Job 29-31 form a whole. It is Job’s closing argument, a summary of what he has said so far. We can see these three chapters as a kind of triptych:
1. In Job 29 Job speaks about his former prosperity and greatness.
2. In Job 30 he speaks of his present disgrace, not so much in the loss of his possessions, but more in the loss of dignity and friendship with God.
3. In Job 31 he professes his innocence at length in an oath under which he puts his signature, as it were (Job 31:35).
1 - 6 Domestic Prosperity
1 And Job again took up his discourse and said,
2 “Oh that I were as in months gone by,
As in the days when God watched over me;
3 When His lamp shone over my head,
[And] by His light I walked through darkness;
4 As I was in the prime of my days,
When the friendship of God [was] over my tent;
5 When the Almighty was yet with me,
[And] my children were around me;
6 When my steps were bathed in butter,
And the rock poured out for me streams of oil!
Maybe Job paused after his previous speech to hear if there was a reaction. Now he starts a new speech (verse 1). With this third part of his monologue he completes his defense. It looks like a closing argument in front of a jury.
He expresses his longing for the time “gone by”. If only he could be back in that time, that time when God let him live in prosperity. The first thing he says with nostalgia for that time is that it was a time when God watched over him (verse 2; Psa 91:11; 121:7). In doing so, he indicates that the greatest loss of all the losses he has suffered is the awareness of God’s nearness rather than the material loss. The preservation he enjoyed then, he has now lost. He feels that God used to be for him and that He is against him now.
Also in verse 3 he acknowledges that his happiness and prosperity were due to God. God made His lamp shine above his head. This allowed him to go his way in His light (cf. Job 18:6). God led him through all kinds of situations in which he saw no way out. But now, in addition to divine preservation (verse 2), he had also lost divine guidance.
He also thinks back with melancholy to “the friendship of God” (verse 4; Psa 25:14). This relationship of friendship was over his tent, which means that his home and family were marked by it. He knew and experienced this relationship “in the prime of my days”. By this we do not mean his ‘boyhood days’, but the time of his maturity, when his life had come to full development and he was in the power of his life. But also fellowship with God was gone, as was the preservation and guidance of God already mentioned (verses 2-3).
Job knew God as “the Almighty” (verse 5). He knew that this Almighty God was with him. It was not a general knowledge for him, but he lived in the consciousness of God’s presence. But also the joy of God’s presence was gone. He also lost his “children”. How he had enjoyed them when they were around him. Their presence was all the more proof of God’s blessing as a result of his fear of Him (Psa 128:3).
The bathing of his steps in butter is the figurative indication of the abundant production of milk from his cattle, from which butter was also made (verse 6). Butter here is lebani, a curds or drained yogurt. He also possessed a large quantity of oil that his olive trees had produced. Olive trees grow on rocky ground. When he saw his supply of olive oil, it was as if it had been poured by the rock into a stream. All this abundance indicates that Job was a very wealthy man. But nothing is left of all this prosperity.
7 - 10 Prestige Outdoors
7 “When I went out to the gate of the city,
When I took my seat in the square,
8 The young men saw me and hid themselves,
And the old men arose [and] stood.
9 “The princes stopped talking
And put [their] hands on their mouths;
10 The voice of the nobles was hushed,
And their tongue stuck to their palate.
After talking about his relationship to God in the previous verses, Job will now speak about his relationship to his fellowmen. In this he is characterized by two things, namely the esteem of his fellowmen for him and his concern for his fellowmen.
Job was part of the city council meeting at the gate (verse 7; Rth 4:1; Pro 31:23). He was a counselor with prestige. Everyone was in awe of him. He could order his seat to be set up [as it also can be translated] and it happened. The radiance of his authority went to young and old and distinguished (verses 8-10). “Young men” did not dare to make fun of him or mock him (verse 8). The “old men” stopped their activities when he arrived and stood in front of him at attention, as it were.
The princes who were busy discussing, broke off their discussions immediately when he appeared (verse 9). Immediately silence fell. They withheld their words and silenced as if they had lost their voices (verse 10). They did so out of respect for giving Job the floor.
11 - 17 His Benedictions Blessed Him
11 “For when the ear heard, it called me blessed,
And when the eye saw, it gave witness of me,
12 Because I delivered the poor who cried for help,
And the orphan who had no helper.
13 “The blessing of the one ready to perish came upon me,
And I made the widow’s heart sing for joy.
14 “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me;
My justice was like a robe and a turban.
15 “I was eyes to the blind
And feet to the lame.
16 “I was a father to the needy,
And I investigated the case which I did not know.
17 “I broke the jaws of the wicked
And snatched the prey from his teeth.
Job’s description of his behavior in his days of wealth and prosperity should be a description of the behavior of every believer in this day and age. It pleads in favor of Job that he did not abuse his influence. He devoted himself to the socially weaker, the lower classes of society. In what he did for the less fortunate, he resembles the Lord Jesus Who also served them (Mt 8:17).
What anyone heard or saw of him produced a good testimony about him (verse 11). This also shows how slanderous Eliphaz’s accusation is that Job exploited his surroundings (Job 22:6-9). We too are judged on what people see or hear of us (cf. 2Cor 12:6). Do we have any idea of people’s reaction to what they see and hear of us?
Job received that testimony because he did good to others:
1. He helped the wretched by delivering him out of his misery (verse 12).
2. The orphan, who had no one to help him, he also helped in his distress.
3. He received the blessing of someone who was ready to perish, for example by lack of food or by oppression or by false justice, because he saved him from his hopeless position (verse 13; Pro 24:11).
4. The widow, who had been deprived of her support and was in care about how things should proceed, he gave through his help a cheerful singing heart (cf. Job 22:9).
In the middle of the description of his beneficent performance Job points out that he put on “righteousness” (Psa 132:9; Isa 11:5; 61:10; 59:17) and that it clothed him (verse 14). Job’s life was so marked by righteousness that it seemed that he was clothed with it. His righteous deeds were like a robe around him, and his righteous judgment was like a turban on his head. At the same time, robe and turban speak of the fact that Job held a leading position. Righteousness was exquisitely exercised by Job and took shape in him.
Righteousness and justice were not taught to him, but they dwelt in him. It characterized him, so he was. Righteousness is to do justice to someone, to give him what is due to him, to treat him well. Justice is wider and looks at everything someone does and says.
Job did not act out of his own interest, to make himself richer or to get more prestige out of it. Moses and the prophets have always called for such a life, to commit themselves to the needy, the less fortunate, the outcasts.
1. Job helped the blind man by being like eyes to him, by taking him by the hand, and by helping him to reach his goal and not to perish (verse 15).
2. The lame man, who could not walk, he himself brought where he should be.
3. To the needy, after whom no one cared, he was like a father who concerned himself with their fate (verse 16).
4. He investigated the complaints of the strangers, namely those who he did not know and who were socially vulnerable in the patriarchal society. In doing so he showed that he was enforcing the law indiscriminately.
5. He acted vigorously against those who did wrong (verse 17). If he saw that someone had made another his prey through unjust justice, he would snatch the prey out of the voracious mouth of such a person by breaking his jaws (cf. Pro 30:14).
Thus Job showed pity where it was needed at a time when there were no social provisions. He also acted vigorously against evil where it was necessary at a time when one was at the mercy of those in power.
18 - 20 View of Continuing Prosperity
18 “Then I thought, ‘I shall die in my nest,
And I shall multiply [my] days as the sand.
19 ‘My root is spread out to the waters,
And dew lies all night on my branch.
20 ‘My glory is [ever] new with me,
And my bow is renewed in my hand.’
All the honor he received and the benedictions he did, made life very pleasant for Job. He also counted on a long life as a reward for his commitment to others. This thought as such is also found in Scripture (Deu 5:33). And Job will get it too (Job 42:17)! However, this will only happen after he has stood face to face with God and despised himself and repented in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).
He will then be freed from all expectations based on things that belong to the earth, no matter how good those things may be in himself. In a following comparison he says that he saw himself as a tree planted by the water as a picture of continuous life force (verse 19). To this he adds the picture of the dew sleeping on the branch of the tree. In the night, too, there was this benevolent refreshment for him. Such a tree does not wither or cease to bear fruit (Jer 17:8; Psa 1:3). How contrasting his current situation is.
Job received honor for what he did. Each new act of benevolence brought him additional, new honor (verse 20). Instead of a decrease in strength, there was always renewal of strength – the bow is a picture of strength (Gen 49:24; 1Sam 2:4). This can refer to physical and spiritual strength (cf. Isa 40:31). Everything God has given in creation is good, but it is not good to put our trust in it. God wants to teach us to trust Him alone. He wants us to expect everything only from Him and not from any achievement of our own.
Job had thought to die in his own “nest”, that is, in his own house, surrounded by his wife and children and in possession of all his goods (verse 18). He thought he would die a natural death, without disasters and suffering, after a number of days that was countless “as the sand”, i.e. in old age.
21 - 25 A Comforter of Tried and Tested
21 “To me they listened and waited,
And kept silent for my counsel.
22 “After my words they did not speak again,
And my speech dropped on them.
23 “They waited for me as for the rain,
And opened their mouth as for the spring rain.
24 “I smiled on them when they did not believe,
And the light of my face they did not cast down.
25 “I chose a way for them and sat as chief,
And dwelt as a king among the troops,
As one who comforted the mourners.
Here Job does not return to the discussion with the leaders at the gate of verses 7-10, but he describes his attitude towards those he was doing well. All those he benefitted listened to him (verse 21). They expected the solution to their need from him. That is what they were waiting for. His counsel would help them. When he had spoken, they were satisfied and did not need to ask any further (verse 22). His words were to them like the spring rain on thirsty ground (cf. Deu 32:2). They waited for him with their mouths open, indicating a longing for what he would say (verse 23; cf. Psa 119:131).
When he smiled at people, it enraptured them (verse 24). They could not believe that he was paying attention to them, and that in kindness. No matter how miserable they were, Job didn’t look worried, his face didn’t budge. He continued to smile at them, encouraging them that he would attend to their needs and provide for them. He had the means to do so.
He chose to join them on their path of misery, and to support them in it (verse 25). He was as it were their chief, their king. This seems to be a position he had been given by those he had helped as an appreciation for a highly respected life. He behaved royally in everything he did. In that he is an example to us. We are a royal priesthood to proclaim the excellencies of God (1Pet 2:9). Job has shown that.
Job has involved us in his nostalgia for the time when he was prosperous in all circumstances, when he was doing better. The question is whether this is in accordance with the wisdom he described so beautifully in the previous chapter. The wise Solomon, having become wise through harm and disgrace, says: “Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these? For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this” (Ecc 7:10).
At the same time, a warning is appropriate here. In judging what Job is saying about himself here, we must always exercise the greatest caution. Job is in unprecedented suffering and in that situation thinks back to the days of old. Who among us never thinks back to a time of untroubled joy in a time of great trial?
It is not wise to take what we have heard Job say in this chapter as haughty. By recalling these memories, he wants to relive that beautiful and pleasant past. Job is not hypocritical when he speaks of his exuberant behavior. He does not boast about it, but speaks out of despair.
It holds up a mirror to us. Doesn’t it happen among us that when someone talks about his good deeds, it comes close to bragging, that it borders on pride? Scripture warns us not to praise ourselves (Pro 27:2). Paul is sometimes forced to say something about himself, about what he has suffered before the Lord (2Cor 11:16-33). He had to do so because his apostleship and thereby his Sender Jesus Christ was attacked. He didn’t like to do it, but he had to do it. And how does he do it? Instead of slapping himself on the chest, he says he speaks “as if insane” (2Cor 11:23).
There’s one more lesson we can learn. The hankering for the past because of the sweet memories of it, doesn’t help us overcome the current difficulties. It is also said: ‘Yesterday’s manna is not food for today.’ We can’t prey on past glory. Paul had praised in the past, but had given up all that for Christ (Phil 3:7-8,14).
The only thing that helps us is that we regain sight of the fact that through faith in the Lord Jesus we stand in grace and that, as far as the future is concerned, we may exult in hope of the glory of God (Rom 5:1-2). God even wants to teach us to exult in today’s tribulations (Rom 5:3).