1 “I have made a covenant with my eyes;
how then could I gaze at a virgin?
2 What would be my portion from God above
and my heritage from the Almighty on high?
3 Is not calamity for the unrighteous,
and disaster for the workers of iniquity?
4 Does not he see my ways
and number all my steps?
5 “If I have walked with falsehood
and my foot has hastened to deceit;
6 (Let me be weighed in a just balance,
and let God know my integrity!)
7 if my step has turned aside from the way
and my heart has gone after my eyes,
and if any spot has stuck to my hands,
8 then let me sow, and another eat,
and let what grows for me be rooted out.
9 “If my heart has been enticed toward a woman,
and I have lain in wait at my neighbor’s door,
10 then let my wife grind for another,
and let others bow down on her.
11 For that would be a heinous crime;
that would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges;
12 for that would be a fire that consumes as far as Abaddon,
and it would burn to the root all my increase.
13 “If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant,
when they brought a complaint against me,
14 what then shall I do when God rises up?
When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him?
15 Did not he who made me in the womb make him?
And did not one fashion us in the womb?
16 “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired,
or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
17 or have eaten my morsel alone,
and the fatherless has not eaten of it
18 (for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as with a father,
and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow),
19 if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
or the needy without covering,
20 if his body has not blessed me,
and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep,
21 if I have raised my hand against the fatherless,
because I saw my help in the gate,
22 then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder,
and let my arm be broken from its socket.
23 For I was in terror of calamity from God,
and I could not have faced his majesty.” – Job 31:1-23 ESV
In what appears to be Job’s closing argument, he provides a long list of accusations that have been leveled against him. Since the first moment his three friends arrived in Uz, Job has endured a steady barrage of finger-pointing and fault-finding as they attempted to determine the cause of his suffering. In their minds, Job’s circumstances could only be explained by one thing: Sin.
To have suffered such inexplicable loss and pain, Job must have done something to offend God. That was the only reasonable explanation Job’s self-appointed prosecutors could come up with. So, in this rather lengthy speech, Job addresses each and every one of their accusations head-on but he does it in the form of a call for divine justice or judgment.
Repeatedly, Job uses the conditional statement formula, “If…then. In this rather strange declaration of innocence, Job uses their very accusations to say, “If I have done these things, then let me suffer the consequences.” But inferred by his statement is the counter-argument: “If have not committed these crimes, then may God vindicate me.”
Job is not confessing guilt; he is demanding justice. He remains resolutely committed to his innocence and firmly confident that justice will be done. For Job, the one point of consistency in his topsy-turvy life was the sovereignty of God. While everything else crumbled around him, Job clung to his belief in God’s providential care and commitment to justice.
“Let God weigh me on the scales of justice,
for he knows my integrity.” – Job 31:6 NLT
Job’s theological underpinnings were quite simple and straightforward. His view of God was fairly one-dimensional and based on a righteousness-reward model. If you do what is right and good, you will be rewarded by God. If you don’t, you will suffer the consequences. Job provides the following synopsis of his thoughts about God.
“Isn’t it calamity for the wicked
and misfortune for those who do evil?
Doesn’t he see everything I do
and every step I take?” – Job 31:3-4 NLT
It would appear that Job’s view of God was somewhat unsophisticated. His entire theology was based on a belief that God’s omniscience allows Him to reward the righteous and punish the wicked. In Job’s simplistic worldview, good deeds guarantee a good life.
“As a consequence of his suffering, Job viewed man’s relationship to God as being based on God’s sovereign caprice; therefore man could hope for happiness only by adhering to an ethical rightness superior to God’s whereby he could demand vindication.” – Gregory W. Parsons, “The Structure and Purpose of the Book of Job.” Bibliotheca Sacra
It’s easy to see how this view of God required Job to defend his innocence so rigorously. There had to be another reason for his suffering, otherwise, his friends would be proven right and he would be forced to acknowledge his own wickedness.
What if I were in Job’s shoes? What if I found myself in a similar situation? Could I respond the way Job did? Would I be able to claim my innocence with unwavering confidence? No, I would probably be able to come up with more than a handful of reasons for why I was going through what I was going through. I could find plenty of things for which I was guilty and deserving of some kind of punishment. But not Job. Just take a look at his speech in chapter 31. Job continues to claim his innocence, and he does it by giving a list of possible options for sins that might result in the kind of suffering he is enduring.
If I have stolen…
If I have coveted…
If I have lusted…
If I have taken advantage of…
If I have been selfish and unmerciful…
If I have not been generous…
If I have shown no compassion…
If I have abused the defenseless…
If I have been greedy…
If I have made prosperity my god…
If I have enjoyed watching others fail…
If I have not shared with those in need…
If I have tried to hide my sins…
If Job had done any of these things, he would have understood why he was suffering. But, in his mind, he stood before God and men as innocent.
Could I say the same thing? No, I’m afraid not. I would be guilty. In fact, I would never have played the “What if game” that Job played. Too dangerous. Too risky. Too condemning. I have done all of those things and more. I know it and so does God. Because, just as Job stated in his rhetorical question at the beginning of his little speech, “Isn’t God looking, observing how I live? Doesn’t he mark every step I take?” (Job 31:4 MSG).
God knew every detail of Job’s life and the same thing is true of me. But what is amazing for us as believers is that we get to stand before God as righteous – justified and pure – all because of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. God looks at me through the blood of His Son and sees me as righteousness. I have had Christ’s righteousness imputed to my account. He sees me as guiltless and, therefore, He does not condemn me. I am positionally righteous.
But I still sin. That is why I am called to become progressively more righteous. Paul commands us to “lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God” (Ephesians 4:1 NLT). In Colossians he tells us, “So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, [act] like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ–that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your [real] life–even though invisible to spectators–is with Christ in God. [He] is your life” (Colossians 3:1-3 MSG).
Yes, God is watching us. But He is also indwelling us and empowering us. He is providing us with all we need to live the life of righteousness to which He has called us. Peter reminds us, “Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received!” (2 Peter 31:3 MSG).
We have all we need to live a life of righteousness. And even when we fail and fall, we have the right to bring our sins before the throne of God and confess them. And “if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong” (1 John 1:9 NLT).
So, in actuality, we can stand before God just as Job did and say, “If I…” The key is confession and repentance. Our sins have been paid for in full on the cross. There is no more punishment for sin. We confess our sins not so we can incur God’s wrath and judgment, but so that He can cleanse us and make us more into the likeness of His Son. He progressively makes us more righteous. In 1 Peter 1:16, we are told by God to “Be holy, because I am holy.” God is not telling us to become something new. He is not telling us to change who we are. He is telling us to become what we already are – holy, set apart, and uniquely His. Peter tells us, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:10 NIV).
We have the power within us to change everything about us. So that we can actually stand before God and say, “If I…”
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.