In Job 31, Job makes his final appeal concerning his innocence. Before looking at what he says, let us consider why he says it.
Job was an exceptionally good, moral, and blameless man as far as human beings go. He was not perfect, but he was likely one of the closest men to it in life, in conduct, in piety, and in work. And yet, Job, because of his suffering, had been falsely accused. He had been pegged as deceitfully sinful and covertly unrighteous. An exceptionally good man was being said to be exceptionally wicked. Job, in all his misery, doubtless lost the most sleep over the character defamation he endured as opposed to his physical anguish and material losses combined. Therefore, the reason for his lengthy, detailed defense is not the fruit of self-righteousness, but of passionate vindication.
Job finds it necessary to list each sin he considers worthy of a punishment like unto his own suffering and clear himself of each – one by one. He mentions lust and adultery first. Knowing the lack in Job’s wife, many may even be tempted to clear him of sinning in this way. But Job never so much as thinks upon another woman. Job clears himself of this suspicion once and for all.
He goes on to debunk charges of deceitfulness, injustice, oppression, neglect, idolatry, hatred, selfishness, and hypocrisy. Job simply cannot see the fault of which he is continually accused. So much so that he pleads with his accusers to write it down for him.
Oh, that I had one to hear me!
(Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!)
Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary! ~Job 31:35
Job wants his charges to be clear, not so he might deny them if they are valid, but so he might repent and be healed if they are truly the cause. As Matthew Henry writes, “A good man is willing to know the worst of himself and will be thankful to those that will faithfully tell him of his faults.” But Job’s friends have given no such explanation for their accusations. They simply insist that he is generally evil and certainly deserving of his circumstances.
Job had a valid point. There’s little wonder why he felt so attacked and so urgently desired a hearing. He had done right, yet his whole life and all those most closely involved in it said otherwise.
The overarching problem I see in Job’s defense is the overarching problem I often see in my own defenses. While his self-justification was not Pharisaic or false, it was largely unhelpful. A clear conscience is good and necessary, but we cannot ever allow it to lead us to a place where our righteousness makes God unrighteous. As Job stared at all he had done right, he began to doubt the righteousness of the God he so faithfully served.
It was not wrongdoing that caused his suffering. His right-doing had brought it on. But his suffering revealed things his obedience never could have. His suffering proved his unrealized need for grace, for mercy, and for God himself. The wretched wrongness of Job’s situation served as a necessary aide in the further sanctification an already exceptionally good man.
Job rests his case upon his innocence. He is finished arguing. He has said enough and he has nothing more to prove. He commits himself to the one who judges justly. Job, now, will wait on the Lord’s response.
No matter how right I think I am, God, you are far more right. No matter how unfair life is, God, you are just. No matter how disappointing circumstances become, God, you are hope. No matter how wrongly I am treated, God, you are merciful. No matter how much I suffer, God, you are love. No matter how many lies I am told, God, you are true. God, help me look only at your righteousness and remember that I have none, I have none, I have none of my own. Forgive me for placing my grievances higher than your sovereignty. Give me your peace. Amen.