Love Your Neighbor as Yourself: Job 31 Continued | Tom J. Nettles

by | Apr 2, 2024 | Old Testament, Practical Theology


Job claims honesty in all his dealings with others (31:5-8). Job now begins a series of possible conditions that would justly bring about divine judgment on him – “If I have walked with falsehood . . . If my step has turned aside from the way.” About seventeen sections begin with “If I have . . .” Sometimes, these “If” clauses contain more than one conceived action. They are followed by what Job would consider a just consequence of retribution. He is setting out in a clear and candid way the propositions of the accepted sin-and-punishment code of the day. He is letting those know who will listen, including God, that he consents to the justice of this code and is willing to be punished in accord with it but does not see where he has violated it. It is as if he is signing his name to a declaration of innocence—“Here is my signature!”(35)—and puts it before the judge, challenging evidence to the contrary. The code to which both he and the accusers consent is not wrong, in biblical terms as far as it goes, but it does not take into consideration many other ideas that must be a part of the equation. His friends, ostensibly, do not accept that possibility; Job, however, as has been shown in other chapters, knows that there must be more to take into consideration.

After the first conditional statement (5: “If I have walked with falsehood”), Job asserts his willingness to bear divine scrutiny on this issue. “Let me be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity!” If covetousness or greediness have stuck to him so as to alter his determination for just and generous dealing with others, then he is willing for his labors to go immediately to the benefit of others—“Let me sow and another reap” (7, 8). Job shows that he is committed to a just retribution for sin of any sort. He knows that such moral equity should be executed in this life and the next.

In light of his fear of God, Job has not failed to deal in mercy with the needy (13-23). He begins with his own servants (13-15). Job presents a case in which one of his servants might have a just complaint against Job. He does not repudiate the legitimate role of having authority but examines the relational role of human to human, or even more compelling, of fellow servants of God. Paul reminded the masters that “whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free” and sets before them the reality, “He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.” (Ephesians 6:8, 9). This moral principle is written on the heart and was discerned with profundity by Job.

If the servant were to register a legitimate complaint, and Job’s actions were really reproachable, then how will he answer God? God sees things without partiality and does not evaluate moral action on the basis of one’s status in human society. We are reminded that James gave a severe warning to the rich that did not pay fairly or promptly in dealing with their field laborers, and the cries of those laborers reached the ears of the Lord of hosts (James 5:4, 5). Job knows of God’s perfect impartiality and has sought to govern his relations accordingly.

Job points to creation as the great leveler. One God made us all; one God fashioned us in the womb. How can one creature conduct himself as if he had diminished moral obligations to another creature of the same moral nature, fashioned by God in his own image? Paul appeals even beyond this when he reminded Philemon that his slave, a runaway, should be received “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 16). As with his servants, so with the poor, the needy, the homeless of the land, Job has lived with an awareness of the truth that they were created in God’s image and have equal claim to justice and compassionate treatment from fellow mortals. He has shown special concern to the poor and the fatherless. Job mentions the poor, the widow, the orphans, and those with special needs of immediate aid in food and clothing (16-19). To each of these cases, Job has been conscientiously compassionate, taking from his own table, fleecing his own flock, and refusing to bring a case against the helpless even when a compelling case could have been made (21). Job knew that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17) and that seeing those that are poorly clothed and lacking in daily food must bring forth generosity to provide for the things of the body. Job’s actions would perfectly coincide with the concern of John who said, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). In verse 22, Job brings an imprecation on himself of great physical pain, if he has not cared for the physical needs of those around him.

Job, even in this time of seeking to find the face of God and present a case before him, shows his exalted conviction of the perfect justice of God and the need to live in healthy fear of his majesty. This has motivated Job in the conscientious attention to mercy and generosity that characterized his life. He shows here his openness to the kind of meeting with God that he will have in just a short while. He knows that had he not shown kindness, compassion, and deference to others, he could not have faced the exalted glory of divine majesty without blame (23).

The recognition of different levels of duty to the variety of social, political, and commercial relations we have in human society (Romans 13:1-7) does not compromise the absolute moral relevance of God’s law in all human relations (Romans 13:8-10).


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