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319. Job 31:24-28, Job’s Attitude towards Riches and Other Gods
24 “If I have put my confidence in gold,
And called fine gold my trust,
25 If I have gloated because my wealth was great,
And because my hand had secured so much;
26 If I have looked at the sun when it shone
Or the moon going in splendor,
27 And my heart became secretly enticed,
And my hand threw a kiss from my mouth,
28 That too would have been an iniquity calling for judgment,
For I would have denied God above.
Job now turns to two other subject matters: wealth and worship of other divinities (the sun and the moon of verse 26). Rather than facing the frightening prospect of limbs withering or the shoulder falling off, which is the calamity from God, he only says here that putting confidence in wealth or worshipping other divinities would be a “criminal offense” or something “punished by judges” (v 28, NRSV). The common denominator of these two offenses, wealth and other divinities, is that they are alternative sources of comfort and meaning, leading quickly to the neglect and even dismissal of the Lord from one’s life. Though Job doesn’t come out directly and say, “I never made gold my trust” or “I never considered the attractiveness of other gods,” that certainly is a fair inference from he passage. We never know, however, how tempting these things were. Wealthy people may solemnly swear that they don’t “trust” in wealth, but they often check to see how the markets are doing. . .
The five verses are neatly balanced: verses 24-25 speak of one’s trust in money; verses 26-27 speak of turning to other gods. Verse 28, then, is a conclusory statement about these devotions. Let’s look at each.
Again, the meaning of each verse is tolerably clear, though the word choice often slows us down as we read. For example, the word rendered “trust” in verse 24 is kesel (13x), which is translated “loins” or “thighs” in more than half of its appearances (five times in sacrificial contexts of Leviticus; once each in Job 15:27 and Psalm 38:7). But the root k-s-l means to be “foolish.” The “fool” in the Book of Proverbs, for example, is the kesil (nearly 50 of its 70 biblical appearances are in Proverbs). The verb kasal, though only appearing once, means “to be a fool/stupid” (Jeremiah 10:8); kislah probably means “foolishness” in its two appearances; kesiluth means “folly” in its one appearance (Proverbs 9:13).
Six appearances of kesel are not rendered “loins.” At least two of these are best rendered “foolishness” (Ecclesiastes 7:25) or “folly” (Psalm 49:13), but several of them might best be translated as “confidence” or “foolish confidence.” One can see how the meaning might evolve. One of the ways one becomes foolish is to misplace your confidence. If one places “confidence” (kesel) in gold it is really placing “foolish confidence” in gold (Job 31:24). Yet, in the remaining three appearances of kesel, the best translation is “confidence” (Psalm 78:7 and especially Proverbs 3:26; one might go either way with Job 8:14). Thus, a word whose root meaning is in one domain, the domain of foolishness, might “evolve” over time to mean almost the opposite (“confidence” or “hope”). Discerning its precise meaning in a particular context is sometimes difficult.
Now we are ready to translate verse 24:
“If I have placed my confidence (kesel) in gold (zahab), or to fine gold (kethem) I have said, ’My trust. . .’”
There are several Hebrew terms for “gold,” perhaps reflecting both a long history of acquaintance with it as well as technical names for the product coming from different regions. When the Psalmist luxuriates in the law of God, he says that it is to be desired more than gold, even much fine gold (Psalm 19:11). The two words for gold there are zahab and paz. Yet in Job 31:24 the words are zahab and kethem (9x), with the latter being rendered “fine” or “refined” gold. Zahab and kethem also appear together in Lamentations 4:1. Sometimes, just to complete our triangle of words, we have kethem and paz appearing together (Song of Solomon 5:11).
Job’s joining two words for “gold” here, thus, isn’t unusual. What does make the verse arresting, however, is his personalizing his address to gold. Job’s speaking to gold/fine gold as his “trust” (the common batach) is reminiscent of his words in 17:13-14, where Job also presented what one might call the “prelude to an oath”
“If I looked at Sheol as my house; if I spread out my couch in darkness; if I have said to
corruption, ‘You are my father’ or to the worm, ‘You are my mother. . ."
If Job does this, where is his hope? (17:15).
But in Job 31, this personal address to fine gold stands as the first verse in a two-verse sequence. Verse 25 says,
“If I rejoiced because my wealth (chayil) was great and because my hand had found
greatness/much money (kabbir). . .”
Chayil is the common word in Biblical Hebrew to describe anything from an army to the chief characteristic of an army (to be valiant) to a person’s skill or ability to the result of the army’s action (bringing wealth). Likewise the 10x-appearing kabbir (7x Job) can refer generally to something that is great or mighty, like the words of Job’s mouth, according to Bildad, being a “mighty” (kabbir) wind or God being referred to by Elihu four times as the “mighty” (kabbir) One (34:17, 24; 36:5 (twice)). But we suspect that we ought to render it “much” (money) here in order to maintain the parallelism that has been developing. Job’s words here don’t have the crystalline limpidity of US Grant’s prose, but they are clear enough.