Job 31 – “Job’s Final Speech – Part III”

footprintsHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Job ends his last speech defiantly. He recites a list of sins that he swears he did not commit, and expresses a futile wish to vindicate himself before God.


II. Photo

Not only does Job claim to be innocent, he asserts that God knew it all along: “Surely He observes my ways, Takes account of my every step.” (v. 4)

III. Important Verses

vv. 9-10: If my heart was ravished by the wife of my neighbor, And I lay in wait at his door, May my wife grind for another, May others kneel over her!
vv. 19-20: I never saw an unclad wretch, A needy man without clothing, Whose loins did not bless me As he warmed himself with the shearings of my sheep.
vv. 24-25: Did I put my reliance on gold, Or regard fine gold as my bulwark? Did I rejoice in my great wealth, In having attained plenty?
vv. 26-28: If ever I saw the light shining, The moon on its course in full glory, And I secretly succumbed, And my hand touched my mouth in a kiss, That, too, would have been a criminal offense, For I would have denied God above.
v. 32: No sojourner spent the night in the open; I opened my doors to the road.

IV. Outline
1-32. Oath of innocence (approximately 12 sins are listed)
33-34. Oath of transparency
35-37. Wish to testify his innocence before God
38-40ab. Final oath
40c. Conclusion

V. Comment
Job 31 is the final section of Job’s final speech. Job lists many sins (approximately 10-15, depending on how you break them up), and swears that he did not commit any of them (vv. 1-34). He then expresses a futile wish to testify before God (vv. 35-37), and ends with a final oath (vv. 38-40). In terms of form/structure, the chapter is dominated by the oath formulas ’im and and ’im lo’ which occur 17 times (vv. 5, 7, 9, 13, 16, 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 29, 31, 33, 36, 38, 39). This chapter stands alone in Tanakh in terms of the number of oaths it contains; no other chapter even comes close.

In term of the tone of Job’s final speech, Clines writes (p. 1011): “As Job’s final speech now moves into its third movement, the tone changes dramatically. In the first movement (chap. 29) he had been nostalgic, in the second (chap. 30) bitter, but now in the third he rises again to the challenge his treatment by God has set him. Here the tone is from the beginning a more confident, more aggressive one. Now he will take matters into his own hand with an oath of exculpation, which will testify that there is no reason in himself for God’s attack on him, and that, by implication, God has acted arbitrarily or even unjustly toward him.”

The dominating theme of the chapter is the oath formulas im and im lo’, which, as mentioned above, occur 17 times in the chapter. Job uses these terms to swear that he did not commit a sin. Hakham points out that these terms imply an accompanying curse which is sometimes enumerated and sometimes omitted. For example, while there is no accompanying curse after the oaths in vv. 5 and 13, Job elucidates the curse that should befall him if he had hit an orphan (vv. 21-22): “If I raised my hand against the fatherless, Looking to my supporters in the gate, May my arm drop off my shoulder; My forearm break off at the elbow.”

Amongst the sins that Job mentions are lust (vv. 1-4), associating with lawless men (vv. 5-6), greed/robbery (vv. 7-8), adultery (vv. 9-12), maltreatment of slaves (vv. 13-15), maltreatment of the poor (vv. 16-23), excessive trust in one’s possessions (vv. 24-25), moon worship (vv. 26-28), excessive hate of an enemy (vv. 29-30), and inhospitality (vv. 31-32). (For a similar breakdown, see Fohrer quoted in Clines, p. 1013.) While there are many reasons to believe that Job was not an Israelite (he seems to come from Edom, see comment to ch. 1), one might ask, “What is the relationship between the sins enumerated here and the Pentateuchal laws?” While Hakham believes that Job kept all of the Pentateuchal laws (this chapter, according to Hakham, gives examples of the laws that Job kept), it is entirely possible that the list is not a reflection of Pentateuchal law. Needless to say, more analysis is required.

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Clines, Job 21-37 (Word Biblical Commentary)
Hakham, Sefer Iyov (Daat Mikra [Hebrew])
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