Tag Archives: Job 31

12 Restraints Against Sin

 

In the book of Job, chapter 31, we find Job in the midst of a discourse in which he acquits himself of at least a dozen sins as he unfolds his closing argument prior to resting his case before the Judge.

While it can be argued that when Elihu arrives he charges Job with self-righteousness, perhaps using the monologue in this chapter as key fodder for those accusations,  we must nevertheless observe how Job was a model of a holy, godly life.  It may be true that he failed to exercise discretion before trumpeting his good deeds to others, there is still much profit to be had in thoroughly digesting this chapter.  Here we’ll use it to examine the reasons behind the motivation for Job’s integrity, or why Job was restrained against the numerous sins from which he exonerated himself.  These restraints against sin may be summarized as follows

  1. Loss of inheritance with God (vs. 2)
  2. Calamity or disaster by the hand of God’s wrath (vs. 3)
  3. Omniscience of God (vs. 4)
  4. Heinousness of Sin (vs. 11)
  5. Loss of estate & soul (vs. 12)
  6. Hierarchy with God over him (vs. 14)
  7. Equally Fashioned in the womb by God (vs. 15)
  8. Terror of Calamity from God (vs. 23a)
  9. The Majesty of God (vs. 23b)
  10. Punishment by the judges (vs. 28a)
  11. Hypocrisy (vs. 28b)
  12. Fear of God – is the general tenor of all that comprises this list and is the outflow of the overall condition of Job’s heart.

The first three restraints from this summary occur as Job acquits himself of the sin of fornication or lust.  In Job 31:1 he acquits himself of gazing lustfully at a woman with the memorable statement “I have made a covenant with my eyes.”  Job supports this covenant by pointing toward three restraints, namely the loss of inheritance with God, punishment in the form of calamity or disaster at the hand of God’s wrath, and the omniscience of God.  Essentially, Job is questioning what a man who indulges in lust can expect to receive from God.  The rhetorical question implies the answer is, nothing good, in fact only judgment.  Lust of the flesh can often be a hidden sin because once the eye captures, the heart fans the flames of desire largely resulting in the internalization of the sin, though it may have obvious outward manifestations.  Still, though it be a hidden sin, it is not hidden from the all-seeing omniscient eye of God as Job readily recognizes.

Similarly, Job next applies a set of restraints to adultery, or what we might say is the physical expression of the lusts that were denied previously.  Too often we fail to realize that allowing lust of the eyes unfettered access into our hearts can, and often does, result in a greater depth of sin, namely adultery.  Here Job acquits himself of this sin by stating two restraining factors that have held him back, the heinousness of sin and the everlasting fires of judgment that destroy a man’s estate and his soul.

The next two restraints from sin that Job mentions are applied to his business relationship with his employees, described for us as manservants and maidservants.  Here he is restrained by understanding the hierarchy of God to master and master to servant.  In essence, Job has described Ephesians 6:9, Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master (Lord) and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”  The second restraint applied to this case is the equality between the classes, master and servant, because God has fashioned both in the womb.  This is certainly a lesson for us that all men and women are created equal because God is the Creator and Maker of all, in His own image we may add.

The next set of restraints are applied to the societal sins from which Job acquits himself found in verses 16-23.  These two are fear of calamity from God and the majesty of God.  James Durham remarks, “He adds [these] reasons to show, that it was neither his natural temper so inclining him, nor applause of men, nor baseness of spirit, that made him forbear such things, but the awe of God, which was the principle of his acting and forbearing.” (pg. 180)

Finally, we arrive at the sin of idolatry, from which Job says he was restrained by the consequence of punishment by judges and the hypocrisy of denying God.  The sin of idolatry was considered a violation of the law and therefore subject to punishment from the civil authorities.  Additionally, Job sees a higher constraint for idolatry, namely that it would mean he had denied God, which in his case would have been hypocrisy of the highest order.

Parsing through these, we find a godly fear operating within Job as the undercurrent that motivates him to refrain from committing open sins.  This is corroborated by the opening commendation of Job in chapters 1 & 2, There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.  While Job mentions at least these eleven restraints it is clear that the chief restraint is the fear of the Lord.  This calls to mind the very words of Job in chapter 28 describing the height of wisdom from God, “And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’”

In addition to the restraints that Job mentions in this chapter, applied toward particular sins, he also calls down a series of curses upon himself applied in the case of other sins.  Job weaves between restraints and consequences both acting to guard him from delving into a life or pattern of various sins.  Oh that our hearts would be so quick to shun evil as was Job’s.  Oh that we would open our eyes to see the fear of the Lord clearly before us that we might be restrained from sin.

The words of Job are ended

 

The words of Job reach their denouement in the 31st chapter of the book with the concluding statement, “The words of Job are ended.”  To this point, we have heard Job speak at liberty in a variety of ways which began with his first brief response at the onset of affliction in the opening chapter, “And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

This was followed by his second response a chapter later, But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” And then silence; for at least seven days in the presence of his friends, but probably longer due to the time it took them to travel.

By chapter 3, we have no clear reference for how much time has elapsed since the loss of Job’s wealth, the death of his children, and the onset of his excruciating disease.  The seven-day silence is then broken by Job in his lament for death.  We next read Job’s words as he takes his turn in the cyclical interactions with his counseling friends in chapters 6-7; 9-10; 12-13; 16-17; 19; 21; 23-24; and 26-27.

Job’s extended discourse in chapters 26 and 27 is interrupted by the presence of a poetic outburst proclaiming the wisdom of God in chapter 28.  While the location of this chapter in the flow of Job, as well as the orator of this poem, has been the source of debate, it’s best to avoid the speculation by embracing the poem as an interlude in preparation for Elihu’s upcoming speeches and more importantly for the arrival of Yahweh.

In the final three chapters of the words of Job, we see three distinct movements of thought.  The first of these is Job’s longing for the good old days when he walked closely with the Lord and was thought highly of in his community.  In a sense, this overview of the past by Job gives us some insight into his life prior to the events of chapter 1 and adds to our understanding of his overall character.  This pining for the days of old shifts to the present in chapter 30 and Job once again enters into a lament by detailing how the days of old have been reversed and flipped on their head.  Job leaves the present lamentation and begins to conclude with his final defense wherein he lists a series of acquittals from sin.

Looking back over the previous chapters, we may observe that Job has often spoken by way of lament or prayer expressing his desire to die.  He’s offered complaints against God, commendations of God, complaints against his friends, and perhaps most frequently has expressed his desire for vindication, or to be cleared from all accusations of wrong doing.  Through the words of Job, which have meandered and progressed along these various paths from the opening chapters to their conclusion in chapter 31, we can make several observations that will help us with the overall interpretation of the book. These will focus on: 1.) The general spiritual condition of Job 2.) The style or delivery method of Job’s words 3.) The good and the bad.

Regarding Job’s spiritual condition, it’s important to discern that Job vacillates between hope and despair.  With this, it’s critical to note when the occurrence of each takes place and then subsequently to take the context of the words he speaks into account.  In other words, when he is in a moment of despair from the weight of his tragic circumstances and utters words which would make us cringe, we need to understand the context of the wounds out of which these words are spoken.  Likewise, when we read of words of hope and restoration we must realize that this is the faith of Job on display, shining brightly in the midst of the most grievous of circumstances.

Similarly, we may observe in the words of Job that he often wavers between the flesh and the spirit, an internal struggle that every believer of Christ has.  In the New Testament, this is most evident in Romans 7:7-25.  Historically, Martin Luther seems to have placed his finger on the pulse of this malady with the Latin phrase simul justus et peccator, or simultaneously justified and sinner.  In Job, we can sometimes see momentum building in the strengthening of the spirit, while at other times he sinks into the flesh bemoaning his condition, cursing the day he was born, and generally questioning the justice and goodness of God.

Finally, central to the argument of Job in the face of his critics, particularly as it pertains to rightly interpreting his words, is his desire for vindication and the defense of his integrity.  If Job concedes to the argument of his friends that only those embroiled in great wickedness are afflicted and that since he is afflicted he must be numbered among the wicked, then he proves himself to be nothing more than a hypocrite, superficially serving God while being materially blessed, all the while living a wickedly sinful life.  This concession on Job’s part would in turn prove Satan truthful and God a liar.  While Job is not aware of chapters 1 and 2, the reader must feel this tension as the progression of the drama unfolds.

As to the style, typically, the words of Job are spoken in the form of a soliloquy, essentially talking to himself out loud for others to hear, as well as prayer towards God, dialogue with his friends, the aforementioned poem, and later, by way of response directly to God, albeit much briefer than his earlier spoken words.

Job’s words are generally strong displays of theological precision, particularly when hope abounds and the spirit is winning the war over the flesh.  However, the potential for the reader to derail into a  hermeneutical ditch exists when we simply assume that all Job has to say is correct or that the tone with which he speaks is generally positive.  This isn’t always the case.  Job often comes within a hair of outright blasphemy of God by questioning His wisdom, justice, and goodness.  Likewise, he repeatedly sees God as his enemy who has done little more than set him up as a target of His wrath.  Additionally, too often Job’s tongue borders on self-righteousness and pride as the debris of indwelling sin is stirred to the surface through his ongoing affliction and interaction with his friends.  As with the interpretation of the their speeches, so too with Job, we must hold on to the good and leave the bad.

As one reads through the book of Job, it’s nearly impossible not to feel the emotion of Job’s words and to find ourselves siding with him verbatim while dismissing the words of his friends.  Instead, we would do well to interpret the book consistently by maintaining the tension between both good and bad that come from all those who speak up until the arrival of Yahweh.  The Epistle of James hits hard upon this theme of the forked tongue when he says, From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. James 3:10-12  Unfortunately, perhaps nowhere in Scripture is this more clearly on display than with the words of Job and even more so with his friends.

Thus, the words of Job are ended.

 

 

 

 

The Self-Examination of Job

 

With the man Job, we’ve read of the character of Job as seen in the opening chapters of the self-titled book and we’ve heard of the patience, or better, perseverance of Job as referenced in the Epistle of James.  Now, in the 31st chapter of the book, we read something of a self-examination by Job as he makes his final defense.

If we were to strictly view the Book of Job as a courtroom setting, which is not entirely accurate, then we might picture Job representing himself, calling his key witness to the stand, namely himself, and then proceeding with a cross (self) examination.  In other words, Job acting as his own defense attorney, proceeds with a cross-examination of himself.  Depending on how one analyzes the content of chapter 31, Job makes somewhere between 8 and 12 acquittals with respect to particular sins.  I’ve found Puritan James Durham’s analysis of this chapter most helpful and have leaned on him heavily for my own understanding.

Recall that in chapter 22, Job was accosted by Eliphaz with his sharpest critique of Job’s character, largely a character assassination, as Eliphaz accuses Job of extortion, theft, and cruelty to the poor, hungry, weary, widows, and orphans.  At this point in chapter 31, Job specifically addresses these charges through his own self-examination.  This final attempt at exoneration by Job generally follows a pattern of, “If I have done ‘X’, then may ‘Y’ be done to me.”

He begins with a rather abrupt and startling declaration of his innocence of fornication, or lust of the eyes in verse 1.  Durham summarizes this opening remark as if Job had said,

“I was so far from being taken away with that vileness, that neither by the outward eye, nor by the inward affection of the heart that vents itself by the eye, was I carried after it. Yea, I was so abstracted from it, as if I had made a bargain or covenant with mine eyes, not to look a wrong look that way.”

Job offers three critical reasons why he has held his eyes in check with regards to women.  First, that he would not lose his portion with God, or we might say his inheritance, namely God Himself (vs. 2).  Second, the wages of sin is punishment and wrath from God (vs. 3).  Third, the omniscient, all-seeing eye of God upon all his steps and ways (vs. 4).  Perhaps if we considered these restraints as Job has, we would find ourselves less apt to give in to sin, whether by hands or by heart.

The second sin of which Job declares himself not guilty is deception, swindling, or cheating of others (vs. 6), followed by the third acquittal, adultery, which comes into view in verses 7 and 8.  Here Job proclaims a curse upon himself by saying if he should act in this manner against his wife, may she also act in like manner against him.  Additionally, there is an indication that Job has in mind a much stronger consequence, namely that should he be guilty of adultery, may his wife be taken advantage of.  Again, as with fornication, Job expands upon the restraints which have kept him innocent of these charges, primarily the heinousness of the crime worthy of punishment at the hand of God and the destruction of the entirety of man’s estate, literally a fire burning beyond death, consuming all that man has and is.

As we read this, ought not our own hearts be examined for the presence of wayward desires realizing that the slightest sinful thought is rebellion against God, let alone the physical act of adultery.  Writing in 1 Corinthians 6:18, the apostle Paul exhorts us to, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”  Here we are informed of the impact that sexual sin has, not merely outside himself or herself, but it is a sin against one’s own body, as the Apostle continues by pointing out that this is because the body of the believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  How many ministries have been toppled and men who have been used mightily by God been brought low by the heinousness of adultery and the subsequent collapse of their earthly estate.  Brethren, flee youthful passions.

Next, we see Job acquitting himself of austerity or severity with his servants (fourth) in verses 13-15 and oppression or lack of charity with the poor, widows, and orphans in verse 16-23 (fifth).  This is what Durham refers to as “taking advantage of weak ones” as seen in verse 21. Here again, as with most of these sins, fear of God is a restraining factor in the heart of Job, “For I was in terror of calamity from God, and I could not have faced his majesty” Job 31:23 As to this exoneration, Job finds himself in compliance with the declaration found in James 1:27, Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

In the next section of Job’s cross-examination, he acquits himself of idolatrous sins, namely covetousness (sixth), in verses 24-25, and false worship (seventh) in verses 26-28.  This is followed in verses 29-31 with Job’s focus on bitterness and revenge (eighth), while he lists lack of hospitality towards strangers (vs. 32) as his ninth acquittal.  Tenth, we read of concealment of iniquity as with Adam (vs. 33).  There’s a potential translation problem here in the ESV that may more appropriately be, “If I covered my transgressions as Adam; by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom”.  The eleventh, faintness , fear of man, or cowardice of duty (vs. 34) concludes this patter of acquittals.

Then, in verses 35-37, Job signs, seals, and delivers his final defense to the Judge, essentially throwing himself at the mercy of the court in the hopes for exoneration, the vindication that he has pleaded for from the beginning.  Finally, though not listed in the other eleven acquittals above, is Job’s “last vindication (vs. 38-39) that neither his land, nor the masters or tenants upon it, cried against him.”  In other words, Job was clearing himself from being an abusive ‘slum-lord.’

What can we glean from this list of acquittals which Job so meticulously defines?  First, we must note, as Elihu will in subsequent chapters that blowing our trumpets before others, is essentially self-righteousness.  Durham comments, “Job here has much sincerity within, and much provocation without; yet he speaks with too much confidence and grossness of his sincerity, and therefore is found fault with hereafter by Elihu and God.”

However, leaving that aside, there is a genuine application here for believers, namely that holiness is not optional and is attainable.  Not sinless perfection mind you, but a real pursuit of grace-driven, love-of-God-motivated, fear-of-God-restraining holiness. Recall that the Book of Job opened up with the narrator defining the character of Job.  That was followed with God parading Job’s character before Satan, repeating precisely the words of the narrator, not once, but twice.  Job may not be wise in listing his righteousness, much less listing it in the presence of others, but he has lived a holy life and it should be an ambition for our lives until the day we die.

We may conclude with a word from Durham

“Search and see if you are so free of these and the like sins as he was; if as a prince you could go before God, having the testimony of sincerity as he had.  It is the most princely thing to go before God with a good conscience.  Be painful in the exercise of holiness.  Job was under a covenant of grace, and so are you, and yet how exact is he in his walking.  Censure yourselves for being so far behind so holy a pattern; think shame when you read, or hear these things read or spoken of such a holy man that has been so watchful in prosperity, and we take such liberty.  The reason why Job got so much measure of holiness, [is] he watched over the little things, even his very thoughts, and suffered not the least temptation to have access.”