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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Job 31

Verses 1-40

The Third Series of Speeches (Job 22-31)

Having failed to convince Job by the argument derived from God’s greatness and wisdom, and to make good their assertion that it fared ill with the wicked, the friends have only one new line of argument left. This is a downright accusation of Job as a high-handed tyrant. Eliphaz adopts this, though he softens its severity by a fervent exhortation to Job, and a description of the felicity that awaits him if he will but make peace with God. The rest of the debate on his side is difficult to appreciate, owing to the uncertainty attaching to the distribution of the speeches. According to the present arrangement Bildad utters only a few sentences reasserting the greatness of God, and the impossibility that man should be pure in His sight. Zophar does not come forward at all. Several scholars infer from this that the poet means to suggest that the friends have exhausted their case. But since in other instances Bildad and Zophar substantially repeat what Eliphaz has said, the poet could very well have made them follow on the same lines here. Moreover, the symmetry is spoiled if Zophar does not speak. Since we have in Job 27:13-23 a description of the fate of the wicked exactly repeating the sentiments of the friends, it is a probable conjecture that this is part of Zophar’s missing speech. In that case, however, there is plausibility in the view that Bildad’s speech was originally longer than the few verses at present assigned to him. Several attempts at reconstruction have been made, the most recent (that in the Century Bible) assigns Job 25:2-3; Job 26:5-14 to Bildad, Job 26:2-4; Job 27:2-6; Job 11, 12 to Job, Job 27:13-23 (with possibly Job 27:7-10) to Zophar. Job 25:4-6 is regarded as a gloss based on Job 15:14-16, and it is supposed that the greater part of Job’s reply to Bildad, which stood between Job 27:11 and Job 27:12, has been struck out on account of its boldness. If this or a similar view is correct, Bildad repeats the theme of the friends in the first cycle of debate, Zophar that in the second.

Verses 1-40

These chapters form a section by themselves, in which Job reviews his life. He first of all draws a picture of his past prosperous career, when he was happy and respected (Job 29). With this he contrasts his present condition, when men he once despised now hold him in contempt, and he is in pain and sorrow and disgrace (Job 30). Finally, he reasserts his innocence of wickedness in any form (Job 31).

Verses 1-40

Job Protests the Innocence of his Past Life

Job’s virtues are those of a great Arab prince, such as are admired still: namely, blameless family life, consideration for the poor and weak, charity, modesty, and generosity concerning wealth, pure religion (according to his creed), the absence of vindictive feelings, hospitality to strangers, fearless honesty and just dealings.

1-12. Sensual sins.

1. I made a covenant with mine eyes] Job resolved to keep a guard over them that they should not transgress. Why then should I think?] RV ’How then should I look?’

2a. RM ’What portion should I have of God? ’i.e. How would God visit such sin?

3. Is not] RV ’Is it not.’

6. Even balance] i.e. balances of justice. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead the soul is represented as being weighed in the balance before Osiris at the judgment.

10. To grind at the mill is a menial task, the work of slaves.

12. The evil results of lust: cp. Proverbs 6:24-35.

13-23. Sins of oppression.

14. Riseth up] i.e. to judge.

18. He] the fatherless. Her] the widow.

21. When I saw my help in the gate] Job could have counted on the judges supporting his side of the question. Gate] see on Job 29:7.

22. Bone] i.e. collar-bone.

23. The thought of God’s displeasure checked him, and a sense of His majesty kept him from sinning.

26-28. A reference to the worship of the heavenly bodies (cp. 2 Kings 21:3-5; Jeremiah 44:17. Ezekiel 8:16.

27. My mouth hath kissed my hand] a form of idolatrous worship: cp. 1 Kings 19:18.

29f. The high moral tone is very significant: cp. Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:19-21.

31. Render, ’If the men in my tent have not said, Who can find one that hath not been satisfied with his flesh?’: i.e. Job had more than satisfied his servants.

33a. Render, ’If I hid my fault like a common man’: i.e. as men usually do.

34. Did I fear] RV ’Because I feared.’ Job declares that he had nothing to hide in his conduct and did not fear enquiry.

35-37. Job breaks off: and does not complete the sentence begun in Job 31:33. For his whole soul is moved by the words he has just uttered, and with the proud assertion of his innocence he challenges God to answer him, to give him the writing which contained the charges against him. Proudly, even with God’s stigma upon him, he would, enter God’s presence, the certainty of his rectitude changing the disgrace into distinction. Most scholars feel that the addition of Job 31:38-40 spoils the effect of this splendid conclusion.

35. RV ’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!’ Job puts his signature to the declaration of his innocence. The adversary is God.

37. Conscious of his integrity, Job would lay bare every act of his life to God.

38-40. The grand challenge thrown down by Job in Job 31:35-37 seems to form such a suitable conclusion to his speeches that most scholars hold that Job 31:38-40 stood originally in an earlier part of the c, e.g. after Job 31:8 or 25.

40. Cockles] RM ’noisome weeds.’ Job for the last time has maintained the integrity of his past life, and expressed his readiness to answer all charges of guilt brought against him. The third and final series of his speeches comes to an end. It cannot be said that any explanation of the ways of Providence has been put forward so far, but the popular theories that suffering must always imply previous sin, and that compensation according to conduct is invariably meted out to both good and bad in this world, have been refuted. Moreover, we see the noble spectacle of a good man in adversity clinging in spite of all his trials to his uprightness. Job has been able to find no foothold in the thought that God would revive him, or that the life beyond the grave will restore him to blessed fellowship with God. Nor has he gained any hope that the government of the world will become more righteous. But he has reached the assurance that God will vindicate his innocence, and that he shall be permitted to know of this vindication.

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Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Job 31". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.