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312. Job 31:7-8, Second Oath, On Not Leaving the Path

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.


We continue with generic language in verse 7, where Job uses three powerful images to fill out the conditional (“if”) clause.  


    “If my step (ashshur) has turned (natah) from the way (derek); or

    if my heart has walked (halak) after my eyes; or

    if my any spot/blemish (mum) clings (dabaq) to my hands. . .”


Verse 8 then states the punishment Job envisions for himself:


    “Let me sow but another person eat (akal); let my produce/offspring (tseetsa) be 

    uprooted (sharash).” 


Let’s first look at the conditional clauses. We begin with the observation that the good or right life in the wisdom literature is described as one that keeps to “the way” or “the path” of life. Proverbs 4:25-26 presents this view of life:  


    “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.

    Keep straight the path of your feet, and all your ways (derek) will be sure.”  


The wisdom tradition emphasizes keeping to the straight path; one doesn’t turn (natah) from it. The second conditional clause of Job 31:7 says the same thing. One of the worst things one can do in the Bible is to “follow your heart,” a phrase so beloved in the twenty-first century. Following the heart means to “walk after your eyes” in the language of 31:7, which is the first step in turning from God and possibly embracing other deities. In its instruction to the young, Proverbs says, “Do not walk (halak) in their way (derek; the way of those who entice with glittering objects); for their feet run to evil, and they hurry (mahar, more common than chush for “hasten”) to shed blood” (Proverbs 1:15-16). The language of steps and ways actually encompasses several nouns in Hebrew, but I won't go into that here. . . 


By leaving the right path or by turning from the way, one also tends to accumulate blemishes (mum, 21x). The concept of blemish in Biblical Hebrew is primarily a ritual one. The two kinds of blemishes mentioned most frequently (8x in Leviticus 21, 22; 4x in Deuteronomy) are those on priests or on sacrificial animals. Blemishes either disqualify an individual from serving as priest or an animal from being sacrificed and accepted by God. What is interesting in these usages is that the blemish seems to be something permanent or inherent in the animal/person.  

Yet Job’s use of the term in 31:7 implies that a “blemish” or “spot/stain” results from willful choice. A blemish is now a moral failure. That view is also reflected in Proverbs 9:7. It is somewhat easy to understand how one can move from a ritual to moral view of “stains” (mum).


Job takes the oath against himself in 31:8. If any of the things mentioned in verse 7 are true of him, then he wishes that others eat (the common akal) the fruit of his crop. In a humorous sort of way, Job’s reaping what he sows means that others will reap what he sows (his good crop). The second part of verse 8, parallel to the first, gives different words to describe the same thing, but they are words that make us pause. All interpreters read the two words “produce” (tseetsa) will be “uprooted” (sharesh) standing in parallel construction to the first part of the verse.  


We have seen that the verb sharash (8x) is split 5x to 3x in its usages. That is, it either means to sink roots/take root (5x) or to uproot (3x). The context always make clear what it means. Things “take root” in Job 5:3; Psalm 80:9; Isaiah 27:7; 40:24 and Jeremiah 12:2, but they are “uprooted” here, Job 31:12 and Psalm 52:5. But the more difficult word here is tseetsa, almost always rendered in 31:12 as “produce” or “crops.” But, it really doesn’t mean that. It means “offspring.”  


Tseetsa appears 10 other times in the Bible and in each case it has to be rendered “offspring” or “descendants.” God will, for example, pour out the divine Spirit on Israel’s descendants and His blessing on their offspring (tseetsa, Isaiah 44:3).  But almost all translators feel that such a translation doesn’t “work” here since Job has already lost his offspring. Why mention them when they are no longer? Hence, it must refer to his crops.  After all, the verb for “sowing” the crop (zera) had just appeared in the first clause. Only the King James Version, and few others, want to maintain the word “descendants” in 31:8.  


But, interestingly enough, in the Isaiah 44:3 passage, the two words compared are tseetsa and zera, where one’s “seed/sowing” are one’s descendants. Thus, even though the translation of tseetsa in Job 31:8 as “crops/produce” makes perfect sense, I only reluctantly yield to it. Job may have been uttering a curse upon himself that he derived from the “curse-language” of antiquity. We have had a reference to that in Job 3.  Perhaps this curse language included one’s descendants being uprooted. That Job would have repeated it here, with the word actually meaning “descendants” might be an indication that he has not only been faithful in sticking to the path of integrity, but that he won’t even alter a curse formula to “fit his needs.” He is looking for complete vindication, even if it means losing the children (again) that he no longer has.  

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