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321. Job 31:29-34, On Not Rejoicing Over the Enemy, Showing Hospitality. . .

29 “Have I rejoiced at the extinction of my enemy,
Or exulted when evil befell him?
30 No, I have not allowed my mouth to sin
By asking for his life in a curse.
31 Have the men of my tent not said,
‘Who can find one who has not been satisfied with his meat’?
32 The alien has not lodged outside,
For I have opened my doors to the traveler.
33 Have I covered my transgressions like Adam,
By hiding my iniquity in my bosom,
34 Because I feared the great multitude,
And the contempt of families terrified me,
And kept silent and did not go out of doors?


The next, or perhaps the last (depending on how you read it) series of oaths is disjointed. In the text as we have it, verses 29-34 describe, in ever-more-obscure language, Job’s policy of non-retaliation (vv 29-31), his show of hospitality (v 32) and his forthrightness (vv 33-34). Though there are several “if’s” (im) in these verses (vv 29, 31, 33), there is no “then” or punishment in view. Job goes right from the curious phrase “I didn’t go out of the door” in verse 34 to his final statement and signing of the document (vv 35-37). Then, as if an afterthought hits him just before he signs off, he goes into two more “if” clauses in verses 38-39, followed by the final, and fairly devastating, punishment on himself in verse 40.  


As a result of this disjointed literary arrangement, many or perhaps most scholars have moved verses 38-40b to follow verse 34 so that Job’s final act of signing his legal document, currently in verses 35-37, is the last thing he does. Though that may seem to make sense from a logical perspective, I prefer to keep the text as is and explain it by what one might call the frenzied pace of litigation under a deadline. The filing deadline might be an hour away, but the complaint is still in the computer, not even finalized, waiting for a few more tweaks. Keeping the order of the text as the tradition presents it is more true to the actual emotions, if not process, of legal argument. Even if you seemingly have all the time in the world to file motions and other documents, many attorneys I worked with came down to the last minutes before sending harried assistants across the street to the courthouse to file a complaint (before the advent of electronic filings). So, let’s accept the current arrangement of the text as indicative of the raw emotion, and slight disorder, that accompanies Job in his final words.


Thus, we will divide the final section of this chapter (vv 29-40) into three sections: verses 29-34 (more “if’s”), verses 35-37 (signing the complaint) and verses 38-40 (another oath or two, with punishment).  The chapter then ends with the three majestic Hebrew words:  “Ended are the words of Job.”

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