Lecture 26: The Negative Confession
Course: The Book of Job
Lecture: The Negative Confession
Job closes his last statement before everyone, closes out the book in chapters 29 to 31. We have already looked at 29 and 30. We are now going to look at chapter 31, the very last major statement that Job makes until he makes some responses to God.
I. Definition of a Negative Confession
Chapter 32 can be called a negative confession. Negative confession is when you confess things that you did not do, sins you did not commit. The idea of a negative confession comes out of the study of ancient Egyptian literature, where as a type of text you would find would be this negative confession where someone is going to the Egyptian underworld and they have a negative confession of all the sins they did not commit, and hope that the gods will acquit them. That has kind of stuck as a term for a literary genre. Today some people don’t use the term, but I still find it to be useful and helpful because that is what we have in this chapter. Job is laying out a list of all these sins and claiming he did not commit any of them.
Another thing about this text is, it makes frequent use of the oath formula. That is to say, “If I have done this (whatever the sin is), then may that happen to me (some kind of punishment, some kind of terrible thing).” It becomes a very emphatic way of saying, “I have not done any of these things.” He is in effect
taking a series of oaths that he has not committed any of the sins that he mentions in this list.
II. The List of Sins that Job Claims He Did Not Commit
We begin in verse 1 with a simple statement: “I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman. For what is our lot from God above, our heritage from the Almighty on high? Is it not ruin for the wicked, disaster for those who do wrong? Does he not see my ways and count my every step?”
He begins with two things. First he names one specific sin that he says he has not committed, that is lust. He declares that he has made a firm commitment never to look at young women with lust. Perhaps the reason he starts here is because this is a sin that is so easy for men to commit. Notice he does not here speak of committing adultery or promiscuity or something like that. He simply speaks of looking on someone with lust. Of course, Jesus has declared that to look upon a person with lust in your heart is to commit adultery already. But the point here is, here is a sin that could remain hidden, a sin that would remain only in his heart; and yet he has committed himself not to commit this sin. Furthermore, he says, “God is there as judge” verses 2 and 4. God sees every step, God knows, God is the One who punishes the wicked. So even in these internal matters such as lust, Job has committed himself to refrain from it.
Then he says, verses 5 and 6: “If I have walked with falsehood or my foot has hurried after deceit – let God weigh me in honest scales; he will know that I am blameless.” Continuing on: “If my steps have turned from the path, if my heart has been led by my eyes, or if my hands have been defiled, then may others eat what I have sown, and may my crops be uprooted.”
He begins with a couple of things that are very straightforward. Basically, fraud where he is in business dealings with other people and somehow he defrauds them. In the ancient world this could be having an animal with some kind of defect that you conceal somehow, or you don’t tell someone about before they make the agreement, and so you give them an animal which is in some way unhealthy. Or it could be scales where you are engaged in trading with someone and you have unbalanced scales, wrongly balanced scales, so that you say, “I’m giving you a talent of silver” when in fact you are only giving him three-quarters of a talent of silver. There are various ways you could defraud people in the ancient world. Job says he has not done any of this and he brings this sin into his metaphor in verse 6 where he says, “God will weigh me in honest scales.” God will know exactly how I have behaved and when he does, he will see that I have been blameless.
His words are much more generic in verses 7 and 8 where he simply speaks of “turning from the path,” turning to do something that is wrong. Of course, that could be anything, but that is the “if” statement, verse 7: “If my steps have turned from the path.” The “then” statement, verse 8: “Then may others eat what I have sown and may my crops be uprooted.” This suggests that turning aside from the path is some kind of economic sin where somehow he has cheated people, he has defrauded people, maybe used unjust means to confiscate someone else’s land, whatever it is, short-changed someone in selling them grain; some kind of economic sin. He says, “If I have committed such a sin, then let others eat what I have sown.” Again, he is emphatically denying that he has committed any act of fraud, any act of economic deceit; that he has been an honest man and in his business dealings has behaved with full integrity.
He then says in verse 9: “If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or if I have looked at my neighbor’s door, then may my wife grind another man’s grain and may other men sleep with her, for that would have been wicked, a sin to be judged. It is a fire that burns to destruction. It would have uprooted my harvest.”
Here he is very clear about the sin he is talking about. He is talking about adultery or some other kind of promiscuous act and he declares he has not done it. This is of course different from verse 1. In verse 1 he is speaking of lust within his heart. Here he is speaking of actual physical acts of adultery, promiscuity, etc. He declares he absolutely has not done any of these. Lurking at his neighbor’s door is in context looking for the time when the man will be gone, when he can go in and commit adultery with the wife.
The “then clause” in verse 10 may strike us as a little strange . “May my wife grind another man’s grain and may other men sleep with her.” We should understand, these are not meant to be kind of literally carried out. This is a way of saying, “I absolutely have not done these things.” He is not really putting his wife up on the auction block or something like that. He is simply saying, “I will absolutely swear I have not done any of these kinds of sins. I did not commit adultery.” So he declares that he has not committed adultery and he is clear that it is evil. Verse 11: “That would be wicked. It is a fire that burns to destruction.” This is very much in keeping with what we see in the book of Proverbs where adultery and lust is a fire that gets out of control and consumes everything around it. So he knows it is wrong and he says he has not done it.
D. Unjust employer
Verse 13: “If I have denied justice to any of my servants, whether male or female, when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me? What will I answer when called to account? Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?”
Here he is talking about subordinates, obviously. In his situation his subordinates would be servants or slaves. He declares that he has been just in his dealing with them. If they had a grievance, if he had somehow cheated them or had given them an unfair amount of labor, or had not given them something that he had promised them – whatever it was – when they had a grievance, he would listen and fix it, whatever the problem was. Notice, he does not have any sense that he is of higher value, that he is kind of a higher level of human being. First of all, he gives justice to servants, who as a class are far below him; and he gives justice to both male and female servants. He is not in any way guilty of snobbery, of arrogance, of thinking that he is just above everyone else. It doesn’t matter their class, it doesn’t matter if they are slave or free, it doesn’t matter if they are male or female; he will hear them out and if they have a legitimate grievance, he will fix it and make it right. Notice, he says this is because God regards everyone as human. Everyone in God’s eyes is on the same footing. The same Creator made us all, we were formed in the womb by the hand of God.
The Bible is distinctive in this area. We’ll just take a little pause here to take note of how distinctive the Bible is. The Bible declares that man, male and female, is made in the image of God. It is difficult for people to realize how distinctive that is in the ancient world. Because in the ancient world people had no qualms about saying that some people are just better than others, that some people are even more human than others, some people are intrinsically more important than others. In fact, we have ancient texts in which the king in a Mesopotamian text would be described as “the image of God” but only the king. The king would be placed on a level above the rest of humanity; and all of humanity then would be stratified, depending upon how high you rank in society. It would not just be a matter of who has more power, or who has more authority or wealth or something like that. It would be that the people on top are thought to be by nature superior beings; and the others are by nature inferior beings, somehow less human, less worthy of respect.
What the text is really saying here, and what affirms Genesis 1 that man is created male and female, in the image of God, is that God truly looks upon all of us without any partiality. God does not regard any person as deserving of special treatment or special judgment. So when Job says what he does about how he treats his servants, male and female, he is affirming a deep truth within the Bible, but something that elsewhere in the ancient near east would have been alien and strange.
Question: Have you ever read anything about verse 15 being used in discussions of slavery, about the inherent evil of slavery? There are verses that equate master and servant in the New Testament, but I have never seen this one before.
Dr. Garrett: I have not seen such a discussion. It would be a possible point to make, but I have never seen that before.
E. Ignoring the poor
We continue on. Verse 16: “If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary, if I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless – but from my youth have reared them as a father would, and from my birth guided the widow – if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing or the needy without garments, and their hearts did not bless me for warming them with the fleece from my sheep, if I have raised my hand against the fatherless , knowing that I had influence in court, then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint. For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendor I could not do such things.”
What do we have here in this passage? He is saying he has been charitable and he has been equitable in how he treats everybody. He did not abuse the poor; he did not in any way take advantage of them. In fact, he did all he could to help them. Let’s see what he says in a little more detail. He says first of all he was charitable with the widow and the orphan, he gave them bread. He gave them food when they needed it. Just to be charitable, to be giving, to be compassionate is of the essence of Old Testament righteousness, as we have already seen; and that is what he did. Similarly in verse 19, he gave them clothing and they blessed him. He gave them wool from his sheep. And those who were without parents or the fatherless, he in effect adopted them, he watched out for them.
Notice what he says, though, in verse 21: “If I have raised my hand against the fatherless, knowing that I had influence in court, then let my arm fall from the shoulder.” What does he mean here? Raising his hand probably is something like taking an oath and it would be a way of abusing people without power and without influence. You could have a case of say, a man who is fairly poor but has a piece of land, and you want that land. You have influence in the court and you use your influence in the court to kind of rig the system so that by legal means, by a legal process, you take his land. You might see someone who is, as he describes here, an orphan, someone who is fatherless. You want to take him as a slave and you bring some charge against him, you raise your hand in court and swear that he committed some crime. The court would say, “Okay, for committing that crime, you are now a slave to this person.”
One of the biggest problems that is universal in the ancient near east and gets a lot of attention in the Old Testament is how the legal system, the court system, was used to abuse the rights of the poor and used to take their property, to take their person into slavery, to essentially deprive them of what little they have. He declares he has not done this and notice the “then clause” in verse 22: “Then let my arm fall from my shoulder.” If I raise my hand in oath and I swear falsely against someone to defraud him, then he says, “may God just strike my arm off.” Again, this is just a way of saying, “I absolutely have not done this.”
Verse24: “If I have put my trust in gold or said to gold, ‘You are my security,’ if I have rejoiced over my great wealth, the fortune my hands have gained,” verses 24 and 25. “Put his trust in gold.” This is the very thing that Eliphaz effectively accused him of. If you will remember, he said, “Take your gold and throw it into the dust. If you will do that, then you will have God as your treasure.” Of course, what Eliphaz said was essentially correct. Jesus Himself says, “Don’t lay up for yourself treasure on earth, but only treasure in heaven.” But Job has not done that. Contrary to Eliphaz’s accusation, he did not treat his wealth, his treasure as his security. He understood that it was not important. He understood that the real source of his security was in God.
So basically again, to put it in New Testament terms, to put it in the terms of Jesus, he laid up treasure for himself in heaven and not on earth; notwithstanding the fact that he was a wealthy man.
G. Superstition or Idolatry
Verse 26: “If I have regarded the sun in its radiance or the moon moving in splendor, so that my heart was secretly enticed and my hand offered them a kiss of homage, then these also would be sins to be judged, for I would be unfaithful to God on high.”
What he is denying here basically is superstition. It is superstition related to what we would call astral religion. Astral religion is any religious concept that is related to the stars and the sun and the moon. In the ancient world many people regarded the sun and the moon as deities and they also, of course, regarded the constellations as some kind of divine figures. And they would be, of course, very superstitious about signs in the sky such as we still have today in astrology. They would have various ways of appeasing these deities or paying homage to these deities. In this case, it seems to be something like raising his hand and kissing it before the sun or the moon or whatever. He is basically saying, “I am not such a man. I am not a man who is superstitious. I am not a man who has turned aside into all these pagan ideas. I worship the One God.” Notice he says he was not unfaithful to God on High.
H. Vindictive and cunning
Then verse 29: “If I have rejoiced over my enemy’s misfortune or gloated over the trouble that came to him – If I have not allowed my mouth to sin by invoking a curse against their life – if those of my household have never said, ‘Who has not been filled with Job’s meat?’ – but no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler – if I have concealed my sin as people do, by hiding my guilt in my heart because I feared the crowd and so dreaded the contempt of the clans that I kept silent or would not go outside” He kind of breaks off there.
He just laid the kind of miscellaneous list out of things he did not do. First of all, he speaks again of a sin of the mind, not an overt sin, but simply rejoicing over an enemy’s misfortune. We call that in the German [speaks German], when someone you don’t like has something terrible happen and you’re happy about it. You are gleeful. It is a form of spitefulness. It is a form of hatred and bitterness. Job denies he has done that.
He did not curse people. This was of course very common in the ancient world. If there was somebody you did not like, you would find a way to curse them. You might write their name on a bowl or something and then smash the bowl. You might go to some sorcerer and have the sorcerer do some ritual to bring a curse upon this person. But Job says he has never cursed anyone.
He says, again from verse 31, that he has been compassionate to those who are hungry, to those who needed a place to sleep. And he says he did not do it out of fear of the crowd. He did not do it because he was afraid people would say bad things about him. He did it out of the fear of God.
Here he is just kind of giving again a miscellaneous sort of list of different things he did not do. But then, verse 35: “Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense -- let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. Surely I would wear it on my shoulder, I would put it on like a crown. I would give him an account of my every step; I would present it to him as a ruler.”
Here he is emphatically saying he has not sinned, that if he could stand before God, he would declare to God that he has not committed any of these sins. If he had an accuser who would make an accusation, he would make it public, he would not hide it because he knows he would be exonerated. He knows when the facts came out, that he would never be found guilty.
This is an interesting place because although he doesn’t know it, he is referring back to Satan, who tried to make accusations against him, but had nothing to accuse him of.
Finally then, verse 38: “If my land cries out against me and all its furrows are wet with tears, if I have devoured its yield without payment or broken the spirit of its tenants, then let briers come up instead of wheat and stinkweed instead of barley.” The words of Job are ended.
III. Conclusion of Job’s Confession
Of course, Job is a wealthy man. He had a huge amount of land; and as is the case today, often when people have a great amount of land, they don’t farm it all out. They let it out to tenants and the tenants are required to give the owner a certain amount of the produce and they keep the rest. So the produce would come to Job in effect as rent and the farmers, who actually worked the land, would have all the rest.
Job is declaring that he has not abused that system, that he did not demand more than he should have demanded, or simply out of his power take everything. He was a fair landlord, to put it real simply. He is not vindictive, he is not cunning. He has given a straight negative confession. He has said, I have not done any of these things.
What does this mean? First of all, one more time: We need to understand, everything Job is saying is true. Not only does Satan not have anything to accuse
Job of; but at the end of the book, when God confronts Job and God hits Job with his huge speech; and God will even come across as kind of harsh towards Job, as we will see, God never accuses Job of any of these things. God never says, “You said you didn’t do this, but you really did.” We need to understand, Job’s negative confession is entirely correct. He is not boasting. He is not self-deceived.
Secondly, this is important for the reader because it is one final reminder to us that the sin of Job is not the issue. Again, I will say to you: There are many
commentaries, there are many speakers I have heard speak of Job and they simply can’t help themselves. They come toward the end of Job and they say,
“Job, you did something wrong,” or “You had this tendency toward this sin and God just had to curb you in by giving you a whipping,” something like that. That is not the point of the book. That is contrary to everything the book is saying.
This huge negative confession is a big reminder to the reader, Job is a righteous man. Finally, this comes as kind of a last will and testament of Job, who thinks he is about to die. The negative confession from the Egyptian context is in the context of a person’s burial and going before the gods and claiming that he has been a good person, etc. The reason you would make such a negative confession is that you believe you are about to die and face judgment. Even people who don’t believe they are just about to die will at the end of their life come before people and say, “Does anyone have any accusation against me.” Samuel, for example, when he finished his ministry, he wasn’t about to die, but he was ending his ministry, and he stood before the people and said, “Does anybody have a charge to bring against me? Have I been unjust to anyone?” It is a way of self vindication at the end of life.
As far as Job can tell, this is the end of the story. He does not expect God to suddenly show up and answer him. He thinks he is about to die. He thinks this is for us, the end of the book. But of course, it is not. So we will come back next time and look at the speeches of Elihu.