Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
JOB CHAPTER 31
In the Hebrew text of Job, Chapter 31 is the direct continuation and climax of the final section of Job's last discourse in answer to his three companions, contrasting his former glory with his present abject state and protesting his complete innocence of any sin that could be accounted its just cause. (The discourse began in Chapter 26, and the final section started at the beginning of Chapter 29.)
V 1: "I have made a covenant with my eyes." In the last verses at the end of the previous chapter, Job had detailed the enormity of the physical suffering that has come upon him in spite of his righteousness. Now he is saying, Why has all this suffering come upon me? Did I not strike a covenant with my eyes not to look at anything that it is forbidden to look at?!? (Metzudas David). "Come and see Job's righteousness. Every man is permitted to look at a virgin to see if he wants to marry her or marry her to his son or one of his relatives. If Job did not even look at what was permitted, how much less did he ever look at another man's wife, at whom it is forbidden to look. This is why the sages said that a woman should not go out in public in all her ornaments even on a weekday [let alone on Shabbat] because people would look at her. For God gave ornaments to the woman only in order that she might adorn herself with them in the privacy of her own home, for one does not present even someone who is pure with a breach in the wall [a grave temptation], let alone a thief" (Tanhuma). [I have quoted this Midrash at length not only because of the light it throws on Job but also because it contains the answer as to why modest married women do not go with uncovered hair etc. in public when they could say that men who don't want to should simply not look at them.]
And after all Job's righteousness, he continues in verse 2: "And see now what is the share that has been given to me from God above in payment for my deeds! Surely destruction is due to the wicked."
In vv 4-6 Job asserts that God, who sees and knows everything, will testify to his innocence.
Verse 5 begins a series of seventeen oaths and affirmations by Job continuing to the conclusion of his speech at the end of this chapter, in each of which he swears himself to be innocent of the crime specified in each case. Each of the oaths or affirmations begins with the Hebrew word EEM, "if". Seventeen is the gematria of TOV, "good".
Vv 7ff: Job invokes upon him the severest sanctions if it be true that he strayed from the path. If he ever stole anything, he curses himself that his seed should be cut off; if he committed any kind of adultery even by merely passing by his neighbor's door to look at his wife, he curses himself that his own wife should be taken by others, for adultery is the most terrible abomination.
Vv17ff: Written thousands of years before the "emancipation of slaves" (which simply heralded new kinds of human enslavement to the powers that be), Job's timeless declaration in these verses of the proper Torah way to treat slaves and servants rings out as an affirmation of the ultimate, existential equality of all men, for "Did not He who made me in the belly make him?"
Vv 16-20: Job never withheld support from the poor or the orphan, the hungry and the naked. "For from my youth he (=the attribute of charitableness) raised me like a father, and I have practiced it from the belly of my mother" (v 18, see Rashi and Metzudas David).
Vv 21-22: Job curses himself that his very arm should fall out of his shoulder and be broken if he had ever oppressed a helpless orphan.
V 23: Job abstains from sin out of terror of God's retribution.
Vv 24-25: Job never turned wealth into an idol.
Vv 26-28: He never entertained a thought of idolatrous worship of the sun or moon worship, which was prevalent throughout antiquity and vestiges of which remain until today.
V 29f: Job never showed vengefulness or rejoiced in the downfall of his enemies.
V 31: The people of Job's household hated him and wanted to eat him up because he was always burdening them with the many people to whom he provided hospitality.
V 33: Job never tried to hide his sins as most people do.
V 34: In the time of his greatness, Job showed no fear of anyone, reproving even the mightiest. But now that he has fallen, the most contemptible of people frighten him and he dare not venture out of his house (Metzudas David).
V 35: "Oh that someone would hear me! Here is my mark [or 'my desire'] - let the Almighty answer me and let my adversary write a book" Job's poignant cry is that SOMEONE should hear what he is saying. Let God testify for Job in his case. According to the simple meaning of the verse, Job is ready for his very adversary to write the book about him, as even the adversary will find nothing with which to damn him. On the level of allusion, the adversary is He who sent Job his suffering. And indeed, in answer to Job, God's testimony about him is written in chapter 1 verse 8 in His words to the Satan: ".there is none like him in the land, pure, righteous and God-fearing." Moreover, Moses, who wrote his own book and that of Job, came to testify for Job (see Rashi on this verse).
V 38-40: "If my land cry against me, or its furrows complain together." Job's very gravesite - which is all that he can ultimately call "my land" - will attest to his righteousness (see Yalkut Shimoni). Rashi comments that Job's field could never cry out that he had failed to give away the gifts of the corner of the field, the gleanings, forgotten sheaves and tithes to the poor: he was correct and orderly in all of his affairs and never ate at anyone else's expense - and if not, let his fields sprout weeds!!!
"The words of Job are ended." The commentators take this not as an editorial gloss marking the end of Job's speeches - because we see that Job does speak again briefly later on in answer to God (ch 40 vv 3ff and ch 42 vv 1ff). Rather Metzudas David explains that Job is saying, I have already set forth the innocence of my ways and the enormous suffering that has come upon me after the utmost greatness and success, and if so what more can I add?
ENTER ELI-HU BEN BARACH-EL
The three companions who came to "comfort" Job had been reduced to silence because their essential answer to the question of why he was suffering was that he must have committed some sin, yet Job protested his absolute innocence to the very end. The companions had tried to resolve the question of why the righteous suffer by saying they must have done something wrong. But while this may have "let God off the hook", as it were, for sending apparently meaningless suffering to a Tzaddik, it did not satisfy Job, who knew in his heart of hearts that he was innocent. Indeed, their answer was outrageous in his eyes because it covered over a seeming perversion of justice on the part of the Creator by smearing Job.
It is at this moment of impasse - with the companions silenced and Job still finding no answer to his question of why the righteous suffer - that Eli-hu ben Barach-el, a fourth sage enters. Although younger than the first three companions (he waited respectfully for them to finish before intervening), Eli-hu turns out to have attained greater wisdom than them. At the conclusion of the book, after God has spoken to Job, He tells Eliphaz that He was angered by him and his TWO companions (Bildad and Tzophar) and that they must bring sacrifices of atonement (ch 42:7ff). However no criticism whatever is voiced over the lengthy discourses of Eli-hu, which occupy a total of six chapters (Job 32-7).
As we shall see in the ensuing chapters, Eli-hu patiently and systematically explains the flaws in the answers of the first three companions in trying to resolve Job's problem over the suffering of the righteous, and he offers a different answer. Eli-hu's discourses are a further ascent in unlocking the mystery of human suffering, in preparation for the very climax of the book, when God finally answers Job out of the whirlwind (chs 38ff).
Eli-hu ben Barach-el was enumerated by the Talmud as one of the seven prophets who prophesied to the nations, together with Eliphaz, Bildad, Tzophar and Job himself, and Bila'am and his father (Bava Basra 15b). The same Talmudic passage implies that Eli-hu was an Israelite, because he is described as coming from the family of Ram (i.e. of Avraham), and that he is called a prophet to the nations because his prophecies are directed to all the nations as opposed to being directed to Israel specifically. A different opinion is brought down by Metzudas David, who learns from his being called the Buzite that he was from the family of Buz, the second son of Nahor, brother of Avraham (Gen. 22:1). Talmud Yerushalmi Sotah 5 records a discussion in which Rabbi Akiva darshens that Eli-hu is Bila'am, while Rabbi Eliezer objects that this is not so and darshens that Eli-hu is Isaac.
V 2ff: Eli-hu is angry with Job and he is angry with his companions. He is angry with Job "because [Job] justified himself MORE THAN GOD" - i.e. NOT because Job claimed innocence - this Eli-hu does not dispute - but because he reproved God, as it were, for abandoning him to blind fate ("the heavenly order of the stars and planets") and the accidents of the flesh in spite of his great righteousness, which made it seem as if God is not just. Next Eli-hu is angry with Job's companions, because they had not found an adequate answer to his basic question about why the righteous suffer, and as long as his question was unanswered, this too made it seem as if God is not just.
V 6: "I am young and you are very old" (cf. Rabbi Nachman's story of the Blind Beggar).
V 7: "I said, Days should speak and a multitude of years should teach wisdom." Initially Eli-hu had believed that just as after a given period of time a child develops the ability to speak, so years of experience and investigation should develop wisdom in people (see Metzudas David).
V 8: "But there is a spirit in man and the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding" - Having heard the first three companions, his seniors in years, speak, Eli-hu now knows that there is an intelligent spirit in man that can teach him wisdom regardless of whether he is old or young.
Vv 11ff: Eli-hu explains that he has patiently waited to hear out his elders but that when he carefully considers what they have said it is clear that they have failed to give Job an adequate answer.
V 13: "Beware lest you say, We have found out wisdom, God has thrust him down, not man." Metzudas David renders: "Lest you would think to say that you have found an intelligent and sophisticated answer in telling Job that he must have committed a great sin seeing that God Himself has turned against him and not a mere mortal like me, because the Holy One is not suspected of practicing injustice. Eli-hu is saying that the companions had not spoken with wisdom because this is not an answer fit to silence the turmoil in Job's heart since he himself knows that he was not guilty of great sin" (Metzudas David on v 13).
V 14: "Now that he has not directed his words against me, so that I will not answer him with your speeches." Despite the failure of the companions to answer him, Eli-hu is saying that Job should not think he is right, because all the arguments that he had advanced against his companions, protesting his innocence, would not stand up to the explanations that Eli-hu has in mind to give in the coming chapters. Eli-hu is not going to advance the same arguments that the companions had already advanced: he is going to say something new.
Vv 18ff: Eli-hu is bursting to speak, and he will not soften his blows in order to give respect to any man, because if he were to try to cover over anything it would be such an offense that he feels he would be burned up by God (see Rashi, Metzudas David).
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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