of this book that he offered sacrifice even for his children – just in case they had sinned! Certainly, he was offering for his own sin as well.
And then apparently in verse 34 Job is going to deny that he was intimidated by family and society in general concerning the confessing of his sin.
34 [Did/Because] I [fear/was terrified of] [a/the] great multitude,
[or did/and] the contempt of families [terrify/terrified] me,
[that I/and/so that I] [kept silence/kept silent/remained silent], and [went not out of the door/did not go outdoors]?
Now, I’ll admit that this is a difficult verse to interpret and understand.
But I think what Job is saying is that he was willing to address and confess and deal with his sin – even when doing so could make him look bad before “the great multitude” of people in his life and before “families” or perhaps tribes of people who might mock him and impugn his character.
No, Job would not hide his sin – he wouldn’t keep silence and stay inside. He was willing to confess his sin and offer the sacrifices prescribed. No matter what anyone else thought.
OK, so Job has not committed idolatry, he’s loved his enemies, he’s been hospitable, and he’s been open and honest with God and man about his own sin.
And all of this Job is using to appeal to God that the kind of suffering that God has sent into Job’s life is unwarranted. Job doesn’t feel like he deserves this suffering that feels like punishment from God.
Job 31 Meaning 35-37 Job Challenges God
And it’s at this point where Job has had enough. He has talked himself to a point where he is really frustrated with God’s total lack of response to all of Job’s appeals concerning his righteousness – which he is wanting God to take note of and realize that he doesn’t need to punish Job anymore. Look! He’s righteous!
And in the middle of Job’s pointing out his living in accordance with God’s desires and standards – and I say “the middle” because he does have one more area that he wants to talk about – but before that, he’s compelled to cry out to God and demand that God reveal his accusations against him.
35 [Oh that one would/If only I had someone to] hear me!
behold, [my/here is my] [desire is/signature/tau], [that/let] the Almighty [would answer/answer] me [!],
[and/if only I had] that mine adversary had written [a book/an indictment].
So, this whole chapter has basically served as Job’s defense of himself. He even presents his tau – the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which is translated by the KJV as “desire.” So, Job says “I’ve talked and talked and given my reasons for why I should not be punished by God. And so here at the end – as men do with most documents – I am giving my last affirmation – my tau – my signature to this imagined court document against God that seeks to restrain him from punishing me anymore.”
But it’s a little silly to be defending yourself against an accusation… that has never been officially leveled against you!
And that’s why Job is now asking for the “book” that God – as Job’s adversary – or the indictment against Job that surely – in Job’s mind – God has written somewhere. He’s asking for that “document.”
And that’s because Job is under the impression that God is punishing him. Job has not taken into account the fact that suffering doesn’t need to be punishment. The end result of those two realities might be the same – but the motive of the one who’s bringing the pain is different.
When God brings punishment into a person’s life, assumed in that arrangement is that the person did something wrong. When God brings suffering into your life, there’s no such assumption – you may be doing everything right like Job is. But Job doesn’t recognize that distinction yet.
And so, Job says that God is his adversary. And that’s interesting because when we think of that term “adversary” we think of Satan – and that’s the meaning of his name in Hebrew – adversary.
But to Job – God is acting as his adversary. God is the one sending the suffering – which he incorrectly views as punishment.
And in reality, God did ultimately send the suffering on Job. He’s the one who challenged Satan with Job’s testimony. He’s the one who told Satan later that Satan moved him to touch Job. And so, Satan is responsible for challenging God to bring suffering into Job’s life. And yet, God was ultimately the one to bring that suffering into Job’s life and to bring Job up to Satan in the first place.
Well, if God were to ever give Job this indictment against him that would explain why Job is being punished by God, then this is how Job would respond.
36 Surely I would [take/carry/wear proudly] it [upon/on] my shoulder,
and bind it [as/like] a crown [to me/on me].
And it’s at this point where I do wonder if Job is sort of challenging God – almost gloating of his innocence. He’s speaking of what he would do with this fictitious indictment against himself. And he says that he would wear it proudly on himself and display it for all to see. And that’s probably because he’s so confident in his own innocence.
And Job is ready to express that confidence directly to God as Job now imagines him meeting with God to discuss his innocence.
37 I would [declare unto him the number/give him an accounting] of my steps;
[as/like] a prince [would I/I would] [go near unto/approach] him.
So, Job is ready and willing to stand right before God’s presence and tell him exactly what he’s been doing. Job is so extremely confident in his righteousness that he’s willing to come to God and declare all that he’s done.
And Job imagines coming to God in a very bold and triumphant manner. He would approach God like a prince would do – full of confidence, no fear, claiming his right to inform God of his own conformity to everything that he understands that God desires in one of his human creatures.
And yet – of course – whatever Job might say to God would be no surprise to the Almighty. God already knows Job to be righteous. But Job doesn’t know that God knows that he’s righteous – and has even told Satan so.
Job is assuming that God thinks he’s sinning – and that’s why Job is experiencing this suffering – which he interprets as punishment.
Job 31 Meaning 38-40 Abusing Tenants
Well, Job has one more area to address before he finishes his self-defense.
He wants to deny that he has abused any tenants that may have lived on his land.
38 If my land [cry/cries out/cried out] against me,
[or that/and] [the furrows/its furrows/all its furrows] [likewise thereof complain/weep together/wept together];
But why would Job’s land cry out against him – as it were? Why would it complain or weep?
Because of the way that perhaps Job would have treated those who rented that land from him…
39 If I have eaten [the fruits thereof/its fruit/its produce] without [money/paying],
or have caused [the owners thereof/its owners] to [lose their life/die]:
So, Job is speaking of his land. And yet, he now speaks of owners of that land. Well, he’s the ultimate owner, but he would have loaned-out the land to others to care for it. This is a practice that happens to this day – not only in the area of agriculture but even in the landlord/tenant relationship in the housing market.
And Job is bringing up one possibility as to how he treated those tenants. He could have been like so many others who take advantage of his tenants. I mean – after all – one might think – the land is mine and I’m letting these folks live on it. Therefore, I can take their stuff and they should be fine with it. Or even worse – some in history have apparently caused those tenants to lose their lives. Talk about a bad relationship with your landlord!
So, Job is saying that he could have acted this way toward those who were leasing his land. Other people have done this throughout history.
And yet – Job is totally opposed to that kind of abuse – and here’s what he says that he would deserve if he were to behave himself in this way.
40 [then…] Let [thistles/briars/thorns] [grow/sprout up] [instead/in place] of wheat,
and [cockle/stinkweed/weeds] [instead/in place] of barley.
So, Job pictures a fitting punishment for his abuse of his tenants as his good crops being replaced with worthless weeds.
And with the ending of his last defense, the text closes by noting the following.
The words of Job are ended.
So, Job has denied engaging in activities that would render him deserving of punishment from God. He’s not lusting, lying, sinning with hands, heart, or feet, committing adultery, mistreating his servants, mistreating the poor, committing idolatry, hating his enemies, being lax in the area of hospitality to strangers, covering his sin, or abusing his tenants.
These activities – if he were to engage in them – would surely make him guilty and deserving of some form of retribution.
But since Job hasn’t committed these crimes, he really can’t understand why God is – in his mind – punishing him. Because – as Job believes – God punishes evil. God should be rewarding Job – but he’s not doing that anymore.
So, God’s ways don’t make sense to Job.
And even though Job has sought to make sense of God’s ways, what he really needs to do is to trust God’s wisdom in his circumstances.
And there’s a young man who’s been listening in on this whole conversation of Job and his friends. His name is Elihu and he feels like he’s going to be able to help Job – if not understand God’s ways – then perhaps help him toward trusting God’s wisdom.
And we’ll hear from him next time.