Q: Tonight I read Job 31:34. I do not quite grasp it, though. I understand the words but not the historical context of the situation or the background information. To me, the passage means that Job had some social anxiety. He wasn’t sure if he feared “the world” or just a select few. Possibly he felt trapped? Am I far off? I really feel like God directly led me to this passage and I want to understand fully what it means. Can you help me?
A: We must read and understand this verse in the context of the entire chapter, Job’s final statement of self-vindication. Here we see how Job could find no reason for receiving such treatment at the hand of God. The structure is largely a series of “if ... then” statements. They basically say, “If I’ve done something wrong, then I’m receiving a just punishment. Yet I can’t see any wrong, so why are these troubles upon me?”
Job 31:14 is part of the series of statements beginning with verse 29. It flows directly out of the previous verse. Job wasn’t lamenting a social anxiety but rather confessing that he never allowed peer pressure or the strength of numbers to prevent his acting righteously. In verses 29-40, he told the others, “I’ve kept my mouth from sinning. I’ve fed the hungry and housed the traveler. I haven’t hidden any sins out of fear of other people. So why isn’t there an indictment I can answer? If there were, I’d display it openly and bring it up for God’s review. Why, even my agricultural practices are in line with God’s will!”
In summary, while he spoke it to his visitors, chapter 31 was actually Job’s final direct challenge to God. Through it, he dared the Lord to tell him what he’d done wrong. Tired of covering the same ground over and over, he then stopped talking. God allowed Elihu to speak (and demonstrate his own lack of understanding) and then responded with an even stronger dare to Job. He challenged the puny mortal to think His thoughts and do His deeds. In other words, He dared Job to try to be God (see chapters 38-41).
Chapters 40 and 41 demonstrate Job’s inadequacy for the task of acting like God. How could he be almighty if couldn’t even master the two great beasts, Behemoth and Leviathan (perhaps an aquatic dinosaur and a dragon)? Realizing his folly, the patriarch confessed that he’d shot off his mouth without thinking: “I have uttered what I did not understand. (42:3)” He then repented “in dust and ashes. (v. 6)” After this, the Lord vindicated Job, telling the others that Job, not they, had spoken of Him what was right and telling them that they, not Job, were the ones who needed to offer sacrifice for their sins while Job prayed for them (vv. 7-9). Still without explaining His motivation, “The Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. (v. 10)”
Now, if you continue to feel a psychological connection with Job 31:34, especially if groups intimidate you, you’ll find words of encouragement in the book’s conclusion. For even though His wrath burns brightly against unrepentant sinners, the Lord deals kindly with the weak, strengthens faith, and provides for all who call upon Him in trust. Seek His blessings to calm fears, soothe nerves, and encourage your God-pleasing endeavors.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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Newspaper column #546:3