Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Job 31

Verses 1-32

Job 31:1-32

I made a covenant with mine eyes.

Guard the senses

Set a strong guard about thy outward senses: these are Satan’s landing places, especially the eye and the ear. (W. Gurnall.)

Methods of moral life

Let us look at the kind of life Job says he lived, and in doing so let it be remarked that all the critics concur in saying that this chapter contains more jewels of illustration, of figure or metaphor, than probably any other chapter in the whole of the eloquent book. Job is therefore at his intellectual best. Let him tell us the kind of life he lived: whilst he boasts of it we may take warning by it; the very things he is clearest about may perhaps awaken our distrust. Job had tried a mechanical life--“I made a covenant with mine eyes” (verse 1). The meaning of “a mechanical life” is a life of regulation, penance, discipline; a life all marked out like a map; a kind of tabulated life, every hour having its duty, every day its peculiar form or expression of piety. Job smote himself; he set before his eyes a table of negations; he was not to do a hundred things. He kept himself well under control; when he burned with fire, he plunged into the snow; when his eyes wandered for a moment, he struck them both, and blinded himself in his pious indignation. He is claiming reward for this. Truly it would seem as if some reward were due. What can a man do more than write down upon plain paper what he will execute, or what he will forbear doing, during every day of the week? His first line tells what he will do, or not do, at the dawn; he will be up with the sun, and then he will perform such a duty, or crucify such and such a passion he will live a kind of military life; he will be a very soldier. Is this the true way of living? Or is there a more excellent way? Can we live from the outside? Can we live by chart, and map, and schedule, and printed regulation? Can the race be trained in its highest faculties and aspects within the shadow of Mount Sinai? Or is the life to be regulated from within? Is it the conduct that is to be refined, or the motive that is to be sanctified and inspired? Is life a washing of the hands, or a cleansing of the heart? The time for the answer is not now, for we are dealing with an historical instance, and the man in immediate question says that he tried a scheduled life. He wrote or printed with his own hand what he would do, and what he would not do, and he kept to it; and though he kept to it, some invisible hand struck him in the face, and lightning never dealt a deadlier blow. Job then says he tried to maintain a good reputation amongst men--“If I have walked with vanity, or if my foot hath hasted to deceit; let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know mine integrity. If my step hath turned out of the way, and mine heart walked after mine eyes, and if any blot hath cleaved to mine hands; then let me sow, and let another eat; yea, let my offspring be rooted out” (verses 5-8). That was a public challenge. There were witnesses; let them stand forth: there was a public record kept; let it be read aloud. This man asks for no quarter; he simply says, read what I have done let the enemy himself read it, for even the tongue of malice cannot pervert the record of honesty. Will not this bring a sunny providence? Will not this tempt condescending heaven to be kind, and to give public coronation to so faithful a patron? Is there no peerage for a man who has done all this? Nay, is he to be displaced from the commonalty and thrust down, that he may be a brother to dragons and a companion to owls? All this has he done, and yet he says, “My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat. My harp also is turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of them that weep” (Job 30:30-31). This is not what we have thought of Providence. We have said, Who lives best in the public eye will be by the public judgment most honourably and cordially esteemed: the public will take care of its servants; the public will stand up for the man who has done all he could in the interests of the public; slave, man or woman, will spring to the master’s rescue, because of remembered kindnesses. Is Job quite sure of this? Certainly, or he would not have used such imprecations as flowed from his eloquent lips:--If I have done thus, and so, then let me sow, and let another eat; yea, let my offspring be rooted out: let my wife grind servilely unto another: let mine arm fall from my shoulder blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone. So then Job himself is speaking earnestly. Yet, he says, though I have done all this, I am cast into the mire, and I am become like dust and ashes: though I have done all this, God is cruel unto me, and He does not hear me: I stand up, and He regardeth me not: with His strong hand He opposeth Himself against me: He has lifted me up to the wind, and He has driven me away with contempt: He has not given me time to swallow down my spittle: I, the model man of my day, have been crushed like a venomous beast. Job, therefore, does not modify the case against God. He misses nothing of the argument and withholds nothing of the tragic fact. He makes a long, minute, complete, and urgent statement. And this statement is found in the Bible! Actually found in a Book which is meant to assert eternal providence and justify the ways of God to man! It is something that the Bible could hold within its limits the Book of Job. It is like throwing one’s arms around a furnace; it is as if a man should insist upon embracing some ravenous beast, and accounting him as a member of the household. These charges against Providence are not found in a book written in the interests of what is called infidelity or unbelief; this impeachment is part of God’s own book. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)

Verse 14

Job 31:14

What then shall I do when God riseth up?

The great question

1. Job’s mind was deeply impressed with a sense of his own responsibility. There is a natural inclination in the mind of man to diminish the sense of responsibility. In most transactions of life men frequently evince a desire to escape as much as possible from personal responsibility. There are responsibilities arising out of the very conformation of the society in which we live, that cannot be avoided. It never can be a matter of choice with us, whether we shall be responsible to God, and in the sight of God. The very nature of our relation to God implies responsibility, and the very character of God, in reference to that relationship, also implies responsibility. The responsibility of man to God reaches to the whole of man’s moral being.

2. Job’s conviction that there is a day coming in which God will arise. As a Sovereign, making inquisition, and holding a grand assize in which the universe should be concerned. And God will “visit.” That term is often used in the sense of visitation for the purpose of punishment. God will arise as the legislator of the universe--as the promulgator of a law which has been universally violated, and which has not exercised its restraining influence upon the hearts of men because their allegiance had departed. Of necessity there must be vindication. Either the justice of God must fail, or there must be a vindication. As the law of God reaches to the minutest details of human existence and of human conduct, the vindication must reach every personal interest, the details of every individual life. And the Lord must visit as an avenger; for vindication implies vengeance. The God whose own arm hath brought salvation, shall be the God who shall visit in the way of vengeance. Job asks, “When He visiteth, what shall I answer Him?” Should not we ask the same question? What will the man of this world, of pleasure, and of gain, answer? Realise the necessity for finding some answer. There is but one answer. There is nothing to do but to cling to the Cross of Jesus. (George Fish, LL. B.)

The great account

The subject brought before us here is our personal responsibility; that everyone must give account of himself to God. Nothing is hid from the all-seeing eye of Jehovah, that searcheth the heart and the reins, and looketh at the motive, the object, the spirit, in which the man acts.

I. Man’s responsibility. We must all give account to God, not merely masters, but servants also; and we must give account in all the transactions of everyday life. Every man has time, talents, opportunities, gifts; every man has a certain station, every man has a certain amount of influence; and we are all responsible for the right use before God. Not one of you can help this influence going forth upon those around you; not one of you can avoid the things you do, telling, in one way or another, upon those with whom you have intercourse. You must do good, or you must do evil. This responsibility “we need to face, for it is one that presses always.

II. The way of meeting this responsibility. Two things are spoken of here.

1. What shall we do? Regarding ourselves as responsible to God, what shall we do when He rises in judgment? Shall we not fear to face a holy God? Shall we hide ourselves from God, in order to elude His searching eye? That surely is a vain consideration. Shall we resist His summons? Surely that too is vain.

2. What shall we answer? Shall we say that we have not broken one of God’s commandments? Shall we, like the Pharisee, compare ourselves with others? Shall we “begin to make excuse”? Shall we plead God’s mercy? The careless cannot meet God. Nor can the formalist; nor the hypocrite and pretender. The two great things we require to be experimentally acquainted with, are repentance and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” and you are delivered at once from the power of the law, and all the accusations of Satan, because Jesus has conquered him, and you also win the victory through faith in Him. (John W. Reeve, M. A.)

The final judgment and ground of acquittal

I. The certainty of a day of visitation and reckoning.

1. This is indicated by the testimony of conscience. Conscience is the vicegerent of the Almighty. It discriminates between virtue and vice, attaching to either their respective awards.

2. By a reference to the moral economy of man, or the economy of God’s dealings towards man.

3. The certainty of a day of visitation is fully unfolded in the Book of God.

II. The ground upon which an answer is to be prepared to the question in our text. Classify the Christian community into four compartments.

1. There are some who have no answer prepared. This is a fact of undoubted certainty.

2. Others prepare an answer on a self-righteous principle. They plead obedience to the requirements of God’s law.

3. Others confide in the uncovenanted mercy of God.

4. But some take higher ground, and are preparing their answer in reference to the righteousness of Christ Jesus our Lord. This is the only plea which will bear inspection, the only foundation for the exercise of mercy. (Adam Gun, A. M.)

The day of visitation

Although Job appears to have taken an undue estimate of his own righteousness, and certainly adhered to his own integrity with a blamable tenacity, yet his scrupulous conscientiousness is greatly to be admired. The smallest act of injustice or oppression, nay, even of neglect, towards the meanest slave or household servant, was viewed by Job as a sin against God, and one for which God would hereafter call him to account!

I. The occasion contemplated. “When God will rise up, and when He will visit” in judgment.

1. He appears now, as it were, indifferent to the affairs of men.

2. A day is coming when He will arise and visit. It is the day of death. It is the day of punishment. It is the day of judgment.

3. The certainty of its approach. Accountability seems almost an instinct in man. The day of judgment must come--there is no escape from it.

4. Yet most persons believe and act as if they believed it not. How surprising is the indifference of professed believers!

II. The important inquiry respecting this solemn event. “When He visiteth, what shall I answer Him?”

1. There is individuality in this question; it is the soul’s soliloquy. Not what shall this man do; but what shall I do?

2. It is, what shall I do? But the time for action is then over. Can I escape and hide myself? Can I evade or deceive? Can I contend with Him?

3. It is, what shall I answer? Various are the excuses with which men satisfy their consciences now, but they will avail nothing then. The following will have nothing to answer,--vicious men and dissipated. Men who have neglected their souls. Self-satisfied formalists. The spiritual professor who has not departed from secret sin. There will be one who can answer--the poor, penitent, humble, believing disciple of Jesus. (F. Close, A. M.)

Verse 15

Job 31:15

Did not He that made me in the womb make him?

God the universal Creator

I. Illustrate the doctrine here conveyed. Both high and low, rich and poor, all sorts and conditions of men, have one common Creator.

1. The unity of creation, Men’s tastes, habits, abodes, and appearances differ, but men are one family.

2. The high position of the Divine Being. There are none to divide His praise, none to claim His position.

3. The harmony of God’s providential dealings. He can cause one event to fit in with another, one person to assist and help his fellow, and out of the apparently diverse elements to make one perfect,, harmonious, and beautiful whole.

II. Apply the subject to our own improvement. We are taught from the fact stated by Job. If we see another sin, our language should be, “Did not He that made me make him?” And we should bear with him tenderly. If we see another in want or poverty our thoughts should be, “Did not He that made me make him?” And we should afford our best relief.

1. Some suggestions for our duty towards God. He is our Creator. As our supreme Benefactor and Maker we should manifest our sense of His authority over us and our dependence on His care.

2. Some reflections on our duty one to another. (Homilist.)

Man’s common rights

Had we not one and the same Creator, and have we not consequently the same nature? We may observe in regard to this sentiment--

1. That it indicates a very advanced state of view in regard to man. The attempt has been always made by those who wish to tyrannise over others, or who aim to make slaves of others, to show that they are of a different race, and that in the design for which they were made, they are wholly inferior. Arguments have been derived from their complexion, from their supposed inferiority of intellect, and the deep degradation of their condition, often little above that of brutes, to prove that they were originally inferior to the rest of mankind. On this the plea has been often urged, and oftener felt than urged, that it is right to reduce them to slavery. Since this feeling so early existed, and since there is so much that may be plausibly said in defence of it, it shows that Job had derived his views from something more than the speculations of men and the desire of power, when he says that he regarded all men as originally equal, and as having the same Creator. It is, in fact, a sentiment which men have been practically very reluctant to believe, and which works its way very slowly even yet on the earth.

2. This sentiment, if fairly embraced and carried out, would soon destroy slavery everywhere. If men felt that they were reducing to bondage those who were originally on a level with themselves,--made by the same God, with the same faculties, and for the same end; if they felt that in their very origin, in their nature, there was that which could not be made mere property, it would soon abolish the whole system. It is kept up only where men endeavour to convince themselves that there is some original inferiority in the slave which makes it proper that he should be reduced to servitude, and be held as property. But as soon as there can be diffused abroad the sentiment of Paul, that” God hath made of one blood all nations of men,” that moment the shackles of the slave will fall, and he will be free. (Albert Barnes.)

Verse 19

Job 31:19

If I have seen any perish for want of clothing.

A good man’s righteousness

These words do in general set forth the practice of a good man in the acts of mercy and righteousness, which do, above all others, declare him a follower of our blessed Lord. But chiefly they do imply something concerning the nature, manner, and object of those acts. In vulgar practice indeed men care not much for any acquaintance with the needy, and are all for doing kindnesses to them whose fortunes do not require it, or who can return the same again; but the good man’s behaviour is like that of Job. If we care not to approve ourselves to God, by doing all the good we can to our brethren, we are so far sunk into the miserable state of hell. To prevent this misery we must be watchful over our minds, that they do not fall into a covetous humour, which is a stain to the soul, that can hardly be got out. Covetousness ever presses upon the sinner, and leaves no room for a sober or a relenting thought. Mankind seem to be distinguished into higher and lower ranks by Divine wisdom and providence, in order to the exercise of an universal charity. Such a charity as sweetens men’s spirits, and from being rough and sour, makes them kind and affable to the meanest person, ready to oblige everyone with a gentle and humble compliance. Such a charity as envies no man, but is pleased at the prosperity of others, is made better by their health, and rejoices at seeing them cheerful. Such a charity as never domineers, but scorns that usual insolence which is the spring of many disorders, and of much contempt of the poor. Such a charity as doth never demean itself haughtily or with reproach in words or gestures, but calmly debates all matters, that it may not behave itself unseemly. In fine, such a charity as thinks nothing too great to undertake, or too hard to undergo, for the good of mankind. Now if this kind of charity did but get ground in the world, it would very much better the condition and the manners of it. A thorough reformation must be expected only from them who make others better, by their counsel, and by their example. The best arguments for our giving of alms are, that it is the only course we can take.

1. To be like our blessed Saviour.

2. To do services acceptable to God.

3. To save our souls forever. Wherefore, if ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. (John Hartcliffe, B. D.)

The poor man’s plea heeded

Some one expressed surprise to Eveillon, Canon and Archdeacon of Angers, that none of his rooms were carpeted. He answered, “When I enter my house in wintertime the floors do not tell me that they are cold; but the poor, who are trembling at my gate, tell me they want clothes.”

Verses 24-28

Job 31:24-28

If I have made gold my hope.

On the love of money

How universal is it among those who are in pursuit of wealth to make gold their hope; and, among those who are in possession of wealth, to make fine gold their confidence! Yet we are here told that this is virtually as complete a renunciation of God as to practise some of the worst charms of idolatry. We recoil from an idolater as from one who labours under a great moral derangement, in suffering his regards to be carried away from the true God to an idol. But is it not just the same derangement, on the part of man, that he should love any created good, and in the enjoyment of it lose sight of the Creator--that, thoroughly absorbed with the present and the sensible gratification, there should be no room left for the movements of duty, or regard to the Being who furnished him with the materials, and endowed him with the organs of every gratification? There is an important distinction between the love of money, and the love of what money purchases. Either of these affections may equally displace God from the heart. But there is a malignity and an inveteracy of atheism in the former which does not belong to the latter, and in virtue of which it may be seen that the love of money is, indeed, the root of all evil. A man differs from an animal in being something more than a sensitive being. He is also a reflective being. He has the power of thought, and inference, and anticipation. And yet it will be found, in the case of every natural man, that the exercise of those powers, so far from having carried him nearer, has only widened his departure from God, and given a more deliberate and wilful character to his atheism than if he had been without them altogether. In virtue of the powers of mind which belong to him, he can carry his thoughts beyond the present desires and the present gratification. He can calculate on the visitations of future desire, and on the means of its gratification. But the reason of man, and the retrospective power of man, still fail to carry him, by an ascending process, to the first cause. He stops at the instrumental cause, which, by his own wisdom and his own power, he has put into operation. In a word, the man’s understanding is overrun with atheism, as well as his desires. To look no further than to fortune as the dispenser of all the enjoyments which money can purchase, is to make that fortune stand in the place of God. It is to make sense shut out faith. We have the authority of that Word which has been pronounced a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, that it cannot have two masters, or that there is not in it room for two great and ascendant affections. Covetousness offers a more daring and positive aggression on the right and territory of the Godhead, than even infidelity. The latter would only desolate the sanctuary of heaven; the former would set up an abomination in the midst of it. When the liking and the confidence of men are toward money, there is no direct intercourse, either by the one or the other of these affections towards God; and in proportion as he sends forth his desires, and rests his security on the former, in that very proportion does he renounce God as his hope, and God as his dependence. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)

The worship of wealth

What is the true idea of property--something to be left behind when we die, or something which may be interwoven with our immortal nature, and so will last us for eternity? Money, jewels, lands, houses, books, decorations of all sorts and kinds, must be taken leave of at the bed of death. But there are things that last. Habits are wrought into the intellect and will--the love of God and of man, sincerity, purity, disinterestedness, these things live, and are really property, for death cannot touch them. Most men regard civilisation as mere material progress; but true human improvement must be an improvement of the man himself. And man himself is not what he owns and can handle, nor even his bodily frame, but he is a spirit clothed in a bodily form. His real improvement consists in that which secures the freedom and the supremacy of the noblest part of his nature. A true civilisation is that which shall promote this upon a great scale in human society. What do we see every year as the London season draws near, but a bevy of mothers, like generals, set out on a campaign, prepared to undergo any amount of fatigue if only they can marry their daughters, not necessarily to high-souled, virtuous men, but in any ease to a fortune! What do we see but a group of young men, thinking, after perhaps a career of dissipation, that the time has arrived for settling respectably in life, and looking, each one of them, not for a girl who has the graces and character which will make her husband and children happy, but for somebody who has a sufficient dowry to enable him to keep up a large establishment! Who can wonder, when the most sacred of all human relations, the union of hearts for time and for eternity, is thus prostituted to the brutal level of an affair of cash, that such transactions are quickly followed by months or years of misery--misery which, after seething long in private, is at last paraded before the eyes of the wondering world amid the unspeakable shame and degradation of the Divorce Court! (Canon Liddon.)

Verse 33

Job 31:33

If I have covered my transgressions as Adam, by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom.

Hiding and confessing sin

To cover and hide sin is sin: it is the adding of sin to sin. Sin is the disease of the soul, and there is no such way to increase and make a disease desperate as to conceal it. Silence feeds and cherishes the diseases of the body; and so it doth the diseases of our souls. Sin increaseth two ways, by concealment or hiding.

1. In the guilt of it. The obligation to punishment takes stronger hold upon the soul, and every man is bound the faster with those chains of darkness by how much the more he labours to keep his sins in the dark. The longer a sin remains upon the conscience unpardoned, the more doth the guilt of it increase. Now all the while sin is hid, all the while sin is artificially and intentionally covered, it remains unpardoned; and therefore the guilt of it must needs increase upon the soul.

2. Sin being thus covered, increaseth in the filth and contagion of it, in the strength and power of it, it gains more upon the soul, it grows more master and more masterly; lust begins to rage, rave, it commands and carries all before it, while we are so foolish as to keep it close and covered. If any say, Surely it is not so sinful to cover and hide sin, for doth not Scripture condemn those that did not hide it? I answer, that there is a two-fold not hiding of sin.

1. A confession of the fact, or the thing done (Joshua 7:19).

2. A confession of the fault; that is, that in doing so we have done amiss, or done sinfully and foolishly.

3. There is in confession not only an acknowledgment of the fact and fault, but a submission to the punishment. Confession is a judging of ourselves worthy of death. True confession is a submitting to the sentence of the Judge, yea, a judging of ourselves, and a justifying of God in all, even in His sharpest and severest dispensations. Some may say, Is there a necessity to make such a confession of sin, seeing that God is already acquainted with and knows our sins, with all the circumstances and aggravations of them? But we do not confess to inform God of what He knows not, but to give glory to God in that which He knows. We are also called to an acknowledgment and confession of our sins to God, that we ourselves may be more deeply affected with them. The knowledge which God hath of sin in and by Himself may be a terror to sinners, His knowing of them by us is only a ground of comfort; God hath nowhere promised to pardon sin because He knows it, but He hath if we make it known. Nothing is known properly to God in that capacity as He pardons and forgives, but that which is acknowledged by us. The acknowledgment of sin is--

Sin should be confessed feelingly, sincerely, with self-abhorrence, and believingly. (Joseph Caryl)

Verse 40

Job 31:40

The words of Job are ended.

Job’s final position

Running like a golden thread through all this vehement and passionate language, we have seen a vein of thought which has given this half-rebellious questioner a claim upon our sympathy, and which even had the book ended here, would have prevented thoughtful men from joining his opponents, and from abandoning the solitary and tortured sufferer to the reproaches of his friends, and to the condemnation of the future readers of this great controversy. His soul, ripened by the hot blast of cruel affliction, is being prepared for a step, a long step forward, in that progressive revelation of God Himself to man, given us in Holy Scripture. He sickens at the sight and sense of wrong, and clinging to the conviction that, in spite of all appearances, God must be just--juster than his friends, or his own creed, or his own experience have declared Him to be--he struggles to be true, at once to himself, to his conscience, and his God. He yearns for a clearer sight of, and a nearer approach to the Divine Being against whom, as seen in the insufficient light given him, he has launched so vehement an indictment, so terrible a flood of fervid and poetic wrath. And while he has no sure and certain hope of a life beyond the grave, such as was revealed to the world in Christ, yet his pathetic moans at the finality of death give place, once to a dim aspiration, and once and again to a more loud assertion of his conviction--bursting forth like a flash of light from his darkest mood--that even if he is to die, die in his misery and desolation, God will yet be his Goel, his Vindicator; that somehow, he knows not how, he shall even after the shock of death have sight of God, and have his wrongs redressed; and therefore that he who has once been so dear to Him, and who has fallen so low in this life, will not be left to be “of all men most miserable.” And we have noticed how, in his description of his early life, he moves in a serene and lofty atmosphere, puts before us a moral standard of practice and even of thought which a Christian might be thankful to attain and realise And now, he and his friends are alike silent, silent but unconvinced. Neither the one side nor the other have won the adhesion of those against whom they argue. They cannot point to any guilt on Job’s part. He cannot convince them of his innocence. Neither one side nor the other have, we cannot but feel, laid their hands upon the whole truth. Yet each has exhausted his store of arguments, shot his arrows, and emptied his quiver. And deep as is the hold which Job has gained upon our interest and sympathy, yet “the light and shade has been so graduated that those sympathies are not entirely confined to one side.” (Dean Bradley.)
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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 31". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/job-31.html. 1905-1909. New York.