In chapter 31, Job prepares his final defense in order to show his suffering is unfair and should be rescinded.
Perhaps the most popular closing statement in judicial history is Johnnie Cochraine’s during the OJ Simpson trial. Cochrane, who probably thought he was arguing in favor of letting a guilty man go free, was happy enough seeding doubts (i.e. “if the glove does not fit, you must acquit” and “it doesn’t make sense!”). He didn’t need to definitively prove OJ was innocent. Rather, Cochraine just needed to seed enough doubt so that the jury would not convict the defendant.
However, Job makes his closing argument with a sense of absolute certainty. He knows that he is an innocent man. In God’s own words, he is totally “blameless.” It is obvious from his point of view that what he speaks of is totally the truth. Because Job knows he is not lying, he believes even God Himself would know it to be so. Perhaps, God may concede to him his case, Job thinks.
Argument 1: Job kept himself pure, even in his own thoughts, so that he merited no punishment even for secret sins. In the first chapter, we know that Job took righteousness so seriously that he even made sacrifices for his sons in case they cursed God in their hearts. After all, sin begins in the heart:
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness,as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man (Mark 7:21-23).
Job makes the argument that he is not guilt of secret sin, such as fleeting thoughts in his own mind. After all, he never looked at a young woman and lusted secretly in his heart (Job 31:1). Any man can attest that the battle with sexual temptation is constant and requires ceaseless vigilance, so as not to entice sinful thinking. After all, even looking upon a woman with lust is adultery (Matt 5:28).
He returns to the same thought later in the chapter: “If I have walked with falsehood and my foot has hastened after deceit…If my step has turned from the way, or my heart followed my eyes” (Job 31:5, 7). And he does so again: “If my heart has been enticed by a woman or I have lurked at my neighbor’s doorway, may my wife grind for another” (Job 31:9-10). His point is clear. If he has even thought of sinning or followed through, as thoughts and actions are both important, may he be punished accordingly (Job 31:8).
We must remind ourselves that it would have been pretty easy for Job to have had several affairs. He was wealthy and had many servants, female ones amongst them.
Why does Job not give into such temptation? He states:
For that would be a lustful crime;
Moreover, it would be an iniquity punishable by judges.
For it would be fire that consumes to Abaddon,
And would uproot all my increase (Job 31:11-12).
As we can see it would be a lustful sin in which God will punish him in hell for. Further, he can stand to lose everything and be punished for going through with it.
We need not read into this defense that Job is necessarily obsessed with sex. Rather, he is keenly aware the adultery is much like idolatry. The Scripture is replete with assertions that worshiping other gods makes one a spiritual adulterer. This is why later in the chapter, Job focuses on the first and second commandments:
If I have put my confidence in gold,
And called fine gold my trust,
If I have gloated because my wealth was great,
And because my hand had secured so much; (Job did not make his wealth his god, unlike the rich young ruler, Mark 10:17-27.)
If I have looked at the sun when it shone
Or the moon going in splendor,
And my heart became secretly enticed, (Not even in his thoughts was he enticed to worshiped created things instead of the Creator.)
And my hand threw a kiss from my mouth,
That too would have been an iniquity calling for judgment (that being eternal),
For I would have denied God above (Sin, in of itself, is rebellion against God; Job 31:24-28).
As we can see, all of these are sins of the heart and mind. Jobe, categorically, denies that he committed any of these serious sins.
Job ends this argument concerning his righteous thinking at the end of the chapter: “Have I covered my transgressions like Adam by hiding my iniquity in my bosom, because I feared the great multitude and the contempt of families terrified me and kept silent and did not go out of doors” (Job 31:33-34)? What does this mean? We believe what Job is saying is, “No, I did not hide any secret sin. I did not avoid sinning simply out of fear of others’ contempt. I truly fear the Lord, not man.”
Jesus issues a similar warning: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28).
There is one additional confusing comment made by Job when he argues the righteousness of his thoughts: “Or if any spot has stuck to my hands” (Job 31:7). What is he getting at?
Job says this when commenting that he never turned away from God. His comment about his “hands” merely supports this notion. His feet did not turn to sin, neither do his hands have marks (i.e. dirt or defilement) that would evidence sin.
The Scripture makes reference to the cleanness of hands not only in the Law (for ritual cleanliness is merely a picture of righteous living, not literal cleanness), but also in 1 Tim 2:18: “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” The holiness of one’s hands is evidence of the shunning of evil, as Job details his understanding of Job 28:28.
Argument 2: Job’s righteousness was so notable that his suffering was undeserved. There is a heretical story that people often tell about someone going to heaven and meeting God. When God denies the person’s entrance into heaven, the person exclaims, “But, I didn’t do anything!”
“Yes,” God’s reply is. “And that’s precisely the problem.”
Now that Job has substantiated that he has dealt with sin in his life not only evidenced by his actions, but also his very thoughts, he sets out to prove that he also pursued righteousness. Perhaps he is aware of the old proverb: “He who pursues righteousness and loyalty finds life, righteousness and honor” (Prov 21:21). It as if Job is saying, “Hello, God…where’s my life, righteousness, and honor? I’m, kinda, in a rut right now and use some of that about now…”
Just how did Job pursue righteousness? First, Job details how he was patient with servants who complained with him (Job 31:13). He then gives a very telling and Godly reason: “[W]hen He calls me to account, what will I answer Him? Did not He who made me in the womb make him and the same one fashion us in the womb” (Job 31:14, 15)? This obviously relates to Paul’s admonition, “[M]asters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him” (Eph 6:9). We can read into this that Job fulfilled his responsibility as a boss in a God-glorifying way.
Job then, in his defense, discusses how he has helped the poor (Job 31:16-22). It is easy for those of us with modern sensibilities to read these things as self-righteous boasts. After all, Job claims to have helped orphans since his “infancy” (Job 31:18).
Is Job being really hard-headed and self righteous? Not necessarily. Job 31:18 may simply be an expression along the lines of saying, “I helped the orphans as long back as I can remember.” However, we do not take this interpretation. The real clue is when Job says “from my youth he grew up with me” (Job 31:18). Simply put, Job likely had adopted siblings who he was very loving towards, as he is with his children. It is perhaps with a touch of irony that he has been good to his siblings even since youth, yet they as of present have abandoned him (Job 19:13-14, 17, 19).
Perhaps, Job is communicating that he did not use his position as the legitimate son of his parents as a means to lord over his adopted siblings. As Jesus Christ taught, “But the greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt 23:11). So, Job is saying he was always a fair and loving “brother” to orphans, both figuratively and literally.
Another, somewhat cryptic saying, is when Job says, “If I have lifted up my hand against the orphan, because I saw I had support in the gate, let my shoulder fall from the socket” (Job 31:21, 22). The latter part is pretty easy to understand. Job is so confident he did not do such a thing, he is willing to risk punishment. The former part about “support” is confusing.
Why would he lift his hand because he saw he had support in doing so? Unlike our modern view of crime where theft is something often perpetrated by the poor, this was not necessarily true in the ancient world. Many thieves, who operated at night, were in fact rich. They benefited from being able to afford weapons and had legal protections that came with property ownership, such as citizenship. What Job is saying here is that he did not take advantage of his social position to defraud the poor, something that other rich and “honorable” men, perhaps seeking to dishonor the poor to accrue to their own honor, were all too willing to do.
Job makes similar comments later in the chapter pertaining to him feeding his servants well (Job 31:31) and being hospitable to the resident alien (Job 31:32). It is apparent that he has pursued righteousness, yet GOd has not treated him as righteous. In all of this, it is as if Job is asking, “Where is my life? It is wasting away. My honor? I have been humiliated. How do I really know then I will attain ‘righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith’ (Rom 9:30)?”
Argument 3: God’s revealed nature should exclude his suffering. In this chapter, Job touches on this the least. However, it is an important point in making his complete argument to God. If he does not deserve suffering and God reserves disaster for the wicked, then any honest arbitrator would say that God should relinquish his suffering.
And what is the portion of God from above
Or the heritage of the Almighty from on high?
Is it not calamity to the unjust
And disaster to those who work iniquity?
Does He not see my ways
And number all my steps
Let Him weigh me with accurate scales,
And let God know my integrity (Job 31:2-4, 6)?
Job’s point is obvious. If God is true to His revealed nature, He should know that Job does not deserve the portion of the wicked. Now, of course, Job as well as any man is in of himself wicked because of his sin. However, Job is a man of faith and knows he should be in a right standing with God because of it. “For calamity from God is a terror to me and because of His majesty I can do nothing” (Job 31:23). So, he cannot understand then why God would treat his faithful ones like how He says He will treat the wicked.
Job concludes his argument. Using poetic language, Job sets his seal on his arguments (Job 31:35), reiterates his confidence that he would be found in the right (Job 31:36), and asserts that he can approach God with the confidence that he will be found not guilty (Job 31:37). Job is in fact so confident that he will not found in the wrong, he places a curse upon himself (Job 31:38-40).
Job might have lived blamelessly. And, indeed, he is imputed no sin due to God’s grace made available to him by faith in Him. However, in his haste to justify himself in feeling rightfully wronged by God, He has mischaracterized God’s motives and nature. The rest of the book now helps clear up any misconceptions about God’s nature and why He ordains evil.