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323. Job 31:32-34, On Hospitality and Forthrightness

 

32 “The alien has not lodged outside,
For I have opened my doors to the [u]traveler.
33 Have I covered my transgressions like [v]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? 

 

Verse 32 moves to a different theme, that of hospitality.  The words are difficult again.  Literally, we have:

 

    “The stranger/sojourner doesn’t lodge outside; I opened my doors to the path."

There is no “if” to begin the sentence, which often in this chapter signals a different activity will be presented. But it seems like verse 32 broaches a different subject than non-retaliation. We would have expected, when the text dealt with a new subject like hospitality, a statement something like: ‘If I have refused to extend hospitality to stranger or foreigner alike. . .’, but instead we have this statement about a stranger or sojourner (the common ger) not “lodging” (lun, 83x) “outside/in the street” (chuts, 164x). Lodging “outside” or “in the town square” was dangerous in biblical times (see, e.g., Judges 19).  Hospitality extended to strangers is a virtue. We see examples of patriarchal hospitality, for example, in Genesis 18:2-8; 19:2-3. Apparently Job is vowing here that he didn’t leave people staying alone and exposed in the streets.

 

So, what did he do? He opened his doors to the path (orach, 59x/11x Jb/19x Proverbs). The “path” is the right road, beloved of the wisdom tradition. But translating it like that here really doesn’t make much sense. If we want to keep a parallelism in thought, the second half of the verse would have to be something like, “I opened my doors to the traveler” (i.e., those on the path). Verse 32 presents a rough way of saying it; and the form doesn’t conform to Job’s pattern in Job 31, but there you have it. Job was hospitable, too. Perhaps we see by this fumbling attempt at a statement that Job is running out of energy. He so wants to complete his case. We see it in his sloppy handling of these words.  


He returns to some clarity in the next few verses (vv 33-34), Job’s final subject before his signature, but it is a surprising subject in that it seems to point to Job’s inner state of mind as he lived his pre-distress life. What is surprising about these verses is the strength of feelings expressed and the way that fear, evasion and hiddenness occupied his pre-distress mental space. We might have read Job’s narrative in Job 29 as suggesting an impregnable Job, striding boldly into the public spaces of life, rendering judgment among awed peers and subjects, but we are disabused of that notion in these two verses.  

 

With Job 31:33-34 we enter into an intellectual space hinted at only in a few other places in Job, but especially Job 3:25 and 13:26. In the former Job summed up his most eloquent and hopeless opening speech by saying: “I feared a great fear and it came upon me.” Or, “the very thing I feared has come upon me.” Those who have much, either in familial or material riches, spend a good deal of time worrying about the stability of these two pillars of strength. Wealthy people not only know the sources of their wealth but are especially aware of their vulnerabilities.  

 

Fear, then, was Job’s unspoken companion all his days. Yet it doesn’t seem to be the fear that someone would discover corruption in him or that he would be remiss in his tasks, but only that some huge unexpected and perhaps inexplicable reversal might visit him. Job 13:26 mentioned in passing how God wrote bitter things against Job and made him inherit the sins (avon, same word as in 31:33) of his youth. We don’t know what Job means here, but he has slightly drawn back the curtain to a more vulnerable Job than we expected.  

 

With these verses in mind, let’s first give a literal rendering of Job 31:33-34

 

     “If I have covered, like a man, my sin—to hide my iniquity in my bosom;

      because I trembled at the great crowd, and the contempt of families frightened 

      me, and I fell silent and did not go out of the door. . .”

 

Of course interpreters and translation committees are going to make sense of these words, because that is their job, but some of the decisions that any translator has to make in coming to clarity on these verses are:  

 

What is the subject here and what is the reality to which it points?  Is Job making an allusion to the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Even “hid” (though the verbs are different; chaba in Genesis 3:8; kasah and taman in Job 31:33)? Who is “the great crowd” that Job fears? Are the “families” to which Job refers his own family and kin/others? Is Job proclaiming his blamelessness again?

 

An interesting, but probably irrelevant, thread that connects verses 33-34 with the preceding section is the reference to doors and streets. In verse 32 Job extended hospitality by making sure that the stranger didn’t lodge in the street. Then he said, “I opened my doors to the path.” Inside is the place of safety. The streets and public squares are the place of danger. Now, in verse 34 Job takes his oath of innocence by saying that if he was afraid of the great multitude by not going “out of the door” (different word for door than in v 32), then certain consequences should follow (we see them in verse 40). Staying inside in verse 32 was a prudent sign of caution; staying inside in verse 34 would be an admission of bad activity.  

 

In verse 19 Job used the same concept for “covering” (kasah) as in verse 33, though in verse 19 he spoke of giving a covering (the noun kasuth) to a needy person. In verse 33, Job swears that he has not “covered” (the common kasah) his transgression “like a man” or “like Adam.” People evade responsibility, and Adam is the great first example of that. Job says that this wasn’t his modus operandi. The second half of verse 33 just reinforces the first—he might cover his sin by “hiding” (the common taman) it in his “breast” (the hapax chob). The verse triggered by this reference to hiding something in one’s breast is, of course, Psalm 119:11, “In my heart (the common leb) I have hidden (yet another verb for “hiding/treasuring up”—saphan) your word so I might not sin against you.”Job doesn’t tell us what he did hide in his breast; we just know that his avon or pesha (“sin,” verse 33) was not one of the things.

 

Verse 34 is the greater puzzle.  Apparently the motivation for covering his sins, which action he never performed, was fear. This time it isn’t the fear of Job 3:25, where Job is worried about the “big one” that might happen to him, but what one might call “the fear of people.” While many may belittle this as a motivating factor for doing/avoiding certain actions, I think it is one of our strongest motivations. You don’t want to “shame” the family or you “ought” to act in a certain way towards certain people in order to maintain their good favor.   

 

Here Job will be denying that he has hidden evidence of his sin/iniquity (pesha/avon) in his heart because he “trembled” (arats, 15x/2x Job) at the “crowd” (hamon, 83x, 2x Job) or “dreaded” (chathath, 51x/4x Job) the “contempt” (buz, 12x/3x Job) of the “families” (mishpachah, more than 300x). But what is interesting about verse 34 is how Job keeps going into details about something he didn’t do. The verbs and nouns are strong:  tremble, dread, have contempt, fall silent (damam, 30x/3x Job), not go out of doors. He didn’t immure himself in his home for fear of reactions of family and the crowds at bad behavior he might, but actually didn’t, commit.  

 

But the detail and specificity is astonishing. It is almost as if Job is saying, 

 

    ‘I didn’t even think about robbing the bank, about prying open the back door, with the somewhat       weak lock, and then disabling the security cameras by deftly slicing the cord which has been              lying exposed for the last few weeks, before  going over to the vault and using special safe-              cracking technology to help me penetrate this two-foot thick fireproof surface so that I have              access to the storage areas where are placed in another locked vault the keys to safe deposit         boxes. . .But just remember—I didn’t even think of doing this..’

 

Anyone talking like this would be placed under surveillance..