Job 31:1-40
Integrity's Freedom

American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
Copyright © 2013, John W. (Jack) Carter     Scripture quotes from KJV


What is the reward for living a life of integrity?   We all make choices concerning the set of attitudes and behaviors that shape our character.  These choices define who we are, they define the nature of our relationships with others, and they define the nature of our relationship with God.  When our choices are self-centered and sinful, we may experience some form of short-term reward, but the long-term consequences can be extremely destructive as they serve to denigrate one’s character in a way that destroys those relationships. 

When one maintains a lifestyle that is characterized by dishonesty, they find themselves continually covering lies with other lies, and by so doing weave a web of deceit that can only come crashing down when it is heavily weighted by those lies.  This individual must continually work to maintain their deceit, with their true heart protected, in hiding, from the consequences of their self-centeredness.  When one lives such a life, they ultimately experience the destructive power of their sinful attitudes and actions as they become enslaved by a multiple of sins that may include lust, dishonesty, adultery, injustice, greed, idolatry, malice, guilt, sinfulness, and many others.

There is an alternative to this lifestyle.  Our lives are shaped by our choices, and we can choose to place our trust in the LORD who gives us the power to turn away from the ravaging consequences of sin as we, in seeking obedience to Him, are pointed to a better way.  The Holy Spirit works in the heart of a believer to fill it with the peace, love, and joy that those who do not know the LORD search for in other places.  As the Holy Spirit works in one’s heart, their desire to sin fades as they experience the blessings of God’s love.  Empowered to turn from their sin, a faithful believer can turn away from a lifestyle of sin, and by so doing turn away from the dramatic consequences that sin brings into one’s life.

Job is an example of a man who was faithful to God who lived in a world that was quite ignorant of the good news of God’s plan of salvation.  Leading his family in a life of spiritual and physical integrity, Job had no “skeletons in the closet,” no reason to doubt the voracity of his faithfulness, and no reason to carry any guilt.  Hence, living in a world that believed that all bad things were a punishment exacted by the gods for sinful behavior, all of Job’s friends accused him of occult sinful behaviors, while Job was uncompromising in his confidence in his own innocence.  Job had no idea what the reason was for the dissolution of his life experience, and continued to trust in God.

In the 31st chapter of Job, the writer reviews a list of the sins that his friends accused him of, declaring his innocence of each.  He was innocent of these charges simply because he had chosen a lifestyle of faith, a lifestyle of obedience to the LORD.  Job chose early in his life to avoid sinful behaviors, setting limits on his behavior that he would not exceed, limits that would serve to protect him.  Christians today would be wise to determine to follow the same wise choices of Job, choices that served to protect him from sin’s consequences, choices that emboldened his confidence when his world seemed to crumble all around him.

This chapter is a Hebrew poem, organized as nine stanzas.  Consideration of the poetic structure can help us to better determine the message.

Stanza One.  FREE FROM THE DESTRUCTIVE POWER OF LUST

Job 31:1.  I made a covenant with mine eyes;

why then should I think upon a maid?

A covenant is a form of a vow.  Early in Job’s life of faith, he made a covenant, or a vow, not to look upon a woman with lust.  Those who would argue that it is easy to fall into the sin of lust are ignoring the fruit of the Holy Spirit:  self-control.  Job decided that he would simply not allow himself to look upon a woman lustfully.  Obedience to the LORD is a choice.  This was not an arbitrary decision.  His decision is based upon the remainder of the content of this stanza.

Job 31:2-4.  For what portion of God is there from above?

and what inheritance of the Almighty from on high?

3Is not destruction to the wicked?

and a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity?

4Doth not he see my ways,

and count all my steps?

Knowing that sin has consequences, Job chose obedience to the LORD rather than place himself into a setting where he could experience the consequences of sinful choices.  Job recognizes that the LORD can observe all of his attitudes and actions, and his relationship with the LORD can never escape that observation.  So, for Job it is a simple choice.  He understands the LORD to be sovereign, as LORD, He interacts with His children.  Job recognizes that the LORD has an inheritance for the faithful and a dramatic and destructive form of punishment for the wicked.  Consequently, why would Job deliberately choose to be wicked? 

Job is confident in his innocence of the sin of lust, illustrated by his bold statement that he has both chosen to refrain from lustful thoughts, and that he has very good reason to have lived a life that is faithful to that decision without compromise.

Likewise, the faithful today can make the same determination.  Lustful thoughts become sin when one embraces and responds to them.  One can choose to reject those thoughts when they are first recognized.  Furthermore, one can organize their relationships with others to help protect them from situations and circumstances where such temptations could arise.   

Stanza Two.  FREE FROM THE DESTRUCTIVE POWER OF DISHONESTY

Job 31:5-6.  If I have walked with vanity,

or if my foot hath hasted to deceit;

6Let me be weighed in an even balance,

that God may know mine integrity.

Job, in order to be obedient to the LORD is confident that he has tried to live a life that is free of vanity and deceit.  It would be easy to reject the guidance of the Holy Spirit and choose a self-centered life that is characterized by pride and arrogance.  Knowing the pitfalls of vanity and deceit, Job chose to avoid such behaviors, and having made that choice, and having rejected such behavior, he is also confident of his innocence of this charge.  Knowing that he will never be able to convince his “friends” of his innocence, he seeks to be vindicated by the LORD’s judgment.  Job is confident in the omniscience of God, and knows that the LORD will judge him justly, exonerating him fully from any guilt. 

Job 31:7-8.  If my step hath turned out of the way,

and mine heart walked after mine eyes,

and if any blot hath cleaved to mine hands;

8Then let me sow, and let another eat;

yea, let my offspring be rooted out.

Job speaks to two other forms of dishonesty.  The first, related to lust, involves letting his decisions and desires be led by his “eyes,” desiring and choosing the things of this world over the things of God.  One can lust after the things of this world, and Job has chosen to protect himself against this sin also.  A lust over the things of this world, if left unabated, can lead one to theft.  “Cleaved to mine hands” is similar to our modern idiom, “sticky fingers,” referring to theft.

Confident that he is not guilty of an inordinate desire for the things of this world, and that he is not guilty of taking them for himself, he continues his oath with the “Then let me…” knowing full-well that, being innocent, he could not receive the recompense he lists.  The first refers to having the work of his hands taken away, and the second refers to having his offspring taken from his ancestry.  Again, he knows of his innocence, and is confident enough in his integrity that he knows that he would not lose in the exchange. 

Stanza Three.  FREE FROM THE DESTRUCTIVE POWER OF ADULTERY

Job 31:9.  If mine heart have been deceived by a woman,

or if I have laid wait at my neighbour’s door;

Job continues, expressing his innocence of the sin of adultery.  Job’s vow of obedience to the LORD includes his rejection of anything that would lead him to the sin of adultery.  Only one verse is given to describe the sin, doing so in two different forms:  the first involves an illicit relationship with an unmarried woman and the second, involving one who is married.

Job 31:10-12.  Then let my wife grind unto another,

and let others bow down upon her.

11For this is an heinous crime; yea,

it is an iniquity to be punished by the judges.

12For it is a fire that consumeth to destruction,

and would root out all mine increase.

Again, Job is confident of his innocence because he knows that he has honored his commitment to his marriage without compromise.  Consequently, as he lists those punishments he would accept should he be guilty, he is fully aware that his innocence would exonerate him from any of these actions.  They simply serve to illustrate his confidence in his integrity. 

The frequency of adulterous relationships among those who claim to have faith in God is similar to those who make no such claim.  Adulterous relationships among Christian pastors and leaders are common.  Because of their tendency to abstain from contraceptives and birth-control measures, the frequency of illicit pregnancies among Christians is as high, or higher, than that of the non-Christian community.[1]

Job was protected from this sin simply by his choice to refrain from such behavior, again a covenant that he made with himself and the LORD early in his walk of faith.  Christians today can follow his example by committing themselves to uncompromised sexual integrity, proactively rejecting situations that could serve to develop into illicit behaviors. 

The first defense against the sin of adultery is the simple commitment to maintain the integrity of the marriage vows without compromise.  Sometimes some basic and practical rules can serve as a secondary defense, rules that when obeyed diminish the opportunities for temptation.  For example, for thirty-three years as a university professor and pastor, I never allowed my office door to be closed when counseling someone unless there was another responsible individual in the room with me.  Recently, on a mission trip to China I was invited into the dorm room of three adult Christian single women who could not understand why I would not enter any further than the open doorway.

Again, Job understands the devastating consequences that result from giving in to the sin of adultery.  It does not take a great amount of godly wisdom to recognize the dramatic destructive power of this sin as it serves to destroy relationships that reach far beyond the marriage, serves to destroy trust, and serves to isolate the sinner as the matrix of compromised relationships spreads throughout the family (verse 12).

Stanza Four.  FREE FROM THE DESTRUCTIVE POWER OF INJUSTICE

Job 31:13-15.  If I did despise the cause of my manservant or of my maidservant,

when they contended with me;

14What then shall I do when God riseth up?

and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him?

15Did not he that made me in the womb make him?

and did not one fashion us in the womb?

Slavery was a normative part of ancient near-eastern culture, and slaves were probably denied justice more than any others.  Society did not disdain the cruel treatment of property slaves, so egregious injustice towards them was commonplace.  One who is determined to live a life of spiritual integrity that is one with the Holy Spirit will always stand firmly against any injustice, without any mixture of prejudice concerning the target of that injustice.  

The first verse of this stanza notes that Job had many slaves.  These would have been the people who cared for his many animals.  Job makes it clear that he has always treated his slaves with honor and respect, treating them justly in their interactions with him.  Since Job knows the LORD observes his behavior, and being a just judge, He would never approve of injustice.  If Job treated his servants like others in his community he would have to answer to the LORD for that behavior.  The last statement also reveals that Job understands that all people are created by God to be equal, and are equal in His eyes. 

Since Job has always treated his servants with honor and respect he is confident that he is completely innocent of any charge of treating them unjustly.

Stanza Five.  FREE FROM THE DESTRUCTIVE POWER OF GREED

Job 31:16-23.  If I have withheld the poor from their desire,

or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail;

17Or have eaten my morsel myself alone,

and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof;

18(For from my youth he was brought up with me,

as with a father, and I have guided her from my mother’s womb;)

19If I have seen any perish for want of clothing,

or any poor without covering;

20If his loins have not blessed me,

and if he were not warmed with the fleece of my sheep;

21If I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless,

when I saw my help in the gate:

22Then let mine arm fall from my shoulder blade,

and mine arm be broken from the bone.

23For destruction from God was a terror to me,

and by reason of his highness I could not endure.

One of the hallmark characteristics of one who lives a life that is led of the Holy Spirit is generosity.  True agape love, when expressed in one’s life, is shown by one’s true care and concern for others, a concern that is greater for others than for self.  Such people are generous to the point that those who do not know the LORD do not understand their behavior.  As one who loves the LORD, Job was generous in this way.  In this stanza he illustrates some of the areas where his giving was spontaneous.

16. He generously supported the poor and widows.

17, 21. He generously supported orphans.

19. He generously provided clothing for those in need.

It is the LORD’s purpose that we would love one another and share with one another so that none would be in need.  Understanding that purpose, it is reasonable that the LORD would bless Job with wealth since He shares it with those in need.  Job is so confident in his spirit of generosity that he states yet another oath, “may my arm fall,” knowing fully that he would never be subject to such judgment. 

Furthermore, Job states another motivation for his generosity:  he wishes to please God, and failure to do so, for him, equates to destruction and terror.  Job had an understanding of God that the world lacks:  the world is unmotivated by the consequences of their rebellion against God.  Job understood the terrifying consequences of denying God.

Stanza Six.  FREE FROM THE DESTRUCTIVE POWER OF IDOLATRY

A person of faith puts their full confidence in God, finding that all other things in this universe are less than Him and are subject to Him.  We understand that all that we observe belongs to Him, and that we are here only for a short time while we are given stewardship of it.  Consequently, a person of faith will give full authority to God, and will not give authority to any other person, place, or thing, that is not part of God’s purpose. 

Since the creation of man, people have intrinsically known of the presence of God, seeking His authority in many places other than in Him.  Some have chosen to lust after and give authority to physical objects that have great cultural value, such as gold, silver, diamonds, etc.  Before the age of science it was common for people to bow down and worship that which they did not understand, believing those things to be greater than themselves, such as the sun and moon.  Some would give inordinate authority to the works of their hands.  All of these behaviors are examples of idolatry: giving to created things the authority that is to be given to God, alone. 

Job 31:24-28.  If I have made gold my hope,

or have said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence;

25If I rejoiced because my wealth was great,

and because mine hand had gotten much;

26If I beheld the sun when it shined,

or the moon walking in brightness;

27And my heart hath been secretly enticed,

or my mouth hath kissed my hand:

28This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge:

for I should have denied the God that is above.

In this stanza, Job lists these objects of idolatry that are often worshipped by those who live in the pagan world around himself.  He fully understands how people place both their hope and confidence in gold.  I was once given several antique gold $20 coins to sell (American golden eagles.)  Holding them in my hand I was struck by their intrinsic worthlessness.  Rising to a peak market value of near $1,900 each in December, 2012, their value fell to about $1,200 in July of 2013.  What gives gold this value?  If I hold this gold coin in my hands, embrace it with my heart, place it in a safe place, and then pass it on to my children, what value has it been to me?  The only impact it has had on me throughout my life has been the cost of keeping the coin safe and secure.  I have gained nothing other than distraction or fantasy.  However, Job recognizes how one’s holding hope and confidence in gold can replace one’s hope and confidence in one’s dependence of God.  It is natural to place confidence in riches, but when the things we own replace our dependence and hope in the LORD, those things become idols.  This may bring to mind Jesus’ statement that it is extremely difficult for a rich man to come to faith.[2]

Job also refers to the cultural traditions that worshipped the things that people made.  There are many scriptural references to family gods, and other icons that people would fabricate and then set aside to worship.  Even today we can be tempted to give inappropriate power to created things when they required great skill to create, or when they hold a great appeal to collectors.

Job also refers to the penchant that his contemporaries have to worship the sun and moon.  Prior to scientific inquiry that answers many of man’s deepest questions, people tended to simply attribute anything that they did not understand to a god.  They created a mythical pantheon of gods who they believed had authority over all these mysteries.  Different cultures had sun gods[3], moon gods,[4] fertility gods such as the Canaanite Baal and Asherah (the Egyptians had no less than seventeen), and literally hundreds more.  Serving in the role of modern “Batman,” “Superman,” etc. these gods were the superheroes of their culture.

The vast pantheon of mythical gods are all fictional creations of ancient tradition and literature.  Job understood this, and worshipped only the one true God.  Job had no interest in anything that would cause him to deny the authority of God,  He understood idolatry to be something worthy of God’s punishment.  This world, by placing its trust in things other than the One True God, is practicing idolatry that will serve to separate them from God for eternity, a dramatic and terrible punishment.

Because of his faith in God, Job is confident in that faith and in his lack of temptation to create idols that would compromise his relationship with God.  He fully knows that he is innocent of any charges of practicing idolatry.

Stanza Seven.  FREE FROM THE DESTRUCTIVE POWER OF MALICE

Job 31:29-34.  If I rejoiced at the destruction of him that hated me,

or lifted up myself when evil found him:

30Neither have I suffered my mouth to sin

by wishing a curse to his soul.

31If the men of my tabernacle said not,

Oh that we had of his flesh! we cannot be satisfied.

32The stranger did not lodge in the street:

but I opened my doors to the traveller.

 33If I covered my transgressions as Adam,

by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom:

34Did I fear a great multitude, or did the contempt of families terrify me,

that I kept silence, and went not out of the door?

There may not be an appropriate English word to describe the natural and common human bent to celebrate the pain of others.  We can find enjoyment when others experience pain and misfortune when we are jealous of their state or we think that they “deserve it.”  Much study has been done on this universal characteristic of man, often referred to by the German word, Schadenfreude which might be understood as malicious gloating. 

Malice is a secular, pagan, and worldly behavior that has no part in the experience of one who is filled with the Holy Spirit.  In what may be the zenith of Paul’s letter to the Romans he writes, “Let your love [agape] be without hyprocrisy”[5] and then spends the next three chapters describing how to do so.  Each of the behaviors described in this stanza of Job’s poetic response refer to malicious intent.  True agape love is unconditional and always seeks the benefit of others, never their misfortune.  For one to claim to be a Christian and then hold malice toward another illustrates the very definition of hypocrisy.  God’s confidence in Job, one that He clearly states in His dialogue with satan at the opening of this book, is a testimony to Job’s integrity.  Job is not characterized in any way by hypocrisy:  what you see is truly the expression of his heart, and that heart is filled with love for the LORD and unconditional love towards others.

In this stanza, Job does not close with an oath, but rather a statement that basically says, “Look at me!  Look at the way I have lived!”  He has not behaved like those around him, and has never had to hide hypocrisy.  His life has been an open book for all to see, and he is confident that his life was one that honors the LORD.

Stanza Eight.  FREE FROM THE DESTRUCTIVE POWER OF GUILT

Job 31:35-37.  Oh that one would hear me! behold,

my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me,

and that mine adversary had written a book.

36Surely I would take it upon my shoulder,

and bind it as a crown to me.

37I would declare unto him the number of my steps;

as a prince would I go near unto him.

The poetic statements in this chapter are a defense against the claims and accusations by his three friends who hold that his misfortune is a punishment for his sins.  Job has presented a defense that would make any attorney take notice as he has plead his case before his accusers, before the jury, and before the Judge.  As much as those around him have accused him of being in denial of his sin, he has not given into their counsel, and stands before the court convinced of his innocence. 

Many people, including people of faith, do stand convicted of the sin in their lives.  They carry that conviction with them everywhere they go, doing so in the form of a burden of guilt.  Without the forgiveness that God gives to those who place their faith and trust in Him, that burden of guilt is appropriate, and can be debilitating.  However, for those who have placed their faith and trust in God, there is no longer any need to carry guilt’s burden.  Where sin has condemned the lost to eternal separation from God, that same sin has no power to condemn people of faith.  Paul writes,

Romans 8:1-2.  There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

Unaware of the voracity of this truth, many Christians carry around a burden of guilt as a consequence of their past sins.  However, the LORD has forgiven those sins, and no longer exacts condemnation for them.  This the joy of the gospel message, a joy that is quenched by the false gospels that are often taught.  Many believe that, though they have placed their faith and trust in God, they will lose their salvation if they sin again.  This lie binds all people who believe it into a hopeless future, simply because the profession of faith in God did not bring about the cessation of sin.  All people sin, whether or not they have placed their faith and trust in God.  Anyone who says that they have not sinned is rejecting the gospel message.[6] 

Job is not sinless.  However, by placing his trust in God, his life is characterized by “less sin” because of his desire to life a life that is obedient to the Holy Spirit.  As a mature Christian, Job has adopted a lifestyle of expressed agape love that has taken away the desire to sin.  Job has no interest in the behaviors that would serve to diminish his relationship with the LORD or with others.  Consequently, he is quite accurate and honest when he denies guilt of the sins that are outlined by his accusers.  When one lives a similar life of faith, they also can stand before the LORD as Job can, confident in their introspection as they recognize that they are also not characterized by this list of worldly sins. 

How does a Christian respond to the sin in their lives?  When one transgresses against the LORD, they find in Him a forgiving God who continually offers second chances.  The LORD simply seeks confession and repentance as the appropriate response to the sin that is still expressed in the lives of the faithful.  Confession and repentance is followed by utter forgiveness, so there is no reason to carry guilt any further.

A person of faith has been given the power to be entirely free of guilt. 

Stanza Nine.  FREE FROM THE DESTRUCTIVE POWER OF SINFULNESS

Job 31:38-40.  If my land cry against me,

or that the furrows likewise thereof complain;

39If I have eaten the fruits thereof without money,

or have caused the owners thereof to lose their life:

40Let thistles grow instead of wheat,

and cockle instead of barley.

The words of Job are ended.

Job closes his defense with a simple oath.  He recognizes that the “land” does not cry out against him, nor do the “furrows” complain.  He has not eaten of the fruits thereof without having paid his just dues, nor has he committed similar acts against others.  Simply, Job is stating that he is not a sinful man, and because of his faithfulness to God, there is no source of accusation against him, either from the land or from its people.  Job can state this simply because he knows within the very depth of his heart that he has chosen to be a man of integrity, and has found that this integrity has formed a “breastplate of righteousness”[7] that has served to protect him from the fiery darts of accusation. 

As we look at the example of Job, and the confidence that he has in the LORD to provide for him even in the depths of his suffering, we observe a man of true spiritual integrity.  This is the model that all people of faith can emulate when they also find themselves facing the challenges of life.  Even when we are immersed in the worst circumstances that this world can throw at us, those who have placed their trust in the LORD without compromise can stand firm in their confidence in Him, in their confidence in themselves, and in their confidence that the LORD will carry them through.  There is only one source of this confidence:  uncompromised integrity.  Let us examine our own lives and seek to follow the example of Job as we life a life that is led of the Holy Spirit, loving God, and treating others with uncompromised, unconditional agape love.  It is then that we will truly experience the peace, love, and joy that God promises, and the amazing freedom that such a relationship with God brings.[8]


[1] c.f.  Pew Research, Barna

[2] Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25.

[3] Ancient near-eastern sun gods included: Shapash (Canaanite), Ra (Egyptian).

[4] Ancient near-eastern moon gods included:  Men (Phrygian), Ta'lab (Arabian), Wadd (Arabian), Nikkal (Canaanite), Yarikh (Canaanite), Napir (Elamite), askuh (Hittite), Kusuh (Hurrian), Sin (Mesopotamian), Aglibol (Palmarene), Selardi (Urartian).

[5] Romans 12:9.

[6] 1 John 1:10.

[7] Ephesians 6:14.

[8] John 10:10.