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311. Job 31:5-8 First and Second Oaths:  On Deceit and Leaving the Path

 

5 “If I have walked with falsehood,

And my foot has hastened after deceit,

6 Let Him weigh me with accurate scales,

And let God know my integrity.

7 If my step has turned from the way,

Or my heart followed my eyes,

Or if any spot has stuck to my hands,

8 Let me sow and another eat,

And let my crops be uprooted.

 

Job’s first, or first two, clearance oaths are presented in these verses. Though many scholars have tried to posit specific references for the concepts of “falsehood” or “deceit” (v 5) by suggesting that Job is speaking about certain kinds of business dealings he engaged in, I prefer to see the references here as general ones. He will become more specific as the oaths continue.

 

I also talk about Job’s “first, or first two” oaths. As previously mentioned, scholars differ on how to count Job’s statements in this chapter. My rather simple method, at first, is to see another oath wherever there is an “if” (im), though I can see how many might look at these verses as just containing one, rather than two, oaths. In the first of these oaths, then, he speaks generally, using three words that encourage comment:  shav (“vanity/falsehood”; 52x/6x Job); chush (“hurry”; 20x); and mirmah (“deception/treachery”; 39x/6x Job).  

 

Job will ask to be weighed in the balance (v 6) if he has walked “with shav.” The concepts of vanity and falsehood (both words capture shav’s meaning) are linked when we realize that shav first appears in the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20:7, where Israelites are told not to take (the common nasa, “lift up”) the Lord’s name in vain. The NRSV renders shav in Exodus 20:7 as “wrongful use of” God’s name, while the NASB uses the more traditional “in vain” language for that passage. Thus, vanity=wrong use=false use=falsehood. Sometimes shav is best rendered “vain,” such as in Psalm 31:6, where the author talks about “vain (shav) idols”; other times the “falsehood” side of it is the best translation, such as when Deuteronomy 5:20 talks about “false (shav) witnesses.” Job talks about walking (the common halak) in shav or, as we might say it in the twenty-first century, ‘living a lie.’ If that has been part of his customary activity, he will want to be judged for it.

 

The “walking” in shav is complemented and put in parallel construction with “hurrying/hastening” (chush) in “deception/treachery” (mirmah). Almost half of chush’s appearances (9/20) are in the Psalms, where the author either speaks of his haste/eagerness in doing something (like keeping the commandments of God (Psalm 119:60)) or his desire that God make haste in helping him (Psalm 70:5; 71:12 and often). To act hastily using chush means that your heart is set on a course of activity. Thus, though the two clauses of Job 31:5 are parallel, Job ratchets up the intensity of the verb, from the simple “walk” in the first part to the more frenzied “hurried” in the second.   

 

He denies he has acted in falsehood (shav) or that his feet have hurried to deceit—mirmah. Mirmah is derived from the verb ramah (“to beguile/deceive”; 13x); a few other nouns formed off of the same verb, such as remiyyah/tormah, mean the same thing. Some passages that use mirmah immediately start to connect it with the world of deception, and then speak about “oppression” or “curses” or “bloodshed” (e.g., Psalm 5:6; 10:7), but Job doesn’t develop the concept here. Mirmah became fixed in my mind when I associated it with the frenzied cry of King Joram of Israel when he realized he was being betrayed by the usurper Jehu. He cried out to the Ahaziah, King of Judah, “Treachery (mirmah), Ahaziah” (II Kings 9:23).  Never forgot the word after that. . .

 

Job is willing to have his conduct be weighed (shaqal, 22x/4x Job) in the balance/scales (mozen, 15x/2x Job). More specifically, he is either asking to be weighed on “just” scales (tsedeq) or that his “justice” be weighed. The result, however, is all that matters. Recall that Job has used the identical language in 6:2 to describe his desire that anger and anguish be weighed on the scales so that the world, God included, could see that it was heavier than the sand. Here he wants his conduct to be weighed.  The reason is unexpected: 

 

    “and/so that God will know my integrity (tummah).”

 

Hmm. . .  Is the assumption that God doesn’t already know Job’s integrity? Probably not. Job is just saying that an official “weighing” of his conduct will remove all doubt. Often in law you have to pursue a legal case to get your claim recognized even if both sides already know you are in the right. You pursue the case because that it the only way that the other side may actually pay you for the goods you delivered or the contract you performed. Job is convinced of his integrity, and he believes that God is, too. But God seems to want to make Job go through the legal process to establish his claim.  

 

Note how far we have come from the previous use of “weigh in the scales/balance” in Job 6. In Job 6, Job was figuratively starring at the scattered shards of his life hoping for someone human or divine who would understand and sympathize with him; by the time he uses the same image of weighing in the balance twenty-five chapters later, however, it is for the legal purpose of vindication. Earlier he has said that when he is tested/tried he would come forth as gold (23:10); now he changes the image to scales and weighing. Job’s confidence is very high in Job 31.

 

We should recognize that, in Job's mind, Job’s lawsuit is ultimately for God’s instruction or improvement. God will have to recognize Job’s integrity. Indeed, God will have few choices other than to do so. Job’s word for “integrity” here is tummah (5x/4x Job).  God has already recognized Job’s tummah in 2:3. It is among the most important things to Job in his life: “Until I die I will not put aside (the common sur) my integrity” (tummah; 27:5). The only non-Joban appearance of tummah is in Proverbs 11:3 where the bedrock wisdom principle is laid out:

 

    “The integrity (tummah) of the upright will guide them but the perversity (seleph) of the unfaithful

     will destroy them.”

 

Integrity is Job’s guide as he closes his lawsuit. God will see and recognize it. Job is that confident.