Job 31

The Word Made Fresh

1“I have made a promise that my eyes would never look longingly at a virgin girl. 2What then would I deserve from God above? What would I inherit from the Almighty on high? 3Don’t troubles follow the unrighteous? Doesn’t disaster follow debauchery? 4And doesn’t God see all I do and count my steps?

5“If I have lived with falsehood, or if my feet have rushed me to dishonesty, 6then let me be judged fairly, and God will know I am innocent! 7If I have turned off the right path and my longings have followed my eyes, and if any dirt is on my hands, 8then let others benefit from my work, and let me gain nothing from my toil.

9“If I have ever been attracted to another woman and waited in hiding at my neighbor’s door, 10let my wife keep house for someone else, and let other men sleep with her. 11That would be a terrible mistake, a criminal act. 12That would be like the fires of hell burning all my fields.

13“If my men or women servants brought a complaint to me and I turned them away, 14then what should I do when God brings a complaint? 15Didn’t God, who formed me in my mother’s womb, form them, too?

16“If I have withheld anything the poor needed, or brought tears to a widow’s eyes, 17or eaten my meal alone while the orphan goes hungry – 18since I was a teenager I took care of orphans like I was their father, and all my life I have helped the widow – 19if I have ever seen anyone die because they had no clothing, or a poor person with nothing to wear, 20even if they had done nothing for me and I had never done anything for them before; 21if I have ever struck an orphan because I have friends in the courts and thought I could get away with it; 22then let my arm dangle from the shoulder, broken at the socket. 23I have never done these things because I fear God and would not have dared to face God’s majestic presence.

24“If I have trusted only in fine gold; 25if I have exulted because I was wealthy and had accumulated so much; 26if I have looked at the sun’s brightness and the moon’s beauty, 27and my heart has been secretly seduced so that I kissed my own hand; 28this would be judged to be a sin because I would have been unfaithful to God.

29“If I have exulted at my enemies’ ruin, or was glad when they were overtaken by evil 30(I have never allowed my mouth to sin by asking for their destruction); 31if anyone in my household ever said there was someone who had not been fed with my meat 32(no stranger has had to sleep in the street for I have opened my door to travelers); 33if I have hidden my sin as Adam did, hiding my error in my heart 34because I was afraid of the crowd and feared being held in contempt by others, so that I was silent and kept it to myself; 35then if only someone would listen to me! Here, I have put it in writing and signed it! Let the Almighty judge me! If I am guilty, let me see it in writing! 36I would carry it on my arm and wear it on my head; 37I would report to God an account of everything I do, like a prince reporting to the king!

38“If the fields have cried out against me with their furrows weeping, 39because I have eaten their produce without paying for it and thus caused the owners to suffer, 40then let my fields bring thorns instead of wheat and weeds instead of barley!”

And with that, Job was silent.


1-4: Job continues to defend his life and assert his innocence. All of this is an effort to answer the question, “Why?” When disaster comes, we instinctively look for our role in it: what have I done to cause this, or to deserve this?

5-8: If he has done anything that would deserve punishment, then let the punishment at least be fair. He insists that his suffering is out of all proportion to his crime, if indeed there is any crime.

9-12: If he had committed adultery it would indeed be “a terrible mistake,” and then let the punishment fit the crime. But, of course, he has done no such thing.

13-15: He knows that mistreating his slaves is a sin and that God would be right to punish him for it. But, of course, he declares that he is innocent of such things.

16-23: He has never neglected the poor or the orphan or the widow because he fears the wrath of God.

24-28: If he had put his wealth above his God that would be cause for punishment. He of course does not believe he has done that.

29-37: He can understand being punished if he has ever rejoiced over the misfortunes of others or refused to offer hospitality to the stranger. But, again, he has not done this.

38-40: If he has misused or abused his land (but he has not) that would be cause for an indictment against him.

And with that, his defense rests.


In all of these “if … then” scenarios Job is returning to the original legal argument of the book. Basically, he is demanding, “What charge has been brought against me?” He simply cannot imagine that he is suffering for no reason at all. Maybe his only “sin” is that he believes he is sinless. Perhaps the best we can do in Job’s situation is to simply accept reality and ask God to support us through the ordeal, remembering all along that suffering and death, for the faithful, leads to life everlasting.